1. As I alluded to in one of my questions and also in our last Q&A, St. John's still has an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament. They'll likely need to win their next three (Pitt, at Syracuse, and at DePaul) along with at least two in the Big East tournament, but it's still a possibility - one that will be increased with a win against Pitt. How much NCAA tournament talk is still going on at this point?
It’s interesting to me that other bloggers mention that St. John’s, holding steady at 12th or 13th in the conference, has a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Part of my surprise is that within the message boards, pretty much anyone who posts regularly is upset about the team, thinks they are simply destined to lose, and that the coach should be fired. I think it’s hard for that set of fans to see just how much parity the league has this year (does that mean the league is good? Or that it’s bad? I think I am going to ask some of the other league bloggers this question, too). It’s hard for me to see it.
That said, this team isn’t going to the NCAAs. They would have to beat Syracuse and make a run of at least 2 rounds in the NCAA Tournament, while other teams really have shocking losses, and all the mid-majors (and Pac-10) have no surprise tournament upsets. St. John’s has too many bad losses – Providence, Rutgers, Seton Hall; they’re 2-8 against the RPI top 50, and 0-6 against the top 25, they’re under .500 in conference. It would take a Georgia-style act of God to get this team in.
The NIT is possible but unlikely, with the Big East teams ahead of St. John’s in the standings.
2. When looking at the points scored and points given up per game, Pitt and St. John's are very close. Pitt has only scored about 1.5 more ppg and given up about 3 ppg less, yet they have a decidedly better record. What has been the main thing(s) keeping St. John's from joining the ranks of the Big East elite this year?
Pittsburgh plays a slower pace, and that masks how much better their offense and defense is. Despite their inefficiency sometimes, Pitt does a better job executing on both ends, and gets to the free throw line. St. John’s doesn’t, and shoots poorly from the line, to boot. In conference, Pitt is scoring around 5 points more per game and both teams give up about the same number of points per game.
St. John’s offense has really held them back. They’ve gotten worked on defense, for sure, but the Storm hasn’t been much worse than league average, generally. But the offense – and lack of forcing turnovers – has slowed them down.
3. Pitt fans are familiar with D.J. Kennedy, of course, being from Pittsburgh. Some point to him as a missed prospect that Pitt passed on (for Brad Wanamaker), I believe. Is there any NBA talk surrounding him and if not, what does he need to work on to have a chance at getting into an NBA camp?
Earlier in the year a draft board (at nbadraft.net, maybe?) had him as a second round pick next year. He might get there. He’s a hard worker. I don’t know that he has immense physical gifts, but sometimes, he’s a very smart player and knows how to make plays. I think he needs to work on a number of things – his shot has to be more steady (though he has gotten better at getting his shot off and his first step).
Kennedy could improve his handle a little. And I think his defense could get him to stick in the league as a Trenton Hassell, Bruce Bowen kind of defender – versatile, tough, tall. Maybe even at Matt Barnes type, who just makes plays everywhere – Barnes was a decent, not standout player on a good UCLA team, but he was also a great glue guy with a wealth of half-tapped gifts and athleticism to get by on. Kennedy’s athleticism isn’t quite there, and he’s a couple of inches shorter.
4. Justin Burrell, a relatively unknown to a lot of people came out and had arguably his best game of the year against Pitt in their first meeting (14 points on 5-7 shooting / 7 rebounds). Other than him and the usual suspects in Kennedy, Dwight Hardy, and Anthony Mason, Jr., who else is someone that Pitt should keep their eye on? Maybe not someone for a huge game, but someone who could provide a key spark when needed?
Malik Boothe has been crafty and fairly effective in the past 5 games. At the very least, he’s been aggressive, and he can make some plays on offense driving to the hoop. Both Paris Horne and Sean Evans can make some plays; Evans is the team’s best offensive rebounder. Those are the only other guys who might have the ball and be looked to for playmaking.