The St. John's Red Storm won their exhibition matchup against Sonoma State on Saturday, but still displayed worrying personnel issues - which was expected, with over 95% of the scoring and minutes from last season gone, with up to five freshmen taking the floor, with three players who sat out last season - all of whom are coming together at St. John's under a coach and staff who are also new.
Here are three points of note from the preseason, looking toward the regular season opener against Staten Island's Wagner College.
The rust needs to be shaken off.
The Red Storm were hoping for big scoring efforts from some of the transfers - the scorer Darien Williams from the City College of San Francisco; Durand Johnson from Pittsburgh, a senior; and Ron Mvouika, a senior from Missouri State.
But each of those players did not play competitively last year for various reasons... and it shows.
Durand Johnson is searching for his shot in the offense. Williams is getting his shots, but is shooting 3/16 from the field (1/9 from beyond the three-point line) in the two preseason games. Mvouika is figuring out how his versatile game fits.
Their rust means that freshmen have to bear the scoring load. And with non-top-20 freshmen, that's a dicey proposition, filled with up days and down days. Each of those players comes with some positive history at their previous schools, and it's hard to imagine that all three won't be far better in a few games. But with a long season looming, St. John's would like to file away some wins from cupcakes like Wagner and Rutgers to help before taking on the competition at the Maui Invitational.
Christian Jones & Yankuba Sima bring effort in the paint.
In two games, Christian Jones - previously the quiet player at the end of the bench who logged forgettable minutes - has averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds, looking to attack the basket in the post. Granted, the opponents have been short, Division II schools, but given earlier chances, Jones had never distinguished himself.
Joining the party against Sonoma State was Yankuba Sima, who looked to have a bit of an offensive post game coupled with a relentlessness to chase loose balls in his area under the basket. The Spaniard, slim as he is, shows great effort in the paint, a hard skill to teach even talented players.
They could use help from Amar Alibegovic, the big body who has not yet asserted his size or his shot in preseason play; but at the very least, the Red Storm have something to work with in the paint, instead of hoping that the three-pointers would go down or that the layups actually fall.
Scoring is going to be a problem - is LoVett the answer?
St. John's waits on the eligibility of Marcus LoVett, the crafty quick ballhandler from Indiana (who also went to school in California and in Illinois). Now, of course, a player that goes to many different schools raises a red flag with the NCAA.
But on the court, is Marcus Lovett the answer? He's a talented point guard, a four-star recruit. But he can't make up for the current lack of scoring from the veterans on the squad, who need to shake off the rust. And he doesn't make up for the thin paint. And even at his best, expecting him to carry the team might be a big load, one that could result in a lot of turnovers.
For this St. John's team, the scoring is going to likely come from cohesion more than it comes from a savior. Where recent St. John's teams looked to a singularly talented scorer (Dwight Hardy, D`Angelo Harrison), Mullin's team looks to be in the preseason games, unselfish to a fault. But that unselfishness - along with some errant shooting - has not translated into points.
But as the shooters learn their teammates' moves, get better at spacing in the team game, and confidently knock down shots, the scoring will improve.
And Marcus LoVett's crafty ability to get into the lane will break down defenses, giving open driving lanes, off-balance defenders, and opportunities for open three-point shots.
On paper, anyway.