Previewing St. John’s vs. Columbia with Rumble In the Garden

Another weekend, another triple-header at Barclays in Brooklyn, NY. College basketball fans could get used to this development. The first game of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Festival is the most intriguing locally with St. John’s taking on Columbia. It’s going to be a vast contrast in styles. I answered some questions about Columbia and Norman aka Pico from SBNation’s Rumble In the Garden was kind enough to help us dive deeper into the Red Storm. Sure we cover the Johnnies, but it’s always great to get a second opinion.

Speaking of second opinions, KenPom has SJU taking a 5-point win, but I see Columbia losing by a few more (6-8 points) in a close, but ultimately frustrating game for Kyle Smith and the Lions. Here’s what Norman had to say about St. John’s recent play.

Big Apple Buckets: What’s the catalyst for when the St. John’s offense explodes (like it did against Fordham and the two home games last week)?

Rumble In the Garden: For the Red Storm, the catalyst usually is defensive – forcing turnovers or poor shots – that lead to transition opportunities. In transition, few teams are as athletic as St. John’s. The team has some better spacing and the moderate threat of the three-pointer (finally), and that has helped the Johnnies get at the rim instead of settling for jump shots.

BAB: Freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan missed the last game to be with his ailing mother. He’d been playing better of late, how does his loss impact the St. John’s rotation? (Editor’s Note: Well, Columbia didn’t catch this break. Jordan will be back for the game tomorrow at Barclays.)

RITG: It’s hard to say off of one game just how Rysheed Jordan’s absence affects the Johnnies’ rotation. Certainly, Jamal Branch and Phil Greene IV will see more time on the court, but one (Greene) may get more run over the other (Branch), based on Steve Lavin’s playing time distribution.

More importantly, Jordan leaves a skill hole on the team – who will defend talented ballhandlers? Who will get others shots at the rim in the halfcourt? Jordan may have been developing, but he filled niches other players just couldn’t; the changes in rotation may happen to cover the things Jordan did well on the court.

Phil Green's shot selection has been much better this season. (Photo courtesy NY Post)
Phil Green’s shot selection has been much better this season. (Photo courtesy NY Post)

BAB: Phi Greene has been a revelation this season. The turnover rate is just ridiculous, but what else has improved about his game?

RITG: Phil Greene has the “finally healthy” narrative to fall on. His two-point and three-point shooting have improved dramatically while he takes the same ratio of two-pointers.

This level of excellence may not be sustainable, but his game has reached a new height as he gets better at squaring up for shots. Plus, St. John’s hasn’t need to put him in situations to struggle – being the lead ballhandler. And with better players surrounding Greene, he’s been able to be a little more judicious about his shot choices.

BAB: I ran the Easy Bubble Solver on Thursday afternoon and St. John’s was in the NIT (and right on the bubble). Is that the current fan perception and how can this team make a run to the NCAAs? Do you think it’s going to happen?

RITG: Oof. Current fan perception is that anything beside the NCAAs makes this season a bust. Lavin agrees with that sentiment, despite some lackluster early results.

The idea behind this team – and Lavin’s philosophy – is that teams need to gel in November and December, and then his teams become very effective in February and March, making runs through conference play and in their tournaments.

There’s a better team in St. John’s, evidenced by the squad’s last four games. Rysheed Jordan is necessary, but the other players are coming along to address some of the Johnnies’ flaws. Given the Big East’s non-conference success rate, getting to the NCAAs will be tough without winning the conference tournament or coming in third, maybe fourth… I think this team can be fourth or fifth, but they need more work to get the third spot.

Thanks again to Norman for answering these questions! It should be an interesting game tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. at Barclays.

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