There is a different feel about this year's team, for sure. The team is playing with a coach who seems to have the royal title of "The Embattled". The players have been healthy so far. There seems to be room for development and growth in the team, and not just more of what looks like the same thing.
St. John's comes out of a stretch on the road with a confidence that they can beat a tough and experienced team, that they can come back and win a game they lost control of, and that they can pummel a sloppy opponent. How have they improved?
From the NY Daily News' recap of the Great Alaska Shootout:
"The resiliency, I thought it might take a little longer to start to see that aspect of our team," new coach Steve Lavin said. "It's a baby step in terms of our program, but for this particular group it was really important that we have a degree of success that will fuel the fire as we continue to build this team and the culture."
"To finally see how it feels to win - to actually win a tournament - the attitude in the locker room was that this is a different year," said sophomore guard Malik Stith....
"Last year ... we all were thinking, 'Not again. not again,'" senior swingman D.J. Kennedy said. "And this year it's more like, 'We've been in these situations.' So no one really gets overexcited. Everybody's real calm. ... and more confident. The crazy thing about Lavin is he's calm. During runs he never panics. ... That's key to the players. We get the message: If the coach doesn't panic, why should we?"
"I really don't know if we could have come back to win one or both (last season)," senior forward Justin Burrell said. "In our past we grew accustomed to not knowing the way to win at the college level. Coach Lavin has really changed our mindset."
Despite the current season being not so different than last year's successful start, the team's offensive efficiency is up. A table from the CalAskaYork post on the overall team comparison to November of 2009:
Ball protection and an increased free throw rate make the difference.
The lack of turnovers for St. Johns offense - considering how much the players coughed the ball up over the past 3 years - is impressive, with the Red Storm averaging 9.8 turnovers per game. The difference is that so far only Malik Boothe is putting possessions in danger - and he's a point guard, his job is to take risks, and with the ball in one man's hands, he will have more opportunities to turn the ball over.
But the current offense is less predicated on attacking off the dribble, which means that when the non-point guards have the ball, they are doing decisive things with it. And if the player makes a decision to attack or pass quickly, it's hard to have a lot of turnovers. It's something Notre Dame has been exemplary at under Mike Brey's tenure, and it's admirable.
From Head Coach Steve Lavin:
"The one thing I am really pleased with is our low number of turnovers. We are consistently at 10 turnovers or less. If you can have 10 turnovers or less, now we get into conference play and some of those numbers may go north because of the competition, but it’s a good trait or characteristic because it means you’re getting more shots on the rim. That’s one of the real positives, even though we are struggling with our rhythm and confidence; we are taking care of the basketball."
FREE THROW RATE
The whole team has increased their ability to get to the line. Some of those attempts are in the waning minutes of the game, of course, but the players are making an effort to drive the ball and get fouled. It helps to have Justin Brownlee in the paint. Last year he took 31 foul shots all year. In one month, he's taken 23 - which is almost half of the number of field goals he's attempted. That's pretty good.
Paris Horne and Dwight Hardy have also contributed. Last year, both had foul-drawing rates of a spot-shooting, never-touched guard. In Paris' case, it never made sense, since he drew contact but never drew fouls; this year, both he and Hardy have gotten to the line at a rate befitting a true slasher.
It helps if players HIT their free throws, of course. Paris is at 8 of 19 free throws, 42%. He's probably in the gym working on the free throw shot in the days off. Justin Burrell (6-15, 40%) and Malik Boothe (11-18, 61%) probably need to join him. Hardy and DJ Kennedy are shooting upwards of 80% from the line.
Point Guard: A change from last year is that Boothe is shooting more and Hardy and Brownlee - while still leading the team in percentage of shots taken while on the floor - are shooting less. The point guard spot seems solid, with Boothe handing out assists and Malik Stith growing into a role as a passing combo guard.
Stith has gotten a lot of time down the stretch in games, something to watch - does the staff have a preference of Stith to Boothe? Lavin seems comfortable playing both point guards together to increase defensive pressure. Both are shooting much better than last year.
Shooting Guard: Hardy and Horne have played together, but "D-Buckets" Hardy and his offensive ability have stayed on the floor for 29.7 minutes per game - highest on the team. Hardy has been given a star's green light, but hasn't had star's results, shooting 20% outside of the arc and 38.5% inside the arc. Hardy has made contributions on defense and on the boards, but his shooting needs to come around for St. John's to have a chance against tougher opponents.
Horne's defense remains pesky. He's scored off of fast breaks and broken plays, shooting a delightful 61.9% from inside the arc. And he absolutely clowned Arizona State's 7-footer Jordan Bachynski on 2 rebounds.
Wing: DJ Kennedy has found his playing time cut into by Malik Stith and Horne/ Hardy. But he's DJ - he fills the stat sheet by rebounding, judicious use of his shot, a few steals, a few passes. If anything, DJ needs to be more aggressive - or to be put in positions where he can be more aggressive. He is shooting 6-12 from beyond the arc - 50%.
Forwards: Justin Brownlee has been the star of the early season, the rock in the paint. And he's undersized. But he rebounds the offensive glass, draws fouls, blocks shots (leading team with 9), and most importantly, scores efficiently inside the paint (64.4% shooting on 2-point attempts).
Justin Burrell saves defensive rebounds, grabbing 28.8% of available opponents' misses. He is shooting much less than in any other season, but perhaps he has reinvented himself as an agile dirty-work forward. He is still credited with a few too many turnovers, however - many of the unforced variety, such as walks.
Dwayne Polee had a hot first game, and a solid second game. Since then, he has looked like a freshman, or like a guy who needed a few days off. His athletic gifts are great, and he's disruptive in the passing lanes. He'll need a little more strength to hold position in the paint, and he needs to keep his head up and do the things he does well with confidence. Polee's defensive rebounding rates remain promising, as does his finishing ability and the surprising range on his shot.
Odd Men Out:
Quincy Roberts hasn't garnered much time as yet. The staff has slipped him into 4 games, so it seems that they must like his effort in practice. he hasn't shot much or well yet, and hasn't impacted the box scores except for his 7 shot attempts and 2 assists.
Sean Evans has struggled with his role and limited time; he's played in every game but is subject to a quick hook. his rebounding has been disappointing, but he is obviously trying to play a different way - less dribbling, fewer turnovers.
Dele Coker has seen time in 2 games and has gone 2 for 2 from the field, but needs to improve his defense. His height will be needed in Big East pay, it seems; then again, Lavin seems to be favoring smaller, quicker teams. Other squads have played that way and been successful.
Rob Thomas has taken some time away from the team to concentrate on his schoolwork; he would not have played much on the team anyway.
Walk-on Kevin Clark has made it into one game so far.
|0||Dwayne Polee Jr.||6'7"||193||FR||F||6||5||41.2||102.8||27.6||46.1|
|Dwayne Polee Jr.||5.5||20.5||2.1||11.1||3.0||2.8||25.6||4.4|
|Dwayne Polee Jr.||16.8||7.2||41.0||70.0||42.9%||36.4||17.0|