The youthful basketball squad from Queens has displayed flashes of brilliance and inexperience in Chris Mullin’s second season as head coach, which has actually been a quality upgrade from last season’s near winless (1-17) Big East campaign.
A huge reason for the Johnnies’ upward swing, is their dynamic freshman backcourt duo of Marcus LoVett and Brooklyn native Shamorie Ponds, both of whom were unanimous All-Big East Freshman Team selections this past weekend.
Ponds, a five-time Big East Freshman of the Week, and LoVett, a two-time recipient of the same award, have led the Red Storm for the bulk of their 2016-17 venture.
Ponds currently leads the Storm with 17.6 points on 44.5 percent shooting, 3.1 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. LoVett follows comparably with 16.4 points while shooting 46.7 percent, adding 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals per contest.
The Red Storm have also received solid contributions from their supporting cast, highlighted by guards Bashir Ahmed, Malik Ellison and Federico Mussini, as well as the post presence of Kassoum Yakwe and Tariq Owens.
In the Big East portion of their schedule, some of the signature victories for St. John’s included a home win against then-number 13 Butler on December 29 (which came on the heels of a 33-point road win at Syracuse), a Madison Square Garden win over number 24 Marquette on February 1, and a collection of recent wins over Providence, Seton Hall, and Georgetown, whom SJU will host in round one of the Big East Tourney.
The Johnnies also went down by double-digits against conference heavyweights Villanova, formerly ranked Creighton, and Butler and Providence in rematches – all surely to likely NCAA Tournament bound units.
Mullin’s boys have demonstrated the ability to knock off solid competition, and given the conference's great teams' substantial challenges at times, makes them an unfavorable play in the MSG-based extravaganza.
SJU should also bring forward a solid home following, as they often do at the famed MSG, where they stand at 3-4 this season after an 0-3 start. On February 25, the Johnnies upended the Hoyas, 86-80, which came several weeks after getting shellacked by those same Hoyas on January 9 by 28 points.
The Hoyas are led by two former Big East Players of the Week in projected 2017 second-round draft pick L.J. Peak, as well as former All-NEC and Robert Morris transfer Rodney Pryor, who led RMU to the 2015 NCAA Tournament after defeating St. Francis Brooklyn in the conference championship two years ago.
Pryor, a 24-year-old senior, paces the Hoyas with 18.1 points per game strengthened by an efficient 48.2 shooting percentage. Fellow guard Peak, a junior, follows with 16 points per game while shooting 47.6 percent and dishing a team-best 3.5 assists per game.
In the aforementioned blowout win over St. John’s, the Hoya guards combined for 29 points after early exits due to garbage time. In their recent Garden showing, the two netted 42 in a losing effort against the Johnnies.
The reward for the winner of Wednesday night’s affair will take on defending national champion Villanova at noon the following day, around 15 hours after the scheduled finish between SJU and Georgetown.
Sometimes, life just isn’t fair.
The Johnnies and Hoyas will tip-off at 7 p.m.