It was a long, ugly game. It ended with a 100-59 loss to the Creighton Bluejays on their senior day, where St. John's gave up 53 points in the first half, scoring 24. Promising freshman Kassoum Yakwe struggled, going scoreless, picking up two second-half rebounds and committing three turnovers and four fouls.
The team shot 3/17 from beyond the arc, allowed Creighton to rebound 46% of their few misses and 83% of St. John's errant shots.
On another night, we could discuss the 10/19 (53%) free throw shooting, or give props to the 19 turnovers forced (25% of Creighton possessions) or discuss the positive turnover numbers (11, 14% of the team's possessions).
But the result was an early and complete blowout, so we will have different takeaways...
1. Chris Mullin DOES get angry
Chris Mullin, frustrated, picked up two technical fouls and got tossed from the game.
This is notable to some. Some of you might not know it, but certain trolls (one on ESPN) have taken to pointing out how active Chris Mullin's assistant Greg St. Jean has been on the bench; others (like our Seton Hall and Xavier pals) take umbrage at Chris Mullin's demeanor - calm, occasionally unexpected (like when he sat on the scorer's table). he drinks water from his green bottle, he and his staff discuss what's happening on the sidelines.
Now, leaving aside that all kids of coaches act all kinds of ways on the sideline, and leaving aside that many schools have active assistants (watching Duke's assistants some years makes me feel like a mob of suits is yelling on the TV), Mullin has taken a tack of consistent improvement, learning lessons - as opposed to yelling at his players who are overmatched as Frank Martin might do.
But in recent games, Mullin has shown some anger and frustration at his team's ability to execute. And last night, he lost it at the referees and got a pair of technical fouls. you can see him escorted off the court below.
2. Given a soft defense, Christian Jones can get buckets
Not every defense will be like Creighton's.
Defensively, the Bluejays focus on getting decent position, not fouling, and keeping opponents from driving to the basket. All of that means that Creighton is willing to give up shots (generally) to jump shooters coming off of screens. Christian Jones managed to get some clean catches and was draining jumpers from early on. A good performance for him, one that highlights his versatility when he can be consistent. He was fluid and effective. That kind of shot could power some looks inside against other teams, giving him a chance to put his athleticism on display.
Jones also provided the closest thing to post defense when inserted to defend down low.
3. Interior defense is a real problem
St. John's started Yankuba Sima against the size and skill of Geoffrey Groselle, Creighton's impact center. The senior Groselle is technically sound, getting position early while his teammates move the ball quickly enough to find him in the post. Sima is a freshman with talent who has shown that he has a lot of work to do, but strong potential.
Yankuba Sima struggled to defend him early, picking up a pair of fouls. And from that point, St. John's tried to front Groselle in the post, putting a body in front of him instead of behind to defend him once he received the ball. The idea is to make the passes in to the paint more difficult, as they did in the first matchup. [For a visual aid, see this training video on fronting the post.]
It didn't work then, it didn't work yesterday. And it made a porous St. John's defense somehow even worse.
Given Groselle's 7-foot height, having 6'7" Kassoum Yakwe front in the post simply meant passing the ball a little higher, over Yakwe. Then a defender had to rotate in the stop Groselle from scoring... which left another Creighton player open on the perimeter. Not that Groselle needed it. He was already under the basket on most of the catches and had an easy lay-in, no matter who came over.
As the Johnnies shaded inside, the Bluejays found many open looks on the perimeter for both shots and drives to the basket against the Johnnies' guards. Added all up, it was a day that saw the Red Storm look wholly inadequate defending at the Division I level.
Amar Alibegovic has rarely seen time defending in the post, and in the past, he's been foul-prone, over eager, and very likely to slap at a player AFTER the opponent has taken a shot. Yankuba Sima needs strength and more defensive practice. Yakwe is short and currently only 205 pounds.
The Johnnies need improvements inside in the offseason. Tariq Owens, the 6'11"/ 2015 pound center can help, but also needs a lot more weight.
Maybe the battle plan against Creighton also needs to change.