After 242 days of waiting, St. John’s men’s basketball will play competitive basketball, when they host the Merrimack Warriors tomorrow night on the opening day of college basketball. The Johnnies will look pretty different from last season, most notably with the loss of Julian Champagnie to the NBA, and with the additions of some big name transfers and freshmen.
The Red Storm are coming off a solid preseason, where they played three games in August in a trip to the Dominican Republic, taking down the Dominican U22 National Team and the GUG All-Stars but falling to the Dominican Senior National Team. More recently than that, they took down a couple of D-III [whoops, D-II] squads, Adelphi and Southern New Hampshire, in exhibition matches.
St. John’s looks to start off their season strong and rebound from a disappointing season last year, where they had hopes of dancing in March but failed to make not only the NCAA Tournament but also the NIT. The Johnnies are expected to be around the middle of the pack this season, coming in at 6th out of 11 in the Big East preseason coach’s poll.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (17-15 last season) vs Merrimack Warriors (14-16 last season)
When: Monday, November 7, 2022, 6:45 PM
Where: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, New York
TV: FS1 for merged Big East wraparound coverage | Full game on FoxSports or Foxsports app
Odds: St. John’s -20.5
History: With Merrimack beginning only their fourth season of Division-I basketball after making the switch from D-II, the two programs have never faced off.
Scouting the Warriors
Coming into the matchup, Merrimack has a KenPom ranking of 291 of the 358 Division-I teams, compared to St. John’s ranking of 37. The Warriors were selected to finish first in the Northeast Conference in the preseason coach’s poll. Even if they were to be the best NEC regular season team, they would be ineligible for any postseason events because they are only in their fourth Division-I season as they transition to full Division-I status.
The Warriors will return 60% of last year’s minutes and 63% of last year’s scoring, with their most notable loss being 5-11 guard Mikey Watkins, who will play as a grad transfer for UMass-Lowell this upcoming season.
Last season, Watkins started in all 30 games, averaging 9.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.8 steals. Some other rotation players they lost from last season are Malik Edmead, who transferred to UAlbany, and Devin Jensen, who graduated.
Merrimack returns their leading scorer, 6-8 senior forward Jordan Minor. Last season Minor started all 30 games for the Warriors, averaging 15.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 2.4 blocks, earning his second career First Team All-NEC honors. He will be a test for the Red Storm forwards.
6-6 senior guard-forward Ziggy Reid, Merrimack’s only other double digit scorer last season, also returns, after a season where he averaged 11 points and 4.9 boards.
Besides Minor and Reid, three other rotation players return for Merrimack. They return a pair of shooting threats in 6-2 senior guard Mykel Derring and 6-5 senior guard Jordan McKoy.
Last season, Derring averaged 5.9 points, shooting 35.2% from three on 4.7 attempts per game, while McKoy averaged 4.7 points, shooting 38.1% from deep on 3.2 attempts. The other returning player is 6-7 sophomore stretch four Nick Filchner, who was inserted into the rotation in the middle of last season, averaging 3.3 points and providing the Warriors with a solid offensive threat off the bench.
There will be two transfers playing for Merrimack this upcoming season, 6-4 sophomore guard Devon Savage and 6-0 sophomore guard, who are both coming from James Madison. Neither contributed that much for the Dukes, but could both look to see some playing time for the Warriors due to their D-I experience.
In terms of true freshmen, the Warriors have five on the roster. In the backcourt, they have 6-5 guard Jordan Dercack, 5-11 guard Javon Bennett, and 6-1 guard Chevalier Emery Jr, while in the frontcourt they have 6-7 big Bryan Etumnu and 6-6 forward Elliott Black.
Keys to the Game
Set the tone for the season. Last season, the Johnnies had issues with playing close games against inferior opponents. They can’t allow this to happen again, the Red Storm need to set the tone for their non-conference schedule with a blowout win against a bad team.
Solid defense. Using Mike Anderson’s defensive system, St. John’s needs to play well on the other side of the ball with solid defense, especially on the perimeter against some solid three-point threats on Merrimack.
Give a lot of looks out. It is the first game of the season against a very inferior opponent, so the Red Storm should be able to give looks to a lot of their guys to see what works. This is especially important this season, as the Johnnies have quite a few players who deserve rotation minutes, and do not have an solidified number one option on offense, as they have had in previous year with guys like Julian Champagnie and Shamorie Ponds.
St. John’s comes out with a solid statement win, taking down Merrimack 89-65.