The St. John's men's basketball team is hitting the court on Saturday and we're not talking about practice anymore.
The Red Storm will be taking on the Humboldt State Lumberjacks in the first of two exhibition games to be held at Carnesecca Arena in the next two weeks.
So, it's not exactly a game as far as standings go.
But, Saturday's matchup is still a big test for the Storm who are still facing a handful of questions being selected to finish third in the Big East. Add into the mix the academic issue with transfer Keith Thomas that removed him from the rosterand St. John's needs this game to settle some of its detractors.
Tipoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 2 p.m. and will be available on ESPN3.
Points of Attention
Ok, it's the first exhibition game. St. John's is not going to show everything it has. And, if the predictions are right, there are some things that are going to have to change this season for the Storm to be competitive.
That, naturally, doesn't mean that St. John's isn't coming to play, but don't be surprised if this is a team that doesn't put all of its metaphorical cards on the court right now, especially with the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament less than three weeks away.
But if there is one thing that should be a key point to the game, it's what Chris Obekpa does.
After looking to possibly leave the program, then deciding to return and then being branded the Red Storm's x-factor this season, the 6-10 center's performance on Saturday could be very telling as to what to expect from him once the season actually gets underway.
If Obekpa is going to be a force for the Storm, he's going to need to show that tonight and the best way to do that is to throw his actual size around under the hoop.
Chris Obekpa averaged just 3.8 points per game last year but head coach Steve Lavin seems to have found a renewed sense of faith in his big guy. With a depleted frontcourt and only unproven players behind him, the offensive responsibility is going to lay heavily on Obekpa's very broad shoulders this season.
"I like having the big fella underneath - in particular if he continues to mature both on the court and off the court, with his leadership, and rounds his game out offensively in terms of finishing around the basket area and making free throws, converting from the charity stripe when he's fouled," Lavin said.
Points of Attention Part 2
According to the Journal News, there's a bit of an academic controversy brewing at Westchester Community College where the academic eligibility of dozens of student-athletes over the last three to five years has come into question.
One of those athletes is St. John's forward - and most important offseason recruit - Keith Thomas.
The drama comes after the program dismissed assistant coach Richard Fields of after he admitted to providing a player with a fabricated transcript at Florida A&M University.
A day after St. John's athletic officials announced they were looking into Thomas' transcripts, the program officially declared him academically ineligible for the season and, according to reports, is no longer under scholarship at the school.
That's not good.
The Red Storm were already a bit thin and inexperienced in the front court and now with Thomas officially sidelined St. John's is going to need even more production from its experienced veterans. That means even more pressure on Obekpa under the hoop and, likely, increased time at power forward for Sir`Dominic Porter.
This exhibition game just became a big-time test for the front court.
Scouting Humboldt State
St. John's took on the Lumberjacks in their second exhibition game last season and it wasn't pretty.
This isn't a close-call against San Francisco State kind of not-pretty. This was a lopsided, everything going St. John's way, let's use a graph depicting scoring in the recap kind of game as the Red Storm ran away with a 106-39 victory.
While it may be easy to expect the same kind of game against a D-II program, Humboldt State is a slightly different team this year.
There are six seniors on this year's roster, led by 6-6 forward David Howard who averaged a team-high 19 points on 26.7 seven minutes a game last winter. Most of those points came inside and a good chunk of them came on offensive put-backs as Howard also led the 'Jacks with 6.5 rebounds per game, far away the team's best. Re-cue Obekpa for that potential battle under the hoop.
Allan Guei also returns to this year's roster. A smart, quick point guard who can direct an offense, Guei was also second on the team in scoring with 15.9 points per game.
After losing their first three games of the season last year, the 'Jacks rolled off three straight wins and eventually finished 11-17 overall with a 6-15 record in conference play. Now, they've started this season on a high note with an 82-66 showing over Southern Oregon in an exhibition game this past Tuesday.
"We are excited about the win," said Head Coach Steve Kinder in a statement released by the team. "They are a well coached, veteran team and is picked to be near the top in its conference."
Humboldt shot 48 percent from the field in the victory, while seniors Thomas Witzel and Austin Bryan both knocked down 17 points.