St, John’s Red Storm face real test in Big East Conference play

Mike Anderson, St. John's Red Storm. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Mike Anderson, St. John's Red Storm. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The St. John’s men’s basketball team is off to a hot 11-2 start. The pace steps up as Big East Conference play on New Year’s Eve.

Mike Cragg would probably tell you the Red Storm’s 11-2 start was what he envisioned when he hired Mike Anderson, who never coached or recruited in the Northeast, to lead the St. John’s after the resignation of program icon Chris Mullin.

However, the St. John’s athletic director is having the last laugh. Many critics immediately dubbed Anderson’s hire as a “consolation prize” after failing to lure the likes of Bobby Hurley and Porter Moser to the Big Apple.

During his introductory press conference, Anderson told reporters, “We’re going to press, press, press. You’re going to see a team that’s very entertaining. We’re going to play exciting basketball for two hours.”

The new coach has been true to his word. St. John’s has played exciting basketball. That’s especially in their 70-68 upset of Big 12 powerhouse West Virginia at Madison Square Garden on December 7, and their 70-67 upset of 16th-ranked Arizona at the Hall of Fame Classic before Thanksgiving.

Some may call it luck, but the Johnnies have executed on defense and have received phenomenal play from the Mullin holdovers who barely sniffed the court. Additionally, the remarkable play of transfer of Brooklyn native Rasheem Dunn (the high school teammate of Shamorie Ponds) has provided a spark.

Mullin had five players score in double figures for last year’s squad including LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron, both of whom are averaging 15.5 and 15.0 points per game. However, the glaring difference has been the play of Marcellus Earlington, Josh Roberts, Nick Rutherford, and Greg Williams Jr.

Earlington, who played in 15 contests last season, averaged 2.1 points(PPG) and 1.5 rebounds per game (RPG) in only 3.1 minutes per contest. In 13 games this season, Earlington has used his 6-6. 240-pound frame to dominate opposing teams second units averaging 8.2 PPG while snagging 4.7 RPG.

While the aforementioned quartet has certainly made their mark on this thrilling season, the most impressive player has been freshman Julian Champagnie. The 6-7 Brooklyn native currently ranks fourth on the team with 10.3 PPG and 6.8 RPG. The first-year athlete is looking like a future face of the program and a building block for Anderson to use in his recruiting pitches.

Fans will get a chance to see what Anderson and company are truly made of when Big East Conference play rolls around on December 31. Seven other conference teams received votes in the latest college basketball poll. It will also be interesting to see how the Red Storm will be able to maneuver without Heron for a handful of games.