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The St. John's losing streak: Chris Mullin's role, and taking the long view

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The frustration is mounting for fans and players.

Wendell Cruz

St. John's fell at Seton Hall last night, 79-60, losing the team's 11th straight game, falling to 0-8 in the Big East and 7-14 overall.

It is, by any account, a bad season, even if this was known to be a rebuilding season with players who were not expected to make an immediate high-end impact. Maybe it could be better. Maybe

Sometimes, there is a magic to the power of a halftime speech from a coach. The players' hearts swell with pride, their minds sharpen, their abilities and execution reach never-before-seen heights...

...in movies.

The Johnnies competed early and got blasted to open the second half. Mullin took a time out a minute in that didn't stop the bleeding.

After the game, Mullin talked about that moment:

"It must have been a bad halftime speech," Mullin said. "The start of the second half cost us the game. More importantly there was no resistance. They were doing what they wanted to do. It was disappointing.

"The start of the second half didn't even give us to a chance to see if we could hang in there. I thought if we came out and put a little pressure on them it would have been interesting. We've done that before but we didn't do that tonight. Don't hang your head and don't blame your teammate."

Sometimes, reality is reality.

In the case of St. John's, the team is solidly undermanned - short in the paint with a pair of 6'7" players and Amar Alibegovic, who is 6'9" but a poor rebounder - providing the resistance inside. The Johnnies add to that with a lack of quickness defensively and offensively on the perimeter.

And topping that lovely pie is a hefty dollop of immaturity all over the roster. Only Ron Mvouika and Durand Johnson have a year's worth of regular playing time under their belts.

So late in the game, Chris Mullin let the game play out, at least to the eyes of the public.

Others have commented on Mullin laughing at the end of blowouts or chatting with his staff, casually.

But this is a learning season.

Could Chris Mullin go Full Frank Martin or Bobby Knight on his guys?

Possibly. Probably not.

What would that do with an undermanned team? Would they suddenly be able to shoot?

Note that Bobby Knight struggled in recruiting because players don't like being constantly screamed at, of course. And consider that while the optics are never great of a coach sitting on the scorer's table, that Mullin may simply be managing his frustration and protecting his players's psyche.

Former coach Steve Lavin was very good at this, shepherding his players gently; and while the results likely should have been better, note how Lavin got his players to tune in and play hard when the season seemed lost last year and the year before.

Chris Mullin knows what we know. (Yes, he knows a bit more.) Except for practice, there's no coaching cure for a team that shoots 28% inside the arc, that can't hit layups. There's no coaching cure for a team that cannot make open three-point shots.

From the NY Post:

"A game like tonight when you shoot 29 percent, you can play as hard as you want, but it's going to drain you," [Mullin] said. "The good thing is we've got two or three days before we play again. It's important how we handle the next two days. Tomorrow we'll take the day off and the guys that need to get treatment can get treatment and guys that need to take some shots can take shots. Then we'll have two good days of practice and then come out and play Villanova.

"I always emphasize to them that I don't want to see any blaming, no hanging heads and feeling sorry for themselves," Mullin said. "What happened out there we did; we take ownership if it. Now we take these next few days and try to change things."

This isn't to say that Mullin's approach shouldn't and won't change at some point. Or that he has given fans reason to believe he is the perfect coach.

We don't know that yet; it's too early to know, given the roster.

But people forget just what a huge talent gulf there is between top-25 freshmen - the kind of players who can make an impact and look like they belong on the floor in the college game - and the players outside of the top-100, which most of the St. John's newcomers are.

With that in mind, the questions about Mullin's coaching skill will have to come in Years 2 and 3.

The upside to this dismal streak, in terms of evaluating Mullin, is that there are few confounding factors. There are no sanctions on the program, no scandals lingering, few holdovers who are keeping the head coach from implementing the new ways.

So this season is about teaching the importance of each possession, the importance of working hard - and seeing which players are willing to do that work (like Federico Mussini).

This season is about players getting to put skills they practice in game situations - which, for most players with memory, means they will remember their missed layups and opportunities, hit the gym and figure out how to do better.

This season is about figuring out what each player specifically has to work on, how they communicate as a unit, how they understand each other as a unit.

it's about approach. In the words of Chris Mullin from today's Big East conference call:

"[The hardest parts of building a program is] separating the competitive fire and the will to win, and also making sure each and every day no matter what the scoreboard says, the next day is a positive workday where guys are improving.... you're going to go through tough times and the guys that stay focused on the task at hand on a daily basis, those are the guys that will succeed. Adversity is going to separate the winners from the losers. I'm talking about the way they handle it because if you hang in there, believe me this thing will turn around, there's no question about that."

The future is just as bright as it was at the beginning of the season - for it is in the future, and this year is the slog to climb to the point where the future will be more clear and visible.

Villanova comes next, and the Red Storm have a chance to show what they can do with a lot of effort - and against a team that doesn't have the size of other Big East squads. Every game, there's a chance.