Delayed a pair of days, St. John's finally opens up the exhibition season with the Sonoma State Seawolves.
Amidst the destruction and power/ gasoline shortage in New York City, St. John's will take on the Division II Sonoma State Seawolves in the first of two exhibition games.
Basketball is closer to really "arriving" - as in, counting in the standings for all time - and for the weary New Yorkers who also wear St. John's on their sleeve, having some hoops to watch might be a little bit of joy in a difficult week. Originally scheduled for Thursday evening, the two programs rescheduled for Saturday to accommodate the many travel-related issues any team would have traveling to the New York area.
The game will be the second of a doubleheader; the women's team will tip off in an exhibition against Farmingdale State at 2.00 pm.
The Sonoma State Seawolves should be lauded for traveling across the country in the wake of Hurricane Sandy's destruction.
Per their official blog (more below), they got quite a New York welcome - including a St. John's fan who told them they should have stayed back in Cali, no doubt thinking of the drubbing the Seawolves will likely receive. (If that was you, please say hi in the comments. Nicely played.)
The Seawolves are a practice opponent - not a challenge like Canada's Carleton University (who played Villanova tough this week). The 'Wolves aren't a power. But they bring enough basic basketball skill to make this evening a little more hairy than any St. John's fan would expect it to be.
Why Sonoma State?
Coach Steve Lavin played under current Sonoma State coach Pat Fuscaldo in the mid-80s. Fuscaldo was a graduate assistant while Lavin played at San Francisco State (before transferring to Chapman University in Orange County to finish his playing days). Fuscaldo is a Connecticut native, and the winningest coach in Sonoma State history.
What State is "Sonoma"?
Sonoma State is far away, up in the wine country of California - near where Steve Lavin is originally from.
The Seawolves were 17-11 last season. And they had a long journey to the game. From the Associate Head Coach Rich Shaywitz's blog, the Seawolves' first experience with LaGuardia's Delta Terminal:
The bus stop sat on the corner where three different roads merged into one. As we wait for our bus, we hear nothing but horns honking and slow moving traffic. Our bus approaches the curb and all 13 of us position ourselves to be first on. The bus stops, swings it doors open and it's packed to the brim. Before I can move, a New York lady looks at me and says in her kindest New York accent, "We're full." She looks at the bus driver and says, "Close the door." I squeeze myself onto the bus while Coach Fuscaldo and just two of our players get on the bus from the rear doors. We leave nine of our guys at the bus stop, weave our way back into the madness they call the road, and start our trek to the rental car terminal.
Delta Airlines lives in Terminal 1 at JFK Airport. Little did I know that our bus had to stop at Terminals 2 through 8 before dropping us off at our destination. At every stop, just two people got off and 10 people tried to squeeze in. It was a long 35 minutes before we arrived at the rental car terminal.
That sounds about normal. Welcome to New York!
Questions of the game
In lieu of "Keys to the Game", here is a look at some of the Red Storm's goals tomorrow evening. The St. John's squad is filled with newbies, some of whom will be playing major minutes. And some of the returning players, those one-year veterans, will find themselves on the bench.
Consider this a "name-tag" or "get to know you" game, a chance to see what the players do when more people than their coaches are watching.
Offensive improvement - can this team score?
Now there are post options. There is a shooter in Marc-Antoine Bourgault to bolster the backcourt. And the players are a year older. But does that mean they will be better? How will the team get points outside of D`Angelo Harrison? And can Harrison improve his shooting inside the arc?
The Rumble will be on the lookout for the roles that each player plays, for who has improved on the court, for who is able to get his shot against the Seawolves - and whether those shots are sustainable.
The scoring of Sir`Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett, are of interest here, as is JaKarr Sampson's - can they score away from the rim? Phil Greene's shot selection and ability to play the kind of point guard that gets others involved is also of interest.
Defensive improvement - Will opponents get second chance points?
The rebounding last year was abysmal. Opponents got second chance points often, and scored on the Johnnies small post rotation. Sonoma State shouldn't test the post players strenuously. The Seawolves' largest player is 6'10", and no other player is taller than 6'7". The team's best rebounder is likely the 6'7"/ 215 pound Justin Herold.
But fans will be able to see which players get the first crack at healing the rebounding gap from last year. Will it be the talked-up Christian Jones? The shot-blocker Chris Obekpa? The do-it-all Orlando Sanchez? The returnee God`sGift Achiuwa?
And can the wings help on the glass? Perhaps Dom Pointer is a better rebounder away from the paint, where he can slip in and snatch a long board. Will JaKarr Sampson be a help on the defensive glass? (I expect him to be a tip-slam hunter).
New style, same as the old style - can the Johnnies pressure without leaving large gaps?
Two years ago, the Red Storm kicked off the season by being scorched by Clint Steidl of St. Mary's. Last year, the Johnnies eked out a win against William & Mary despite the lopsided score. The Tribe - who went 6-26 on the season - who took two-thirds of their shots from beyond the arc and made enough of them to go into halftime with a lead.
Look for how well the St. John's defense funnels passes to bad spots on the floor or poor shooters. It will be hard to tell now how effective the defense is, but it will be interesting to see how Steve Lavin adjusts his defensive approach. The length of Amir Garrett, Sir`Dominic Pointer, and Felix Balamou will come into play.
Tidbits about Sonoma State
Note that this list is simply what we think we know about Sonoma State Seawolves based on last year and recruiting notes. Based on the photo on their website, we are not sure that all of the players listed below made the trip east.
- The Seawolves recently (2002) changed their name from the more unique "Cossacks", who were not nice neighbors to non-Christians in Europe.
- As a team, Sonoma State scored 72.3 points per contest, averaging about 68.9 possessions in those games.
- Justin Herold (6'7"/ 215 pounds) was an all-league selection on the 10-player first team in the California Collegiate Athletic Association conference. He averaged 14.8 points/ 6 rebounds per game.
- Will Olsem (6'3"/ 205) was a second-team selection. He sank 12 three-pointers against Cal State San Bernadino and is the team's long-range threat. Olsem took 76% of his shots from outside the arc, and hit at a 45% clip.
- Other returning starters include swingman Patrick Scott (6'4"/ 200) and guard Sterling Arterberry (6'3"/ 175).
- The Seawolves bring back 4 of 5 starters, but lose their point guard, Steven Pratt. He averaged 5.8 assists per game and started all 28 contests. Pratt also averaged 6.3 rebounds per game. Basically, Jason Kidd on the Division II level.
- Junior college guard Emmanuel Bradford may step in to take Pratt's place at point guard, or perhaps sophomore Jabri Jenkins. Or they might both be at home watching on ESPN3.
- Michael Avery is an interesting freshman name for the Seawolves - he was once committed to the University of Kentucky as an eight grader. Oh, Billy Gillispie, you cradle-robbing scamp.
Pregame thoughts? What are you hoping to see from the new-look St. John's Red Storm?