Big East Preview Part III: Key Questions for St. John’s and Creighton

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 30th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we tackle St. John’s and Creighton.

#6 St. John’s – Will new additions finally bring consistency to the Red Storm?

Chris Mullin returns a much more experienced team this year in the Big Apple. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Mullin’s group was a fun team to watch last season, playing at one of the fastest tempos in the country and supported by a fearless backcourt duo of Marcus LoVett (15.9 PPG) and Shamorie Ponds (17.4 PPG). But their interest on the offensive end did not directly translate into an efficient half-court offense, nor did it carry over to success on the defensive end. So while the Red Storm were often competitive (7-11 in Big East play), the team’s offense came in spurts from its youthful backcourt or the sporadic contributions of junior Bashir Ahmed. That leaky defense of last season (131st nationally) often appeared to be a function of effort; the Red Storm ranked among the top 50 nationally in both steals and blocks, yet they were one of the worst in defensive field goal percentage (258th). Another year of experience for the youngest team in the conference will certainly bandage the consistency problem, and the biggest benefit should come in the form of its two transfers: Justin Simon (from Arizona) and Marvin Clark (from Michigan State). The duo will function as experienced plug-and-play guys at the forward spots, giving Mullin depth where he needs it most and additional scoring threats should the backcourt suffer an off night. If there’s one thing Johnnies fans have been asking for over the last several seasons, it’s an ability to sustain an occasional high level of play. With it, this team becomes a legitimate dark horse. Read the rest of this entry »

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St. John’s Bashir Ahmed Represents a Tradeoff Between Efficiency and Intangibles

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 15th, 2017

St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin has the luxury of being able to construct a wide variety of lineups, but a curious dilemma arises when one of his most important players is also his least efficient. His roster has lightning-quick, penetrating guards, floor-stretching shooters and a handful of ultra-athletic big men who can defend the post and rebound, but he only has one Bashir Ahmed. Most of his other players, no matter how talented, are limited to specific positions. Guards Marcus LoVett, Jr. and Shamorie Ponds stand at 6’0″ and 6’1″, respectively. Swingman Malik Ellison is a defensive specialist. And shot blocker Tariq Owens is tremendous in his role protecting the paint, but he is generally confined to putbacks on the offensive end of the floor. That leaves Ahmed, a 6’7″ JuCo transfer who possesses great talent combined with a penchant for iffy decision-making.

Bashir Ahmed is the Only True Wing Threat St. John’s Has (USA Today Images)

Ahmed is aggressive in attacking the basket, savvy enough to draw contact in the lane, and athletic enough to challenge most defenders — all highly desirable attributes in a small forward. But when combined with an ingrained habit of unabashedly exerting his will against good defenses, the result is too many turnovers and missed shots. As the below table shows, Ahmed lags behind the other Red Storm rotation players in just about every shooting category.

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Future of St. John’s Basketball Resides In Its Freshman Backcourt

Posted by Mike Knapp on January 18th, 2017

For a lot of schools, a record of 9-11 that includes two losing streaks of four or more games might sound disastrous. And while St. John’s certainly isn’t happy with its record to this point of the season, the Red Storm have already matched their win total from a year ago and must be pleased with the glimpses of potential the fourth-youngest roster in college basketball has shown. Fortunately for head coach Chris Mullin, two of his talented underclassmen in particular are showing signs of leading a future Big East juggernaut. St. John’s freshman backcourt of Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds have made the Red Storm one of the more promising, and entertaining, nine-win teams in college basketball.

Marcus LoVett has St. John’s future looking up. (St. John’s Athletics)

LoVett’s strengths lie in his brilliance with the ball in his hands, while Ponds is an elite scorer and athlete. But what makes the freshmen pair so difficult to defend is how interchangeable they are. LoVett may technically be the starting point guard — he logs 81 percent of the total minutes at the position — but Ponds regularly slides over to that role, even with LoVett on the floor, to give the opposing defense a different look. And while Ponds may play off the ball more often — he takes 66 percent of the shooting guard minutes — LoVett regularly assumes this role as well. Even better, they do so with excellent efficiency — both have effective field goal percentages over 55 percent and assist rates over 20 percent. With apologies to De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk at Kentucky, no other freshman backcourt in America boasts such impressive numbers, making the Red Storm a tricky match-up for perimeter defenses.

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St. John’s Future Bright Behind Kassoum Yakwe

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 23rd, 2016

Nobody, not even St. John’s fans, has watched the Johnnies play this season while possessing expectations of a season that would end in a postseason tournament appearance for them. Given those modest hopes, few are now looking at first-year head coach Chris Mullin or the performance of his youth-laden squad assembled last summer with any sort of disappointment. Instead, there is a common sense of understanding. Everybody around the program knows the results of this season are meaningless from a win-loss standpoint. The greater significance lies in the development of its core group of players, almost all of whom are freshmen enduring their first season of Big East basketball.

Chris Mullin Has St. John's Heading In The Right Direction (Photo: Steven Ryan, Newsday)

Chris Mullin Has St. John’s Heading In The Right Direction (Photo: Steven Ryan, Newsday)

Freshmen rarely, if ever, excel in conference play. So with present expectations having long ago been traded away for future dreams, it was both surprising and encouraging that the Red Storm played Villanova on its home floor as closely as any Big East team has (St. John’s ended up losing by ten), and more recently, were an untimely foul call away from derailing Seton Hall’s NCAA tournament plans.

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Propelled by Fresh Faces, the Chris Mullin Era Has Arrived at St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 15th, 2015

Few expected a winning season for a St. John’s team that experienced a complete roster upheaval. Not only was fifth-year head coach Steve Lavin shown the door, but all six players on a team that only played a six-man rotation to begin with departed the program. There was no apparent end in sight for the dark and gloomy forecasts that riddled the program. It went on for so long that fans, coaches and players alike were not wondering when, but if, St. John’s would ever return to its status as “New York’s team.” Alas, the arrival of Chris Mullin provided a struggling program with a flicker of hope. And that hope may be arriving sooner than expected. It started as an uphill battle for a program that hasn’t sniffed a continued degree of success since Mullin himself played in the 80’s. So after St. John’s suffered a blowout loss to Vanderbilt, struggled to hold off Division II Chaminade, and then lost by 16 at Fordham, few expressed much surprise. After all, this was a team full of misfits. Some were only at the university for a one-year stay as graduate students whereas others had been recruited to play for Lavin and were now forced to adapt to new leadership.

Slowly but surely, it seems the Red Storm are taking well to Chris Mullin's leadership. (Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Slowly but surely, it seems the Red Storm are taking well to Chris Mullin’s leadership. (Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Considering the limited degree of time and resources, Mullin’s roster construction in a matter of months has been a truly admirable effort. He took a completely unfamiliar group of players, put them on the floor together, and let the chemistry work itself out. “We’re young, we’re inexperienced, we’re all new guys, speaking a different language, but when you play together and you play well, it’s a positive reinforcement.” Mullin’s two graduate transfers Durand Johnson (Pitt) and Ron Mvouika (Missouri State) have stepped in as immediate contributors and provided invaluable leadership to the host of newcomers. Meanwhile, sparingly used returnees Christian Jones and Amar Alibegovic have worked to fill in the gaps while the freshmen, his freshmen, develop. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Column of Enchantment: Season is Near, Donald Trump and Unicorns…

Posted by Joseph Nardone on November 10th, 2015

The college basketball season is a few days away from starting. On Friday a full slate of games will begin, with ESPN‘s marathon of hoops kicking off shortly after, all of which will start the season off with a bang. It will also be buried under the wasteland that is football. Not that there’s anything wrong with men literally ruining their bodies for our entertainment, yet I do wish we would pay a little more attention in the realm of shooty hoops when the season starts. Every game, especially if your program is not an annual world-beater, means something at the end of the day. I mean, this isn’t Major League Baseball or anything.

Oh Yes, It's Back...

Oh Yes, It’s Back…

With the season quickly approaching there are going to be many bandwagon supporters of the sport. I wrestle with which one is worst: ambassadors of the sport who turn a blind eye to anything possibly wrong with it, or those who ignore it for 10-ish months of the year, then pretend they like it when the season starts, disappear a week later, finally culminating with their “undying love” of the sport showing again come March. There should be some sort of survey one must take which rates your college basketball love.

Example: Do you love crowds?

  • A) Yes
  • B) No
  • C) Lobsters

If you answered “A”, then you are a true college basketball fan. You are also admitting you like a sport as much for the atmosphere as you do the quality of the play on the court — as the latter isn’t nearly the same quality as the NBA’s, but accepting it never will be only makes one enjoy the sport.  If you answered “No”, well, you are probably a communist. Anyone who answered “Lobsters” is certainly reading the right column. Honestly, A Column of Enchantment is your go to source for lobster news, opinion, and insight.

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Big East Season Preview: The Outsiders (#7-#10)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 9th, 2015

Forecasting a team’s performance is no easy task, and to do it before a single game has been played is the equivalent of heaving half-court shots while wearing a blindfold. Nevertheless, here we are, just a work week away from the season tipping off and trying to determine which teams are worth buying into. Cases can be made for most any team to outperform its expectations, but at the end of the day, forecasting involves assessing the most likely scenarios and then re-evaluating those over the course of the season. Below are four Big East teams that will be starting the season at the bottom of the conference totem pole with a brief discussion of what they can do to alter that perception.

Chris Mullin has his work cut out for him this season. (AP)

Chris Mullin has his work cut out for him this season. (Photo: AP)

10. St. John’s

Poor, poor St. John’s. The only people that pity the team more than the fans are the players themselves. Following a 32-point turnover-fest to Division II St. Thomas Aquinas in a recent exhibition game, the collective faith of everyone involved with the program has dimmed. After all, this is a team returning just three sparingly used players from last season’s squad and throwing them into the mix with a handful of freshmen and transfers. The future might indeed turn out to be bright and Italian sensation Federico Mussini will do his best to challenge the negative prevailing sentiment, but expectations have been tempered. Best case? Mussini reins in the offense, freshman point guard Marcus LoVett quickly acclimates to the collegiate level, and Chris Mullin seamlessly integrates transfers Durand Johnson and Darien Williams in steering the Johnnies to the NIT. The more likely scenario is a ninth or 10th place Big East finish, but fans need to look past this season and take joy in a bigger picture that looks significantly better than the present.  Read the rest of this entry »

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What to Watch For: Key Big East Preseason Storylines

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 26th, 2015

College basketball is just around the corner. Finally. It seems like ages ago since we last discussed Big East basketball. Maybe that’s because the league had no deep NCAA Tournament runs outside of a Sweet Sixteen appearance from Xavier; or perhaps the droll of mid-summer baseball wasn’t enough to hold us over. Not to worry though, the hibernation period is over. For those who have distanced themselves from offseason news about the Big East for the last six months, here’s your handy primer. There are several key storylines worth monitoring as we approach the start of the regular season.

The Return of the… Freshmen?

(Ralph Thompson/maxpreps)

Jalen Brunson is the one to watch this season. (Ralph Thompson/maxpreps)

Three key players headline the list of Big East recruits this season, and all come at opportune times for their respective teams. The first is Jalen Brunson, recipient of the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year award and a star on the USA FIBA U-19 team over the summer. Brunson is a budding star and arguably the best point guard in his class, setting high expectations that he can provide an immediate scoring punch and carve out a starting role in Villanova’s loaded backcourt. Henry Ellenson, a 6’10″ forward who chose Marquette over the likes of Kentucky and Michigan State, will assume an immediate starting role in the Golden Eagles’ frontcourt alongside returning junior Luke Fischer. Ellenson is a big-bodied forward whose style more closely resembles a Brad Miller/Dirk Nowitzki type than a traditional back-to-the-basket player. And while Brunson might be the bigger household name following his summer breakout, Ellenson should have the larger impact on a resurgent Marquette team that desperately needs his size. Last is Georgetown recruit Jesse Govan, a 6’10″, 260-pound center who truly plays like one. His presence around the rim is game-changing on the defensive end, and as a result, the freshman should see immediate playing time following the departures of Joshua Smith and Mikael Hopkins. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Column of Enchantment: Are We Still Alive During the Offseason?

Posted by Joseph Nardone on April 16th, 2015

Last week I tried to give everyone advice as how they should deal with the college basketball offseason. Hopefully you listened. Sans, you know, the part about pitting your children against each other in a fistfight for lukewarm milk. You could probably have done without that. Still, the season has been over for what seems like forever now. Have you adjusted properly? Did you, or did you not, kill anyone because you are really struggling to find ways to entertain yourself? I know. It is tough. We should keep trying to get through this together. At least we have the rest of the (much saner than I) Rush the Court staff to keep us informed of all the offseason maneuvers.

Some of Us at Moe's Are Already in Sleep Mode (credit: Simpsons/FOX)

Some of Us at Moe’s Are Already in Sleep Mode (credit: Simpsons/FOX)

There is something new to talk about this week, though. It continues on our path of dealing with the offseason blues. For me, at least, it is something I probably think about far too often as it is, but figured I’d incorporate you little Johnny McPoopsticks in on the conversation. I want to know if you people are all real. Like, as in actual real human beings, or if you have been put on this planet solely for my amusement. Maybe I should explain a wee bit further.

———————–

Have you guys ever seen that Simpsons episode where Homer leaves Moe’s and Moe tells the other two customers that “He’s gone. Time to shut off.” and they all go in some sleep-like state? Yeah. About that. I think that is how all of you are. For real life. I don’t think every single person that reads this is actually a real person. Think about it for a second. Do you think I am a real entity? That every Wednesday I type on my laptop for you to read A Column of Enchantment on Thursdays? Or, more likely, I am just some digital code or work of (your) God put here to entertain you. I mean, you have never met me. You have no idea what I do when I am not typing on my laptop for your pleasure. For all you know, as soon as you read this I go into hibernation until the following week or fly back to my home planet of 0923498234 (We are advanced. We use numbers because math is the universal language).

More so: There is no way all you people can exist. Seriously. There are billions upon billions of people supposedly living on our planet. I have met, maybe, like a few thousand of you. Even a large portion of those people are just bodies walking by me. They might have empty craniums, possibly robot-like, and are only there for my eyeballs to see in an attempt to trick me into thinking there are other fully functioning members of society. And I don’t buy it for a single second.

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A Column of Enchantment: The Final Chapter of the Steve Lavin Story

Posted by Joseph Nardone on April 2nd, 2015

(Ed. Note: The first chapter of the Lavin story can be located here. Also, quotes may or may not be verbatim. Or accurate.)

The dark clouds have parted over the St. John’s campus. Despite much speculation regarding a possible extension, the Red Storm athletic department has parted ways with head coach Steve Lavin. Different reports have stated that Lavin was looking for more money and an extension, but that doesn’t matter now — the Johnnies have gone in another direction. One which they hope will bring much shine back to the program. That direction is going to be led by the greatest player in the history of their program, Chris Mullin. Still, Lavin has one last (short) adventure left in his story.

As he parts, Steve Lavin leaves Chris Mullin with some words of wisdom ... kinda. (ESPN)

As he parts, Steve Lavin leaves Chris Mullin with some words of wisdom … kinda. (ESPN)

———————-

Lavin is cleaning out his office. Unlike most other college basketball coaches, though, his office isn’t filled with film, game plans, or any other type of traditional coach’s office fillers. Instead it has a desk filled with restaurant menus, a calendar on the wall with the dates filled in with reservation times, and a coffee cup filled with a weird, green looking juice. This was Lavin’s home. Not anymore, though, as he has to leave it clean for the person who is taking his job. As he is cleaning out his office he makes a decision to be a good man. Lavin, as he often does, decides that he should leave Mullin a note that has some positive reinforcement in it. As with all things Lavin, though, the note becomes less of a good look memo and more of a watch your back warning.

Dear Chris Mullin,

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