All the anticipation for Lavin's debut has been great. But for Steve Lavin, the St. John's players, and the fans, the wait has been interminable. It is time to see some basketball, to see what changes have come in the team, and to get at it.
The exhibition game is here. Tonight at 7 pm eastern at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, the Lavin era begins. Here's hoping it will be a long and fruitful period in St. John' basketball.
Coach John Moore brings the Westmont Warriors in from Santa Barbara, CA, off of an exhibition game against the UCLA Bruins in Pauley Pavilion. They got beat by a lot. But the team is enjoying traveling to play some excellent high-level teams in preparation for their NAIA season. Westmont's coach John Moore is married to Steve Lavin's older sister; it'll be a nice bit of family time for them as well.
Westmont did expose some flaws in the Bruins - the 3-point shooting, and some half-court defensive issues. St. John's already comes with questions. The squad finished 13th in the 16 team Big East, and the coaching staff was fired. Obviously, the new staff will make some changes, and comes with a new/ different philosophy (such as actually scoring the ball).
Great change needs to be installed by the coaching staff to make this tough and plucky crew into a formidable Big East squad with real aspirations to reach the NCAA Tournament. What will change? From earlier this week, in the NY Daily News:
"We're going to win a lot more," [DJ Kennedy] said. "Last year we were good enough to get leads on almost everyone and (bad) enough to lose them."
There are questions as to HOW that's going to happen, for a team that struggled to score inside the arc, and struggled to score outside the arc, and struggled to score at the free throw line. A list of questions, whether we will answer them tonight, recruits at the game, a scouting report from Assistant Coach Mike Dunlap, and new walk-ons...
The Red Storm questions
Who's going to play down low? Justin Brownlee and Dwayne Polee have gotten some mentions by Lavin; what about mainstay Sean Evans? He is determined to show that he belongs, that he can learn to be a more efficient player. Some answers, tonight.
Can Malik Boothe be effective? He had a nice stretch at the end of last season, being efficient with the ball and possibly fully healthy for the first in a long time. His toughness is desperately needed. The options to back him up are not strong. Malik Stith and Dwight Hardy will get their cracks at the backup point guard position. Boothe needs to make enough jump shots to make opponents worry about him as an offensive threat. He needs to make plays - steals, passes that lead to shots, and getting to the line. Some answers, tonight.
Can Lavin play Horne/ Kennedy/ and Hardy together? Taking fewer shots last year, Paris Horne had some struggles. Hardy struggled in conference play as well, especially inside the arc. But he also took a lot of shots when he was on the court, partly out of necessity; he was the probably the best solo shot creator that team had. Kennedy was the leading scorer, and worked well with the ball in his hands; but his skill set is large, and he needs help in scoring so he can also make passes, draw fouls, and clean the glass from the wing. All three of them need to be integrated into an offensive unit; if creating as part of a team, they can get easier shots for the other members of their team. Answers, tonight.
What does the new offense look like? Will this team be able to push the pace and run? In an exhibition game, this is a hard question to answer. Even last year's St. John's team pushed the pace. What will the early offense look like? How long will it take the team to get a shot off in halfcourt sets? And how will this team react to a zone? Few answers tonight.
Will they do different things on defense? The Red Storm staff has talked about installing a new defense and tweaking the offense. We will see some of those changes and work out the kinks. How will the guards look in the half court? How well do the forwards stay in position? Can the team play a competent zone defense? Obviously, with a tough game coming in 10 days, we're not going to see all the tricks and wrinkles that the staff has in mind. Some answers, tonight.
Have Malik Stith and Quincy Roberts improved? The team will need these two to improve; one of them needs to provide depth at the point and the shooting guard position. Few answers tonight.
Will Dwayne Polee make us all say OOOO? Probably. He'll get a dunk or two. And we will get to see the breadth of Polee's game in a game situation. Answers, tonight.
I'll be watching.
Recruits: Top-100 recruits Norvel Pelle (F from California) and Amir Garrett (G/F from California) are on their official visits and will attend the game tonight. Both have been mentioned with St. John's often, and it wouldn't be a surprise if one of them gave a verbal agreement on this trip. The official early signing season starts this week, November 10th.
Scouting Report: From Red Storm Sports video: St. John's wants to pressure with a 1-1-3 defense, wants to keep them below 70 points; they play an extended 1-3-1 zone and shoot the 3.
New Walk-Ons: There's #30 Jamal White, a big (6'4) guard who transferred from Long Island University, seeing a little time in 5 games with the Blackbirds; #35 Cameron Edison, a 6'1 guard from Rolling Hills Prep in Carson, CA; and Alex Smart, a 6'6 forward from Timber Creek High in Sicklerville, NJ, wearing #45.