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January 31, 2009

St. John's vs USF Preview

St. John's is facing hard times with injuries and lack of senior leadership, but there are some aspects of the game that are musts for all players and to not expect them from the Johnnies would be condescending to a talented, yet inexperienced team.

St. John's turnovers, utilization of the paint, completion of plays and shot selection need to be tackled before the final stretch of the season and post-season play. St. John's has the goods, but not placing these to the forefront would leave the team with more wasted assets than Fannie and Freddie Mac.

St. John's will face the University of South Florida at its Queens campus Sunday afternoon. The Johnnies (11-9, 2-6 BIG EAST), who had a 23-point loss to West Virginia on Wednesday night, need this win to reestablish the way they execute on both sides of the floor. The Bulls (7-13, 2-6) are also coming off an 80-54 pounding from No. 7 Louisville.

USF has a habit of switching up their starting rotation, but the team mostly plays a three-guard line-up. On average, the Bulls are longer than the Johnnies, and will have at least one or two inches on St. John's players.

Guard Match-ups:

The Bulls' leading scorer Dominique Jones (18.4 ppg) is the primary player to watch. The sophomore guard has the ability to crash the boards and create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Although freshman Quincy Roberts may start off defending Jones, St. John's head coach Norm Roberts could switch to sophomore guard Paris Horne to prevent Jones from finding an open shot, driving lane or pass. Jones' weaknesses of turning the ball over and being prone to foul trouble can be exploited.

Jones may be the X-factor that turns the game into a basket-for-basket battle down the stretch because he can get to the cylinder and draw fouls. When USF played West Virginia, St. John's last rout on the schedule, it only lost by three points, 62-59. The Bulls' key to keeping it close was to get shot-blocking Wellington Smith into foul trouble, which limited Smith's playing time and took the core aggressiveness out the Mountaineers. Jones was 11-of-14 from the charity stripe. Therefore, even St. John's post players have to be aware of Jones' threat if they want to stay in the game.

Roberts will probably be knocked over to defend Chris Howard. Howard, who is an on-again-off-again offensive player, can be the third scorer for the Bulls, if not guarded well.

Sophomore swingman D.J. Kennedy will most likely pick-up senior guard Jesus Verdejo. Verdejo, a powerful guard who takes a lot of shots, only makes about 39% from the field, but can easily get into a rhythm. Kennedy should contest every shot because Verdejo is constantly attempting to create offense, even if he isn't always successful.

Frontcourt Match-up:

Justin Burrell will have the task of containing the Bulls' 6-foot-10 freshman Augustus Gilchrist or senior 6-foot-9 Mobolaji Ajayi. Unfortunately, the Johnnies' sophomore forward may find himself getting backed under the rim because of the size disadvantage. Gilchrist may not draw fouls easily, but once in the paint, he can be lethal. Ajayi increases the Bulls' second-chance opportunities by having a natural aptitude to grab boards on the offensive end. If USF's head coach Stan Heath wants to compound some talent against the Johnnies, he will put both powerful post players in the paint. Sean Evans will take the forward playing at the high post in the starting line-up.

Both Burrell and Evans will be important to a St. John's win because when opponents are strong off the glass, USF comes up short and are out-rebounded. Coach Heath has many forwards he can sub-in and out, so Burrell and Evans must keep energized, focused and strong on defense. Although these Johnnies are used to the demand of playing a full forty minutes, they must be prepared to see the same effort from the Bulls post players off the bench and battle fatigue created by the revolving door of fresh legs. The Johnnies are not deep in the frontcourt positions. Therefore, the pair cannot afford to foul out from guard penetration.

Team Keys:

* Overall, USF has the same issues with taking care of the basketball as St. John's and usually commits more turnovers than its Big East opponents. The Johnnies can capitalize on turnovers in transition, and can use this game to learn how to hold on to the ball better.

* Typically, the Bulls are not a great outside shooting team and a 2-3 zone can help St. John's late in the second half when the Johnnies post players begin to feel depleted of energy. But, St. John's cannot get comfortable sitting back in the zone and must pressure players on the wings and at the top of the key. Or, the Johnnies could opt to use a combination defense playing the box-and-1. Horne will pressure Jones, as the other four Bulls are trapped behind the zone. The Johnnies can deny the inside pass if they stay in front of their opponents.

* USF usually comes out with energy early in the game, but runs out of gas in the second half. Once the Bulls lose their charge, they will substitute in new players that need to warm up before they can be effective. The Johnnies can use this time to go on a run and gain more on offense.

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