Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Postgame Shootaround: 2-3 Zone Returns

St. John's and coach Steve Lavin after one of their finest hours last night as Johnnies defeat Northwestern to win Holiday Festival for first time since 2005. (Photo courtesy of Mark Fratto, senior associate athletic director for communications at St. John's University)

The 2-3 zone makes its return just before Christmas, and as was the case in its last edition, we'll recap two games from last night's college hoops slate before previewing three that tip off tonight.

  • Underrated big men really do exist.
Chief among them is Davidson's Jake Cohen. Just 24 hours after taking a hard shot from Justin Brownlee in the Wildcats' 62-57 loss to St. John's Monday night, Cohen showed no ill effects from the apparent injury as he was a deciding factor in Davidson's 76-69 victory over St. Francis in the Holiday Festival consolation game. Cohen had 17 points before ultimately fouling out midway through the second half, and his 6-10 size is the perfect complement to Brendan McKillop and J.P. Kuhlman in the backcourt.

  • We are...back?
St. John's fans sure hope so after the Red Storm rebounded from crushing losses against St. Bonaventure and Fordham to take the Holiday Festival with a gritty win over Davidson and arguably their most complete performance last night against Northwestern, one where Steve Lavin's Johnnies shot 60 percent from the field (80 in the second half) en route to the 85-69 victory. Among the most important and welcome sights from the Red Storm win last night was Justin Burrell coming alive for 17 points and nine rebounds in an outing that made people think it was 2007 all over again, when a then-freshman Burrell arrived on the scene as one of the more impressive rookies in the Big East. With St. John's opening their conference slate a week from today in Morgantown against West Virginia, Burrell is one of the many pieces that needs to step up for the Johnnies on a consistent basis if they are intent on "taking the baton" from former coach Norm Roberts and making the NCAA Tournament as Lavin has stated numerous times to be the program's mission statement.

  • Upset special in upstate New York?
Don't count Drexel out against Syracuse tonight. The Dragons upset Louisville last week on the Cardinals' home court at the new Yum! Center, and five of Syracuse's wins have been by ten points or less, including the most recent Orange victory, an 83-77 decision this past Saturday at the Carrier Dome against Iona. The highlight matchup should be in the backcourt between the two sharpshooters; Drexel's Chris Fouch and Brandon Triche of 'Cuse.

  • Marc vs. Mac
That's one of the marquee collisions tonight in Champaign, as Marcus Denmon and Missouri take on an Illinois team led by Demetri McCamey, who continues to prove that he made the right decision to stay in school. Missouri has been impressive all year, and it will be interesting to see how the Illini combat Mike Anderson's "40 minutes of hell" mentality just days after a shocking loss to Illinois-Chicago.

  • Backcourt battle #2...
This one actually takes place first tonight, and it comes from the Breslin Center. Fresh off a big win in a de facto road game at the Greensboro Coliseum against North Carolina, Texas heads into East Lansing to take on a Michigan State team they defeated a year ago before their mid-season swoon. While Dogus Balbay runs the point for the Longhorns, the matchup to watch here will be freshman Cory Joseph, who hit the game-winning shot Saturday against the Tar Heels, going against senior All-American Kalin Lucas, who is still recovering from the Achilles injury suffered during the Spartans' run to the Final Four.

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