H-S | Shelby
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Saturday marks a favorite game for a lot of Duke fans, the annual (lately
anyway) tilt with St. John's. This one is slightly different though,
because instead of the affection Mike Jarvis and Mike Krzyzewski clearly have
for each other, Jarvis was run out of town on a rail early last season, St.
John's went through an unpleasant scandal, and then found out that the job
wasn't as desirable as it had once been.
Jarvis left after being criticized for not building enough recruiting bridges
in New York, and while there is always a lot of talent in New York, there's a
lot of talent all over. There's no reason to limit yourself to recruiting
New York when you play in New York. This team has the biggest stage in the
No matter. They got a guy who has a knowledge of New York and who seems
committed to working the city thoroughly: Norm Roberts, formerly assistant to
Bill Self at Kansas.
That name may sound familiar and if it does it may be because of a quote we
highlighted here at one point, probably when he was hired at St. John's.
Roberts talked about playing Duke when he was at Tulsa and getting just
killed. But that was good, he said, because they learned so much from that
game. They applied it the next year in a nice NCAA run.
It's refreshing to see a guy not whine about officiating, or upset about who
starts at Duke or whatever the current nonsense is. They sucked up a good
lesson and applied it, and now Bill Self is at Kansas and Roberts is at St.
John's, two of the winningest five programs in college basketball history.
Roberts inherited a program which was devastated by the firing of Jarvis and
then an ugly scandal where a woman first claimed she was raped, then admitted
that she had agreed to be paid to have sex with some St. John's players and was
mad when they reneged. There was videotape involved, too.
None of this went over well at Catholic St. John's, needless to say, and the
house was cleaned.
Roberts has done a respectable job, though, all things considered. He's
beaten N.C. State, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh, almost beat Notre Dame, and
gave B.C. a tough game as well.
One thing which may work against Roberts in this game is that Duke hired Mike
Jarvis II after he was let go by St. John's. Obviously the system has
changed, but Jarvis is intimately familiar with many of the players, and knows
who can't dribble with their off-hand and so forth. That's a nice asset.
St. John's is starting Daryll Hill (6-0), Eugene Lawrence, (6-1), Cedric
Jackson (6-2), Lamont Hamilton (6-9), and Dexter Gray (6-6).
It's a young lineup: Hill and Hamilton are sophomores; Lawrence, Jackson, and
Gray are freshmen.
They're not a big team, but this is a scrappy bunch: they pulled down 48
points against Virginia Tech and did it again against N.C. State.
Against B.C., a team which has built a reputation for toughness and which is
capable of pushing some folks around, St. John's scored 48 points in the paint.
Duke has to, yet again, retool after an MCL injury sidleined Sean
Dockery. Yet after years of watching Duke, we can tell you what's
happened. First of all, pity is banned. You go with your guys and do
the best you can. And second, DeMarcus Nelson, Lee Melchionni, and Shavlik
Randolph are all hearing variations of the same song: it's a great
opportunity for you.
The guy who will be most needed, though, will certainly be DeMarcus Nelson.
After starting slow with the season's first injury, Nelson has shown some
real flashes throughout the season. He's strong, he's tough, and he's a
guy who says he welcomes the pressure of performing at the highest levels.
Is he ready to step it up at the Garden? Our money says yes, he is.
But we're betting he's not the only one.
J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing, and Shelden Williams all are capable of monster
Despite all the various story lines in this game, the difference will
probably come down to this: Duke has some very experienced players who have been
in some really big games. St. John's has, in our estimation, done more
than most people expected this year. Their future is bright. They're
probably capable of pulling the upset, but Duke's vast experience will be hard
to overcome, and this time, when they go in the lane, they've got a major pain
in the butt to contend with in Williams.
And if they have go to three pointers, they've got a potential problem.
Daryll Hill is hitting .378, but only one a game.
But here's the rub about the Johnnies: their only real, consistent
offensive threats are Hill and Hamilton. Hamilton is also a fine rebounder,
but Gray, Lawrence, and Williams between them only average 7 made baskets a
The Johnnies always surpriesed us under Mike Jarvis, and someone, inevitably,
went Mookie on Duke. It may happen again, but we're not sure where it
would come from.