If this all-new cast of St. John's players didn't know if before, they know it now: wearing the Red Storm uniform is like wearing a target for the other Division I squads in the city. Every team wants to put up that surprise performance, every player wants the world to know they were overlooked.
Every team wants to say "we beat St. John's."
There are no "this is a rebuilding team" asterisks for Chris Mullin's side.
It's irrelevant in the record books and it has to be irrelevant on the court.
With this in mind, the matchup on Sunday against St. Francis is going to require the team's best effort. The Terriers are experienced, coming off one of their best seasons of all-time, and will be excited to play in Madison Square Garden for the Holiday Festival.
Who: St. John's Red Storm (4-3) vs St. Francis Terriers (3-4)
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
When: Sunday, December 6th, 2015, 11:00 AM
How to Watch: Fox Sports One or Fox Sports Go
How to Listen: 970 AM - WNYM or via the TuneIn App
Twitter: Follow @rumbleSBN for game updates
Last Meeting: St. John's beat St. Francis 77-60 in their first Brooklyn Hoops Festival game.
Fun Fact: St. Francis is the oldest collegiate basketball program in New York City - the team began play in 1896.
Scouting St. Francis
Glenn Braica, the head coach of the Terriers, knows how close his team was to getting St. Francis to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Just three points separated the Terriers from Robert Morris, as the Terriers went cold to start the second half on their own home court with the Northeast Conference championship on the line.
But gone from that team are stars Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones, and this year's Terriers were chose fifth out of ten teams in the NEC Conference's preseason poll.
The Terriers continue to play aggressive man-to-man defense, with big men Amdy Fall and Chris Hooper defending the basket. They stand at 6'7" and 6'6", respectively, so the Red Storm don't have to worry about an impenetrable no-fly zone - they just have to match their energy and their fight on the glass. Hooper is shooting 56% from the field - mostly near the basket - so Christian Jones, Yankuba Sima and others will need to keep him out of position.
The perimeter threat looks to be junior guard Yunus Hopkinson, who is 15/28 (54%) from beyond the arc this season. Point guard Glenn Sanabria leads the perimeter attack, but has struggled with his shooting. Guard Tyreek Jewell from the Bronx is a willing scorer, but is inconsistent; when he's not getting to the line, he's far less deadly. Iceland native Dagur Jonsson scored 15 points against Lafayette; fellow Icelander Gunnar Olafsson starts for his defensive skills.
The Terriers are very undersized, but they have done a good job keeping opponents from using the three-point line, while shooting a high number of threes. On a good day, that's a recipe for an upset - especially if the Red Storm defense allows as many open shooters as they have in this year's games.
Keys to the Game
Federico Mussini struggled at times against the Fordham pressure, and with Malik Ellison sitting with a foot injury, he is the team's best ballhandler. Mussini and Ron Mvouika will need to make good, aggressive decisions with the basketball. And their teammates will need to flash to spaces where they can receive the ball and advance it up the court.
Go big when at home.
St. Francis plays a slowed-down style, and tend to be deliberate. The Red Storm need to use that to their advantage, going to Christian Jones and Yankuba Sima in the post early and often. (And both need to be more accurate from the field.) Can Felix Balamou and Kassoum Yakwe add to the interior scoring?
Hit the threes.
The Johnnies need to use the month of December to practice the skills that will get them wins in 2016 - defending to force opponents off the three-point line, and hitting shots from distance. Durand Johnson and Mussini need to use their opportunities and put points up.
St. John's wins 66-58, in a game that has a really ugly, hard-fought first half.