Game Preview: Syracuse Behind; San Francisco Ahead For St. John's

Nate Shron

The St. John's Red Storm look to bounce back against the Dons of San Francisco.

How do you shake off a tough loss? It's a question St. John's Red Storm coach Steve Lavin will be trying to answer following his team's close-but-no-cigar upset of No. 2 Syracuse.

Lavin and his Red Storm (6-3) will have to get past how they went from down by as many as 14 points to the Orange to up two, but still lost. They'll have to move on from oh so many missed late free throws, four of them to be exact. Those clunckers coming when the game was on the line, with that signature win the program has so desperately needed within striking distance.

68-63, Syracuse over St. John's.

What team could possibly be excited about pulling defeat from the jaws of victory and then preparing for the Dons? Well, if you believe Lavin, St. John's is ready.

"The signs of progress are there," Lavin said. "I’ve coached long enough to see where this team stacks up with other teams I’ve had, and the upside."

So where does this version stack up with Lavin's other teams? That's a great question, and while Lavin seems to think he has something that could be special, a sentiment echoed by a lot of people in the college basketball world, the problem is, so far the Red Storm have been more average than extraordinary.

In arguably its biggest game of the season, on the stage that is Madison Square Garden, St. John's shot a nearly impossible to believe 06.7 percent from distance. This is a division one college basketball team we're talking about shooting what looks more like Andre The Giant's blood/alcohol level. Sure, the Red Storm struggle shooting the ball, but if this really is a team with aspirations for March, someone is going to have to start stretching the defense or this season could get late early.

And in all reality, the more startling statistic from the loss to Syracuse last Sunday is St. John's swatting five blocks. The Orange are far from the Fordhams of the world, but Chris Obekpa, the nation's leading shot blocker, was rendered forgettable, altering just three shots.

At some point a special team has to prove itself special. Lavin will continue to believe, but Wednesday's game in Queens against San Francisco won't be a religious experience, convincing the nonbelievers.

(Unless of course, St. John's loses. That'll make everyone believe that this group of Johnnies...is nothing different.)

Game Details:

  • When: Wednesday
  • Where: Madison Square Garden
  • Time: 8 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports 1

The San Francisco Dons really only offer Lavin a dreaded "trap," rather than a stern potentially-season-making win. The Dons (6-4) only roll out one player of substantive height in the form of six-foot-nine forward Mark Tollefsen. And it's most likely that lack of size that rates San Francisco 154 in rebounding (36.5). Which should mean that this is a perfect game for Obekpa to own the paint, and it should allow for JaKarr Sampson to get back to his ways underneath as well.

But what the Dons lack for inside presence they more than make up for in accuracy from deep. As a team San Francisco is shooting almost 37 percent from deep, led by sharpshooter senior forward Cole Dickerson. Dickerson, both the leading scorer and rebounder, is hitting at a 43.6 percent clip from three. In fact, 36 percent of Dickerson's attempts are from deep, so this isn't some inflated early season number, he can shoot.

Which will likely force Lavin to make some interesting moves on defense. The Johnnies have shown a variety of press and zones so far this season, but San Francisco has scored 90 or points four times already this season. Meaning, a zone could invite Dickerson and company to fire away at make-able threes and pressing could force the Dons into a more uptempo style they're actually suited to play.

Still, St. John's is lamenting losses to top-10 teams like Syracuse and Wisconsin because it has the players to be at or near their level. D'Angelo Harrison is a top-tier scorer with one of the quicker first-steps in the game; Rysheed Jordan, who tallied 13 points against the Orange, may be starting to get more comfortable on the court; the Red Storm have the pieces to the puzzle, but why can't they get over that hump?

One of the many unanswered questions surrounding Lavin's team right now. Issues a win over San Francisco won't help resolve. This game is just another way for St. John's to move on from the latest disappointment and on to the next big chance.

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