The Red Storm - traditionally a shorter team with star guards and wings in recent memory - currently lead the nation in shots blocked, and the new players are rewriting the program's record books in that category. Jakarr Sampson has emerged as one of the nation's best scoring freshmen, and helps with the shot blocking. Non-conference opponents' shooting from the field is slightly down from this point last year.
But despite the spectacular moments, the team is not yet better defensively. Last year's lack of rebounding has not been solved by the inclusion of new forwards; the Johnnies have allowed non-conference opponents to grab more than 36% of their misses.
Those misses don't lead to transition scoring opportunities for St. John's - they lead to more shots at the rim for opponents. And shots at the rim are high-percentage shots - a shot blocker leaping in the air can't get to them all.
This is not to diminish the power of Oblockpa. Chris Obekpa's defensive quickness is key to the Red Storm's future while he improves on his shooting (41% from the field) and shot selection. He blocks nearly 21% of the shots that are taken while he is on the floor, leading the nation. His positioning for blocking shots has been sharp, and his ability to do it while committing 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes is spectacular. Obekpa has special timing.
It's hard to prepare to block that many shots AND rebound. Shot blocking is likely to get a player out of position for boxing out or rebounding, leaving Obekpa grabbing only 3 defensive rebounds per game.
Cincinnati's Cheikh Mbodj and Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas have a similar problem - they grab fewer defensive rebounds than their size and talent should indicate. Both teams have found themselves struggling to turn away opponents in games, despite having other forwards to rebound - watch them in league play.
His teammates have gotten into the shot blocking game, with Jakarr Smpson, Sir`Dominic Pointer, and Felix Balamou all eagerly reaching for the "blk" on the stat sheet.
If they're all trying to block shots... who is rebounding?
Obekpa should have help, but Orlando Sanchez remains sidelined, waiting for an NCAA ruling on his eligibility. Sanchez was a very good defensive rebounder in junior college, but he can't translate that to the NCAA level when he's in sweatsuits on the sidelines.
Christian Jones was touted as a dirty-work forward, and a possible one-and-done player. He's nearly disappeared from the rotation, averaging 6.6 minutes per game in the last five contests, including 2 minutes vs UNC-Asheville. He hasn't done much on the court - hasn't been the game changing rebounder nor had chances to get the ball in transition. Early in the season, he seemed to have ability with the pick and roll game, and in position defense in the paint.
In total: the team needs to improve on rebounding technique. A team can score and choose not to crash their offensive misses and be successful. But St. John's isn't yet offensively good enough to allow opponents to get more shots off and consistently win.