Thursday, October 22, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- St. John's Red Storm

Too Busy for the Details?
The Johnnies return 93% of their minutes. They return all 5 starters. They bring in 2 JUCOs, 2 High Schoolers who could be missing pieces, and they bring back a red shirt 5th year senior. They also bring back an accumulated 25 losses in the last 2 season of Big East play, balanced against 11 wins. The losses, it seems, may have made a stronger impression so far. Back in 2007 the Red Storm was climbing out of the crater left by Mike Jarvis' 2004 meltdown, but Norm Robert's program lost ground in 2008 as Roberts, with the passing of a modest but productive class, had to integrate a small battalion of players, with candidates at virtually every position. The freshmen of 2008 are juniors in 2010. The direction of wins is favorable, the preponderance of returning minutes, scoring and rebounding are all favorable. In every season it seems that (at least) one program takes a big, 8 or so standing jump. Will St. John's be the program that takes the Big Jump, or one that makes another small, but positive adjustment? Prognosis -- A 3rd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

Backsliding with the decline of minutes (changeover of players) is fairly common in all but deep, stable elite programs. The 6 game swing downward swing (2 fewer wins, 4 more losses as the Big East added two more games to the conference schedule) in 2008 is troubling. 2009 produced a modest 2 game swing (+1 win, -1 loss). The very high percentage in returning minutes, points and rebounds suggest St. John's will improve -- the question is how large a swing will this class of juniors produce?

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg100.918198.0215103.0150
Overall DRtg96.57793.25095.274
Big East ORtg94.31390.11592.913
Big East DRtg105.29102.28101.511
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%46.228445.831347.4259
All Off. TOv%21.825122.626621.5185
All Off. OReb%37.92733.215532.1219
All Off. FTA/FGA37.215835.021534.5211
All Def. eFG%50.222049.515147.157
All Def. TOv%20.614621.713519.9235
All Def. OReb%32.013731.611135.6269
All Def. FTA/FGA35.515540.324833.197
Four Factors -- Big East Only
BE Off. eFG%44.91444.11645.714
BE Off. TOv%22.41522.71620.611
BE Off. OReb%37.3431.81230.814
BE Off. FTA/FGA36.8537.3927.216
BE Def. eFG%53.31552.61549.913
BE Def. TOv%19.7721.0418.511
BE Def. OReb%31.0228.5133.27
BE Def. FTA/FGA34.6939.01031.66
All Gms Cons26.133621.521225.4320
All Gms Luck-.008160-.022197+.03077

Not obvious from the Offensive/Defensive Efficiency tables (above -- Big East games only) is the large gap between the #12 ranked Hoyas (101.4) and the #13 ranked Johnnies (94.3). That -7.1 (points per 100 possessions) forms a chasm between the #1 - #12 ranked teams and those ranked #13 - #16, suggesting there was quite a separation between teams in the upper 3 quartiles and those in the 4th quartile. While the Johnnies have made modest year-over-year improvement in their offensive efficiency, they continue to function well below the conference average, especially eFG% and TOv%. Red Storm players had problems converting possessions into points -- they lose the ball a lot but even when they shoot, chances are less than 50% that it will produce points. Strong ratings in rebounding (the silver lining...they do get relatively more 2nd chance opportunities than their Big East counterparts) and getting to the free throw line (suggests a good part of their offense comes in the paint) are overwhelmed when balanced against shooting and turnovers. Middle of the conference defensive rankings for forcing turnovers (TOv%) and rebounding (OReb%) were undermined by terrible shot defense. Compounding the their shot defense woes, Red Storm players tended to foul as well -- a symptom of "late to the shooter" shot defense? Red Storm opponents may have had relatively fewer 2nd chance scoring opportunities, but since they converted at an effective rate >50%, the value of the Johnnies' defensive rebounding was somewhat diminished.

For the Record...
Big East6120.3335130.278790.438
Post Season?CBI/Rnd 1NoBET/Rnd 1

The Johnnies' Nucleus
Coach Roberts will have another season to work with the colossal class he brought in back in 2007. Though he lost 2 players from 2008, neither was a starter/critical member of the Johnnies 2009 rotation. The question is how much progress will this group of players make during the season, and whether, from among the returning bench/rotation players or the newcomers, he will find the players who can address some of St. John's historical weaknesses.

On Offense
D.J. Kennedy86.2106.
Paris Horne83.7105.821.825.950.84.81.0520.9
Sean Evans68.696.721.921.151.411.71.0444.6
Malik Boothe61.881.817.013.937.62.20.8434.5
Justin Burrell60.490.521.319.945.95.41.0050.6
Q Roberts47.285.317.918.341.34.10.9022.3
Rob Thomas28.9108.823.025.451.116.01.0442.6
Dele Coker22.785.416.414.946.29.10.9926.2

Additional offensive "output" has to come either from the players who dressed last season (or for Mason, the season before), or from new players. Looking at the veterans, improvement/growth from Quincy Roberts will come anyway. Kennedy, Evans, Burrell will have to become more efficient even as they become more prolific. If Coker, Boothe, Burrell and Roberts cut down on turnovers, each would improve his offensive efficiency. The team could use an accomplished point guard. A pretty tall task, not impossible, but difficult.

On Defense

Kennedy, Evans and Coker form a good corps of defensive rebounders, even if there is no dominant defensive rebounder. Coker has a noticibly good block percentage, but is hampered with a 30% turnover rate. He gives away 3 of every 10 possessions he gets.

Significant Additions
Coach Roberts brings in only 4 recruits this season, a departure from past practice when the staff brought in jumbo recruiting classes only to turn out 2 - 4 players the next off season. Hopefully with a bit more discrimination at the front end of the process that practice will stop. The incoming class numbers 2 JUCOs and 2 true freshmen. Between the JUCOs, 6-2 #2 guard Dwight Hardy out of Indian Hills CC in Iowa will most likely get early and often minutes. Hardy hit 3s at a 45.3% clip while playing at Indian Hills, so he will bring some much needed outside shooting to Queens. Although the Johnnies return 93% of their 3FGMs from last season, this was a problem area for their offense. Hardy will help. 6-7 #3 Justin Brownlee joins a crowded wing contengient, and will compete with Evans, Kennedy and Mason for minutes. Between the freshmen, 5-11 point guard Malik Stith might get the early look. Most scouting services did not see much upside to Stith's game, and St. John's aside, most of the DI interest came from mid-majors (Tulsa, George Mason and Winthrop). But observers are nearly unanimous that Stith has an exceptional handle, and is very mobile with the ball in his hands. Turnovers are an area of concern (especially with the Johnnies' pg of record, Malik Boothe), and Stith may be able to address that problem. He will most likely back up Boothe at the point. 6-4 #2 guard Omari Lawrence injured his shoulder severely in the summer of 2008 and having to take time for surgery and rehabilitation, was off the AAU circuit at that (for him and the other members of the Class of 2009) critical time. A heavier (and stronger) Lawrence scraped off the rust for last winter's High School season. Lawrence will have to find his place in an off guard rotation that will include 2009 starter Paris Horne (a junior), JUCO Dwight Hardy and sophomore Quincy Roberts.

Explode If...
1. Coach Roberts finds a healthy and reliable point guard. Malik Boothe was having a rough season when he went out with an injury. Who knows, had he remained healthy he may have worked through the problems by the end season. Roberts, Horne and Edmonson all had their turns and problems. Wing DJ Kennedy functioned as a make shift point forward, leading the team in assists by season's end. Although St. John's is offense-challenged, finding a reliable ball handler who can run the offense and distribute the ball well would allow the staff to overlook a lack of point production.
2. One (or better two or more) of Quincy Roberts, Paris Horne, Dwight Hardy or Omari Lawrence (or Anthony Mason) provides consistent offense from beyond the arc. The Johnnies took 24.2% of their FGAs (Big East games only) from beyond 20-9 last season, possibly the lowest of any team not named Connecticut. There was a reason...they connected on only 30.9% of the 3s they took. A more consistent threat from outside will also make interior scoring easier.
3. The team cuts down (significantly) on their turnovers. While Boothe was the principal culpret, the front court (Burrell, Evans and Coker in particular) had high individual turnover rates. Fewer turnovers translate into more opportunities to shoot.

Implode If...
The team has problems with turnovers and outside shooting. These are weaknesses, not fatal flaws, so St. John's may pick up another win or so relative to the conference even if the current roster fails to address them. The nucleus of this team has gone through the conference wars together two years running -- chemistry should not be an issue now. Short of a catastrophic series of injuries or external disruptions, the team's floor should be no worse than a loss over last season. But these guys should be able to move up this season.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
With match-ups against Siena (MAAC champion, NCAA participant) and Temple (A10 champion, NCAA participant) in the Philly Hoop Group Classic, followed by a road trip to Duke and a face-off against Georgia in the Big East-SEC Challenge, Johnnies fans will have a pretty good idea whether this St. John's team will compete in the Big East this season. Going 4-0 through that competition is not realistic (but a real confidence booster should it come to pass), but 3-1 would be a clear indication the Red Storm is ready to move up in the conference. Even a competitive 2-2 would mean progess over last season.

If the Johnnies are to move up, the first 5 conference games pose an excellent opportunity to set out boundaries. After opening on the road at Georgetown, St. John's returns home to host Providence, then on the road again to Connecticut, and a homeward swing for two games -- against Cincinnati and DePaul. The road games might be tough, but the home stands opponents are beatable (Cincinnati also wants to make a statement -- this could be a bellweather game for both programs). 3-2 or even 2-3 would be a promising beginning to the season. Moving up means holding at home while taking a few road games, so the Johnnies' next two road opponents, Pittsburgh and Rutgers, coming at near-mid season present possibly the best chance to determine if the Red Storm is indeed ready to move into the middle of the pack. The February home games, especially those against Seton Hall (2/17), Marquette (2/24) and Pittsburgh (a return date 2/27), are crucial to the Johnnies prospects, as all three will be direct competitors for the mid-conference seeds. Seton Hall, like St. John's, most likely will be nurturing aspirations at a 2nd quartile seed, so stakes hanging on the outcome of the February 17 game may be higher than a single win. The late season road games at South Florida (2/20) and DePaul (3/5) are also winnable, and could well solidify an upward move. If St. John's is looking for 8 - 10 wins, they will most likely have to go 4-2 at worst through their last 6 games.


Anonymous said...

this was excellent. I am a SJU fan and this was the best preseason writeup I have found on them. Thank you, I appreciate it.

greyCat said...

Thanks, Pico Dulce over at the east coast bias helped me avoid a misstep or two. I look forward to getting to one or two St. John's games this season.