It's been a brutal stretch for the St. John's Red Storm since a week before Christmas with the team dropping seven games in a row and four of those losses coming to Big East teams. Despite its last two defeats, to No. 10 Xavier and at Marquette, the team has remained competitive and there are a number of silver linings to take away and use as building blocks going forward.
We learned two crucial things about the young squad this week.
The Emergence of Kassoum Yakwe
With the team's only true big man and post player, Yankuba Sima, sidelined 4-6 weeks with a broken hand, freshman Kassoum Yakwe stepped up on the road against a tough Golden Eagles team. The 6-foot-7 forward nearly recorded a double-double in his first collegiate start with nine points and a career high 11 rebounds to go along with six blocks.
Head coach Chris Mullin praised Yakwe's performance.
"Kassoum, like all our younger players, is very hard working and diligent," he said. "I was happy and proud of him because he battled all game; rebounding, blocking shots and running the floor. Impressive [showing from Kassoum]."
Yakwe will need to continue to work on his shot selection, do his best to stay out of foul trouble, and improve his rebounding numbers - all of which he's shown he can do coming off his first major action of the season.
Sima already has shown flashes of brilliance this season, lessening the blow of losing Chris Obekpa, and if Yakwe develops at a steady pace, this portends well for the future of SJU's big men.
Mussini's Steadier Hand
Thrust into the spotlight as the point guard of New York City's preeminent collegiate basketball institution, Mussini has handled the pressure as well as anyone could expect. The Italian freshman leads the team in minutes played, points (per game and total made), total assists, three-pointers made, and free throws (percentage and total made).
While not an athletic specimen by any means, Mussini's craftiness and heads-up play has steadied the Red Storm's turnover machine. This, to go along with Ron Mvouika and Durand Johnson's improved shot selection (if not always shot-making) portends well for St. John's perimeter play.
Versus No. 10 Xavier Mussini shot 5-of-8 from long range to match a career-high for three-pointers made in a game. Mussini hit four of his triples in the final six minutes and finished 5-of-8 from long range as part of a 19-point effort to lead St. John's
"He's going to phenomenal ... I can tell," Mvouika said of Mussini. "There are not a lot of  year olds who can come from another country and can run a big team in the Big East for 35 minutes as a point guard. He's going to make mistakes, but we're here with him. You saw the shots he made today? That's what he does when he plays with confidence. I'm very proud of him, very impressed and he's going to keep getting better."
These two bright spots, along with the team's unflagging competitive spirit despite its daunting circumstances, show exactly how hard it's playing under Mullin. This not only shows the team's high character, it bodes well for continued development.