Don’t you know, Johnnies, that things go in cycles*?
Four years ago, fans were excited to see the new-look Red Storm, with fresh new coach Chris Mullin on the sidelines, take on a pair of exhibition foes to show that the year was going to be better than expected.
That first exhibition game, on November 4th, 2015, ended with St. John’s being blown out by Division II St. Thomas Aquinas, 90-58. It was a harbinger of a wayward 8-24 season filled with blowouts, a general inability to stop the ball, and opponents raining threes from the corners. A pair of potential difference-makers sat on the sidelines, waiting for eligibility news.
With just a week to go until the men’s basketball season, the Red Storm take on their first unofficial-official opponent of the year — Queens College, in exhibition play.
A pair of potential difference-makers are sitting out on the sidelines — Ian Steere, who is not likely to be eligible until December, and Rasheem Dunn, who was surprisingly not given a waiver despite sitting out last year, thanks in part to the Athletic Director at his previous stop.
The show must go on. What will tonight’s game portend for the season?
*With apologies to A Tribe Called Quest [video].
Opponent: Queens College Knights
Time: 7 PM
About Queens College
The CUNY school, the alma mater of former St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts, is also the alma mater of luminaries such as Jerry Seinfeld, Marvin Hamlisch, Fran Drescher, Jon Favreau, Carole King, Hal Linden, Howie Rose, Nestor Serrano, Charles Wang, Jason Katims, DJ Rekha Malhotra, Dov Hilkind, FDNY’s Ronald Spadafora, Paul Simon, Michael Savage and Ron Jeremy.
Unlike the rest of the CUNY athletic teams, Queens College plays in Division II, the same Division as St. Tomas Aquinas. Despite having some scholarship money to give out, the Knights went 7-21, with all seven wins coming in conference play, for first-time head coach Matt Collier.
Collier came from Drexel and Howard as an assistant, grew up in Queens and went to Bronx High School of Science. That’s a long commute.
The team returns a scoring guard pair in Elijah Bovell (#30) and Dwayne Henry, Jr. (#11) who averaged 12 and 11 points, respectively. Henry, who ended his season with a career-high 29 last season, was the better three-point shooter and led the team with assists. Both guards had more turnovers than assists, however, as did returnee Tyrese Crosdale (#1).
Shomari Redd and Keenan Gorski also scored in the guard-focused attack. Inside, the Knights had Wayne Li (#50), a 6’9” center inside, but he did not score often. For rebounding, the Knights lost an integral player to graduation, but have tall players such as the 6’10” Evan Goldberg (#45), who logged some time last season.
What to watch for
Though the game does not count toward the final standings, unlike next week’s official opener against Mercer, the preseason game is a chance to tune up the attack, critical with a new coach and style on the sideline.
Yes, St. John’s had a secret scrimmage, where the team “won” over Temple, with Josh Roberts putting in a double double. But an exhibition game runs by regular game rules, not simulated halves and extra periods, not experimental rotations.
It’s in front of the people, who will come away with an opinion of how good or bad the team will be. We will get our first looks at players like Julian Champagnie, David Caraher and Damien Sears, plus a look at improvements made by Marcellus Earlington and Greg Williams Jr.
We are looking for...
How well will Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa handle the offensive spotlight? Heron and Figueroa are touted as the team’s stars. But playing alongside shot-creator Shamorie Ponds is one thing; looking for one’s shots is another. Both Heron and Figueroa can create shots, but may be better playing off the ball. How will the schemes find them in positions to maximize their talents?
How many minutes of “what the hell are we doing?” Mike Anderson’s defensive style takes a lot of energy, effort — and getting used to.
Even on his previous teams, some teams got it — forcing turnovers, crafting a very good defense, despite all the fouling — and some teams gave up a lot of points, leaning on the surprisingly strong offense to gain tournament berths and winning seasons. (Mike Anderson’s last four Razorback teams were in the bottom half of the defensive efficiency in the SEC.)
Who is playing point guard? While Nick Rutherford certainly has the strength and ball-hawking ability to make a difference, and can pass decently, he is not been much of an offensive threat in his previous stops. Moreover, with the injury to Johnathan McGriff (out for the year) and Rasheem Dunn not eligible, who will play at the point on offense — or on the ball defensively?
The expectation here is that the team will be more prepared than the exhibition opener against St. Thomas Aquinas, where the players seemed tentative, confused and unprepared.
The Rumble will have full coverage, and a live game thread, tonight.