Next up in our Big East Preview Series is Seton Hall's cross-river rival: the St. John's Red Storm, who nicked the Hall by one point both home and away last season. Steve Lavin's squad is looking to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since his debut season, 2010-11, after a 0-and-5 start to conference play last January handicapped St. John's chances to Dance at the starting blocks.
St. John's returns an NCAA-caliber core that only has one significant hole to plug: their front court. Forwards JaKarr Sampson (pro), Orlando Sanchez (graduated), and God`sgift Achiuwa (graduated) have vacated their significant roles in Lavin's two post forward positions.
At guard and on the wing, the Red Storm feature plenty of talent in point guard Rysheed Jordan, their main three-point threat D`Angelo Harrison, and guard Phil Greene, all of whom averaged 25 mpg or more last season. Sir`Dominic Pointer will play the majority of minutes at small forward or perhaps as an undersized power forward.
Roster subtractions: JaKarr Sampson (12.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg -- pro), Orlando Sanchez (7.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg), God`sgift Achiuwa (2.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg), Max Hooper (3.2 ppg -- transfer to Oakland), Marc-Antoine Bourgault (3.3 mpg)
Returnees to watch: D`Angelo Harrison (17.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.9 apg), Rysheed Jordan (9.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3 apg, 1.2 spg), Chris Obekpa (3.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.9 bpg), Phil Greene IV (7.4 ppg), Sir`Dominic Pointer (5.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Key additions: Keith Thomas (15.3 ppg, 15.7 rpg -- Westchester C.C.), Christian Jones (redshirt sophomore), Amar Alibegovic (Bosnian U20 National Team)
Projected starting lineup: PG - Rysheed Jordan, G - Phil Greene, G - D`Angelo Harrison, F - Sir`Dominic Pointer, C - Chris Obekpa
St. John's most significant additions will be expected to take on the roles vacated by JaKarr Sampson, Orlando Sanchez, and God`sgift Achiuwa. Keith Thomas, the best junior college rebounder in the country, is expected to team up with the NCAA's third-most prolific blocker in Chris Obekpa (2.9 bpg, 3rd in block percentage). An unproven trio comprised of redshirt forward Christian Jones, 6-foot-11 Florida International transfer Joey Delarosa (5.9 mpg), and a 6-foot-9 Bosnian stretch forward named Amar Alibegovic will likely come off the bench to support Obekpa and Thomas.
Another minor concern for the Johnnies is their guard depth. Beyond D`Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, and Phil Greene, only Jamal Branch (4.5 ppg, 1.7 apg) who has seen time at point guard alongside Jordan, has any notable experience. Freshman duo Myles Stewart, a long-distance shooter, and Jay Henderson, will slot in behind Jamal Branch in the guard pecking order. Stewart's threat from beyond the arc will replace Max Hooper, who was a long-ball specialist, and could serve him well with just Harrison (64-173, 37%) and Phil Greene (30-75, 40%) on the Red Storm's roster as guys that can stretch a defense. Like we saw with Marquette, St. John's was anything but reliant (321st in % of points from beyond the arc) on the three last season.
St. John's backcourt looks to be NCAA-worthy, but will it be able to carry them to a tournament berth without solid anchors in the paint? After having one foot out the door this spring, a transformation of Chris Obekpa from a defensive block-specialist to a well-rounded center is key for Steve Lavin after losing 22.7 ppg, 13.8 rpg, and 2.9 bpg collectively between Sampson, Achiuwa, and Sanchez. Keith Thomas should contribute immediately, but he and the rest of Obekpa's supporting cast is unproven.
The Johnnies project as being on the cusp of the NCAA tournament again this season and look likely to occupy a spot in the upper echelon of the Big East alongside Villanova, Georgetown, and Xavier. Despite a six-year deal until 2016 that included extension talks this past spring, anything less than significant NCAA tournament talk and a notable 2015 recruiting class (St. John's doesn't have any commits but hosted an impressive list of visitors on Friday) may provoke hot seat talk for Steve Lavin, or at least rumblings amongst Red Storm faithful, with four significant seniors set to move on after 2014-15.
For a look back at the rest of our Big East previews, check below:
- 2014-15 looks to be a rebuilding year for Marquette after an exodus of talent and head coach Buzz Williams
- Will the Big East's best recruiting class and the return of Joshua Smith help Georgetown?
- Butler has a solid backcourt but questions at forward as they look to start season without Brandon Miller
- Losing Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young will have to be addition by subtraction for DePaul