College basketball season is up and going! Preseason games are afoot. College teams are beating up on Division II and NAIA talent (except for #8 Michigan State who obviously have some kinks to work out), getting the fans excited, getting the freshmen on to the court, getting the upperclassmen in game rhythm, and dreaming big dreams of upsets and conference championships.
Hope springs eternal... unless you're a basketball writer reviewing St. John's. Here are some indicative tidbits:
3. Norm Roberts, St. John's
Roberts enters his fourth year with the Red Storm carrying a 37-48 record, including a 15-33 mark in Big East play. His conference high-water mark was last season when St. John's finished 7-9.
The problem is the team loses its No. 1 scorer and rebounder, Lamont Hamilton (13.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg), and it was one of the worst scoring (63.5 ppg, 15th in the Big East) and worst rebounding teams (minus-2.1 rebounding margin, 14th in the Big East) in the country. Shooting guard Avery Patterson (10.4 ppg, 72 3-pointers) added to the bad news by transferring. If you can't make your conference's postseason tournament you won't be playing anywhere else in the postseason either.
Team on the decline
St. John's. It has been a while since the Red Storm was heard from in the Big East. It has won three, five and seven Big East games in the past three seasons. It's steady, if mild, progress, but there isn't much reason for optimism this season. The trend will not continue. The team loses its No. 1 scorer and rebounder, Lamont Hamilton (13.4 points, 6.5 rebounds), and it was one of the worst scoring (63.5 points per game, 15th in the Big East) and worst rebounding teams (minus-2.1 rebounding margin, 14th in the Big East) in the nation last season. The league remains quite powerful among the top eight to 10 teams, so it figures to be another long season for the Red Storm.
15 (of 16). St. John's
The good: Anthony Mason Jr. is back after averaging 11.9 points last season. And if that's not impressive on its own, consider that the junior averaged 17.4 points in his final five games, which included a 17-point performance in a win over Providence.
The bad: Outside of Mason and Eugene Lawrence, there just isn't much Big East talent on the roster. The off-season transfer of Avery Patterson, who averaged 10.4 points last season, didn't help things.
The bottom line: It's a shame the New York-area schools aren't succeeding in a league that revolves around New York. But the reality is that this is a game made of players, and without them it's tough to flourish.
From the Daily News:
"You can't win in this league if you don't have depth or talent," Roberts said. "I think we are more talented from 1 to 13. We are going to score better, going to create our own shot. We're more athletic and have more talent."
As much as Norm Roberts knows that St. John's fans have grown weary of hearing that the program is still in a rebuilding mode, he's hoping that last year's modest success will give the faithful a reason to be a little more patient.
It wasn't much: a 16–15 overall finish and the Red Storm's first Big East tournament appearance since 2003. But Roberts hopes people take it for what it is: a sign of real progress. "It shows we're doing what we set out to do — and that's to improve every year," said the Johnnies' fourth-year head coach. "There were two, maybe three, Big East-caliber players when I got here. Now there are 10."
One problem: with only two returning starters and seven incoming freshmen, growing pains may be unavoidable. But Roberts' latest recruiting class is far and away his best, and the reason for that, he said, is because he and his staff can now go after top talent on equal footing without the specter of NCAA sanctions.
"Even if we have to take a small step back because we’re young, I think people can see we’re getting better and we have more talent," said Roberts. "We're not trying to make this work for one year. We’re trying to build a program that will have success for a long time."....
Even though Roberts is again preaching patience, he will be able to do so this time while dangling the promise that his highly rated seven-player recruiting class offers. But as UConn found out last year, this is a tough league in which to win with mostly sophomores and freshmen. A realistic goal would be a season similar to last year’s, with the Red Storm flirting with .500 and making the Big East tournament. The youth makes that difficult but not impossible.
Strengths: Anthony Mason Jr. is as good as anyone in the Big East. The recruiting class brings a much-needed talent infusion to the program.
Weaknesses: This is still a team that can play some brutal basketball when the shots aren't falling. Shooting is a concern, and Mason is a bigger offensive threat when he can drift out onto the wing and not stay anchored in the paint.
Scouting the newcomers: D.J. Kennedy could see early minutes on the wing, and Malik Boothe and Paris Horne will push incumbents Eugene Lawrence and Larry Wright for minutes in the backcourt. Ayodele Coker and Justin Burrell are both strong candidates to win minutes in the paint, and one of them will likely be starting before long.
Program direction: Descending slightly. The offseason transfer of Avery Patterson, though not a great surprise, is a significant loss of talent. Even with Anthony Mason Jr. and Eugene Lawrence, this team will struggle to finish .500.
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