St. John’s impressed in November but need to improve

LJ Figueroa, St. John's Red Storm. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
LJ Figueroa, St. John's Red Storm. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

One month into 2019-20 and St. John’s is off to a 7-2 start. They still have much to improve as the Big East season is just around the corner.

The first month into Mike Anderson‘s St. John’s head coaching tenure has gone as you would expect. The Red Storm are good against really bad teams and play teams with NCAA Tournament aspirations really tight in close losses. But that’s not going to cut it when Big East play rolls around later this month.

The Johnnies have amassed a 7-2 mark during the month of November with a 70-68 loss to Vermont and an 87-80 loss to Arizona State as the only blemishes. With five non-conference games left on the schedule, Anderson has a good chance to lead the Johnnies to a 3-2 record considering his squad probably drops games to West Virginia and 12th-ranked Arizona.

Before the season started, Anderson’s signing by St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg was widely considered a “consolation prize” hire by some of the fanbase. However, Anderson has proved he was the best option because of his willingness to embrace New York City and the surrounding area in terms of recruiting and the transfer portal. Anderson has taught his “40 Minutes of Hell” defense while allowing Chris Mullin holdover’s to run freely on offense.

The St. John’s Red Storm is averaging 81.4 points per game – good for 32nd in the Nation – while holding opponents to 67.0 points per game (154th in Nation). Those numbers will certainly come down as all of the Big East teams own a .500 record or better as of December 3, but remain an encouraging number nonetheless.

The 81.4 PPG average is due in part to the offensive leadership of senior guard Mustapha Heron and junior forward LJ Figueroa. The pair is averaging 14.8 and 14.1 points per game, but have shown fatigue in some early matchups where they’ve both struggled to score the rock at times.

It’s easy to fault the pair when the Carnasecca faithful expect a high scoring output, but they are a year removed from Shamorie Ponds, Marvin Clarke II and Justin Simon talking up a bulk of the shots. Even more impressive is Heron’s three-point percentage. The shooting guard from Waterbury, Connecticut, has canned 16 of his 30 (.533) attempts from downtown on the season good enough for 34th in the Nation.

Rasheem Dunn, the Cleveland State transfer who many believed would not don a red and white jersey during the team’s 2019-2020 campaign, was granted eligibility by the NCAA and has not shied away from the spotlight. The Brooklyn native averages 12.4 PPG on shooting 37.7 percent from the field.

Despite the latter’s contributions on both ends of the floor, Anderson has gotten the most out of  Josh Roberts, Marcellus Earlington and David Caraher – three guys that barely sniffed the court during the Mullin era. The trio has shown they are serviceable role players with Earlington having a strong chance to breakout by midseason.

Julian Champagne has been a revelation and the future face of the program should he remain in Queens. The 6-7 freshman is third on the team averaging 27.3 minutes on the court while adding 11.4 PPG and 6.9 rebounds.

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It will be interesting to see how the Johnnies stack up when conference play begins.