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Looking forward for St. John’s

After a loss to Arizona State, the Red Storm could look much different next season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Four-Arizona State Sun Devils vs St. John’s Red Storm
Sedee Keita thinks about what might have been.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s put a pin here to start talking about the St. John’s men’s basketball season*.

They finished a 21-13 season with a rough few weeks and a game as the last team in the NCAA Tournament, falling to Arizona State 74-65.

While it doesn’t feel like it given some preseason expectations, winning 21 games is an achievement for this team, even if it had to come with one of the better collections of talent on paper that St. John’s has seen in a while.

But the way this team played it’s hard to not think that there should have been better results in here.

And the way they played gives pause when thinking about the future.

This team went 9-13 from their first Big East game until the end, hitting a particularly hard wall late. Playing off of principles of spacing, and focused on Shamorie Ponds’ ability to create offense off of screens, the Johnnies stuck with what they knew and tried to get out in transition.

Some games were successful. Some were not.

Few were the kind of runaway blowouts one might expect from a team that is one of the 68 best in the country, especially given the high-possession style of Chris Mullin’s team.

The team construction — which we will talk about more at length — was a major issue, as was the inability to adjust to the team construction from the staff. The lack of reliable bench was also an issue, when looking at the players in the last month and a half.

To wit:

Shamorie Ponds was very good, improving his three-point shooting dramatically, honing his offensive arsenal and looking to be pass-first, while reducing his scoring usage. A lot of his rate numbers (assist rate in particular) did not change, but he cut down on turnovers and drew more fouls, along with grabbing more steals.

But his shooting faded late.

LJ Figueroa was a revelation, providing energy and a solid touch inside. He did not fade much.

Marvin Clark II was solid, but faded down the stretch.

Mustapha Heron was strong early, but also faded down the stretch.

Justin Simon’s defense was very good all year, but his offense couldn’t get going.

But that starting five didn’t have much bench to lean on.

Bryan Trimble Jr. logged good minutes but was unable to release many of his three-point bombs. Sedee Keita provided size but struggled to make a consistent impact on both ends. Josh Roberts may have been raw and fouled a lot, but he provided some defensive pep in limited minutes. Marcellus Earlington was productive in garbage minutes, but didn’t see time.

Could next year be better?

Much is in question for next season.

We would expect Chris Mullin to return, despite some calls from the fanbase for his departure. Coaching changes have been considered in the past; with a supposedly stronger Athletic Director, those changes could be forced. Or an assistant could leave for another opportunity.

Mustapha Heron and Shamorie Ponds both looked to go pro last year before returning to campus. Both could return, but both could leave to find professional money in the United States or abroad.

Justin Simon and LJ Figueroa could be back. But Simon could be grad-transfer eligible, as a fourth-year junior. LJ Figueroa could consider looking at pro options early, as well to help his family.

Marvin Clark II will graduate.

There are newcomers on the way in Cameron Mack and Valdir Manuel; sit-out transfers in Ian Steere, David Caraher and Eli Wright, who should all make a significant impact. Added to the freshmen Roberts, Williams and Earlington, along with holdovers Keita and Trimble and FIgueroa, that’s not a terrible start.

That is not a team constructed to go hunt down points the way Heron and Ponds do. That is a team that is front-court heavy, will need heady and selfless point guard play, and will need more precise and crisp schemes to get players in the right positions.

Of course, even those returnees could change, given any changes in the coaching staff.

Your thoughts? (Ed. note: Please do not be insulting to the players, who have worked and trained hard all season and are 18-24 years old.)

* We will do a deeper dive on talent, on the numbers from the season, and more in the coming week.