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St. John’s men’s basketball opponent preview: Stony Brook

The Rick Pitino era begins with an on-campus game versus a rebuilding Seawolves team

Stony Brook center Keenan Fitzmorris shouting with tons of emotion after an apparent dunk (?) Stony Brook University Athletics

Last week, St. John’s officially unveiled their non-conference slate for the 2023-24 men’s basketball season. From Garden games against Michigan and Fordham, participating in the very deep Charleston Classic tournament, and hitting the road for an old Big East clash with West Virginia, there are eye-catching games everywhere you look. Over the next few weeks, we will break down every opponent (including every potential foe in Charleston) that await the Red Storm, starting with the Stony Brook Seawolves of the newly-renamed Coastal Athletic Association.

Game #1: Stony Brook (Tuesday, November 7th)

2022-23 Results: 11-22 (6-12 in America East), no postseason

Key returners: Tyler Stephenson-Moore (14.3 ppg), Dean Noll (10.3 ppg in 2021-22 at Cornell), Keenan Fitzmorris (9.8 ppg), Kenan Sarvan (7.5 ppg), Toby Onyekonwu (7.3 ppg)

Key departures: Frankie Policelli (13.7 ppg, transferred to Charleston), Aaron Clarke (graduated), Tanahj Pettway (transfer portal), Kaine Roberts (signed pro deal to Japan)

Key newcomers: Andre Snoddy (9.5 ppg at Central Connecticut)

Trivia: St. John’s and Stony Brook share the same student section name, “The Red Zone”

The Rick Pitino era begins with a tune-up game against a local opponent in Stony Brook, whom the Red Storm have bested in each of their previous nine matchups. The two teams last met on December 6th, 2020 when St. John’s routed Stony Brook, 89-66, in front of hundreds of gazing cardboard cutouts.

Last season, the injury bug ravaged the Seawolves in what was already viewed as a rebuilding year for them. Multiple important role players suffered early season-ending injuries, cascading Stony Brook to an 11-22 record and a program-worst KenPom finish of 328th. The spring departures of Frankie Policelli and Aaron Clarke from a team already deprived of experience have left head coach Geno Ford with a host of problems to solve on the North Shore of Long Island.

The coach: Geno Ford

15th season overall, fifth season at Stony Brook (58-61)

201-206 career record, two NIT appearances, two CIT appearances

Despite absurd injury misfortune, Ford did not settle for excuses after the disappointing season.

“It wasn’t acceptable to anybody,” Geno Ford said in an April article with Stony Brook student newspaper The Statesman, “It certainly wasn’t acceptable to me, the fans, or to the administration. We need to win more.”

Expressing urgency to win at a mid-major program with only one NCAA tournament appearance sounds alarmist, but when you look at the track record for Ford’s predecessors, Jeff Boals and Steve Pikiell, you will find that they each finished their tenures with winning records and multiple postseason appearances. Entering his fifth season at Stony Brook, Geno Ford has a 58-61 record and is still searching to punch his first ticket to one of the three postseason tournaments. As Ford said himself, the results must start showing.

The players

In a crowded CAA with upstarts like Charleston, Hofstra, Towson, and UNC Wilmington in contention for a conference title, it’s difficult to envision Stony Brook emerging to the top of the fray without substantial improvements by their returning players.

A clear trio of top options sticks out for the Seawolves. Leading scorer and fifth-year guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore (14.3 ppg) might be the fastpass the Seawolves need for CAA title contention if he can excel in an even larger role after Frankie Policelli transferred to Charleston.

7-foot-1 senior center Keenan Fitzmorris left 2022-23 on a high note, averaging 13.8 points per contest in his last eight games, and he is a dark horse to receive all-conference accolades at the end of this season if he can carry over that performance into a new season. Central Connecticut State transfer Andre Snoddy should settle into a more compatible role as a ball-handling wing after being pigeonholed as a big man out of necessity on a drastically undersized Blue Devil team.

Other returnees include guards Jared Frey and Cornell transfer Dean Noll, the former returning after missing all but opening night due to a foot injury and the latter missing last season entirely due to a torn ACL. The lack of reliable outside shooting raises red flags as Toby Onyekonwu (34.3%) and Kenan Sarvan (31.1%) are the only returning players to average 30 percent or better from three-point range on one or more attempts per game.

Forecasting the game

This game is a work in progress for both teams and certain plays will show that Rick Pitino will need to tinker a few things, but the talent discrepancy is apparent from tip-off. The Seawolves’ turnover woes from last season are laid bare against a hyper-aggressive St. John’s press defense and Stony Brook’s faulty long-range game does them no favors for any fantastical hope of crashing Pitino’s debut party. St. John’s will control the game for all forty minutes and win convincingly by 25.