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With this season behind them, St. John’s now looks toward the future

The second year of the Chris Mullin era came to an end on Thursday, but the future remains bright in Queens.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Creighton
All-Freshman selection Shamorie Ponds is poised to be the building block for the Red Storm going forward.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

From a win-loss perspective, maybe the 2016-17 season doesn’t jump off the page for the St. John’s Red Storm. In comparison to the 2015-16 season, there are still some similarities present. For starters, the team still finished below .500 (14-19) and still finished near the bottom of the Big East (7-11 record in league play, good for 8th in the standings).

Next, the team won’t be playing in the postseason, making it two years in a row without a berth in any kind of tournament. It’s not quite the five-year stretch that eventually would go on to do Norm Roberts in, but St. John’s’ woes have been well documented.

However, not everything should be soured. The simple fact is that compared to the 2015-16 edition of the Johnnies, the 2016-17 team pales in comparison. There were noticeable jumps in statistical categories and, hey, even in the win-loss column.

The Red Storm were 8-24 in Chris Mullin’s first year as head coach. Prior to last year, St. John’s had only finished the year with single digit wins 10 times, with two having come when they were in the Big East. You’d have had to go back to their days as an independent and in the old Metro NY Conference to find those times spent in the doldrums. They also won merely one Big East game and were drug through a miserable 16-game losing streak.

This year? The height of the bullying dished out to them was a five-game skid back in mid-November.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational Game 1 Vanderbilt Commodores vs St. John's Red Storm
The woes of 2015 are behind Chris Mullin’s Red Storm, even if the win-loss record doesn’t completely show it.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Statistically, the Johnnies took strides in quite a few categories, mostly on the offensive end. Via KenPom, we can take a look at where the Johnnies made the most improvement.

Stat 2015-16 2016-17 Differential
Stat 2015-16 2016-17 Differential
Adj. Off. Efficiency 96.6 109.2 12.6
Effective FG% 45.4 50.3 4.9
Turnover% 20.9 17.7 -3.2
Off. Reb.% 27.5 27.4 -0.1
FT Rate 38 36.2 -1.8
2PT FG% 44.1 27.5 -16.6
3PT FG% 32 36.4 4.4
FT% 63.2 72.4 9.2

As plain as the eyes can see, the Red Storm were able to make strides. They took a gigantic leap in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, took strides in eFG%, 3-point FG% and FT%. They cut down on their turnovers as well, going from a rate of 20.9 percent to 17.7 percent in Turnover%.

Nothing was completely perfect for them though -- the dip in 2-point FG% is nothing if not noticeable, and their defense was still a big issue for them. That much was echoed on Thursday by their head coach.

“I think defensively we need to improve,” Mullin said following his team’s loss to Villanova regarding the team’s focus in the offseason. “I do think a lot of that will come with strength and maturity. I think a lot of people, me included, players improve a lot in the offseason. That’s the best time to do it. But I also think probably, more so in the college game, like, when they’re in summer school and they’re around each other. It’s really a good time to develop team chemistry. And so I think having more guys playing with each other, working out together in the summertime will be another part of something we haven’t had.”

In that aforementioned press conference, several more questions were asked regarding the future of the program. Mullin would go on to do his best to answer that.

“Improvement,” Mullin answered when asked what he’ll be taking away from his second year as head coach. “Progression, individually and collectively. And lots to look forward to.”

The Johnnies have been able to do pretty well for themselves in the recruiting realm ever since Mullin took over in the spring of 2015. In particular, Shamorie Ponds is the biggest fish that the program has caught. Ponds shined in his first season (he was named the BECB Freshman of the Year) in a Red Storm uniform and put up brilliant numbers.

Ponds, of course, is a New Yorker. He grew up in Brooklyn and would eventually decide to make the jump to Queens to play for Mullin. Getting recruits from NYC (and the surrounding areas) is something that can certainly instill pride for the Red Storm fanbase, alums and the like.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at St. John
St. John’s can only benefit themselves if they’re able to land top talent from within their own city, just like they did with Shamorie Ponds (above).
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The St. John’s coach was asked about whether or not interest is building for kids from The Big Apple to come play for them. “Interest is one thing and getting to be on the team is another,” Mullin plainly stated, and that’s undeniably true. There will always be plenty of talent in the city and the Red Storm can only benefit themselves if they can zero in and haul in the talent around them.

Seton Hall, for example, is a program that has benefitted greatly from recruiting within their own neck of the woods as some of their best players over the past few years (Isaiah Whitehead, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington, Myles Powell) have been from either New York or New Jersey. It’s done wonders for them as a program and as a brand, and they’ve put together two extremely successful campaigns (notably in 2016 when they won the Big East Tournament and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years). And if St. John’s’ future looks as promising as it does right now, then perhaps it will be easier to sell kids on helping them be part of a revival for the Red Storm program.

In postmortem, reflection comes easy. The Red Storm had their fair share of highs (beating Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in particular as well as their win in the Big East Tournament opener over Georgetown on Wednesday night) and a fair share of lows. What was the highest point for Mullin and his team?

“I’d probably say last night was the highlight,” Mullin remarked, discussing the victory over the Hoyas. “For this group of kids to get the first tournament win in five or six years, whatever it was, but also to prove themselves and get on that big stage.”

Mullin would continue, “And I think before last night, we probably had like 84 practices. So after all the film sessions and practices and pep talks, halftime talks and all the stuff that goes on, there’s nothing better than those guys going out and proving to themselves that they can perform on that stage. And so I thought last night was probably something they’ll remember and take into the offseason and use it as a positive.”

And so goes St. John’s into the night, perhaps quietly for now. If Wednesday night -- the Red Storm’s performance as well as the loudness and raucousness of their supporters who packed MSG -- is any indication, then this program could be primed for yet another leap next year.