Guest post by Andy Lipton
St. John’s Men’s Basketball: Ideas to Turn the Season Around
After Looie, starting in 1992 it was Brian Mahoney, then Fran Fraschilla, followed by Mike Jarvis, Norm Roberts, and now Steve Lavin. Too many coaches in too short a time for a basketball program that was once stable. Maybe it’s just a reflection of the basketball times in which we live. But, I want that stability back. I want Coach Lavin to be at St John’s for a long, long time. I want him coming to Carnesecca Arena after he’s retired, having a grand old time, reminiscing and talking with old friends and former players, like Looie does now.
Lavin’s coaching record at UCLA is impressive and his recruiting at St. John’s has been blue chip. His Red Storm team has made two post-season tournaments in four years, one in the NCAA tournament and the other in the NIT.
Coach Lavin connects with his players as a teacher of basketball and as a mentor in other important matters of a young man’s life. He is caring and personable, without sacrificing the necessary discipline. He has worked hard to build camaraderie among the players. He is the type of coach with whom a parent can entrust a son.
The Red Storm has lost its first five conference games this season. Here are my ideas to turn the season around.
Phil Greene, Phil Greene, Phil Greene, Phil Greene
Normally, I would say that three times, but he is Phil Greene IV. Just in case there is any doubt, there should be no mistake that this kid is the quarterback of the team. He is your prototypical type of collegiate guard who would thrive in any decade in which the game of basketball has been played. He has all the basketball skills – dribble, pass, shoot, and tenaciously defend – with the unselfishness and smarts necessary to be the floor leader.
More Definitive Player Rotation
This 15-man roster is deep, with many very talented underclassmen. I admire a coach who tries to give many players playing time. For this fairly young team, given where they are in this season, I would like to see a core and consistent rotation so that the core players develop familiarity playing with each other and with the coaches’ instructions over an extended period of time, and develop a playing identity. When that occurs, the rest of the bench can have a frame of reference as to how to fit in while blending their individual talents.
In the last seven minutes of regulation play in the double-overtime loss to Providence last week, I thought the team had more stability with same players on the floor that whole time. They played well down the stretch and came back to take the lead with over three minutes to go. Providence came back to tie and send it into overtime.
With 7:13 to go in regulation and down 56-50 it was Orlando Sanchez, JaKarr Sampson, Sir’Dominic Pointer, D’Angelo Harrison, and Greene who played the rest of regulation and into the first overtime until Sanchez fouled out. God’sgift Achiuwa played well as Sanchez’s sub in the overtimes.
I would go with Greene, Harrison, Sampson, Sanchez, and Chris Obekpa as the starting five. Pointer would be the sixth man either up front or in the backcourt depending on how the game is going. Achiuwa, a senior who transferred to the Red Storm as a junior and red-shirted last season, deserves to play significant minutes balancing Lavin’s need to develop Obekpa’s gifts.
One other suggestion with respect to player rotation. Perhaps emulate what North Carolina did many years ago. Have a second five-man unit that goes in together for a few minutes each half. Shock troops. They would have an intense, hustle, and spirited mentality with a collective identity that gets them, the fans, and the starters excited. It would make the bench players important contributors knowing they could be counted on in every game.
Some Additional Offensive Sets – Featuring the Big Men
St. John’s has the size to score down low without having the big men drive from the outside. Current basketball theory has everyone spreading the floor. But when it comes to a team with size up front, I think there are alternative ways to play.
The big men, Sanchez, Obekpa, Achiuwa, Sampson, Pointer, and Christian Jones should be picking for each other underneath, creating a crowd and freeing men close to the hoop. The free space does not have to be wide.
Kevin McHale has spoken about the Celtics doing this in the early 1980s among Robert Parrish, Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, and himself. (People forget how important Maxwell was down low in helping the Celtics win championships in 1981 and 1984. Maxwell was the MVP of the 1981 NBA Finals and in Game Seven of the 1984 Finals he scored 24 points.).
If the defending guards start sagging after the ball goes down low creating problems for the big men, the ball could come back out to the guards for easier looks for the outside shot. Inside-out. If the sagging guards come back out, either the ball goes down low again or the guards can drive inside.
If the defending guards sag before the ball goes down low, there should be good outside shots for the guards.
A second set would feature Obekpa in a hub and spokes type of half-court offense used by the Celtics in the Bill Russell years. The entry pass would be to Obekpa in the low/mid post. The offense would go through Obekpa, as the other four players would pick for each other and cut/ scissor off Obekpa or each other. And Obekpa seems to have has the agility, strength, footwork, and wingspan to develop a sky-hook or jump-hook. It could be a go-to shot for the Red Storm.
The big men for the Johnnies can rebound. It is time to look to fast-break on a consistent basis, with the rebounder giving an outlet pass to Greene and Greene hitting Harrison down court, who goes in for a lay-up or passes to a forward filling the lane for a lay-up. Two or three passes. The rebounder should not be initiating the fast-break by dribbling up court. Two or three passes. Consistent execution and at every opportunity.
Defense – More Pressure and Defending the High-Post Pick
A friend of mine thinks the Johnnies’ deep bench can be used to press the whole game and wear the other teams out. Not sure that the Johnnies are at that stage. Right now, I would rather see them press sporadically throughout the game as an element of surprise. And I would only do it two possessions in s row for each sporadic episode so the other team cannot get comfortable with it.
My press preference for this team would be a man-to-man with a double-team in the backcourt to prevent the in-bounds pass and/or to trap a dribbler up the sideline, particularly if the Johnnies are in a man-to-man defense in half court.
In the Providence game, I liked Greene picking up his ball-handling opponent earlier and making him work harder.
In defending the high-post big-man screen, let the guards go through, if they cannot get on top of the pick (and I would have the guards work harder to get on top of the pick). I would rather give up the outside shot than let the pick roll to the hoop and get the pass as happened a number of times in the Providence game. This would make it easier on the big defending the pick so as not to have to hedge out and then recover.