Guest post by Pico Dulce of “The East Coast Bias” blog (which focuses on St. John’s Basketball)
Pico’s writing can also be found at the St. John’s supersite “Johnny Jungle”
We lost quite a few players but our other guys just have to step up and play, that’s just how it is. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you, it’s a great opportunity for the young guys to step up and play. We blocked out, but they are strong. They pushed us out from underneath the rim. We have to do a better job of being strong enough to keep teams away from the glass.
- Norm Roberts, after 70-62 loss against Miami
It’s time to step in to the bright lights of Big East conference season for St. John’s. They come into conference play with a 9-3 record that sounds good, but features wins against cupcakes (Strength of Schedule so far: 272) and three losses against the ACC foes Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami. Those weren’t pretty losses. They featured hefty disparities in St. John’s ability to get to the free throw line vs their ability to keep their opponents off the line (except for Virginia Tech) and a serious beating on the offensive glass/ second chance opportunities.
So, a chart with the three game averages (from the ACC foes) and St. John’s average numbers in those games for offensive and defensive rebounding. Technical note: the following chart includes a completely made up number, which is the aggregate of field goal attempts and free throw attempts. The point of the metric – and this assumes a team can achieve around 1 point per possession for each shot taken from the floor, and 1 point per free throw – is that St. John’s ACC opponents have been given more opportunites to score points. And that can’t be good.
3 Game Averages St. John’s ACC Opponents Difference
Offensive Rebounds ……..9.0 15.3 -6.3
Defensive Rebounds …….17.7 23.7 -6.0
FG Att + FT Att…………….76.0 84.0 -8.0
One thing last year’s St. John’s team was good at in conference play was defensive rebounding. In other words, they kept the other team off of the glass, minimized second chance points, and minimized opponents’ possessions. This squad is not good enough at scoring to get beat on the glass like THIS.
And so the conference season opens with more questions than answers. Who is the real St. John’s? Can Sean Evans play like he has in conference? Is Justin Burrell going to be a factor? Can anyone hit a three-pointer? Can anyone be consistent on offense? Are one of the centers ready to be a rebounding role player?
The Red Storm travels to play a Providence Friar team who have struggled a bit under new head coach Keno Davis. The Friars have lost to Boston College (by less than the Red Storm did) and Baylor; and have lost to St. Mary’s College and Northeastern, in a pair of games where their offensive turnover rate was over 23%.
The Red Storm won a thrilling game against the Friars in 2008 at the on-campus Carnesecca Arena, the last of a winning streak that owed as much to the scheduling as it did to effective play. The funny thing about the game? The Friars shot better and went to the free throw line about as much. St. John’s won by not turning the ball over and with offensive rebounding, and some sure outside and foul shooting from the now-departed Larry Wright. In truth, Wright’s shooting was substandard in that game, but let’s not have that get in the way of a good story.
The team was somewhat aggressive against Miami, and will continue to run. And they need to; they cannot shoot the three-pointer, shooting at a 29% clip. To counter this, the team will look to get transition attempts and offensive rebounds.
They won’t take a lot of midrange jump shots, but Sean Evans, Justin Burrell, and Rob Thomas will do some work down low. Evans is the bull with his head down, Rob Thomas is the one with the crafty touch around the basket, and Burrell is the agile talent who has been taking more outside shots… and otherwise has not been as aggressive as expected. Evans draws a number of foul shots but hits less than half of his attempts.
From the guard positions, Paris Horne will continue to be the three-point shooter and speedy slasher (though he does not draw fouls), DJ Kennedy will slash (and hopefully hit a few more jumpers, and freshman Quincy Roberts will start and hopefully bring the game he brought to the Miami contest. Quincy scored 14 points (4-11 with 5-6 FT’s), 9 rebounds, and 3 assists, along with 3 turnovers. TyShwan Edmondson is the other freshman ball handler and he showed some unexpected activity against Miami, deflecting passes with his long arms and going 3-7 from the field.
Expect the coaching staff to emphasize toughness, blocking out and rebounding, which means there will be a lot of grappling on the low blocks. And against a team like Providence that is in a serious shooting slump, expect the Johnnies to whip out some zone.
G 23 Paris Horne SO 6’3” 185 lbs – 12.6 ppg/ 3.1 rpg/ 2.4 apg/ 35% 3PT
Paris Horne is the best shooter the team has, and that’s not a good sign. He is a gamer, for sure. Maybe the fastest player on the team end-to-end. But is he ready for a role where he takes 24% of his team’s shots? When he doesn’t get to the line? And sometimes doesn’t finish with the slam like he should? His defense is solid, and he and Kennedy are usually assigned to the opposing team’s best perimeter options. Paris is still learning how to be a playmaker.
G/F 1 DJ Kennedy SO 6’6” 210 lbs – 12.9 ppg/ 7.2 rpg/ 2.6 apg/ 1.2 spg/ 31% 3PT
DJ Kennedy is a do-it-all player. Especially with rebounds. While the audience wonders why some of St. John’s forwards don’t go and aggressively snag rebounds, he’s the one putting his nose in between people and coming away with the ball. He has been much more sure with the ball. His shooting in the previous game was… there was an airball, and it was indicative of his jump shot that day. Interestingly, since going 1-2 from the three-point line against St. Francis 6 games ago, he has shot 1-14 from the three.
G 10 Quincy Roberts FR 6’5” 190 lbs – 5.3 ppg/ 2.7 rpg/ 44% FG
Quincy’s line on Saturday was pretty solid for a first start (and 39 minutes). He played hard and aggressively, and used smooth hesitation moves to get into the lane. It was the kind of performance that almost gives a fan some hope about this team. His quickness is okay, his hops are a little sneaky. He has a decent looking stroke from outside, but is only shooting 35%, and not shooting often. With a 79% free throw rate, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if a few more of his shots start falling.
F 24 Justin Burrell SO 6’8” 240 lbs – 10.5 ppg/ 4.5 rpg/ 56.5% FG
Justin had some bones broken in his face in practice a week and a half ago. He’s back and wearing a clear and white mask to protect his face. He’ll be the player that the announcers know about, having been a member of the Big East all-Rookie team. But has he advanced this year? He seems shier about looking for his shot, and doesn’t always get the ball from his teammates. Burrell’s worked on his outside shot and can can the three-pointer, but the team would be better served if he used the low-post moves he learned over the summer at the Jerry Tarkanian camp to bang away at opposing forwards. And for an athlete his size, skill, and quickness, he should grab more rebounds than he does. His numbers aren’t bad, but he has been puzzling at times to watch. He’s a candidate to go “beasting” on a team and break another rim with his hammer dunk.
PF 5 Sean Evans SO 6’8” 250 lbs – 10.2 ppg/ 6.3 rpg/ 1 spg/ 52% FG/ 45% FT
Sean Evans has been the revelation this year, aggressively rebounding and getting to the free throw line on sheer activity. His numbers last year indicated that this performance was possible. It fact, it was last year’s Providence game that showed how effective Evans could be, a far cry from wondering why this unknown Philly player got a scholarship. He’s got a short dribble game and will be fouled by someone. But that’s a decent play; he has obviously worked on his free throws but can’t get them to fall at all. Evans will also beat opponents down the court on both ends.
F 55 Rob Thomas SO 6’6” 226 lbs – 5.3 ppg/ 3.2 rpg (2 offensive)/ 11.5 mpg
Rob Thomas has a great comeback story, from a tough life growing up to his terrible injury that robbed him of his famed explosiveness. But his basketball acumen is nice – he has excellent ability on the offensive glass and even more excellent touch on those flip shots around the basket. The only drawback is that his conditioning and endurance still seems to be lacking. But he can put up points in a hurry.
C 15 Dele Coker SO 6’10” 260 lbs – 3.9 ppg/ 2.5 rpg/ 1.1 bpg/ 2.7 fouls per game/ 12.4 mpg
Dele was supposed to be the story of the summer, coming back slimmer, quicker, and ready to play. He has the same issues – he fouls too much to stay on the court, and though his rebound numbers are nice, he has a number of balls go through his hands. Coker can block some shots. His eagerness to do so causes him to leave his feet and fall into opponents, which does not end a possession in the way he would like.
G 12 TyShwan Edmondson FR 6’4” 170 lbs – 2.2 ppg/ 1.5 fouls per game
Before Saturday I would have wrote “…” because I’d have had nothing to say. Ty Edmondson just wasn’t very good – tentative, unsure, easily lost on defense. And against Miami (with his mother in attendance), he interfered with passes from the Miami players, made a few nice passes, and though his shooting/ scoring needs work, he was effective in 20 minutes on Saturday. It is important to note that he’s shooting 12% on 3-pointers.
Five Points -or- Keys to the Game St. John’s
They’re Just As Ugly! This could be an ugly game, but St. John’s has to remember that even though the Friars are struggling from the outside as the Red Storm does, they still have to be defended from the arc. And St. John’s has to find a way to win the effective field goal matchup by getting their shots inside.
Run. The Red Storm aren’t going to win a jump shooting contest. With a little more confidence from the guards Edmondson and Roberts, the team should look upcourt and try to play uptempo when they get defensive rebounds. Get the athletes like Kennedy, Burrell, and Evans in space to finish down low and hopefully get McDermott and Jonathan Kale in foul trouble.
This Week, How About Domination? This is one of the more winnable games on the slate; the whole team HAS to show up, keep opponents off the offensive glass, and get second chance points for themselves. All the time in the weight room isn’t just for show. The forwards have to make space and keep their arms out to keep space clear, grab rebounds, and control the game.
Be Bothersome. Pass deflection and banging the forwards.. Make sure the Friars don’t have a high number of assisted baskets, and make them try to score one-on-one instead of having shooters catch and shoot their attempts. Make Sharaud Curry create. Make Geoff McDermott create with his shot and not with the pass.
Don’t Be Easy. Of course, the team needs to keep turnovers low. Giving the Friars easy shots and easy looks from the outside will doom the Red Storm – especially since they are wildly inequipped to make a stunning comeback from a deficit. And if the Johnnies manage to get a few turnovers from the Friars… all the better for the team’s success.
Read more about St. John’s at Pico’s blog at “East Coast Bias”