St. John's is ready to return to the 68-man field this season. With arguably the conference's best player in D`Angelo Harrison and a talented point guard in Rysheed Jordan, the Johnnies are looking to be on the right side of the bubble this time come March. But it won't be easy. Here are three reasons to humble yourself about Steve Lavin and the Red Storm this season.
Are they ready to escape the middle of the pack?
The Big East consists of a few top tier teams - Villanova, Georgetown and Xavier - and a couple of afterthoughts - Marquette and DePaul. Then there are the teams ready to bust down the door and break in to the NCAA tournament.
St. John's is one of those teams that are consistently fighting to break into the top tier of the Big East. Unfortunately, they haven't been able to. In fact, the Johnnies have made the Big Dance just once in the previous 12 seasons - Lavin's first year in Queens.
With Creighton and Providence primed to take a major drop in production after the losses of Doug McDermott and Bryce Cotton, respectively, there's room for another Big East team to sneak into the tourney. But St. John's can only
The Johnnies are prone to starting slow in conference play
A year removed from a trip to the Big Dance, St. John's started Big East play by dropping 5 of their first 6 games, including a blowout loss at USF (yes, South Florida). A year later, the Red Storm came out of the games losing 3 of 4. They quickly recovered, racking off five straight victories before going 2-7 in February and March. Last season, a five-game losing streak to kick off conference play may have been the difference between the NCAA tournament and the NIT.
It's safe to say if St. John's gets off to another bad start in Big East play, there's a good chance they'll be playing in a secondary postseason tournament come March. Their conference schedule opens up as follows - at Seton Hall, vs. Butler, vs. Villanova, at Providence, at DePaul, vs. Marquette. All six of these games are winnable (we're gonna throw Nova in there as a possible upset due to MSG advantage). If the Johnnies can at least split their first six conference games, they're in good position down the road. But losses at DePaul and at home vs. Marquette could be a death spell for St. John's.
Size is a factor
Boy is St. John's lucky Chris Obekpa decided to return to campus. The 6-foot-10 big man almost left the Johnnies in April, which would've left a major void in the paint for the Red Storm. Had Obekpa left, St. John's would have no player above 6-foot-7 returning for the upcoming season.
Three bigs join Obekpa, most notably Keith Thomas, a JuCo transfer with a history of injury and legal troubles. They also welcome FIU transfer Joey De La Rosa, who's accumulated a total of 49 points in three seasons, as well as his younger brother, Adonis, and fellow freshman Bosnian Amar Alibegovic.
Size is one thing, but it can be made up for with experience, something that this front court is terribly lacking. The hope is that Thomas' adjustment to the D-1 level goes smoothly, and he can stay out of trouble. If so, he and Obekpa can make a formidable presence in the paint for the Red Storm, with the De La Rosa's and Alibegovic getting valuable reserve minutes. But proceed with caution.
What are your concerns, St. John's fans? Let us know in the comments section below.