The broad shoulders of St. John’s Sedee Keita have a burden to uphold this season.
Keita, a 6’9” transfer from the South Carolina program who is finally eligible this season, is the one true big man on a St. John’s team filled with wings who can shoot and attack. While the team’s overall offense last season should see improvement with the incoming players, the defense, which was very good last season, will be the question mark...
...because we don’t yet know how different it will look with Keita on the back line instead of the ferocious stretchy web of defense that is Tariq Owens.
Tariq Owens, the long and athletic 6’11” forward who transferred to Texas Tech in the offseason as a grad transfer, was a huge factor in keeping the Johnnies competitive on defense. While he was on the floor, the Red Storm allowed under a point per possession, as Owens covered ground, blocked shots and was generally an irritant to all who dared come into the lane.
How much of the defensive improvement — from 131st in the nation to 29th last season in defensive points per possession allowed — was due to Owens’ presence?
It was likely quite a bit.
Keita, all 240 pounds of him, is a different player than Owens, who weighed somewhere in the vicinity of 200-205 after a good lunch. That weight and strength showed; smaller than many of the opposing conference bigs, Owens was not one to hold position on the block on either end.
But the Johnnies successfully worked around that issue to take advantage of his shot blocking.
Moreover, Owens learned, between his first and second seasons in the red and white, how to defend without fouling quite as much. He lowered his fouls committed per 40 minutes to under four per game in Big East action — while logging heavy minutes. The previous season, that number was nearly seven per game, and Owens fouled out seven times.
On a team with seven scholarship players at times (with 1-2 often kept behind glass except for emergencies), that was a helpful feat.
Owens was a force, and one that could stay on the floor and affect the game.
Now that Keita is the back line behind ballhawks Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon, can he stay on the floor?
There’s no experienced Amar Alibegovic, no Kassoum Yakwe, just a pair of freshmen (Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington).
If Keita can play heavy minutes, will he alter shots and keep opponents from scoring inside? At South Carolina he blocked a solid 5% of opponent shots in limited time. His size and strength should provide some resistance to post scorers, hopefully keeping the defensive two-point percentage down. And he should be big enough to be a post presence, granting a little more space to perimeter players (even though he only shot 24% inside the arc in his limited time at South Carolina).
How different will Keita’s presence make this team?
Can he run with the guards?
Can he create defensive chaos?
Can he stay on the floor?
Those are huge questions, because the burden is on Keita to hold down the middle.