St. John's put forth a valiant offensive effort on Sunday against Baylor, but it couldn't be sustained. In the waning minutes of a fast and hard-fought battle, Steve Lavin's young Johnnies looked slow and lethargic.
It's almost as if one of Baylor's big men, Isaiah Austin or Cory Jefferson, gave a punch to the Johnnies' collective stomach when jumping over the red and white forwards for one of the Bears' 41 rebounds.
Despite all of the talk of the Red Storm correcting its devastating depth problems of a year ago, St. John's has been fighting off the same old problems this time around.
Sure, Lavin has brought in talented contributors in the likes of JaKarr Sampson, Christian Jones, and Chris Obekpa. But let's not forget that they have inversely lost the (boatload) of minutes played by Moe Harkless and God`sgift Achiuwa.
When a team plays the majority of its games with six rotational athletes, you'd think that depth would be the main point of emphasis the following offseason. And let's get something straight - it definitely was for Lavin and company.
So, were the problems of last year really rectified?
Things haven't yet gone according to plan early in 2012-13. Touted transfer forward Orlando Sanchez and his Monroe College teammate Marc-Antoine Bourgault were held out due to NCAA reviews of class eligibility (Sanchez's situation continues, unresolved). D`Angelo Harrison hasn't been a definite starter due to behavioral mishaps. Felix Balamou hasn't seen as much time as anyone expected once he was loosed into the rotation (instead of being redshirted).
No, depth is still an issue.
Steve Lavin is searching for ways to make sure his Johnnies won't be plagued by the same limitations - fatigue, an inability to play pressure defense. The solution may be right in front of him.
"Our team, most notably Phil [Greene] and D'Angelo [Harrison], is getting heavy minutes," Lavin said on Tuesday. "That's where Jamal Branch will help, and also Felix and Marco."
Since Branch won't be eligible until December 21st, that leaves Lavin with Bourgault and Balamou - two guys capable of legitimate contributions. Before Bourgault's delayed start to the season due to the NCAA, he was going see substantial minutes.
Balamou's situation wasn't as obvious, especially after Lavin hinted that St. John's was thinking of redshirting the freshman. Though Balamou wasn't widely known coming out of Our Savior New American (NY), his athleticism speaks for itself. He's a human bouncy ball who showed in Charleston (though in a small sample) that he can play.
"Phil and D'Angelo are always at that 38, 39, or 40 minutes, and the only times they haven't been at that level is when D'Angelo has been coming off the bench or Phil has had foul trouble," Lavin continued. "We're aware and mindful that, especially when we play five games in [nine] days, the fuel tank can get low."
But how will Lavin fit these guys into the rotation? And, even if he does, how are they going to fit into the offensive schemes?
Bourgault, for the most part, is a spot-up shooter. Though he is more rounded as an attacker and passer as well, St. John's will use him along the perimeter to meet their glaring needs. It's something they've needed ever since Lavin took the job (and well before Lavin brought his Air Force Ones to the Red Storm sidelines).
Balamou's fit into things is uncertain. If things continue the way they've been, Balamou won't receive minutes when the more experienced guards Harrison and Greene are available. And once Branch joins the fold, the logjam won't get any looser.
But Balamou can be a spark plug type player, as he showed in the loss to Murray State. He scored 6 points in 7 minutes and was perfect from the field.
Lavin understands that it's difficult to win with a short bench, no matter how good the rotation might be. As Harrison and Greene's minutes accumulate as the season moves toward January and February, their legs will pay the price. Still, there is a method to Steve Lavin's madness.
"They are learning how to play through that fatigue, and we're also building up our conditioning so there will be a payoff later on," Lavin said.
Until they're on the floor, we won't know just how much Lavin will balance his stars' conditioning with the preparation of bench options. Luckily for the Red Storm, they have options on the bench. And no one understands better how much of a taken-for-granted luxury that really is.