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Last year, when N.C. State played St. John's, and was held to a rather
pathetic 10 points in the first half, we assumed it was State's tradition of
offenses tanking under Herb Sendek rather than anything a still-crippled St.
John's (after the ugly firing of Mike Jarvis) did. But when St. John's
held Duke to about 20 a few games later, we got the message: Norm Roberts is
serious about defense.
St. John's is pretty good at keeping the score down. Virginia Tech
scored 73 in a win the other night, but other than that, and bear in mind the
level of competition, look at the scores: St. Francis only got 50, Niagara
got 61, and Stony Brook scored 45.
It's a fairly typical pattern so far in the Roberts era, and they'll try to
do the same thing to Duke they did last year, only more so.
St. John's suffered a serious disruption to the glorious history of their
basketball program when Jarvis was fired, and it has not fully recovered,
although Roberts has shown he can really coach defense, and he is rebuilding
ties to city high schools. At some point, St. John's should become a
serious contender for city talent again.
For now, they rely on Daryll Hill, a junior who is averaging 14.8 ppg,
and Lamont Hamilton, 6-10, who is putting up 13.1 ppg and grabbing 10
boards. They also feature Anthony Mason, Jr., who is the son of
you-know-who. As a freshman, he is averaging 7.8 ppg and 4.5 boards, so
not too bad for his first year. Sophomore Eugene Lawrence is also kicking
in 8 points and almost 5 boards per game.
So if you want to pigeonhole this game with a quick template, try this:
Duke, with a serious talent advantage, will have to match St. John's defensive
intensity to win. Duke will also have to deal with Hill, who is an
excellent penetrator, something Duke has struggled with so far.
True, St. John's is only 5-3, and their competition is not that great, but if
you play shut-down defense, you can always have a shot, and Hill presents a
challenge Duke has not always dealt with well this season.
For Duke, assuming they can deal with the Red Storm's defense well enough to
score fluidly, the next challenge is to match it. If they play with the
same intensity St. John's brings to the defensive end, they'll do fine.
Offensively, Duke can't honestly count on a 30 point game from J.J. Redick
every time out. He and Shelden Williams have provided the bulk of the
offense thus far, and they need help.
Fortunately, they're getting it. Sean Dockery has really stepped up
since Coach K had his meeting with the senior guard, and has more than doubled
his scoring. He had a similar meeting with Lee Melchionni, and
that paid dividends against Valpo. So who's next on the couch?
We'll see tonight. But if you go expecting to see a normal dispatching,
well, St. John's has to be taken seriously.