"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, November 23, 2020

St. John's Preview, 2020-21

St. John's Red Storm

Coach: Mike Anderson (386-215 overall, 17-15 at St. John's)

Three-year NCAA Rank Average: 77.0

Three-year kenpom Average: 76.0

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 60

Julian Champagnie is looking for a sophomore breakout

Photo by Seth Wenig | AP Photo

Projected Starters: PG Rasheem Dunn (6'2" RS Sr), SG Vince Cole (6'6" Jr), SF Julian Champagnie (6'8" So), PF Marcellus Earlington (6'6" Jr), C Josh Roberts (6'9" Jr)

Mike Anderson's first campaign in charge of the Johnnies started in fine fashion, with an 11-2 non-conference record that included wins over West Virginia and Arizona, both teams that finished in the kenpom top-20. Big East play, however, was not nearly as successful. Despite a number of close losses, St. John's went just 5-13 in conference play, saved from the bottom of the league by only DePaul. A Big East Tournament win over Georgetown did insure a winning overall season, which keeps up Anderson's amazing run of finishing .500 or better in all 18 of his seasons as a head coach.

The offseason hit the Johnnies hard, with starters Mustapha Heron and Nick Rutherford graduating and leading scorer L.J. Figueroa transferring to Oregon. Those players take 58% of St. John's three-point makes and every player to connect on 35+% from deep off the roster. So who's left? Rasheem Dunn is the leading returning scorer and assister. He did well transitioning from a high-usage mid-major scoring guard to the point for Anderson and should be better with a year's experience under his belt. Joining him in the backcourt is JUCO transfer Vince Cole. The rangy wing will be counted on to replace some of that lost three-point shooting. The player most fans in Queens are keeping an eye on is Julian Champagnie. The long wing does a bit of everything and will likely try to fill Figueroa's shoes. Up front, Earlington and Roberts will need to step into bigger roles after serving as rotation players last year. Off the bench, expect guard Greg Williams, wing David Caraher, and forward Arnaldo Toro to all see minutes. Anderson will also likely count on at least one of his freshmen, with Posh Alexander being the most likely candidate to crack the rotation.

Anderson's system starts on the defensive end, where they play a high-pressure version of 40 Minutes of Hell. Expect the Johnnies to apply pressure, force turnovers, and when teams do get into the lane, have shot blockers ready and active. Because of that pressure, Anderson's teams do tend to give up a lot of offensive rebounds and free throw opportunities. Offensively, the turnovers created lead to a high-paced attack that is usually going downhill and trying to get to the rim before the defense can get set. His teams share the ball very well and he typically has 4+ players with over 20% usage, but rarely have any individual at 30+%. Conventional wisdom says the losses of Heron and Figueroa will hurt this team offensively, but that might not be true. Both of them shot under 40% inside the arc and while Anderson will hope for better outside shooting, his teams rarely rely on the three-point line, instead favoring inside scoring. With the ball more in the hands of Champagnie, Earlington, and Roberts, all of whom were reliable inside scorers, this team could surprise on the offensive end.

The coaches picked St. John's 9th in the league. Not as bad as Georgetown and DePaul, but simply not blessed with enough talent to compete at the top of the league. I think they're better than that. While Figueroa and Heron are big losses, I think there's reason to trust Anderson's system. The returning players fit his system well and Marquette fans will remember how effective that system can be when it's hitting on all cylinders. Having a wealth of players accustomed to lower usage rates that excel at scoring inside, which is exactly how Anderson coaches, seems to actually work more in this team's favor than the Mullin players that never quite seemed to fit right together. 40 Minutes of Hell will almost certainly allow St. John's to steal a few games they aren't expected to win and I think instead of fighting to avoid the cellar they will more likely be battling for the bubble come March.

Marquette Memory: The 2013 regular season finale at Madison Square Garden was one for the ages. The Johnnies built up an 8-point first half lead, but Marquette ended the first half outscoring the Johnnies 13-2, then matched that feat to open the second and stretch the run to 26-4 and the lead to 14. Marquette had relatively comfortable control through the second half and when Jamil Wilson pushed the lead to 61-51 with 3:25 to play, it looked like it was time to celebrate a Big East Championship. Instead, the Johnnies rallied late, going on a 12-2 run to force overtime. St. John's retook the lead twice in overtime, but Marquette matched them both times. With the score tied at 67, Vander Blue took the inbound, used a Davante Gardner screen to shed his man, drove to his right and slashed to the rim. "They're on their feet at the Garden, Vander Blue...HE GOT IT! AT THE BUZZER!!!" With that win, Marquette secured their first and only Big East regular season title and Blue gave us a precursor to the drive that would beat Davidson a couple weeks later in the NCAA Tournament.

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