St. John’s was playing some of its best basketball at the end of last season. The Red Storm, under first-year coach Mike Anderson, took its lumps for the majority of the Big East schedule. It then closed by winning three of its last four games, including victories over Marquette and Creighton to get to 17-15 before the coronavirus pandemic halted the season.
The Storm lost leading scorers LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron to a transfer and graduation, respectively, but have a bevy of key returners who have a year of playing Anderson’s high-pressure defensive style under their belt and, as senior point guard Rasheem Dunn said, "at the end of last season we were all playing together, playing the way [Anderson] wanted us to play — everyone was playing their role."
Back along with Dunn are guard Greg Williams Jr. and forwards Julian Champagnie, Marcellus Earlington and Josh Roberts.
Here are five keys for the Storm in the season ahead:
- Who's the scorer?: As the season begins, there is no go-to scorer on the Storm, though Champagnie, Williams, Dunn and Earlington have shown they can have big games. It has a highly-touted freshman in guard Posh Alexander and a pair of junior college All-Americans in 6-6 Vince Cole and 6-10 Isaih Moore. The chance any could go off on any night could work out because, as Anderson said, "the easiest team to guard is a team where you have two guys that are going to do all the scoring. My best teams have been where you have multiple guys on any given night that can get you 25 and we saw it last year."
- Better shooting: As good as St. John’s defense may get, it will have to shoot better to win. The team made just 41% from the floor and 32% on three-pointers. Cole and a fully-healthy Williams Jr. could go a long way toward solving the problem.
- Dunn off the ball: Dunn did most of his scoring with the ball in his hands on the drive, but Alexander is a point guard and has to be integrated. That could mean Dunn playing off the ball more. "[Alexander] is electric and he brings a lot to the table: he is very fast, very quick and he sees the floor," Williams Jr. said. "He just does a lot of things that add a lot to this basketball team."
- Needing some boards: The Storm were regularly outrebounded last season. They need Moore and 6-8 George Washington transfer Arnaldo Toro to close that gap. Moore averaged 9.1 rebounds at Pearl River (Miss.) CC. Toro averaged 7.0 rebounds for the Colonials.
- Up and coming: Champagnie was selected to the Big East’s all-freshman team after averaging 9.9 points and 6.5 rebounds. Williams Jr., Earlington and Roberts all came on as sophomores after barely playing for former coach Chris Mullin as freshmen. If the group can continue to trend upward together, St. John’s could be much-improved.