The growing pains St. John’s is enduring this season were expected, so no one should be surprised by the Red Storm’s 64-49 loss to South Florida on Wednesday. Seriously, a team full of freshmen and first-year Division I players couldn’t have been expected to duplicate the excitement generated by last season’s senior-dominated team.
The only question is has the team been learning. Assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who has been filling in for head coach Steve Lavin, thinks the team is learning.
“We continue on this journey of teaching this team how to win on the road. We had some defensive possessions that we couldn't finish off with a rebound, and that's a credit to USF,” said Dunlap. “Then we had some good looks at the rim and we couldn't put them down. Life on the road in this conference, when you don't finish plays offensively or defensively, is difficult.”
It hasn’t helped that Dunlap doesn’t have enough depth. St. John’s (8-10, 2-5 Big East) uses seven players in its rotation, five of which are freshman. A sixth player, God’sgift Achiuwa is a junior college transfer, while the seventh player is junior guar Malik Stith.
The program received a boost when Texas A&M guard Jamal Branch announced he was transferring to St. John’s. A mid-season transfer, he’ll be eligible in December, 2012.
Many people are packing it in and looking toward next season for the Red Storm. But all isn’t lost yet. Although St. John’s is three games under .500 in the Big East and 8-10 overall, the rest of the conference is a jumble with three teams sporting a 4-2 record, two sitting at 4-3 and two squads with a 3-3 mark. No.23 Louisville is 2-4, just a half-game ahead of St. John’s.
A good stretch over the next five conference games (Villanova, West Virginia, DePaul, Syracuse, Cincinnati) could get St. John’s back into the mix. Asking them to go 5-0 is too much, but a 3-2 mark wouldn’t be terrible.