The Red Storm enter conference play needing to battle to stay in every game.
For college hoops fans, the end of December holiday celebrations and the beginning of a new year and conference play means that teams have developed much of their identity. Opponents change, players grow, but there is a good idea of the go-to players and the areas of improvement.
This year's Red Storm aren't normal.
There is the matter of the seven-man roster. The youth. The fact that the staff acknowledges that the team's priority is building a program, not building for a deep run in the NCAAs this year.
And there is the departure of high-usage guard Nurideen Lindsey. Even with him, the Red Storm was a developing unit, still working out the kinks.
Now, they are a team reshaping itself; what was unassailable about the Storm in the first month of the season may not hold true anymore. But what is true is that the Red Storm go into conference play with a 6-5 record, and will struggle on many nights against Big East opponents. This year is about development, progression, and sometimes it will be about small victories.
Here is a pre-conference look at the Red Storm's style and team concerns, after the jump.
By the numbers
This year's Red Storm have:
- played a matchup zone that encourages shots from the perimeter, in part to protect the paint. Opponents are taking 38.1% of their shots from outside the arc.
- With the exception of Malik Stith, the Red Storm's players have been able to play more than 27 minutes per game.
- excelled at drawing foul shot attempts (FTA/FGA of 47.8%, 21st in Division I) and not fouling the other team (allowing a FTA/FGA of 22.8%, 8th best in the country)
- struggled to rebound, especially on the defensive end (allowing opponents to get to 35.9% of their own misses, 272nd in the country)
- don't shoot from beyond the arc (26.8% of their attempts are from 2-point range)
- don't connect well from beyond the arc (3-point percentage: 26.1%)
Will the defensive identity stay the same?
The defenders in the zone are gambling a little less than in the beginning of the year, but will still force some steals. Unlike last year, the defense isn't forcing a high number of turnovers and making offenses uncomfortable.
Will that change with a different point guard defending in transition? Or with swingman Amir Garrett on the court?
As the team gets more comfortable rotating in the zone, and comfortable knowing when and how to gamble, the defense should improve. The improvement might be difficult to see, with quality opponents on the other side all year (yes, even DePaul).
Amir Garrett's presence may help the defensive side; he's known to be a tenacious defender. There is even the possibility of defensive lineup featuring two dedicated on-ball defenders in Garrett and Sir`Dominic Pointer.
How will the Red Storm get points?
Nurideen Lindsey was a player with glaring flaws. But the things he did well on the floor - pure transition speed, an ability to draw fouls, defensive rebounding, and offensive relentlessness - will be hard to replace. In the two games since Lindsey's departure the Red Storm have struggled to get to the rim, break down the defense, and draw free throw attempts.
The opponents only get defensively tougher.
The Johnnies will need to see an emergence from D`Angelo Harrison and Maurice Harkless for scoring. Both have shown versatility in finding shot attempts; but both need to convert a higher percentage of their shots.
God`sgift successfully unveiled a mid-range jump shot game against Texas-Pan American. That versatility could open the paint for other players to slash to the hoop and draw fouls.
Or those mid-range shots could take Gift away from where he has been extremely effective, close to the basket. Gift has shot 57% from the field this year - highest currently on the team. The threat of Gift's scoring draws defenders in, leaving possibilities on the perimeter for the rest of the team.
Will the rebounding improve?
The team has to worry about giving up rebounds on both ends. God`sgift Achiuwa is the team's biggest player, but Harkless has been the better rebounder, especially on the defensive end. Harkless weighs around 200 pounds; at some point, his athleticism, desire, and technique will be overwhelmed by players weighing 30-60 pounds more than him in Big East play.
Still, the guards will add some rebounds. And Amir Garrett, though he plays wing, should be a capable rebounder in short spurts.
Conference play (and the upcoming Duke and UCLA non-conference games) will likely be unkind to the Red Storm early. But there are winnable games, upsets waiting to happen.
Still, coach Mike Dunlap is a realist. "We know the standard of Big East play," Dunlap said this afternoon. "We also know we're going to get our nose bloodied. There's no avoiding that."