For as senior-laden as you were last year, you appear to be just as freshman-laden this year. What are the main difference between last year's breakthrough squad and this year's Redmen (yes, I'm calling them Redmen)?
Youth. Physical strength. Size. Versatility. Consistency.
Last year's team was a breakthrough in large part because of great performances by Dwight Hardy and a defense that caught fire late. The team was able to control the game by not turning the ball over, and forcing turnovers (best in the Big East by possession), while ending possessions on the defensive end. That ability to control the game is missing.
This team isn't hitting enough shots, can't spread the floor, isn't getting stops, and struggles to rebound. Games get away from them, especially in the second half; but in the first half, there have been a number of makeable shots that aren't going down - easy transition shots, dunks, and the like, too. And without making shots, it's hard to set up an effective pressure defense (though even after made shots, the defense isn't controlling the action).
More fun with Pico after The Jump.
Since a close win over Cincinnati, y'all appear to be reeling a bit with 3 consecutive not-so-close losses. Fundamentally what has been the biggest issue as Villanova prepares to come to town?
Cincinnati plays what I think is a fundamentally misguided offense. They can be easily goaded into mid-range jump shots. And they were. The Johnnies have had good game plans, but foul trouble has hampered the teams' stars, Maurice Harkless (aka Moe) and D`Angelo Harrison. The defensive rebounding has been a fundamental problem, giving the other team a lot more chances. But the team also just struggles to score. St. John's points per possession in the last 5 games: .79, .88, .91, .82, .89. Even with a win in there, that's not a team that is making the most of its possessions.
Mouphtaou Yarou had quite possibly the coolest name in the conference until God'sgift Achiuwa blew the lid off that. Tell us a a bit about what we can expect from the first-year phenom.
God`sgift Achiuwa is a big physical player who can run the floor very well; he has some ability to drive, some strength around the hoop. But much like Jarrid Famous before him, he is a player with some physical ability and some skill, but some kind of all-league player. Gift is strong, and on a good day denies deep position to post players.
But his rebounding hasn't been great for his position, and he can be stripped of the ball. He's best when he establishes deep position and gets the ball immediately, or on the break. When he has to create from 10-15 feet out, he has a standstill jumper he can use. But when he drives from that position, it can be an adventure. Or he draws fouls.
Jamal Branch recently announced he is transferring from Texas A&M to St. John's - what will he bring into the fold and when is he first eligible to suit up?
Passing. And this team needs passing. A playmaker who will look for others, a solid defender at the top of the zone, a sure ballhandler. With him, the Johnnies could trot out a lineup with him, Sir`Dominic Pointer, and Amir Garrett and stifle opponents outside of the arc in man-to-man defense.
Unfortunately, he won't be eligible until December of this year.
Like 'Nova, there are a lot of new faces on the court this year for the Johnnies - who should Villanova fans be on the lookout for?
D`Angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless are the scorers; Harkless can sneak in with a bunch of points off of his activity and height, and will block a shot. If he's hitting his jumpers, he can be very deadly. Harrison is an eager scorer who tries to make excitement happen on offense and defense. Stith and Greene will handle a bit of the point guard duties. Pointer and Harkless and Achiuwa will do the post defense and rebounding.
How long will it take for Steve Lavin to bring St. John's back to the Big East elite? Will he stick around for it or leave if a better job comes along?
I think Lavin is in it for the long haul. He's never been much of a job-hopper, and I don't think he can hop to another job until the Johnnies are competitive. He and his wife seem to be cosmopolitan city people, so it's hard to see him moving to most major schools.
Lavin has mentioned 2014 as the target year for serious national relevance - the junior year for much of this class. That's a sensible goal.
How do you see Saturday playing out?
Pain? I think Nova wins the game, but it'll be closer than the Wildcats would like. It depends on Nova's turnovers and how well St. John's defends the paint...
Thanks again Pico, and good luck to you the rest of the way, Saturday excluded!