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Friends With Bennies: Rumble in the Garden and St. John's Red Storm

Welcome back to our semi-regular feature Friends With Bennies, where we sit down with another Big East blogger to talk about their team. Today we have Pico from Rumble In The Garden to talk about tomorrow's game with St. John's. I also answered some questions for him, and I'll link to that when it is available.

TheUConnBlog: What is the current status of the roster? Over the summer you got word three players would be academically ineligible to start their careers. What has that done to the lineup?

Rumble in the Garden: Learning that three players were declared ineligible by the NCAA was a huge blow to the rising excitement around the program... and it made a team that was already painfully thin in the frontcourt into something ridiculous. The one player who became eligible (and is on the roster - Amir Garrett) is much more wing-sized, but the other two players would have played in the paint, even if one thinks of himself as a wing.

But for freshmen who need all the on-court training they can get, it may have been a help. Maurice Harkless may have played less if Sampson was on the court. Sir`Dominic Pointer might have seen more time on the bench if Amir Garrett and Norvel Pelle were on campus. It's hard to say. All of these players would have seen much more time - and used many more possessions - than if they were on, say UConn or Syracuse's rosters.

TUB: Since the roster has turned over so much since last year UConn fans will be seeing a lot of new faces. Are there any potential stars we should keep an eye on? How about someone with the potential to be a thorn in our side for four years - you know, one of those guys who seems like he is in school forever.

RITG:D`Angelo Harrison has a real chance to be one of those players that makes fans say "he's STILL there?" He's a confident, almost cocky baller on the court. He takes a lot of shots and has confidence in his jumper and scoring ability; and when things aren't going well, he will try to make defensive plays and/ or get in the head of an opponent. In a lot of ways, he could define Steve Lavin's style - aggressive, sometimes risky, sometimes almost flashy, hungry for the big play.

Moe Harkless should be a star as well. He has an extremely versatile game. Once he makes all the shots he can generate - and that seems to be coming along, unlike a Gus Gilchrist pipe dream, or an Edgar Sosa fantasy, or a Jerome Dyson fallacy - he'll be a problem. But if he doesn't shot any huge warts and can hit even 34% of his threes, 50% of his twos? He'll be in the NBA before his senior year.

The rest of the roster is still developing their game on both ends.

TUB: How's year two of the Steve Lavin era? Are you still in the honeymoon phase?

RITG: Obviously, a lot has gone wrong, and a few are even giving the program the side-eye - whining about the losses, or about the players not up to NCAA snuff, or worried about his recovery from prostate cancer surgery.

Doesn't bother me at all. A realist who follows the game, and watched rebuilds like Villanova's program, know that these things take a while. There are false starts, players who wash out, calculated risks that a coach needs to take. The NCAA has gotten a little tougher with initial eligibility in the last couple of years. And that's fine.

Lavin had a single year to lay down ground work and recruit Big East-caliber players from a team that had one returnee (who may be better suited for a mid-major). The only ready-to-ball players available a year from their eligibility date are a) superstars who like to milk the recruiting process for the "attention", b) breakout players who bloom REALLY late, and c) decommits, transfers, and players with academic problems other coaches are leery about.

(I could on about this, but I should keep it short.)

Things will be better once Lavin comes back. But he certainly has more of a plan than previous coaches, and he's been given enough rope and money to take the long view with the program. The coaches have publicly admitted that wins and losses aren't the metric they'll judge this year by; they want to build a style, teach aggression, have an attacking team.

TUB: Where is St. John's going to finish this year? Best case scenario? Worst case?

RITG: St. John's will probably finish in the bottom four of the league. I would have said as high as tenth in the past, but the shift in point guard play, recent results, and the tough draw every night out in the league gives me pause. The worst case scenario involves an injury - to anyone - and a last place finish. It's entirely possible; many prognosticators had St. John's at the bottom before league play started.

TUB: Do you have a score prediction?

RITG: Honestly, if UConn plays with newfound discipline, it should be a Husky blowout. If they get sloppy, it could be a lot closer than anyone would predict. I'll go with something like 74-60, but I haven't really thought out the scenarios yet... I might have a different prediction on the Rumble when I do.