Tomorrow morning, the Big East kicks off the annual media day, a hype fest where every team is a possible winner, every coach has hope, and where there is always a player snubbed for a more well-known player in the morning’s awards.
After a strange, ponderously long and muted year, worrying about the swath of coronavirus death, arguments about masks and restrictions, it will be nice to focus on a basketball, and to have fans* in the seats.
* depending on in-arena restrictions, pandemic numbers, local laws re: vaccination status, of course.
St. John’s, for its part, walks into the media scrum at Madison Square Garden tomorrow as an intriguing program, perhaps befitting the too-prominent-to-keep-failing stature that many in the media put on the one major conference squad from New York City.
This may be the year where the combination of a solid coach (last year’s Coach of the Year, Mike Anderson after all), last year’s Freshman of the Year and co-Defensive Player of the Year (the steal-generating Posh Alexander), and the possible Big East Preseason Player of the Year (Julian Champagnie, a member of the league’s First Team and Most Improved Player) come together to pull the Red Storm to the NCAA Tournament.
Preseason hype has the Johnnies receiving votes, on the edge of preseason NCAA Tournament brackets, and at times in the top four in the Big East.
Is that good enough for a tournament berth? Will the team be handicapped by a schedule with few opportunities for signature wins before league play?
Last year’s team may have impressed, but was also a team that struggled to put away Saint Peter’s and Rider, a pair of teams ranked in the lower 150 of college basketball. And speaking of the tempo-free rankings, St. John’s was ranked below #60 in both KenPom and T-Rank ratings.
But the personnel changes may help with many of the on-court issues (defense, particularly), despite the departure of eight players. The defense suffered from struggles to defend in the paint, lapses in judgement on defensive rotations, and an inability to be competent on the defensive glass in league play.
Six transfers and three freshmen may be a lot to shape into a good team. But the Red Storm have the benefit of having their point guard seasoned with a year of heavy minutes, and a scoring forward who showed he can carry the scoring load.
Where the team goes next is up to how well the newcomers, mostly from winning programs, mesh with the coach’s style and with the team’s stars.
The season starts soon, and this year, there will be fans and [somewhat more] normalcy.