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Date/Time: Sunday, March 24; 11:00 AM
Record against the Johnnies: 0-7
Last meeting: SJU 73, UVA 63; 3/24/03, Queens, NY
Last game: UVA 67, NSU 56 (3/19); SJU 63, St. Joe's 61 (3/19)
UVA: 60.8 (#333)
SJU: 67.6 (#99)
UVA: 106.9 (#75)
SJU: 98.2 (#208)
UVA: 88.8 (#16)
SJU: 92.0 (#37)
UVA: .8700 (#31)
SJU: .6623 (#101)
PG: Jontel Evans (4.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.9 apg)
SG: Paul Jesperson (4.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.9 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (16.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.2 apg)
SF: Justin Anderson (6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (13.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.5 apg)
PG: Phil Greene (9.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.6 apg)
SG: Jamal Branch (6.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.8 apg)
SF: Sir'Dominic Pointer (7.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.8 apg)
PF: JaKarr Sampson (14.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.1 apg)
C: Chris Obekpa (3.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Sunday's second-round game brings us the kind of matchup we ought to be getting more of outside postseason tournaments. More east-coast home-and-homes and fewer SWAC snacks? It might help the RPI, you know?
Anyway, we don't see much of St. John's, but there's a little history lesson here anyway. The game will be exactly 10 years to the day UVA last played St. John's - and in the second round of the NIT, no less. UVA lost that one, but it was on the road to a team that would eventually win the entire tournament. (And then vacate it a couple years later when it was found they were playing with an ineligible player who was ineligible because they were paying him under the table.)
Awaiting the winner of this one is Iowa, the bracket's 3 seed and the only Big Ten team in the Little Dance. KenPom-wise, UVA and Iowa are the two best teams in the whole field of 32, so it's no surprise they advanced to the Eliteish Eight. It'd be nice to set up what would clearly be the marquee game of the third round.
-- UVA on offense
Looking (very deep) below the surface of the ugliness of the Norfolk State game, you find a UVA team that's dragging itself out of a shooting slump. It probably wasn't evident with all the turnovers, but UVA did shoot a respectable 5-of-13 from three and shot better than 50% from the field in the second half. The problems they had - the turnovers and free-throw shooting - should be more or less correctable, especially if they've had some decent practices this week.
The obvious #1 concern for UVA on Sunday will be the Johnnies' shot-blocking fiend, freshman Chris Obekpa. Obekpa stands 6'9", which isn't extraordinary by any means (on a basketball court) so guys are lulled into trying to shoot over him. Then he unwinds his 7'5" wingspan. Obekpa has 131 blocks this year, more than four per game, and blocks 16% of all opponents' shots when he's on the floor. That kind of prowess can really alter your offense, and guys like Akil Mitchell and Justin Anderson in particular should be aware of where he is and not put themselves in a position where they realize it too late.
The Storm also have Sir'Dominic Pointer, an athletic wing who can be very disruptive when he's in the right place. But Pointer doesn't have the game-altering skills that Obekpa has, and Anderson should be able to match his athleticism.
St. John's is a little bit like a better Norfolk State; very good defense, not much offense. Even in losing efforts they've held some quality tournament teams below a point a possession. They don't do it with turnovers as much; it's Obekpa and good interior defense that keeps teams out of the paint. Since UVA is reluctant to force the ball down low, and often content to pass the ball around the perimeter for half the shot clock, a lot will depend on the shooting. More so than usual, I think. If UVA drops some threes early, they could blow the Storm out of the building. Otherwise they're going to end up in a grindfest that, as with Norfolk State, relies partly on the opponents' offensive ineptitude to keep them in it.
-- UVA on defense
St. John's is an interesting proposition here. They're the worst offensive team in the Big East, and would be in the ACC too, and most of those numbers are with leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison. Sadly for St. John's, Harrison is suspended for the duration of the season. That leaves them with...not much.
Sir'Dominic Pointer was the hero of the St. Joseph's game on Tuesday; Pointer hit a fadeaway jumper as time ran out to break the tie and give his team the win. He and Jakarr Sampson qualify as the Johnnies' top offensive threats. Only a freshman, Sampson is a skilled player but not yet strong enough to be a huge factor close to the rim, and he's no three-point shooter.
Come to think of it, basically nobody is. Harrison was the second-best long-range shooter on the team, percentage-wise. And he only shot .315. Pointer is at .360, but only occasionally shoots, with 25 attempts all season. Point guard Phil Greene is at .231, and bench guard Marco Bourgault is at .301 with only 73 attempts this year. (And 75 total; a three-point specialist who can barely shoot threes.) That is basically the full list of distance threats on St. John's. Compared to most teams, they rarely shoot it, which makes them uniquely poorly positioned to take advantage of the pack-line defense.
In fact, basketball has generally evolved to emphasize shots at the rim and three-pointers, and eschew the low-percentage, low-reward two-point jumper. St. John's plays the opposite. Largely out of necessity, because they have neither a dominant post player nor anyone who can shoot threes. And as a result, they don't shoot a lot of free throws, which might be good because they're horrible at that too. As dominant as Chris Obekpa is on defense, he isn't a major factor on offense.
So once again we're looking at a low-scoring game. St. John's will be much better than Norfolk State when allowed to shoot open looks, but not from too far away. And they don't really have a playmaking point guard, so they struggle to find those open looks.
I have a tough time with this one. In a vacuum, UVA ought to be the superior team and win nine out of ten games played against St. John's. But everything's been a struggle lately. If UVA plays like they did against Norfolk State, they'll lose, and I feel like I owe it to you as a blogger to do more than just regurgitate the paper. And yet....that paper does show a pretty handy UVA win. Let's cut down the middle and go with a narrow victory. Just cause.
Final score: UVA 57, SJU 54