St. John’s Red Storm Season Preview
16-17 (4-14 Big East) defeated by Xavier in the quarter finals of the Big East Tournament
Chris Mullin is entering into his fourth season as head coach of the Red Storm. So far in his tenure as head coach, St. John’s been shifting back and forth between going forwards and going backwards as a program. Then again at the same time that Mullin has been at the helm for the Johnnies the program has been in a state of rebuild over the span of these last few years. Still though, much like a slow and steady build up of steam from a locomotive carrying a long freight train, St. John’s has slowly been improving themselves in Mullin’s time.
Each season has seen a steady increase in wins going from a total of eight wins in his first season to 14 in his second season to 16 last season. That is overall though, as the Big East has been a different story with St. John’s best showing in the conference being in Mullin’s second season taking home seven wins. Last season was a drop off with a meager record of 4-14 in conference play, but in that meagerness was signs of improvement over the final stretch of the season with the Johnnies finishing out the regular season with a 5-3 record in which they won four straight games.
Now comes the tricky part. Can Mullin take his team to the next step? On paper he has the talent for St. John’s to take next steps this season, especially with a Big East Player of the Year-caliber player Shamorie Ponds hold down the backcourt. In the grand scheme of things this will be a crucial season for where Mullin goes as head coach of St. John’s, but will be interesting to watch as to how things shake out.
Marvin Clark II
Arrivals for 2018-19
Key Nonconference Matchups
November 19 vs. California
November 20 vs. VCU/Temple
December 1 vs. Georgia Tech
December 9 vs. Princeton
February 2 at Duke
Last Season at a Glance
Over the course of last season, St. John’s finished with an overall record of 16-17 and 4-14 in Big East play. In many different ways, in looking over last season, it’s tough to come to a full conclusion on the season. There were the highs of beating Duke and Villanova to kick start a four-game win streak late in the season. And the lows of the first month of conference play after a stellar run through their nonconference slate.
In all, it was another season of growing pains for St. John’s. But unlike the previous two seasons in the Chris Mullin era, the growing pains weren’t stringing together talent and seeing what works. Instead, it was having the talent and needing to evolve.
The most telling sign of this was the fact that St. John’s were able to keep themselves in games late into the second half. Though at the end, they were unable to hold on due to roster limitations and a lack of rotation. Despite a lack of depth, there were signs of progress from players. The easiest one to talk about is Shamorie Ponds ,who reached the 1,000-point plateau last season and clearly proved to be the brightest of stars and the focal point for the Johnnies. Along with Ponds was the emergence of Justin Simon in the backcourt and Marvin Clark II at forward, both of whom came in through transferring. Simon averaged 12.2 points per game last season and Clark averaged 12.5 with 4.7 rebounds per game over the course of last season.
In the end, it all came together at the end of last season where St. John’s went 5-3 to close out the season in what was looking like another lost year. The hallmarks of this run were the wins against Duke and Villanova, but the other hallmark might have been the boost to the team and a tide of hopefulness to carry into this season.
Reasons for Optimism
1. Shamorie Ponds and the Backcourt: After just two seasons at St. John’s, Shamorie Ponds has already topped 1,000 points and will once again be the anchor. For all the greatness in his scoring prowess, what is often forgotten is Ponds can spread the ball around like paint on canvas, with a excellent 4.7 assists per game mark last season.
Along with Ponds, this year’s back court for the Red Storm is much deeper with options and much more experience. Justin Simon and Bryan Trimble Jr. are both back and ready to go with a bit more under their belts. Coming into the fold is Mustapha Heron on a transfer from Auburn. Last season, Heron averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. His play will be a massive boost for the Johnnies and frankly it is going to be fun to watch him and Ponds connect and get to work on the court.
The experience and level of play in the backcourt for the Red Storm this season will be their focal point for how they want to set up.
2. Depth and Experience: This team is much deeper this season .The transfers being Sedee Keita, Mustapha Heron, and LJ Figueroa, all of whom bring talent and experience with them. Heron last season, as mentioned above, averaged 16.4 points per game. Keita played at South Carolina during their NCAA Tournament run, and Figueroa averaged 21.6 points per game at Odessa College in Texas. Along with this is the return of much of the starting roster last season which will be coming into this year battle tested. They should, in the grand scheme of things, be a fun and talented team.
3. Positive Signs at the End of Last Season: Late last season, the Johnnies were able to turn their fortunes around. This run helped this team figure out their style of play and what is needed to be done to kick it into gear to win out games For much of the season, they had struggled to get that final product. But over this stretch, they were able to get the job done. For this season, this is a good mark for a tested team that could very well be a tough team to play against.
Reasons for Pessimism
1. Mullin’s Clock Might be Ticking: This could be a make or break season for Chris Mullin as head coach of St. John’s. There is a great deal of hype around the team this season but turning hype into success will be the measure at the end of the day for. If things go pare shape for the Johnnies, then that seat could get quite warm as the season goes on. Hopefully this does not come to pass and St. John’s does take the next steps, but it could be lingering in the background if the Red Storm’s ship starts to sail towards the rocks.
2. The Jump from Nonconference to Conference Play: St. John’s has struggled over the last few seasons to make the jump from nonconference play into conference play. They usually play quite well against non-con opponents, with the majority of St. John’s wins over the last few seasons coming outside of the Big East. But they either hit a wall or peter out at the tip of Big East play. It could be a long season once again if they are not able to take this next step. At the end of the day, nonconference wins are nice, but measuring yourself against teams from the Northeast Conference is not that much of a measure compared to the Big East.
Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario is everything clicks for St. John’s and the Red Storm have their first winning season in the Chris Mullin era. The talent is here, along with the experience and depth for this team to have a great season. It is not out of the realm of possibility that this team could fight for a tournament spot. And in this case, that is where this scenario leads to a potential fourth or fifth place finish in the conference and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case scenario is more of the same from the last few seasons. Once again St. John’s stalls out on the court and shows no signs of progress as a team in Chris Mullin’s fourth season. The end result being most likely being the end of Mullin as head coach at St. John’s with the Red Storm searching for new options to right the ship either at the end of this season or the following one.
Overall this could be the season for St. John’s. There is a mix of talent and depth on the roster to that will help the Johnnies get over the hill. Heading into this season there is a great deal of hype around the team and how this season could play out.
Shamorie Ponds is back and ready to go, as is Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II. There is Mustapha Heron and Sedee Keita both waiting in the wings as well. It is not out of the realm of possibility that this team can get to the NCAA Tournament based on the projections for this season. The Red Storm are looking at a fifth or fourth place finish in the conference this season.
With the conference being much more open this season, this a bonus for Chris Mullin and allow more room for the team to work with. In the end, this has the makings of a fun season for St. John’s. Now the only thing left to take place is for the season to tip off.