What we learned: St. Johns

>> Butler, with Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star
>> Xavier, with Shannon Russell of the Cincinnati Enquirer
>> Providence, with Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal
>> St. John's, with coach Steve Lavin
This week on the Bluejay Banter radio show, we continued our Big East preview with a look at St. John's. We were thrilled to have been joined by Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin. The interview is below.
Some interesting notes from Lavin:
Recruiting is different now than it was 15, 20 years ago -- teams need to reload every year with all the kids leaving school early. It makes it a little harder to be more precise and effective on the recruiting trail.
Last year's late-season surge -- St. John's won 10 of 13 down the stretch -- was prompted mostly by the development of then-freshman guard Rysheed Jordan.
Junior big man Chris Obekpa is a great piece to start with in the middle, in terms of returners. He'll need to round out his offensive game this year, Lavin says, to go with a good nucleus of guards. Many of the returners have been through a lot both on the court and off.
There's always a fine line on the non-conference schedule between playing too many good teams -- not getting enough confidence-boosting wins -- and challenging yourself to prepare for conference and NCAA Tournament play. This year St. John's has Duke, Syracuse, Gonzaga, Minnesota, St. Mary's and more on the schedule. Lavin says it's one of the best non-conference schedules he's had at St. John's.
St. John's key losses
Forward Jakarr Sampson: Sampson left school early after averaging 12.8 points and more than 6 rebounds per game in 29 minutes.
Forward Orlando Sancez: Averaged 7.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game and was the team's best 3-point shooter (40 percent).
Forward God'sgift Achiuwa: Played in 32 games for the Red Storm, though he only averaged 2 points and 2 rebounds.
St. John's key returners
Senior guard D'Angelo Harrison: Harrison was the Red Storm's leading scorer last year (17.5 points per game) and shot 37 percent from 3-point range. He is the team's star.
Sophomore point guard Rysheed Jordan: Lavin credited Jordan's development with his team's late surge last year. He ended up averaging almost 10 points and 3 assists per game.
Junior center Chris Obekpa: Obekpa is the defensive enforcer in the middle for St. John's -- he blocked 94 shots last year. Lavin will be looking for a little more offensive consistency.
Other notes
St. John's has a lot of production to replace inside, and Lavin will look to a junior college transfer and a freshman to fill that void. It seems we constantly hear how St. John's has the "most talent" in the Big East, and that may be true again this year -- as always, though, it's a matter of whether or not Lavin can get his team to gel in the right way. If so, the Red Storm will be back in the NCAA Tournament.