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2017-18 Big East Men’s Basketball Summer Check-In: St. John’s Red Storm

Is this the year where we have to start taking Chris Mullin in New York seriously?

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at St. John Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Team: St. John’s Red Storm

2016-17 Record: 14-19, 7-11 Big East

2016-17 Big East Finish: Eighth, two games back of seventh and two games ahead of ninth.

Final 2016-17 KenPom Ranking: #99

Postseason? Nope.

Key Departures: Federico Mussini (8.2 points, 1.7 rebounds)

Key Returners: Shamorie Ponds (17.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists), Marcus LoVett (15.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists), Bashir Ahmed (13.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists), Tariq Owens (5.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks), Kassoum Yakwe (4.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks)

Key Arrivals: Sidney Wilson (small forward, 6’6”, 170 lb.), who is ranked #85 in 247 Sports’ Class of 2017. He’s St. John’s only incoming freshman, though, which is why they have a class rank outside the top 100 and sit in last in the conference in that regard. They also add Marvin Clark and Justin Simon, little used transfers from Michigan State and Arizona, respectively.

Coach: Chris Mullin, in his third season at St. John’s and overall (22-43)

Outlook: Is it crazy to think that St. John’s could be in the NCAA tournament in 2018? I don’t think it is.

They closed last season on a 5-7 run in Big East play, and while that’s not knock-your-boots-off great, it also means they weren’t that far away. With the exception of Federico Mussini, who has decided to pursue a pro career, they bring every important piece back. Even better, SJU finished the season as a top 100 KenPom offense, and that’s with Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett doing a large amount of the heavy lifting as freshmen.

You’d have to figure that both of those guys will be a little more efficient with a season of college hoops under their belts, especially since neither one had major turnover issues. Having Sidney Wilson on the squad should help spread the responsibility around, too, and with Marvin Clark and Justin Simon coming free from their transfer redshirt years, that’s a lot of added depth.

They’re going to have to figue out how to play defense, though. They were #11 in the country in tempo last year and #1 in the Big East, but that appears to be using speed to mask their defensive struggles. Forcing turnovers was the only good thing they did on defense, as they couldn’t stop shooters, couldn’t grab defensive rebounds (although Tariq Owens was pretty good at those on an individual level), and couldn’t keep opponents off the free throw line. That’s a bad, bad combo, and the Red Storm will need a major improvement in at least two of those three areas in order to have postseason dreams become reality.

If nothing else, the Chris Mullin era appears to be on the upswing, and that’s good news for St. John’s. Hiring the program’s biggest star with no coaching experience of any kind was a big risk, and at least for now, it seems like the right move for the Red Storm. As things continue, Mullin’s success will end up providing an interesting measuring stick for Georgetown, as new Hoyas head man Patrick Ewing has a decade-plus as an assistant coach in the NBA.