It's easy to notice the big scorers and long-range shooters in college basketball. The player who averages 24 points a game and the guy who goes four-of-five from beyond the three-point arc make most of the headlines in today's game.
But how many players intoxicate us the way St. John’s freshman point guard Posh Alexander does? He’s powerful and elusive enough to make us wonder how he drives into the tall trees, draws contact, hangs in the air and still gets the shot to fall. His passing isn’t flashy, yet he somehow seems to find the right guy in the right place to score.
It's the effort and the speed and the defense that make him stand out and that is a rarity. It’s not just the reason St. John’s wanted him. It’s the reason St. John’s needed him. And it’s the reason we can’t take our eyes off him every time the Red Storm is on the court.
St. John’s demolished third-ranked Villanova 70-59 on Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena in a Big East game that wasn’t really that close. There were many reasons, but none bigger than the way Alexander turned Player of the Year candidate Collin Gillespie into a frustrated mess. The Wildcats came in averaging a nation’s best 8.3 turnovers a game and Gillespie made six of their 17 all by himself, also netting just four points on 2-for-12 shooting. While he was on the floor, St. John’s outscored Villanova by 20 points.
That win may have changed the arc of the Red Storm’s season. Three weeks ago, they were an afterthought at 1-5 in conference play. Now they have won five straight, stand at 12-7 and firmly in sixth in the 11-team Big East at 6-6, and have come on the national radar. As leading scorer Julian Champagnie put it "it gives us the extra push to know it’s around the corner and we’re a legit contender."
Alexander has clearly shaken off any freshman apprehension about taking a leading role and is averaging 16.8 points on 52% shooting, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals in the winning streak.
Those who try to project the 68-team NCAA Tournament draw now have them on the bubble for a bid.
Make no mistake, St. John’s is truly an ensemble effort. Champagnie has gone from being a good freshman to remarkable sophomore who leads a tough conference in scoring. The team has all kinds of weaponry that can carry it for short stretches such as shooter Vince Cole, big man Isaih Moore and deceptively-good Dylan Addae-Wusu. Coach Mike Anderson’s steady hand in re-making the program and getting it to thrive has been extraordinary.
But Alexander is the difference-maker. How many times in the past five years have we seen a St. John’s team that puts on the uniform, expects to win because of the name on it and then has to fight for its life to prevail? The passion and effort that Alexander plays with — the reason you have to keep watching him — won’t let that happen anymore.
"He is a leader," Anderson said Wednesday night after Alexander had 16 points, six assists and three steals. "I think as he plays teams, he looks at it as a challenge, and our team is taking on that personality as well."
It’s Alexander’s sort of character that makes for a winner.
Alexander also might have a pied piper effect for the Red Storm program. What blue-chip high school talent, what big-time scorer, wouldn’t want to play with this guy? He so often gives up his own good look at the basket to get his teammates a better one. Long Island Lutheran’s 6-6 senior guard Rafael Pinzon might be the top area player and chose St. John’s over Florida and New Mexico. He has said he wants to play alongside a superior point guard who could let him play off the ball.
It makes Alexander potentially a game-changer right now and can one imagine what he might look like with a year or two of Big East experience under his belt? Confidence, decision-making and leadership are all things that develop with time. He has a decent serving of each of those now.
One can only imagine what that might look like. Already we can’t take our eyes off him.