"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, October 21, 2019

St. John's Preview

St. John's Red Storm
January 21, fiserv.forum; March 7, Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY
Coach: Mike Anderson (0-0 at St. John's, 369-200 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 103.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 87.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 93

Projected Starters: PG Rasheem Dunn (6'2" Jr), SG Mustapha Heron (6'5" Sr), SF L.J. Figueroa (6'6" Jr), PF David Caraher (6'6" So), C Josh Roberts (6'9" So)

St. John's started the year on a tear, though their 12-0 start was bolstered heavily by playing 10 sub-100 kenpom teams. From there, St. John's showed they could play with anyone, going 3-1 against Marquette and Villanova, the top teams in the Big East. They also showed anyone could play with them, as they went 1-5 against the three teams tied at the bottom of the league (Butler, Providence, DePaul). The Selection Committee rewarded their mediocrity with a NCAA bid as St. John's became the second-worst kenpom ranked team (81) to earn an at-large bid. They responded by taking a beating from Arizona State that wasn't as close as the final score indicated, fired head coach Chris Mullin, and watched five of their top seven players leave the program.

The good news for new head coach Mike Anderson is he has Heron and Figueroa back, both of whom scored 14+ ppg last year. The bad news is he has no other proven high major players. Dunn (St. Francis-NY) and Caraher (Houston Baptist) put up double-digit points, but did so for sub-300 teams. Ian Steere was denied an eligibility waiver, so little used Josh Roberts is likely the man in the middle. The bench features two returning players, none of whom played significant minutes, and a glut of transfers. It's hard to know what to expect from them, though it seems likely that it will take time for this bunch to fit together.

Chris Mullin's plan was to force turnovers and get points in transition, which goes in line with Mike Anderson's strategy. In his 17 years, Anderson's teams have been in the top-20 in defensive turnover percentage a staggering 12 times, which means his teams are usually in the 94th percentile or better forcing turnovers. This leads to lots of transition opportunities, where his teams are most efficient. When his teams do get into the halfcourt, they are still adequate and like to share the ball, focusing on fast passes and attacking. He doesn't call out many set plays, instead allowing his players to have freedom on the offensive end. Defensively, they start with heavy ball pressure and seek to funnel attackers into one monster shot blocker. Guys like Daniel Gafford, Moses Kingsley, and Hunter Mickelson have thrived under Anderson. As he builds his own roster, expect small, quick guards and forwards that aggressively attack the ballhandler and one monster under the hoop.

The general thought is that Anderson's first outing will be a rough one. I tend to agree, but in three prior stops, Anderson has had a winning record each time and averaged a 7-9 record in conference play. He has also showed a knack for finding immediate contributors. With two proven players they can rely on, I expect Anderson will surprise some people. His aggressive style will likely lead to some feast or famine nights, but I have no doubt they will feast at times. I expect them to be in the bottom three, but the Johnnies are better at head coach than they were a year ago and Heron and Figueroa are the type of players that will win some games. Don't overlook this team, but also don't be surprised if in his first year, they have a late-season swoon. Perhaps it's the high-pressure testing players endurance, but in Anderson's first years in the past, his teams are 1-9 against top-50 opposition in February and March. That's the good news. The bad news is that 1 was a victory over Marquette in the 2003 Conference-USA tournament. Of course, Marquette then went to the Final Four, so it wasn't all bad.

Marquette Memory: Buzz Williams' tenure at Marquette ended with a thud. After being picked to win the league in the inaugural "New" Big East, the 2014 team sputtered through the season but still had a chance to secure a bid with two games to play. First, they lost a 1-point decision in double-overtime at Providence. They returned home to take on the Red Storm in what would be Buzz's final game at the Bradley Center. Regulation featured 11 ties and 7 lead chances before St. John's took what looked like a decisive 72-66 lead with 22 seconds to play. Marquette finished regulation with a flurry. Davante Gardner was fouled with 11 seconds to play and automatically sank two free throws. Derrick Wilson made a quick steal and found Jake Thomas for a layup. Then, after a Jamil Wilson foul, Orlando Sanchez missed the front end of a one-and-one and Marquette was off to the races as Todd Mayo hit a buzzer beating layup to force overtime. The teams went back and forth in overtime. The game ultimately featured 18 ties, 13 lead changes, and Derrick Wilson missing a jumper at the buzzer of the second overtime to end the game, any last hopes of an at-large bid, and Buzz Williams' coaching career in Milwaukee.

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