TSM exchanged questions with The East Coast Bias over the last few days. My answers are not up yet but should be shortly, I got them in late. Here are there answers to a few of my probing questions.
1. DJ Kennedy is your leading scorer, if he is taken away, do others, such as Hardy and Horne, have the ability to score enough to beat West Virginia?
Not really. For the team to really beat West Virginia or any top club, their defense has to be stellar. That’s by "design"; the offense has been bad for 6,7 years now, and it’s very much oriented around the perimeter players. There aren’t many breakout performances by the team, even in the wins this year; the Rutgers performance, in terms of pure scoring and efficiency, was actually one of the team’s best offensive games.
I think West Virginia’s defense is good enough to keep them comfortably ahead – especially since they have height on the perimeter and strength on the interior. St. John’s will look to slow the game down to keep it close, but they don’t use the post players on offense. Hardy could go off and score 20, maybe even 30 if they left him in. but there aren’t many threats to score on the team.
A caveat to this is that Norm Roberts has spoken of possibly changing the lineup (though that was in response to a reporter’s question, so I’ll believe it when I see it). So the team might see a surprising performance from Justin Burrell (whose jumper has been pretty solid, though he’s still turnover-prone), minutes from Dele Coker, 30+ minutes from Hardy (the team’s deadliest scorer). But this team isn’t outscoring anyone.
2. Norm Roberts and the Red Storm are struggling lately, losing four straight, what needs to be corrected if they hopes of finishing with a winning record?
After losing to Rutgers, I’m not sure that they will have a winning record. They basically need to have a couple of great performances at home against the beatable teams – Seton Hall/ Marquette/ Pitt. It’s hard to correct problems that have been endemic to the program for years – a lack of offensive flow, spotty-to-poor point guard play… I can’t really see a realignment of playing time that would create a winner.
They could improve the mid-game offensive lulls that lead to defensive breakdowns. One of the point guards could make some kind of positive impact. The team could look to the post players to score, though they’ve been undependable. Dwight Hardy could take all the shots. I just don’t know. The team isn’t playing winning basketball right now.
3. Do you have any youth on your roster that was supposed to make an immediate impact but is still in need of major development?
Not really. The team has 9 juniors, and the freshmen were likely going to ride a lot of pine. Omari Lawrence, some thought, could be an instant impact player, but he’s got a number of players on the depth chart ahead of him. If his jumper and free throws were falling, though, the team would have to put someone on the bench and let him play – he’ll be a statsheet stuffer.
Justin Brownlee is a newcomer who seems to need development, mentally. He has a lot of ability, but has given up and slashing to the basket; and his first or second shot attempt of each game has been a bizarre, early in the shot clock long jumper that misses. It’s the strangest thing.
4. What are the Red Storm's chances Saturday in Madison Square Garden?
Chances to hear boos or "Fire Norm" chants? I’d say 78%.
To win? I’d say about 10% - it’d be quite an upset, and Huggins’ West Virginia teams have a killer instinct – they’re not kind to mistake prone Big East opponents. At least not towards St. John’s. There will be great dunks, Deniz Kilicli will have an awesome game and he will inspire lots of Mountaineer fans to whoop it up in NY bars and in the stands.
5. Why has St. John's had such a hard time keeping NYC kids at home in recent years?
Now it’s firmly because they have been losing. At one point the program was a little disconnected from the AAU players, for certain. But it’s hard telling a kid to go to St. John’s and try and lift up a moribund program when 6 other Big East programs have lots of New Yorkers/ New Jerseyites (where the higher-level talent seems to be recently) and will win games. The roster right now has many NY’ers/ kids who spent a lot of time in the area – Hardy, Burrell, Boothe, Lawrence, Stith, Coker… but they’re not winning. It’s hard to sell kids on this kind of Sisyphean futility, especially when the rock always seems to be tilting backwards.