Since the last exhibition game I think we've gotten a lot better in practice and a lot better defensively. I think we're going to come out tomorrow and play a lot better and a lot more under control. - Nurideen Lindsey, pregame
St. John's won its first exhibition game over the CW Post Pioneers by 30 points last Tuesday. There were many positives to take away - offensive efficiency, unbounded athleticism, unselfish sharing, and another step in the development of team chemistry.
But, defensively? The 40 minutes against CW Post was a bit of a collective struggle.
Playing exhibitions against programs lower on the collegiate pecking order is supposed to accomplish two things. First, the early-season competition provides positive feedback on team and individual strengths. Second, these minutes expose some of the aspects of the team concept that require additional practice.
With Steve Lavin again expected to be absent for Tuesday's exhibition against Div. III St. Mary's (MD), St. John's will attempt to find improvement without their head man. Associate head coach Mike Dunlap will make his second appearance this season as Lavin's stand-in and will continue to do so until his return, which remains unknown.
Lavin is away but not forgotten, as the Red Storm look to improve their defense. More, below the fold.
The Johnnies have been focusing on bettering themselves on the defensive side of the ball in practice. The impressive 110 points that the new-look St. John's team scored against CW Post is directly linked to the concerning 80 points allowed.
To win at this level, and particularly in the Big East, that defensive permissiveness won't cut it.
"Our improvement can be rapid on the defensive side," Dunlap remarked on Monday. "So we've spent an enormous amount of time on that end."
St. Mary's brings a different look to Carnesecca Arena than the Pioneers did last week. While CW Post's tallest player was 6'6'', the Seahawks will suit up at least three at 6'8". Red Storm forwards God'sGift Achiuwa and Moe Harkless will face a more difficult task against the Seahawks' length. Easy offensive paint access was a confidence booster last week; this week brings a test against larger competition.
"It'll be the same thing all year long. I'd be surprised if we're bigger than anyone," Dunlap commented. "So, in that regard, we're happy that [St. Mary's is] big."
With a thin roster of seven key contributors, one of St. John's most prominent issues this season will be foul trouble. Last week allowed the Red Storm to avoid the foul issue, but St. Mary's could re-expose those concerns.
When Dunlap was asked about individual progress in practice, he mostly commended the team's growth as a collective unit. But he didn't fail to get his word in about the offense of Phil Greene, who gave a productive 20-point (80% shooting) performance a week ago.
"Phil has been diligently working on his shot, especially the three-ball," he said. Greene disclosed, after Dunlap left the room, that the associate head coach "loves the three-ball." Is it safe to say that Phil's favorite hot spots are downtown?
But among all of the offensive accolades, the discussion repeatedly reverted to the defensive necessities. Nurideen Lindsey wasn't thrilled with the team's effort on that side. He asserted that there is much work to be done and that upgrades can be expected.
"It was 100% my fault," Lindsey sought to admit. "But I was glad that we picked it up in the second half." As one of the two JUCO transfers on the team, he seems to be claiming a leadership role in the early going.
As if it wasn't already faced with enough adversity, the Red Storm's growth must be being held back by Lavin's absence. It has to be, right? Even if it was, no one around this program would tell you so.
The coaching staff communicates with Lavin daily about player details and practice plans. He also repeatedly tells the players, via text, to keep up their effort and hard work.
"We have a statue of [Steve] upstairs," Dunlap joked. "We put him at center court. We feed him, we water him - the whole deal."
Maybe this team hasn't forgotten what their head coach looks like.