Archive for the ‘St John’s’ Category

With the liquidation of the Big East in 2013 with charter members Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and other universities bolting for greener pastures in another conference many presumed the Big East brand was mortally wounded. Many national pundits were more than willing to provide the eulogy for the once great conference has boasted about how a conference that had superstars such as Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin was not the powerhouse it once was. Yet the results of the 2016 NCAA tournament beg to differ.

First the Big East conference was able to have five teams make the NCAA tournament which is half of the conference. The five tournament participants are two more bids than what the SEC received which happens to have a total of fourteen teams. The Big East was also successful as a whole in the first round as the conference went 4-1 in the first round with only Seton Hall being ousted. Yet in the second round only Villanova was able to advance to the Sweet 16.

Villanova which conquered previous critiques as in the last two seasons Nova was unable to advance past the first weekend. The Wildcats were able to break through their own personal roadblocks and became the sole team carrying the banner of the Big East. And Villanova represented the Big East tremendously by dominating Miami 92-69 in the Sweet 16 and conquering basketball blue blood Kansas 64-59. Many of those that were proclaiming the passing of the Big East need to realize that a Big East team is two wins away from a national title.

Syracuse’s success also has validated the Big East in two different ways. First Syracuse head Basketball coach Jim Boeheim was asked to compare the strength of the ACC to the Big East. Boeheim did not answer which could be inferred to mean that one of the founding fathers of the Big East will not degrade the past just to gain some publicity for his new conference.

Second is a December game between Syracuse and St. Johns at Madison Square Garden. In that contest the Red Storm obtained a convincing 84-72 win over their arch rival. And for first year coach Chris Mullin that victory was their one shining moment and it just gets brighter with every Syracuse win in this tournament.

As the clock expired at Alumni Hall in Jamaica Queens the scoreboard showed a sight that has not been seen in over two months with the Red Storm picking up an 80-65 victory over DePaul. The home crowd and home team could finally celebrate that elusive win that they have come close to achieving several times before but could not grasp in conference play. Now today is a new day and all focus and effort should be directed to the next opponent for the Johnnies, their Big East rival Seton Hall.

Seton Hall is currently a bubble team that has not yet solidified their at-large berth in the 2016 NCAA tournament. The Pirates currently rank 42 in the RPI and do hold a marquee win at Providence but the key conference win has been losing it’s luster by the way the Friars have been playing lately. With their current status the Pirates have no margin for error and a bad loss could disintegrate the Hall’s tournament chances.

Of course there is more to this match-up than possible NCAA tournament positioning when the two teams collide at the Mecca of basketball this Sunday afternoon. The best player for Seton Hall, Isaiah Whitehead, is no stranger for the loyal fans of the Red Storm. Whitehead went to Lincoln High School in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn and chose to go to the Hall instead of committing to then St. John’s coach Steve Lavin in the fall of 2013. Kevin Willard did receive a “tiny” assist from Whitehead’s coach who delivered Whitehead in exchange for a spot on the Pirates coaching staff.

Seton Hall was the dark horse entering the 2015-16 season after limping to the end of the 2015 season and having Jaren Sina announce he was transferring in February of 2015 only to be joined in the exodus from Orange, NJ by Sterling Gibbs who is a graduate transfer at UCONN this season. Whitehead has led a solid group of sophomores that includes Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington and the rest of the Pirates to this point. Whitehead has switched to point guard and has altered his game from a high-volume shooter to a more balanced offensive player that is able to facilitate scoring for his teammates.

Now outside a miraculous run that would surpass the 1983 NC State team coached by Jim Valvano after the Big East tournament Chris Mullin and his squad will be finished for the 2016 season. The role St. John’s can play best for the duration of the season is spoiler and what better than providing a resounding upset that potentially eliminates a rival team from competing in the NCAA tourney this year.

One word that fans shutter to hear is when their beloved team is rebuilding. That one word is usually used to describe a team that will not be able to claim many victories in the current season. So far the St. John’s Red Storm has had a difficult time since their upset victory over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden on December 13th 2015. Since that day the Red Storm have been unable to obtain another victory and had setbacks against Incarnate Word and NJIT. While many fans are trudging through a challenging season, the dark days will not last and success is on the horizon.

Certain programs need to obtain certain achievements or benchmarks to be considered a success. Blue blood programs would demand a Final Four appearance to be successful while certain mid-majors would be exalted winning a conference title. At St. John’s a fair annual goal would be to obtain an invitation to the NCAA tournament which was done 18 out of 24 times with Lou Carnasseca at the helm.

The roster projection currently has eight members who are projected to have eligibility for the next two seasons. Reinforcements will also come from within with Marcus Lovett and Tariq Owens being eligible starting in the fall of 2016. Darrien Williams, the JUCO transfer, should also be healthy enough to add depth and size for the Johnnies. There are also two prized recruits heading to Jamaica Queens in the fall with Shamorie Ponds and Bashir Ahmed joining the Red Storm. The recruiting class in expected to grow too with Mullin and staff honing in on other high-caliber athletes and hopes to secure their talents.

Now when will Chris Mullin lead his alma mater to the big dance? The 2016-17 season will be an improvement over this current season and it will most likely be an NIT bid for the Red Storm. The team as a whole will be more experienced, tougher, and deeper. There will be upgrade at the point guard position with Lovett being eligible and Ponds being able to handle the ball in Lovett’s absence. Federico Mussini will be able to play off the ball which will allow him to focus on shooting threes and not acting as the primary facilitator. Yankuba Sima should be physically stronger which would improve his post scoring and rebounding.

When the 2018 NCAA field is announced the St. John’s Red Storm should be in the field of 68. The current freshman class will be upperclassmen and should have gone through their growing pains and start receiving dividends from the obstacles they have faced. At that time the gloom and doom should be removed from the faithful followers who have persevered through tumultuous times.

A week ago St John’s fans were basking in the euphoria of handily defeating former Big East arch-rival Syracuse at the World Most Famous Arena. After a tumultuous 48 hours where the Red Storm lost to Incarnate Word and NJIT at Carnesecca Arena feelings of trepidation started to develop. Not only did two programs that do not have grandiose name recognition but the daunting Big East schedule has not started yet. A loss to #25 South Carolina at Mohegan Sun did not ease any feelings of angst either. While it might look bleak for this season at this moment for the Johnnies there are four comforting thoughts that should help ease the stress for the Red Storm faithful.

1. There will be upsets pulled off by St. John’s this season.

When you are picked to finish dead last in your conference it is more likely than not that the Red Storm will be underdogs in most if not all their Big East games this year. It should also be noted that every basketball game starts out with the score being 0-0. No matter how good Villanova or Xavier are this year when they match-up with the Red Storm neither team will start out with a 20 point lead. As illustrated in the Syracuse game there will be games where everything clicks for St. John’s. While it might be hard to predict when this will happen, keep faith because it will happen.

2. The team will improve as the season progresses.

With the high turnover from last year’s roster nine new players enrolled at St. John’s and just like everyone is saying, it will take time for the team to gel and improve. Current issues the team has are turnovers and defending the three-point shot. While the turnover issue could be corrected if Marcus Lovett is deemed eligible and is able to be an efficient point guard but the Red Storm should still devise a corrective action to have better offensive possessions. With defending the three-point shooting Mullin should show footage of the Red Storm upset over Duke at Madison Square Garden in 2011. What Dwight Hardy and company did to the Dukies was having ferocious close-outs and turned the jump shooters to drivers. On that day the Blue Devils shot an uncharacteristic 3-21 (14.2%) from deep which enabled the Red Storm to pick up the momentous upset.

3. The last 10 games of the season will show growth

Up to several years ago the NCAA selection committee would look at how a team’s win-loss record in their last 10 games to determine if the team should make it to the NCAA tournament and where they should be seeded. To determine how far the Red Storm developed this season Red Storm fans should do the same. It is a cliché but there reaches a point in the season when freshmen are not freshmen anymore. The freshmen have gone into hostile territory and have played under bright lights in front of national TV audiences. By gaining this key experience the new players will not be afraid and should have hopefully improved on their weaknesses and be able to play much better as an individual and as a unit.

4. Anticipate the 2016-2017 season.

While it is projected to be a challenging year for St. John’s many of the key components will be returning in 2016. From redshirt junior Christian Jones to forward Kassoum Yakwe all are expected to return. More help is on the way in the form of much heralded guard Shamorie Ponds who has already committed to matriculate at St. John’s and Mullin and his staff are expected to gain more key prospects before the start of the 2016-17 season. And when the final net is cut down in April all the bumps and bruises from this season will just symbolize lessons learned. The lessons learned this season could help lead the Red Storm towards their ascent in the Big East and potentially turning into a national power.

Yankuba Sima illustrates the demographics of the St John’s roster in two distinct ways. First, he is one of the six foreign born players to be suiting up for the Red Storm this season. Second, he is one of the seven freshmen that committed to new coach Chris Mullin and his staff. While Sima will go through a baptism by fire this upcoming season he does provide necessary attributes that can provide a solid foundation for the Red Storms ascension through the ranks in the coming years.

One skill that the lanky 6-11 center from Spain has is an ability to be a scoring threat in the post. For years St. John’s has not had a post player that could be an offensive threat in the paint and now Sima appears to that threat. Whether Sima is finishing off a feed from Federico Mussini or making a left handed baby hook Sima is providing points in the paint which usually dictates a team’s superiority in a contest. Also being able to finish with his offhand Sima could potentially draw the eye of a diligent NBA scout because very few 6-11 forwards can finish a post move with their off hand. Sima could also be able to elevate his game to the level where the opposition has to double him on post touches which will lead to open shots for the Red Storm sharpshooters.

One trait that has been very luminous for the Red Storm the past several seasons has been the ability to block shots. Sima is making his presence felt on the defensive end of the floor by averaging 3.6 blocks a game. First, consistently blocking/altering shots will put a sever damper on the opposition from scoring points. Second, a block shot could act in a similar action as a live ball turnover and lead to run outs and transition points for the Johnnies.

The most enticing element about Sima is he has not yet reached his full potential. As Sima physically matures fewer opponents would be able to stop him offensively and more opponents would be deterred by him on defense. Sima has sporadically shot the 3 ball and is a 50% free throw shooter but if both of these skills improve and develop over time very people could stop a 6-11 forward who can score in the post and from the perimeter.