It's always nice to get the first one out of the way. St. John's got its first test (a rather difficult one) from Division II Sonoma State on Saturday.
Ultimately, the Red Storm pulled out a 73-55 win. There are many positives, few negatives, and some uncertainties after the win - some we expected, and others we didn't.
Here are the Rumble's takeaways from the game, sprinkled with some quotes from head coach Steve Lavin.
Orlando Sanchez and Marc-Antoine Bourgault. What is going on?
Not a word was mentioned prior to Saturday that Sanchez and/or Bourgault may not be available to play for St. John's right away. The team announced before the game that the two junior college transfers from Monroe were not playing because St. John's is awaiting an NCAA ruling regarding their "classification."
Their situations are similar, yet different. Sanchez's issue is about both eligibility and age. With Bourgault, St. John's is waiting for the NCAA to decide class status. The process has been ongoing for a while, according to Lavin.
"This is nothing out of the ordinary. We're just waiting," Steve Lavin mentioned after the game. "As a University, we've done everything from a compliance standpoint in terms of providing all of the necessary information."
First, Lavin hinted that St. John's should hear about the situation within the next week. But as the press conference continued, it seemed to become more as if they may find out sooner, or they may find out later. The situations just seems uncertain.
God`sgift Achiuwa and Felix Balamou may redshirt.
A new NCAA rule this season states that a player who may wish to redshirt cannot play even a single second in any game, including exhibitions, or else that choice is no longer an option. This is why Achiuwa and Balamou didn't play on Saturday and why they definitely will not see the floor on Tuesday against Concordia.
But the options are still open and no official decisions have yet been made. Much of these choices may come down to what St. John's has to do in wake of the NCAA's rulings on Bourgault and especially Sanchez. We should find out more on Gift and Balamou before the Detroit opener next week.
JaKarr Sampson is talented, and certainly not shy.
The talented freshman scored 14 points and pulled down 7 rebounds in his college basketball debut on Saturday night. Not as if we expected it, but it is clear that he isn't afraid to attack offensively. In his 33 minutes, Sampson attempted 14 shots, which about 7 or 8 of which were mid-range jumpers.
Many have hinted that Sampson should be compared to Moe Harkless, in the sense that he could be a one-and-done following his freshman season. Like Harkless, though their games are very different, Sampson has the tools to make it happen. But is he mature and disciplined enough both on and off the floor? That's something we'll find out as the year progresses. Overall, an impressive first game for the young forward.
D`Angelo Harrison is being D`Angelo Harrison, and his killer instinct just took a night off.
Harrison played only 14 minutes in the Red Storm's exhibition win, and scored only 5 points on 2-9 shooting while committing four fouls. That certainly isn't a stat line indicative of someone who was selected to be on the Big East's second team come March.
He also didn't start the game for the Johnnies, which was surprising. Lavin mentioned that Harrison committed a "minor team infraction" and was held out of the lineup exclusively to set a behavioral tone for the rest of the team. It's something that we've seen before from this staff, who has kept players out of the starting five due to missed bus departures and other small miscues in the past.
"This probably wasn't D'Angelo's greatest day as an athlete at St. John's," Lavin said. "We just spoke after the game. I told him 'This is one you learn from, you take away, and you move on.' But I think it was just one of those tough games between the foul trouble and never finding his rhythm."
Amir Garrett and Phil Greene had no trouble picking up the slack.
The two returning sophomores showed signs of being offensive threats a year ago, but rarely anything like we saw against Sonoma State. Garrett and Greene both scored 17 points (46% of team's scoring) and were each offensively efficient.
As the young freshmen and transfers become accustomed to the collegiate game and Lavin's system, guys like Garrett, Greene, and Harrison will need to pick up the productivity lost by Harkless' decision to go pro. Sampson, Christian Jones, and Chris Obekpa (along with Sanchez and Bourgault, if/when become eligible) will contribute and develop more and more as the year goes on.
But St. John's needs to find other ways to score early in the season, and Garrett and Greene's performance on Saturday shows that they may be ready to take a step forward.
Run and gun, if possible. This team cannot rely on their halfcourt offense.
It's nothing new, really. St. John's has always had difficulties scoring in halfcourt sets, even going back to the days of Norm Roberts. After getting out to an 11-0 lead early in the first half, the Johnnies had trouble scoring.
Under Lavin's system, this team needs to create turnovers and push the ball up the floor before defensive units can get settled. They've brought in high flyers like Sampson and Sir`Dominic Pointer, who thrive when the game's pace becomes chaotic and almost disorderly. Perhaps when Jamal Branch becomes eligible in December, the Johnnies will become more comfortable.
But you know St. John's is clicking when they're getting easy slams and lay-ups off of steals. It's been that way, and will stay that way.
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