Throughout the first month of the Chris Mullin era in Queens, St. John's Red Storm fans have to feel like they've seen it all. The season's first eight games, two preseason and six regular season, have shown plenty good, plenty bad, and plenty just plain ugly about this young and developing team.
However after a 4-2 start, including a dramatic win over Rutgers and an inspiring loss to Indiana in Maui, Red Storm fans have to feel content with how the season has gone so far, and how the team looks going forward. There is plenty to work on for this young team, but here are three takeaways from the first month of season.
Perimeter defense must improve
In their six games this season, the Red Storm has held opponents to under 40 percent shooting from 3-point range just twice, both times coming in their first two games of the season against Wagner and UMBC.
Their low-point defensively during this stretch was an embarrassing defensive performance against Vanderbilt last week in which they allowed the Commodores to shoot 48 percent (12-25) from downtown and 53 percent (33-62) overall from the field. Their defense wouldn't improve much in the following two games in Maui, as Indiana and Chaminade both shot over 40 percent from downtown and 50 percent from the field.
Obviously the Johnnies were missing both Malik Ellison and Darien Williams in Maui, but nonetheless it's hard to win games consistently allowing opponents to shoot that efficiently from the field.
Too often so far this season have shooters been left wide open for 3-point shots. It's been relatively evident that this St. John's team is still learning to mesh with each other on the defensive end. Hopefully the addition of Kassoum Yakwe, who was cleared to play by the NCAA last Wednesday, will help the Red Storm defensively.
Getting Ellison and Williams back from injury soon will help as the Red Storm round out the final seven games of non-conference play this month with big matchups against Syracuse and South Carolina.
Federico Mussini has shined
For a guy who is not a natural point guard and has played more off the ball before coming to St. John's, Federico Mussini's play has to have St. John's fans smiling at this point. The Johnnies have leaned on the freshman guard to be one of their top scorers so far during the young season, and to this point he has delivered.
Mussini leads the team with an average of 17.3 points per game, and he's scored at least 13 points in every game so far this season. Mussini's top game of the season came in the Red Storm's finale in Maui, when he dropped a game-high 24 points on stellar 8-13 shooting, including 5-9 shooting from downtown.
Although he has had some issues with turnovers, with 20 so far this season (19% of his possessions), much of that has to have been expected considering that he is learning the point guard position. Nevertheless, Mussini has dished out just under three assists per game as he continues to adapt to running the point.
Red Storm fans should be able to take some solace knowing that the addition of Marcus Lovett and Shamorie Ponds next season will allow Mussini to naturally play off the ball and spot up for open looks.
Sima solid on boards, but who else will step up?
Speaking of solid St. John's freshmen, Yankuba Sima has easily been the Red Storm's top front court presence. Sima has averaged 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game so far - very good for a freshman who needs to bulk up. His 21 blocked shots are tied for third in the nation; he is blocking 13% of opponents shots, a percentage that would impress any coach.
On November 19 he had his best game of the young season against Rutgers, with 13 points, nine rebounds, six blocks and three assists in the win. Sima has so far surpassed the expectations that many Red Storm fans had for him going into his freshman year; he can't handle the front court alone.
Despite Sima's efforts, the Johnnies still rank 201st in the nation in total rebounding, and they've given up double-digit offensive rebounds in all but one game this season. In the one game where Sima struggled, last week's blowout loss to Vanderbilt, St. John's wasn't able to find anyone else who could step up on the boards.
Both Christian Jones and Felix Balamou have been effective grabbing rebounds, but they'll need some help from Ron Mvouika and Amar Alibegovic, who's season high-rebound total is just four in 30 minutes against Chaminade. The solution to this issue may be an easy fix, however, with Yakwe making his season debut this week and Williams hopefully returning from his injury soon.
St. John's fans will get to see some of these observations in action - and Ron Mvouika, who has also been impressive on offense - on Wednesday night when the Red Storm travels to the Bronx to take on the Fordham Rams.
What else has stood out to you about this men's team?