As we get set for Big East Media Day, it is clearly time to fill in some gaps in the conventional knowledge around St. John’s in the Big East.
Opening up a preseason guide or review of the Big East, common themes have been:
- Villanova’s the class of the league
- Seton Hall is set to make a run
- Marquette has a guy who scores a lot
- St. John’s had a long search for a head coach, often described as a tumultuous offseason.
Let’s chat about that last one, because the conversation leans toward a drama-filled point in time, and not the team that will be earning the wins and losses this winter.
The SEARCH was tumultuous, loud, and involved some salty public denials, some bad fan behavior, pearl-clutching from some in the media. The St. John’s coaching search ended with a coach that did not fit the model anyone would have picked for St. John’s, thought to be a program that could only hire from an insular pool of candidates.
The OFFSEASON, though? Given the start of the offseason and a coaching change, it was probably a pretty good offseason, relatively speaking.
The Red Storm lost one committed recruit in Cam Mack, who they may have lost anyway if Chris Mullin remained on the sidelines.
Mack was recruited by Matt Abdelmassih, and Abdelmassih was a sure thing to follow Fred Hoiberg to Nebraska, a move that was anticipated in February. (Would Valdir Manuel have qualified? Despite the always-need for bigs in Division I, Manuel is still at the JUCO Harcum & fielding offers. Just saying.)
The team kept most of the transfers that were awaiting their time on the court, added some transfers who may have some impact.
But most importantly, the Red Storm brought in a coach with a cohesive style and sideline experience in getting players to execute that style.
None of this is to say that St. John’s SHOULDN’T be picked at the bottom of league predictions.
The Red Storm return 36% of last year’s on-court minutes, lowest in the Big East.
There is no clear high-usage, high-efficiency player to replace the ballhandling creativity and bail-out scoring of Shamorie Ponds.
This roster has a number of players that either are low-usage players – turning on the ability/ want to score isn’t as easy as just getting more time – or players who may try to take too much into their hands on the court.
The mix is untested, the roster is filled with question marks – even on the stars. Is Mustapha Heron healthy enough to be the impact scorer he was at Auburn? Is LJ Figueroa ready to carry the team on his back as a focal point of the offense?
Will this team defend better than last year’s squad?
Yes, St. John’s has an uphill battle to improve, or even maintain last year’s level of play.
There is far more potential here than in Mullin’s first year, of course. There are sit-out transfers who were believed to be able to make an impact. The team also has a number of sophomores who have had time to shore up their game, improve on defending without fouling, and who may get enough minutes to get into a rhythm.
- David Caraher was a strong scorer on all three levels at lower-level Houston Baptist; can he provide outside-in scoring as a sophomore?
- Allowed to crash the glass and blessed with speed, Josh Roberts might make more of an impact, especially with a year of experience and training.
- Greg Williams, Jr. showed promise with his defensive athleticism and slashing quickness; his outside shot may improve in his sophomore year.
- Marcellus Earlington was very productive in limited garbage-time minutes last year, showing a high motor.
- When eligible, Ian Steere brings good size and, hopefully strength and rebounding inside.
- Damien Sears looks to know his role and provide interior toughness.
- Nick Rutherford is a strong defender, and, in the right role, could be a solid glue piece.
- Julian Champagnie looks to have a solid motor, a hard-working and versatile player.
- Johnathan McGriff is quick and tough, and was said to be a solid point guard on the high school level.
- Rasheem Dunn is a player who can get his shot, and with strong scorers around him, may be more efficient.
Again, none of this is to say that St. John’s will vault up the standings.
There are so many unknowns.
There are so many players who need to take a sophomore leap, which holds more true for top-150 players than it does for developmental players.
There are so many newcomers who need to know their role or exceed their past effectiveness.
But this team is certainly more than St. John’s Botched Coaching Search.
[More on the changes between last year and this year, tomorrow.]