Big East: Can St. John’s Contend For Conference Title?

Steve Lavin has a talented backcourt unit, led by senior D'Angelo Harrison (11) and Rysheed Jordan (23), and the success of the Red Storm hinges heavily on how well the two complement each other this year. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Lavin has a talented backcourt unit, led by senior D'Angelo Harrison (11) and Rysheed Jordan (23), and the success of the Red Storm hinges heavily on how well the two complement each other this year. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. John’s Red Storm have arguably the best backcourt in the Big East but the question remains whether they can compete for a conference title with no real low-post scoring threat?

St. John’s started last season off strong, going 9-3 during the non-conference schedule but then dropped the first five games of conference play. The Red Storm closed the season winning 11 of its last 14 contests to finish the regular season 20-11. St. John’s lost both of its postseason games – to Providence in the Big East Tournament and Robert Morris in the NIT.

Coach Steve Lavin enters his fifth season at the helm of the Red Storm and this year could determine whether his coaching comeback was a success or not. The 50-year old is 71-60 with two 20-win seasons and three postseason appearances, including a NCAA appearance in 2011 – the NCAA appearance was St. John’s first since 2002.

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Six-foot-four senior guard D’Angelo Harrison leads a talented group of guards. Harrison is a prolific scorer who can score on all three levels. He excels at getting to the basket and has a nice mid-range game and the ability to knock down 3-pointers on a consistent basis.

Harrison is also a good rebounder and defender. He averaged 17.5 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc last season.

Six-foot-four sophomore point guard Rysheed Jordan and 6’2” senior guard Phil Greene IV will join Harrison in the starting lineup. Jordan (9.1, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 APG) had a fine first season and possesses all the skills to be a breakout performer this year. Greene is a combo guard who has the ability to knock down 3-pointers – 40 percent last year from long distance – and does not turn the ball over much.

Six-foot-three senior Jamal Branch is a steady backup and has the ability to get to the basket. Six-foot-six senior Sir’Dominic Pointer (5.9, 3.2 RPG) is a versatile slasher who has the ability to create for his teammates. He also can be disruptive on the defensive end – he led the team with 53 steals. Pointer will see time at both the 2 and 3.

The Red Storm’s frontcourt is expected to be a strong defensive unit but questions remain whether or not they can score enough to take pressure off of the backcourt. Six-foot-10 junior Chris Obekpa (3.8, 4.8 RPG) is an imposing presence and a fantastic shot-blocker. He led the Big East with 94 blocks last season and shot 56.3 percent from the field.

Obekpa is also a decent rebounder but is limited offensively though he does have some skill in the low-post.

If the Red Storm receives any offensive production from their frontcourt it will likely have to come from 6’7” redshirt sophomore Chris Jones, 6’8” junior Keith Thomas or 7’ freshman center Adonis Delarosa.

Jones, who sat out last season, is a rugged wide body with the ability to score in the low post. Thomas, who transferred from Westchester CC, led all Division I junior college players in rebounding at 15.7 rebounds. He also averaged 15.3 points per game.

Delarosa, a three-star prospect out of Christ the King High School according to ESPN, possesses soft touch around the bucket. Six-foot-eleven senior Joey Delarosa, who transferred from FIU, and 6’9” freshman Amar Alibegovic provide depth.

Strengths: Backcourt, Taking care of the basketball, Defense, Scoring.

Weaknesses: Rebounding, Frontcourt Scoring, Free Throw Shooting.

Analysis: A lot of things went wrong for St. John’s last year and the loss of JaKarr Sampson’s versatility and rebounding will hurt. Lavin used 12 different starting lineups last year so continuity will be a key this year. The guards are explosive offensively and take really good care of the ball – the Red Storm only committed 10.7 turnovers a game a year ago – but they must improve their long-range accuracy. The Red Storm shot 34.9 percent from beyond the arc but Jordan (27.9 percent) struggled and Pointer (15.0 percent) and Branch (33.3 percent) only attempted 20 and 18 treys, respectively.

The key will be the offensive development of the newcomers, particularly Thomas and Adonis Delarosa. Delarosa has tremendous upside due to his agility and length but needs to get into better condition. Alibegovic (from Italy) was a late addition to the team, as he joined the squad in July, but he is a promising prospect with outstanding range.

St. John’s will play against 16 games against teams that played in the postseason last year – Creighton, Duke, Providence, Syracuse, Villanova and Xavier. The Red Storm also plays Minnesota and either Gonzaga or Georgia in the NIT Preseason Tip-Off Final Four as well as St. Mary’s in the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival.

Next: NBA Power Rankings: Regular Season Opener Edition