St. John's women's basketball: 2012-13 outlook

St. John's Red Storm guard Nadirah McKenith hopes to lead the women's team deep into the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

The recent return of the National Football League can only mean one thing: the impending arrival of a more exciting game, college basketball; and for fans of a successful program, the endless optimism and pride that comes with rooting your team on.

The return of Steve Lavin and men's basketball may have taken most of the headlines around St. John's. But there is still another basketball program that calls Carnesecca Arena home, and it is coming off arguably the best season in its history after reaching the Fresno Regional semifinals in last year's NCAA Tournament.

However, the Red Storm will be guided by a new leader this season in the wake of former coach Kim Barnes Arico's departure to the University of Michigan. Barnes Arico left St. John's in prime position for another deep run into March, and it begins less than two months from today.

More, below the fold.

St. John's University did not look very far in their search for a new coach, as the Red Storm hired longtime Barnes Arico deputy Joe Tartamella as her successor. Having spent the last ten years as an assistant on the St. John's staff and the last four as associate head coach, the 33-year-old Tartamella brings a sense of familiarity to a team that returns all but two players from last year's 24-win season that culminated with the school's first-ever trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Led by the three-guard lineup that has become a Red Storm trademark, which this year consists of All-Big East selections Nadirah McKenith, Eugeneia McPherson and Shenneika Smith; who will each be entering their fourth and final campaigns in Queens, St. John's will open the 2012-13 season unofficially on November 3rd with a home exhibition game against Farmingdale State, which will prepare them for their season opener six days later against Texas as part of the WBI Tip-Off Invitational in Daytona Beach.

The Red Storm will also look to replace their anchor inside now that Da'Shena Stevens has graduated following a stellar career in which she became the first player in program history to be named the Big East's Rookie of the Year. In Stevens' absence, Mary Nwachukwu will be counted on more heavily as she recovers from injuries that cost her a significant portion of last season. Meanwhile, the 6-2 Amber Thompson, who started during the first half of the season while Stevens was sidelined with a knee injury, will see more minutes as a sophomore.

Following the Texas game, St. John's continues their stay in Daytona Beach with a Veterans' Day (November 11th) matinee against future Big East rival Central Florida, before returning to Carnesecca for a two-game homestand that will take them into the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Lady Johnnies' home opener will be contested against Hofstra on November 17th, and this latest installment of the Queens-Nassau rivalry will be a grudge match of sorts for St. John's following last year's 93-82 loss to the Pride. Frontcourt play will be of great importance for the Red Storm in this matchup, as Tartamella will need to find an answer for Hofstra's version of Da'Shena Stevens in forward Shante Evans, who enters her senior season after exploding for 27 points and 14 rebounds against St. John's last year at the Mack Center in Hempstead.

The Red Storm will face an up-and-coming team in Iona four days later in what could be a trap game. The Gaels may be much younger than St. John's, but the dynamic duo of Aleesha Powell and MAAC Player of the Year candidate Damika Martinez will provide one of the strongest tests for St. John's in the young season.

The Red Storm hit the road for two games before their rematch with Duke in the Maggie Dixon Classic, first facing former UConn great Jennifer Rizzotti's Hartford team on November 25th before remaining in New England for a December 1st tilt against Boston University.

The long-awaited return meeting with the Blue Devils comes December 9th inside Madison Square Garden, and for St. John's, it is their second straight appearance in the tournament named for the late sister of Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon. The Red Storm competed valiantly against Baylor last season, even leading early in the second half before ultimately falling short against the reigning national champions.

St. John's then hosts its annual Chartwells Holiday Classic on December 15th and 16th, taking on Tennessee Tech to open the tournament in which the Red Storm has never lost, before meeting either UCLA or Saint Mary's on the second day of the event. A road trip to Quinnipiac (December 22nd) awaits the Lady Johnnies before their final two nonconference games, home affairs against NJIT (December 28th) and Delaware, (January 2nd) the latter coming against the phenomenon that is Elena Delle Donne.

St. John's opens Big East play on January 6th with the front end of a home-and-home series against Rutgers, whom they have won four straight against, and then gets home games with Seton Hall (January 12th) and Pittsburgh (January 16th) after that.

From there, three of the next four for the Red Storm are on the road; starting with Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame, (January 20th) before briefly returning home to face Syracuse (January 23rd) prior to road battles with Louisville (January 27th) and Providence. (January 30th) The Red Storm open February against two familiar rivals, welcoming Geno Auriemma and Connecticut to Carnesecca Arena on February 2nd for the first time since 2009, with Georgetown invading Queens a week later.

A journey to back to Florida awaits on February 12th as the Lady Johnnies play USF, with a home game against Cincinnati (February 17th) sandwiching another road trip, this one coming against Marquette on February 20th.

St. John's completes their home-and-home series with C. Vivian Stringer and Rutgers when the Scarlet Knights come to Queens on February 23rd, and hit the road for their next two contests, which come against Villanova (February 27th) and Seton Hall. (March 2nd) Senior night for the Red Storm comes on March 4th against Big East power DePaul in a game that could have major seeding implications for the conference tournament in Hartford, which St. John's hopes to come out of in good order before potentially securing a home game in the NCAA Tournament, which includes Carnesecca Arena in its opening weekend destinations this season.

Join Rumble In The Garden throughout the year for continued coverage of St. John's women's basketball as the Lady Johnnies look to pick up where they left off and add more to their list of historic achievements.

[See the complete St. John's women's basketball schedule by clicking here]

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