August 30th, 2006
Basketball Preview: St. John's
There are at least three teams in the Big
East that should be significantly improved over last season. St. John's
heads that list.
For starters, the Red Storm return all five regular starters. Heading
the list is 6'9"/6'10" Lamont Hamilton, who averaged 12.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg.
He's tough around the hoop, but he also has a solid mid-range game. He even
shot 15 of 31 from behind the arc, so teams can't leave him wide open on the
perimeter. Hamilton has a combination of strength, quickness, and
aggressiveness which makes him a match-up nightmare. He was, however,
inconsistent. At times, he simply took over a game while other times he
disappeared for extended periods. Still, he's definitely a potential
The biggest difference-maker, however, could
be Daryll Hill, an ultra-quick 5'10" senior guard whose nickname is "Show
Time." As a sophomore, he averaged over 20 ppg, though his shooting
percentage was not very good. Last year he played in only 16 games as he
tried to fight through injuries. Though he managed to average 12.3 ppg and
3.6 apg, he was a poor imitation of the player heíd been a year earlier.
Hill is not a true point guard; he's a 2 guard in a point guard's body. Heís
a creative penetrater more than a shooter. His mediocre shooting percentage,
36%,was partially a result of his forcing bad shots. From behind the arc,
however, he was simply dreadful (3 of 19 for 16%). On the defensive end,
despite his quickness, Hill can be a liability, particularly against bigger,
But there's more to the Red Storm than H &
H. Point guard Eugene Lawrence averaged 9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, and 4.9 apg. In
the last two games of the season, Lawrence scored 15 and 22 points. Still,
he's not a good outside shooter as he connected on only 29% of his trey
attempts. On the other end of the court, the 6'1"/ 215 pound guard plays
solid defense because of his combination of quickness and strength.
One of the better freshmen in the conference last season was small
forward Anthony Mason, Jr. who averaged 8.4 ppg and 4.9 rpg. He, too, is
more of a scorer than a shooter, as he made only 32% of his shots from
behind the arc. Still, he's a good all-around player with a bright future.
This year heíll again play a complementary role, but there will be some
games in which he shows flashes of the impact player he can be down the
The final returning starter is Aaron Spears, who began his career at
Illinois then transferred to Highland Community College in Kansas before
ending up in the Big Apple. Iíve seen him listed at 6'10", but 6'8" is more
likely. He does take up space, but he had only moderate success last season.
In 21.3 mpg, he averaged 7.3 ppg - which is decent - but he managed to
corral just a shade under 3 rpg. Coach Norm Roberts needs him to do a better
job on the boards. If he doesnít, he could find himself playing fewer
minutes than last season because there will be more options on the interior.
The other major cause for optimism among Red
Storm fans is a solid recruiting class that includes three highly-regarded
fifth-year players. Guard Derwin Kitchen was ranked #63 on RSCI in the Class
of 2005 and signed a Letter of Intent to attend Florida. However, he didn't
qualify and was reclassified. Kitchen gives St. John's depth in the
backcourt, which they will need, especially after Dexter Gray transferred at
mid-season last year, and sixth man Cedric Jackson's transferred at the end
of the year. Kitchen will also give Roberts the option of playing a
three-guard lineup at times.
However, the newcomer who should help St. Johnís
the most is 6'6" power forward Rob Thomas. He's built like an outside
linebacker, solid muscle, yet he is also extremely quick. He can drive, post
up, and hit the mid-range shot. He's a force on the glass on both ends. I
would not be surprised if he cracks the starting lineup at the 4 with
Hamilton moving to the 5. Even if he doesn't start, he could get 25 mpg or
Forward Qa'rraan Calhoun has also received some rave reviews. Scout
lists him #5 among fifth-year players in the Class of 2006. Because of his
athleticism, he could get minutes backing up Mason at the 3 as well as some
time at the 4.
In short, Roberts should be able to go at least eight deep, which he
has not been able to do the last two years. The Red Storm have a nice mix of
veterans (four seniors) and younger players (three freshmen plus one
sophomore in Mason) among their primary players.
The teamís Achilles heel could be perimeter
shooting. Ricky Torres was supposed to solve the Storm's outside shooting
problems as a freshman a year ago, but that didnít happen as he connected on
a paltry 23% of his three-point attempts. For St. Johnís to climb higher
than eighth in the conference, Torres will have to become a consistent
threat from the outside. Otherwise opponents will pack it in on defense and
dare the perimeter players to beat them from long range.
The team may still have difficulty scoring as it did last year, but the
Storm have more weapons due to the influx of the talented freshmen. On the
defensive end, Roberts at times last season had the Red Storm masquerading
as the Pittsburgh Panthers. Opponents will see more of the same this year.
While they will be tough to beat at MSG, the Storm have to prove they
can win two or three games on the road. St. Johnís didn't make the BE
Tourney last year. On paper that should not be an issue this year. In fact,
Coach Robertsí charges should finish in the upper half of the conference
though I doubt they will wind up higher than seventh. Eighth is more likely.
- Predicted Finish:
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