St. John’s Preview: Harkless, Harrison are workhorses for undermanned Red Storm

Marquette returns home to take on the St. John’s Red Storm after a winless two-game road trip out east last week. Losses at Georgetown and Syracuse dropped the Golden Eagles to 1-2 in conference play but have looked better since losing Chris Otule to a knee injury on Dec. 3.

If there’s a team in the Big East that knows about losing key pieces to its puzzle, it’s the Red Storm. Head coach Steve Lavin has coached only four games this season as he recovers from prostate cancer surgery performed in early October. Three freshmen, including starting point guard Nurideen Lindsey, have transferred out of Queens, leaving the Red Storm with just eight scholarship players.

A year ago the Red Storm defeated the Golden Eagles at the Bradley Center, 80-68, behind 28 points from senior guard Dwight Hardy.

Here’s an in-depth look at what the Golden Eagles can expect Wednesday night as they attempt to get back to .500 in conference play:

Queens native Moe Harklesswas the top prospect in Steve Lavin’s nine-man recruiting class this year and has lived up to that billing, averaging 15.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8 forward fills up the box score on a nightly basis and gets after it on the defensive end, averaging 1.5 steals and 1.8 blocks in addition to his  offensive prowess. The ultra-athletic Harkless plays over 35 minutes per game and is the workhorse for a St. John’s rotation that goes just seven players deep.

D'Angelo Harrison has paced the Johnnies offensively, averaging a team-high 16.0 points per game. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Equally impressive has been fellow freshman D’Angelo Harrison. The 6-foot-3 guard, who chose St. John’s over Marquette, leads the Red Storm in scoring and has picked up his overall game in Big East play. The talented scorer can penetrate and get to the line but is also averaging 2.0 three-point field goals per game. St. John’s goes as Harrison goes, as the freshman averages 17.9 points on 30.2 percent shooting in eight wins and 13.8 points on 50 percent shooting in seven losses.

Another newcomer who has contributed to St. John’s cause is junior forward God’sfgift Achiuwa. Along with having quite possibly the best name in college basketball, Achiuwa has been been a terror in the paint for opponents. Inconsistencies have hurt the former junior college star but he crashes the offensive glass and works hard on the defensive end.

Freshman Sir’Dominic Pointer was a top-30 recruit coming out of high school but is still building confidence at the next level. The 6-foot-6 forward’s athleticism is undeniable and he plays exceptionally well on the offensive end but he doesn’t create offensively and has taken a back seat to Harkless and Harrison. He’s efficient and had a nice 14-point, eight-rebound effort in the Red Storm’s loss to Connecticut.

Since the transfer of freshman Nurideen Lindsay the Red Storm haven’t had a true point guard on the floor, but Phil Greene is the closest to that. The 6-foot-2 freshman has seen his role increase since Lindsey’s transfer and he has responded, averaging 3.1 assists. Turnovers are still a concern at times but Greene has good size and is a quick defender who needs to pace the game for the Red Storm.

Forward Amir Garrett was deemed eligible by the NCAA on Dec. 20 and has given minutes to a St. John’s team that desperately needs it. 5-foot-11 point guard Malik Stith, the only upperclassman on the roster, sees spot duty off the bench as well.

Where the Red Storm are good

— One in every four points St. John’s scores comes from the free throw line, the ninth highest mark in the country. At 24.5 attempts per game, the Red Storm live off penetrating and drawing contact to get to the line. Harrison leads the team with 91 free throw attempts and is making 81.3 percent of those looks. The Red Storm use athleticism and speed to get to spots on the court first, which results in drawn fouls.

Stout defense has helped keep Phil Greene and the Red Storm out of foul trouble this year. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

— The only way for a seven-man rotation to stay in games is to stay out of foul trouble. Luckily for the Red Storm, that’s exactly what they do. Only one player (Amir Garrett) commits more than 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes and opponents are attempting only 14.1 free throws per game against the Red Storm, ninth lowest in the nation. Marquette has lived off the free throw line this year so this statistic will be one to watch.

Where the Red Storm can be beat

— The Red Storm are the fourth worst three-point shooting team in the nation, hitting a measly 25.5 percent of their outside looks. Harrison is the team’s leading shooter at 32.6 percent and 30 makes but, outside of him and Harkless, no player has made more than eight 3-pointers this season. The Red Storm rely on trips to the line and interior baskets more than any team in the Big East, something that has yielded mix results this year.

— Davante Gardner is making the most of his extended minutes on the offensive end and will have another chance to do some damage against the Red Storm. The sophomore forward’s 15.5 percent offensive rebounding rate ranks 27th in the nation and the Red Storm allow offensive boards at a 36.4 percent rate, 297th worst in the country. Gardner could be in line for another big night, while the rest of the Golden Eagles can look forward to second chance points.

— Lindsey’s transfer left a major void at the point guard position that has yet to be filled for St. John’s. Greene is a point guard but, at just 17 minutes per game, hasn’t been the answer. Harrison gets the job done but is a scorer, not a passer. The Red Storm are assisting on 45.6 percent of its made field goals, which ranks 320th in the nation. The Johnnies have struggled against teams who apply pressure, something Marquette has done in Big East play.

Three keys to the game

1. Run, run, run: Thanks to three transfers the Red Storm have eight scholarship players and a rotation that goes just seven deep. An astonishing five different players average at least 28 minutes and if Marquette plays the game it wants to, getting up and down the court, it’s hard to see the Red Storm’s shallow depth chart competing for 40 minutes. More importantly, the post-Otule Golden Eagles are better when they can get out and score transition baskets.

2. Slow down Harrison: Harrison’s aforementioned split stats in St. John’s wins and losses speak for itself, but Harrison is a nightmare when the pace of the game picks up and he gets into a rhythm. He’s a pure scorer who Marquette will need to defend well before the catch and keep out of the paint. He draws 5.2 fouls per 40 minutes and has a 50.3 free throw rate, both of which rank toward the top of the Big East.

3. Double team Harkless: One of Marquette’s main defensive strategies since losing Otule has been to double the opponent’s most skilled big whenever he touches the ball in the post. For St. John’s, Harkless is a prime candidate to receive that treatment. The Red Storm’s horrid three-point shooting will allow Marquette to cheat more inside doubling Harkless and worry less about guards on the perimeter. Harkless has been the one constant in St. John’s turbulent 2011-2012 season, but Marquette can limit him by forcing the ball out of his hands and making someone else initiate the offense.

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