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St. John’s, by the numbers: reflecting on DePaul & looking ahead

What happened to forcing turnovers? And some conversation about the bench

Wendell Cruz

There are a lot of ways to be disappointed in St. John’s loss to DePaul on Saturday. We’ve talked about it in the recap and in the Three Takeaways.

This space is to take some time to rehash the loss a little bit, but also to reset and look at what St. John’s has done well and what should be real causes for concern.

First, from the DePaul game, looking at the Four Factors (effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, turnover percentage and free throw rate):

  • eFG% — St. John’s 51.5% | DePaul 47.7%
  • Off. Rebounding — St. John’s 17.1% | DePaul 33.3%
  • Turnover % — St. John’s 17.1% | DePaul 12.3%
  • Free Throw Rate — St. John’s 9.2% | DePaul 43.1%

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this game is that St. John’s actually outshot DePaul from the field, and quite handily. Usually, this goes a long way towards securing a team the win, but...

Everything else was kind of bad. Yes, Shamorie Ponds was out, and that had a huge effect on two of the factors (turnovers and free throws).

But the Blue Demons just feasted in the paint. Which is what we talked about, what we knew they would do, and... they did it. Femi Olujobi exacted his revenge with his fourth-highest point total of his career (27 points) and Paul Reed got his career high with 18.

Both are good players, but the fact that they were able to get many touches and do their thing speaks to DePaul getting to dictate the rules of engagement from the get go.

Poise

Wendell Cruz

Related to this, of course, is the complaints from the team about the fouls and the foul disparities — and Chris Mullin’s technical foul, AFTER a Justin Simon score, where his barking at the refs and a stream of blue language earned him another whistle from the officiating crew.

First, being a competitor is great. Granting the other team a pair of free throws in a close game is not great. The steady, “get better every day” approach Chris Mullin has often preached is mindful and wise. Spending too much time on how the other team is getting something the Johnnies are not is distracting.

St. John’s shoots a lot of jump shots. St. John’s also is small in the post. These factors mean the other team will get other chances at the line, unless the Johnnies attack and cause obvious fouls.

Rebounding + other disparities

ok, we just love the expression. No shade on Sedee Keita.
Wendell Cruz

St. John’s got worked in the paint. Here is what Chris Mullin had to say about the rebounding disparity, and he has a good point:

“We are really concerned about defensive rebounding and we gave up 14 offensive rebounds. A big focus is transition defense. When you crash the offensive boards, you have bad transition defense. If you play small, you want to get back on defense, not crash the boards.... we like to get back on defense and not give up transition baskets.”

Look: St. John’s is going to get “outrebounded” in most games, because they don’t crash the offensive glass. I’m ok with that in isolation; this team doesn’t have big players who are going to crash the boards effectively (well, they might on the bench, but we’ll get to that).

The important thing for St. John’s is to not let that offensive rebounding lead to additional shot attempts. Against Villanova, St. John’s did take more shots than the Wildcats, for example. Against DePaul, St. John’s took the same number of shots as the Demons.

But they shot a season-low-tying 26% on 5/19 from deep — the same as they shot against Georgia Tech.

That’s a low volume for the team, and a low completion percentage. Making just THREE more shots gives them 80 points.

And the Johnnies compounded this problem by fouling the Blue Demons a lot, especially in the second half... a half where DePaul scored 1.3 points per possession.

The Red Storm also did not gain additional shot attempts from turnovers.

Tilt the game

For the Johnnies, the game plan is to a) try to get more shots than the other team and b) try to be the aggressors.

A striking thing about this game is that St. John’s tried to play deliberate basketball and play a half-court game.

To be fair: both Marvin Clark II and Mustapha Heron had open shots that they missed. And Heron took at least 2-3 shots within a shoe’s length of the three-point line, making a “valuable shot” into a “difficult two”.

They could have won playing this game.

But in the last two minutes, the Johnnies started pressing. It was an all-out press, the kind that leads to dunks on the other end. But in this sequence, the red Storm also managed to actually get to the rim, a problem for the team all night.

What if, hear me out, they managed to put up some extended defenses all game?

Couldn’t that have sped up the mistake-prone Blue Demons, who enjoyed their lowest-turnover percentage game this season?

Ponds creates steals, yes. But the passive, get-back defense also gave up opportunities to force the Demons into miscues.

The second-worst defensive turnover percentage was against Villanova.

The bench

Wendell Cruz

From what we have seen from Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington, it’s hard to say they look ready. to contribute on the level of Marvin Clark II or LJ Figueroa or Mustapha Heron.

Yes, they should have gotten some minutes against the weaker opponents to get their feet wet with the first team. But it’s hard to see their minutes and think “those guys should pay”

But in a game where the DePaul game plan was not extremely complex (screen under basket, run big man from weak to strong side and watch him post happened quite a few times), maybe there would have been value in Marcellus Earlington should have gotten a few minutes to play football player and massage Olujobi into discomfort.

Maybe there would have been value in pressing and letting Josh Roberts run (or even attack the offensive glass for a few possessions).

Sedee Keita, despite some lackluster offensive possessions, did provide a shot-blocking presence.

Greg Williams Jr. was okay on defense, but did have some rough spots.

The future

Creighton’s defense is pretty bad.

They like to run. They leave shooters open.

DePaul’s win isn’t necessarily an indictment of the Johnnies’ season; they’re just a team that matches up well against St. John’s, and knows how to use it.

The next game is a chance for this team to get the confidence back and right this ship. LJ Figueroa makes plays and rainbows shots, like a player who could be a star next season. Justin Simon was solid.

This team has talent. It just needs to find a way to get back to a defensive style that makes opponents uncomfortable.