Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. St. Johns

Before getting to the Red Storm we might as well get the unpleasantness out of the way:  Daquein McNeil has been arrested for domestic assault and is being held without bail.  I haven't seen any details beyond that and the Gophers have suspended him indefinitely pending an investigation.  In the current climate things certainly don't look good for McNeil, but hopefully the team and school will do their due diligence rather than succumb to the current environment and move on him rashly.  I have no current opinion, nor should anyone else, because we don't know anything (though if what I heard on the radio is true oof) other than Carlos Morris is probably going to get more playing time (more shots!) and we can expect some more of Chuck Buggs, which can only (hopefully) be a good thing.

As for St. Johns, they've had some issues of their own this offseason and as a result are not a very deep team, essentially playing just six guys (more than 10 mpg, anyway).  Two top recruits, both expected to make a major impact, were ruled academically ineligible which seems weird and something I would never expect from Steve Lavin.  The two were expected to be the team's starting PF (Keith Thomas from JuCo) and add depth in the paint (Adonis Delarosa, 7-2 freshman), so the Red Storm have ended up really guard oriented.  Well, guard oriented surrounding an absolute beast in the middle in Chris Obekpa.

Obekpa isn't a scoring machine at just 8.7ppg and shooting a dismal 35% especially for someone who is 6-10 and 240 lbs., but that's not his role.  His role is rim protector grab all the rebounds guy and he does it well, averaging 10.3 rebs and 4.7 blocks per game this year.  Sure, they've only played NJIT, LIU-Brooklyn, and Franklin Pierce, but he basically put up the same stats on a per possession basis last season.  He's actually ranked 1st and 3rd the last two years in block percentage (% of opponents shots he blocks when on the floor) nationally and is currently seventh so far this season.  He's for real, and watching Mo try to go at him will be fun.

The reason Obekpa doesn't have to worry about scoring is because St. Johns has a trio of dynamic scorers in De'Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, and Sir'Dominic Pointer who all average double figures for the season (18.3, 17.3, and 13,0).

Harrison is the star, and he's a classic chucker who has never shot over 40% for a season (so far this year, his senior year, he's shooting a career high 42%) but has still averaged 16.8, 17.8, 17.5, and 18.3 points per game his four years at St. Johns.  He can get crazy hot and put up a ton of points (36 vs. Villanova two years ago, 25 or more five times last year), or he can shoot SJU right out of a game (1-12 vs. Georgetown in a loss last year).  The biggest key to this game is probably if good De'Angelo or bad De'Angelo shows up.

Jordan is the point guard, and though he's not much of an outside shot (28% career from 3 in two seasons) he does  a little bit of everything for the team, averaging 5.3 rebs and 4.3 assists per game this year to go along with his scoring.  He also really loves to shoot, and actually has a higher shot percentage than Harrison (30.8% vs. 27.6%).  He's converting at a high rate this season with a 52% field goal percentage, a marked increase from 42% a year ago.  Whether or not he can keep that high efficiency rate against better competition is a key for Lavin's team this season.

With two guards who dominate the shots you may be wondering how Pointer can average 13.0 points per game, although that should be pretty obvious - he's efficient.  He's shooting 54% from the floor on 9 shots per game, and at 6-6 (the second biggest player to get minutes) with a disdain for the 3-pointer (less than 1 attempt per game in his career) I'm going to assume he's the power forward.  Another wrinkle is though he's no Obekpa he's an awfully good shot blocker himself, averaging 2.0 per game this year with a block rate in the top 110 nationally.  How the Gophers navigate the paint is going to be a big part of the game result.

The other contributors are 6-2 Phil Greene (9.3ppg) and 6-3 Jamal Branch (6.0ppg, 3.3rpg, 3.0apg), and I suppose we're likely to see Christian Jones more than his average 8 minutes per game simply because he's 6-7 and St. John's is going to need more than two paint guys against the Gophers.

Keys to the game:

  1. De'Angelo Harrison.  He could absolutely win this game almost single handedly if the Gophers let him.  He can score on the drive, from three, or with his mid-range jumper.  The best way the Gophers should handle him is keep him on the perimeter, ideally shooting long 2s.  When I've seen him play in the past he can get awfully comfortable chucking jumpers.  Make this as attractive an option as possible for him.
  2. Gophers in the paint.  Obekpa is a beast and Pointer is no slouch, but if the Gophers settle for jump shots all game it's not going to be much better than Harrison bombing away.  The need to get Walker touches posting up and they need to still attack the rim with penetrating guards, either scoring or dishing.  St. John's is going to block some shots for sure, but that can't change the game plan.
  3. Athletes.  In what seems like constant St. John's fashion, the Red Storm are loaded with athletes and play a stifling defense but are kind of a mess on offense.  They're terrible shooters who don't share the basketball, but they don't turn it over either.  They like to run and this should be a fast paced game, so transition defense and not screwing up easy scoring opportunities is going to be paramount.

St. John's has home court advantage, but the Gophers have had some success in MSG if you recall, and I don't believe a giant arena like that holds anywhere near the home court advantage of a traditional college gym.  I think the biggest difference will be the shoddy early schedule St. John's has played.  Franklin Pierce is D2 (and we saw what the Gophers did there), and NJIT and Brooklyn are two of the worst teams in all of Division I.  The Gophers may have played a couple cupcakes, but they've spanked a so-so WKU team and played Louisville fairly well.  Gophers run St. John's to death:

Minnesota 80, St. John's 67.  And take the over.

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