In sports, progress is generally determined by how a team responds to adversity and how much their record changes from season to season.
The changes can be dramatic, such as a team going from finishing in the bottom of the standings to a sudden playoff berth, or gradual, like when a team drafts or recruits solid players and they mature into superstars. The Tampa Bay Rays come to mind, having suffered perennial last-place finishes in the American League East until their glut of young talent matured, and have since become one of baseball’s deadliest teams.
It is, however, also possible for the opposite to take place. The Oakland Raiders were once one of the NFL’s model franchises for consistency in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but as their players aged and their front office made poorer and poorer personnel choices, the team regressed to becoming a laughingstock.
The regular seasons for the St. John’s basketball teams are coming to an end, with the women’s team wrapping its season at Pittsburgh yesterday and the men’s team traveling to DePaul Friday, and it’s time to evaluate what kind of progress each team made in 2009-10.
The women’s team reached the WNIT tournament in each of the last few years and had coveted berths in the NCAA tournament. This year, the Storm went 24-5 overall and 12-4 during Big East play, earning the No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament and the No. 16 national ranking.
In addition, the women’s team adequately integrated all six of its freshmen into its rotation of players. Each of them played in at least 15 games and two of them, Nadirah McKenith and Shennika Smith, started in 23 games and 24 games, respectively.
The team’s superstar, Da’Shena Stevens, last year’s Big East Rookie of the Year, has also shown signs of progression. She leads the team in scoring (14.2 points per game) and rebounding (7.7 per game), and was named as a midseason candidate for the Women’s Naismith Award, an honor bestowed upon the nation’s best player.
In the case of the women’s basketball team as a whole, the progression is tangible.
The team had a 20-plus win season, a Top 10 finish in conference play, and a national ranking. In all likelihood, the women’s team will reach the NCAA tournament and achieve the goal it sets for itself every year.
But for the men’s team, you’re going to have to look past the obvious numbers in order to locate where their improvements were made.
The men’s team is probably going to finish near the bottom of the Big East in most offensive categories, and their sixth consecutive sub-500 conference record under head coach Norm Roberts is not what most were expecting from this group, one that had seven juniors who have played significant on-court roles since their freshman year.
St. John’s wasn’t as bad as their 14 losses suggest, though. They led in seven of those losses at halftime and remained fairly close in most of the others.
Remember last year, when they’d consistently fall behind by more than 10 points early in games and have to work to cut leads and stop runs? That trait has practically disappeared this season. The Johnnies conceded 80-plus points only twice this season, on the road against Rutgers and Syracuse, and is renowned throughout the conference for its athleticism.
And this year’s roster was deep. Led by D.J. Kennedy, whose 2011 NBA Draft stock has steadily climbed from a potential middle second-round pick to a high second-round pick, Roberts was not afraid to utilize every player on the roster. Most of the games the Red Storm excelled in where the ones where a plethora of players scored.
So even though the progress looks dramatically different for each team, progress was made.
The women’s team is one step closer to a run at a national title and becoming a perennial contender and the men’s team, although once again low in the standings, has played very competitive basketball for the majority of the conference schedule.
Whatever happens next is, well, progress.