Sports Illustrated’s quantitative preview is out. Combined with the KenPom preseason ratings, we get a better sense of what the quantitatively-minded writers think about the Big East as a conference and about St. John’s in particular.
Given last year’s results, of course, and the lack of a Kentucky-like team of one-and-dones coming, St. John’s is expected to make incremental progress - but from a “start-up” team, incremental progress equals “not being blown out”. Consider that last year’s team had only two Big East losses where the final score was within two possessions (at Marquette in January and against Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden). Those games may be closer than the score indicates, with late-game free throws ballooning leads, but there is obviously a long way for this squad to go.
SI projects the Johnnies to finish ninth, like Ken Pomeroy’s ratings do.
More interestingly, their player projections have Bashir Ahmed as the team’s leading scorer at nearly 13 points per game. Then comes Marcus LoVett (11 points per game - rounded up), Kassoum Yakwe (10 ppg), Malik Ellison (9 ppg), Yankuba Sima and Shamorie Ponds (7 ppg) and Richard Freudenberg (6 ppg) rounding out their top seven.
As a conversation piece, there are some interesting assumptions here in SI’s ratings.
- Darien Williams, who was injured last season but looked healthy and active in the team’s scrimmage at Red Storm Tip-Off, does not feature. We would expect him to take minutes given the Richard Freudenberg.
- Marcus LoVett is assumed to play 82% of the team’s minutes , chipping in just under four assists per game. LoVett has a more mature body than Shamorie Ponds, which will play a factor; but it’s hard to see the Johnnies running LoVett into the ground if his offensive efficiency is 101 points per 100 possessions... when Shamorie Ponds is predicted to score 105 points per 100 possessions, but only play 48% of the minutes. Not that Ponds would take LoVett’s minutes away entirely - far from it, as LoVett is a skillful passer - but Ponds will definitely give LoVett a blow.
- Speaking of which, Federico Mussini doesn’t make the cut. It’s likely because he ended the year with some terrible efficiency numbers. But Chris Mullin still likes what he sees in the Italian shooter, who can find openings to score out of very little. Expect him to see solid minutes, unless Ponds/ LoVett and Malik Ellison are simply fantastic.
- The SI projection is also bullish on Bashir Ahmed as a rebounder. This is very important; neither Yankuba Sima nor Kassoum Yakwe were great on the defensive glass last year, and opponents earned second chances. For St. John’s, being able to end opponent possessions is crucial to having a chance to keep the opponent off of the scoreboard.