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Next Up - St. John's

With Duke off to St. John's in the Garden Thursday night, let's start off with a great link from Harvey Araton of the Times, who has a tremendous article up thanking Coach K for what he did with the Olympic team and program, including a highly unusual rave from none other than Dean Smith.

St. John's has struggled since the scandal that brought down former coach Mike Jarvis.  This year, they've only won four times since December 20th, losing 12 in that time span. They've lost Anthony Mason, Jr. for the season, and sophomore Malik Boothe missed nine games with an injured thumb (he's back).

The 5-9 Boothe starts, along with a bunch other young guys:  Sean Evans, 6-8, starts at one forward, 6-6 D.J. Kennedy starts at the other, and Justin Burrell is listed as a third forward.  Both are sophs.  Paris Horne, a 6-3 soph,  is also listed as a starter. Rob Thomas, 6-6, another soph is listed as a possible starter, as is 6-5 freshman Quincy Roberts.

The rest of the bench, not counting the sixth and seventh possible starters,  is one senior and, you guessed it, two sophomores and a freshman.

Horne is averaging 15 per game and Kennedy 12.6 ppg.  Boothe is averaging 4.6 apg.

The team is averaging around 14 turnovers per game.

Incidentally, St. John's Norm Roberts hired former Matt Doherty assistant Fred Quartlebaum as an assistant.

When it comes to playing Duke, Roberts says this: "Priority one is that we have to guard. Priority two is that we can't turn it over and we have to execute. Priority three is fifty/fifty balls. We have to go and get them. They want to score off of turnovers, transitions, fifty/fifty balls and offensive rebounds as well as executing well. We really have to guard and lock in and understand what guy's strengths are and maybe some of their weaknesses are, and we really have to make sure we don't turn the ball over, giving them easy hoops. We need to get those fifty/fifty balls, those rebounds, those loose balls, because they're going to shoot a lot of 3's so there's going to be long of rebounds and you have to be able to run them down and get those fifty/fifty balls.

Evans says this:  "We have to take everything in stride and we have to give them a competitive game. We're going to go out there and we're not going to change anything that we do. We're going to go out there and play hard and try and come out with a win. We want to show them that we can play with them every year."

And Boothe says this:  "I don't really think that people care too much if we can really play with them. I guess if we can beat them then they'll start to care. They don't really care too much if we can play them close but still lose...They are pretty strong with the ball. They are like sharks. Last year we were up in the beginning and then when things went wrong for us they just attacked everything, and they went on their run and they knocked us out. I know they are going to play hard for the whole forty minutes and I know that if they get a lead they aren't going to let up. They are going to try and put their foot on someone's throat."

Duke, of course, has had some issues in recent games. When he looks at it from St. John's point of view, Coach K says this:

"They're a team that has a losing record right now, but they're playing at home and they're playing a team that's lost two in a row and has given up 90 points a game. They have to look at it as a tremendous opportunity. Looking at the history of playing St. John's in the Garden, I know that they're a different team at Madison Square Garden.

"We need to get back to playing better basketball, and to be able to get on the court at Madison Square Garden should be a great opportunity for us."

Defense has been a big issues, as K not-so-subtly suggests. But it would be nice to get the offense firing on all cylinders.  In the last couple of games, Gerald Henderson hasn't shot as well as he had for much of the season, Jon Scheyer's shot has remained erratic, and Nolan Smith has been erratic. So has Greg Paulus, who was so useful in the Miami game.

Scheduling an out-of-conference game has had some real benefits for Duke over the years, as Coach K notes in the link above.  St. John's is a young team, but there is some talent there, and Roberts is a good defensive coach (anyone remember the 10-point half that Herb Sendek and the Pack had against the Johnnies?)

Duke will be favored, but they have work to do.