St. John's non-conference preview, with help from a Magic 8-ball

Just a few days until we tear into another official season of St. John's basketball. Quinn and Tim will be along tomorrow (and on Twitter) with lots of goodies from St. John's Media Day.

But tonight, let's get to know the non-conference slate.

For the Red Storm, the non-conference part of the season will be a chance to both test themselves and to learn how to play against a number of different styles. Conveniently, most of St. John's non-conference games are at home, where wins are sometimes helped by the comforts of home and the support of the home fans. The road games in the non-conference slate are Duke, Kentucky, and Detroit - all nationally televised, all prominent games.

Steve Lavin has constructed a non-con schedule that's designed to challenge, but also designed to give the young team some solid wins. Granted, every game is going to be a challenge as the almost all-new roster faces collegiate action for the first time.

But no one can say that Moe Harkless, God`sGift Achiuwa, Nurideen Lindsey and the rest won't get every chance to show that they are major talents.

A game-by-game look at the non-conference schedule, below the fold, with a little consultation with the Magic 8 ball for predictions. I can't be held responsible for any of the predictions, in other words.

Just so you know.

For each team the date of the matchup, location, and three rankings - last year's RPI, last year's Pomeroy Rank, and last year's Sagarin rank are used. And the wins/ losses for each non-conference team is also included.

William and Mary logoThe William & Mary Tribe come off of a ten-win season. Head coach Tony Shaver enters his ninth year with William and Mary doing much of the same thing he's done for years - trying to win with slow-paced offense, ball-spacing, and the three-pointer. He's enjoyed two winning seasons, but brings back a notably efficient scorer in Quinn McDowell and a number of 6'8" players, including the promising and gritty Tim Rusthoven. Last year, they didn't draw fouls, protect the ball, or defend very well, but they did rebound on defense and they didn't foul in their zone defense.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
11/7/11
William & Mary
Carnesecca
228
209
219
10
22

Shooting stars alert: Quinn McDowell can light it up from outside, shooting 45.5% from the perimeter. Julian Boatner hits 40% from outside. 6'8 Center JohnMark Ludwick shoots 38% from outside and only took 10 of his 102 shot attempts inside the arc. The Tribe love to shoot.

Chance for a St. John's win: *shakes the Magic 8 ball* AS I SEE IT, YES

Lehigh  logoThe Lehigh Mountain Hawks ended last season in the Patriot League tournament against rival Bucknell. Star guard CJ McCollum, who was the nation's leading freshman scorer two years ago, leads the Hawks in his junior year - he can get buckets off the dribble or shoot off the catch. He dropped 42 points against Kent State for his career high. He's also his team's best rebounder. At 6'3". We'll go into it more next Monday and Tuesday, but McCollum's good. Gabe Knutson's solid as well at 6'9.

But as a team, Lehigh isn't particularly efficient at scoring. They get to the free throw line and hold on to the ball to compensate.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
11/9/11
Lehigh
Carnesecca
205
198
205
16
15

Harold "the Show" Arceneaux alert: C.J. McCollum is the kind of player you learn about in March when he knocks off a major conference team that "couldn't lose" to a team like Lehigh. Be warned.

Chance for a St. John's win: A hot night from McCollum makes it plausible, but still shaking the Magic 8-ball, SIGNS POINT TO YES.

Maryland Baltimore CountyThe Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers earn a CUPCAKE ALERT award. It's important not to take any team lightly, but the Retrievers won 5 games last season, 4 in the America East, and all were close games. Last year's senior-laden squad gives way to seven newcomers to a team that did pretty much everything more poorly than the rest of the NCAA (but they protected themselves from turnovers).

5'10 Siena Saints transfer (and preseason America East All-Conference team member) Chris De La Rosa is an excellent assist man, but he has little help. The rebounders are short, and the hope in the paint is that little-used senior Jake Wasco and freshman Nate Basalyga can make plays inside.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
11/13/11
UMBC
Carnesecca
322
336
331
5
25

Great Dane-esque height alert: Jake Wasco is 6'8"; freshman Nate Basalyga is 6'9", Will Wise is 6'8".

Chance for a St. John's win: I want to agree with Magic 8-ball and say IT IS DECIDEDLY SO, but with a developing team, anything is possible. But this Retriever squad is a delicious cupcake gift.

cupcake alert

Arizona logoSt. John's faces its first test in the "Championship" Round of the 2K Sports Classic. The Arizona Wildcats bring in an excellent recruiting class to a team that won 30 games, and was a bucket away from knocking off Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament. Those Huskies went on to became the national champions last year, and the Wildcats have to wonder if that couldn't have been them. But those same Wildcats lose the #2 player in the NBA Draft in Derrick Williams and Lamont Jones, known to St. John's fans as Momo (and known for the transfer drama earlier this year).

Remaining for Sean Miller's club is a collection of role players still trying to find their way, and incoming freshmen Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner, who will be impact players by the end of the year. The Wildcats are still working on their collective game, as evidenced by their preseason struggles. It'll be the young Red Storm's first game under the bright Madison Square Garden lights.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
11/17/11
Arizona
MSG
19
24
16
30
8

Muscular height alert: Senior starting center Kyryl Natyazhko is 6'11. Alex Jacobsen is 7' tall and apparently still on the team (not an impact player). New Yorker and freshman Sidiki Johnson is 6'8 and freshman Angelo Chol is 6'9.

Chance for a St. John's win: Magic 8 ball says REPLY HAZY, TRY AGAIN.

Texas A&M logoMississippi State logoMississippi State Bulldogs OR Texas A&M Aggies - both teams, with maroon color schemes and no adorable animal mascot, should pose a challenge for the young Storm. Texas A&M should be the far better team, but Mississippi State comes with a chaos factor in the talented but often unfocused Renardo Sidney coupled with the passing guard Dee Bost. The chemistry on this year's team can't help but be better than last year's, because most team's don't get into brawls in ths stands while on TV. (There's a lot more head-shake worthy stuff about the Bulldogs, but we'll shelve that for later).

Meanwhile, A&M bring back an excellent forward in Khris Middleton, help from David Loubeau and B.J. Holmes, a star transfer shooter in Elston Turner, and Top-25 accolades. A&M are coached by Assistant Coach Glynn Cyprien in the interim; Billy Kennedy has early stage Parkinson's Disease, and there's no cure for Parkinson's. Our hearts go out to Kennedy as he deals with the debilitating condition.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
11/18/11
Mississippi State
MSG
119
116
124
17
14
11/18/11
Texas A&M
30
51
44
23
9

Girth alert: For Mississippi State, Renardo Sidney is a talented and thick 6'10. UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie is 6'11. Freshman wing Rodney Hood is 6'8. For Texas A&M, no rotation player is taller than 6'9. But they're the best team in the 4-team Classic.

Chance for a St. John's win: Magic 8 ball repeats REPLY HAZY, TRY AGAIN.

St. Francis logoAfter the Coaches vs. Cancer/ 2K Sports Classic, the St. Francis (NY) Terriers come to Queens with former assistant coach Glenn Braica. Braica loses two high-possesion scorers in Akeem Bennett and Ricky Cadell. He hopes to get scoring from shooter Stefan Perunicic, forward Akeem Johnson (who never turns the ball over), and point guard Dre Calloway. The Terriers also weclome Bronx freshman Brent Jones and Iona transfer Ben Mockford, who is known for his shooting ability.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
11/22/11
St. Francis (N.Y.)
Carnesecca
213
207
220
15
15

Alert? Anything?: The Northeast Conference squad doesn't have much height outside of 6'8 Matt Milk. I hear there are good cupcakes...

Chance for a St. John's win: Magic 8 ball thinks YOU MAY RELY ON IT.

Northeastern logoBill Coen's 11-20 Northeastern Huskies used to play good in-your-face defense. You'd never know it looking at last year's numbers. The Huskies were at the absolute bottom of the NCAA at defending the three-pointer, and not much better defending inside. They also rebounded poorly and fouled too much.

Besides senior Chaisson Allen, the rotation was one of the youngest in the country, however, and they could be a much better, much more dangerous team this season. They have a pair of deadeye shooters in Jonathan Lee (47.2% from outside) and Joel Smith (42.5% from outside the arc). Alwayne Bigby is a defender that the staff is high on. Still, this is a team that won 6 of 12 at the end of the season to get to 11 wins

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
11/26/11
Northeastern
Carnesecca
178
186
183
11
20

Deadeye alert: Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith can light it up from outside. Lee is also a playmaker, developing into a star down the stretch.

Chance for a St. John's win: I raise an eyebrow at Magic 8 ball when it says CONCENTRATE AND ASK AGAIN. (I'd lean to yes, myself, 8-ball.)

Kentucky logoI hear this Kentucky Wildcats team has a lot of talent, or something like that? Does anyone know where Kentucky is? I've never heard of this school.

Obviously, kidding. The Kentucky game, part of the SEC/ Big East Challenge, will be one of St. John's most highly-publicized games this year against an extremely talented opponent with National Championship aspirations. With star sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, with the defensively-minded Darius Miller, and star freshmen Marquis Teague and Anthony Davis, the Wildcats are fast and talented.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
12/1/11
Kentucky
Rupp Arena
7
6
5
29
9

Blue blood star alert: Anthony Davis is fast off of his feet and agile as a 6'8 big man.

Chance for a St. John's win: Magic 8-ball says VERY DOUBTFUL.

Detroit logoMany might pick the Detroit Titans, with experience and the point guard from this summer's U19 Team USA squad, to beat St. John's on the night when they dedicate the court to Dick Vitale.

There's merit to that argument. Ray McCallum is a seriously talented point guard and the Horizon League's preseason player of the year as a sophomore. He also turned down a scholarship to UCLA to play for his dad. But looming in the background are personnel issues. Indiana transfer Eli Holman - known for knocking over a potted plant (or throwing it) in agitation when announcing his transfer to Indiana coach Tom Crean, is on an indefinite leave of absence from the team due to a violent incident at a fraternity.

Still, the Titans have effective height in LaMarcus Lowe (6'10) and Nick Minnerath (6'9) to challenge shots. Interestingly, their 2-point defense wasn't actually that good, possibly due to their pace (71 possessions per game) and their propensity towards turning over the ball. But they can rebound the offensive misses well and can score steadily.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
12/5/11
Detroit
Calihan Hall
143
134
135
17
16

Shooter alert (not just because of Detroit's reputation): Jason Calliste lingers on the perimeter (121 attempts outside of the arc, 73 inside the arc) and hits his shots at a 39.7% clip.

Chance for a St. John's win: I think Detroit's hype is a little suspect, and Magic 8-ball says OUTLOOK GOOD.

Fordham logoLast December, the Fordham Rams came from behind to beat the defensively bereft St. John's Red Storm. Watching Tom Pecora soak in the adulation from the long-suffering Fordham fans while the Red Storm coaches and players almost sprinted off the court after that horrific loss... well, it was gross.

That Rams loss was the worst of what St. John's defense can be. Mediocre shooters dropped in shots from the bleachers, and the Rams stayed calm against the press, passed the ball to the open man, and the open man hit the shots.

That team win two more games all year, ending 7-21.

NEVER FORGET.

Freshman Devon "Fatty" McMillan will likely take the reins, piloting an attack led by forward Chris Gaston, shooting guard Branden Frazier, and Lamount Samuell. This year's game will be part of the Holiday Festival twin bill.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
12/17/11
Fordham
MSG
253
292
272
7
21

Rivalry warning: The Rams would love to knock off St. John's once more, yammer on about respect, and sleep with happy memories as they lose more games than they win in the Atlantic 10.

Chance for a St. John's win: On paper, this should be a win. But Pecora would love to tout the Rams as Kings of New York City, and I won't put a win past them. Magic 8 ball gives me an ASK AGAIN LATER.

Texas Pan-AmericanThe 6-25 Texas-Pan American Broncs are coached by a man who loves his humor. We should have known that from his quote over the summer about there being a 50-50 chance that the UTPA game would be played at Madison Square Garden. Well played, Marks, well played. Marks is also doing a blog for ESPN this season, where he can tell you about the WUMPty dance.

Great exposure.

Bad team.

The best teams the Broncs beat were Eastern Kentucky and South Dakota. The other wins were three non-Division I programs and Houston Baptist. This is not a squad that should come close to beating the Red Storm.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
12/21/11
Texas-Pan Amer
Carnesecca
343
332
337
6
25

Shooter alert: Brandon Provost and Aaron Urbanus are perimeter-oriented guards for the Broncs who nailed 44% and 42.7% of their shots, respectively.

Chance for a St. John's win: Anything can happen. But Magic 8 ball goes for certainty here, telling me IT IS CERTAIN. It's time for that delicious cupcake again.

cupcake alert

Duke logoBy the time the Duke Blue Devils welcome St. John's to Cameron Indoor Stadium in late January, the Red Storm freshmen should be hitting their stride. They should be dangerous. With some teams, tough stretches and a hard learning curve can demolish egos; but coach Lavin is very good with working with egos. And with creating teams that suddenly knock off the best in the country late in the season when bettors and fans have written them off.

Mike Krzyzweski will have already passed Bobby Knight to become the winningest coach in Division I history. His Duke team will be heavy on guard play with Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook, and Andre Dawkins. There are three Plumlees, Alex Murphy, and Ryan Kelly providing height for the Dukies, who will try to avenge that thrashing they caught from the Red Storm last year.

This year's edition promises to be slightly more athletic, but there will be defensive height and shooting, like many of the other recent Duke squads.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
1/28/12
Duke
Cameron Indoor
4
2
3
32
5

Talented son-of-a-talent alert: High-end freshman Rivers will be hitting his stride by this part of the season, and the guard rotation will shake out - there's a lot of young talent on the Blue Devils.

Chance for a St. John's win: Once again, anything can happen. But a win at Cameron Indoor? That's a big dream. Magic 8 ball thinks OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD.

UCLA logoThe UCLA Bruins fans (at least some of them) hate to admit that they had Coach Lavin as their coach for a good chunk of last decade. They complain about current coach, Ben Howland, as well. Howland's been sollid, even if his slow, defensive-oriented style didn't thrill the fans and his team couldn't shoot or hold on to the ball. Last year's contest was the imposition of size on the much smaller Red Storm; this year's game should be no different.

Despite lacking good guard play, some are high on the Bruins. Their strength is in the paint with Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson, and this year they will add David Wear and Travis Wear to a forward rotation. That rotation also includes Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane. The Bruins also expect contributions from guard/ wing Tyler Lamb in what should be one of the tallest lineups in the country. How will all those big men get on the floor? One or both of the Wears will play small forward.

Date
Opponent
Arena
RPI
POMRk
Sagarin
w
l
2/18/12
UCLA
MSG
44
54
46
23
11

Imposing height in the alley alert: Joshua Smith is 6'10. So are the Wears and Anthony Stover. Brendan Lane is 6'9. Reeves Nelson is 6'8.

Chance for a St. John's win: I think the Bruins are so big-man heavy that they have to be suscptible to a good shooting, pesky backcourt team. Magic 8 ball says ASK AGAIN LATER after some games are in the books.

The complete non-conference schedule:

Date
Opponent
H/A?
Arena
w
l
11/7/11
vs. William & Mary%
H
Carnesecca
10
22
11/9/11
vs. Lehigh%
H
Carnesecca
16
15
11/13/11
vs. UMBC
H
Carnesecca
5
25
11/17/11
vs. Arizona%
H
MSG
30
8
11/18/11
Cons./Champ.%
H
MSG
11/22/11
vs. St. Francis (N.Y.)
H
Carnesecca
15
15
11/26/11
vs. Northeastern
H
Carnesecca
11
20
12/1/11
at Kentucky^
A
Rupp Arena
29
9
12/5/11
at Detroit
A
Calihan Hall
17
16
12/17/11
vs. Fordham$
H
MSG
7
21
12/21/11
vs. Texas-Pan Am.
H
Carnesecca
6
25
1/28/12
at Duke
A
Cameron Indoor
32
5
2/18/12
vs. UCLA
H
MSG
23
11
Legend
% 2K Sports Classic
^ SEC-Big East Challenge
$ Holiday Festival

With the Big East poised to be beastly once more (and maybe for the last time, depending on realignment), the Red Storm face a tough schedule with a young, thin roster.

You may have seen CBSSports' strength of schedule interactive graphics or Ken Pomeroy's predictions, which have St. John's as the 107th team in college basketball, and predict a 13-17 season. Other outlets have St. John's around 12th in the Big East. Obviously, the young Red Storm have a lot to prove.

But there is talent, and sometimes talent goes farther than the predictions think.

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