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St. John’s women’s basketball under the radar entering 2017-18 season

Red Storm open its sixth season under Tartamella with Friday matinee against St. Francis

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Creighton vs St. John's David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Despite some discouraging preseason prognostications, there’s quite a few reasons for the St. John’s women’s basketball team to be optimistic going into the new season.

Joe Tartamella’s team is coming off a fourth consecutive 20-win season, but the graduation of top-scorer Jade Walker and point guard/stopper Aaliyah Lewis was the main factor in the Red Storm being predicted to finish seventh in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

And that’s after a fourth-place finish in the conference and a couple of victories in the Women’s NIT.

The team hopes to again exceed external expectations thanks to a talented collection of young guards that can really shoot.

Akina Wellere and Alisha Kebbe look to take control of a Red Storm offense that lost two of its three leading scorers from a year ago.

Wellere is the remaining player who averaged double digits in points, as she led the Big East with a 45.8 field-goal percentage on three-pointers. She was named to the All-Big East Preseason Team and the watch list for the inaugural Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, which will recognize the top shooting guard in women’s college basketball. Wellere has bog shoes to fill as the featured offensive player.

Kebbe also hopes to emerge as one of the team’s top players after making 32 starts as a freshman. The All-Big East freshman team honoree averaged 7.7 PPG and shooting 37.9 percent from downtown, and she also collected 144 rebounds and 27 assists and steals.

Perhaps most important to St. John’s hopes for another postseason appearance this year is the arrival of highly-touted freshman Qadashah Hoppie.

The Staten Island-native averaged 15.9 PPG as a senior at the Patrick School (Hillside, N.J.), and she is the Big East’s highest-rated recruit. The three-star point guard hopes to play an important role in Tartamella’s offense, whether off the ball or as one of the team’s main distributor.

Imani Littleton and Maya Singleton complement the Red Storm’s youth at the guard position with their experience in the front court. The seniors led the team in rebounding and helped hold opponents to 37 percent shooting for the season.

Six-foot-three freshman Kaya Charles and former top-recruit Tiana England, who redshirted after tearing her ACL last year, also join the mix for the Red Storm.

The women’s team will kick off the season on Friday at 4:30 p.m. against St. Francis (Brooklyn), the first of two games at Carnesecca Arena as the men face New Orleans in the night-cap.

The women will face William & Mary the following Friday before heading spending the Thanksgiving Weekend at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida, where they could potentially face defending national champion South Carolina. The Red Storm will open Big East play December 28 at conference-favorite Marquette.