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Big East 2016-17 Season Preview: St. John’s Red Storm

After a rough 2015-16, St. John’s now turns to this season with the hope of beginning to trend upward in the Big East

NCAA Basketball: St. John's at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It can only go up from here for St. John’s, as last season was a rough start to the Chris Mullin era. Their mark of 8-24 on the season was their worst season since their back-to-back single digit win seasons at the tail end of the Mike Jarvis era and the start of the Norm Roberts era, where the Johnnies went 6-21 and 8-19, respectively.

If anything, last season was more about building from the ground up for the future. It was a massive reset on the part of the program to get back to the point of being consistently in contention and not just in contention every so often as was the case of the last few seasons. That meant going through the growing pains of last season with a limited roster of freshman and transfers. Dealing with a myriad of issues on both sides of the ball.

Despite this, there were glimmers of hope for the Johnnies. Kassoum Yakwe earned All-Big East freshman team honors. Yankuba Sima earned his stripes and showed flashes of potential and what is to come from the center. St. John’s managed to go 7-6 in nonconference play to start the season, which included a win over former Big East foe Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. In the end there were a number of lows for St. John’s,, but also a number of highs for what is to come. Heading into this season is a fresh start and with the addition of talent such as Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett. For Chris Mullin and St. John’s, they are not at the summit just yet but with progression this season they will be there soon.

Last Season

8-24 Overall Record, 1-17 in Conference play

Notable Returnees (2015-16 Stats)

Yankuba Sima - C, Sophomore (7.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 23.4 MPG)

Federico Mussini - G, Sophomore (10.7 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.2 APG, 29.3 MPG)

Kassoum Yakwe - F, Sophomore (7.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.4 APG, 23.4 MPG)

Malik Ellison - G, Sophomore (7.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.6 APG, 24 MPG)

Amir Alibegovic - F, Junior (5.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.7 APG, 15.9 MPG)

Notable Departures

Ron Mvouika

Durand Johnson

Felix Balamou

Christian Jones

Notable Additions

Shamorie Ponds

Marcus LoVett

Richard Freudenberg

Bashir Ahmed

Tariq Owens

Projected Starting Lineup

Guard - Shamorie Ponds

Guard - Marcus LoVett

Forward - Kassoum Yakwe

Forward - Bashir Ahmed

Center - Yankuba Sima

Coach

Chris Mullin (8-24 in one season at St. John’s)

Three Reasons for Optimism

A Year Older

While this might be one of the most simplest reasons to be optimistic about St. John’s in the coming season, it is also true that the bulk of the roster that is returning to Queens will be a bit more seasoned than at the start of last season. Last season was trial by fire for St. John’s notable returnees, but that trial hopefully brought notable gains in player progression for this season. It will be interesting to see how Federico Mussini will play once he is slotted back to his natural position at shooting guard and the continued developments of Kassoum Yakwe and Yankuba Sima into this season as well.

New York Swagger

It’s been discussed for a while, but St. John’s needs to bring back that New York “swagger” that they used to have. It all starts with Shamroie Ponds. A huge commit from Brooklyn, Ponds could very well end up being Rookie of the Year in the Big East. He’s joined by fellow New Yorkers Malik Ellison and Bashir Ahmed, who also look to flourish in the second year of the Chris Mullin era. NYC is the mecca of basketball, and look for that trio to bring the heat back for the Johnnies.

A More Balanced Conference

Yes, Villanova is still the clear favorite by a good margin, and Xavier is the clear number two. But after that, the middle of the conference is a toss up. Why can’t a team like St. John’s sneak into the fray while the middle teams beat each other up. If the Red Storm can turn Carnesecca Arena into a truly hostile environment, it’ll be tough to beat St. John’s in Queens.

Three Reasons for Pessimism

Expect More Teething Problems

St. John’s roster is still relatively young compared to the rest of the conference. If last season was any indication of what might to expect from this team then most likely there will be more growing pains and teething problems for Chris Mullin and company. Part of it has been playing on a learning curve to adapt to the rigors of Big East play which once again will be interesting to see how the Johnnies adapt this time around or if the same issues persist from last season.

Lack of Offense

St. John’s loses its leading scorer from a season ago in Durand Johnson, yet they do retain Federico Mussini, who was second in scoring at almost 11 points per game. After that, their next highest returning scorer is Malik Ellison who averaged 7.3 points per game in 2014-15. Ponds will definitely help the offense, but the best bet for St. John’s is to lock down on defense because the offensive production just doesn’t look like it’ll be there this season.

Back and forth nonconference Schedule Could Provide Problems

The nonconference schedule for St. John’s changes from easy to difficult more than the weather. The first couple of games are very winnable for the Red Storm, and they probably will start 2-0. After that, they play at least three difficult opponents in a row in Minnesota, Michigan State and Baylor/VCU. The following six games are nothing short of a cakewalk for St. John’s until they end the nonconference slate against Syracuse. The problem is that the middle three game stretch could beat up St. John’s to a point where they get down on themselves and let it linger into the stretch of easier games that follow.

Best Case Scenario

Mullin continues to build on and develop his roster over the course of the season, allowing for Kassoum Yakwe and Yankuba Sima to flourish underneath the basket, Shamorie Ponds to flourish from the onset, and hitting the right notes on rotating his guards. On a whole St. John’s still has ways to go before they will be back but in the meantime if everything goes well for St. John’s and they can keep it close in Big East play then they may well be looking at a 12 to 14 win season.

Worst Case Scenario

St. John’s and Mullin fail to adjust on court and fail to learn from the errors of last season, leading to a rough go in non-conference play and a utterly disappointing season in the Big East. If this happens then they might run the risk of another season with a single digit win total for the second season under Chris Mullin’s tenure. If that happens then it will be the first time in program history that a coach for St. John’s has had back to back seasons with win totals in the single digits.