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Flaws and promise: St. John's has room for improvement

Lavin and players realize issues remain heading into Big East play.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

For all the praise St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin tossed at Columbia during his press conference Saturday following the Red Storm’s win in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at the Barclays Center, the fact remains his team has some flaws heading into the Big East portion of their schedule, starting Tuesday against Xavier.

Lavin isn’t ignoring the Red Storm’s issues. He realizes his team has much room for improvement.

"There are a number of areas we have to improve on, but a number of teams in the nation feel the same way," Lavin said.

We need to have a sense of urgency in every possession. -D`Angelo Harrison

The Red Storm’s areas to improve on were on full display against Columbia.

The Johnnies struggled to score against the 2-3 zone.

St. John's defense had some miscues. Even though St. John’s won’t play a team like Columbia in the Big East, the Lions effectively used the Princeton offense and were able to backdoor their way to some easy buckets. Other teams - Georgetown, in particular - use elements of spacing and backdoor cuts to take advantage of defenses.

St. John’s also didn’t defend the 3 well, which also has been a problem against teams which rely on that shot. Columbia shot 38% from the field, but 50% from beyond the arc. Those 3s kept the Lions in the game throughout the afternoon. Columbia actually outscored St. John’s 29-28 in the second half.

Perhaps the biggest issue might have been St. John’s lack of intensity at times, which D’Angelo Harrison admitted needs attention heading into conference play.

"We need to have a sense of urgency in every possession [no matter what the lead is]," he said.

Harrison believed St. John’s effort Saturday would have resulted in a win during conference play. That might have been the case against the teams picked to finish in the lower half of the conference such as DePaul and Seton Hall. But that kind of effort isn’t going to cut it against Villanova or Marquette.

There were some positives, however, and Lavin did point to the bright spots St. John’s could take away from the 65-59 win.

The Red Storm did get key contributions from a number of different players throughout the game, especially in the first half.

Three different players (Harrison, Orlando Sanchez and JaKarr Sampson) scored in double figures.

Max Hooper only played eight minutes, but contributed a key 3-pointer when he was on the floor. Sir`Dominic Pointer didn’t contribute points to the win until the very last minute when he had a 3-point play (and a a key block and  to essentially seal the win. Five different Johnnies scored points in the first six minutes of the game.

"What we’re seeing since the end of the Syracuse game is that our team is seeing balance," Lavin said. "I have confidence in the different combinations of starters and [bench] rotation. Our guys have seen there is balance and different guys can step up."

Lavin also put some emphasis on the 38% Columbia shot from the field. He called it defense that championship-caliber teams play.

St. John’s is far from that type of status right now, but he expects this squad will be in a much better position in about six weeks.

"I think by mid-February, this could be a dangerous team," Lavin said.