Inside the numbers: how St. John's basketball improved in February

The St. John's Red Storm turned national heads with a scorching hot month of February.

The Johnnies went 7-1 in the month, knocking off Villanova, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh, and getting crucial wins on the road against Cincinnati and Marquette. February 2011 - the month that changed a nation's perception of the formerly woebegone Red Storm.

To be fair, the team had some excellent wins in January, beating Notre Dame and Georgetown at home, with road wins against Providence and West Virginia on the road. And the opponents in February were a little weaker than the January slate. Still, it's a process - a marathon, not a sprint. And the Red Storm are hitting their stride around the 20th mile of this marathon behind hard (and smart) work - "hammer to rock", as coach Steve Lavin says.

The team has been executing extremely well; they're high on confidence and hungry to win. But what did they do differently in February that they weren't doing in January? A look at the team's overall offensive and defensive improvements, below the fold.

 

Housekeeping: In the table below, PPP is points per possession; eFG% is field goal percentage that adjusts for three-pointers; FTR is free throw rate (free throws divided by field goal attempts); OR% is the percentage of offensive rebounds a team grabs; TO% is the percentage of possessions where a team turns the ball over.

These are averages of all performances, taken from Statsheet data.

Now, the numbers:

Pos
PPP
eFG%
FTR
OR%
TO%
JAN St. John's
66.8
0.96
47.1
41.3
27.2
20.5
Opponents
1.04
53.8
37.0
31.0
23.8
FEB St. John's
64.4
1.08
49.8
45.4
34.0
18.1
Opponents
0.96
48.2
48.5
34.2
25.2

 

The offensive numbers improved in large part to the efforts of Dwight Hardy, obviously. But the team as a whole turned the ball over less. The Red Storm averaging turnovers on 20.5% of January possessions, compared to 18% of possessions in February. The squad rebounded the offensive end better while getting to the line more - that speaks to effort, and the development of Sean Evans'/ Justin Burrell's rebounding and post play.

Making shots helps.

On defense, the Red Storm actually allowed more offensive rebounds to opponents and are sending opponents to the line more. Despite those hiccups, the Johnnies are forcing turnovers at an elite rate. More importantly, they are doing the best thing a team can do to on defense - stop the other squad from scoring from the field.

Only two teams have scored more than 1 point per possession on the St. John's basketball team in February. Those teams? The Connecticut Huskies at 1.03 points per possession, and the UCLA Bruins who scored 1.06 on an outlier number of free throw attempts. The Bruins had more FT attempts (41) than shots from the field (37).

Connecticut did it by not turning the ball over often. Their 12.9 percentage of turnovers on their possessions was the lowest in the month. In fact, that percentage is the lowest of the season.

If the Storm was simply forcing turnovers to get to where they are, they would be susceptible to a frustrating loss to some excellent ball-handling team in the NCAAs. But if they're stopping the other team from putting the ball in the basket from the field? It's another story. Defense wins championships, and this defense is really coming on.

Maybe that's why Matt Barnes called Steve Lavin to let him know the way the Johnnies play looks familiar. The squad he was referring to was the 2000-2001 squad (I remember watching them, myself); that UCLA squad lost in the Sweet Sixteen to a Quin Snyder Missouri team.

The Red Storm might just do one or two rounds better.

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