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St. John’s Red Storm Big East Season Preview

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The Red Storm look to move up another level following some small gains last season.

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

ST. JOHN’S RED STORM SEASON PREVIEW

2016-17 Record

14-19 (7-11 Big East) defeated Georgetown in the first round of the Big East Tournament before falling to Villanova in the quarterfinals.

Coach

Chris Mullin is entering into his third season as head coach of the Red Storm. So far, in two seasons on the bench, Mullin is sitting on a mark of 22-43. But at the same time, he has overseen slow but steady progress in rebuilding up St. John’s. Last season, in a lot of ways, was a success for the Johnnies and Mullin. They improved by six wins in Big East play following a rough 2015-16 season in which they only won once in against their peers.

The attention now for Mullin is this upcoming season, the eventful or dreaded third season depending on your perspective. The most notable remark on Year 3 for a coach was by soccer manager Bela Guttman. Guttman, upon entering into the third season with a team, often remarked that “The third season is fatal.”

Then again Guttman, was often the cause for concern as he often found himself in his third season on the way out. Such as at Benfica, where he walked out after being denied a pay raise and in the process also may have cursed Benfica in European competitions.

Anywho, back to Mullin. This season is really the start of St. John’s becoming his team, as it is filled with a roster of his players. How he fares will be interesting, as St. John’s can take the next steps this season or regress. The transition seasons are over. Now begins The Mullin Era in full view.


Key Returnees

Player Year 2016 Stats
Amar Alibegovic Sr. 2.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, .413 FG
Bashir Ahme Sr. 13.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, .394 FG%
Kassoum Yakwe Jr. 4.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG, .425 FG%
Marcus LoVett So. 15.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.8 APG, .464 FG%
Shamorie Ponds So. 17.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, .439 FG
Tariq Owens Jr. 5.2 RPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.2 BPG, .504 FG%

Key Departures

Player Departure Reason 2016 Stats
Malik Ellison Transfer to Pitt 7.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, .419 FG%
Federico Mussini Returned to Italy 8.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.9 APG, .410 FG%
Darien Williams Transfer to Nevada 3.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.2 APG, .540 FG%

Additions

Player 247 Sports Composite Rankings
Bryan Trimble Jr. 3-star, 344th Ovr, 76th Pos, 5th St (Missouri)
Justin Simon Transfer from Arizona
Marvin Clark Jr. Transfer from Michigan State

Projected Starting Lineup

PG Shamorie Ponds

SG Marcus LoVett

SF Bashir Ahmed

PF Kassoum Yakwe

C Tariq Owens

Key Nonconference Matchups

Nov. 16 vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Dec. 8 vs. Arizona State Sun Devils

Dec. 17 vs. Iona Gaels

Dec. 20 vs. St. Joseph’s Hawks

Feb. 3 vs. Duke Blue Devils

Last Season at a Glance

Coming off of 2015-16 season which saw a rough go around in conference play, last season felt refreshing. The most immediate takeaway was the fact that St. John’s finished the season with seven wins in conference play, nearly flirting with a .500 mark on the season. Despite this, the Johnnies put another bugaboo to bed in finally getting their first win the Big East Tournament since 2011.

On the court, there were strides made, as the team took shape. There were the emerging talents of Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett in the back for the Johnnies as they applied their high-scoring touch to the game. Or in Ponds’ case, nearly taking home Big East Freshman of the Year honors.

What makes their feats even more amazing is that they had little experience around them and were still able to force their hand in games. The frontcourt was another area of growth for the Red Storm as Tariq Owens, Kassoum Yakwe, and Bashir Ahmed provided pressure down low. Rebounding, though, was still an issue.

Reasons for Optimism

1. Sophomore Seasons for Ponds and LoVett: It was a treat to watch both Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett go about their business on the court, getting a feel for the game and flourishing as a result. This year, we get to experience that again.. And this time around, they will have a greater feel for the offense. In particular, not having the need to shoot the ball as much. On defense, both still need work. But the talent is there as is the ability to learn and adapt. If both can get a grasp, that is another feather in St. John’s’ cap for this season.

2. The Frontcourt: St. John’s’ frontcourt might be among the best in the conference anchored with the likes of Owens, Yakwe and Ahmed have provided a steady rock down low by the basket. Owens has proved to be a true center and focal point for the Red Storm, while Yakwe and Ahmed have added their talents in getting at the ball and providing options as well.

Ahmed is definitely one to watch in this group as last season he provided the boost that they needed in rebounding leading the team with a 5.2 rebounds per game. Yakwe was behind him with a 3.2 rebounds per game mark. If all can do it again this season then that give St. John’s a steady foundation in the front court for this year and leads little to ponder if there are issues.

3. Steady Progress: It might be the case of over-hyping what St. John’s achieved last season but so far in just two years Chris Mullin has been able to build things up to this point that this season could be the year that St. John’s start taking further steps to get back to a respectable level in the conference.

Not only is the roster is a bit seasoned, but the additions of Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II to the roster present more options on the floor the Red Storm. A .500 season might be in the books if progress continues. They came close last season, so why not this year?

Reasons for Pessimism

1. A False Dawn: As much as St. John’s made progress, it could mean that they regress this time around or show no signs of progression. For example, both Ponds and LoVett’s issues on defense and the frontcourt’s issues with rebounds.

Another issue that could rear its head is on offense. The issue of forcing shots to generate offense instead of finding the right tempo.

Now comes the task for Mullin to start adding on how his team adjusts and plays. If neither happens then this could be a year of stalling for the Red Storm.

2. Defensive Issues: Last season, St. John’s had a -4.5 rebounding margin and at times struggled to retain the ball. In particular, Tariq Owens, for all his gusto that he provides at center, is better as a shot blocker than at getting the ball in the spot when needed. While Ahmed and Yakwe did provide a lift, you still want more on the defensive side especially, as Owens has a lot of versatility on the floor.

Furthermore, there are still issues with defense in the backcourt. Both Ponds and LoVett have their issues. That could very well be chalked up to the errors of youth in a freshman season. Certainly, the amount of time they played led to a lot of exposure. But now comes the part where working and improving on that is needed. This could provide more issues if these issues persist.

3. The Mixer: Let’s face it: The Big East is a tough conference to play in. This season any other could be a nervous go-around for St. John’s. Either they’ll string more wins together, or they could run into the same issues that have been plaguing the team for quite some time. That, of course, being where they go through nonconference play with ease before hitting a wall. Hopefully, that is avoided this year. But if not, it could present issues for the Red Storm.

Best Case Scenario

The best case for St. John’s this season is to keep trending upward and build off of last season’s gains. It is not out of the realm of possibility that if all goes swimmingly for St. John’s this season, they in theory could have a strong showing in nonconference play and finish the season with a .500 mark in conference.

If all does go well, that fight for a fringe spot in the NCAA Tournament could come to pass. The Red Storm could very well swipe that last conference spot from Marquette this year. Along with the prospect of better results this season, the best case on the court is the continued growth and development for both Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett in the backcourt. And in the front court, a continued show of strength.

In all, it could very well be a fun season to watch if you are a fan of the Johnnies.

Worst Case Scenario

The worst case for St. John’s this season is pretty easy to identify. The worst that this season could wrought for the Johnnies is a regressive season on the floor for Mullin and Co., as the Red Storm fail to build off of the fruits of last season. It would see them unable to get out of the lower portion of the Big East standings.

On the floor, this regression can take the shape if both Ponds and LoVett are not able to take next steps necessary. It could also mean that the frontcourt still has difficulties with rebounds and moving the ball, only working out blocks but not retaining the ball. If any of this in fact occurs, then it could be a long season in Queens. They may not get far in the Big East Tournament or appear in any other postseason games this season.

2017-18 Outlook

At this point with the season coming up in clear view the outlook for St. John’s this season appears to be positive with the hope and prospect being a season in which the Red Storm under Chris Mullin continue to take steps in the right direction.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that they can finish in the middle of the pack in the Big East. Nor is it out of the realm of possibility that their could be postseason basketball for the first time under Chris Mullin. We just have to see what happens when the game are played.

At the moment, this team is going to be exciting to watch. They have a little bit more seasoning under them, and have some exciting talents on the roster who are about to make their debuts in red this season.

In all, St. John’s is a team to watch this season. They could end up surprising both admirers and critics alike.