Frontcourt preview: post help from Orlando Sanchez, JaKarr Sampson, Chris Obekpa, Christian Jones

Robert Kowal

Can the additions of from Orlando Sanchez, JaKarr Sampson, Chris Obekpa, Christian Jones aid the Red Storm's woeful interior play?

As detailed in our late summer post on St. John's permissive defense (you should read it. We'll wait here.), the Red Storm had trouble stopping teams from scoring.

Part of the problem was not having enough bodies to risk foul trouble; God`sGift Achiuwa and Moe Harkless knew they had to stay on the floor, and Sir`Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett - both wing players - had neither the height, strength, nor experience to slow down opponents.

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God`sGift Achiuwa
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The team's interior defense allowed Big East opponents to shoot 64% at the rim - better than only DePaul. The league average was just under 60; and those 4 percentage points are the difference between easy opponent lay-ups and a real deterrent at the rim. More evidence that the frontcourt was a problem? The Johnnies posted a Big East-worst defensive rebounding percentage, letting opponents continue their possession on 40% of those opponents' shots.

The Johnnies struggled at all levels, and didn't force the tough shots - contested threes, mid-range jumpers. Instead, they fought against bigger opponents at the rim, were victimized by second chances and tip-ins.

The team was the fourth-best in Big East play at keeping opponents off of the free throw line, but the overall defense has to improve for the Red Storm to be more competitive. And the newcomers to the Red Storm squad are projected to do just that, while possibly pushing the poor-rebounding God`sGift into limited playing time.

Whatever happens, the Red Storm will only be good if their frontcourt is much better. But young forwards don't always enter college basketball fully formed; sometimes they need a second year to start to fulfill their promise.

It is known (vid), as the Dothraki say.

The newcomers

Rumble_icon_x-small_copy_mediumFrom Monroe College, Orlando Sanchez [Rumble recruiting preview] has impressed in early workouts, and is said to be highly versatile and skilled. On video, it's clear he can run like a wing, and his defense is said to be good. At Monroe, he shot just under 59% inside the arc, and rebounded 24% of opponents' misses. If he can come close to that mark, he'll be a better per-possession rebounder than Moe Harkless was last season - he rebounded 18% of opponents' misses.

As an added bonus, Sanchez blocked 7.2% of opponent shots - an elite percentage if it translates to NCAA Division I basketball. He assisted on 15% of his teammates' baskets, got some steals, some offensive rebounds. Sanchez may not be one of the Red Storm's big three scorers, but if he plays like he did in junior college, he'll be an essential element for the Red Storm.

Rumble_icon_x-small_copy_mediumThe athletic and long JaKarr Sampson [Rumble post-commit story] may be the best pro prospect on the Johnnies, but he's not a lock to start. His agility and quickness will earn him time on the court, however; he's the kind of matchup problem that can get buckets against slower players and force smaller players to foul.

If the team can get running in transition, Sampson should see lots of opportunities for highlights. His ability to block shots will help the team; his ability to improve on his ball handling and shooting will determine just how much time he gets.

Rumble_icon_x-small_copy_mediumThe imposing center Chris Obekpa [Rumble post-commit story] is also one of the most exciting recruits coming in. But it is known that big men tend to take some time to adjust to college basketball - maybe it's playing against other players of the same height and raw talent, but with more training and skill. Obekpa has well-known skills - the ability to erase shots. That skill will get him onto the court for stretches, as will his ability to run the floor and finish in transition.

But will he rebound well? Can he shoot when not at the rim? His offense needs improvement, from video and anecdotal evidence. But he could emerge during the year as a real force, a bench player to change the defensive tone of the game.

Rumble_icon_x-small_copy_mediumThe most unknown member of the incoming class is Christian Jones [Rumble post-commit story], but he's also received a lot of publicity as a sneaky-good player, the kind of hidden gem that simply never got a look from other schools. Jones was always known as athletic, a high-flying dunk artist. He'll get some time in the paint, and may end up as a dirty-work guy who rebounds the ball.

But it's hard to say without game video, statistical evidence, or anecdotal evidence to say where he fits. Still, he should be a good bench player, and maybe more.

Headline photo courtesy Robert Kowal.

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