While Chris Mullin and St. John's have a date with the Creighton Blue Jays on New Year's Eve, it's not to early to think about the Red Storm's second true road game of the season against the 12th ranked Providence Friars.
Projected as a one-man team thanks to the known presence of future pro Kris Dunn (16.5 PPG, 7.3 APG, 6.1 RPG), the Friars have developed into a pleasant surprise in the Big East. Ed Cooley's team has quality victories over Harvard, Illinois and most importantly Arizona and their lone loss came in a closer than expected game against Michigan State at the Wooden Legacy Classic.
The reason the Friars have transformed themselves into one of the top four teams in the Big East, and will give the Johnnies their greatest test of the season on Saturday, is due to the improvement of their role players.
The physical Ben Bentil is one of the most improved players in the country, as he is averaging 18 points per game and eight boards after posting 6.4 points per game and just under five rebounds in 2014-15.
"Ben is emerging and always improving," Cooley said when asked on the Big East Coaches Conference call if Bentil is a star. "He went from the ultimate role player to where he is this year. He is not underrated (overlooked) by any of the coaches we have faced last year."
Junior Lomomba, who was practically an after thought last season, is a threat from the three-point line and can defend the opposing teams best player with great success while Rodney Bullock has been a force in the painted area. Sophomore Jalen Lindsey has struggled with his shot at times but with Dunn out for two games against Rider and Bryant, the 6'7" guard/forward notched a double-double and a combined 28 points. Even freshman Drew Edwards has responded to his increase in minutes, putting up 17 points off the bench in a win over Bryant.
Despite more production from players other than Dunn, Cooley would like to keep the supporting cast under the radar, limiting the pressure that comes with being a highly ranked squad.
"I want everyone in America to continue to concentrate on Kris (Dunn)," Cooley said when expanding on Bentil's presence.
The Johnnies certainly won't be overlooking anyone, never mind the Friars. The team has had major issues with turnovers and Dunn's length will be a major factor against Federico Mussini on both ends of the floor. The Red Storm do benefit from the absence of freshman sharp shooter Ryan Fazekas (Cooley said he is home, is tired due to his mono illness and has lost weight), but again, Providence has plenty of other players that will step forward.
It may not be a pretty game but at least this can be used as a measuring stick to see where this young Red Storm team stands. The Friars are legit and stepping into a rowdy road environment in Big East play will be yet another experience for this St. John's roster.