Sunday, February 25, 2007

Duke at St. Johns' Preview

Duke visits Madison Square Garden, their home away from home, this afternoon to take on "home team" St. John's (2 PM, CBS). Here's a quick and dirty preview, as the game is just an hour away.

This game will not do any wonders for Duke's NCAA tourney profile, unless they are upset, which could have ramifications for the entire Atlantic Coast Conference. The ACC currently ranks first in estimated RPI and in Pomeroy's conference rating, thanks in great part to some out of conference wins by Duke, UNC, and Virginia. A loss to St. John's, who sit near the bottom of the Big East, could be part of the case that leaves Clemson and FSU on the wrong side of the NCAA tourney bubble.

The Johnnies are 13-15, 6-9 in the weak Big East. They're coming off a solid 25 point drubbing in Louisville. Their highest profile victory came in a win over Syracuse (#42 Pomeroy) at home back in January, and another home win over DePaul (#49) just after New Years'. The offense is led by 6-10 senior Lamont Hamilton, who takes about 25% of his teams' shots when he's on the court. His 105.8 offensive rating leads the Johnnies, a poor offense that ranks 175th in the nation in adjusted efficiency, at just 100.8 on the season. St John's takes a high percentage of three point shots, (38% of its shots, 81st highest in the country), but hit just 34% of these, with 6-1 junior Eugene Lawrence possessing the best 3pt percentage on the team, at 39.3%.

St. John's defense is better than it's offense, but not by much. With an adjusted efficiency of 94.6, their main strengths come from limiting field goal percentage on 2pt shots, and from
limiting opponents' trips to the free throw line. Curiously, they rank 6th in the nation in Free Throw Percentage against, at just 64.6%. It may be that their defensive efficiency may be affected by a great deal of luck. Individually, the only player of note is Lawrence, who gets steals at a rate of 3.3% of possessions played, leading the team.

Luck may have a lot to do with St. John's record overall- as their expected winning percentage (as measured by Pomeroy) predicts them to have two fewer wins. Matching up with a rejuvenated Duke team, the Johnnies have their work cut out for them. Duke's strengths, defensive rebounding and limiting 3pt percentage, play straight to two of St John's biggest weaknesses. St. John's will either need to have a performance like Duke saw from its opponents at Georgia Tech, or will need a huge game from Hamilton to stay in this game. It won't be enough. Duke, 70-50.

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