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Back to the Big East: St. John’s

Catching up with UConn’s soon-to-be conference mates in the Big East. Next up: St. John’s.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament- St. John’s vs Creighton
St. John’s Red Storm head coach Mike Anderson reacts during the first half of play against the Creighton Bluejays at Madison Square Garden. (Noah K. Murray - USA TODAY)
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past month or so we have checked in on schools around the Big East. This week, the St. John’s Red Storm take the stage.

Quick Facts

Head Coach: Mike Anderson

2020 Record: 17-15, 5-13 in the Big East

NCAA Championships: None

Big East Tournament Championships: Three (1983, 1986, 2000)

Big East Regular Season Titles: One (1985)

Home Court: Carnesecca Arena in Queens, New York and Madison Square Garden in New York, New York

Average Home Attendance: 5,641 in 2020

What UConn fans have missed

Over the past seven seasons, there have been quite a few years where the Red Storm have looked like nothing more than a wispy raincloud that resembles Disney’s G. G. Goof – also known as Goofy – if you turn your head just right.

Despite three 20-plus win seasons in that time, they have had three head coaches, as both Chris Mullin and Steve Lavin were gone after 20-win seasons. Mullin left after the loss of his older brother Roddy in March 2019, but Lavin and the school “parted ways” after a pair of 20-win seasons in 2015.

They have been relatively unnoteworthy in terms of the Big East Tournament, failing to reach the finals in any of the past seven seasons. They have made it to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and 2018, but did not get out of the round of 64 in either year.

Head Coach Mike Anderson

After eight successful years at Arkansas, Anderson left for St. John’s in April 2019. In his 17 years as a Division I head coach, he’s never coached a team to a losing season.

In his first year with the Red Storm, he took them to a 17-15 record and got his first conference tournament win after his squad defeated Georgetown on March 11 just before the rest of the competition was shut down for coronavirus.

They struggled overall in conference play, winning just two games against teams with .500-plus in-conference records. They also beat DePaul, who were last in the Big East, twice and Marquette by two points on the last day of the regular season.

In his short time at St. John’s, Anderson has recruited a pair of JUCO players, Vince Cole and Isaih Moore, as well as a couple of guards in Posh Alexander and Dylan Wusu from Our Savior Lutheran School in the Bronx.

Outlook for 2020-21

This is definitely a transitional period for the program, having just completed their first season under Anderson. Over his 18-year career, despite the incredible success, it has taken him an average of three years at each school to get his team to the NCAA Tournament. He has done it in as little as two years, with Alabama-Birmingham, and as much as four, with Arkansas.

Losing LJ Figueroa is going to be a massive blow to the Red Storm next season, after he entered the transfer portal in April and left for Oregon last week. They are also losing Connecticut native Mustapha Heron to graduation after the senior dropped 13.4 points per game for them in an injury-shortened season.

That being said, someone has to score the basketball. Let’s take a look at who may get the majority of the minutes for them.

Possible starting 5

Guard Rasheem Dunn, R-Sr.

After transferring from Cleveland State, Dunn missed the first three games of the season before he earned a waiver from the NCAA. He then played his way into a starting spot for the second half of the season. By season’s end he actually played the most minutes per game, despite missing those first three games.

Scoring-wise, he’ll be particularly important for the Red Storm next season, despite finishing dead last among qualifiers in KenPom.com’s effective field goal percentage. He is just not an efficient player, finishing with a 37.7% field goal percentage and a 22.4% 3-point percentage last year.

He is multi-dimensional, though. He led the team in assists per game, with 3.4 last season, and can grab a few rebounds as well, with 3.8 a game.

Guard Greg Williams Jr., Jr.

Williams took over the starting spot from Mustapha Heron, who went down with an injury soon after, in early-February. In the seven games he played more than 30 minutes last season, Williams averaged 10.6 points per game.

He had a particularly inspired three-game stretch to end the regular season at the beginning of March, including a 21-point performance against Creighton where he scored nothing but threes.

Forward Julian Champagnie, So.

The 6-foot-8 guard-forward played well in his first year, earning a Big East All-Freshman nod. He punctuated his solid first season with a pair of 20-plus point nights against Butler and Marquette at years end.

He also dropped four double-doubles on the season en route to averaging 9.9 points and a team-leading 6.5 boards per game.

Forward Marcellus Earlington, Jr.

Earlington received just four starts last season, the fewest of the players in this possible starting five, but in the time he did get he was intriguing. In 18.2 minutes per game, he dropped nine points, 4.7 rebounds, and grabbed one steal per game.

However, if you project his numbers over a full 40 minutes, they’re eye-opening. Of course, he is not likely to see 40 minutes per game, but let’s take a look at the production he could bring over serious minutes. Last year, he was on pace to average 19.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals if he played 40 minutes a game.

Earlington was also seventh in the conference in KenPom’s offensive rating, with a 104.7, which was better than former Georgetown standout Mac McClung and Xavier’s Naji Marshall.

Even without the projections, he led his team in total offensive rebounding despite playing in a seventh or eighth-man role. He could be a player to watch going forward.

Forward Josh Roberts, Jr.

Roberts rounds out the starters for the Red Storm, having started in all but four games in his sophomore season. He was not an incredible scorer last year, but he had his games and was efficient enough to provide value.

His games-started statistic is deceiving, though, as he started in 14 games in which he played less than 20 minutes. When he did play more than 20 minutes, though, he averaged 8.7 rebounds per game. He was top-8 in the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, according to KenPom. Like Earlington, he just needs more minutes.