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Bosco’s Corner: Erratic SJU needs some real answers

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I certainly do not mean to dilute the term bipolar or slight anyone truly afflicted with the disorder, but I simply cannot, for the life of me, come up with a better word to suit this year’s version of the St. John’s Red Storm.

If the team even came close to being consistent, I wouldn’t venture down this slippery slope with the dreaded “S” word, but the only thing this team does with any regularity is confound me with its mood swings.

One day St. John’s might look like a legitimate threat in the Big East, a team capable of unseating any other club in the conference, just like it did last Tuesday when the Storm shocked the Miami Hurricanes in one of the best and most competitive college basketball games I have ever seen at Alumni Hall.

But a few days later the team looked like a pale impression of itself in a horrid 21-point loss to Providence. Will the real Red Storm please stand up?

Some people might say that St. John’s plays to its level of competition, but if that were the case, all the games would be close. Maybe they just got up for the big games against Wake Forest and Miami, the only two ranked teams the Red Storm has faced this season and both games turned out to be wins.

Head coach Mike Jarvis has openly confessed that he does not know what in the world is wrong with his team when they play so poorly, as they did against Manhattan, Pittsburgh and Providence. The club looked downright lost in those games, so much so that dozens of fans went ballistic on the Internet, some calling this year’s team one of the worst in school history.

And what does the team do for an encore? Beat a ranked opponent.

It has to be concentration. That’s the only thing I can come up with. For the big games, the games when the competition is a known commodity, the Red Storm plays its best. That’s probably because the players gear themselves up for the game, practice just a little harder, listen a little more intently to their coach.

But when it is a team like Manhattan, a decent team St. John’s is supposed to beat, does the club lets its guard down, makes lazy passes and doesn’t press too hard on defense. All of a sudden the team is down 12 at the break and fighting an uphill battle the rest of the way as if it were mired in glue.

It’s perplexing to say the least, and I’m sure Jarvis has scratched his hairless head countless times trying to figure just what team will hit the floor with him whenever the opening buzzer sounds.

The roster seems solid to me. I mean, if every player brings his ‘A’ game, I don’t see why the Red Storm can’t be a viable NCAA Tournament team.

Marcus Hatten has already proven to me that he can hit a shot from just about anywhere in the building, not to mention that he is a whirling dervish on defense, ball-hawking with the best of them. But primarily he has been the lone offensive option for St. John’s on a regular basis.

Eric King, a freshman out of Brooklyn, has shown plenty of promise since Jarvis gave the first-year player from Lincoln High School the starting power forward job, but he is not a go-to guy, not yet. He crashes the boards, knows how to score and is an adequate defender. Still, he’s not always on top of his game.

Sharif Fordham is the team’s semi-starter at the No. 3 slot. He can handle the ball and play great defense, but mostly — with the rare exception — he is not an offensive option. But if he can play top-flight defense nightly without getting into foul trouble, he needs to start and get plenty of minutes.

Anthony Glover, a senior and co-captain, is as fickle with his game as the rest of the team is collectively. He may be the heart and soul of the club, but at times becomes invisible on offense or can’t hit water falling out of a boat. He’s a solid player when he’s on, a guy the team needs to rely on, but he can’t just disappear offensively from game to game.

Willie Shaw has been starting, but his playing time has gone down and down with the emergence of Tristan Smith and Fordham. When he attacks the hole, Shaw can be most productive, but mostly he just runs around the perimeter hoping to get open for a three.

Kyle Cuffe and Donald Emanuel can play, no doubt about it. But Cuffe is not the greatest defender in the world and Emanuel is also afoot. That Emanuel’s outside shot has been falling is a pleasant surprise, but it’s still not something the team should be counting on.

In the middle there are Mohammed Diakite and Abe Keita, two big men who have improved steadily and have actually made a positive impact on the team. But they are not great, not by any means.

And though I am being critical of the team, this club still has a lot of promise. Defense and focus, that’s what this team needs. If they defend the ball, they win. If they focus, they win. Let Hatten shoot the ball, crash the boards, play every possession as if it means something. That’s what the team needs to do.

Of course, I’m sure Jarvis told them all that already and still he doesn’t know which team will show up.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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