Nothing like a few prominent figures altering the landscape of college basketball with a few Tweets. Not the tangible, actual landscape, but in the realm of perception. A place, mind you, where the St. John’s Red Storm would be glad to find a win.
Recently, mostly thanks to CBS’ Jon Rothstein being higher on the Johnnies than most, people have begun to jump on the Red Storm bandwagon. An overall weird bandwagon to be on, as St, John’s went 1-17 in Big East play last year.
Big East Preseason Power Rankings: Villanova, Xavier, Creighton, Seton Hall, Georgetown, St. John's, Butler, Marquette, Providence, DePaul.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 11, 2016
There is reason for optimism, though it should be of the cautious variety.
The Red Storm return some important pieces from this past season. Federico Mussini, Malik Ellison, Kassoum Yakwe and Yankuba Sima are all back. They’re also bringing in Tennessee transfer Tariq Owens to go with a recruiting class headlined by Shamorie Ponds — a top-40 prospect nationally — and JUCO talent Bashir Ahmed.
For the sake of
semantics rounding out the roster, well regarded German talent Richard Freudenberg joins the mix, as does Marcus LoVett, who was ineligible last season.
So, yes, by the very definition of the word “better”, St. John’s will most definitely be improved. Then again…
It is worth noting that simply because the Johnnies are returning a slew of players, that doesn’t automatically equal success. Yes, most of the players were freshmen and it’s always better to return players than not, but the 8-24 record that Chris Mullin had in his first year as head coach shouldn’t inspire too many folks to think that those same guys will help lead the Red Storm to the NCAA Tournament.
Better, improved, or whatever…it is all relative. In comparison to winning a singular Big East game and eight in total, of course St. John’s should be better.
Can the Johnnies be worse?
This is merely an attempt to halt some wild expectations before they become too fully formed.
While the bottom of the Big East (Hello, DePaul) should be a bit weaker than it has in years prior, it doesn’t mean the Johnnies get to jump them all by some birthright of being a sleeping giant in the conference. It simply means — and by “means” we really mean, well, nothing — that, in theory, the Red Storm have a better chance at not finishing as one of the two or three worse teams in the league.
That’s all in theory, too.
We often have a funny time deciding what teams are going to be good, and how that is so. The correlation of a team with a horrible record last season bringing back a ton of guys in 2016-17, plus the addition of a few other talents — to being the sixth best team in the Big East is a rather lofty projection.
Mullin is still a work in progress as a coach and despite returning a slew of players, most of them only have a year of experience under their belt. And there’s a decent chance many are over-valuing the impact some of the freshmen and transfers will have in year-one of their Red Storm adventure.
Basically, in this author’s working theory, if St. John’s had the exact same thing going on now, yet was instead Tulsa, this wouldn’t be a conversation we would be having. After all, the Red Storm are a program worth rooting for, sure, but to regularly pretend huge jumps in success are going to happen is forever funny.
That’s mostly the point.
It seems like every other year a college basketball pundit will somewhat randomly choose St. John’s to either be the most improved team in the country, myself included. But the reality has stayed the same: St. John’s is still mostly an annual bottom dweller in the Big East, with a few exceptions sprinkled in.
Don’t get me wrong, St. John’s can get to a more successful level at some point. It can even happen this very season.
But to continue bet on it without seeing it come to fruition first… well, what’s the definition of insanity?