USA Today

VUSports Big East Preview: St. John's

Broc Libra's Big East Preview continues with a look at the St. John's Red Storm

With the college basketball season fast approaching, I’ve predicted the following Big East standings so far:

9: Marquette

10: DePaul  

With the team I predict to finish 8th, I go to the Big Apple with the St. John’s Red Storm.

2015 – 2016 season

Coach Mullin certainly had his hands full in his first season as head coach with only three scholarship players returning from the prior year, which led to a very bad 8-24 record (1-17). The Red Storm started 7-3, but after bad losses to Incarnate Word and NJIT, both at home, they ended up losing 21 of their final 22 games. While their OOC wasn’t great, they did play Football 5 teams Rutgers, Vanderbilt, Indiana, Syracuse and South Carolina and actually beat Rutgers & Syracuse. They played a mix of 5th year seniors, freshman, and JUCO’s and had a ton of injures as they only had 5 players play in all 32 of their games.

During the season, SJU played very fast as they averaged almost 74 possessions per game, 17th fastest in the country. While they took a lot of shots and got fouled a decent amount, their shooting percentages were not very good and among the worst in the Big East. Just like any team with a lot of new faces, the chemistry just wasn’t there as they didn’t pass well, fouled almost as much as Georgetown, and turned the ball over. Only two players had a positive assist to turnover ration, and neither of them were the team’s PG, so that’s not very good. SJU, however, did lead the Big East in blocks and were 20th in the country with 175 total swats. 

Who left from last year?

The players who left SJU might be an addition by subtraction. Not to say that these players were bad players or bad teammates, because they weren’t, but this will allow more talented players to step in the mix. The guys who left last year were Felix Balamou, Durand Johnson, Christian Jones, and Ron Mvouika. Again, all of these players played hard, but besides from Felix Balamou, didn’t do a ton from an efficiency standpoint. Johnson and Mvouika both shot under 40% and had a combined 1:1 assist/turnover ratio. Jones was an undersized post player who battled his way to 8.4/5.2 stat line, but was really over powered by all the size in the Big East last year. Balamou was a swiss army knife type player (a poor man’s Sir Dominic Pointer) and while he made smart decisions with the ball and was a very good athlete, he was not a strong shooter.

Who is new?

SJU has a ton of new talent, but not as much as last year’s 10 new faces. The new guys are a mix of transfers, freshman, JUCO and an academic redshirt. Starting with the guys who will play this year, there are some definite current and future stars in the bunch, and it starts with their two PG’s, Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett. PG was such a major pain point for the Red Storm and they now have potential all freshman team type players, though they are two slightly different players.  The true freshman, Shamorie Ponds, is a lefty and a natural scorer.  A 2,000 point scorer from Thomas Jefferson HS, he puts the ball in the basket. He’s a 6 ft blur that can cause trouble, but definitely looks to score first and pass second, according to analysis. The other PG is Marcus LoVett, another 6 ft PG who has great handle and a solid mid-range game. He’s more of a willing passer, but is also a microwave, according to Jon Rothstein. His bball IQ needs to improve, but there’s no doubt LoVett and Ponds can bring some excitement back to the Garden.  Next is a JUCO talent in Bashir Ahmed.  There is a great article about him from the New York Post that talks about his childhood and how he always wanted to play for SJU. He averaged 20.1 points and 8.1 rebounds at powerhouse Hutchinson Community College and has two years remaining. He’s a definite impact player for the Red Storm. Tariq Owens sat out last year from Tennessee and will have 3 years remaining. He’s a long and raw big man from Baltimore. The final incoming eligible player for the Red Storm is Richard Freudenberg, a SF out of Germany. Like most European players, he’s tall, can shoot and plays hard, but is also very skinny and needs to add strength. He’s also very young for his age so there will definitely be some development time. The other two new players are Justin Simon, a 5 star SG who played one year at Arizona and Marvin Clark, a 3-4 star SF/PF who played two seasons at Michigan State. Both of these players will sit out this upcoming year. 

Who is returning?

9 of the 10 available scholarship players started a game last year and 6 of them return. The guys who return are soph guard Federico Mussini (10.7/2.2 assists) soph SF Malilk Ellison (7.3/2.6 assists) soph big Yankuba Sima (7.3/2.4 blocks) soph forward Kassoum Yakwe (7.1/2.4 blocks) junior big Amar Alibegovic (5.1/2.4 reb) and junior big Darien Williams, who only played in 3 games due to an injury. 

Big OOC games

SJU’s schedule should be much stronger than last year. They play Minnesota for the Gavitt games, they are in the Battle 4 Atlantis, which includes opening up with Michigan St and also includes Louisville, Old Dominion, Baylor, VCU, Wichita St and LSU. They also have games against Penn State and @ Syracuse. Rounding out their schedule is Delaware St, @ Tulane, Cal State Northridge, Fordham, LIU Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, Binghamton and Bethune Cookman. 

Final predictions

Starting 5:

PG – Marcus LoVett (FR - 6 ft 1)

SG – Malilk Ellison (SO – 6 ft 6)

SF – Bashir Ahmed (JR – 6 ft 7)

PF – Kassoum Yawke (SO - 6 ft 7)

C – Yankuba Sima (SO - 6 ft 11)

Remaining rotation (in anticipated order):

SG – Federico Mussini (SO – 6 ft 1)

PF – Darien Williams (JR – 6 ft 7)

PG – Shamorie Ponds (FR - 6 ft 1)

C – Tariq Owens (SO – 6 ft 10)

PG – Amar Alibegovic (JR - 6 ft 9)

SF – Richard Freudenberg (FR – 6 ft 8)

Final Thoughts:

This season and next are big years for Coach Mullin. The reason is that there is a lot of talent on this team and Coach Mullin is recruiting even better with two top transfers sitting out this year, and a potential star, but troubled recruit in Zach Brown coming in next year. With no scholarship seniors on the team, there will likely be some losses, but which players leave and how the team meshes will be key for St John’s this year. There isn’t just one thing they need to improve on because they need to improve on everything, but the talent is there, especially at the PG and wings that while they’ll likely throw up a stinker or two, they also have the talent to beat some of the top teams on their schedule, like Michigan St, Syracuse, and the top Big East teams. They are still likely a year away, but how Coach Mullin can build chemistry with this group, keep the losses to a minimum and really look forward to 2017-2018 will determine if SJU had a successful hire. 

OOC – 8-5

Big East – 7-11

Combined – 15-16

USA Today Top Stories