From "cause for concern" to "reasons for optimism", the first month of basketball has already been a roller coaster ride for St. John's.
The Red Storm sit at 4-1, earning a solid non-conference win against Minnesota in the process. Following a blowout win to open the season against NJIT, the Johnnies were forced to overcome slow starts against Franklin Pierce and against LIU-Brooklyn.
Perhaps it was just some early season gelling, or simply looking past the on paper "inferior competition". Regardless, St. John's finished November strong, beating Minnesota and nearly knocking off the number ten team in the country, the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Will the Red Storm continue to improve and in the process bolster their resume? Five takeaways from the November that was.
The transformation of Chris Obekpa has been instrumental in the early going. He's rebounding at 8.8 rebounds a game, a big improvement over last year's 4.8 average. Shot blocking remains the forte of Obekpa's game; he is swatting away 4 blocks a game, good for 6th in the nation.
Possibly the most noticeable difference for Obekpa has been his hustle on the court. His tenacity fighting for loose balls and rebounds has provided the Red Storm with many second chance opportunities. The energy and enthusiasm he provides seems to be the spark for St. John's.
Against Gonzaga he struggled with only one point and 4 rebounds in just 22 minutes of action, but did have two steals and three blocks. With Obekpa sitting in foul trouble Gonzaga stretched their lead from five to as many as fifteen. St. John's switched to a five guard lineup and simply had no deterrent at the rim and couldn't match the Zags size.
Will the lack of depth in the frontcourt be the achilles heel for St. John's? How important is Chris Obekpa for this season?
Early on, the perimeter defense of St. John's was lackluster, allowing easy penetration for kickouts or uncontested baskets at the rim.
Although the Red Storm appeared to be struggling, they actually stack up well statistically on defense this season. They rank 10th in defensive rebounding at 30.4 per game, 23rd in blocks at 6.2 per game and 29th in steals at 9.2 per game. Turnovers will need to continue to provide multiple opportunities for the undersized St. John's to attack in transition.
A big reason the Red Storm is rebounding so well defensively is due to excellent effort from their guards. D`Angelo Harrison is averaging over nine boards a game, including a 17 rebound effort against Franklin Pierce. Sir`Dominic Pointer is pulling in 8.6 rebounds a game with Rysheed Jordan contributing 5.2 boards as well.
Can St. John's sustain this level of rebounding output from their guards?
Three point shooting
St. John's has struggled from beyond the arc shooting at only 26%. Only one player is shooting better than 29% and that is D'Angelo Harrison at 35%.
It's not so much the atrocious shooting rather than the inconsistency in knocking down the three ball. Against NJIT, LIU, and Minnesota the Red Storm shot a woeful 6-40 from three. The team managed to go 14-37 combined against Franklin Pierce and Gonzaga, showing capability of having success from beyond the arc.
It is this Jekyll-and-Hyde three-point shooting that could be an issue for a St. John's team that at times struggles against the zone.
Could the Red Storm struggle if teams play more of a compact Virginia like zone defense? Will inconsistent three point shooting lead to inconsistent results throughout the season?
Outside of the starting five St. John's has only one player averaging more than nine minutes a game (Jamal Branch, 20.8 mpg).The lack of depth, especially in the frontcourt, could present some issues for the Red Storm.
As shown against Gonzaga, without Obekpa in the lineup, the Johnnies struggle on defense. This is no surprise when Sir`Dominic Pointer, standing at 6'6, is the tallest man on the floor for St. John's.
With Christian Jones not getting consistent minutes who is the dark horse to provide some depth for this team?
Joey Delarosa will be eligible to play on Dec. 19 against St. Mary's, but it remains to be seen how he will be used on the court. The fate of younger brother Adonis Delarosa, waiting for full NCAA clearance, is still very much up in the air. Amar Alibegovic is also on the bench.
Three-point threat Myles Stewart could be someone who can stretch the floor for the Johnnies.
If St. John's continues to struggle shooting the basketball and defenses begin to take away driving lanes, could we see more of Stewart, if not the others?
Rise of the Big East
Many coaches suggested the Big East needed to make a splash in year two of its existence in its new format.
In the early going the Big East has two teams ranked in the top-25 (one of whom being Butler), with an additional five teams (including St. John's) receiving consideration.
It was believed for St. John's to have a legitimate shot at an NCAA berth, they would need to finish in the top four of the conference. This is largely due to the expectation that the Big East would only get about four teams into the tournament.
Will the Big East continue its early season success?
If so, does this increase the wiggle room for Big East teams seeking an at-large-bid?
What impact could this have on the recruiting?
Next up for the Red Storm is Niagara tomorrow night 12/2 at 7pm. The game will be played at Carnesecca Arena, with the Red Storm looking to improve to 4-0 on their home-court this season.
Questions? Comments? As always feedback is always appreciated.
The Rumble will be here to take you through every twist and turn of what will undoubtedly be another unpredictable college basketball season.