St. John’s remains a mystery to Rick Pitino ahead of Big East opener: Everything is ‘a guess’
Through 10 games, St. Johns remains very much a mystery even to the man who assembled this group of players.
It thoroughly beat the best team on its schedule (Utah), but lost two of its other three games, to Michigan and Boston College, against power-conference opponents.
It has only shown flashes of the team experts felt was close to top-25 good prior to the season, far too often disconnected and still searching for on-court chemistry after new coach Rick Pitino overhauled the roster.
Now the Big East season is here, and Pitino isnt sure what to expect.
I dont know. Everything with me with this team is a guess, he said on the eve of his conference debut as the Johnnies coach, Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena against Xavier. As you look at the schedule sometimes you play, What would our record be? I was hoping at best it would be 8-2, so we are not far off that. The Boston College game was a very big disappointment.
St. Johns (7-3) did respond to that disappointing loss to Boston College, a game it led by double figures in the second half, with a commanding 22-point win over Fordham, which was by far its best defensive effort of the season.
3Rick Pitino and St. John’s open their Big East season against Xavier on Wednesday. Noah K. Murray-NY PostOf course, the Rams are offensively challenged, ranked 329th in offensive efficiency.
It has to be taken with a grain of salt, even if the Johnnies did hold Fordham to 25.4 percent shooting, had nine steals, seven blocked shots and forced 21 turnovers.
Rick Pitino’s culture rebuild at St. John’s started with Drissa Traore
Xavier will be far more revealing.
The Musketeers feature the explosive backcourt duo of Rice transfer Quincy Olivari and sophomore wing Desmond Claude, a tandem that is averaging 33.1 points with each player shooting at least 44 percent from the field.
Xavier has already faced two of the best teams in the country, Houston and Purdue, as part of a challenging non-conference slate.
It suffered upset losses to Oakland and Delaware, and could be susceptible in the paint after losing starting forwards Zach Freemantle and Jerome Hunter to season-long injuries.
All eyes, though, will be on St. Johns defense, which is ranked 94th in efficiency and has been a season-long source of frustration for Pitino.
It held the Johnnies back in losses to Boston College and Dayton, and it will have to improve for this season to result in an NCAA Tournament berth.
3Joel Soriano the St. John’s Red Storm blocks Will Richardson #1 of the Fordham Rams shot during the first half. Robert Sabo for NY PostFordham definitely gave the Red Storm momentum on that end of the floor.
It was definitely a huge step. Whenever you can go out and hold a team to those types of percentages, you never underestimate that, no matter who youre playing, Daniss Jenkins said. To stop somebody as much as we did in that game, I told the guys thats the standard. No more of that, we cant do it. If we dont play that defense for the rest of the year, well know why we lost a game because we showed we can play that defense. It doesnt matter who were playing.
Wednesday will begin to reveal what Pitino has with these Johnnies.
The first 10 games have only presented hints.
His players seem excited about where they are as a unit.
This is probably one of the deeper teams Ive played on. I think we shoot the ball way better than past teams here, star center Joel Soriano said. I think we are more connected and I think we are very ready for the Big East.
3Boston College guard Donald Hand Jr. (13) tries to gain control of the ball as St. John’s guard Jordan Dingle APRJ Luis, the talented transfer from UMass, remains out with shin splints. He was cleared to begin basketball activities after undergoing a follow-up MRI on Friday.
Pitino said he believes Luis is a few weeks out from returning.
Luis has appeared in just one game this season.
He missed the first five contests with a fractured left hand, then scored 14 points in 16 minutes against Holy Cross on Nov. 25, and has been out since with shin splints.
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