Forget St. John’s being relevant on a national level. The program hasn’t been a factor in the Big East on a consistent basis since the end of the last century.
But as favorite son Chris Mullin begins his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater, there is legitimate belief — at least among the program’s fan base — that the Red Storm can make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth. Part of the optimism stems from a strong core of returning players, and part is due to the fact that the Big East feels a bit more wide open at the top than in previous years.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Chris Mullin
2017-18 RECORD (BIG EAST): 16-17 (4-14)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: None
F Bashir Ahmed (11.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
F Amar Alibegovic (1.6 ppg)
G Marcus LoVett (14.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
F Tariq Owens (8.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.8 bpg)
F Kassoum Yakwe (2.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
St. John’s was among the poorest rebounding teams in the Big East, ranking last in the league in rebounding margin (minus-5.9) and percentage of total rebounds grabbed (46.1). To help solve this problem, the Red Storm are going to need a step forward from Marvin Clark. Now a fifth-year senior, Clark averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in his first season at St. John’s. Those are solid numbers, but Mullin would like to see even more production from the former Michigan State Spartan.
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Sedee Keita, a 6'9", 240-pound Philadelphia native who transferred from South Carolina, should also help on the boards. Keita averaged 9.6 minutes per game coming off the bench for the Gamecocks’ Final Four team two years ago.
Freshman Josh Roberts, who played for the Montverde (Fla.) Academy team that won a prep national title, should see minutes right away. The Alabama native also had offers from Auburn and Georgia. Fellow freshman Marcellus Earlington is an intriguing prospect; a standout defensive end at Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep, the 6'5", 225-pound power forward passed on some Power 5 offers in football.
The departure of Tariq Owens, who transferred with one season of eligibility remaining, will be most felt on the boards (5.9 rpg) and on defense (94 blocked shots).
Guard Shamorie Ponds is among the brightest stars in the Big East. As a sophomore, the Brooklyn native averaged 21.6 points per game and has already topped the 1,000-point mark in two seasons at the school. Ponds wasn’t just a scorer; he averaged a 4.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game.
The Red Storm could have another star on the perimeter if the NCAA grants immediate eligibility to Mustapha Heron, a Connecticut native who averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds for an Auburn team that shared the SEC regular-season title last season. The backcourt tandem of Ponds and Heron — if it comes to fruition — would be among the most potent in all of college basketball.
Justin Simon filled up the stat sheet in his first season following his transfer from Arizona, averaging 12.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
St. John’s will have two key additions to its backcourt. Mikey Dixon is eligible after being named MAAC Rookie of the Year at Quinnipiac in 2016-17 when he averaged 16.5 points per game for the Bobcats. LJ Figueroa, a 6'6" wing, was named first-team NJCAA All-American after averaging 21.4 points per game in his one season at Odessa (Texas) College. He will have three years of eligibility at St. John’s.
With Ponds back, St. John’s can be a factor in the Big East. If Heron is eligible, St. John’s can be a true threat.
Either way, there is optimism, if not expectations, that the Red Storm can take a significant step forward.
Mullin is one of the most popular players in school history, but he’s 38–60 overall and 12–42 in the Big East in three seasons on the job. At some point, he needs to start winning games. This year, he has the roster to get it done.
Postseason Prediction: One & Done
Big East Prediction: 4th