Seton Hall Basketball: Storming the Enemy Ship- St. John's Red Storm

In advance of tonight's Seton Hall- St. John's matchup, I conducted a Q&A with Pico Dulce of Rumble in the Garden, the SB Nation St. John's blog. We both sent out 5 questions to each other about the teams. You can find my answers to Pico's questions about Seton Hall here.

Now let's Storm the Enemy Ship!

1. Steve Lavin has obviously done a very good job so far this season. What has been the biggest difference between last year and this year?

Confidence, swagger, a better game plan, and actually playing the guys who can score the basketball. The Red Storm left last year with only a few competent performances that came at almost inexplicable times - beating Connecticut (even if they were mailing it in) and Louisville, but losing in lackluster fashion to Seton Hall and Rutgers. They had a look of a team that sometimes tuned out their coaching staff (to me), even if the guys all seemed to want the staff back.

This year, the effort seems to have improved. It's steady and constant. The excellent coaching staff has corrected some of the team's more glaring fundamental mistakes and installed a defense that's really clicking with the Red Storm. And certain guys who had been lead performers are relegated to (proper) lesser roles - I'll address two of them below, and add that Paris Horne may not make a huge box score impact, but you will know him by his defense when he faces off against the Pirates.

2. Dwight Hardy was a bench player last year. This year, he's not only a starter, but has a shot at Big East player of the year. What happened?

New coaching staff.

It's more than that; Hardy's become a better, more confident player, and coach Lavin has stuck with Hardy even through shooting slumps.  Last year, Hardy was the energizer who would score in a bunch and then go back to the bench, even though he was, at times, the team's most capable scorer and definitely the Red Storm's best jump shooter. 

The jump shot, I think, wasn't all that important to the former staff!

Neither was creativity. Hardy is not a point guard. He's not a flashy passer, though he will make the pass.  He starts as a "point guard" just so he has the ball in his hands; his basketball IQ is pretty high, and he finds places to attack a defense. He gets to the line a little more, and he's shooting more efficiently, as well.

3. Much has been made about St. John's recruiting class next season, with multiple freshmen replacing multiple seniors. How do you anticipate that transition going from seniors who worked hard to make themselves into the players they are today to freshmen that are more talented, but less experienced?

Talent's a funny thing. Having raw ability and not knowing how to use it and having mediocre ability with a full understanding of how to use it and one's limitations can leave a player or team at about the same place.

The transition is going to require patience. The wins won't come.  There will be inexplicable losses, and I assume some player is going to get frustrated with his lack of playing time. It's going to be a different team, a different culture, and even a different style; the current team has some limits, some flaws; the incoming players, by their advance press, have some versatility. But what will be one of the youngest teams next year will struggle mightily - none of them are the kind of one-and-done that can carry a team.

That's okay.

4. DJ Kennedy was the player that everyone talked about in past years as being the go-to player for St. John's. This year, his stats have regressed slightly. Evaluate Kennedy this year as opposed to previous years. Has he taken on more of a maturity role as opposed to a scoring role?

D.J. Kennedy is playing a far different role than in years past, and while successful, he's still growing into it. In some ways, it's not different than how D.J. has played in the past - he still defends, he has disruptive arms, and he rebounds very well for a guard. But this year, his scoring and slashing have taken a back seat to Dwight Hardy's scoring. Kennedy finds himself waiting in the corner for an open three less than he used to; he doesn't get to drive quite how he used to.

But he's always profiled as a bit of a role player - not quick enough to always get his shot off, more of a grinder, a Bobby Knight-kind of player (to me) than a big-time scorer. He plays defense, is generally sound, doesn't live above the rim. 

In recent weeks he's been able to get to the free throw line and has hit a three-pointer in each of the last four games. He's one of the most important parts of the pressing defense, and the team wins.  It's a tradeoff that I'm sure he's happy to make.

5. Madison Square Garden has become a house of horrors for top opponents. Do you see St. John's winning the Big East Tournament when they would probably have to go through at least one of those teams they have already beaten there this year again to do it?

You know... I could see it.  Syracuse is the only league opponent to beat the Johnnies in the Garden; they are a really tough matchup, but this season, anything is possible.  Louisville is the another team that I would mark as a tough matchup, but they have wild home and away splits - it's like they slow down the pace on the road (Mike Brey's Notre Dame team does this as well). I think the Cardinals are beatable in the Garden.  I think Pittsburgh will take the BE Tournament, though; St. John's squeezed out one win against them, but the Panthers are really good.

Then again... they are missing Talib Zanna as depth...

I won't pick against Pitt.

That's it for now! Be sure to tune in to 89.5 FM WSOU as John Lopiano and I bring you all the action from the Rock!

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