With the St. John’s Red Storm trying to make their third NCAA Tournament in the last 10 years, which squad has been their best this decade?
As the calendar now shifts to March, the St. John’s Red Storm are trying to secure their third trip to the NCAA Tournament over the course of this decade. They have won 20 or more games for the fourth time in the last ten years, which is an accomplishment in itself. The question that came to mind this week is whether or not this is the best Red Storm team of the decade?
Of course, this question is tough to answer as no one knows how far this team will go in March Madness. With that being said, the talent in the starting five is one of the best in the conference and has the potential to do great things.
On Thursday, I put out a poll on Twitter asking fans what they thought was the best team of the past decade between this year’s squad and the two previous teams that made the NCAA Tournament under Steve Lavin as head coach (2010-11 and 2014-15). Here are the results of that poll:
#SJUBB fans, curious to get your thoughts for a potential @EliteSportsNY article. As the Red Storm get closer to a 3rd tournament berth this decade, which team do you consider the best so far?
— Ricky Keeler (@Rickinator555) February 28, 2019
It is no surprise that the 2010-11 squad led this poll, but it was closer than expected because I was a freshman and a student season-ticket holder for that team and they left so many great memories. During that season, St. John’s beat six teams that were ranked in the Top 25 when they played them en route to finishing fifth in the old Big East.
When you look back at that roster, they had a lot of depth on the squad. Nine players averaged at least 12 minutes per game. It was a senior-laden squad that learned how to win as the season went along. Plus, they had a leading scorer in Dwight Hardy (18.3 points per game) who emerged during the year as he had 15 games of 20 or more points, and four games with 30-plus points.
The big what if that will always stick with that Red Storm squad is what would have happened if D.J. Kennedy was healthy for their NCAA Tournament matchup against Gonzaga. Kennedy tore his ACL in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals loss against Syracuse. To lose your third leading scorer and the player with the most steals (1.8 per game) that late in the season was a huge blow to that team, to say the least.
This team in 2010-11 stands out more because it was the old Big East and it was a lot tougher to get to 20 wins and have a 12-6 record in the conference. As a team, they were third in the conference in free throw percentage, third in steals, and fourth in two-point baskets made.
In addition to Hardy and Kennedy, St. John’s had good role players in the frontcourt with Justin Brownlee, Justin Burrell, and Sean Evans. Plus, Malik Boothe and Paris Horne made double-digit starts with Horne leading the squad in three-point percentage (37.7 percent).
Four years later, the Red Storm got back to the NCAA Tournament with a new group of players in what would end up being Lavin’s final season. The team went 21-12 and was 10-8 in the first year of the new Big East despite not beating a ranked team the entire season.
Like this year’s team, there was not much depth on the 2014-15 squad. Only six players played 20 minutes or more per game with four players averaging in double figures. Plus, they were missing a key part of their team in the NCAA Tournament that year when Chris Obekpa (team’s leading shot blocker) was suspended for a failed drug test.
Despite not having much depth, the Red Storm had players that year who could do different things. Sir Dominic Pointer was the glue guy on the roster as he averaged 13.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. They had a quality point guard in Rysheed Jordan and Phil Greene was their best shooter from the perimeter (39.1 percent from beyond the arc).
However, the player that was must watch on that team was D’Angelo Harrison. Harrison could light up the stat sheet on a nightly basis with his unlimited range. He averaged 17.5 points per game, had 13 games of 20 or more points, and had three 30-plus point performances.
When you look at how those two teams compare to this year’s team as they get set for the final two games of the regular season, there are two words that come to mind: what if? Both of the teams earlier in the decade had injuries or suspensions that made you wonder what the collective talent could’ve done at full strength.
The same would apply to this year’s team. Yes, Mustapha Heron has battled tendonitis in his knee, but the group as a whole has lessened the greatness of their wins with some bad losses such as the one against Xavier on Thursday. While the free throw attempts were 33-5 for the Musketeers, that’s no excuse to have a lackluster performance on senior night.
When everyone is healthy, this St. John’s team can play with anybody in the country. They have one of the best guards in the Big East in Shamorie Ponds, one of the better defenders in the conference in Justin Simon, and a good glue player in Marvin Clark II. With that being said, they haven’t put it together consistently and it has left them on the fringe of the bubble.
For me, the choice would be the 2010-11 squad. Not only were they consistent and didn’t have so many bad losses, but they also played in a tougher conference and figured out ways to win against some of the top teams in the country.
This year’s squad still has the opportunity to change that narrative in the next couple of weeks with a deep run at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament and an NCAA berth. However, you have to wonder if the what if is going to apply to Chris Mullin‘s team for a different reason.