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Muddling through a tough developmental season, do the lopsided losses matter?

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Why is St. John's taking on so many lopsided losses? Should the fans be worried? An exploration into what we're seeing on the court from the men's basketball team.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of a Three Takeaways, let's take a moment to parse this tweet.

Last night, St. John's lost by 25 points, their sixth loss of 20 points or more. (We don't need to engage in semantics about how St. John's has only lost by 30 twice.) By comparison, last year's team lost by 20 or more three times, and had four losses of ten points or more. They also had 21 wins, so that brushes some of that under the table.

This team has lost by ten or more points seven times. And last year's team didn't lose to Incarnate Word by 22.

Clearly, this is a lost season on the court, as St. John's rebuilds.

Things our regular readers know: this year is hard to watch.

The St. John's team is truly awful at scoring the ball, shooting under 40% on two-pointers in conference play. How, you may ask, can major conference players be this bad at scoring?

They don't get to the free throw line enough, and when they do, they miss a lot (65% shooting, last in the Big East). How, can players who have been playing basketball for years, miss so many free throws?

The defense, outside of forcing turnovers, isn't good at stopping opponents. How can so many players struggle to keep the score close?

Should St. John's be faring better? Is this on the coaching more than the players? Why is St. John's this bad after reaching the NCAA Tournament last year?

Chris Mullin's team is putting up some rough numbers.

Sure, his team could play slowly, try to drain the clock, and lose by fewer points each game, make the final score look better.

But that's not the point of this developmental season, not the scheme, not the culture that his staff is trying to build.

St. John's is 26th in pace nationally - racking up a high number of possessions (for the uninitiated, let's say shots + turnovers) each game. Last night, we saw St. John's try to run fairly quick sets - for example, the weave at the top of the arc, then a screen from the center at the free throw line while a guard dribbles hard to the rim.

That play and others have generated solid-looking shots, shots that this team hasn't been able to get to fall.

That's partly the training. But it's also the talent, and at this level, talent and maturity matter.

By the rankings, which do have solid predictive power, most of these players shouldn't be seeing more than spot minutes at a program that actually returned league-average talent. Luke Winn's Freshman Realism Project is very helpful - and it only covers why you shouldn't expect huge things from the top-100 players.

The current team has two players who graded out at four stars; one of those players, Marcus LoVett, is sidelined by NCAA eligibility rules.

This team is also lacking in experience; upwards of 95% of last year's minutes played are gone (returning minutes don't mean everything, but they do mean something). Ron Mvouika and Durand Johnson should be role players, filling in gaps.

The offensive leaders of the next two years may not be here yet - or may be honing their craft on the court, where in another program, they would be testing their skills in practice.

Few of these players can finish around the rim in the way that JUCO recruit Bashir Ahmed can.

Or hit off balance shots like incoming freshman Shamorie Ponds.

Or are as devastatingly quick as Marcus LoVett.

Or can score like Richard Freudenberg.

Better talent should mean better results on offense. And an offseason of strength training, shooting training and a college conditioning program should help the current freshmen, who will have major roles to play. (Each of them could use a lot more muscle, as could the incoming freshmen.)

Defensively may be another story, especially on the perimeter, where the Johnnies will have three six-foot tall guards. And rebounding will be a question mark; Ahmed and Darien Williams will need to provide some defensive rebounds to end possessions next season. Both Tariq Owens and Yankuba Sima need more strength in the post.

Still, Mullin is installing a style on that end of the court. St. John's. John's has looked to do what most fast-paced teams try to do - force turnovers, apply looks to get run-outs, easy shots.

Those shots have been there, even if they have not fallen.

It's hard to judge how effective this scheme will be in the long-term without seeing the team with more of the right players in it, players who match up skill-wise and physically.

Mullin isn't a coach trying to hang on to his job by making the losses look close, he's a coach trying to instill an aggressive, fast-paced offense.

There are reasons to house some skepticism - Chris Mullin has never been a head coach, and has been involved in basketball on the NBA level, with the world's best basketball athletes. And at times in the blowouts, the team looks lost for a solution.

So, can this kind of speed work for St. John's? Can Mullin teach it to players so much less experienced in basketball? Can they play fast on offense and also cover the perimeter on defense?

It's hard to have a verdict this early, big losses or not.

Keep in mind the recent past: St. John's senior-lade team won 21 games last year with seniors. But when they came, ranked as a top-3 recruiting class, that team managed a 13-18 record with a player who went to the NBA after his freshman year.

That team lost six games by 20 or more points.