As we do at least once a year, my good friend Jaden Daly of "Daly Dose of Hoops" and I guest blog on each other's site. With South Carolina and St John's playing each other tonight at the Mohegan Sun Arena, I am doing a scouting report of South Carolina on Jaden's site today, while Jaden is scouting St John's on my site. No one and I mean NO ONE, knows St John's better than Jaden Daly and his fellow staff at Daly Dose of Hoops. Enjoy.
Hi everyone, Jaden Daly from Daly Dose of Hoops here again, this time giving you a closer look at the St. John's Red Storm as they prepare to take on South Carolina this Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena. My staff and I have already seen the Red Storm several times this season and have gotten to observe closely the rebuilding process in Queens, with equal flashes of brilliance and growing pains for a young roster.
Game Reviews and Quotes
This is where St. John's is arguably its most experienced, despite its point guard being a freshman. Federico Mussini, a native of Italy, is the rookie in the backcourt, but is the team's leading scorer and passer, and has pulled down a solid three rebounds per game on average. There are times in which he looks to do a little bit too much, but that is not unusual for freshmen at this stage of their first seasons at the collegiate level, so I expect him to make progress on that front. The one knock on Mussini is that he struggles against pressure, which is optimal for South Carolina in that they can get him rattled early and off his game, but when he is in a groove, he's one of the best shooters on the floor. Mussini reminds me a lot of Branden Frazier, who you may remember from his days at Fordham. A combo guard forced into running the point out of necessity (Marcus LoVett being declared ineligible forced St. John's to play Mussini at point guard), results in sometimes his shooting instincts taking over more than they should.
The Red Storm have added a pair of fifth-year seniors to ease the burden on Mussini, and each one has given credibility and experience to the roster in Queens. Durand Johnson, formerly of Pittsburgh, is a reputable outside shooter with a knack for rebounding that is above average for a guard, while Missouri State transfer Ron Mvouika has translated his combination of marksmanship and floor savvy into becoming one of the better wings in the Big East. On their best efforts, either is capable of going for 20 points and 10 rebounds, although you're more likely to see those numbers when you add up their combined stat lines as opposed to expecting it from one individually.
If there's one thing the rebuilding process has done for St. John's, it has been the showcase of Christian Jones. Once left for dead on the bench under former coach Steve Lavin, Jones has resurrected himself into a serviceable big man through the first month of the season, averaging over eight points and five rebounds per game. Jones will not overpower you, but he will definitely have no problem bumping and banging for position in the lane. His interior partner, Yankuba Sima, is what the Red Storm envisioned Chris Obekpa to be, only better. At 6-11, Sima is a legitimate NBA prospect if and when he does take his talents to the next level, and what sets him apart from Obekpa is his offensive prowess. Whereas his predecessor was merely a shot blocker and not much else, Sima has flourished on the offensive end, averaging nearly nine points and seven rebounds per game to go with his three-plus rejections. The big man also shoots 49 percent from the field, a respectable number for a freshman center.
St. John's will only play four reserves, and the fourth one just returned from injury on Friday when Malik Ellison rejoined the team after missing eight games due to a foot injury. Ellison, whose father, Pervis, was a former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, is still trying to find his way after the injury, but had projected to be one of the Red Storm's better options before he went down. Guard Felix Balamou is by far the most seasoned of the reserves, having spent three years in the Lavin regime. When on his best effort, he is capable of doing a little bit of everything, and his averages of seven points and five rebounds per game are career bests. Amar Alibegovic will be two games removed from his finest hour in the win over Syracuse, and the sophomore carries a high-energy presence and deceptively strong shot when inserted into the rotation. Finally, freshman Kassoum Yakwe has shown the most potential since being cleared to compete at the beginning of the month. Lauded for his above-the-rim capabilities, Yakwe has come out of the blocks with 36 points in his first five games, and appears to be gaining traction as he adapts to both his role and the college game.
Strengths and Weaknesses
First and foremost, St. John's most glaring weakness is its youth. Secondly, their bipolar nature early in the season has led some to wonder whether or not their most impressive performances were more fleeting than initially suspected, as they have followed up impressive wins over Rutgers and Syracuse with inexplicable blowout losses to Vanderbilt and Incarnate Word. However, a major strength of the Red Storm is that they are usually in every game they play for a majority of minutes. Chris Mullin and his staff have gotten more out of their patchwork roster than arguably anyone could have hoped at this point in the season, and after a 32-point exhibition loss to Division II St. Thomas Aquinas that left everyone in New York scratching their heads and anticipating a long winter, they have acquitted themselves quite well with Big East play looming on the horizon.
Chris Mullin remains a rookie on the bench, but what he lacks in experience, his staff has mounds of. Barry Rohrssen, best known for his five-year bridge between Bobby Gonzalez and Steve Masiello at Manhattan, is Mullin's associate head coach, and has enough of an X-and-O pedigree to utilize his talent to the best of his ability. Assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih, who sat in the same stadium and arena management class at St. John's as I did a decade ago, has a reputation for being a recruiter above all, but his in-game ability should be heralded more often after spending the past few years on the staff of Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State before "The Mayor" moved on to the Chicago Bulls. Third assistant Greg St. Jean brings NBA championship cache from the Golden State Warriors, where Mullin made his professional hay alongside the other member of his coaching staff, Mitch Richmond, who serves as the special assistant to the head coach.
A work in progress, as is everyone else in the non-league portion of the schedule, St. John's has already proven its mettle against fellow high-major teams, but by the same token, have come up flat against low and mid-majors at various points in the year. Mullin and his staff have not shied away from the fact that they are willing to sacrifice the win-loss record this year for the greater good, being content to live with the results as they see their process of rebuilding a winner through. Within the next two years, this team will start to make noise on a national level again, but in the meantime, they will face a stiff test as they gain battle experience. The heart of the Red Storm will go a long way, though, and it would not surprise me to see this game stay close inside the final five minutes.