WRITTEN BY THE RUMBLE IN THE GARDEN TEAM
It is no secret that Steve Lavin planned to challenge his young team when he assembled this year’s schedule. ESPN says that St. John’s has "the toughest schedule in the Big East and one of the hardest in the country." The best way to develop quickly is to test yourself as much as possible, as early as possible.
The Red Storm will certainly be tested. Lavin's charges have the Big East schedule, as challenging as always. And that's topped off with a non-conference table featuring games on the road at Rupp Arena in Kentucky, at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke, and at a Detroit team that will be in the Horizon's league's top tier as well.
How will they respond to a season filled with challenges?
Get ready for a roller-coaster ride. Before the Big East season begins in late December, St. John’s will have already played more quality opponents than most teams do all year. Unlike many of the elite programs, the Red Storm even travels for true road games.
No UConn and Syracuse fans – that is not a direct shot at you. Below, Tim, Quinn, and Pico try their hands at prognostication.
Tim Dimas (on Twitter) - Projected Standing: 18-13, Big East Conference: 11-7
With the Red Storm possibly facing their hardest schedule in recent years, it will be hard to see the young student-athletes prosper as much as the expectations say they should. Losing Amir Garrett, Norvel Pelle, and JaKarr Sampson to ineligibility really caused St. John’s to step both feet back from where they could have been.
Garrett has continuously promoted the fact that he will be with the team mid-December when he should have completed the necessary NCAA requirements to be eligible once again. But with Sampson de-committing and potentially re-classifying to 2012, Garrett and Pelle might be the only two to return. And that assumes Pelle won't decide on another path, say to San Diego State.
Two of those players would still be a massive help to this young team.
When you glance at the schedule there are notable games to look at - Arizona at the 2K Sports Classic, Kentucky at Rupp Arena, and of course Duke at Cameron Indoor Arena in January. All three games look very hard to win and realistically, St. John’s is a couple of players and a year away from competing with these teams.
There are a few games though that the Red Storm could potentially be the upsetting team - at Marquette, at Georgetown, at Seton Hall, and at Rutgers.
But there are potential upsets from lower-level teams that may leave people with question marks - Fordham, St. Francis and Detroit.
The rematch between St. John’s and Fordham should be a good one. After Fordham mounted a comeback and win over the Red Storm last year, you can't rule out that they could do it again. St. Francis is also a team with a decent amount of talent that could translate to a St. John’s key loss in the season.
As for Detroit, it’s a bit of a trap game, coming after the big game at Rupp Arena and being a national stage for the Titans as Dick Vitale has the court named in his honor.
St. John’s has the type of team that can shock you but also could prove your high expectations to be maybe just a bit too high.
Quinn Rochford (on Twitter) - Projected Standing: 16-15 Big East Conference: 8-10
After two exhibition victories, we now have some kind of idea of what to expect from the 2011-12 Red Storm. Don’t we?
By averaging an impressive 93.5 points scored, the Johnnies sure seem to be on track to be able to run-and-gun with the best offenses in the nation. But (yes, there’s always a ‘but’), St. John’s also allowed an average of 75 points to its two non-Div. I opponents. Unless they want to rely on outscoring everyone, Steve Lavin’s group will need to improve defensively.
So, we know the basics – at least some of them. It is always a bit wayward to forecast the season on a game-by-game basis. This St. John’s team makes it nearly impossible. For measurement’s sake, we’ll give it a whirl anyway. Based on what we know about the Johnnies and their 29 possible challengers, we’ll attempt to estimate how the upcoming season will fare.
The Opening Trio – St. John’s welcomes three mid-major foes to Carnesecca Arena to open up the season. William & Mary, Lehigh, and University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) will be the first chapter of the new era in Queens. Are these teams beatable?
Should St. John’s take care of them on their campus?
That said, I believe that the Red Storm falls in one of the three. There’s too much inconsistency to expect consistency at this stage. Lehigh, one of the Patriot League’s best, is the likely suitor for an upset.
2K Sports Classic Final Rounds – Wouldn’t it fantastic for this group to get itself some hardware in its first month? Defeating Arizona and Mississippi St./Texas A&M on consecutive nights would be an unbelievable confidence boost. The Johnnies should be content with getting out with one victory and a respectable showing in the other. After an exhilarating win over the equally-youthful Wildcats, Lavin’s group falls short of the crown the next evening.
The Should-Be W’s – Match-ups with St. Francis (NY), Northeastern, and Texas Pan-American should be wins if St. John’s wants to be contender for postseason play. You can throw the Holiday Festival rematch with Fordham into this group, too. The only way to balance out a difficult schedule is to take care of business.
The "Let’s See What These Guys Got" Series – Kentucky. Duke. UCLA. Three of the greatest programs in the history of the sport. Along with a nationally-televised road test at Detroit, these games are going to show St. John’s fans what kind of talent we have here. A split of these four would garner a celebration.
Key wins – Either at Cincinnati or Marquette (pick one) and either Villanova or West Virginia (pick one), Georgetown, and Notre Dame at the Garden. The fan in me says Syracuse, too. It’s time.
Key/questionable losses – At Seton Hall and at Rutgers
Pico Dulce (on Twitter) - Projected Standing: 14-17 Conference: 7-11 Big East
The Johnnies are young, and a lot of the statistical models reflect that youth - and how youth doesn’t tend to win a lot of games. While the recruiting class is excellent in its depth, are there the NBA-level players that can carry a team to an NCAA Tournament? Sometimes, even NBA-level players can’t carry a young squad to those heights.
Personally, I don’t know exactly how to predict this team. What’s the upside look like? Which players will take a while to get comfortable? Who won’t make an impact until next year?
It may be hard to admit for the faithful who have suffered through years of low-upside basketball... but 2011-12 is shaping up to be a long year. Having only 7 scholarship players make the chances for double digit losses even greater.
Some fans will be ok, and will understand that this is a learning year with a LOT of talent at the foundation. Others will get frustrated, even call these players "bums" or whatever people say when they want to be derisive about college/ pro athletes.
Patience is necessary; Lavin’s teams tend to take some time to gel.
But the end of the season may just have sweet moments. Stat models from Ken Pomeroy and Dan Hanner think the Johnnies will fail to reach a winning record. I think they will get close to .500, but depth issues will deep-six the promising team, leading them to take revenge on the Big East in 2012-13. It doesn’t help that Lavin gave his team a ridiculously hard schedule. That said, those losses will be great learning tools, and the exposure for the program will be excellent.
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