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Five points: what are the keys to the St. John’s season?

A look at five questions about the promising Red Storm season

Mike Anderson coaches
Wendell Cruz

Five things to look for in this St. John’s season, a year where the team welcomes a large number of additions and transfers, and return the star Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander, along with defensive star Dylan Addae-Wusu...

  • Can the team have an actual, good, lockdown defense?

Last year’s team played a number of thrilling games. And one reason those games were thrilling was because the team could not consistently stop opponents from scoring. This was a year where:

1. Rider put pressure on the Johnnies,

2. DePaul enjoyed their second-highest offensive efficiency while only taking eight three-pointers,

3. and Seton Hall started running the Red Storm out of the gym in two different games before the Johnnies righted the ship

Each of these are symptoms of a defense that allowed the highest effective Field Goal percentage (field goals with a modifier to account for threes) in Mike Anderson’s career. The defensive style requires energy and some gambles — teams are going to score — but the level of scoring required high-level scoring performances from the likes of Julian Champagnie.

St. John’s has to be able to stop opponents if they hope for success in the league — and postseason.

The addition of Montez Mathis to Dylan Addae-Wusu’s grit and flexibility and Posh Alexander’s ability to make chaos will be key.

  • Will Posh get a rest?

But can Posh keep up with the minutes? Alexander played 31 minutes per game, chasing the ball and crashing to the floor with abandon. He also missed two games.

Having a backup guard who can run the offense and make things happen on defense would allow for more spectacular moments from Alexander, and give the team other looks.

Rafael Pinzon, a tall, smooth guard who showed a lot of poise and skill in the summer with Puerto Rico’s U19 team, will be key for the Johnnies. The faster he can acclimate, the more the Red Storm can give Alexander a rest. Stef Smith’s scoring and ballhandling will also be key.

Esahia Nywie rebounds
Wendell Cruz
  • Does the height/ size make a big difference for the Red Storm?

Last year’s St. John’s squad was not prohibitively short, but the team did continue some of their struggles inside. Defensively, they worked hard, sometimes using Marcellus Earlington to bring opponents out beyond the arc, or Dylan Addae-Wusu to slow down more mobile bigs.

But the team struggled to get good looks in the halfcourt at the rim. Certainly, Isaih Moore’s dunks were effective and will be missed, but Champagnie’s occasional struggles off the drive, and the inability to generate post touches that made defenses wary of abandoning the paint negated some of the scoring from Moore.

This season, the Johnnies have the 6’9” Aaron Wheeler, who should be able to stretch the court a little, run the floor almost as well as the departed Moore, and can defend with a bit more strength inside. 6’11” Joel Soriano should provide a player who can draw fouls and score inside. 6’10” Esahia Nywie could add more defensive prowess and the quickness to run the floor. O’Mar Stanley, 6’10”, brings energy to the floor and will get some time.

Will those players make the needed impact? Can they defend against more mobile bigs? Can they rebound well enough to maintain or improve the Johnnies’ rebounding?

  • Can this team shoot — and will they make better shot choices?

Last year’s Red Storm had four three-point shooters who took 20 shots or more but shot under 30%; the only player who took more than 100 threes was Julian Champagnie (who displayed a strong shooting touch).

The team needs more shooting to open up the floor, and Hofstra transfer Tareq Coburn, a 40% shooter last season, and Stef Smith, a 36% shooter last year.

  • Is the league good enough to make up for the schedule?

The schedule does have Kansas, Indiana, Pittsburgh — major conference foes, which will make the strength of schedule look better win or lose — and Colgate and Saint Peter’s, both expected to be near the top of their conference and rack up wins, which helps the strength of schedule.

St. John’s schedule this year has six teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the objective rankings. Those struggling teams will appear as “Q4” games — the kind of game that doesn’t boost St. John’s profile for NCAA Tournament consideration if they win, and will definitely hurt if they lose.

The Big East’s season was not stellar last year; three teams were at-large NCAA Tournament participants, and the fourth team got in as a surprise when Georgetown won the Big East Tournament for a berth.

This year’s Big East needs some big wins to bolster their profiles, which in turn gives St. John’s chances for higher-profile wins. But a lot depends on 1. the league’s teams making waves in the non-conference schedule and 2. St. John’s winning some of those games against the better teams in the league.