The St. John's Red Storm team that the Arizona Wildcats face Thursday night at Madison Square Garden has a familiar face on the sideline. Associate head coach Mike Dunlap, if you remember, was the conductor behind the Wildcats' defense in their 2009 Sweet 16 run.
Behind interim head coach Russ Pennell and a wild offseason that saw Lute Olson call it quits after having the infamous debacle with Kevin O'Neill, it was Dunlap's Xs and Os behind Pennell's motivational skills that took Arizona further than anyone could have imagined.
Now, that same 1-3-1 trapping defense that got the Wildcats through the tournament will be waiting for them in New York City.
Dunlap has an even larger role with St. John's, as head coach Steve Lavin has missed time dealing with prostate cancer. So come Thursday, we'll likely see a familiar defense that Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, Nic Wise and Kyle Fogg ran at Arizona.
And with turnovers being the concerning issue thus far (especially in first halves) Arizona could be in trouble.
From afar, it appears Josiah Turner wasn't benched Sunday because of his play. Miller said it wasn't a disciplinary call, but it won't be a complete surprise if he sits out another game or two. Jordin Mayes was quiet after having a big game, and freshman Nick Johnson filled into the backup point guard role nicely. Whomever gets the minutes will need to be better in protecting the possessions and keeping St. John's out of transitions off of turnovers Thursday.
And, guys like Fogg and Solomon Hill will need to continue their aggressive and smart play after having struggling through the exhibition season and first two games. Kevin Parrom, in what should be an emotional return home, will be a key asset for Arizona against a long and extended defense of St. John's thanks to his handles and rebounding.
Sure, the Johnnies are young.
It's that which should scare the Wildcats the most. They're super-athletic, raw and energetic. And yeah, they're much more-so than Arizona.
How can Arizona overcome that? Well, the Wildcats will have to do just as they have in their first three games. Sean Miller 's squad will need to use its defensive intensity -- its identity that popped up in the last six minutes of Sunday's game against Ball State -- to tire the young Johnnies, who appear to only give seven players heavy minutes. Those seven all played 20 minutes or more, and Arizona will have to lean on wearing down St. John's and sticking with it even if the young Red Storm roster jumps ahead.
Of course, not turning the ball over against Dunlap's pressing, trapping defense would be a much better start.