St. John’s Bashir Ahmed Represents a Tradeoff Between Efficiency and Intangibles

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 15th, 2017

St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin has the luxury of being able to construct a wide variety of lineups, but a curious dilemma arises when one of his most important players is also his least efficient. His roster has lightning-quick, penetrating guards, floor-stretching shooters and a handful of ultra-athletic big men who can defend the post and rebound, but he only has one Bashir Ahmed. Most of his other players, no matter how talented, are limited to specific positions. Guards Marcus LoVett, Jr. and Shamorie Ponds stand at 6’0″ and 6’1″, respectively. Swingman Malik Ellison is a defensive specialist. And shot blocker Tariq Owens is tremendous in his role protecting the paint, but he is generally confined to putbacks on the offensive end of the floor. That leaves Ahmed, a 6’7″ JuCo transfer who possesses great talent combined with a penchant for iffy decision-making.

Bashir Ahmed is the Only True Wing Threat St. John’s Has (USA Today Images)

Ahmed is aggressive in attacking the basket, savvy enough to draw contact in the lane, and athletic enough to challenge most defenders — all highly desirable attributes in a small forward. But when combined with an ingrained habit of unabashedly exerting his will against good defenses, the result is too many turnovers and missed shots. As the below table shows, Ahmed lags behind the other Red Storm rotation players in just about every shooting category.

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Future of St. John’s Basketball Resides In Its Freshman Backcourt

Posted by Mike Knapp on January 18th, 2017

For a lot of schools, a record of 9-11 that includes two losing streaks of four or more games might sound disastrous. And while St. John’s certainly isn’t happy with its record to this point of the season, the Red Storm have already matched their win total from a year ago and must be pleased with the glimpses of potential the fourth-youngest roster in college basketball has shown. Fortunately for head coach Chris Mullin, two of his talented underclassmen in particular are showing signs of leading a future Big East juggernaut. St. John’s freshman backcourt of Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds have made the Red Storm one of the more promising, and entertaining, nine-win teams in college basketball.

Marcus LoVett has St. John’s future looking up. (St. John’s Athletics)

LoVett’s strengths lie in his brilliance with the ball in his hands, while Ponds is an elite scorer and athlete. But what makes the freshmen pair so difficult to defend is how interchangeable they are. LoVett may technically be the starting point guard — he logs 81 percent of the total minutes at the position — but Ponds regularly slides over to that role, even with LoVett on the floor, to give the opposing defense a different look. And while Ponds may play off the ball more often — he takes 66 percent of the shooting guard minutes — LoVett regularly assumes this role as well. Even better, they do so with excellent efficiency — both have effective field goal percentages over 55 percent and assist rates over 20 percent. With apologies to De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk at Kentucky, no other freshman backcourt in America boasts such impressive numbers, making the Red Storm a tricky match-up for perimeter defenses.

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Big East Power Rankings: New Year’s Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 4th, 2017

With conference play just getting under way, it feels like an appropriate time to re-establish a hierarchy within the Big East. Let’s take a look at the first Big East Power Rankings of 2017.

#1 Villanova. Forget all the Josh Hart talk for a minute — let’s instead pay tribute to Jalen Brunson, who tallied a career-high 27 points last weekend in Villanova’s biggest test to date at Creighton. With a short seven-man rotation and spotty scoring contributions from a number of those players, the Wildcats had seemed to be over-relying on Hart for their production. But Brunson’s tremendous feel for tempo and timing might be the most under-appreciated facet of the team’s elite offense. A major reason why Villanova won the game was because it successfully slowed the pace down the stretch and reduced the quick outlet passes that Creighton uses to generate high percentage shots.

Villanova and Josh Hart Just Keep Rolling (USA Today Images)

Villanova Just Keeps On Rolling (USA Today Images)

#2 Creighton. It was terrible timing for the Bluejays to log their worst three-point shooting performance of the season against Villanova. Creighton came into the game connecting on a blistering 45 percent of its perimeter shots on the year, but only managed a paltry 6-of-24 outing on Saturday. Off night aside, freshman center Justin Patton continues to build on his stellar play in the non-conference season. The seven-footer notched 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting and gives the Bluejays a consistent scoring threat in the post to complement their numerous outside shooters.

#3 Xavier. Without the steadying hands of point guard Myles Davis, the Musketeers have experienced a roller coaster of a season. Evaluating Xavier without his presence in the lineup doesn’t do Chris Mack’s team justice. Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura can score in bunches and Edmond Sumner has steadily grown into a sure-handed ball-handler, but the Musketeers need Davis. Per HoopLens, no player on Xavier’s roster last year had a bigger offensive impact.

His 38 percent shooting from deep undoubtedly spaced the floor, but his more important contributions were in ball movement and facilitation — Xavier’s assist rate is currently the lowest it has been in four seasons.

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Big East Feast Week in Review

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 29th, 2016

There was plenty of Feast Week action involving Big East teams over the last week as a number of conference members took part in various events and tournaments. Four teams squared off in multiple games over a handful of days, gathering valuable experience and, in some cases, resume-enhancing wins. Below is a summary of Feast Week takeaways from Butler, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Providence.

Butler (Las Vegas Invitational)

Butler (USA Today Images)

Butler (USA Today Images)

Butler entered Feast Week as a borderline Top 25 team with a number of questions about production on the offensive end. In just two days in the desert, many of those questions were answered. A formerly shaky interior scoring team has completely revamped itself into one of the most efficient offensive squads in college basketball. The Bulldogs have outside shooters in Avery Woodson (45.7%) and Sean McDermott (38.9%), as well as a number of patient rim-attacking options in Kelan Martin, Andrew Chrabascz and Kamar Baldwin. Baldwin has been the biggest surprise for Chris Holtmann’s group, as the hyperactive freshman has been a crucial piece in generating turnovers and applying help defense in the zone to slow penetration. Most importantly, Butler has transformed from a positionally confined team to one that can size up or size down to match the opposition. The additions of 6’10” Nate Fowler and 6’11” Joey Brunk gave the Bulldogs enough frontcourt depth to match the Power 5 size of Arizona and Vanderbilt in holding both teams below 1.00 point per possession. The Bulldogs’ championship game win over #8 Arizona spells out a Top 25 ranking for Butler heading into December.

Seton Hall (AdvoCare Invitational)

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Big East Conference Preview: DePaul, Providence, St. John’s, Marquette

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 7th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected bottom tier of teams — DePaul, Providence, St. John’s and Marquette.

#10: DePaul

Eli Cain Wonders When DePaul Will Ever Get Over the Hump (USA Today Images)

Eli Cain Wonders When DePaul Will Ever Get Over the Hump (USA Today Images)

Roster turnover begets roster turnover in Chicago, where the Blue Demons have continually struggled to build upon any success. Now entering his senior year, Billy Garrett Jr.‘s potential never truly materialized so many have turned their attention to sophomore Eli Cain — a long, 6’6 slasher who relentlessly attacks the rim while also connecting on a healthy 42.5 percent of his three-point shots. But while backcourt mates Garrett and Cain should keep DePaul’s offense moving forward, the starting frontcourt has completely dissolved. The first attempt at a solution will be Levi Cook, a 6’10″ transfer who originally committed to West Virginia before a knee injury hampered his recruiting process. The second attempt will be forward Tre’Darius McCallum, a JuCo transfer with two years of eligibility remaining. But until either newcomer demonstrates an ability to compete at a high-major level of basketball, the offense will remain predominantly backcourt-oriented. This might suffice if Cain can improve in finishing around the rim and fourth-year transfer Chris Harrison-Docks supplies a scoring punch off the bench, but winning teams are generally built on two-way players and DePaul hasn’t ranked among the top half nationally in defensive efficiency in six years. Strong defensive units require roster continuity and Dave Leitao clearly needs more time.

#9: Providence

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Big East Tournament Takeaways: Wednesday Evening

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2016

The Big East Tournament officially tipped off on Wednesday night with two opening round games in New York City. The first game between Georgetown and DePaul was a tight battle until the second half, when the Hoyas used their 50 percent shooting to pull away for a 70-53 win. The second game featured a wild swing of events, with Marquette relinquishing a 17-point lead over St. John’s before escaping with a win. Here are some quick takeaways for each of the Big East Tourney’s opening day participants.

Georgetown Lives to Fight Another Day (USA Today Images)

Georgetown Lives to Fight Another Day (USA Today Images)

Georgetown (15-17): Senior center Bradley Hayes was back in action after missing six games and the impact was felt almost instantly. Last night’s win was only Georgetown’s second in its last 11 games, but after suffering a number of close losses this season, the Hoyas’ record doesn’t do the team much justice. The key takeaway last night was that, with Hayes back in the lineup and the team facing a season-ending loss, Georgetown finally played with a sense of urgency. The Hoyas’ defense was rock-solid, holding DePaul to just 0.79 points per possession, and D’Vauntes-Smith Rivera put together one of his most efficient games of the season. Things might not be too rosy for Georgetown in its upcoming test against Villanova, but at least John Thompson, III’s squad will head into that game with some confidence.

DePaul (9-22): A disappointing end to a disappointing season is the only way to put it for DePaul. The Blue Demons struggled mightily in conference play, collecting just three wins and proving uncompetitive in a number of its losses. The plus-side is that the team loses just one key contributor, with Billy Garrett Jr. presumably returning for his senior season alongside promising freshman guard Eli Cain. If there’s one key takeaway from this season, it’s the unwavering confidence that Cain demonstrated, attacking the basket at will and serving as one of DePaul’s most reliable shooters. First year head coach Dave Leitao will have plenty to do this summer as he takes a long-term view with his program.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2015

While every season is definitely long and winding, Georgetown’s loss to Monmouth should be concerning for both the Hoyas and Big East fans. The primary reason is not that Monmouth is a bad team — rather, the Hawks have a quality squad this season — it is that the Hoyas were run off their home floor in a game that should have been a close, competitive loss or a win. This loss is the latest in a recent history full of uninspiring Georgetown losses under John Thompson III and the second of this season alone. When you look at the Hoyas’ overall KenPom profile, a few things stand out. First, this team is not defending at a high level. While Georgetown’s field goal percentage defense of 37.7 percent is very good, that statistic only shows so much.

John Thompson III's team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

John Thompson III’s team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

When you dig a little deeper, you find a team fouling at a high rate and failing to close out possessions on the boards effectively. A team that struggles to rebound and puts opponents on the foul line too often allows for plenty of extra points, which is the main reason why Georgetown ranks 87th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. When compared with their Big East companions, that rate puts the Hoyas ahead of only Butler, Creighton and hapless DePaul. Already with four losses on its resume, Georgetown has some work to do in league play in order to safely make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Lackluster performances like those against Monmouth and Radford need to become a thing of the past, and Georgetown will have to become a more efficient squad in order to earn that invitation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Propelled by Fresh Faces, the Chris Mullin Era Has Arrived at St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 15th, 2015

Few expected a winning season for a St. John’s team that experienced a complete roster upheaval. Not only was fifth-year head coach Steve Lavin shown the door, but all six players on a team that only played a six-man rotation to begin with departed the program. There was no apparent end in sight for the dark and gloomy forecasts that riddled the program. It went on for so long that fans, coaches and players alike were not wondering when, but if, St. John’s would ever return to its status as “New York’s team.” Alas, the arrival of Chris Mullin provided a struggling program with a flicker of hope. And that hope may be arriving sooner than expected. It started as an uphill battle for a program that hasn’t sniffed a continued degree of success since Mullin himself played in the 80’s. So after St. John’s suffered a blowout loss to Vanderbilt, struggled to hold off Division II Chaminade, and then lost by 16 at Fordham, few expressed much surprise. After all, this was a team full of misfits. Some were only at the university for a one-year stay as graduate students whereas others had been recruited to play for Lavin and were now forced to adapt to new leadership.

Slowly but surely, it seems the Red Storm are taking well to Chris Mullin's leadership. (Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Slowly but surely, it seems the Red Storm are taking well to Chris Mullin’s leadership. (Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Considering the limited degree of time and resources, Mullin’s roster construction in a matter of months has been a truly admirable effort. He took a completely unfamiliar group of players, put them on the floor together, and let the chemistry work itself out. “We’re young, we’re inexperienced, we’re all new guys, speaking a different language, but when you play together and you play well, it’s a positive reinforcement.” Mullin’s two graduate transfers Durand Johnson (Pitt) and Ron Mvouika (Missouri State) have stepped in as immediate contributors and provided invaluable leadership to the host of newcomers. Meanwhile, sparingly used returnees Christian Jones and Amar Alibegovic have worked to fill in the gaps while the freshmen, his freshmen, develop. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thoughts on the Big East’s Opening Week

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 19th, 2015

Half-empty stadiums, passive fans, and disheveled teams. All of these are commonly found in college hoops in November, and all steadily reverse as the season progresses. Why is it the case that November basketball brings all these out? These games count the same towards the record as the games in February, often providing prime chances for key non-conference wins. It’s a strange time for both fans and players. The former are overlooking many of these games, either writing them off as wins or being simply indifferent towards the outcome. The latter are inexperienced and unable to achieve an optimal degree of chemistry on the floor.

Like the haze from the charity stripe, it was an up-and-down week for Jessie Govan and Georgetown. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Like the haze from the charity stripe, it has been an up-and-down start for Jessie Govan and Georgetown. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Which brings us to Exhibit A: Georgetown. How disappointing was a double overtime loss to Radford? Well, very. The poor play of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and his surrounding cast of sophomores left much to be desired in the loss to the Highlanders. Somehow though, just days later they gave #3 Maryland everything they wanted in the Comcast Center. Despite ultimately falling short, the positives were numerous. Seldom used senior Bradley Hayes has played out of his mind thus far, displaying very impressive footwork and shot-making ability in the post. Sophomore Isaac Copeland, who may see as many minutes as Smith-Rivera this season, will eventually find ways to be more assertive on offense given his greater degree of responsibility. Freshman Marcus Derrickson shined against the Terps, and it looks as if he will have a chance to provide the Hoyas with a much needed three-point threat. Like last season, it may only be a matter of time before things start clicking for John Thompson III‘s squad. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Column of Enchantment: Not Even Barely About Basketball

Posted by Joseph Nardone on November 17th, 2015

I’ve mentioned this many times before to the point of nausea, but I am about to do so again. The St. John’s Red Storm are my favorite team. Not only in college basketball. In all of sports. There’s a few reasons why — mostly Bootsy to blame — yet it is the reality of my life. So few people roaming this planet were as excited as I was when their season was about to open on Friday night against Wagner.

Sometimes, sports just takes a backseat to news around the world. Friday was one of that instances. (AP)

Sometimes sports just takes a backseat to news around the world. Friday was one of those instances. (AP)

Before the game, however, some really horrific news broke. Everyone knows the story by now. At the time, though, the events unfolding in France were simply mind-boggling. Like many other people, I struggled with trying to separate my emotions from attempting to enjoy the basketball games. Some people, ones smarter than I at least, decided to not venture on Twitter or discuss the matter at all. It was their right. So, too, were those who tried to find comfort in the sports being played. To each their own, really. There’s definitely no right or wrong way to handle tragedy.

Judging others who decided to continue to watch basketball and — how dare they — comment on it, are infuriating. Parts of me get it. We’re all a little bit selfish. We need to make things about us. When something as tragic as the terror that was taking place in France is happening far from home, people have to localize their outrage. Still, the anger was misplaced, misguided and mostly founded out of ignorance. Some people HAD to tweet about the basketball games because it was their jobs. Read the rest of this entry »

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