St. John’s commences a new era of Red Storm basketball on Wednesday night. Head coach Mike Anderson will coach his first game in Queens against the Mercer Bears.
The energy around this upcoming team is very different than last season’s squad. The new-look Red Storm are largely unproven and unexperienced. They hope that there is enough natural talent on this roster to play a successful version of fast-paced high-pressure style of basketball.
The time for speculation is over and the time for legitimate games on the hardwood has arrived.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (0-0) vs. Mercer Bears (0-0)
When: Wednesday, November 6th, 6:30 PM ET
Where: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, NY
TV: Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports Go.
Audio: St. John’s website will provide free audio for the season opener. That stream can be found by clicking here.
Tickets: You can secure a seat for a low of $30 by clicking here.
Last Meeting: Friday’s game will be the first-ever meeting between St. John’s and Mercer.
[Also, check out our Big East preseason profiles.]
Famous Mercer Alumni
Gregg Allman (musician), Nancy Grace (TV personality), Erick Erickson (political commentator), Jay Sekulow (lawyer), John Birch (missionary, inspiration for anti-Communist John Birch Society), Sam Mitchell (basketball player/ coach)
Like St. John’s, the Bears will also be led by a new head coach. Greg Gary comes to Mercer after spending the last eight seasons as an assistant to Matt Painter at Purdue. Gary was responsible for calling Purdue’s offensive sets and developing their wing and post players.
Coach Gary will certainly be called upon to develop versatile forwards at Mercer. The Bears lost their two top forwards last season in Fardaws Aimaq and Cory Kilby.
Aimaq was the leading rebounder on a team that struggled mightily on the glass, especially the on the defensive side of the ball. His five rebounds per game will surely be missed on a team that finished 299th in the country in rebounds per game.
The good news for the Bears frontcourt is that 6-foot-8 forward Luke Hamilton returns. Last season this Texas native only averaged about nine minutes per game. However, entering his sophomore season, it is likely he will see more action.
The bad news is that the tallest person the Bears played during the exhibition game was 6’6” James Glisson III, an energetic freshman that Mercer was excited to land late in the spring.
The strength of this Mercer team is found in the backcourt. The Bears four highest scorers last year were all guards; three of those players are back.
The main focus for St. John’s will be senior guard Ross Cummings. Last season, he led the team with 17 points per game. He also shot nearly 40% from three-point last season. He was named to the 2018-19 All-SoCon Second Team for his play. The Johnnies better be sure to contain Cummings.
Fun fact about freshman guard Diego Rivera: he scored 76 points in a half of high school basketball. We can’t compute how that happened, either.
Keys to contest
Contain Cummings: In a high-pressure defense, the easiest way to take advantage is to spot up and calmly shoot threes, gaining control and making St. John’s work harder to keep up. With a new defense with lots of wrinkles, look for the team to communicate well and cover the shooters in what looks to be a four-guard attack.
Punish the Bears frontcourt: Mercer looks to be thin in the front court. This game is a chance for players like Josh Roberts and Damien Sears to build confidence — and to help balance the Red Storm.
Energy: Mike Anderson’s system calls for unrelenting pressure defense. Teams that revolve around pressure defense are at their best when energy levels are high. Sending the defense to defend full court all game can not only be taxing for the opponent, but to the defenders. St. John’s needs to play with energy and avoid looking winded. If they can prove their stamina in this contest, they should retire Mercer fairly easily.
While Mercer is a cut above some of the later opponents the Red Storm will face, St. John’s should have the better team. They should play inspired basketball for their coach in his first ever game at St. John’s. I would expect the Johnnies to win their season opener pretty comfortably.
St. John’s: 90