One month in, St. John's has long way to go

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
8:47
PM ET
St. John's completed the month of November with a record of 5-2.

It's time to issue the first report card of the season. I'm giving the Red Storm a C-minus, and here's why:

Missed opportunities: St. John's squandered two big chances -- one at the beginning of the month, one at the end.

The Red Storm opened the season with a game against a ranked opponent, on a neutral floor, but lost by 11 to Wisconsin. Then this past Friday, St. John's fell to Penn State in the semifinals of the Barclays Center Classic.

Losing to Wisconsin is nothing to be ashamed of -- the Badgers are 8-0, and have risen to No. 8 in the country. But Penn State is expected to finish at or near the bottom of the Big Ten. And that defeat snuffed out any momentum from the team's four-game winning streak.

St. John's didn't look particularly impressive in any of its five wins, either, over Wagner, Bucknell, Monmouth, Longwood and Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are a major-conference opponent, but they were picked to finish 11th in the ACC.

More disappointments: Only three players are averaging in double figures -- D'Angelo Harrison, JaKarr Sampson and Phil Greene. No one else is scoring more than six points per game.

That includes freshman guard Rysheed Jordan, ranked the No. 17 high school senior in the country last year, who is averaging just 4.2 points in 15.8 minutes per game, shooting 23.5 percent from the field. Jordan was also suspended for one game for a violation of team rules.

This team needs more from Jordan. It also needs more from Sampson, last season's Big East Rookie of the Year, whose scoring average has dropped from 14.9 to 12.4. Sampson is taking 3.5 fewer shots per game -- he needs to be more aggressive.

Junior guard Jamal Branch was St. John's most improved player in the offseason, according to coach Steve Lavin. But Branch is getting only 13.3 minutes per game -- eighth-most on the team. He's averaging 4.7 points on 54.5 percent shooting, but is averaging more turnovers (1.9) than assists (1.7).

On the bright side: Harrison (19.7 ppg) is filling it up, as expected -- although he is shooting just 38.7 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Greene, a fellow junior, is averaging a career-high 10.3 points per game, shooting significantly better (47.4 percent) than he did a year ago (37.2). He also has just three turnovers in 189 minutes played (0.4 per game).

Sophomore center Chris Obekpa, who led the nation in blocked shots per game (4.0) as a freshman, again leads the country so far this year, increasing his average to 5.7 swats per game. St. John's as a team led the country in blocked shots per game last season (7.3), and is tops again this year, at 10.6.

Looking ahead: St. John's has a light slate in December -- just six games in 31 days. Next up? The Red Storm's first game of the season at Madison Square Garden, this coming Saturday, against an improved Fordham squad.

Following that? Another big opportunity, versus No. 4-ranked Syracuse at the Garden, eight days later. After that comes games against San Francisco and Youngstown State at Carnesecca Arena, a game against Columbia at the Barclays Center three days after Christmas, and then the team's Big East opener at Xavier on New Year's Eve.

Asking the Red Storm to beat the Orange may be too much, but they should at least be competitive. St. John's should win the other four nonconference games -- but how will they look doing so?

Lavin keeps pointing towards January and February, in terms of when this team will gel. But it'd be nice to see some improvement before the calendar flips to 2014.
Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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