Mike Anderson is back for his second season at St. John’s. Although he has a deep roster to work with, there are questions about this team.
Like the rest of college basketball, St. John’s had to end their 2019-20 season prematurely. The Red Storm just finished the first half of a Big East Tournament game when we last saw them.
Mike Anderson and the Johnnies finished with a 17-15 record (5-13 Big East), but there were reasons to be optimistic about the future. St. John’s started to come along towards the end of the season and they began to embody their head coach’s style. With Anderson entering year two in Queens, expect the Red Storm to continue their ascent.
The Big East coaches don’t have too much faith in St. John’s this season. In the preseason coaches poll, they are ninth of 11. That shouldn’t be all that surprising given the two major contributors the Johnnies lost this offseason, but it should provide St. John’s with some motivation to prove the doubters wrong.
Let’s take a deep dive into St. John’s and the outlook for the 2019-20 season.
St. John’s is losing arguably their two best players from last year in LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron. Figueroa transferred to Oregon while Heron graduated. The pair led the Red Storm in scoring last season and they are going to sorely miss their ability to go get a bucket when they needed one.
More specifically, Anderson is going to need other players to step up from outside the arc. Figueroa (38.5%) and Heron (36.5%) were tops on the team in three-point shooting and they took the majority of triples when they were both on the floor.
Although the losses of Figueroa and Heron are likely to be felt, there are a handful of contributors returning. Rasheem Dunn and Julian Champagnie are the most notable guys coming back this season. They are the top two scorers of all returning players and Champagnie was a first-team All-Freshman Big East selection.
Dunn is a crafty guard who is adept at finding the soft spots in the defense to get open looks at the rim or drive and kick to open teammates. Champagnie, on the other hand, is an athletic wing who can slash to the basket and mix it up inside.
Greg Williams Jr. and David Caraher are two guards who should see increased roles this season. These two are going to need to knock down open shots to help space the floor for Dunn and Champagnie to penetrate.
Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington make up the key returning players from the frontcourt. Roberts dealt with a shoulder injury that limited him towards the end of last season, but he should be fully healed and ready to go.
On paper, Anderson’s first recruiting class looks like a successful group. He brought in a graduate transfer from George Washington — big man Arnaldo Toro. The Johnnies are adding two highly-successful JUCO players in Isaih Moore and Vince Cole. And in terms of high school recruits, Anderson did well with the addition of two three-star freshman guards in Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu, both from Our Savior Lutheran in the Bronx.
Alexander could be the biggest piece St. John’s added in the offseason. The point guard could start from day one alongside Dunn in a situation where they share the ball-handling responsibilities. Dunn is effective with the ball in his hands, but Alexander projects as more of a traditional point guard.
First things first, let’s just put out a big disclaimer on the schedule this season. This is subject to change. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that St. John’s will have to shuffle the schedule at some point sooner or later. That’s the reality in 2020.
The Johnnies have a non-conference schedule with six games as of Wednesday, Nov. 25. The Big East is releasing its schedule on a month-by-month basis, but December’s slate of games are already out.
vs. Saint Peters — Nov. 25 Queens, NY (The Lapchik Tournament)
vs. La Salle — Nov. 26 — Queens, NY (The Lapchik Tournament)
vs. Boston College — Nov. 30 — Mohegan Sun
@ Texas Tech — Dec. 3 — Lubbock, TX (Big East/Big 12 Battle)
vs. Sacred Heart — Dec. 6 — Queens, NY
vs. Fordham — Dec. 8 — Queens, NY
Big East Schedule:
@ Connecticut — Dec. 11 — Storrs, CT
@ Butler — Dec. 14 — Indianapolis, IN
vs. No. 11 Creighton — Dec. 17 — Queens, NY
vs. Georgetown — Dec. 20 — Queens, NY
Again, this schedule is very tentative and college hoops games are being canceled left and right, but this is how the games line up as of now.
The Big East is one of the best conferences in the country which could be a good or bad thing for St. John’s. On one hand, there are never any easy victories in the Big East which can lead to a 5-13 conference record like the Red Storm finished with during the 2019-20 season. However, there are plenty of opportunities for resumé-building wins when almost every game is against a team that is fighting to make the NCAA Tournament.
Simply put, an NCAA Tournament appearance should be the barometer for a successful season. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the year is a failure if they miss the Big Dance but this team is good enough to beat the bubble and make the tournament.
There are legitimate questions about who the go-to guy on offense will be with the departures of Figueroa and Heron, but that could actually be a blessing in disguise and play into Anderson’s style. The longtime Arkansas assistant learned under Nolan Richardson and his “40 Minutes of Hell” style.
St. John’s has a deep roster of guys and this should allow Anderson to go all-out with pressure defense. St John’s finished second in the NCAA in steals last season and if they can continue that trend, they should be able to score easy buckets to make up for their lack of offensive firepower.
We don’t expect the Red Storm to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament if they make it there, but an invitation to go dancing would be a huge step in the right direction for the program.
Missing the NCAA Tournament would not by itself constitute a disastrous season. In all likelihood, St. John’s is destined for a trip to the NIT despite being a team on the bubble. They have the talent to compete with any team on any given night, but consistency could be an issue for this group.
A truly disastrous season would be a sub-.500 record. In Anderson’s 18-year career as a college head coach, he’s never had a team with a losing record. Breaking that streak would indicate that the Johnnies are taking a step back. The program already has a tough enough time recruiting and a losing season would make Anderson’s job much tougher in that regard.
Creating a consistent winner at St. John’s won’t happen overnight, but consistent year-over-year improvement is necessary to make it a reality.