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Jamal Branch, Marco Bourgault add skill to the backcourt

A new playmaker and a new shooter help boost the backcourt; but improvement from the four returning guards and wings will carry the Red Storm.

Robert Kowal

The official college basketball season tips off today, with Red Storm Tip-Off - to be broadcast on ESPN3. The returning Johnnies were a top-5 ranked recruiting group, a deep cadre of well-regarded players. But playing six players - even if one is the 15th pick of the draft - is not a recipe for success, and having all of those players as newcomers means that the team suffered growing pains.

Like the great and fictional Shane Falco said, Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever.

The returnees

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Frontcourt preview
Red Storm -Tip Off (section)
Red Storm in Review:
God`sGift Achiuwa
Amir Garrett
Phil Greene
D`Angelo Harrison
Sir`Dominic Pointer

This year, Steve Lavin's crew works to show the world that they were highly-rated recruits for a reason, and that they can contend for the Big East championship in an era where the Big East needs new marquee programs to step up.

In the backcourt, the Red Storm will be led by D`Angelo Harrison, one of the Big East's best returning scorers. He'll need to improve his shooting, and will get a chance to be a playmaker. Harrison is deeply talented, and will be the team's "veteran" presence, working to balance his aggression with intelligent play.

Joining him is the active scorer Phil Greene, looking to strengthen his overall game with better shot selection and an expansion of his range.

And shoring up the defense and providing highlights will be Sir`Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett. Both need to diversify their games to take the next step. Amir Garrett is no stranger to passion and aggressiveness. His willingness to attack would be greatly aided by a better skill level with his dribble and shooting. Meanwhile, Sir`Dom Pointer has to expand his game from the defensive role player into a scoring force.

Read more detail in Rumble in the Garden's Red Storm in Review series.

Where do the newcomers fit?

Rumble_icon_x-small_copy_mediumTexas A&M transfer Jamal Branch [Rumble's post-commit profile] will, once eligible in December, be an essential addition to the Red Storm. Last year's Johnnies struggled at times against pressure, and struggled to create shots in the half court. Branch, a defensive talent and a very good passer, will be able to make some plays that the returning St. John's players couldn't.

Added offensive cohesion will put the wings Garrett and Pointer in the position to be finishers, not creators; their high-flying finishing skills should benefit from a deft passer. Branch's abilities should be able to find easier catch-and-shoot opportunities for a team that struggled to shoot.

How much impact will he have? His shortened season doesn't give a lot of context to his stats, but he was a very good passer (assisting on 29% of his teammates' shots at Texas A&M), but needed to cut down on turnovers.

Rumble_icon_x-small_copy_mediumMonroe College junior college transfer Marco Bourgault [Rumble recruiting profile] provides scoring punch from the perimeter. Bourgault (also known as Marc-Antoine Bourgault), a 6'6" wing, took nearly two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc and shot 42%.

His shooting will hopefully translate and open up a little more space for the new Red Storm frontcourt. In what seems to have been a fast-paced style, Bourgault got his shots up - and provided a boost in passing, a bit of defensive rebounding, and the occasional steal. Bourgault didn't draw many foul shots, and seemed to be a spot-up shooter.

Bourgault's ability to shoot and handle with few turnovers (turnovers on 15% of his possessions) should be a solid complement to Steve Lavin's team.

Rumble_icon_x-small_copy_mediumFelix Balamou [Rumble post-commit profile], the 6'4" wing from Guinea and Our Savior New American on Long Island, has to work on his skill level. But his energy level is high and his athleticism is exciting. In this year's Blue Ribbon Preview, he was listed as a candidate for a redshirt year. That may make sense; he would see little time behind Garrett/ Pointer/ Harrison/ and Bourgault.

Rumble_icon_x-small_copy_mediumThe 6'6 Max Hooper [Rumble post-commit profile] will redshirt after transferring from Harvard, where he didn't see much time. Hooper projects to be much like Bourgault - a spot-up shooter to extend the range of the Red Storm's offense.

Headline photo courtesy Robert Kowal.

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