I don’t want to make things more important than they are for the sake of scribbling nonsense on Storm The Paint, but some St. John’s Red Storm related issues are pretty glaring at this exact moment in time.
We should get the semantics out of the way first. The Red Storm are 2-1. Their one loss being the kind of which will haunt my soul until I see tangible evidence that St. John’s can play with “power” teams. As nice as St. John’s wins were over Wagner and Bucknell, their loss to Wisconsin was about as disheartening as a homeless person using that 75 cents you gave him to pay for a cup instead of a drink.
Defense — because it’s important — is my biggest concern. That and Rysheed Jordan — or really, the lack of the heavily hyped Jordan we were all expecting to be all kinds of brilliant on our picture-box and in and/or around Carnesecca Arena.
The defensive aspect is hard to breakdown and quantify into some sort of trend. The Red Storm looked like they had no idea how to play help defense against the Badgers. Essentially making them look like Bo Ryan is pro running up and down the court like Mike D’Antoni. Sure, St. John’s has looked better on that side of the ball during the last two games, but it was against far lesser competition than in their opener. But, to be fair, Bucknell is going to score on some teams this season. Holding them 63 points can be considered a win, although, they did manage to make 46.4 percent of their shots against St. John’s.
Regardless, the non-conference schedule is as good a time as any to work on fixing the defense. Steve Lavin has to — and assumingly is — make good defense a point of emphasis for his team. Scoring in bunches, overcoming first half deficits and regularly expecting D’Angelo Harrison to put the team on his back is all fine and dandy when you’re playing the Club State Pool Cleaners of the world — it will not work as well when Big East Conference play begins.
That’s not even mentioning what is going on with Jordan. Who is not only playing well below expectations, but has seen his role be reduced in the Bucknell game. It wouldn’t be as puzzling if Jamal Branch were playing well, but that’s not why Jordan only saw 14 minutes on the floor against the Bison. Sure, Phil Greene had a splendid game, however, Jordan’s time on the pine (baseball term, sorry…I’m not sorry) had more to do with his inability to play competent than it did with Greene looking like St. John’s third best player.
The Jordan situation is as troubling as the defense. It’s fairly safe to assume Lavin will figure something out with the defense. You can’t fix talent, though. I mean, could it be possible that Jordan is nothing more than an exceptional athlete? Could he actually just be a minimal player as far as actual skills go? It’s certainly too early to tell, although, current signs are pointing in the wrong direction.
Those issues are making the current non-conference stretch for the Red Storm as paramount a stretch as a team can have this early in the season. Only three games in, but with glaring issues that need to be fixed as early as humanly possible if the Johnnies want to be a good team down the road. Because, as of right now, St. John’s is not really a “good” team yet. Really, they’re mostly just competent.
All is not bad for the Red Storm, however. Some roles are being defined and identity is starting to be made. As expected, Harrison and JaKarr Sampson are the go-to-guys for all things bucket making. I often question Sampson’s shot selection or seizure like attempts to get to the rim, but I only do so because I think he can be so much better — it doesn’t mean I don’t think he has played well. And — despite what dopes like me say — Sampson is still young and will continue to improve as the season gets longer in the tooth. Thankfully, that same statement can be applied to every member of the Red Storm.
Then there is Greene, who bubbled up and played one of his best games as a college hoopster against Bucknell. I know some folks are super high on Greene, but that isn’t the player who he is. Yes, he can certainly have a game like that here and there. At the same time, though, he can also disappear of the face off the Earth for long stretches or make boneheaded plays with the best of them. He is like some weird version of St. John’s x-factor. Good Greene or bad Greene, but important to the team nonetheless.
I can run through the gambit of the rest of the St. John’s roster, but you already know the drill. O’blockpa is, you know, blocking lots of shots. Orlando Sanchez is being as versatile as a Swiss Army Knife. Basically, everyone is panning out to be who we expected them to be — sans Jordan.
Putting the future, speculated blame on Jordan now, however, is pretty unfair. The Red Storm are still in a great position anyway. Their next four games are, again, against less than world-beater level type of competition. Monmouth, Longwood, Penn State and Fordham are all more than winnable games. Games, mind you, where someone like Jordan can excel, build confidence and restore the expectations that some had for the Johnnies before the season began.
Winning those games by slim margins — or worse, losing them — will not be acceptable for a Johnnies team who is supposed to take a huge leap forward this season. Not to mention that those games are all the precursor to the Battle for New York — as St. John’s will take on the Syracuse Orange for (obviously) New York bragging rights. Which is kinda important to a program who currently calls itself New York’s team.
At the end of the day, however, it has been only three games. Talking about the lack of quality defense in the opener, Jordan being less than stellar or anything else that may be concerns for St. John’s might end up being pointless come two weeks from now. Still, it is important for the Red Storm to rectify the issues that can be fixed before the schedule gets tougher, and the time allotted to fix things has passed.