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Just The Sports: Is St. John's Basketball Really Better Off With Steve Lavin?

Just The Sports

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is St. John's Basketball Really Better Off With Steve Lavin?

Nineteen games into the 2010-11 season and into basketball head coach Steve Lavin's tenure, it certainly does not seem like St. John's is really any better off with Lavin manning the helm, which is surprising given the advantages Lavin has and the history of his current group of seniors.

In his first season as head coach, Lavin has inherited a team with a roster stability of 91.5 percent, meaning that 91.5 percent of the minutes St. John's has played this season have been played by players who were on the team last year. That level of continuity is extremely rare in college basketball and should afford an edge against the majority of the Red Storm's opponents as the longer a group of players play together, the better the team performs.

Lavin is also benefiting from being able to coach a group of seniors who improved over their first three seasons of college basketball and comprise eight of the ten players who have used at least 16 percent of the team's possessions according to

As freshmen in the 2007-08 season, the current seniors were on a St. John's team that was outscored by 6.6 points per 100 possessions; the offensive and defensive efficiencies I used are unadjusted, which is why they will differ from the ones on As sophomores, they were on a team that was outscored by 2.5 points per 100 possessions. Last season, as juniors, for the first time in their college basketball careers, the current group of seniors outscored their opponents, something they did to the tune of 2.4 points per 100 possessions.

Between their freshman and sophomore seasons, the current seniors were on teams that improved by 4.1 points per 100 possessions, and between their sophomore and junior seasons, they improved by 4.9 points per 100 possessions.

That level of consistent improvement from season to season calls into question why St. John's felt the need to fire Lavin's predecessor, Norm Roberts, at all. At the very least, he had earned the chance to coach out the seniors' college eligibility since they had continued to get better under his watch.

This season, in 19 games, the Red Storm have outscored their opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions, which seems like an improvement over how the seniors performed last year. However, it is not.

Last season, through 19 games, St. John's had outscored opponents by 5.5 points per 100 possessions. The problem St. John's has had over the past three seasons has always been how the team performs once it enters conference play. It is then that the Red Storm usually have a drop-off in their efficiency.

That is a trend that is continuing this season, even though Lavin is supposed to be an upgrade over Roberts. In the first eight Big East games St. John's has played, they have been outscored by 8.7 points per 100 possessions. Contrast that to last season, when in their first eight Big East games, the Red Storm were outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions, and one cannot help but assume Roberts could have done just as good a coaching job as Lavin has done this season.

Even if St. John's was having a better season, the team's success would have to be attributed first and foremost to roster stability and the fact the seniors were simply continuing their natural progression. Since the Red Storm have not really improved at all, though, it does call into question Lavin's coaching acumen. He certainly does not seem to be such a great coach based on the fact his senior-laden team is no better than they were last season when they were juniors.

Maybe going forward, Lavin will be able to bring to St. John's a higher quality of player than Roberts ever could have, which his 2011 recruiting class that is ranked second in the nation by does seem to indicate, and St. John's will become a nationally prominent college basketball program under his tutelage, but based on the first 19 games of his tenure, St. John's has yet to receive any advantage from having him as their head coach in a season where the team's composition suggests it should be playing better.

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  • Interesting post. Not sure that I believe that the Red Storm would be much better under Norm Roberts (look up Basketball Prospectus' analysis of how offensive efficiency plateaus as players age - the big leap is freshman to sophomore) at all.

    And the recruiting for next year would have been poor, leaving another coach to pick up the pieces. Glad the school wasn't so short sighted as to let "Norm finish what he started," which was not progress and was never going to be progress.

    I expected slightly better. But this team has a flaw that few coaches can overcome - they just can't shoot. And they're not athletic enough to defend their conference opponents.

    Enjoyed your take, though.

    - Pico

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:24 PM  

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