St. John’s Basketball Season Preview

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St. John’s Basketball 2019-20 Season Preview

Recapping the 2018-19 season

In what proved to be Chris Mullin’s last season as coach of the St. John’s basketball program, the Red Storm had an up and down season. There were stretches where the Johnnies looked like a team that could go on a deep run in March. In other instances, they couldn’t get out of their own way.

The Red Storm rode a 12-game winning streak to open the season, although the non-conference offered little in the way of resistance. St. John’s had its moments in Big East play, as they did beat Villanova and swept Marquette in regular-season play. However, they lost five of their last seven regular-season games (including to Marquette in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament).

With a 21-12 overall record and a decent allotment of quality wins, St. John’s did get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Albeit, as the last team in where they got paired up with Arizona State in the play-in game.

St. John’s inconsistent ways reared its ugly head in an ugly 74-65 loss. Shortly after, Mullin and St. John’s parted ways. After a lengthy search for a replacement, St. John’s settled on ex-Arkansas coach Mike Anderson.

While the season had its ups and downs, at least St. John’s was a fun team to watch.

Shamorie Ponds continued to light it up. He left early to go to the NBA, but he gave the fans all they could ask for. He was named to the All-Big East First Team after averaging 19.7 points, 5.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game.

The Johnnies also got a great season from senior guard Justin Simon (10.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game), who won Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

Who’s Back

While the loss of Ponds and Simon will sting, Anderson will inherit two integral pieces in Mustapha Heron (14.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game) and LJ Figueroa (14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game).

Both are bucket getters and players who play with an edge. Heron is the more natural scorer, while Figueroa is a rugged combo forward who leaves it all on the floor.

Outside of them, St. John’s is light on high-end talent. Also returning for the Storm are 6-3 sophomore guard Greg Williams Jr., 6-9 sophomore forward Josh Roberts, and 6-5 forward Marcellus Earlington.

Neither of those players made an indelible mark last season. Expecting a big jump in their games might be asking for too much.

With the team light on experience, it is incumbent on Heron and Figueroa to lead the way.

For Figueroa, he is embracing being a leader on the team after learning from the likes of Ponds, Simon and Marvin Clark last season.

“The focus is obviously on winning and getting better every day,” Figueroa said at Big East media day about his goals for the year. “Coach Anderson has a great resume and all that and he’s getting the best out of us. Last year (in my first year with the club) they showed me a lot. We had great players—Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon, Marvin Clark—they all led the way. I appreciate what they did (welcoming him to the team) and they taught me a lot. Making the tournament (was a blessing). Never a day in my life did I think I’d play in the NCAA Tournament. So that was definitely a blessing and I thank them for everything they did.”

New Additions

Anderson is bringing in seven newcomers as he tries to mix and match them with the holdovers. Only two of them are freshmen: 6-0 point guard John McGriff and 6-7 wing Julian Champagnie. Expect them to be eased into the rotation as neither come to St. John’s amid much fanfare.

Anderson will more likely rely on transfers to complement the likes of Heron and Figueroa—and he has a lot of them to turn to.

Among the standouts are Houston Baptist transfer David Caraher, a 6-6 sophomore wing. Before coming to St. John’s, Caraher was the Southland Conference Freshmen of the Year after averaging 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Expect him to get major minutes.

Rasheem Dunn, a 6-2 junior guard from nearby Brooklyn, is also a major transfer to watch. He comes to St. John’s from Cleveland State (via St. Francis where he averaged 15.4 points). Anderson expects him to provide some scoring and Dunn could start or come off the bench.

Nick Rutherford, a grad transfer from Monmouth, will provide Anderson with more experience. He also played at Florida Atlantic and will probably play off the bench.

Junior college transfer Damien Sears also figures to get some minutes. He comes to the Johnnies after averaging 12.8 points and 8.6 rebounds at Western Oklahoma JC. He is a forward who can play inside and out.

And yet another transfer to watch is Ian Steere, a 6-9 power forward from North Carolina State. He’ll have three years of eligibility left. He is a former four-star recruit and was a high-school teammate of Caraher. So those two will have some chemistry to build on.

St. John’s Basketball Season Expectations

Again, while Anderson does have a great one-two punch in Heron and Figueroa, the rest of the roster has some major question marks. There are too many moving parts to make heads or tails of what could go down in Queens this year.

A new coach, a major loss of personnel and too many newcomers could make for a trying season. That said, St. John’s is not lacking in talent.

It would be a surprise if St. John’s is challenging for a post-season bid with all of they have lost. The better bet is that they will finish near the bottom of the conference, especially considering the depth of the Big East this year.

Prediction: 14-16 overall, 5-13 Big East.

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