The St. John's Red Storm (2021-22- Overall: 17-15 Big East: 8-11 Finish: Big East Quarterfinals)
In less than two weeks, the St. John's Red Storm will tip off their 116th season against Merrimack College. With the departure of Julian Champagnie, the Johnnies turn the page on a big new chapter of the Mike Anderson era. Will this finally be the year that the Red Storm make a big push for a tourney bid, or will they once again stumble their way into a quiet mid-March?
While many fans were likely disappointed with the Red Storm missing the cut for the 2022 NIT, the writing was on the wall that last year's squad was just not up to par with the rest of the field. Sure, they had their moments, with big wins over Xavier, Butler, and Georgetown, all littered with stellar performances from the dominant duo of Champagnie and Posh Alexander. However, when it mattered most, the Johnnies faltered, unable to beat any team in the conference that either made the tournament or had a serious shot at an at-large bid.
Sure, the staggering amount of departures in the Summer of 2021 definitely had a big impact on this team's identity, but what hurt them the most was a major lack of organization up and down this roster. After shooting down rumors of his departure this Spring, Coach Anderson summed up his team's season by saying that he wished his team simply "came together quicker in terms of guys understanding their roles." Considering this team had six months of basketball to do that, and failed, St. John's fans everywhere headed into the offseason wondering where this team could have gone with some more proactive cohesion.
Aaron Wheeler (Graduated)
Julian Champagnie (Declared for draft, 2-Way Contract w/76ers)
Stef Smith (Graduated)
Tareq Coburn (Graduated)
Artemios Gavalas (Entered Transfer Portal)
Jalen Rosemond (Grad Transfer to Molloy)
For those speculative fans, they're no doubt disappointed that many of those "what-if's" surrounding last year's team will never be answered, as several key pieces from 2021-22 have either gone elsewhere via the transfer portal, gone to the pros, or graduated. Julian Champagnie, last year's leading scorer, leading rebounder, and 2-time Big East First Team member fell through the cracks at this year's NBA Draft, but gained enough attention to sign a 2-way contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. While he will likely start the season in Delaware, expect his first call-up sooner rather than later.
Outside of Champagnie, the biggest departures for the Johnnies are no doubt Aaron Wheeler and Tareq Coburn. An explosive forward who spent his first three seasons at Purdue, Wheeler started in over half of St. John's games last year. Wheeler was an incredibly efficient shooter (56% inside the arc last year), but could also power to the rim on any possession. After getting drafted 3rd overall in this year's G-League draft, the Johnnies will surely miss his ability to keep defenses guessing. Coburn, who averaged 4.3 ppg last season, accounted for one half of a strong utility duo with Stef Smith that won't be easily replaced.
Who's Comin' in:
Andre Curbelo (Transfer from Illinois)
David Jones (Transfer from DePaul)
AJ Storr (Freshman, IMG Academy)
Kolby King (Freshman, Montverde Academy)
Mohamed Keita (Freshman, The Winchendon School)
Despite a huge chunk of talent leaving this program, St. John's has bolstered their roster with a few transfers and some strong freshmen that have the chance to completely reshape this team's on-court identity. In terms of transfers, the Johnnies landed a huge piece in former Fightin' Illini Andre Curbelo. In two seasons at Illinois, Curbelo earned a reputation as a high-IQ playmaker, averaging 3.8 APG and winning Big 10 Sixth Man of the Year as a Freshman. While Posh Alexander already serves as the main disher for this team, he has personally expressed his excitement to share the floor with Curbelo, commending his relentless work on the press.
As for David Jones, the former DePaul guard will look to reinforce that crucial wing spot that the aforementioned Smith and Coburn left open. While the Blue Demons' performance as a team prevented Jones from gaining national attention as a statistical workhorse. His triple-double against Georgetown (22 pts, 14 boards, 10 assists) was no doubt the highlight of a mediocre conference run for DePaul in 2021-22.
In terms of the freshmen, Coach Anderson really flexed his recruiting muscles with this year's class. AJ Storr, ranked 84 in ESPN's final 2022 recruit rankings, committed to the Johnnies in August of 2021, at a time where some suggested he could be the Red Storm's best prospect since Shamorie Ponds. Off the bench, Storr will be a big body at guard that can box out, score in transition, and lay on staggering defensive pressure. Kolby King, also out of Florida, and Mohamed Keita, a 7-1 Guinean recruit who went to high school in Massachusetts, will both work their way up the ranks via their exceptional defensive prowess.
Who's Still Here:
Wow. Ok. So maybe this team won't need that much more time to gel than I thought? Looking at this returning roster, and combining their strengths with all of the guys I've already talked about, I think we've got some pretty scary Johnnies that could make a serious run in the Big East this year. Of course, at the center of this team now sits Posh Alexander. In his third year in Queens, Alexander will be the primary scorer and ballhandler, and has worked his butt off in the offseason to make sure that he is up for the challenge. His relationship with Curbelo on the floor will definitely determine which role he fills specifically, but it's Alexander's team, and his shot to call. After improving in scoring, rebounding, and assisting last season, Alexander has practically locked himself in the gym this summer, determined to be the key piece to any Johnnies success in 2022-23.
Of course, if Posh and Curbello going to be dishin' in Queens this season, they've gotta feed the ball to someone who will be swishin'. For two prime targets, look no further than a front court rotation featuring O'Mar Stanley, Joel Soriano, and Esahia Nyiwe. After starting 26 out of 30 games for the Johnnies last year, Soriano will once again hit the floor nearly every game as the Red Storm's main big. As someone who has watched the guy develop since his first year at Fordham, I have a feeling that this year could be his best one yet. The dude is relentless on both sides of the floor, and can go toe-to-toe with any muscle he has to guard. Posting career highs in blocks, points, and assists last season, Soriano still feels like his ceiling on the St. John's roster is so much higher. As for Stanley and Nyiwe, they'll spend the first half of non-conference play fighting for the starting PF spot (psst...if you ask me, I'd give it to Nyiwe. The dude is magical on back door plays and can stretch the floor with a sneaky 3-point shot every once in a while).
Down the roster, those last few spots in the rotation are tough to call right now, but every candidate feels so strong. Dylan Addae-Wusu is a powerful guard who can play 2-4, but he'll have to compete for that final starting spot with Montez Mathis, who looks to continue his excellent turnover-inducing defense from last year.
Speaking of that starting lineup, it's a tough call, but here's how I think the Johnnies will look when they tip off against Merrimack on the 7th:
G: Posh Alexander
G: Andre Curbelo
G: David Jones
F: Esahia Nyiwe
C: Joel Soriano
This team is an enigma. While I think each individual player on this roster has such a high ceiling, and can be a big piece on any tournament worthy team, evaluating how well they come together as a cohesive unit is a completely different ball game. This team's strengths come defensively and down low offensively, so as long as they can prevent any team from dominating the three ball, they'll be able to stay afloat in the Big East. While not in the hot seat quite yet, Coach Anderson acted like it on the recruiting trail and within the transfer portal, bringing in what could possibly be his best set of newcomers so far. No doubt a fun, deep team, we'll figure out early on if these Johnnies are finally ready to take the next step.
Hey! You! Yeah, you! The Big East Breakdowns don't stop with these blogs. Check out what else our crew had to say about this year's Red Storm by listening to the latest Road to the Garden Podcast below: