Early national predictions on St. John's young team highlight uncertainty

For St. John's, a trio of prognostications - one from a veteran reporter, two from the best quantitative minds who cover college basketball - are a chance to either consider the places where this St. John's team is painted in uncertain colors... or chance to get the internet pitchforks.

Mike DeCoursey of the Sporting News picks St. John's dead last, 15th. I think this is harsh - other St. John's fans do as well.

Reviewing his picks, DeCoursey is thinking a little differently than the coaches' poll, and remarked on Twitter in response to my tweet that "nothing [is] tougher than figuring bottom of Big East."

That response is important.

It's easy to look at a negative preseason prediction of a team and think that the prognostication isn't worth the paper it's not printed on.

But sometimes, the preseason predictions have value. Smart people spend a lot of time crafting their assumptions, and coming up with the common wisdom on what they know and don't know. In college basketball, we know returning players tend to mean familiarity, and that freshmen often make a strong improvement in their second year.

Steve Lavin's team is once again young. As he said at St. John's media day, "we have players who are not familiar with this level of basketball."

Youngsters. Rookies. And that makes this team hard to accurately predict.

Both Ken Pomeroy (of kenpom.com) and Dan Hanner (of realgm.com), who both work on the College Basketball Prospectus book and have been refining predictive and analytical models for years, have St. John's in the bottom half of the Big East - much like the coaches' poll and preseason magazines, who picked the Red Storm around 10th in the league.

Dan Hanner's prediction has St. John's at 12th in the Big East, and the 76th best team in the country.

Ken Pomeroy's rankings, published this morning, have St. John's at 14th, and the 87th best team in the country.

But both Hanner and Pomeroy predict a conference win-loss record of 7-11, in a logjam with Villanova, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, and South Florida (who I agree will take a step back). Hanner adds Connecticut to the bottom-of-pile mix.

Which is to say that it's going to be hard to sort out the bottom of the Big East. Gone are the days where four teams were clearly the butt of all jokes, the years where DePaul could be penciled in for a beating. The bottom of the league is strong, a number of teams that are certainly able to hang with other major conference foes.

And they are going to beat each other up. They are also going to drag teams in the middle down with them.

For St. John's, it's important to realize that with all of the talent on the team, there is only one player with a reputation of being able to get his own shot. What happens when the Red Storm's transition game is slowed by a stout defense?

D`Angelo Harrison is a strong scorer, but a second player has to step up. A third player has to step up. Can it be JaKarr Sampson? Can it be Orlando Sanchez? Neither of those players is known to be an aggressive, big-time scorer - both are smart players who can do a lot on the court.

Will it be Amir Garrett or Sir`Dominic Pointer, both of whom are defense-first players who didn't hunt for their shots? can Marc-Antoine Bourgault get enough shots - and hit enough shots - to be that third scorer?

Steve Lavin is confident in his team. His words tend toward steady growth and development - not an immediate explosion that puts college basketball on notice. "Our staff feel strongly that as a group we can move forward quickly enough to be competitive by the time Big East conference play rolls around," Lavin said last week.

The predictions might be right. They might be wrong. The only way to test them is to play the games.

The Johnnies start the regular season at home against Detroit on November 13th; the first preseason game has been rescheduled for Saturday, November 3rd at 5:30 PM.

(Good luck to the New Yorkers affected by the storm. Hopefully you have - and continue to have - power, and you haven't lost much.)

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