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Big East Preseason Previews and Predictions: #6 St. John's

The young Johnnies are grown up and are stacked with raw talent, but coaching, shooting, and basketball IQ are still questions.


Here is where ranking the remainder of the Big East gets tricky since the remaining teams are all very close together and there's not a lot separating #6 from #1.  At 6th, I have St. John's slotted lower than a lot of people as the talent is there but they have been unable to put it together so far under Steve Lavin.  But even picked to finish 6th, I still think the Johnnies can make the Tournament in what should be a top-heavy Big East.

Last year: 17-16 (8-10) NIT

KenPom: 104th Offense: 237th, Defense: 32nd Tempo: 93rd

Key Losses: Amir Garrett (Transfer)

Key Additions: Rysheed Jordan 6'3 PG, Max Hooper 6'6" R-So SF (Transfer), Orlando Sanchez 6'9 Sr PF (Juco), Sort of God's Gift Achiuwa 6'8 R-Sr C (Red Shirted last year)

Key Returnees: D'Angelo Harrison 6'4 Jr SG, Jakarr Sampson 6'9 So PF, Sir'Dominic Pointer 6'5 Jr SF, Chris Obekpa 6'9 So C, Jamal Branch 6'3 R-So PG, Phil Greene IV 6'2 Jr PG, Christian Jones 6'7 So PF, Marco Bourgault 6'7 Sr SF, Felix Balamou 6'4 So SG

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Jamal Branch SG: D'angelo Harrison, SF: Sir'Dominic Pointer, PF: Jakarr Sampson, C: Chris Obekpa

The first reason I am not as high on St. John's is that I'm not as high on D'Angelo Harrison as others are. The major reason for this is his performance against Georgetown; in last years' two games against the Hoyas, Harrison posted a line of 7pts and an Offensive Rating of 55 in game one and 2pts and an offensive rating of 30 in game two. He's obviously not as bad as those lines indicate, but I think he is a vastly overrated player. He is a high volume shooter, and unlike Providence's Bryce Cotton whom he battled for scoring champ in the Big East last year, he's not that efficient. Harrison posted an ORtg of 102.8 while Cotton posted a ORtg of 123.3.

St. John's major weakness is on offense and it is their shooting.  It's not just the fact that they're a poor shooting team, but also that they have terrible shot selection which further compounds the issue. St. John's was 314th in eFG%, 343rd in 3pt%, 255th in 2p%, and 317th in FT%. Furthermore, they were #1 in the nation in taking long 2 point jumpers universally known as the worst shot to take. Only 3 Johnnies took more than 27 three pointers: Harrison 31.5% on 138 attempts, Phil Greene 22.7% on 110 attempts, and Marco Bourgault 29.3% on 75 attempts. St. John's is hoping that Harvard Transfer Max Hooper can provide a three point threat, but even if that comes to fruition they are unlikely to have enough firepower behind the arc to improve their rankings much.

St. John's other major weakness was rebounding. St. John's was 212th in grabbing offensive boards and 300th in grabbing defensive boards. One major culprit for this was Chris Obekpa. The shot blocking freshman led the nation in block % last year, but it often came at the expense of grabbing defensive boards as the freshman tried to block everything in sight leaving the offensive boards open for the opposition. The other problem with Obekpa is that he's a relative liability on offense with his 88 Ortg and 39% FT%. The rebounding issue will be helped by a year of experience for Obekpa, the addition of Sanchez and the return of God's Gift Achiuwa, who red-shirted last season. Sanchez was a JuCo transfer who was denied playing last year by the NCAA and was only granted one year of eligibility which he will use this year at St. John's. Red Storm fans are very high on Sanchez and his NBA potential.

Pointer is a versatile all around player and is the proverbial glue guy for the team. He along with Obekpa were the major forces in St. John's main strength last year: Defense. Pointer stuffs the stat sheet and is the most complete player on the team. Next there's Jakarr Sampson, last year's co-rookie of the year. Sampson was initially supposed to join St. John's in the 2011-2012 season, but was forced to go to prep school after not qualifying. He's a solid defender and a rangy athlete who is continuing to develop his basketball skills.

At point guard we will see a rotation of Jamal Branch who sat out half the season as a transfer last year and then missed several more games with an injury he suffered against Georgetown, and freshman PG Rysheed Jordan. Jordan should likely take the starting spot from Branch, but it appears Lavin will try and ease his star recruit into his freshman season. Branch in limited time has not proven to be the answer in his 17 games as a Johnny or 11 at Texas A&M. Both shortened seasons showed decent assist rates, but even higher turnover rates. Rysheed Jordan should be able to do a better job breaking down defenses and getting easy hoops for other players.

As you can see there are a lot of pieces in place. The issue is the pieces haven't all fit together yet. Some of that is that there are too many of one type of piece (athletic wing forwards) and not enough of others (consistent three point shooters). Others would question the person trying to put the puzzle together coach Steve Lavin, who many view as a good recruiter and mediocre coach.

The truth of the matter is that despite having a large amount of athleticism and highly ranked players out of high school, St. John's is lacking in actual basketball skills on the offensive end of the court (read: consistent shooters, big men with post moves, an actual offensive game plan from the coaching staff would be nice too). I think they'll be improved enough to make the Tournament, but I can't see their offense making a complete transformation for them to challenge for the Big East title.