Friday, September 16, 2011

St. John's Loses Three Recruits For Fall Semester

Much was made of the nine-man recruiting class Steve Lavin brought in for 2011. Not only were there a lot of really good players, but he also just needed the bodies to fill up his roster. The team returns only one player who was on scholarship last year (Malik Stith) and one former walk-on who's now been put on scholarship (Jamal White).

But now comes the news that the team will be without three of their recruits through at least the fall semester - Amir Garrett, Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Simpson. Of the three the biggest loss is probably Simpson, not just because he's the highest rated of the three but also because he's a big, and the frontcourt was already going to be a weakness for St. John's. The two returners from last year are both guards, and so without Simpson the only players over 6'6" will be newcomers Maurice Harkless (who's listed at a scrawny 6'8", 180 pounds) and God's Gift Achiuwa (a more stout 6'9", 240 pounds).

With the loss of the three players, St. John's will be down to eight players, with one being the former walk-on who got his scholarship more because it was available than because he'd contributed anything (a total of two minutes played in his entire career).

Steve Lavin will have to play differently than he did last season, when he had an extremely deep and experienced rotation. He had ten players who were almost entirely interchangeable other than Dwight Hardy (as such, Hardy was the only one that averaged over 30 minutes per game), and they were by far the most experienced team from a BCS conference (according to the Pomeroy Effective Experience, where they were 3rd in the nation - 2nd highest from a major conference was Notre Dame in 15th).

That depth and experience allowed Lavin to play an up-tempo, aggressive style with heavy substitutions to keep his guys fresh. They led the entire Big East in defensive turnover percentage. With young players and with only eight of them active, that style of play just isn't going to work. And even if some or all of the three players become eligible for the spring semester, the team is still going to be short on experience, and it's particularly hard to expect much from true freshmen being thrown right into Big East play without getting to work the nerves out against lesser competition in the fall.

I already thought this was going to be a pure rebuilding year for St. John's without much chance for postseason success. I picked them to finish 13th in the Big East, and only have them with a decent shot to get onto the bubble. Now the odds are even longer.

But like I said in my Big East preview, St. John's fans have to realize that this is a rebuilding year. If they can somehow get to 8-10 in Big East play and a spot in the NIT then that would be a huge success, in my opinion. St. John's fans need to set their expectations accordingly.

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