So just when we had pronounced the program healthy, Jamal Branch, an important transfer contributor from Texas, who makes shots and rarely turns it over, goes down with a knee injury. We aren’t saying that is the reason for dropping 4 out of 5, with the 1 win a lackluster job against USF, but St. John’s had played its best ball this year in games where Branch heavily contributed.
We aren’t gonna say that Lavin’s absence from the team had anything to do with it either, though it is true that Coach Lavin missed important road games at Syracuse and Louisville, which the team lost. Truth be told, we pencilled those games in as losses long ago, and also, we thought Rico Hines did a good job filling in. Those teams are just too good for us right now. They know exactly how they want to play, they turn run outs and turnovers into dunks and layups with alacrity, and their home court edges are just too tough. Both teams, no insult meant, just outclass St. John’s when it comes to coaching, leadership, recruiting, and shooting the basketball at this stage of our development under Lavin’s tenure.
In doing the calculus for the program to reach the dance, we thought yesterday’s game vs. Pitt at MSG was a must win, really, even if they had pulled off a miracle split with Louisville and Syracuse on the road. St. John’s has to establish and protect home court as a program, especially when so many Big East kids come through as visitors, looking to put up big games at the Mecca. Yesterday, St. John’s failed miserably, while only managing 20 points total in the 2nd half, and while converting on zero of 8 from downtown in that half of basketball. Once again, we see the distinct advantage here in recruiting local kids, something that does not appear to be the top priority for this program, with all of its top scorers brought in from out of state.
It was St. John’s 3rd brutal loss at home at MSG, counting losses to Georgetown–which wasn’t close–and Rutgers, which was a horror show. At this point, it’s hard not to look back at early non conference losses in which the Johnnies led, and at poor performances at MSG in conference, and not say, “what if we had won 3 or 4 more games?”
Villanova at Villanova was another terrible loss, though on the road, especially when one considers that the Wildcats now sit above us within the conference. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, an excellent coach, said after the game that to win a conference game by 16 on the road was a telling indicator as to the impressive nature of the win. But then, what of the loss for St. John’s? We thought that if St. John’s could score 65 yesterday, they’d win. And we’re still waiting. While St. John’s played better than expected against Louisville and Syracuse, it is deadly obvious that the Johnnies can not score. Recently D’Angelo Harrison displayed a swollen finger, as an explanation for recent poor offensive performances, and it is true that St. John’s has no real shot in games like yesterday’s in which he does not break double digits. But we can not blame Harrison, who always gives a giant effort. The fact is this: the Red Storm does not make 3’s, they do not score in the paint, and they get woefully little done in transition despite usually playing excellent defense. And there’s also the ugly business of their free throw shooting.
It must sound like we’re trashing them, which we don’t mean to do. Are we disappointed with the loss? Of course. But moreso, these are the warts that plague the program, honestly put. Now that the season has been essentially reduced to a formality, we may as well provide an early postmortem. We can like Lavin while disagreeing with his recruiting philosophy and we can respect the mitigating factors that surround his time away from the squad while stating that he does miss more games, for whatever reasons, than any other coach in the country.
Also, we’re not about to go crazy either way for the plight of JC transfer Orlando Sanchez, despite the fact that he is a beast like four who would be guaranteed for a few monster blocks and dunks each game, among other things, who has already reached manhood at the age of 24. For a kid over 21, the NCAA is clear on the rule that having played for his country’s national team in 2010, regardless of the amount of minutes or games played, his eligibility is exhausted. That he has a good chance of winning his appeal, or any of the other pro St. John’s articles in this regard, are irrelevant. In light of this fact, he obviously never should have been recruited.
Should he be granted that year of eligibility, St. John’s, with a full compliment of returning players, and we would count heavily Jakarr Sampson, as well as Felix Balamou, Max Hooper, and Christian Jones (highly touted recruits who are yet to break into the rotation) St. John’s would appear extremely formidable on paper for next season. If Sanchez is ineligible, we expect the program to successfully re-distribute that scholarship to a guy who can contribute in a real way who plays the four like Sanchez does. Lavin has shown an uncanny ability to pull recruiting classes together last minute, and learning Sanchez’s fate this week would give him plenty of time. But Lavin has also showed us last year how a class can fall apart late as well, which should not be the concern for next year, especially if there are no defections, since St. John’s is only looking at 2 new recruits, if Sanchez is in fact ineligible, which we’d hate to speculate on, as we hate to absolve St. John’s right now for recruiting another ineligible player.
But we can’t say we were happy to read earlier that the one 4 year scholarship we do have available is likely to go to another out of state product. St. John’s will be better suited to Lavin’s full court style next year, when they won’t have to rely as much on smaller players who don’t get to the rim or make jump shots, or when they aren’t stuck over playing guys like Bourgault, who we feel is a very borderline player at a big time D1 school.
If St. John’s does not have to re-recruit the Sanchez spot and if Sampson stays put, we think the program takes a big step forward next year, especially as Obepka, a possibly dominant big, further develops. We can’t get too crazy about if situations though, as anything is likely with Sampson, and if we had gotten sky high on Sanchez it would have been unwise, since the year has gone by and he hasn’t and may never suit up at all. We are also unable to go crazy about the possible signing of Rysheed Jordan, who was called the best prospect in Phily today in the Daily News by “Hoops” Weiss. We remember going crazy for Nurideen Lindsay last year and how that played out–a disappointment that Lavin turned into Jamal Branch.
Still, we are confident that the program will field an able bodied team despite possible defections, and while we are upset over the dismal showing yesterday, we still have a very positive outlook concerning 2013-2014. But we must refuse to get caught up in headlines as to what may or may not be. Whatever fortunes are to come with this program reside squarely with Steve Lavin, and Lavin has proved adaptable, so if there are defections or ineligibilities to come, we’re confident that Lavin will turn them into contributors, much like the way he turned Lindsey into Branch.
Let’s Go Redmen!