Today, CBS Sports rolled out their season predictions for men’s basketball in the Big East conference. I enjoy Matt Norlander's writing, because there's a lot of meat on the bones of what he writes, so we will take a look at some of his comments from that article.
On the league, they are bullish on the Big East being even better than last season - where Villanova won a national championship and four other teams made the NCAA Tournament.
Most leagues don't truly get undeniably stronger top to bottom from one season to the next. There are 32 conferences, and in a given year you might have four or five leagues at most who can boast a true rise in the tide. The Big East fits that description this season.
As far as the season predictions, they follow form of other outlets.
Of course St. John’s is in the bottom three of these; and of course Villanova’s at the top, and of course Shamorie Ponds is predicted to win freshman of the year.
For St. John's, CBS focuses on shot-blocking as a strength and foul shooting as the major weakness. The x-factor is Mullin, which this writer agrees with. And I'd even stand by this paragraph:
X-factor: The collective coaching philosophy of Chris Mullin and his assistants
I'm far from convinced that St. John's hiring a program legend like Mullin will translate to consistency in recruiting and on-court success. To be fair, I and most others said the same thing about Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State -- and then Hoiberg went out and built a perennial top-25 program. Mullin won't turn St. John's into a top-25 national program, I don't think, but there's still a lot of time to see what he's capable of. The Johnnies went 8-24 last season. So double digit wins should be coming. But with the caliber of coach in this league, you can't just put blue-chip recruit Shamorie Ponds out there and expect wins to follow. Scheme is vital. I'd love to chat with Mullin on his approach this year and what he learned from last season.
Leaving alone the top-25 comment, which I will look into at a later date, I would say the weakness last year was ballhandling.
Opponents stole the ball from St. John's at a rate higher than almost any other Division 1 team, which means easy scores via live-ball turnovers, which unshapes anything else the team wanted to do. From there, shot-creation was the second biggest issue - and then free throws, since the team wasn't bad at getting to the line.
And the strength of the squad... shot blocking is as good as any, but it didn't lead to better 2-point defense outcomes. Until it does, shot blocking is just a nice piece, and not a disruptive factor.
But St. John's has a LONG, long way to go to improve the offense. It very much could happen, with actual ballhandlers in Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds, who, even in exhibition play, were far better at handling the ball than Mussini. And with a shot-creator in Bashir Ahmed, the team has a better player to lean on to get buckets.
Other notes from the CBS Sports analysis of the Big East
Some thoughts on the comments about five other Big East teams...
The idea of Jalen Brunson as an x-factor is really about how well he can replace Ryan Arcidiacono as the team’s primary set-up player, and likely main passer. Jalen Brunson needs to improve pick and roll smarts, turnovers, learn how to better run the team - though Villanova shares the wealth and has other guards who can pick up the slack.
Brunson is a little stronger than Arcidiacono and attacks the rim a little more, but essentially, athletically similar. He also forced fewer steals by the percentages last year; and Arcidiacono had a nice reputation as a defender. Brunson needs to match that or improve upon that.
Why do pundits not notice that the tandem of Jalen Reynolds and James Farr - very effective in the post - are being replaced with a transfer from Norfolk State and a pair of guys who logged under 10 minutes a game?
They sure did lose a lot from their table-setters, Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham. And predictions of them remaining in the top five are predicated on coaching and toughness. Not talent. Talent does matter.
This is a good reminder that, pro-rated to 40 minutes, Georgetown would have four regulars who would have fouled out of games regularly: L.J. Peak (5.7 fouls/ 40), Marcus Derrickson (5.7/40), Bradley Hayes (6.0/40), Jessie Govan (7.0/40), Kaleb Johnson (7.0/40).
Eight league wins for 8th place Providence assumes that St. John's and DePaul will once again combine for 4 league wins (last year, Georgetown was 8th but had seven league wins in a fairly even Big east except for St. John's/ DePaul).
I can believe that DePaul and St. John's will once again bring up the rear - despite improvements, the league is thick with talent - but that's a ridiculous assertion for a league that is improving, even at the bottom, as most assume.