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Chris Mullin: Maui will be a good challenge early on for Johnnies

The Johnnies, who face Vanderbilt in the first round, will be facing some stiff tests in a strong field.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

From the addition of alumnus Chris Mullin to a brand new group of student-athletes, St. John's will look completely different heading into the 2015-16 season.

But that doesn't mean the team is headed for an easy opening stretch in non-conference play.

The Johnnies, as it was officially announced on Tuesday, will face off against Vanderbilt on November 23 in their first game of the Maui Invitational and will battle either Indiana or Wake Forest depending on their first round result.

"I always feel like challenges are good," Mullin said. "It will make these guys focus early on. You look at these teams, they're all storied programs with great coaches and great talent. The better competition you play, the higher your level will raise. We are a very young team, but we will prepare to win with great preparation."

That preparation must be top notch because the tournament features some loaded rosters even beyond Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Indiana as UNLV, UCLA and Kansas make up the other side of the bracket. The Johnnies will arguably be the greatest unknown Division I team in Maui (host Chaminade is Division II) as they will feature a plethora of freshman, including Yankuba Sima, Malik Ellison and Marcus LoVett Jr.

"The field is truly incredible," the first year head coach said. "The rookie will be the underdog though. All of these coaches (in the field) have accomplished something and some have NBA ties."

Leading up to a season that is quickly approaching, the Johnnies have had only six men on campus and each member has been participating in skill work only.

"We haven't done a whole lot of basketball activities but I'm impressed with the dedication of this group," Mullin explained. "Each and every guy has put in a good summer, good intensity and improvement. The rest of the group will be on campus later this month. They have been consistent and we have to carry that into the season."

St. John's may be young and inexperienced but it's evident that Mullin is building a feisty group that will be expected to play their heart out night in and night out. They will also play at a unique uptempo pace and will use their depth, length and versatility to try to create mismatch problems.

While the staff continues to track Maverick Rowan, who is expected to make a decision sometime during in the next month to improve the level of talent on the roster, St. John's will have an opportunity to build their success by facing a potential preseason top 25 team in the first two weeks of the season.

This will be the first test of both Mullin's career and a new promising era of the St. John's program.