It's just 8 days until the St. John's Red Storm season begins.
It’s been tough to watch the men’s basketball team play at home or on the road. The Johnnies have not provided that winning basketball that the fans want to see. I love the squad and they're my bit of Queens away from home, but I think that one day my wife may cancel our cable just so she doesn't hear me groan at yet another turnover. It's a tough watch; a labor of love.
To their credit, the players have stayed clear of scandal and represent the school well, a focus for the administration after the previous coach's tenure. But this is the Big East, and the students and alums want to see winning, scoring, and tough defense. Those W's? They bring in fans, recruits, publicity, and respect. And wins make following this team that much more satisfying.
The administration seemingly is on board with this concept of winning.
According to the New York Post's Lenn Robbins:
The parameters of [Coach Norm Roberts’] contract, which initially weighted heavily his player's academic and conduct performances, now also demand greater success on the court.
Is that bit of news a reason to believe that there is some kind of win threshold? Is Coach Roberts on the hot seat? We’ll find out, perhaps, at the end of the season… if things go awry.
Then again, while the conference’s coaches pick St. John’s to finish 11th, and others inexplicably have St. John's at 15th, others see what I see - a lot of returning minutes and consistency of roles in a league that's in flux. Returning minutes tend to mean improvement in most cases (though drastic improvement is not a given).
But how much improvement? The difference between St. John's and their opponents in conference was about 12 points per 100 possessions. Put more plainly, the Red Storm scored nearly 8 points less than their opponents in any given conference contest. Adjusting for 6 wins, that's a number of blowouts. (If you want to read more about last year, here is the 2008-2009 review post to help you brush up).
How can the team get better and close the gap between them and their conference opponents?
- Offensive Turnovers. They need to stop. Whether they are turnovers on ill-advised drives, the shaky ballhandling by guards or the lack of awareness/ hand strength in the post, the turnovers have to be cut down, especially the unforced turnovers and offensive fouls. This is probably the best chance for the Red Storm to move up in the Big East hierarchy.
- Defensive Turnovers. The team is not big (except for Dele Coker). The defense has been on a downward trend, especially in conference, allowing opponents to shoot a higher effective field goal percentage each year since 2006. If the team can't stop opponents from scoring, they can at least reduce the other team's opportunities to score. Coach Roberts speaks about increased defensive intensity; hopefully this will end up with a harassing, ball-snatching perimeter defense.*
- Scoring Droughts. Keeping the ball means keeping a chance to score; but not enough of the players on the floor have been efficient at scoring. With the addition of a scoring JUCO (Dwight Hardy) and an athletic JUCO (Justin Brownlee), plus a creative freshman guard (Omari Lawrence), and hopeful improvements from the returning guards, this could be a thing of the past. That is dependent, of course, on holding on to the ball long enough to squeeze a quality shot off.
- Reliable Post Play. Down the stretch, DJ Kennedy and Paris Horne carried the team in victories and defeats. But Justin Burrell had some nice moments against Georgetown, and Sean Evans was a horse against Richmond. If they can be constant threats, and if Dele Coker can stay on the floor to provide a defense-first big who rebounds (and supplements the turnovers with some blocked shots), the team will be much less predictable on both ends.
*Yes, ball-snatching is a reference to that Malik Boothe photo in the Boston College game.