Time to review those tapes and see what was learned, for yesterday the air went out of the hope balloon. D`Angelo Harrison was be suspended for the rest of the season, with three games to play and an outside chance at the NCAA Tournament.
The immediate worry for St. John's is, of course, how on earth the scoring-challenged Johnnies are going to put up points with their leading scorer "taking time away from basketball", in coach Steve Lavin's words?
The Red Storm have had a poor offensive month, culminating in scoring 47 points in 61 possessions against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Scoring droughts are common, and the team lacks the punch to stay with the more talented teams in the Big East when they are unable to force turnovers/ stops and get out in transition.
Within this struggle, Harrison struggled as well. In his last five games, he's shot 28% overall, hitting only 33% inside the arc and 24% outside of the arc. Going to the line five times per game has helped keep his scoring average up, but make no mistake - the's been scuffling.
So maybe not having Harrison is a good thing?
Losing a star often means that the team's other alpha scorers have to step up.
But D`Angelo took a lot of shots. It will be hard to simply distribute those shots among players who are already taking a star's share of the team's shots on the floor. It's not that easy, and more shots mean more attention, which means defenses devised to stop those scorers.
Phil Greene IV (23% of the shots in Big East play) and Jakarr Sampson (31% of the team's shots in league play) get their shots in part because of all of the attention aimed at stopping/ slowing Harrison, the attention that has made him a frustrated scorer driving to his weaker left hand. Harrison worked the perimeter to find open spaces for shots, as well as attacked off the dribble.
JaKarr has been solid in the last five games, shooting 50% from the field. He has looked to attack the rim from the high post instead of settling for the jump shot. Can he maintain the diversity in his game?
Phil Greene, who could be the recipient of pick and roll or catch and shoot opportunities, has been far streakier, going 2/11 and 0/7 in the Red Storm's most recent wins.
His better performances have been in the losses, where he's shot 33% from outside the arc and 46% inside the arc against Pitt, Syracuse, and Louisville.
Can he maintain that scoring when defenses aren't shading to Harrison? Or were those performances partly because the defenses "picked their poison" and let him get more looks than he would if they concentrated on him?
What about better shots?
D`Angelo was well-scouted, and the Red Storm depended on him to score; that led to possessions where Harrison couldn't get a clean shot, but took a shot anyway. (Someone's got to try and score).
But one of the problems with the Red Storm offense is an unwillingness to get to the rim or take three-pointers. Good defenses around the country force opponents into the shots that the Johnnies willingly take - deep two point jumpers - because they're the least efficient shots on the floor. They tend not to draw fouls, players will never be as effective on those as they are at the rim, and they're not worth an extra point like the three-pointer.
Phil Greene and JaKarr Sampson are reasonably good at hitting two-point jump shots... but take 51% and 69% of their shots, respectively, from that low-efficiency zone (as defined by box scores. A more detailed look will come after the season). Greene connects on 35% of those shots; Sampson, on 34%.
More shots at the rim, more fouls drawn, more threes - all of those things will improve the offense to match the competitive defense. Both Sampson and Greene shoot better at the rim, by the way - Greene at 42%, and Sampson at 64%.
You say there is hope?
Better defense and transition looks will help the offense as a whole. But in the half court, three solid options could step up.
Sir`Dominic Pointer has been shy about shooting, but efficient when he does in Big East play. He can finish at the rim (74% on shots at the rim), while adding passing, blocks, and defense. He needs to be more aggressive, and the team needs to find him spotting up for jump shots. A return to the aggressiveness Steve Lavin has pleaded for would be welcome.
Similarly, the team needs to find Marc-Antoine Bourgault when he's open; the sniper has shot 36% from outside the arc as a starter in five Big East games (6 points/ game).
In limited time, Jamal Branch has been able to hit his threes (at 37%) his long twos (38%) and score on layups at the rim (60%). If his knee is healthy enough, he can show how he can spark an offense tonight while involving others.
If those two can step up their aggressiveness, and Sampson and Greene can play at their best, the offense might not miss the struggling version of D`Angelo Harrison much at all.
That's a big unknown.