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2021-22 Big East Women’s Basketball Team Preview: St. John’s Red Storm

The Johnnies were a confusing team last year, but hopefully that confusion leads to better things this season.

NCAA Womens Basketball: St. John’s at Connecticut
What can the Red Storm expect from Leilani Correa this season?
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Team: St. John’s Red Storm

2020-21 Record: 8-15, 4-12 Big East

2020-21 Big East Finish: Eighth, tied with Providence in the win column, but two games back of the Friars in the loss column.

Final 2020-21 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #174

Postseason? They beat Xavier in their first Big East tournament game, but got their clock cleaned by UConn in the next round to end their season.

Key Departures: Just two, and technically, one of them isn’t actually a major loss from last season’s roster and production.

The one for sure loss is Raven Farley, who was one of two women to start all 23 games last season. She was a pretty good contributor across the board, as the 6’4” New Jersey native added 6.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and a team high 1.3 blocks to the proceedings on a nightly basis in just a shade over 26 minutes a game. The only other loss that’s important relative to the St. John’s roster is Qadashah Hoppie, but she wasn’t actually that important to St. John’s last season. She tallied over 1,100 points in her first three seasons for the Johnnies.... but then was limited by injury to just eight games last season. She was great for those eight games, averaging 18.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and a steal, but at the end of the day Hoppie didn’t play a single minute after January 20th and now she’s at Texas A&M for her bonus season.

Key Returners: The Red Storm have eight women coming back from last year’s roster, but thanks to how tightly the Johnnies generally keep their rotation, there are only six that made a notable contribution to the squad.

We’ll start with Leilani Correa, who topped the team in minutes per game and is the leading returning scorer at 17.6 per contest. She’s also the only one averaging more than 10 points per game that’s back from last season. About the only thing Correa did not do was drain threes (26%) as she also rebounded pretty well for a 6-foot guard at 5.4 per game, dished out 2.6 assists per game, and came up with a team high 1.8 steals per game as well.

Unique Drake and Kadaja Bailey are next on the list that have to be mentioned, as they played in every game and averaged more than 31 minutes a night. Drake is the other woman who started every game for the Johnnies, and the 5’7” guard went for 9.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, and a tied-with-Bailey-for-the-team-high 3.0 assists per game. Bailey only started in 19 of 23 games, but she was still called on to play more minutes than most people at 35.0 per game on average. 9.8 points, a team high 5.9 rebounds per game, and a tied-with-Drake 3.0 assists per game is pretty good. The 6-foot tall guard also led the team in blocks.

Rayven Peeples and Emma Nolan appeared in every game but only started six and 14 times respectively. Peeples made the better use of her time, going for 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per game, while Nolan gave the Red Storm just 3.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game while averaging less than half the game in PT. Camree Clegg is the last other returning player worth mentioning, because averaging more than 12 minutes a game while appearing in every game is notable. Her stats of 2.5 points, 0.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists? Hmmmm, maybe a little less notable.

Key Additions: St. John’s has two freshmen on the roster, only one of whom is even mentioned by Blue Star Basketball. That’s Katie Burton, and the Indiana native is ranked just #195 by Blue Starr. The other freshman is Idan Shlush, who hails from Gedera in Israel. No bio for her on SJU’s website, so she’s still a mystery to me.

The Red Storm also have two experienced college players on the roster who did not play for them last year, and weirdly, both are New York natives named Danielle who have two years of eligibility remaining after playing at Notre Dame in the past. Danielle Cosgrove (6’4”) comes to St. John’s after two relatively uninteresting years with the Irish and an opt-out of last year’s pandemic season. Danielle Patterson was at Notre Dame for her first two years of college hoops and played in 66 games before transferring to Indiana. She had a transfer redshirt season before playing in 14 games for Indiana last year and averaging even fewer minutes for the Hoosiers than she did with the Irish.

Coach: Joe Tartamella, entering his 10th season in charge of the Red Storm and overall. He has a record of 170-115 and is looking for his first NCAA tournament berth since 2016. Somehow that last bit sounds a lot more damning than it did when I wrote it last year.

Outlook: This sounds overly simplistic, but this season is going to come down to one thing for St. John’s: Did they learn how to play without Qadashah Hoppie in the lineup last season?

Here’s how the St. John’s season went last year, ignoring various cancelations and postponements:

  • Started 2-1 without Hoppie available
  • Lost her first two games of the season
  • She missed the next game, also a loss
  • Hoppie played in the next six games as St. John’s went 2-4
  • She missed the rest of the season and St. John’s went 4-7 in those games.

If you want, go ahead and say that St. John’s only went 4-5 in their final stretch of the year because two of the losses were laughers against Connecticut. One was a 32 point loss in Storrs, and the other was a 36 point loss in the Big East tournament quarterfinals. BREAKING NEWS: St. John’s was not on Connecticut’s level last year. Almost no one was. Not a big deal.

What you end up with is a Red Storm squad that went 6-9 overall without Hoppie — 6-7 if you’re being forgiving relative to the Huskies — and 2-6 with her in the lineup. If you want to trim it down to just games against Big East opponents to try and figure out where the Johnnies fit into the league: 4-9 (4-7 vs non-UConn) without Hoppie, 1-4 with her.

I’m not trying to tell you that Qadashah Hoppie was a drag on last year’s St. John’s team. That’s a dumb thing to do. She’s a very good basketball player. What I am going to try and convince you that it was hard for the Red Storm to deal with Hoppie going in and out of the lineup for the first 12 games of the year. Once they knew she wasn’t going to play any more, then the Johnnies could proceed about building an ongoing gameplan without having to worry about fitting her in any more.

Sure, it didn’t go well and I’m not trying to convince you that 6-9 is a great basketball record because it’s absolutely not. But, the question is whether St. John’s learned how to play without Hoppie. If they did, then they’re set up pretty well for this season. If you ignore Hoppie from the equation here, they lose just one of the seven women who played a major role on last year’s team. That sets St. John’s up pretty well if they can continue to build on the lessons they learned about themselves in the final 11 games of the year.

Hopefully their freshmen or their transfers or the returning deep bench players step up to help create depth on this roster, and in theory, the Red Storm should be better than they were last year.

That is, however, going to come down to Joe Tartamella making use of that theoretical depth. If I were a St. John’s fan, I’d be really worried about the coaching staff looking at the roster and saying “ah, yes, six women that we relied on nearly exclusively last year, we are all set to go this season.” For whatever insane reason, this keeps happening with Joe Tartamella’s teams. I don’t know why he loves to try to play somewhere between five and seven women for 27 to 40 minutes a night, but he reeeeallly loves it. I mean, it kind of works because Tartamella’s teams generally speaking don’t like playing at a fast pace, so it’s not like they need to make subs to keep fresh legs on the floor. But the flip side of that coin is that those high minute totals really start dragging on the core that you are using at some point.

It would be one thing if you saw nine or ten women playing in every game but just not a lot of minutes. That’s not the case here. St. John’s had six women play in every game last season and a seventh play in all but one. The lowest minute total there was just under 13 minutes. Four of the five non-Hoppie women who played in somewhere between 19 and four games last year? No one played more than six minutes a night. The fifth was Fapou Sembene who played 24 total minutes in two games, and she’s not even on the roster any more anyway.

I think St. John’s can and will be better this season, but it might take a slight change in approach from the coaching staff to get there.