GonzoBall vs. The East Coast Bias Part 2
GonzoBall: What's the deal with Carnesecca Arena, why aren't the Johnnie's playing this one at MSG? Two NYC-area schools with fan bases that could easily fill MSG, is St. John's trying to capitalize on the home court advantage?
East Coast Bias: Personally, I love that St. John's plays Seton Hall in Carnesecca Arena. MSG is big, relatively cavernous, and frankly, a lot more easily accessible for the Pirate fans - taking away the home-court advantage. It has to cost a lot more to put on a game there than it does on-campus... and I have my doubts that two struggling programs would make it worthwhile. MSG is expensive - why pay the money to have an arena half-filled with blue? Additionally, Carnesecca is close to the actual St. John's students, is close and intimate, and obviously bothers Bobby Gonzalez. Despite the best efforts of security, the younger student fans can get a little exuberant - which is something St. John's needs to build on, that homecourt frenzy. Every game doesn't have to be a polite tea party.
GB: The Pirates have struggled mightily in recent years at Carnesecca, none more frustrating than 07-08 when Anthony Mason Jr. drove a knife through the hearts of Seton Hall with his game winning 3PT attempt. Do we have another classic in store, or do you see one team having a significant advantage over the other?
ECB: That was an awesome ending. I think the teams are similar in that they're not that good. Seton Hall is a much better offensive team. But St. John's is a far better defensive team. Last year it was evident that when one team gets to impose its style on the other, that's the recipe for a win. If I see Malik Boothe taking 12 shots again, and the team catching up in a fast-paced game, I'll expect the Hall to win. If I see long possessions and Jeremy Hazell held to under 15 shots, I'll expect a St. John's win. I do think the Red Storm have a decent ability to make runs when they are confident, and Seton Hall can get hot - it has become a good, solid rivalry game.
GB: D.J. Kennedy has been having a nice season, where would this current St. John's squad be without him? We know he can fill it up, but outside of Kennedy, who are the best scorers and rebounders for the Red Storm?
ECB: The thing about Kennedy is that he is a playmaker. He's not the greatest shooter, but he's improving nicely. He's a fair ball handler, a good assist man, a dogged rebounder, a capable defender (I think he could be better), and just understands how to play. I've always thought of him as one of those scrappy, fundamental players you would see at Indiana - tall, rangy, less super-athletic than competent, smart, and if such a thing as "clutch" exists, he is that - he has ice water and the team will look to him at the end of games.
Outside of DJ Kennedy, Dwight Hardy is a get-hot-quick kind of scorer. He can really light it up in a hurry. He can be streaky, especially if he has to create his shot off the dribble. Paris Horne is a good spot-up shooter and can make some plays off the dribble.
Justin Burrell has really come on recently to be a competent rebounder and a fantastic scorer with range out to the three-point line, post moves, and the aggressiveness of his freshman year. Sean Evans is a very good rebounder, can dribble a little (not as much as he thinks he can) and in a speed game, could be an x-factor. He hasn't played much recently, but is athletic and powerful. He is similar to Justin Brownlee, who has some range on his shot (not as much as he thinks) and can also run. Dele Coker is the shotblocker and can rebound well. He probably won't play much, if at all, against the small Hall.
GB: St. John's sports an AST/TO ratio of 1/1, whereas the Pirates take better control of the ball at a rate of 1.4/1. As we discussed earlier, the Pirates get more steals, than non-steal TOs. How would you describe St. John's turnover problem? Lazy passes that get picked off? Or are they generally careless with the basketball?
ECB: I wouldn't say the Johnnies really have a turnover problem, but that comes from watching the team - they are much, much better at protecting the ball against pressure this year. There are two parts of the ratio, obviously, and one is that the team isn't always concerned with passing to another player in shooting position. That is to say they score off the dribble a lot. And when certain players get the ball, they're looking to score and pass as a last resort; the motion offense they run looks for one-on-one opportunities, not for shots at certain times in the flow of the offense.
When they do turn the ball over, sometimes it's because of pressure (but they are improving against the press) but often because a player gets stripped, or a player gets caught in bad offensive position, or a player (especially the small point guards) get caught in a trap. The Red Storm have been good at ball protection, but I believe they can be stolen from.
GB: Speak a little on the Norm Roberts era. From the perspective of a college basketball fan that isn't close to the program, Roberts looks to be nothing more than consistently bad. What is the situation and why hasn't he been fired yet? Does he possess naked pictures of the AD's wife?
ECB: This could be an essay - the forums are all about it, I have written a bit about it, and it's a little frustrating. Roberts' teams have been consistently bad on offense, and started out great on defense... went down to mediocre, and are now good - but not good enough to make up for their inability to score against good teams. Part of the problem is that his system might win if he had superior athletes, but superior athletes don't come to a losing situation unless there are... inducements involved. And sometimes, not even then.
The fans have been murmuring for a change for 3 years. Here's why I believe it hasn't happened: the Athletic Department doesn't believe that the job Roberts is doing is simply winning games. He's there to improve the standing of the basketball team in the community, set moral standards, graduate players, be an ambassador to the University, build contacts to AAU programs the right way, and slowly build a program the school can be proud of. The idea, I think, was to build a sense of stability around the program that had Fraschilla for 3 years until some scandalous kerfuffle, Mike Jarvis for 5+ until he was booted from his scandalous team (who then found a hooker in Pittsburgh)... the administration was looking for stability. And once Norm Roberts made inroads, he would start keeping some of the hard workers at home, building a class of tough-nosed players and starting to win. They thought it would take time and patience. They really like him.
Some will say that even building/ rebuilding a bad program - like St. John's, Rutgers, and other lower-level Big East schools - is a 4+ year process. While there is some truth to that, and it is more difficult in the 16-team league, a fan would like to see progress as opposed to years of beatings by other teams. St. John's is closer this year, but to close the efficiency gaps... that's a big gap, and Roberts has shown that he probably can't coach the offense to a level where the team should win 50% of their Big East games - a low threshold, but it would be better than consistently fighting to stay just out of the bottom 4 in the league. It's not working with Norm Roberts. He's done good by the University but he has a class of 9 graduating next year. After that, with maybe an NIT appearance, which 9 freshman are going to come to St. John's? MAAC level players. Guys who should be NEC stars. Players who would be A-10 middle of the pack players.
That won't work.
The decision-maker is school president Father Harrington, and I surely hope Norm doesn't have incriminating pictures of him. That would be a far, far bigger issue. I do think that, barring a miraculous month, this is his last year. But they have already won 2 in a row... if they beat the Hall and win 4 of their next 6, he might be back.
GB: For the rest of my life, I'll forever remember Felipe Lopez on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, "Super Freshman Felipe Lopez." I don't know what it was about that cover, but it made me feel like I had discovered this Felipe character before the rest of the world. It was telling your buddy about this kid in high school, "Lebron," before there was, you know, Lebron. It's sad that the majority of the sports world today would tell you that Felipe Lopez was a free agent second basemen who had recently fired Scott Boras. What is your lasting memory of Felipe?
ECB: My Felipe Jersey. Those were ugly arse uniforms and I wore the top like it was gold. I wore it to parties and hip-hop shows. Thing is, I wasn't even the same kind of dedicated basketball fan as I am today, so I don't have strong memories. I just remember thinking, wasn't the team supposed to be better? I remember Kentucky fans in 1996 gloating and me saying that Felipe was going to lead St. John's to a Final Four. I remember people asking if I knew Felipe (I went to school in the Midwest, so they don't know who knows who in NYC).
And I liked Felipe as a pro, always hoped someone else would bring him in as a defensive player with some serious athletic upside... but the NBA passed him by. But man, that cover was a thrill, wasn't it?
Special thanks to Pico, from The East Coast Bias for the Q&A and the stroll down memory lane.