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December 20, 2005
Duke/St. John's preview
A once mighty St. John's program will be the opponent tonight as top ranked Duke looks to improve to 11-0 on the season before a 10 day break around the Christmas holiday.
Though it is the holiday season, Duke likely won't be in a giving mood against the Red Storm, who will be looking to play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge and/or The Grinch by upsetting the homestanding Blue Devils.
This isn't the St. John's program of old though. This version of the Red Storm, under second year coach Norm Roberts, already has losses to Marist and Hofsta on its ledger this year to go with a loss to ACC member Virginia Tech.
St. John's successfully stayed competitive against Duke last year in a low scoring, 58-47 decision at Madison Square Garden. This Duke team may be a bit more difficult to slow down.
The Devils appear to have found an offensive groove after consecutive performances that have given them a 99.5 point average, thanks in large part to the increasingly unstoppable J.J. Redick.
It's not just Redick's play that has Duke clicking right now, though. Shelden Williams continues to be a steady rock in the paint and freshman Greg Paulus was dynamite in a 15 assist performance in the win over Valparaiso Sunday night.
While the Duke offense has been finding its stride, St. John's offense is still searching for answers.
The Red Storm is hovering just barely over 40 percent field goal shooting for the season and has been inept from behind the three point line, hitting under 25 percent from downtown.
The saving grace for St. John's has come on the glass, where the Red Storm have pounded opponents rebounding the basketball.
That could pose the biggest problem for Duke, as the Devils have struggled in several contests this year to control the glass.
St. John's is plus 12.5 in rebounding on average through eight games.
6-foot-10 senior post Lamont Hamilton is the main reason why they have been dominating the boards. The 253 pound beast is averaging a double-double and has the size, strength, and skill to pile up rebounds in any given game.
Hamilton will be joined by Darryl Hill in carrying the offensive load for St. John's. The two co-captains are the only Red Storm players to average double figures in scoring.
Despite some of their offensive shortcomings (62.9 points per game), St. John's prides themselves on locking opponents down defensively.
Under Roberts, the Red Storm have become very stingy on the defensive end of the floor. This year's squad has held opponents to a cool 36 percent from the floor.
They haven't always been great defending the three point line though, where opponents have hit 17 more long distance shots than St. John's.
That's good news for Duke, who with Redick, Lee Melchionni, and Paulus, have the firepower to shoot any team right out of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The game plan for St. John's is simple in theory, but difficult to execute against a team like Duke.
The Red Storm's only chance is to grind away and limit the number of possessions in the game. To do that, they have to accomplish several other difficult tasks.
They must take care of the ball, not exactly a strong suit so far this year for them. They must limit Duke's transition opportunities, a tough task for anyone, especially with Paulus growing more confident by the game. They must also win the rebounding battle.
Of the three, winning the boards is certainly the most reasonable because of the statistics mentioned above.
For Duke to take care of business and move on to a happy holiday season, they simply need to hold their own on the glass and keep building on their established offensive rhythm.
St. John's has pulled down a massive average of more than 16 offensive rebounds per game. That's their only realistic chance to stay close against the Devils.
If Williams, Josh McRoberts, and friends seal off the offensive glass and prevent second chance opportunities, there's just no way the Red Storm can score enough points to stay in the game for the full 40 minutes.
St. John's is respectable on the defensive end of the floor and will probably succeed at containing the Duke offense for some stretches of the game.
Shutting the Devils down for the full game isn't likely to happen, however. Unless the Red Storm dismantles Duke on the offensive glass and gets an above average perimeter shooting performance from their guards, Duke will pull away in front of the home crowd and stay unbeaten.