So Arizona might be staring into a mirror on Thursday. The St.John's Red Storm is a young yet talented squad trying to find their way in the harsh world of NCAA basketball. Meanwhile, the No. 15 Wildcats face their first legitimate big conference school. Pico Dulce from Rumble in the Garden reached out to us to preview the match-up.
I think it's safe to say that there's a lot of questions for both teams going into this one. Pico's calling it a toss up, and I really can't disagree, as the athleticism of the Johnnies could be too much for Arizona to handle.
Arizona Desert Swarm: St. John's is a really young but talented team, and from afar it looks like they've been up and down to begin this season. What can you make of how well the chemistry is on the court and how far away are you guys from developing individual roles?
Rumble in the Garden: The on-court chemistry is going well, considering the players have only been on the court in competitive situations for five games now. With six newcomers and a holdover who logged 12.2 minutes per game in 26 contests, there are going to be some miscues. Some of the turnovers, for St. John's have come from miscommunications; the players can't anticipate their teammates' moves quite yet.
The players already have individual roles, and those roles will expand. Nurideen Lindsey is there to attack and put pressure on the defense; God`sgift runs the floor and gets rebounds; Maurice Harkless (Moe) is the versatile talent, D`Angelo Harrison is the shooter; Sir`Dominc Pointer is all defense; Malik Stith is the veteran; only Phil Greene doesn't have a strongly defined role, though he's a bit of a shooter/ slasher type.
The team is doing a lot of learning on the fly, and sometimes it's ugly.
2. At Arizona, we became big fans of Mike Dunlap during his year-long tenure here. What do you make of his presence so far and how well has that trapping defense worked with such an athletic team?
Mike Dunlap has been incredible for the Red Storm. He's the tactician, the second in command, the voice in Lavin's ear, the man you don't want to tick off, the taskmaster. He's smart and organized. I'm not sure why he hasn't gotten a head coaching job on the D-1 level. Then again, he's picky and doesn't have a huge personality, I suppose - he's a little more subtle.
His trapping defense has been decent, but it's too early to say how well it works with this team. This St. John's team has a bit of a learning curve (http://www.rumbleinthegarden.com/2011/11/12/2553964/st-johns-freshmen-defense-learning-curve), though some of the issues with the team are issues with the scheme. Last year's team took a while to get comfortable with the zones as well.
Dunlap even mentioned in a press conference that yes, the team gives up a lot of threes, but it makes the team "one dimensional" (http://www.redstormsports.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/111111aaa.html).
I see the point that he's making, but there have certainly been some gaps in the zone that allow opponents comfortable TWO-point shots as well. With players running to close out on shooters, there many chances to simply miss the shooter... or the man that shooter decides to pass to instead of shooting. It's made for the kind of games that make you think about the merits of Rolaids/ Tums/ Pepto.
When the team grasps the concepts of the zone better, and the trapping and rotating become second nature, it could be really destructive to opponents.
3. Looks like Nurideen Lindsey nearly got a triple double the other evening. Is he the team's best player?
Nurideen is very good, and very quick. But I'm not ready to anoint any one of the new guys the team's best player.
It's a cop out, I know. I do think that many fans are very excited about the guys before they have played good defensive competition. Something I will touch on tomorrow is that I believe - having gone tracked his makes and misses - Lindsey hasn't hit a jump shot yet.
Granted, his game is best going at the rim, especially in transition, so each jump shot takes him away from what makes him deadly, what gets him foul shots. So that might be a small quibble, or it might be a real problem; it's hard to say.
The things Lindsey DOES well, however, are impressive. He is fast and aggressive in transition. He increases the team's pace on his own. He can get some steals (but gambles a little bit for them). Lindsey also has good eyes in transition and passes the ball ahead.
But God`sgift - or Gift for short - is probably the best player. He runs faster than most forwards, he rebounds decently, he converts around the basket (72.7% fg on the season), and he hits his free throws (21-23, 93%). I'd definitely want to revisit this on Saturday morning.
4. Out of all the newcomers, who do you think is the most promising as far as becoming a legitimate NBA prospect? Or are there a few?
Again, tough to say after three games against not-great competition.
Moe Harkless looks like he's scratching the surface of real, impactful NBA potential. His jumper hasn't started falling yet, but it looks good. Harkless is solidly quick with the dribble for a 6'8 player when using it to get his shot off. He rebounds a little, he is FAST, he can jump, he can finish. A little weight and a crsiper outside jumper, and he's in the league.
Nurideen Lindsey has elite speed; if he can get a few more shots to fall, diversify his game, and lower the turnovers, he could be a really good NBA lead guard (as long as no one is expecting Kendall Marshall-level passing).
St. John's fans might raise their eyebrow at this, but Gift hasn't shown enough on the glass for NBA consideration. He can run and he can finish, but his rebounding is just so-so right now. I wonder if it would be better if he didn't have to worry about foul trouble; with only two big men on the roster (and 7 scholarship players in total), he has to reserve energetic fighting for late in the game.
Sir`Dom needs a few years to find an offensive game, but his defense could be memorable and monstrous. Greene and Harrison are solid players, but need to up their skills before they can get NBA talk. I wouldn't be surprised to see either get some interest if they learn a point guard game in their junior or senior years. Neither is tall enough to be an NBA shooting guard.
5. Arizona has gone through some growing pains early in the season and is probably not deserving of its No. 15 AP ranking. How do you think the game will shape up, and do you have a prediction of who's going to win?
I watched a few of the Arizona games and straight up said "I think St. John's could win against the Wildcats." St. John's feasts on turnovers, and Arizona turns the ball over. So in that, the Red Storm have a chance.
Then I thought about how that would happen, and I told that thought to go back into the hole from where it came.
I rethink that thought with the image of Kyle Fogg rising up and draining deep jumpers. I see Nick Johnson hitting a few. I see a number of defensive gamblers on the perimeter for St. John's, and I imagine a crafty guard slicing past said gambler and attacking the interior... where the Johnnies have only two interior players. I see a Wildcats' team that gets to the line. I see an Arizona team that rebounds the defensive end, while St. John's gets beat on the boards on both sides.
I don't know a real prediction; I think it could be close, with a score in the 60s. If the guards stay at home, they can restrict the 'Cats to outside attempts only. If the bigs can stay on the floor for 35 minutes, they have a chance. And if the Johnnies get steals and get into the open court, it's trouble. Their sheer speed/ quickness is an advantage over Arizona. But Sean Miller game plans pretty well, and his teams play very good man defense, and St. John's have a LOT of flaws on offense...
Let's call it a toss-up.