St. John’s Red Storm News: Chris Obekpa Suspended Two Weeks


St. John’s Red Storm News: Starting Center Chris Obekpa Suspended

The St. John’s Red Storm have a unique playing style. Head coach Steve Lavin only goes seven deep on his bench most games, with six players soaking up most of those minutes. That leaves the Red Storm extremely short handed whenever one of those players is injured, or gets in foul trouble during a game. That style of play will be tested during the NCAA tournament, as St. John’s starting center, Chris Obekpa, was suspended for two weeks for a violation of team rules.

This is a massive blow to St. John’s, as Obekpa is one of those six players that soak up all the minutes. It was announced Sunday, prior to the NCAA tournament bracket being announced, that the suspension will indeed include any postseason games St. John’s being played through March 29th.

“All of the young men associated with our program are held to standards consistent with the aims and mission of our University. Accountability is tied to the decision making of our student-athletes. It is our hope Chris will learn from this experience.” – Steve Lavin, St. John’s Head Coach

That will probably be the most we will get out of Lavin in reference to what Obekpa was suspended for, as he and his team will focus on their tournament games as the decision for their starting center has already been made.

Regardless, this suspension couldn’t have come at a worse time for St. John’s as their first matchup in the NCAA tournament will pit them against the San Diego State Aztecs. St. John’s who ranks 119th in the nation in rebounding at 35.4 per game, will surely miss the 7.0 per game that Obekpa delivers, but lucked out, as the Aztecs rank 131st at 35.2 rebounds per game.

Where the Red Storm will miss Obekpa the most though is on the defensive side of the ball. Obekpa is the backbone of their defense, as he is as good a rim protector in all of college basketball. He averages 3.1 blocks per game, which leads the team and ranks him fifth in the nation. Without him in the paint, the Red Storm defense is nowhere near as intimidating.

It will take a team-effort to replace the defensive and rebounding efforts of Obekpa, as the Red Storm will have to run out smaller lineups and potentially play some guys that aren’t used to getting extended run. The last game Obekpa missed, the last regular game of the season for the Red Storm against Villanova, they were blown out 105-68. In that game, Joey De La Rosa started, but played only nine minutes.

Felix Balamou started the other two games that Obekpa missed this season, and could draw the start once again Friday against the Aztecs. If that is who Lavin elects to start, the Red Storm will be at a distinct size disadvantage, as the Aztecs start four players that stand 6’7” or taller, including former St. John’s recruit Dwayne Polee II, who played his freshman year with the Red Storm before transferring out to San Diego State.

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Lavin will have a tough decision about who to insert into the starting lineup, but it truly may not matter in the end. It would not be surprising to see Lavin ride his other five workhorses, with Sir’Dominic Pointer, who has stepped up all season and ever played center some, to take on that role again with Obekpa out. He, along with fellow seniors Jamal Branch, Phil Greene IV and D’Angelo Harrison will have to step up if St. John’s is to move on in the tournament without their starting center Obekpa.

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