Having won nine of their last ten games entering Saturday’s contest at No. 9 Villanova, St. John’s has been one of the hotter bubble teams in the country. A win over the Wildcats would further cement St. John’s status as a team charging towards an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. And given their 0-5 start to Big East play, the fact that the Red Storm is in this position is a testament to the work done by Lavin and his players.
Unfortunately for St. John’s they produced their second-worst shooting performance of the season at Wells Fargo Center, shooting just 32.2% from the field in a 57-54 loss to the Wildcats. But even with the poor shooting the Red Storm had chances to either tie or take the lead in the final minute, but two violations (a travel by Phil Greene IV and a lane violation by Rysheed Jordan) resulted in lost opportunities.
Leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison finished the game with 15 points but he needed 15 shot attempts, making just four. But based upon the team’s shooting it’s clear that he wasn’t the only player to struggle offensively. Add in the fact that shot blocker Chris Obekpa, back after missing the Butler game with a sprained ankle, was ineffective (one point, two rebounds and two blocks) in 24 minutes of action and it’s clear why the Red Storm had a tough time getting over the hump.
As a result of these issues St. John’s missed out not only on a quality win, but also the opportunity to grab sole possession of third place in the Big East. And with the middle of the Big East loaded with teams hoping to claw their way into the field of 68, St. John’s didn’t take advantage of the chance to set themselves apart from the pack.
Offense was an issue for both teams, with Villanova making just 39.2% of its shots on the afternoon. The one player who didn’t seem to have as much of an issue in this physical contest was Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard, who scored a game-high 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field. The Wildcats did outscore the Red Storm by 18 points from beyond the arc (27-9), but St. John’s was able to remain competitive due to their scoring 20 points off of 15 Villanova turnovers.
St. John’s will play two of its final three games at home, with Xavier and DePaul visiting before the Red Storm finish the regular season at Marquette. Win all three and the Red Storm could be in a position where one win at the Big East tournament would be enough to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. But that will be a tough task, with both Xavier and Marquette looking to do the same.
With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.
Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.
“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”
Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.
As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.
Duke is coming off of a national championship but the roster will look almost completely different for the 2015-16 season. That means last season’s approach to things on the offensive and defensive end will have to change and head coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned to reporters on Friday how the Blue Devils are still figuring some things out.
“We’re putting in a different offensive system, to personalize it for these guys,” Krzyzewski said to reporters. “And a different defensive system so that we can max out on the talents that they have.
“We’re really proud of our team. I think we’re going to be a really good team.”
Without Jahlil Okafor in the middle, Duke’s offense could shift to a mostly perimeter-oriented team, as the wing and guard depth is superior for this year’s group. Coach K and his staff making adjustments to schemes to fit personnel is a nice move from the Hall of Famer, as he’s done a better job in recent years of making adjustments like this after his stint with USA Basketball.
As the program moves on from Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook, it’ll be intriguing to see who emerges as a potential go-to offensive player early in the season and how Duke’s offense potentially evolves as the season wears on.