Searching for the glue: who will replace DJ Kennedy's production in the NCAA Tournament?

Sean Evans - the Red Storm hero?

As you know, D.J. Kennedy is done for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. His career is done. The Red Storm wait to see how much Kennedy’s injury will hurt their NCAA seeding.

How will the Red Storm keep winning without their stalwart glue guy, their steal master, their extra ballhandler, their corner jump shooter, their foul-drawing, free throw shooting threat? How will they make a deep NCAA run and end their senior years on a high note?

It’s going to be difficult.

Read on for how Kennedy’s contributions will need to be replaced and how St. John’s will be different, below the fold.

First, to review:

D.J. Kennedy has really come on in conference play. Before Thursday’s game, he had scored in double figures in the previous 7 games, had two games with double-digit rebounds, and went 8-20 from beyond the arc (40%); he also added 51 free throw attempts. He hit 41 of them (81%).

Combined with Kennedy’s ability to defend taller players and bother shorter guards, and his penchant for picking off passes, and his height in the zone, that’s a lot of production to replace. St. John’s, a team that doesn’t shoot very well, also has one less shooter on the floor. One less shooter means that teams that play the Johnnies can cheat inside, leaving less room for Justin Brownlee, Justin Burrell, and Sean Evans to do work. And it means that a help defender can more easily be in position to bother Dwight Hardy’s shot.

Thursday’s loss did have a silver lining. Somewhere along the way, Sean Evans has discovered a smart, effective game. Evans played a season-high 36 minutes, with 11 points and 12 total rebounds. He used his dribble ability judiciously, rebounding all over the place, and finished well at the rim. He’ll get a lot more time in Kennedy’s absence. Evans can replace some of D.J.’s rebounding, and he gives the Johnnies a lot more size - good for defending NCAA competitors with post depth.

Playing Evans - assuming he can stay out of foul trouble and keep up with the players he is defending - means that for stretches, Justin Brownlee can move to the small forward. Brownlee’s natural position seems to be... a small forward with post-up ability. No one wants to see him jack deep jump shots with 20 seconds left on the clock.

But Brownlee does have driving ability and shooting ability. He’ll need to make more of those shots, but playing him from the outside-in allows Brownlee to take shots off of a dribble or two, and he’s versatile enough to make that happen. And maybe with some drives to the basket, he’ll draw more fouls... and score a few more points. But can Brownlee defend on the perimeter? That question’s still got to be answered.

Dwayne Polee II’s length and agility could be helpful in the zone, and on offense. But the staff didn’t extend his minutes against Syracuse. Is he ready to contribute? His defense needs some work, but he does rebound solidly in stretches, can get his shot off using the dribble and against most defenders, and can bother a shot. He adds a dimension of speed, but needs to get better in his spacing on the break.

Malik Boothe adds a speed dimension as well, and the gift of passing. His defense can change how the Red Storm play; Boothe can defend the main ballhandler, leaving Paris Horne to play Kennedy’s role of picking off passes. But Boothe’s lack of shooting ability - better than it was in the past, but not enough to replace Kennedy - is a hindrance on offense at times. But having Boothe on the floor allows Dwight Hardy to run through screens to get his shot.

What do you think? Who will fill Kennedy’s large shoes?

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