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2022-23 Big East Men’s Basketball Summer Check-In: St. John’s Red Storm

With Julian Champagnie out the door, Mike Anderson added a couple new(ish) faces to compliment Posh Alexander & Co

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Team: St. John’s Red Storm

2021-22 Record: 17-15, 8-11 Big East

2021-22 Big East Finish: Seventh, with the same record as Xavier but got the tie breaker after beating the Musketeers twice.

Final 2021-22 Ranking: #55, that’s just one spot above Marquette surprisingly

Postseason? Nothing except beating DePaul in the first round of the Big East tournament and losing to Villanova in the quarterfinals.

Key Departures: I guarantee you that St. John’s fans are having preemptive nightmares about the post-Julian Champagnie era their program is about to embark on. Champagnie, if you don’t remember, is a two time All-Big East First teamer and was the Red Storm’s leading scorer. He declared for the draft after his sophomore year, but ultimately decided to return to St. John’s for his junior year. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, and Julian Champagnie deciding to stay at St. John’s doesn’t either. He ended up going undrafted, but signed a two-way contract with the Philadelphia 76ers where he’ll get a chance to prove that he’s an NBA level player.

In Champagnie, the Red Storm is losing their leading scorer, rebounder, and a player who started all 31 games he played in. He scored 19.2 points per game, good for second in the Big East, he snagged 6.6 rebounds per game, and his two steals per game put him at second in the conference only behind teammate Posh Alexander. Champagnie’s impact can’t be overstated, the only game he didn’t play was St. John’s worst loss of the season: a two point home defeat to #195 Pitt.

St. John’s also loses their third leading scorer (yikes) in Aaron Wheeler (10.0 ppg). Wheeler started 16 of 31 games he played in after transferring over from Purdue and shot a scorching 38.5% from behind the arc to go along with 56% inside it. When he wasn’t starting, he was an offensive spark off the bench. In a game against Villanova on February 8th he put up 31 points and 7 rebounds in the loss. St. John’s is also losing role players Stef Smith and Tareq Coburn who averaged 6.3 and 4.3 points respectively. Smith started 10 games this season, the first seven of which came in the first seven games of the season. Coburn started three games this season, one of his starts was a 20 point game in a win over Xavier, his best game of the season.

Key Returners: While losing two of their top three scorers, St. John’s is also returning four players who started at least 15 games this past season. That includes All-Big East Honorable Mention and turnover-forcing machine Posh Alexander. In Alexander, the Red Storm are getting a player who started 25 of the 29 games he played in, 13.8 points per game, a second in the Big East 5.5 assists per game and Big East leading 2.3 steals per game this past season. The 6-foot guard is heading into his junior year and figures to be one of the Red Storm’s stars yet again.

Following the departures of Champagnie and Wheeler, 6’11 Joel Soriano figures to have the starting center spot locked down coming into the season. Soriano started 26 of the 30 games he played in last season and tallied up 6.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Where he really excelled was shot blocking, altering 1.7 blocks per game for a block rate of 9.9%, and that was good enough for #31 in the country.

We’ve got a couple more returners with starting experience coming back for the Red Storm in Montez Mathis and Dylan Addae-Wusu. There’s some intrigue with these two as they’re likely competing for the final two starting spots. Mathis was the more frequent starter his past season posting 8.2 points per game and starting 28 of those games. Addae-Wusu averaged 8.3 points and 3.9 assists per game while shooting 38.1% from three, but only started 15 of 32 games last season.

Key Additions: Anyone in the mood to hear about some good ol’ Big East cannibalism? Former DePaul forward David Jones is heading over to St. John’s after a really good sophomore season for the Blue Demons. Jones is a 6’6” wing who averaged 14.5 points per game last season for the Blue Demons along with 7.4 rebounds. He also had a 20+ point triple-double against Georgetown in one of the best single game stat lines across college basketball last season. His final stats were 22 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists, one block, and two steals.

The other big name addition for the Red Storm is a familiar name to Marquette fans... Andre Curbelo. If you don’t remember Curbelo from his tenure at Illinois, he was projected by some to be an All-American last year and then had seven turnovers in a single game against Marquette in November. He really regressed from his first year to his second year, but if by some miracle he can find his first year form he’ll have a lot to offer St. John’s. At his best he’s a shifty guard who’s good at making and finding space for teammates with a pesky turnover-forcing knack on defense. At his worst, he’s a poor shooter (under 17% on 65 career three-point attempts at Illinois) who turns the ball over a lot (two years of a turnover rate over 25%) and doesn’t have the body type (6’1”, 175 lb) to be a versatile defender. It remains to be seen what form he’ll be in, but he’s the most hit or miss transfer in the whole Big East this upcoming season. Much of St. John’s success will be based off of how well he plays.

The Red Storm have a few freshmen incoming this season, but only one of the three was a top-150 recruit. That’s 6’6” guard AJ Storr. Storr clocks in as the 82nd best recruit according to ESPN and the 142nd recruit according to 247 Sports internal ranking system but their composite has him at 94th. Clearly, there isn’t much consensus on how things will pan out for the IMG Academy graduate. That said, he was a good shooter throughout high school and has the size to be a good 3-and-D player.

Coach: Mike Anderson is heading into his fourth season at St. John’s and 21st season as a D1 head coach overall. At St. John’s, he has a total record of 50-41, but through all his seasons as a head coach he has a record of 420-242. His next season with a final record under .500 will be his first.

Outlook: 2022-23 St. John’s will live or die by its transfers.

Anderson once again is going all in on his transfers. Last season Wheeler, Mathis, Smith, Soriano, and Coburn were all newly transferred in to the program. For those keeping count that’s five of the top eight guys on the roster a year ago. David Jones looks to be the best candidate to replace Champagnie’s 19.5 points per game and Andre Curbelo could be the real third game changing player that this team has been missing for awhile.

St. John’s is used to playing with new players, last year they ranked 239th in minutes continuity from the season prior. These players, particularly Alexander, have had to adapt to new teammates more than the average player so if there’s anyone suited to new guys walking right into the rotation, it’s the Red Storm.

St. John’s looks to continue to not be a great three point shooting team. Last year they shot 33.5% as a team and they’re losing their most effective three point shooter in Wheeler, highest percentage three point shooter (for players with more than 10 attempts) in Coburn, and highest volume three point shooter in Champagnie. And those guys are swapped out for two guys with career three point percentages of 16.9% for Curbelo and 27.3% for Jones. Yuck, or if you’re not a Red Storm fan, hooray! With that said, Anderson and his staff were able to turn Wheeler into an effective shooter, taking him from 26.6% the year before to 38.5% this past year. So there’s a small chance that Jones or Curbelo (with some godly intervention) can make that leap.

The defense is what is going to be really fun as a neutral viewer/annoying as an opponent this year. Anderson is going to keep being a Nolan Richardson disciple and encourage his guys to force turnovers and run in transition, and he’s got the pieces to be really dangerous in that direction. Alexander will probably lead the Big East in steals again, Curbelo’s passing ability and tenacity on the defensive end will hopefully mesh well, and Jones’s 1.7 steals per game (2nd in the Big East among returning players) and athleticism will get out on the run often. They ranked first in the country in tempo according to a year ago and will look to continue that trend with the players Anderson chose in the transfer market.

Losing Champagnie is going to really hurt and certainly there will be many games this season in which his absence will be palpable. It doesn’t seem like they have a “go get a bucket for us” guy quite like him on the roster now. But I do think that we’ll see Jones continue to improve his game, his scoring jumped by 9.4 points per game between last season and the season before, and he could become a legitimate NBA prospect if his defense adapts well to the turnover forcing game.

If Curbelo can recover any amount of his freshman year form, St. John’s could be a really dangerous team, but I just don’t see his offense coming around even in a system where he’ll get more chances. Alexander will keep doing his thing and, I’m hoping, will continue to progress his game to the point where he could touch the NBA after his senior season.

This feels like a fun team with a really good, active defense but not enough offensive weapons to make the NCAA tournament. If they couldn’t make it with Champagnie, I don’t think they can make it without him.