Steve Lavin

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Reports: Chris Obekpa to stay at St. John’s, Rysheed Jordan leaning toward returning

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Chris Mullin wasted little time since accepting the head coaching position at his alma mater. The new St. John’s coach has offered several local recruits and hired a key assistant coach in Matt Abdelmassih. On Monday night, during the national championship game, it was reported that Mullin will retain one of his key returners.

Chris Obekpa, the shotblocking junior, will reportedly stay at St. John’s for his senior season, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. Obekpa, the only big man on the St. John’s roster last season, was suspended for two weeks on March 15, hours before Selection Sunday.

Following a season-ending loss to San Diego State in the Round of 64, Steve Lavin said to reporters, “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he doesn’t return to St. John’s.” Six days later, Lavin and St. John’s agreed to part ways after five seasons.

Obekpa averaged 5.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. The 6-foot-10 Obekpa was one of two players Mullin was looking to retain. The other being sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan, who finished second on the team in scoring. According to a report on Monday night from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Jordan is also leaning toward returning to St. John’s as well.

Even if Jordan rejoins Obekpa and the Johnnies, Mullin will still have his work cut out for him, as no other returner averaged more than 9.0 minutes per game last season, and Brandon Sampson, the program’s top commit, reopened his recruitment on Lavin left.

Report: Chris Mullin offered, expected to become St. John’s next head coach

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St. John’s has offered Chris Mullin the head coaching job, and he is expected to accept, according to a report from Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports on Sunday evening.

The former Red Storm star became a top target once the university parted ways with Steve Lavin after five seasons. The Hall of Fame small forward was a three-time Big East Player of the Year and led St. John’s to the 1985 Final Four.

This hire will definitely win the press conference, but will similar wins happen on the court, too?

For starters, Mullin, who currently serves as advisory role with the Sacramento Kings, has no head coaching experience. Sure, Big East loyalists will love the move, but will all the points he scored back in the 1980s really resonate with recruits who weren’t alive for his Run TMC days?

Of course, he could make up for that disadvantage with a top-notch coaching staff.

It’s worth noting that Mullin had the chance to jump to the bench back in December. After Michael Malone was fired, it was reported that the Kings’ head coaching job was Mullin’s if he wanted it. However, Mullin turned it down, electing not to begin his coaching career midseason.

Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley reportedly had interest in the vacancy, but signed a six-year deal with the Rams earlier on Sunday. Steve Masiello, who has led Manhattan to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, was also believed to be a candidate.

If he does in fact accept, Mullin will be inheriting a team that graduates D’Angelo Harrison, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch. Aside from bringing in several assistant coaches who can help recruit, Mullin’s top priority will be retaining Chris Obekpa and Rysheed Jordan.

Steve Lavin and St. John’s ‘mutually agree’ to part ways

Steve Lavin's three seniors have the NCAA tournament in their sights (AP Photo)
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St. John’s announced on Friday afternoon that Steve Lavin and the university have “mutually agreed” to part ways.

Lavin had been with the program for five seasons.

“Coach Lavin returned high expectations to our men’s basketball program and represented St. John’s in a positive way,” Chris Monasch said in the release. “We appreciate his commitment to the program and to our student-athletes over the past five years. Our student-athletes represented the University well, especially our five-member senior class who excelled on the court, inside the classroom and within the community.”

The Johnnies were 21-12 this past season, going 10-8 in the Big East and reaching the NCAA tournament, where they lost in the opening round to San Diego State.

Expect to see a number of high-profile coaches get in the mix to replace Lavin. Rhode Island head coach Danny Hurley will likely be in the mix, sources told NBCSports.com. Hurley was a storied high school coach in New Jersey before heading to the collegiate ranks. Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello and Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino are two more names to keep in mind, while Chris Mullin will likely get a look as well.

The departure of Lavin has already changed the outlook for St. John’s 2015-16 season. According to Ben Love of Scout.com, four-star Class of 2015 shooting guard Brandon Sampson has re-opened his recruitment from the Red Storm. Since Sampson committed after the November signing period, he has no obligation to stick with St. John’s.

NCAA tournament berth the final step for St. John’s senior class

Steve Lavin's three seniors have the NCAA tournament in their sights (AP Photo)
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Steve Lavin’s three seniors have the NCAA tournament in their sights (AP Photo)

St. John’s has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, Steve Lavin’s first year as head coach. Following that season the Red Storm were forced to replace ten seniors, an unparalleled task in college basketball.

“After our first year we didn’t have one single returning player with D-I experience and that’s unprecedented in my career as an assistant, head coach and broadcaster,” Lavin said. “I don’t know if it will ever happen again at this level.”

Lavin and his staff responded to this challenge by securing a recruiting class ranked third best in the country, comprising of seven players: Sir‘Dominic Pointer, Maurice Harkless, D’Angelo Harrison, Amir Garrett, Phillip Greene IV as well as junior college transfers Nurideen Lindsey and God’sgift Achiuwa.

Since then, Harkless, Garrett, Lindsey and Achiuwa have moved on from St. John’s, leaving Pointer, Harrison and Greene to try to get the Red Storm back to the NCAA Tournament.

In the group’s first three years together they failed to do so, in large part due to inexperience. However, Lavin sees the growth of his team. “We’re closer, every year we’ve gotten a little bit closer,” he said. “So I think this group has learned.”

It is the one blemish on a recruiting class that has produced two 1,000-point scorers in Pointer and Greene, one 2,000-point scorer in Harrison and an NBA Draft pick in Harkless.

“It means everything,” responded Harrison in regards to an NCAA Tournament berth. “It’s the only thing I want to do, the only thing we haven’t done as a group.”

What this group has done, in the eyes of Lavin, is stabilize the St John’s program. “They’ve undeniably, incrementally made progress year after year and as a result they’ve put St. John’s in a position where we are competitive again after going through a decade or more not being competitive,” Lavin explained. “We are back to being a competitive program and that was the goal.”

The next, and final, step for this class is to punch a ticket to the Big Dance. “Now we have work to do because we want to send them out as they deserve, on a high note with an NCAA tournament appearance,” said Lavin.

St. John’s currently sits fifth in the Big East with a record of 19-9 (8-7) with three regular season games remaining, including a showdown with sixth-ranked Villanova in the final game of the season.

In College Basketball Talk’s latest edition of bracketology the Red Storm are a nine-seed and the players know that a strong finish to the season will eliminate any doubt of a tournament berth.

“We go 3-0 in these last three games, we will be worried about where we are going instead of are we in,” said Harrison, a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award. “We finish the season on a high note and once we get there we know we can make noise. We just have to get there first.”

Coming down the stretch this is the focus for St. John’s. The individual accomplishments of these players are well documented, but they have not quenched their thirst for postseason success.

Big East Player of the Year contender Sir’Dominic Pointer summed it up, “As long as we make the NCAA tournament, that’s all that matters. These awards, they come, they go, the tournament stays with you forever.”

Steve Lavin says he still has support from St. John’s

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Butler swept the season series with St. John’s with a convincing 85-62 victory on Tuesday night .

In the span of a five weeks, the Johnnies have gone from the top-15 to the bottom half of the Big East standings with a 3-6 record. Steve Lavin took St. John’s to an NCAA tournament in his first season in Queens back in 2011, but hasn’t been back since. Like last season, the Red Storm could be positioning themselves on the wrong side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.

However, Lavin, whose contract runs through next season, isn’t worried about losing support from the university.

“It’s never been an issue. They’ve always been supportive,” Lavin told Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News. “They’ve given us the resources to be successful. So my energy has been on the next recruiting class, the next game. Like most coaches, you focus on things you have control over and the rest kind of takes care of itself.”

“The administration’s been great from start right through to the present,” he added.

Still, Tuesday’s night blowout loss was concerning for a St. John’s team looking for a victory over a ranked opponent. Currently, a pair of wins over Providence and a road win over a Syracuse team at full strength serve as the Red Storm’s best wins.

On Tuesday night, the Red Storm went down early, then showed just how much of an issue their depth is when Chris Obekpa, one of the nation’s best rim protectors and the only true big man in the rotation, was ejected for a Flagrant 2 with 8:27 remaining in the first half.

In the latest College Basketball Talk bracket, St. John’s is projected as a No. 12 seed, playing in the First Four in Dayton. St. John’s still has opportunities to climb up the conference standings and score a marquee win with two games against Georgetown and a regular season finale at Villanova, but with less than a month until March, St. John’s is leaving itself little room for error.

St. John’s hosts Creighton, which defeated the Red Storm on Jan. 28, on Saturday at noon.

Big second half from Hilliard II, Ochefu lead No. 8 Villanova past No. 24 St. John’s

Ryan Arcidiacono, Phil Greene IV
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If you can believe it based on the final score, No. 8 Villanova actually trailed No. 24 St. John’s at the half. Red Storm senior D’Angelo Harrison had 16 points and Phil Greene had 11 points at the half, but a steal and breakaway play at the end the of the first half by Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono seemed to change the momentum of the game.

On the play, Arcidiacono was fouled and Harrison went down grabbing his knee and limping off to the locker room a second early. Harrison returned with a right knee contusion and had nine in the second half to finish with 25, but the Red Storm never recovered as Villanova ran away with a 90-72 Big East road win.

The Wildcats played phenomenal basketball in the second half and completely dismantled a tired and hurting St. John’s team. Even at home, the Red Storm wore down with their limited rotation and foul trouble. Sir’Dominic Pointer fouled out with over seven minutes left and Chris Obekpa found himself hurting after a second-half play.

As for Villanova, they only got stronger.

Senior Darrun Hillard II scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half and junior center Daniel Ochefu had another tremendous outing with another double-double. Ochefu finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots and dominated the second frame on the interior with plays all over the paint. His activity coupled with the heated-up shooting of Hillard gave Villanova (14-1, 2-1) all they needed.

This game and the monstrous 19-point, 24-rebound effort against Seton Hall show how much Ochefu has improved during the course of the season. He has five career double-doubles and three of those have come in the last four games. When Ochefu missed a double-double against Butler in that stretch, he was one rebound short of having four straight double-double.

Ochefu has improved significantly during this stretch of play and he should probably be getting more post touches because he’s also shown that he’s a capable passer.

This is a great comeback victory for Villanova after the road loss at Seton Hall on Saturday and they haven’t lost back-to-back games since the 2012-13 season. They came out strong in the second half after a so-so opener and finished off St. John’s quickly.

Hilliard and Ochefu played well against Seton Hall, as well, but on Tuesday Dylan Ennis was able to step in and provide 15 points to be a third scorer. Arcidiacono also had nine points, eight assists and no turnovers and he and Ennis played significantly better after a collectively poor game against the Pirates.

St. John’s falls to 0-3 in the Big East and 11-4 overall. The Red Storm started 0-5 in the conference last season and need to find some more reliable bench options if at all possible while getting more consistency from Rysheed Jordan. Jordan returned on Tuesday to go 0-for-6 from the field and played erratically.

As injuries piled up and foul problems occurred, the Red Storm were cooked and couldn’t keep up in the second half. Steve Lavin’s team is still talented through its first six, but those guys all need to play well and stay on the floor for St. John’s to win Big East games. The physicality and toughness of the Big East is hard to get through with an undermanned team.