Things haven't gone exactly as planned though for Steve Lavin's team so far in the early going. Lavin missed the team's opener for treatment for prostate cancer, but his health has allowed him to return to the bench for the team's wins over Lehigh and University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
Lavin has had a tough time replacing 96 percent of the team's scoring and 97 percent of his rebounding from a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament a season ago, but that transition appeared it was going to be a bit easier with the nation's number three recruiting class in 2011, which included six of Scout.com's Top 100.
However, things were complicated when three of the nine failed to qualify academically and are being forced to sit out to start the season. Amir Garrett, the nation's 80th ranked player in the class of 2011, will have to sit out until the spring.
While Lavin was fortunate to keep Garrett for the spring semester, non-qualifiers cost him two top 100 signees in Jakarr Sampson and Norvel Pelle, who have gone back to prep school and re-opened their recruitments.
Sampson and Pelle, the nation's 40th and 79th ranked players respectively in the class of 2011, were key ingredients to this year's St. John's team and will likely be priority recruits for Lavin as he tries to bring them back in the fold in 2012.
With the all of the absences, the Red Storm are left with just eight scholarship players and rely on a shorted rotation of just seven players to get by until Pelle and Garrett return. SJU comes into the game against Arizona with wins over UMCB, Lehigh, and St. Mary's in the opening few rounds of the 2K Sports Classic.
The lone returner from last year's team is 5-foot-11, 187-pound junior Malik Stith, who averaged just 3.3 points in 12.2 minutes as a sophomore. He's seen his playing time and scoring nearly double to 6.3 points in 23 minutes per game, and he is currently the fourth best scorer in St. John's rotation.
Junior college transfer Nurideen Lindsey is coming off the best game of his young collegiate career on Sunday, when posted a near triple-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists in the game against UMBC. Lindsey has made the transition to Division-I basketball well so far, as he's one of St. John's best players through three games.
The 6-foot-3, 182-pound sophomore is the team's third best scorer at 16.3 points per game, and he's also dishing out a team-leading 4.7 assists per game in 34 minutes per game. He's also chipped in on the glass with 4.7 boards per game, good for third on the team. Arizona will be the toughest competition he's faced yet, and it'll be interesting to see how he responds to the challenge.
True freshman Moe Harkless came to St. John's as the nation's 15th best small forward and the 46th best player overall in the class of 2011, and he's certainly adapted to the college game well so far in his first three games. A teammate of Kevin Parrom's at South Kent School, the 6-foot-7, 208-pound has his former teammate's versatility and has emerged as the Red Storm's second best scorer and rebounder with 16.7 points and six rebounds per contest. He shoots an even 50 percent from the field in 31.3 minutes per game, and at his current pace will be one of the best true freshmen in the country this season.
D'Angelo Harrison is another true freshman that has started all three games in his first year at St. John's, and he too is averaging over 30 minutes per game. The 6-foot-3, 202-pound guard comes to the Red Storm as the nation's 16th ranked shooting guard and 63rd ranked prospect in the class of 2011, and like Harkless, has surpassed expectations this far.
In 30.7 minutes per contest, Harrison has shot 42.3 percent from the field, including 37.5 percent from three-point range, on his way to 14.7 points per game. He's also the team's forth best rebounder with four boards per outing, and will look to continue his development against an Arizona team filled with talented guards.
Last but certainly not least is a player that is not only big on name value, but has been St. John's best player through three games thus far. God'sgift Achiuwa came to the Red Storm by Eric Community College, and in his first three games, his athleticism, speed, and versatility have been too much for opposing big men to handle.
The 6-foot-8, 236-pound Nigeria native is the team's leading scorer and rebounder, with 17.7 points on 72.7 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds in 33.3 minutes in the team's first three games. Fouling Achiuwa is not a very good idea for Arizona to keep him out of the score column, as the junior is hitting on 91.3 percent of his free throw attempts so far this year.
With Sampson reclassifying, Sir'Dominic Pointer was the highest ranked member remaining of St. John's 2011 class. The nation's 42nd ranked player and 12th best small forward in the class, he comes to SJU by way of Quality Education Academy in North Carolina, where he was a teammate of Arizona point guard Josiah Turner.
Pointer, a 6-foot-5, 196-pound guard/forward will get starter's minutes for his versatility, but not necessarily his offense, as he averages just 3.7 points in 24 minutes in his first three games. While his skill set offensively develops, Pointer will be asked to play multiple positions and hold his own on both ends of the floor.
Freshman Phillip Greene was a late signee for the Red Storm, but so far he's done well in 20.3 minutes. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard is shooting just 18.2 percent on his way to 2.3 points per game, but like Pointer, is relied on more for his ability to spell the starters in St. John's up-tempo system.
Arizona has gotten off to slow starts in its first three games, trailing at the half to both Duquesne and Ball State before coming back for victories. It can ill afford to do so against St. John's, who like UA has been a slow starter but rebounded in the second half to outscore its opponents by an average of 18 points per game.
St. John's plays a fast paced game on offense and will look to go full court on Arizona after made baskets. Lavin's team has been a bit undisciplined at times, unsurprising for a young team, but so has Sean Miller's team. The Wildcats will have to protect the basketball better in their game against St. John's to avoid an embarrassing loss on basketball's biggest stage at Madison Square Garden.
Both teams are young, but neither are short on talent. It will be a sloppy game at times, but this game promises to be an up-tempo contest from start to finish.