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This Sunday afternoon, Duke will face of college basketballÂs most storied programs and a team in the midst of a disappointing season. Thoughts of an NCAA tournament bid are just about hopeless, rumors of discord between the head coach and the players are everywhere, and there is open speculation about a potential coaching change at the end of the year. For those of you thinking you may have slipped into a week-long coma and Duke is about to face the Tar Heels Â donÂt worry. SundayÂs opponent is still St. JohnÂs, although the politically correct Red Storm is suffering through many of the same troubles that Carolina is facing.
St. JohnÂs started the season with NCAA Tournament aspirations, built largely on their 20-12 season last season. With an a core of experienced upperclassmen, including one of the best players in the schoolÂs history, the Johnnies looked like a team that could challenge UConn in the Big EastÂs East Division. After a quick 5-0 start against some lightweight competition the team looked like they were on track to meet their goals. The team went 6-6 over their next 12 games as the level of competition increased, but then the bottom fell out. Over their last 7 games, the Red Storm is just 1-6 and speculation about head coach Mike JarvisÂ future have found their way into the New York print media.
While the results have been different from last yearÂs successful season, the style of play looks familiar. If youÂre a fan of well-executed, precision offense, well, then donÂt watch this game. Last yearÂs St. JohnÂs team shot just 40% from the field and 29% from beyond the three-point line. Red Storm fans looking for something positive about this year can take consolation in the fact that this squad is shooting 40% from the field and 30% from beyond the three-point line. There are a number of reasons for the JohnniesÂ shooting woes but the most obvious are that JarvisÂ has, once again, failed to field a team with a legitimate low-post threat and that the team runs the most chaotic offense in basketball. When St. JohnÂs has the ball they look like 5 guys in a blender executing an offense from a playbook resembling a Jackson Pollock painting. The results arenÂt pretty.
Each St. JohnÂs opponent sets their defensive game plan with the same goal Â stop Marcus Hatten. ThatÂs understandable because in the pantheon of collegiate gunners, Hatten has worked his way past Mark Macon and is approaching Allen Iverson levels. The 6-1 senior takes over 25% of the Johnnies field goal attempts and is by far and away the teamÂs leading scorer.
Hatten is the ultimate streak shooter, capable of shooting either team into victory. When heÂs hot he will hit from all over the court, although heÂs not a particularly strong threat from the three-point line. HeÂs very strong with his dribble and can use his quickness to get separation from his defender, allowing him to score over much larger opponents in the lane. Hatten will take some questionable shots, something partly influenced by his desire to carry an otherwise weak offensive team. Defensively heÂs a lot like Juan Dixon, showing the instincts and quickness to be a disruptive force. HeÂll gamble off the ball and come up with a ton of steals but he can have trouble with on the ball defense, particularly against larger opponents. The big concern for Jarvis is how effective Hatten will be after suffering a bruised thigh in their last game.
Opposite Hatten in the backcourt is Elijah Ingram, a 5-11 freshman out of Bob Hurley, Sr.Âs St. Anthony program in Jersey City, NJ. Ingram is lighting fast with the ball and can get into the lane against even the best of defenders. Oddly enough, Jarvis seems to want to use Ingram as more an outside threat. The vast majority of his shots have come from beyond the three point line where he isnÂt nearly as accurate. Ingram has struggled from beyond the line, despite the fact that he leads the team in made three-point shots. Against Syracuse, he shot a you-donÂt-have-to-put-the-full-box-score-in-the-paper 2 for 20. ThatÂs not a misprint. ThatÂs 20 attempts on a night when he made 2 shots. Ingram is obviously positioning himself for HattenÂs role when he graduates at the end of the year.
Ingram and Hatten are both logging over 30 minutes a game, primarily because Jarvis doesnÂt have many options to turn to on the bench. 6-0 sophomore Tristan Smith sees limited minutes off the bench backing up Ingram at the point. HeÂs a limited threat offensively and plays a conservative game with the ball. The same can be said for Andre Stanley, a 6-4 senior who backs up Hatten at the shooting guard. ThatÂs another way of saying he doesnÂt play much.
In his 5 years at St. JohnÂs, Jarvis has yet to field a team with a dominant inside player. That has to be frustrating for a coach who mentored a young Patrick Ewing. This year is no different for Jarvis as the teamÂs most effective inside player is 6-6 Anthony Glover, now in his 12th year at St. JohnÂs. Actually, Glover just seems like heÂs been at St. JohnÂs that long, in realty, heÂs now in his 5th year and enrolled in graduate school after sitting out his freshman year as a Prop 48 recruit.
Like each of his previous seasons at St. JohnÂs, Glover has been asked to play out of position. This year is somewhat of an improvement for him as heÂs playing power forward rather than center, but heÂs still undersized for the position. Glover is the teamÂs second leading scorer and their leading rebounder. HeÂs very aggressive inside but lacks the size to finish against bigger defenders.
Joining him up front is senior Abe Keita, a 6-11 post player who has been inconsistent during his time at St. JohnÂs. Keita has tantalized Red Storm fans for the last 4 years with his athleticism but has never shown any refined basketball skills to complement his physical talents. Despite his size heÂs not a strong rebounder and can be foul prone on defense.
The third starter up front is junior Willie Shaw who, although listed at 6-6, plays more like a guard. Shaw is the teamÂs most consistent outside shooter, hitting on 38% of his three-point attempts. HeÂs primarily a spot-up shooter and has become somewhat one-dimensional in that regard. Despite playing nearly 500 minutes this year he has been to the free throw line just 27 times Â a sure sign of a guy who will settle for the jump shot. Defensively, Shaw is one of the teamÂs best defenders.
Look for Jarvis to go small by taking Keita out of the lineup early and going to junior Kyle Cuffe. The 6-7 Cuffe isnÂt much of an inside player, preferring to shoot jumpers rather than bang in the paint. He has trouble finishing inside because of his poor jumping ability.
The same cannot be said for sophomore Eric King, a 6-6 jumping jack with huge athleticism. The problem for St. JohnÂs is that King has spent the last few games sidelined with a knee injury as well as sitting out a game for disciplinary reasons. If King is still suspended the Johnnies will need Grady Reynolds and Tim Doyle to increase their contributions. Reynolds is a 6-7 JuCo transfer who has made as much noise off the court as he has on it. In November he was arrested on charges of assault and harassment after throwing a female student into a wall in a dorm bathroom. On the court Reynolds struggled earlier in the season but has played better in recent games, including posting his first double figure game in the teamÂs last contest. Reynolds lacks much range, but does give the team some size inside which they desperately need. Doyle is a 6-4 freshman swingman who compensates for a lack of size and quickness with a nice feel fro the game.
This game has huge potential to get ugly early. St. JohnÂs is a team on the ropes and the only thing keeping them up is the heart of Marcus Hatten. If Hatten is unable to play Â as of Saturday he was uncertain Â the Red Storm will be hard pressed to find points.
For the Blue Devils, this game presents another excellent opportunity to continue to establish their inside play. Duke has made a noticeable effort to start each game by pounding the ball inside to Shelden Williams over the last few contests. On Sunday theyÂll have that opportunity once again as Williams is likely to be guarded by either the foul prone Keita or the undersized Glover. In either case Williams should have an advantage if he can maintain his composure Â something he hasnÂt been able to do at the onset of each of the last two contests.
The other interesting observation for the game will be which lineup Krzyzewski elects to use during critical stretches. ItÂs almost a given that the Johnnies will play a small lineup during stretches of this game. The emergence of Williams has give the team the flexibility to play well with both a small and a large lineup. But what the team hasnÂt shown is the ability to impose their will on their opponent by playing a large lineup against an undersized team. Developing that is the next logical step in DukeÂs evolution as a team heading into the tournament.
Assuming Hatten is on the court, Duke will probably look to defend him with either Dahntay Jones or Daniel Ewing. If the Devils follow the Red Strom into smallball, that assignment will fall to Ewing. If Duke is able to use their larger lineup against St. JohnÂs itÂs likely that defensive matchup will go to Jones. In either case, if Duke can force Hatten into a poor shooting night Â something that happens with about the same frequency as Michael Jackson primetime documentary specials Â they should be able to handle the Red Storm.
Unless of course someone goes off and wins a Bootsy Award.