Searching for the right five

There have been some strange sights this fall for the St. John's Red Storm. Just when a fan thinks they know who Steve Lavin's 8 man rotation is... there's another player logging major minutes who had previously been stuck talking to the coaches all game.

Or there's a star who seems to be benched for a portion of the game. It looks like a staff that is learning and searching, figuring out which players they like and which ones they... reserve for emergencies only.

In the coaching staff's hunt to find players who can deliver a more consistent offensive attack, they have discarded the old rotation of returning starters DJ Kennedy/ Sean Evans/ Malik Boothe/ Paris Horne. Boothe still starts, but has his minutes cut by Malik Stith; DJ Kennedy's minutes are down; and Paris Horne is functioning as more of a defensive specialist off the bench. What's changed? Read more below>>

 

Consider:

  • Dele Coker, who had a total of 18 minutes on the season, played 19 minutes against Fordham out of the blue.
  • Justin Burrell saw 23 minutes against Columbia (a season high) and 10 minutes against St. Bonaventure (a season low), and otherwise hovers around 17 minutes.
  • Besides 19 minutes in a blowout against Drake, former starter Sean Evans has gotten extended run twice - 10 minutes in the opener against St. Mary's, and 11 minutes against Bonaventure, shortened because of his fouls. Evans didn't play against Fordham.
  • Freshman Dwayne Polee started out as a main cog in the rotation, averaging under 27 minutes in his first pair of college contests. Including 17 minutes in the Drake blowout, Polee has averaged 11 minutes per game.

The fluctuating roster is disconcerting, but makes sense. St. John's has a team of seniors who were good, but not good enough to get to .500 in the Big East. Lavin, looking at the team with fresh eyes, has a chance to put players in situations where they are being depended upon so he can properly evaluate them.

And that may be what's going on. Sean Evans has spent time on the bench - of all the players, he might be the least "skilled" or pretty of the returners, working on brawn and grit, while blowing the occasional layup and breaking off of any offensive structure. He is trying to learn a new way of playing, but he has work to do.

Only Justin Burrell has proven capable of strong rebounding, and he doesn't give the team the dynamic versatility of the quick Polee. Neither of those players have the natural size and strength of Dele Coker; if Coker could hold down a spot in the rotation, he would help the defense with his shot blocking and size.

Those players have gotten some run to see what they can do in game situations. Lavin has tinkered in his past coaching job with rotations; and he has expressed an urge to reward players who do well in practice. The staff is getting to know the players, getting to figure out where they can be more effective.

When will it end? When will the Johnnies have a consistent lineup? And what will the final product look like - better than the sum of players who haven't yet tasted success? It's a long season... and I bet it will have lots of surprises.

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