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2023-24 Big East Men’s Basketball Summer Check-In: St. John’s Red Storm

How fast can Rick Pitino turn things around for the Red Storm?

St. John’s Introduces Rick Pitino Photo by Porter BInks/Getty Images

Team: St. John’s Red Storm

2022-23 Record: 18-15, 7-13 Big East

2022-23 Big East Finish: Eighth, three games behind a tie for sixth and one game ahead of Butler.

Final 2022-23 Ranking: #82, down from their preseason ranking of #37

Final 2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #78, down from their preseason ranking of #47

Postseason? After beating Butler by 13 on the first day of the Big East tournament, the Red Storm pushed eventual tournament champions Marquette to overtime before the Golden Eagles brought their season to an end.

Key Departures: Almost everyone.

I’m not going to trouble you with rattling off stats for everyone here. There’s way too many people to get through, and it’s just going to turn into a garbled mess. Instead, I’m just going to list everyone that I would normally put in this section that’s not coming back in order of how many games that they started for the Red Storm last season.

  • Posh Alexander, 28
  • Dylan Addae-Wusu, 19
  • O’Mar Stanley, 18
  • David Jones, 17
  • AJ Storr, 17
  • Andre Curbelo, 16
  • Montez Mathis, 14
  • Rafael Pinzon, 2

For the sake of driving a point home, there’s also Esahia Nyiwe, who started one game in 27 appearances but only averaged 8.2 minutes per game. There’s also four more guys from last year’s roster that are gone now, but they don’t meet the (admittedly arbitrary) game or minutes minimums that I use to decide whether or you’re a key returning player.

13 guys from last year’s roster are not returning. That’s a lot.

Also departing: Head coach Mike Anderson. The good news is that he leaves Queens with his streak of always finishing above .500 overall intact. The bad news is that he finished over .500 in Big East play just once in four seasons, going 10-9 in 2020-21, aka the World’s Weirdest College Basketball Season Ever. The worse news for St. John’s is that Golden Gate Mike is suing the university for wrongful termination, claiming that they are attempting to fire him for cause and not pay his buyout so they could have lots of free money available to throw at the new head coach. More on him in a minute.

Key Returners: Joel Soriano. That’s it. He’s the list. Now, as it happens, Soriano was one of just two guys to appear in all 33 games, and he was the only one who started all 33 games. Yes, I know, I can’t believe St. John’s went 7-13 in Big East play while using 11 different starting lineups in 33 games. Soriano was also the team’s scorer at 15.2 points and the leading rebounder at 11.9 per game. He also led the team in blocked shots, although that’s less impressive when you remember that the 6’11” Yonkers native was the starting center and played over 30 minutes a game.

For the sake of being completist, yes, Drissa Traore and his 49 total minutes played last season as a freshmen are also returning. Traore can help Soriano make nametags for their new teammates if nothing else.

Key Additions: There are 11 new faces on the St. John’s roster, including one guy who announced his commitment so recently that he wasn’t even on the SJU roster page when I looked back on Thursday. Let’s start with the freshmen, because there are two first year players that are worth mentioning here, both of whom made their commitments after the coaching change. Brady Dunlap (6’7”, Forward, Newhall, California) is #154 in the 247 Sports Composite rankings, and while I tend to limit myself to top 150 prospects in terms of who’s a notable addition, the fact of the matter is that with pretty much no roles guaranteed other than Soriano’s, Dunlap could be a contributor this season. It’s pretty much a gimme that Simeon Wilcher (6’4”, Guard, Plainfield, New Jersey) will be a contributor, because you don’t bring in the #34 prospect in the country and sit him on the bench until he gets his sea legs under him. If that presumption is correct, then Wilcher will most likely spend most of the season as a candidate for Freshman of the Year.

We’re going to split our talk about transfers into two categories. One category will be “Guys From Iona” while the other category will be “Guys From Literally Anywhere That’s Not Iona.”

Let’s start with the Not Iona Group, since it is the biggest group. Jordan Dingle (6’3”, 195 lb., Guard, Valley Stream, New York) and Chris Ledlum are the top two candidates in terms of “will make an immediate impact” as both of those guys were tearing up the Ivy League last season. Dingle went for 23.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game for Penn while winning Ivy League Player of the Year. Ledlum (6’6”, 225 lb., Brooklyn, New York) was a star for Harvard, chipping in 18.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. Ledlum is the guy who recently committed, and given that he had originally committed to transfer to Tennessee before landing at St. John’s, I’m not 100% sure that he’s eligible to play this season.... but also I don’t know why the NCAA would jump up and down about it other than “NCAA gonna NCAA.” I’m also not sure if these guys have more than one year of eligibility remaining. They both played only three years at their previous school... but the entire Ivy League sat out the 2020-21 campaign, which is the year that the NCAA said didn’t count towards anyone’s eligibility.

Sean Conway (6’5”, 215 lb., Guard, Fairfield, Connecticut) was a three year starter at VMI, wrapping up his fourth season there last year with 12.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Glenn Taylor (6’6”, 200 lb., Forward, Las Vegas, Nevada) was at Oregon State for the past two seasons, adding 11.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game for the 11-21 Beavers. RJ Luis (6’7”, 196 lb., Guard, Miami, Florida) spent his first year of collegiate hoops at UMass and did pretty well for himself. 11.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in 27 appearances with 10 starts is pretty good for a freshman, no matter where you’re playing. Nahiem Alleyne (6’4”, 195 lb., Guard, Buford, Georgia) just won a national championship at UConn where he had a bit part (5.2 points/game) while playing 18 minutes a night and even starting eight times. Zuby Ejiofor (6’9”, 240 lb., Forward, Garland, Texas) was a top 60 prospect out of high school when he picked Kansas for his college destination, and I presume that there was something about playing just 128 total minutes across 25 games for one of the best teams in the country just didn’t sit right with him.

Onwards to the Iona guys, and to be quite honest, I’m very curious to see how much they play at St. John’s. Cruz Davis (6’3”, 170 lb., Guard, Plano, Texas) started seven times in 24 appearances, averaging 6.5 points a night. Sadiku Ibine Ayo (6’6”, 210 lb., Forward, Asabi-Kumasi, Ghana) had four starts in 25 appearances and did even less on the stat sheet at 2.6 points per game. Now, before you wonder what the hell is going on here, both guys were freshmen this past season, so you can see why they might make a move, especially when they’re just following the guy who recruited them to Iona.

And so, our last guy from New Rochelle.....

Coach: Rick Pitino, entering his first season at St. John’s and 36th season as a Division 1 head coach. He has an overall record of 711-290 after stops at (in reverse order) Iona, Louisville, Kentucky, Providence, Boston University, and, after a six game stint as interim head coach to end a season, Hawaii. He also went 192-220 in two seasons with the New York Knicks and four with the Boston Celtics, and he posted a record of 18-19 in two seasons with Panathinaikos in Greece.

Outlook: Man, I have no idea.

If you say you know what’s going to happen with this team, you’re lying.

At a basic level, “this program returns just one player that had a role last season” is bad. It’s even worse when there’s an argument that the team was actually better off with that guy on the bench, and even worse than that when you realize that the guy in question was the leading scorer and rebounder. Effectively starting a college basketball program over from scratch is not a good idea, especially when five guys — Soriano and four of the new transfers — are on their final seasons of eligibility.

But I don’t think there’s a head coach in the Big East who embodies the concept of “He can beat you with his guys, or he can beat you with your guys” more than Rick Pitino. I firmly believe that Pitino will find a way to get this collection of guys pulling together in the same direction pretty quickly. It’ll probably take longer than 15 seconds, but hey, the season doesn’t start until November.

Are they going to be more competitive that St. John’s has been over most of the last 20 years, ever since Mike Jarvis was shuffled out of town in December of 2003, a stretch where they have been a sub-100 team nine times? Almost assuredly. I’m not going to go so far as to predict a record or anything, but I’ll be willing to bet that St. John’s will be one of the most frustrating outs in the Big East this season if nothing else.

Are they going to be a top 25 team like two different Way Too Early rankings had them back in early April? I’m not going to say absolutely not, because it would be stupid to bet against Rick Pitino, but I’m not going to say it’s a lock, either. There’s just too many questions here since there’s not a single five man group on this roster that has ever played a single minute together yet.

In fact — and I’m sorry, Johnnies fans, I’m just the messenger here — there’s a very real possibility that this Red Storm roster isn’t even an NCAA tournament team. has St. John’s slotted in at #56 in the country in the algorithm’s preseason rankings, and yes, that’s with Chris Ledlum on the roster. That’s 8th place in the Big East if the projections hold to form, and one spot below where #11 seed Providence finished the season last year. That’s a real “maybe they will, maybe they won’t” situation.

We can’t even say “ah, well, look at what he did at Iona, Pitino’s still got his fastball” as a reason to believe that the Johnnies have something here. The fact of the matter is that over the last decade-plus, Iona has been more dedicated to winning basketball games than St. John’s has been. Tim Cluess got the Gaels to the NCAA tournament six times in 10 seasons, so the fact that Pitino went twice in three years and went 40-9 in three MAAC campaigns doesn’t tell us all that much about what he can do as a coach. If St. John’s is willing to push their chips into the middle of the table — and Mike Anderson’s lawsuit against them is an indication of that being the case — then maybe Pitino’s pathway to success at Carnesecca Arena is looking pretty clear.

Not for nothing, but: What happens to the financial commitment to success at St. John’s when Anderson wins his lawsuit, or at the very least, when the university is forced to settle with him? That’s something that’s going to loom over this program until it’s cleared away.