The St. John's non-conference slate was filled with plenty of up-and-down moments and surprising results, but this season was never about the wins and losses. Instead, Chris Mullin's first year on the job should be measured by improvements and progressions.
After 13 out of conference match-ups, Mullin feels his team has gained valuable experience that could help the Red Storm continue to develop through what is expected to be a very difficult conference schedule.
"Overall, I’ve been pretty pleased with our team’s effort," Mullin said on the Big East Coaches Conference call on Tuesday morning. "We have a lot of new players and a whole new roster but the effort has been good. We're just trying to gain experience each and every day. I’ve been patient and I’m stressing skill work, fundamentals and the day-to-day approach."
The Johnnies consistency has been all over the place after two months, as they defeated Syracuse, played well against a tough South Carolina team and an offensive powerhouse in Indiana, but also dropped home games to NJIT and Incarnate Word. Again, this was expected with a young group of guys that are still trying to find their footing against high-level basketball teams.
It's one reason why this recent break could be a big positive for the Johnnies.
"When you have young guys, it's really important to focus on daily habits," Mullin said. "I treated (this time-off) a little like the All-Star break. It's a fresh start and you start new. You repeat the things you did well and also learn from your mistakes."
There is no question that approach will help the Red Storm build the correct mindset before Big East Conference play. They won't be dealing with any small schools, "buy-in" games or unfamiliar opponents for the rest of the year so their improvements will be truly tested. With four schools ranked in the top 25 and five others looking for a postseason berth of some kind, there will be no nights off as this gauntlet will create more critical opportunities for this young Red Storm team to build for the future.
"The depth (of this conference) speaks for itself," Mullin said. "These teams are well-prepared and well-coached. I always say if you have great players you will have success and there are a lot of great players in this conference."
The depth of the Big East is evident when looking at the 94-29 record it earned in the early portion of the season and St. John's will jump right into the fire against a potent Creighton team (that is seventh in the country in points per game) on New Year's Eve.
"They play a nice fast pace style," Mullin said. "They have quick guards so we have to get back in transition. We have to keep our turnovers down and rebound the basketball. The fundamentals will decide if you win or lose. Defense, rebounding and turnovers."
"The efficiency of our offense has been outstanding," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "But I'm a little disappointed in the consistency of our defense."
While Mullin will certainly be soaking up the chance to coach in one of the greatest league's in America, his focus will be heavily ingrained in his team taking the next step in their development. The Blue Jays will be the first of many tests.