Right before the start of every season is when the St. John’s Red Storm are supposedly the team to watch out for in the Big East Conference. The program, forever a sleeping giant, that is to awaken from its slumber to reclaim some great glories of yesteryear with Chris Mullin manning the helm.
Each new season, however, the Johnnies fail to live up to that hype. On the surface, it’s unfair to bash a program for failing to live up to others’ expectations for it.
Then again, the Red Storm like to position themselves as New York’s team. As the program that calls The Mecca home and shouldn’t be trifled with. Realistic or not, it can be argued that they are just that, as Syracuse is the best program in the state, but rests well outside the city the Johnnies claim theirs.
As far as the national landscape is concerned, few outside the media care to entertain the idea of the Red Storm as anything other than a rich man’s version of DePaul. A program not nearly as incompetent, able to tickle the echoes of a greatness from years past just often enough, to avoid the public shame that comes with Blue Demons-sized impotence.
That was until St. John’s released its non-conference schedule for the upcoming season. The jokes are now being made as if everyone is the next coming of George Carlin.
A team with a legitimate NCAA Tournament roster has positioned itself to be in the same spot as the Georgetown Hoyas last season — although, at least Patrick Ewing and company could justify their cupcake schedule as some sort of adjustment period.
Nevertheless, due to inserting teams such as the Club State Pool Cleaners and University of Broken Dreams on the 2018-19 docket, the St. John’s Red Storm are going to need one hell of a run to earn an at-large bid to the Big Dance — even if the talent on the team dictates a 20-plus win season should be enough.
The above schedule is courtesy of CBB Today staff writer and Rumble In The Garden editor Norman Rose, who also points out the average KenPom ranking of those teams last season is 208 out of 351. That’s less than ideal in building a solid strength of schedule.
Alas, there’s more to this weak lineup of opponents. There is a stark difference between Georgetown’s lackluster non-conference last season and the Red Storm’s one entering this upcoming voyage — and it rests on the idea of Chris Mullin.
Unlike Ewing, who was entering his inaugural campaign 12 months ago, the Johnnies are a few years deep in the Chris Mullin era. The benefit of the doubt that can be given to a first-year coach is long gone, given way to a restless fanbase yearning for the type of consistent success last witnessed when their current coach was trotting about collegiate hardwoods for SJU legend Lou Carnesecca.
Forget the perception of the Johnnies just for a moment, though, and instead focus on a few realities.
The Red Storm does have an actual NCAA Tournament roster. One that features a few NBA-level players and — despite losing Tariq Owens to transfer — has enough depth to likely be considered one of the five best teams in a down Big East Conference.
Unfortunately for the Red Storm, the latter part rings tragically true, as the league could be considered the weakest it has been since the Catholic Seven told Mike Aresco and his football money to go take a hike. In turn, it means there’s little wiggle room for missteps for any Big East team looking to earn a pair of dancing slippers come March.
This is especially so for the St. John’s Red Storm, as the non-conference schedule — yes, with a few exceptions — will not present enough opportunities to wow the Selection Committee come an important Sunday in March. Rather, it will mostly come down to tantalizing a nation come (only) the Big East schedule.
To be relatively fair to the Red Storm, while the schedule is oddly NEC/local-heavy, this could be a measured risk the athletic department is taking. That, sure, there’s the wonderful core group of players like Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon and Marvin Clark returning to the fold, but Mullin will need to work transfer guard Mikey Dixon and others into the rotation.
Lineup adjustments, chemistry, etc. All of that wonderful jazz. Still, this issue arises for nearly all of the 300-plus Division I programs looking to have a meaningful March. The excuses can be made for the program, but it won’t change how those with power view it come Selection Sunday.
Quadrant, and Quadrant Tiers, matter in the year 2018. Unless something strange happens, SJU will have few moments even side-eyeing Q-1 wins.
To be put bluntly, the Red Storm have a schedule that forces their own hand. Such a woeful, without enough meaningful games on the non-conference schedule that they can’t afford a single letdown game before the Big East schedule even begins, then will need to be near the very top of the league to be considered for an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament.
But hey, who knows, maybe Rutgers and Georgia Tech and Temple and Cal will all wildly exceed expectations, raising the profile of SJU’s non-conference campaign. And hey, there’s always Duke!
A perfect season isn’t a must for the Johnnies, but a flawless November through the New Year is. A dropped game here and there, coupled with a presumed better than fine Big East run just won’t be enough for Chris Mullin to justify a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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