Another slow start for St. John's has Utopia Parkway buzzing with concern. Are issues that should be corrected are slowly cementing themselves as weaknesses for this team?
Outplayed by Division II Franklin Pierce in the first half, the explanation offered from D`Angelo Harrison was that "(Franklin Pierce) came ready to play, and we weren't [ready]. It’s really simple."
Luckily for Harrison and company, any possibility of a program-embarrassing loss was firmly disrupted by a 21-0 run to begin the second half.
While the remainder of the contest was dominated by the Red Storm (in blue), the slow early start raises concerns about a lack of preparation.
St. John's, an excellent shot-blocking team a year ago, had only one blocked shot in the first half, giving up easy attempts at the rim with Chris Obekpa in foul trouble..
Outside of Obekpa, who is an incredible shot-blocking presence, the Johnnies have no one to deter opponents shots in the paint. This team always had the support of a Jakarr Sampson or Orlando Sanchez to bail them out of poor effort on defense.
Now? When Obekpa is off the floor, will the Red Storm struggle to stop foes at the rim?
On the perimeter, the Red Storm was torched in the half-court against the Ravens in the first half.
They allowed wide open looks from three both playing man to man and in zone sets. This led to Franklin Pierce shooting 8-14 (57%) from downtown and a combined FG% of 55%. When the Red Storm adjusted, the Ravens recognized the close defense and penetrated into the paint for finishes against the Obekpa-less defense.
The score at halftime showed an inability to stop the Ravens, leaving the Red Storm trailing 50-43.
With the lack of shot blocking, and the Johnnies playing at times five guard lineups, they will need to defend better on the perimeter to win ballgames. It's not only important but vital to the success of this season. Forcing five turnovers and two steals in a half simply will not cut it.
The advantage St. John's has lies in their athleticism and fast break ability. In order to capitalize on that, they will need much better effort on the defensive end from their guards.
Recognizing mismatches, and opponent weaknesses and exposing them in your favor is crucial to winning at any level. For a majority of the night St. John's had a major advantage in the post with Chris Obekpa. But Obekpa’s offense is still a work in progress.
Not only did the Johnnies fail to consistently feed him the ball in the paint, but when Obekpa did get the ball, he backed away from double-teams and shot long jump shots from the perimeter.
On multiple occasions Obekpa failed to cut to the rim leaving the ball-handler in no-man’s land with two defenders on his hip. One play to be specific, had Rysheed Jordan coming off a pick and roll with Obekpa. Both defenders followed Jordan, leaving an easy cut to the basket for a lob, or bounce pass to an easy finish.
Instead, Obekpa operated the play as more of a pick and pop, hanging Jordan out to dry. The team fails on many occasions to move without the ball and play to their strengths. While Obekpa has a much improved shooting touch, he belongs on the block. This game should have been dominated down low for St. John's, with multiple touches in the paint.
The Red Storm will look to improve with one game separating them from a matchup with Minnesota next Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Tomorrow night 11/19 they square off against LIU Brooklyn at 7:30 pm from Carnesecca Arena.