Concerning the Johnnies' interior defense, rebounding, and the scoring train

Better defense will mean happier nights for the Red Storm's returnees.

If you were watching, what I'm about to say is far from revolutionary.

The St. John's team defense had a hard time getting stops. And without stops, a team can't run; can't get their own offense; and gives up too many points.

So despite a spectacular first Big East for the young squad, a thorough, high-paced 91-67 dismantling of the Providence Friars that featured 32 points for Maurice Harkless, breaking the record for a Big East rookie in his debut, some statistics from that game stood out like Empire State Building on a clear morning.

The damning numbers:

  • The Friars shot 58% inside the arc for the game.
  • Providence scored 42 points in the paint.
  • The Friars earned 16 second chance points and rebounded 41% of their misses
  • If not for their 20 turnovers, the game might have been much closer.

And for the rest of the year, the Red Storm saw teams score in the paint at will. Rebound their own misses at will. And abuse the lack of size the Red Storm presented opponents.

"When you have a deep team like us, and the length, we have the bruisers inside that can rebound and that can get fouls on them, we tend to take advantage of it" - Sean Kilpatrick after Cincinnati's 76-54 victory over the St. John's Red Storm.

Below, a table of the three best and three worst teams in terms of defensive efficiency - how many points they allowed per possession - by ranking in Big East regular season play. Added are the opponents' shooting percentages inside and outside of the arc, and some detail gleaned from the Big East box scores - opponent scoring at the rim (shots labelled as layups, tipins, and dunks in the box score) and the percentage of the shots allowed at the rim.

Big East rankings, league play only
Top Three Defenses , Big East play
Team
D Eff
Opp. 2P%
Opp. 3P%
Opp. OR%
Blk%
Opp FG% at Rim
Rank
% Shots Taken At Rim
Rank
Syracuse
1
4
4
15
2
60.3%
9
29.9%
1
Georgetown
2
5
3
1
3
55.3%
3
35.6%
8
South Florida
3
1
2
2
7
48.5%
1
40.0%
13
Bottom Three Defenses, Big East play
Team
D Eff
Opp. 2P%
Opp. 3P%
Opp. OR%
Blk%
Opp FG% at Rim
Rank
% Shots Taken At Rim
Rank
St. John's
14
15
10
16
12
64.4%
15
40.0%
12
DePaul
15
16
16
14
11
65.3%
16
47.9%
16
Providence
16
12
15
13
15
62.1%
12
38.9%
11

The characteristics of the three best defenses?

Tall. Each are in the top 50 in the nation in height (weighed by which players get minutes). And each team's players have, on average, a year and a half of college basketball under their belts. Except for Syracuse, they rebound with that height. They make shots difficult at the rim.

Syracuse and the 2-3 zone are a special case - the zone keeps opponents out of the paint (last column). And the rebounding was a bugaboo that many pointed to as a reason they would struggle in the NCAA Tournament. (And when they lost to Ohio State, giving up 14 offensive rebounds to a team that could score inside was a real issue in the game.)

The characteristics of the worst defenses?

These teams are individuals, with individual characteristics, all adding up to porous defense. DePaul is tall, but their transition play doesn't include transition defense. Providence was young, lacked depth, and their height was around the NCAA median. St. John's was short, and young, and lacked depth.

For St. John's, the inability to end opponent possessions meant that

a) it was hard to run transition offense against a defense struggling to get back into alignment, which would benefit the Johnnies' athletic core

b) opponents had extended chances to score.

Height and depth aren't the cure-alls for the defense.

The team has to be solid in transition defense, and the height has to be talented at rebounding. And the extended pressure of the 2010-11 season will make an appearance, now that the team has depth.

What we do know is that the recruiting class - including Orlando Sanchez, Chris Obekpa, JaKarr Sampson, and Christian Jones - allow for a five-man post rotation that should present more problems to opponents trying to score. And with players like Amir Garrett and Sir`Dominic Pointer freed to play on the perimeter, the Red Storm might look entirely different defensively.

What are your thoughts on the team's defensive problems?

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