Mike Anderson-coached teams are often defensive-minded, and he was obviously displeased when he watched his Johnnies give up 90 points in consecutive losses.
“We are still trying to get the ‘blue collar’ out of our basketball team,” he said following a 94-76 loss to Creighton last Thursday. “Our guys last year, they took pride in their defense. Truth be told, we have got some of the same guys and we just need to get them all connected. But we also have a few new guys and all it takes is one weak link, and in our case tonight it was more than one.”
Through nine games, St. John’s was 111th in the nation in defensive efficiency after finishing 53rd last season.
But after three straight losses to begin conference play, the Red Storm defeated Georgetown 94-83 last Sunday.
“I thought we were connected defensively,” Anderson said after the triumph. “We didn’t come out with the understanding that we were going to beat people with our offense, and I thought that was the difference in the game.”
If defensive pressure is a staple of Anderson’s teams, another is his use of a deep roster. Five players scored in double-digits against Georgetown. Greg Williams Jr. scored 26 and Julian Champagnie added 20.
“I think we learned a little bit about our basketball team as Coach Mike likes to say,” Williams Jr. said after the win. “I think that we responded to adversity, but they made a run, they came back, but then we went on our run and kept it going.”
St. John’s players will have their work cut out for them this season. In addition to the unusual circumstances, three Big East teams — Villanova, Creighton and Xavier — are ranked in the Top 25.
The Red Storm were selected to finish ninth in the conference at the start of the season but the Johnnies are hoping to surprise some teams. But the early three-game losing streak was reminiscent of last season when the team had four separate three-game losing streaks in conference play.
Fans can expect the unexpected this season. Kentucky is 1-5, its worst start since the 1926-27 season.
Duke has lost twice at home in nonconference play, something they went 147 straight games without doing from 2000 to November 2019.
In August, Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski said the NCAA could not go two years without having the tournament. But after losing to Illinois, the five-time championship coach said it’s time to “reassess” playing during the pandemic.
On a positive note for St. John’s, Posh Alexander was named Big East Freshman of the Week, averaging 11.5 points, three assists and two steals in two games. The guard leads all conference freshman with 30.5 minutes played per game.
Champagnie, Williams Jr., Alexander, Vince Cole and Isaih Moore are all averaging double-digits in scoring.
The Red Storm will be back in action on Jan. 2 at Carnesecca Arena against DePaul.
A Dec. 30 matchup at Villanova was postponed and will be made up later in the season. The decision was reached with the intention of allowing the players to briefly return home for a well-deserved break should they choose to do so.