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Thoughts on Day One of the NCAA Tournament: this could be you but...

Team cohesion, what’s the wrong way to get into the NCAA Tournament, and defense vs accelerated pace.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-Kansas State vs Wake Forest Brian Spurlocki-USA TODAY Sports

We will use this space - and the open threads for the NCAA Tournament games - to remark on the day of hoops, and discuss what elements of the teams we are watching can be applied to St. John’s in some manner.

By “applied”, I mean questions like:

  • which teams can St. John’s realistically emulate?
  • Which teams or players look like the future of the St. John’s roster as we currently know it?
  • Which teams play what looks like a lovely brand of high speed basketball, and what are they doing to be successful, especially defensively?

And of course, we can discuss NIT games as well - because last night, California and Clemson both laid eggs and got caught by hard-charging low-major teams. Basketball is a game of little mistakes, understanding enough to have “attitude” and “energy” and skill.

Let’s look at the first day.

Game 1

Looking at Mount St. Mary’s and New Orleans’ size is a reminder of how different the game can be between the high-majors and the low majors. Now, that’s not always true; teams like East Tennessee State have players who once played at high-majors. but generally, the size and speed difference is stark, even if the teams often have players whose mental games have had to compensate.

But for these two teams, there were players under 5’9” - a 5’5” player and 5’8”. There were quick guards who released their shots well below the rim. There was a team that was bad at rebounding and bereft of size (the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, aka the Mount, aka MSM, were the worst offensive and defensive rebounding team in their conference and one of the worst in the country) but still made an impact on the glass.

(By the way, the Mount is the kind of conference winner from a low-major conference that St. John’s should try to schedule next season for RPI purposes.)

We could talk about the clock management (I liked the idea of making MSM take a shot instead of fouling them, but MSM executed perfectly, whoops, leaving 2.6 seconds for a last-minute New Orleans shot).

But we can also talk about team chemistry and balancing passion against cooler heads. The New Orleans Privateers’ 6’9” forward Travin Thibodeaux grabbed his point guard by the neck during an argument going into a timeout.

Not ok. And really, both players were a little hot coming off the court.

Game 2

Let’s imagine if St. John’s entered the NCAA Tournament in the same fashion as Wake Forest and Kansas State.

Kansas State has a portion of their fanbase interested in losing and then getting rid of their coach, despite the NCAA Tournament berth. There are reasons - Kansas State is a lower-tier Big XII team, and it took a pair of seniors to get them there, and the players behind those seniors are not stars on the high major level (K-State plays in the Big XII) so far.

So the fans expect no real bump, this game is no launching pad - it’s the culmination of player experience, not of improved talent.

If St. John’s was this team in two years, with some passable lower-tier talent but carried by Federico Mussini, Kassoum Yakwe, Malik Ellison and Shamorie Ponds, maybe that would be ok - but if the bench doesn’t have some very good freshmen with potential, the fan base will be buzzing about a lack of progress...

It’s hard to see that happening in two years. If those players sneak into the NCAA Tournament, given the NYC profile, Mullin, and the recruiting efforts, St. John’s won’t have that brackish taste of a stale team. Players will still want to stay home in NYC (or come to NYC). Mullin can be absolved of the lack of a major bump with the “he’s learning on the job” justification.

Meanwhile, Wake Forest has an ideal 11/ Play-in game structure. A young talent who might get NBA looks but has room to improve. A point guard coming up the ranks. A young squad that mostly played together the previous year plus a grad transfer.

On the other hand, the porous defense - easy dunks and layups at the rim off of the pick and roll - has to give Wake Forest pause, and looks like some of St. John’s defensive lapses.

Your thoughts? Did you watch the games?