St. John’s Basketball Season Review
The 2020-21 St. John’s basketball season should be considered an overwhelming success. The program deserves an immense amount of credit for playing through a condensed season with many protocols in place due to COVID-19. After being picked to finish 9th in the preseason coaches poll, the Johnnies finished 4th place in the Big East. The team initially struggled in conference play, starting off winning just one of the first six games. Junior center Josh Roberts was then inserted into the starting lineup, sparking the Red Storm to win 10 of their last 14 conference matchups by stabilizing their defense.
Julian Champagnie, a former three-star recruit, improved in every facet of the game in his sophomore season. He led the conference in scoring and made the Big East First Team. Posh Alexander, another three-star recruit out of Brooklyn, won Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the conference. Finally, Mike Anderson won Big East Coach of the Year.
Julian Champagnie took the Superstar Leap
One of the most difficult tasks in the game of basketball is finding a number one option. Julian Champagnie took an absolutely sensational leap to be the team’s best player after a productive but inconsistent freshman year. He improved his scoring by nearly 10 points per game, averaging 19.8 PPG and 7.4 RPG.
He also increased his three-point percentage, shooting 38% compared to 31% the year prior. According to barttorvik.com, St. John’s was also 8 points better per 100 possessions with Champagnie on the floor compared to off the floor. Testing the NBA draft waters seems to be a realistic possibility after his stellar play this year. A potential return opens the door for a successful season for the Red Storm as well as a first-round selection in the NBA Draft.
The Rest of the Roster Shows Promise
Posh Alexander quickly became a nuisance for opposing teams to play against in the Big East. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year averaged 2.6 steals per game. Starting at point guard for the whole season, Alexander thrived in Anderson’s up-tempo system, pressing opposing players for 94 feet and scoring in transition with his quickness and physicality. The Johnnies were nearly 4 points better per 100 possessions with Alexander on the floor than off the floor.
Next, Greg Williams took a leap in his junior year. Arguably the team’s best two way-player, Williams displayed better passing, solid individual defense, an improved handle with the ball, as well as a knockdown three-point shot. The junior shot a ridiculous 45% from deep. He was also second on the team behind Julian Champagnie in box plus-minus. St. John’s was nearly 5 points better per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor than off. The key for Williams next year is to increase his aggressiveness and assertiveness by taking more shots.
Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington also made a positive impact when on the floor. Roberts provided rebounding and a shot-blocking presence while Marcellus Earlington provided a versatile offensive skill set. If Julian Champagnie returns for his junior year along with Alexander, Williams, Earlington, and Roberts, St. John’s should be looking at their first NCAA Tournament bid in the Mike Anderson era.
How St. John’s missed the NCAA Tournament
LJ Figueroa Transferring Proved Costly
LJ Figueroa transferring prior to the start of last season proved to be a substantial loss. He was one of the team’s best three-point shooters, as well as their most impactful perimeter defender at 6’7. Figueroa would have made an impact as the counterpart to Julian Champagnie on offense.
St. John’s also didn’t have the length and height on the perimeter as they did a year ago, when St. John’s starting perimeter consisted of 6’3″ Nick Rutherford, 6’5″ Mustapha Heron, and 6’7″ Figueroa.
This season, St. John’s started a perimeter of 6’0″ Posh Alexander, Rasheem Dunn at 6’2″, and 6’3″ Greg Williams. Williams is an impactful defender, but guarding bigger wings at 6’3″ was a difficult task for him. Big East guards and forwards were able to shoot over the top of the defense, shooting 34.2% from three-point range compared to 31.7% the year prior.
Lineup Fits on Both Sides of the Ball
The 2020-21 St John’s starting lineup was different from last year’s in a variety of ways. The Posh Alexander and Rasheem Dunn backcourt was not a tenable combination. It is extremely tough to play two guards together who shoot 16% and 30% from three-point range consistently. The starting lineup consisted of three non-shooting threats from outside in Alexander, Dunn, and Josh Roberts.
This made the spacing on offense cramped in the halfcourt, where the team had to rely on transition opportunities off of their defense. St. John’s was able to go on a six-game winning streak in large part due to Alexander shooting a scorching 46% from 3 during that span. If St. John’s can start Alexander and Williams in the backcourt, and add a plus defender on the wing with height and length, the team will be much improved on both sides of the floor next season.
The Josh Roberts Factor
Josh Roberts was a key reason as to why St. John’s season turned around for the better in January and February. Roberts had major shoulder surgery before the season had started after getting injured in a game versus Creighton. It looked as though coach Mike Anderson was working him back slowly into the lineup at the beginning of the season. At the start of Big East conference play, Robert played a mere 15 minutes total in the first 6 games. St. John’s recorded a 1-6 record during that span.
The decision to play Arnaldo Toro over Roberts proved costly, as Toro was a defensive negative, not being able to contain quicker bigs, and not a threat offensively as well. Isaih Moore provided a lob threat offensively but struggled to adjust on the defensive side of the floor.
Roberts was finally inserted into the starting lineup, providing athleticism, a defensive presence St. John’s had been missing as a rim protector and rebounder, and a boost of athleticism.
St. John’s was 9-2 in Big East play when Roberts played over 10 minutes a game. The team was also 4 points better per 100 possessions with Roberts on the floor. He proved that he deserved a consistent role going into next year.
What to watch for Next Year
St. John’s might have to add a backup point guard, a bigger wing on the perimeter with better size and shooting ability, and a big man who can guard in space as well as contribute offensively.
However, assuming Julian Champagnie returns for his junior year after testing the NBA Draft waters, the team should be poised to make a trip to the NCAA Tournament. With a backcourt of Posh Alexander and Greg Williams, a frontcourt of Marcellus Earlington and Josh Roberts, as well as a key reserve in Dylan Wusu and incoming recruits Drissa Traore and Rafael Pinzon, the team will be versatile and deep.
Year three of the Mike Anderson experiment will be a pivotal one, but the team is looking to be on the right path and built to sustain success moving forward.