St. John's easily dominated the Concordia Cougars in Tuesday's exhibition, and now prepare for next week's opener.
It's difficult to take a lot away from such a lopsided exhibition win over a Division III opponent. St. John's defeated Concordia, 87-36, on Tuesday night in the team's final tune-up before welcoming Detroit to Carnesecca Arena in next week's season opener.
When you win by 51 points, everything seems to be on the positive end of the spectrum. The Johnnies showcased their young talent by walking (well, running) all over an inferior and undersized opponent, which was fun to watch.
But what can we really take away from a game of this nature? What have the two exhibitions told us about St. John's that we didn't know prior to the season? We delved into what we observed in the Red Storm's win over Sonoma State last week. Here's what we can say after Tuesday's win:
Christian Jones is refined and poised to contribute in a big way.
Did anyone see this kid coming? You probably should have - he's built like a Sherman tank, according to his head coach. Jones has impressed in his first two game appearances for the Red Storm, averaging 12.5 points per game.
And it's not even simply the results that make Christian Jones seem so ready to contribute for Steve Lavin's Johnnies. It's the way he looks on the floor, the way he answers questions from the media, and the way his focus never deviates from the task at hand.
"From the beginning, [Jones] has stood out. It hasn't been surprising," Lavin mentioned following Tuesday's win. "Even in the timeouts, he's all there. Even physically, he's just there. His ability to see and play the game is really, for a player his age, very unique."
Lavin hinted that, barring something out of the realm of expectations, Jones will be in his starting lineup for the Detroit opener. But Jones has more than earned it. His presence on both ends of the floor, and his willingness to get his teammates involved has exceeded expectations, even if his coach won't admit it.
D`Angelo Harrison has been acting up, and Tuesday's benching was a wake-up call.
The star sophomore guard, who was selected to the Big East's preseason second team, was benched for the entirety of the Concordia exhibition. According to the team, Harrison has not met Lavin's expectations for leadership and maturity.
The bar is set higher for a kid like Harrison, who is expected to lead this young team both on and off the floor. It's likely that if another of the St. John's players acted such a way, that the discipline could have been less severe. Lavin understands Harrison's potential and knows that the kid's personality is the only thing keeping him from greatness.
Harrison sat between assistant Rico Hines and Gene Keady throughout Tuesday's game, while remaining consistently active with his teammates. He often stood up next to Lavin, yelling out instructions to the team during plays.
The guard has the tools to become a leader for St. John's. And even though that transition hasn't been as smooth as the team would have liked, keeping him off the floor for this game was the correct choice and a necessary step toward better days for D'Angelo.
Is perimeter shooting still a serious issue?
In short, Steve Lavin doesn't seem to think so. In the Red Storm's two exhibitions, the team has shot 6-19 from deep (31.5%), which is in the vicinity of last year's 28.3% mark.
In reality, three-point shooting won't be this team's strength. St. John's would much rather get out in transition and get easy buckets (like they did against Concordia). But perhaps the additions of Marc-Antoine Bourgault (if/when becomes available) and an improved Harrison, Greene, and Amir Garrett could change things.
"In practices, we've shot the ball so well because we have Max [Hooper] and Marco [Bourgault], who both light it up," Lavin mentioned. "With D'Angelo and Marco, along with Sanchez and Phil [Greene], we have some basket-makers from the mid-range and at the rim, along with some marksmen from long-range."
Box out! St. John's has the personnel to be a formidable rebounding team.
Last year, the Red Storm relied (pretty exclusively) on Moe Harkless and God'sgift Achiuwa for the majority of its rebounding work. Considering their undersized nature, the results weren't too fond, as St. John's was the 194th-best rebounding team in the country.
But Chris Obekpa, Christian Jones, and JaKarr Sampson are now in the fold - three players each taller than both Harkless and Achiuwa. St. John's team depth has given them depth in the interior, something they'll need against the rugged opponents in the Big East.
Though the Red Storm actually lost the rebounding battle in the first exhibition, they were much improved on Tuesday. The Johnnies were +22 on the boards, which is a nice thing to see even if it was against a team with no player taller than 6'4". Once these young kids learn how to box out more reliably, they will contend down low.
No update yet on Sanchez, Bourgault, Achiuwa, and Balamou.
St. John's continues to wait on the NCAA for a ruling regarding the availability of Orlando Sanchez and Marco Bourgault. Though the season opens in six days, there are still uncertainties surrounding the situation.
"I wouldn't want to get into the guessing game or speculation in terms of when the determination will be made," Lavin said. "We've done everything on our end by presenting the proper documentation. It's in the NCAA's hands to make the final decision."
It's likely that the final decision whether to redshirt Achiuwa and/or Felix Balamou will be based on the NCAA's decision on Sanchez and Bourgault. If Sanchez cannot be cleared, Gift could see time this year. The sentiment around Bourgault seems more positive that he will join the team soon.