Friday, November 5, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- St. John's Red Storm

Too Busy for the Details?
Given much the same squad as the team entering the 2010 season, there is the temptation to simply cut and paste last season's preview, but this season there is something different...the coaching staff. Can Coach Lavin solve the 32 minute problem? For the past three seasons the Red Storm Nation has debated whether the stalled progress is due to the players (not Big East-level personnel) or the staff (not Big East-level personnel). This year we find out. I am betting it was the staff.  Prognosis -- A 2nd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

Coach Roberts brought in a very large freshmen class in the fall of 2007. While large entering classes were common in Queens during the Roberts Era, the class of 2011 was unusual; it stayed around (and was reasonably healthy) for more than one season. The staff added JUCOs Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee in 2009-10 and both return this season, giving head coach Steve Lavin a deep and experienced squad for his inaugural season.

According to Pomeroy...
Off Eff. Overall106.298100.918198.0215
eFG% Overall47.323846.228445.8313
FTA/FGA Overall31.630737.215835.0215
Pt. Dist. 3FGA Overall25.720718.733025.3256
3FGM% Overall33.420529.931933.3243
3FGA/2FGA Overall29.525124.432829.0289
Def Eff. Overall92.85196.57793.250

The problem is not defense, as the Johnnies have consistently ranked in the top 20% nationally (or better -- see Def Eff. Overall above) in each of the past three seasons. Indeed, tough in-your-face defense was always a trademark of Norm Roberts' Red Storm squads. The offense is inside-oriented (see Pt. Dist. 3FGA in table above), though the inside/outside stat (Pomeroy's formula), at 2.13, would suggest something more balanced, a notion that is however, an illusion. Note the numbers for FTA/FGA Overall in the table above. "Inside play" almost always involves contact (and trips to the line). The Johnnies tooks a lot of 2 point field goal attempts, but they did not force the issue and get to the line from that offense. Defenses did not foul much because they knew what St. John's was going to do and when they would do it.

For the Record...
Big East6120.3336120.3335130.278
Post Season?NIT Rnd #1CBI Rnd #1NA

Last season's progress was typical of the Norm Roberts teams -- small and very measured. Though the rotation went 8-10 deep with players who logged two years together, the Red Storm could not escape the conference's fourth quartile.

The Red Storm's Nucleus
Coach Steve Lavin inherits an enigma in the form of a squad from Coach Roberts. Generally recognized as talented and tough (though Doug Gottlieb, ESPN's resident contrarian would disagree -- sorry subscription), the question is whether they are collectively talented enough and skilled enough to compete and win on most nights in the Big East. While many observers contend this cohort struggled with a very loose style of game management, others (like Gottlieb) suspect it might be the players...

On Offense
D.J. Kennedy77.4110.425.823.552.36.21.1549.0
Paris Horne69.3101.118.420.949.14.80.9919.4
Malik Boothe60.389.915.311.742.31.50.9546.3
Sean Evans51.995.421.
Dwight Hardy48.1102.423.728.
Justin Brownlee44.4106.320.323.647.89.91.0015.3
Justin Burrell41.4100.519.419.
Malik Stith26.373.215.313.629.02.50.6429.0
Dele Coker18.799.111.39.762.98.91.1437.1

Nearly half of the squad (Kennedy, Boothe, Horne, Coker, Evans and Burrell) begin their fourth season together. Though classified as seniors, Hardy and Brownlee transferred in last season (and counter to the trend, stayed), while red shirt sophomore Quincy Roberts and (true) sophomore Malik Stith log their second year in Queens. The offense is wing/front court oriented, with DJ Kennedy taking just over 25% of the possessions (and just under 24% of the shots) when he is on the court. He is also the most efficient player on the squad. Odd because the most prolific shooter often draws the most attention from the defense and tends to be less efficient than his "overlooked" teammates. As players entering their second season with the Red Storm, Justin Brownlee and Dwight Hardy can (potentially) develop larger roles. Hardy was often brought in specifically to shoot in 2010, a role that naturally drew defensive attention (and skewed his Shot% a bit higher than it probably would have been had he logged more time). The challenge for both will be to become even more efficient with their possessions/shots.

On Defense
D.J. Kennedy77.416.321.518.62.22.2
Paris Horne69.37.710.915.21.31.8
Malik Boothe60.37.820.928.00.42.3
Sean Evans51.917.96.318.61.41.7
Dwight Hardy48.18.08.715.50.31.8
Justin Brownlee44.418.110.712.63.92.3
Justin Burrell41.419.28.618.62.51.1
Malik Stith26.
Dele Coker18.712.62.323.510.12.2

The point guards, Malik Stith and Malik Boothe were remarkably inefficient. While neither was an effective scorer, the root cause was turnovers (see TO% above). Little wonder the two guards played so small a role in the offense for the past two seasons. Unfortunately this the staff has no fresh face to remediate this area in 2011.

Significant Additions
Dwayne Polee. See all those names in the table above? The 6-7, 193 pound forward out of Westchester HS, California is probably more athletic than most of the current front court rotation, but if he is not "Big East ready", will see only limited minutes this season. Check this space next pre-season -- Coach Lavin will have 10 roster spots to fill, and has garnered weekly write-ups this fall with 2011-12 signings.

Explode If...
1. The staff can teach the guards how to reduce turnovers and distribute the ball. If Boothe and Stith can (drastically) improve their shooting and reduce their turnovers, the offense would easily improve 7% or better with little change elsewhere.
2. Learn how to close out opponents. Using fresh offensive schemes will help initially. The trick will be to continue to diversify the offense, adding new elements as the season progresses.
3. The low post play improves. Sean Evans rebounds very well, but has not finished consistently (eFG% 46.0) and does not get to the line enough (FTR% -- FTA/FGA 34.5, in the low range for a bfc). Dele Coker have been practically invisible in the offense the past two seasons, as his Poss% in the table above suggests (about 12%), but his efficient shot conversion (eFG5 was 62.9; PPWS was 1.14) was sabotaged (offensive efficiency was 99.1) by a very high turnover rate (23.5).

Implode If...
While it is difficult to see how a group that has played together as much as this squad could implode, injuries have historically distracted the squad and sidelined the more efficient scorers and leaders at crucial times (Justin Burrell is sidelined 4-6 weeks to start this season). The fans and players are ready to see a much better result this season, let's hope they can weather any early disappointments/surprises.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The Coach will make his debut on the road (versus the WCC's Saint Mary's), the price I guess, for one of the first slots in ESPN's Basketball Marathon (11/16 into 11/17), and probably the sternest test of the out of conference schedule (OOC) -- outside of Gaels no opponent is projected to finish higher than the middle of their respective conference -- before the Holiday Festival. The Johnnies will meet Davidson and possibly Northwestern in the Holiday Festival before opening the Big East season in Morgantown, WV. Running the OOC table is probably optimistic, but more than one loss would have to be a disappointment, as the Johnnies will have to rely on their conference schedule (late season meetings with Duke and UCLA excepted) for the numbers to put them in the conversation for an NCAA bid.

Of St. John's mirrors, (Cincinnati, Georgetown and Notre Dame), the Hoyas are expected to dominate (though a front court matchup with Julian Vaughn and Sean Evans might be interesting), but the Bearcats and Irish will compete for a spot in the second quartile. The Red Storm will have to beat them to gain advantage in a tie-breaker. The first six games will be crucial, typical of a zero-tolerance Big East schedule. After West Virginia, the Johnnies play Providence (A), Georgetown (H), Notre Dame (A), Syracuse (H) and their closeout with Notre Dame (H). 3-3 would be good, fewer than two wins would be very bad for their chances of finishing out in the upper division. While two of the projected top teams are lodged in the last five games, a motivated St. John's squad should be able to go no worse than 2-3 (but hopefully 3-2 or better) against that slate (Pittsburgh, DePaul and South Florida at home, Villanova and Seton Hall on the road).

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