With a record of 5-2 in the regular season, the Red Storm have packed a lot of basketball into their fall semester. They've practiced quick turnarounds, they've found a "big three" in D`Angelo Harrison, JaKarr Sampson, and Phil Greene, the team has found explosive shot blocking stars in Chris Obekpa and Felix Balamou.
Still, the coach isn't satisfied. "Because we're young," Steve Lavin said last night after the 89-65 win, "we go through stretches don't sustain the level of play that we prefer to."
Despite the excitement on Twitter, the coaching staff know not every opponent plays into their hands as well as South Carolina did. Nor will other opponents decisively win the rebound battle but shoot so poorly. Improvements are needed before the calendar turns.
December brings an easier schedule for the young St. John's squad - a chance to work on consistency, a chance to integrate new and old players into the attack, and finally, two stretches with a week between games for study and practice and instagram hijinks.
Coming to Queens is likely the weakest Division I squad the Johnnies will play, the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
The Highlanders are difficult to evaluate. Besides Providence, they've played South Carolina State twice and New Hampshire - a pair of lowly-rated teams by all metrics - and two non Division-1 squads to get to 4 wins and 2 losses. Jim Engels has them improving, but are they good enough to mount a real challenge to St. John's?
We'll all find out in less than a day.
Mood music: Wake-up music from Redman and Sleigh Bells
Tip Off: 1:00 PM
Vs. New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders (4-2; coach, Jim Engels)
Location: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, NY
TV: ESPN3 | Radio: Bloomburg 1130
It's hard to take NJIT seriously as an opponent. I know this, you know this.
The team plays in the Great West Conference, a group of former independents toiling together until they can get an invitation from a low-level Division I conference with an automatic big to the NCAA Tournament. The Great West has no bid to the NCAA or NIT Tournaments, but has an automatic big to the College Insider Tournament (CIT).
That didn't stop NJIT, in their sixth year of Division I competition, from winning 15 games last year. And it didn't stop them from coming within a point of Big East member Providence in their opener.
In that game - where star Friar guard Vincent Council was the Highlanders held Providence to 32% shooting (41% on 2-pointers, 14% on three-pointers) and were competitive on the glass with freshman forward Terrence Smith. Their star guard Chris Flores lit up the Friars with 10/19 shooting from the floor for 28 points.
So St. John's can't just rest against NJIT, or against any opponent. Basketball rewards those who play hard, find space, and hit shots. The Highlanders have lost their 2 games by a total of 4 points.
Outside of Flores, the team has a pair of starting forwards in Staten Island's Ryan Woods and Terrence Smith - who shoot 38% and 44% inside the arc, respectively. Sean McCarthy is 6'10" senior who will likely start; he holds NJIT's record for blocks while playing on the Division I level with 9. The Highlanders hold opponents to 38% shooting inside the arc, so they must be doing something effectively.
Lack of talent and poor interior scoring aside, the Highlanders want to compete. NJIT has faced St. John's twice, and taken two losses, the last in December 2008.
From their game notes, NJIT prefers NOT to be called New Jersey Tech or NJ Tech. Bad memories, Highlanders? Name change needed to forget a misspent Division II youth?
Cast of Characters
Chris Flores of NJIT has had a stellar early season, putting up just under 19 points per game (with an offensive rating of 1.2 points per possession - very, very good). Can he score like that against St. John's? The former Dorchester, MA star has the ability to put up points inside and outside the arc, enjoying a sharp shooting season (38% from 3pt/ 54% from 2pt/ 81% FT).
The one thing NJIT brings is the ability to get offensive rebounds (rebounding 39.5% of their misses). Despite Thursday's win, rebounding was still an issue. NJIT doesn't bring great size, but they will try to get second chances off their misses. St. John's has to win long rebounds and "50/50" balls. Right now, the Red Storm are in the bottom half of the NCAA in rebounding percentage on the defensive and the offensive glass.
Prediction: St. John's has the fans excited after a 24-point dismantling of the SEC's South Carolina squad. The black uniforms brought out the closer in the squad; the Red Storm ran early, ran often. The running continues in Saturday's matinee. The prediction - St. John's wins 83-55.