No team could use a holiday break more than the St. John’s Red Storm. The Johnnies had an up and down start to their 2012-13 campaign while capping off their 8-4 start with a loss to perennial college basketball powerhouse the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs. Excuses can be made, since the team is young, that the Red Storm just need more time to play together. Well, with a pretty easy non-conference schedule behind them, 8-4 isn’t the start St. John’s needed heading into the new year.
There are plenty of positives to take away from the fist 12 Red Storm games. D’Aneglo Harrison is still a beast, Jakarr Sampson is stepping up while becoming the team’s second scoring option, and Chris Obepka blocks a lot of shots while amassing a slew of uninspired nicknames. The problem isn’t with those three players or any of the ones head coach Steve Lavin trots out on the court every game, it’s the players he hasn’t had at his disposal.
God’s Gift Achiuwa has been designated as a red shirt and transfer Jamal Branch just made his debut in the loss against the Bulldogs. The “loss” of Achiuwa has created an unnecessary lack of depth in the frontcourt while Branch is still getting acclimated playing with his new teammates. This means Lavin had to rely heavily upon only a few players to rack up minutes.
Harrison, Phil Greene, and Sampson are all averaging over 30 minutes per game while Obepka, Amir Garrett, and Sir’Dominic Pointer are playing over 20. Only two other players, Felix Balamou and Christian Jones, are even playing over ten minutes a game. Leaving the Johnnies with 6 players who play the bulk of every game.
Sure these are “kids” but even they get tired and could get run to the ground. Lavin has to find ways to get other players more time on the court while not forfeiting viable offensive options. The Red Storm seem to have a hard time generating offense when Harrison is not on the court but Lavin can’t run the risk of burning his star player out.
This is hopefully where Branch becoming eligible can help them out. Branch, outside of the vastly improved Greene, is their only other option at point guard. When Lavin deems it time for Harrison to get some rest, he can sub in Branch, spacing the floor and opening up offensive opportunities for Greene, Garrett, and Sampson(If he chooses to rest he and Harrison separately. Which he should).
Unfortunately for the Red Storm the acclimation process for Branch has to be done in a jiffy, with less than a week until Big East play begins. This is why the 8-4 start becomes even more troubling. St. John’s knew this year would be a tale of two seasons, non-conference then conference play. 8-4 is just unacceptable for the team as they have even more youth to infuse to their already young squad.
Inexperience, lack of chemistry, no depth, are all issues going forward for the Johnnies. Even with the addition of Branch to the lineup, he only adds more immediate problems to the Red Storm’s lack of chemistry. Lavin and St. John’s have plenty of questions heading into conference play but looking for them while navigating the Big East is usually not a swell idea, they need to find them before January 2 when conference play begins.
Does Lavin decide to continue riding Harrison and Sampson until the wheel falls off? Will he find depth by “creating” it on the newest version of the Red Storm roster? Does St. John’s just call it quits and start forming the Catholic Seven super-hoops conference while no one is looking? Or can they form the chemistry, gain experience, and create depth in time to become a player in the last meaningful Big East Conference season?
So many questions and I don’t know if any of them can factually be answered. St. John’s just needs more time to get everything put together. I guess the biggest question that needs to be asked is, do they have enough of it?
Joe covers the Catholic Seven for Rant Sports. Follow him on the social media device known as Twitter @JosephNardone