A St. John's season on the upswing - powered by defense

Happy joy dance. - Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

The Red Storm might be the hottest team in the country. With a losing streak to start conference play that surprised even those most dubious of Stave Lavin's coaching chops and/ or the talent level on the team, the NCAA Tournament seemed far, unreachable...

...but streakiness is St. John's friend. The veteran team has come together and reeled off an impressive stretch of ten games, including the current six-game winning streak, a close loss to Creighton on the road, plus with three other wins.

In the last month, St. John's has not only surged (more on this from our friends at Big Apple Buckets in their weekly Tempo-Free Big East post, which you should read every week), but the team has also become the league's best defensive squad in league play, allowing 1.003 points per possession. The next best team is Creighton at 1.035. At St. John's pace (68 possessions per game), that difference is worth two points.

The defense has become tops in the league in a surge after the Providence game. There has been a lot more man-to-man defense, and JaKarr Sampson has emerged as a stopper option on defense.

Below, with St. John's in red and opponents in the greyish/ blue, note how the Johnnies were allowing over a point per possession (i.e., over the grey shaded area) to opponents before the first game against the Friars (PC), and have kept opponents under "water" since. Click to embiggen.

2-20_improvements_medium

Of course, there are blips against Seton Hall (twice) and Providence scored very efficiently against St. John's in the rematch. Which was the game where the Johnnies were NBA-Jam level ON FIRE, Obekpa was dunking things and Sampson's shot came back from splash mountain ready to go through all the hoops.

Breaking out the five-game losing streak also shows a St. John's team that has completely turned the tables on the early Big East season doldrums, controlling the pace, running selectively (and running better halfcourt sets) and plugging up holes in what was a porous defense.

Period
Avg Tempo
Avg Offense
Avg Defense
5 game losing streak
69.6
0.99
1.10
Since the losing streak
66.0
1.11
0.95

And for an illustration of the Seton Hall blips, plus the three-game moving average of St. John's efficiency in light blue - the surge, in other words, in a visual. Click to embiggen.

2-20_eff_margins_by_game_sju_medium

Villanova comes next. Winning the game would solidify the Johnnies in the standings, give them an inside track to NCAA Tournament inclusion and make Jay Wright's suit wrinkle.

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