Opportunity Knocks for St. John’s Basketball
No doubt, LJ Figueroa’s recent transfer to play for the Oregon Ducks is a substantial loss. Figueroa led St. John’s in scoring at 14.5 points per game (PPG) and was second on the team in three-point percentage at 36.5 percent behind Mustapha Heron last season. He was also the Big East’s leader in steals per game. St. John’s will certainly miss his three-point shooting, defense, and versatility on both sides of the ball.
However, in his first season as Head Coach, Mike Anderson provided an opportunity of increased playing time for other players such as Julian Champagnie, Greg Williams Jr., Marcellus Earlington, Josh Roberts, and Rasheem Dunn. These five players all made their impact at various portions of the season.
Replacing Figueroa’s production by one player may be a tough task, but the experience and development of the roster last season can collectively fill the void. A different player may be the leading scorer on any given night. Winning will have to be executed by a collective effort. With the majority of last season’s returning core intact and a well-regarded five-man recruiting class coming in, St. John’s basketball has the potential to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Opportunity Knocks for St. Johns
Continuity and Experience Will Prove Vital to Success
The return of core players and depth has been a rarity for St. John’s basketball in years past. In his first year, Coach Mike Anderson laid the blueprint for the program in regards to setting a culture of hard work, unselfishness, development, and togetherness. The continuity of St. John’s roster will be a huge strength going into next season. The team welcomes back six players who played steady minutes last season. The players already have a full year of experience sharing the court together in what was arguably the best conference in college basketball last season in the Big East. The development of each player throughout the course of last year will pay dividends going into next season.
St. John’s Players Going into the Season
Julian Champagnie looks poised to take a leap in his sophomore season. The Brooklyn native averaged 9.9 PPG and 6.5 rebounds per game (RPG) while shooting 31.0 percent from three on the year. A member of the Big East’s All-Freshman Team, Champagnie displayed his versatility and athleticism on offense and defense by playing a wealth of positions on the court. Champagnie showed his ability to shoot from mid-range and from the three-point line, as well as his ability to take advantage of slower bigs by getting to the rim. The 6’8 forward, who has garnered buzz as a potential 2020 NBA Draft prospect, and very well may be the standout player for the Red Storm during the 2020-2021 season.
Next for St. John’s basketball, Greg Williams Jr. played at a very high level to finish last season. The Louisiana native averaged 12.8 PPG and 3.8 RPG in his final five games of the season. The 6’3 guard is also the team’s leading returning three-point shooter at 34.0 percent on the year. Williams displayed his two-way play as someone who is able to defend the league’s best guards, as well as attacking the rim with ferocity and pristine shooting from three-point territory. Williams showed potential as someone who can create their own shot as well. Without a doubt, when Williams was aggressive on offense, good things happened for St. John’s, and the team is going to need that consistent approach next year.
Finally, simply put, Marcellus Earlington was a revelation last season. The 6’6 forward averaged 9.0 PPG and 4.7 RPG in his sophomore year. Earlington exhibited his ability to pass, guard multiple positions, shoot from mid-range, and an array of post moves. While only shooting a mere 28.0 percent from three-point range in his sophomore year, an improved three-point shot will make Earlington even more dangerous on offense in his junior season. Earlington possesses the rare combination of being able to attack the basket against centers and also having the girth and physicality to guard bigger players as well. Earlington arguably has a chance to make the biggest impact on next year’s squad.
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The Incoming Recruiting Class Will Make an Impact
For St. John’s basketball to take the next step as an NCAA Tournament caliber team, the incoming recruiting class needs to make an impact. The potential replacement for LJ Figueroa on the perimeter is Vince Cole. In Junior College at USC Salkehatchie, Cole averaged a remarkable statistical output averaging 21.0 PPG. He also shot 52.0 percent from the field, 45.0 percent from three-point range and 90.0 percent from the free-throw line. At any level, a 50-40-90 statistical line is an extremely rare and difficult feat. Ranking eighth in Big East play in three-point shooting, Cole’s shooting prowess will be a huge aid to the offense, as well as his shot versatility and positional size.
Furthermore, Posh Alexander is going to provide an immediate jolt in the backcourt for St. John’s program. The New York native can get to the rim with ease, score in transition, and pass with flash. He combines blazing open court speed with strength and athleticism. Alexander and Dunn will pair to be two of the better point guard combinations in the Big East next season.
Ultimately, Isaih Moore will add to an already experienced frontcourt. The 6’10 forward who played his sophomore year at Pearl River Community College, averaged 15.9 PPG and 9.1 RPG. The Third Team Junior College All American displayed ferocious rebounding, ability to run the floor, and upside as a three-point shooter. These three players have the potential to contribute immediately during the 2020-2021 NCAA season.
The 2020-2021 Big East is Expected to be a Down Year
The Big East is losing an abundance of star players and key contributors next season. The conference will be without Myles Powell, Markus Howard, Kamar Baldwin, and Alpha Diallo. The Big East will also lose Saddiq Bey, Paul Reed, Naji Marshall, Ty-Shon Alexander, and Jordan Tucker as early entrants to the NBA Draft. Villanova and Creighton look to be two of the early favorites in the conference, returning multiple starters and depth pieces. Seton Hall, Providence, and newly added Big East conference member UConn also return a number of contributors as well.
In conclusion, the rest of the Big East contains inexperienced and new players to their rosters, while also losing star players. With St. John’s continuity, experience, development, and incoming recruiting class, a spot near the upper echelon of the Big East is there for the taking.
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