If St. John’s has any chance of making a serious run at a NCAA Tournament bid, there are a few things that it needs to improve on over the next three weeks.
An increase in bench production, a spike in the quality of play by the front court, and staying out of foul trouble are among the things that Steve Lavin’s team needs to see happen if they plan to play well into March.
However, there is one thing not listed that will certainly help the cause, and that’s the resurgent play of sophomore point guard Rysheed Jordan.
Much like his freshman season, Jordan’s sophomore campaign has featured a few bumps in the road. Coach Lavin has not made him available to the media ever since the beginning of last season. With several personal issues taking their toll on the promising young guard, Lavin has said that he wants Jordan to focus on basketball and academics instead of talking with media members.
This year, Jordan’s string of unfortunate events began when he sat out a non-conference game against Long Beach St. on Dec. 22 due to an illness. On Jan. 2, he left the team after the death of his grandmother. The four-day leave of absence forced him to miss a home loss to Butler. He returned the following game against Villanova, but scored just two points on 0-for-6 shooting.
In a Jan. 28 loss to Big East bottom-feeder Creighton on the road, he played just seven minutes due to a minor knee injury that he sustained in the first half. He finished with four points on 2-for-4 shooting.
Two days later, he came under scrutiny after he sent out Twitter messages containing gay slurs to someone from his native Philadelphia. The messages have since been deleted, but tweeting during the season is a violation of the St. John’s men’s basketball team’s social media rules. He was forced to come off the bench in a Jan. 31 win against Providence, the result of Lavin disciplining him for the controversial tweet.
Despite the many mishaps he’s endured during this season, Jordan’s recent play on the court has been inspiring to say the least. The super-talented but sometimes erratic guard is starting to find much-needed consistency in his game.
After starting Big East play with a 2-6 record, the Red Storm have gone 3-1 in their last four games. It’s no coincidence that the team has been playing better as Jordan is hitting his stride.
It is ironic, however, that he began to play his best basketball last season around this time, which helped the Johnnies close out the Big East regular season with a 7-2 record. Jordan won four of five Big East Rookie of the Week awards during that stretch. A similar touch of luck would most likely spearhead St. John’s into the NCAA Tournament this year.
Over the last four games, the former five-star recruit has averaged 17.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks. His best game of the season came during this span, when he scored a career-high 25 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists in a Feb. 7 win over Creighton at Madison Square Garden. He’s always been the team’s best dribble penetrator, but when he’s on, he’s capable of lighting up the scoreboard from the outside as well. That was evident when he knocked down a personal best six 3-pointers during the game.
He followed up that performance with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block for St. John’s in its 86-78 victory Wednesday night over DePaul.
Many of the Red Storm’s opponents have been focused on containing D’Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene. This has opened the door for a bunch of opportunities for Jordan, along with Sir’Dominic Pointer, to play aggressively and find open shots.
The fact that Lavin has decided to go with a smaller and faster starting lineup — 6-foot-10 center Chris Obekpa missed the previous two games game with an ankle sprain — has also helped by creating matchup problems for defenses.
It has most certainly be a roller-coaster ride of a season for the 6-foot-4 Jordan, who ranks No. 8 in the Big East with 14.2 points per game. But he’s returning to the form of where he was last year, which is a strong sign for a St. John’s team looking to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
The key difference from this year compared to last is that he has more experience. If he can stay clear of outside distractions and personal issues, the Storm could be a dangerous sleeper come March.
*Section Photo credit to Jason DeCrow, Associated Press; Featured Photo (above) credit to Paul J. Bereswill