St. John’s coach Mike Anderson says he want his team to improve defensively. AP
The clock is ticking.
St. John’s doesn’t have much time until the Big East season begins. There are just three games, beginning Thursday with MAAC contender Monmouth, remaining until the Red Storm open conference play at No. 23 Seton Hall on Dec. 20.
While a lot has been made of its soft non-conference schedule, St. John’s remaining three opponents — Monmouth, Patriot League favorite Colgate and Pittsburgh of the ACC — are an improvement upon the bulk of the early slate (not including Indiana and Kansas).
With that in mind, here are three areas in which St. John’s (6-2) must improve to avoid a bad loss before the showdown against Seton Hall and to prepare for the upcoming Big East season:
Coach Mike Anderson singled this out as the No. 1 issue that needs to be cleaned up.
Kansas and Indiana, St. John’s top two opponents and the only teams to which they have lost, shot a combined 50.1 percent from the field and got to the free-throw line an average of 22 times.
St. John’s is ranked 94th in defensive efficiency at .978 points per possession. Red Storm opponents are hitting 34.9 percent from 3-point range, a figure that puts them 261st in the country, and that number actually went down after Kansas and Fordham made just 19 of 59 from deep the last two games.
Want more news and exclusive insights from Zach? Become a member of Post Sports+ and join his Inside St. John’s text-message conversation.
The next two contests will show if St. John’s has made inroads in defending the 3-point arc and if giving increased minutes to mobile forward Esahia Nyiwe is as significant as it appeared in the win Sunday over Fordham, when he registered a plus-17 rating. Monmouth and Colgate both shoot above 39 percent from distance.
Cut down on turnovers
Anderson’s teams have traditionally taken care of the ball, impressive considering the tempo and speed with which they play. In his first year at St. John’s, the Johnnies committed just 11.2 turnovers per game. That number rose to 12.6 last year. This season, it is a whopping 15.9. That means 20.7 percent of the Red Storm’s possessions have resulted in a turnover, up from 14.9 percent a year ago. So, although St. John’s is tied for 18th in the country in forcing turnovers at 18.1 per game, the plus-2.2 turnover margin isn’t the advantage it should be.
Some of that can be attributed to the new roster, newcomers playing at a speed they are not accustomed to. But sophomores Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu also are turning the ball over more than they did last year, averaging a combined six turnovers per game. In speaking to people around the program, this area is holding the team back more than anything, since so much of it is unforced errors and players being in the wrong spots.
Develop the bench
St. John’s best reserve, Addae-Wusu, is now a starter. The bench managed just 10 points in Sunday’s win over Fordham. The players expected to give the Red Storm their best depth in the Anderson era — Tareq Coburn, Aaron Wheeler, Joel Soriano and Stef Smith — have struggled to find consistency. Smith and Soriano are now coming off the bench for the time being.
Tareq Coburn gives a frustrated reaction during St. John’s loss to Kansas.
During the Fordham game, Alexander and Champagnie each logged 38 minutes, which is not sustainable. Anderson’s system is predicated on depth, because of how fast his teams play.
He has repeatedly said this group’s strength will be the bench. Maybe the changes in the starting lineup will ignite the transfers, or maybe they just need to time to adjust to the style and system. Either way, they are essential to this team’s success.Internet Explorer Channel Network