Perhaps my colleague Dylan Butler is right when he says that the worst thing that could have happened to this group of players, consisting of nine new team members and just one senior, was to upset Kentucky in their opener and play Kansas down to the wire in their next game.
Maybe they thought that if they can beat Kentucky and hang with Kansas, everything else would be gravy. But that has surely not turned out to be the case.
Ironically, looking at what St. John's has done this season, the first two games can be thrown right out the window. The St. John's team that played in those games bares little to no resemblance to the club I saw lose to Hofstra over the weekend.
That team seemed blissfully unaware of how talented it was and - at the same time - incredibly naive as to what winning on the Division I level requires. That team could have beaten anybody, or so it seemed. This team, well, they seem unable to beat anybody.
This will all change, of course. With Mike Jarvis as head coach, winning is more than an option, it is downright expected. Jarvis has never, ever had a losing season as head coach on the Division I level and with a group of players as talented as the group he now has, a losing season would be a downright sin.
After losing to Hofstra, Jarvis said he did not want to use his team's youth as an excuse. And he's right, of course, but it sure doesn't help, especially during times like these, when a win against an opponent like Hofstra, a team St. John's had never lost to, doesn't materialize.
If I was running the team - and believe me, I realize Jarvis had forgotten more about basketball than I will ever know - there are a few changes I would make, most notably at center.
Right now freshman Mohamed Diakite is starting in the middle. He is big, talented and raw, but not a legitimate offensive player and seemingly unable to dominate the defensive glass at this stage of his development. That means more second chance shots for the opposition and that ain't good.
Abe Keita is obviously not on Jarvis' table to take on the starting role. The first-year player is seeing minimal minutes and not really making a statement when he is on the floor.
The season started with Kyle Cuffe on the floor for the opening tip, but only in place of the then-injured Diakite. Cuffe is only 6-foot-8 and not a big center by any stretch, but he certainly was doing a better job than Diakite or Keita.
Against Kentucky Cuffe had nine points and five boards, against Kansas he had 16 and seven, against Stony Brook he had six and three, against Niagara he had 16 and five and against George Washington he had four and nine. After that his playing time began to decrease with the return of Diakite, who has yet to even approach double digits in either rebounds or points.
I would also let junior Donald Emanual on the floor more. Against Hofstra, the 6-foot-8 Emanuel had six boards in just 13 minutes, more than Diakite, Keita, Cuffe and Anthony Glover combined.
And if Shaw or Emanuel are in the lineup, Glover can play his natural position, power forward. But, to be honest, Glover is a manchild under the board. Though undersized at 6-foot-5, his physical strength allows him to battle on even terms with bigger players. Offensively, he has to be a post presence, allowing either Cuffe or Emanuel to step out and shoot short jumpers, something they seem more adept at anyway.
A real thorn in the side of the team this year has been the inconsistent play of Reggie Jessie at the three spot. Jessie, the only senior, took just one shot during the Hofstra game, which missed. He also clanked two crucial free throws in the final minute and had three turnovers to just one assist.
That could easily be forgiven if in every other game Jessie didn't become invisible. Against Niagara and GW he had just four points, while against Michigan he had 19 and 15 off the bench against Stony Brook. When he is on his game, Jessie can really be a critical part of the team's success. When he is not, the team wins in spite if him.
For the shortterm I would start Alpha Bangura at the No. 2 spot and move Willie Shaw to the three. Shaw can shoot the lights out when hot and has exhibited a willingness to battle for rebounds. Bangura can score as well, giving the team more options offensively.
And at the point guard spot, well, Omar Cook will mature. He obviously has all the skills in the world, despite an inconsistent outside shot. Cook is the least of the team's worries and despite some erratic shooting, the last thing anyone should be looking to tamper with.
I believe the Red Storm ship will right itself in time, regardless of what Jarvis chooses to do with the team. There is simply too much talent for this team not to win.
©2000 Community News Group
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