Thursday, July 25, 2013

Breaking Down St. John's Nonconference Schedule

St. John's welcomes back everyone from last year's team, including D'Angelo Harrison, which should help Red Storm survive strong nonconference schedule that includes matchups with Wisconsin and Syracuse. (Photo courtesy of Rumble In The Garden)

Last season, Steve Lavin and St. John's endured one of the tougher finishes to a season that a program could imagine, yet still managed to compete; and win a game in, the National Invitation Tournament to salvage what some would consider a rather disappointing end to a promising season. Four months later, Lavin and the Red Storm enter the 2013-14 campaign with mounds of potential and promise in the restructured Big East Conference, with the ultimate goal for a year that the Johnnies' fourth-year head coach has targeted as the realization of his grand vision and rebuilding plan since taking over for Norm Roberts in 2010 being a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and the journey starts with this nonconference schedule released yesterday by the residents of Queens. As we have done with Manhattan, Hofstra and Siena before St. John's, we once again break down the 13-game non-Big East ledger for the Red Storm. Sadly, Lavin was unavailable for a one-on-one interview with us, but St. John's sports information director and senior associate athletic director for communications Mark Fratto was gracious enough to provide quotes from the head coach in his press release:

Lavin's thoughts on the schedule overall: "At the dawn of a new era for the Big East, our squad will face a rigorous nonconference schedule. We will travel to meet Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers, and host a slate of formidable opponents, including Syracuse. Our Johnnies will play at Madison Square Garden, Carnesecca Arena, and the Barclays Center. Once again, our nonconference schedule showcases all of the prominent venues in New York City, and gives our fans the chance to support our team in the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn; and of course, at the 'World's Most Famous Arena' in midtown Manhattan."

Friday, November 8th vs. Wisconsin: The token road trip to face one of the nation's elite programs is actually being played at a neutral site, as St. John's faces the Badgers inside the all-new Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Wisconsin loses four-year warriors Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans, but they return the services of point guard Traevon Jackson and sharpshooter Ben Brust in the backcourt, with sophomore wing Sam Dekker on the precipice of a breakout campaign on the heels of a rookie season where he averaged nearly ten points per game and shot 42 percent from three-point range. The Badgers also welcome back Josh Gasser after he sat out last season due to a torn ACL. "Playing a Bo Ryan-coached Badger team gives us an early season test and an opportunity to get a report card following an offseason that will include a European tour," Lavin said. "Having covered the Big Ten for seven years with ESPN, I have developed an appreciation for the cohesive brand of basketball Bo Ryan's teams play."

Friday, November 15th vs. Wagner: The Red Storm entertain the pride of Staten Island in their home opener at Carnesecca Arena in a matchup the Verrazano Warriors nearly won the last time both schools met in 2010. The Seahawks, who reached their second consecutive Northeast Conference semifinal last season, return both halves of their starting backcourt in seniors Kenny Ortiz and Latif Rivers; as well as junior point guard Marcus Burton, but second-year coach Bashir Mason will have his work cut out for him on the front line, as he will have to replace versatile power forward Jonathon Williams and glue guy Josh Thompson. Mario Moody should have a breakout season with his freakish athleticism inside, while Valparaiso transfer Jay Harris is a shooting machine waiting to be plugged in.

Tuesday, November 19th vs. Bucknell: Score this one as a deceptively strong game against a competitive mid-major, maybe even a trap game. Dave Paulsen's Bison will have a significant makeover this season without Mike Muscala and Bryson Johnson, but the reigning Patriot League champions return junior swingman Cameron Ayers, who now becomes the face of the team. If his name sounds familiar to St. John's fans, it's because his older brother Ryan played against the Red Storm while at Notre Dame, and both Ryan and Cameron are sons of former Ohio State coach Randy Ayers.

Friday, November 22nd vs. Monmouth: King Rice and the Hawks move into the MAAC this season, and one of their first tests before they play their first game in their new league comes against the Johnnies at Carnesecca Arena. Led by junior swingman Andrew "Red" Nicholas, Monmouth is a young team looking to build for the future, and athletic forwards Khalil Brown and Tyrone O'Garro will go a long way in helping the Hawks compete over the coming months.

Tuesday, November 26th vs. Longwood: The Lancers come off an 8-25 campaign to invade Carnesecca just before Thanksgiving, and La Salle transfer Tristan Carey returns for his senior season after leading Longwood in both scoring (15.6 points per game) and three-point shooting (37 percent) as a junior. Leading rebounder Michael Kessens is no longer around for the Lancers, but junior and Brooklyn native Jeylani Dublin returns on the heels of a sophomore campaign in which he averaged ten points and nearly six rebounds per game.

Friday, November 29th vs. Penn State: St. John's first of three games at the Barclays Center this season comes against the Nittany Lions, who should be even more improved this year than they were eight months ago as they prepare for year three of the Pat Chambers era. The best part of the season for the legions of fans in Happy Valley is that Tim Frazier returns for a sixth year after getting a medical redshirt following a torn Achilles tendon last season. Frazier joins junior point guard D.J. Newbill, who was also Penn State's second-leading rebounder, in the backcourt, while junior wing Ross Travis could blossom into a double-double per night player. Pay close attention to freshman guard Geno Thorpe, a highly regarded recruit who turned several heads in last month's Mary Kline Classic.

Saturday, November 30th vs. Georgia Tech or Mississippi: Regardless of whom St. John's faces in this matchup at the Barclays Center, it will be an intriguing contest either way. Brian Gregory is in charge of a sleeping giant as he enters his third season in Atlanta, and will soon have the Ramblin' Wreck resembling his amazingly underrated teams at Dayton. With Trae Golden transferring in from Tennessee to join leading scorer Marcus Georges-Hunt in the backcourt, the Yellow Jackets now have a one-two punch of guards to join their imposing interior duo of sophomore Robert Carter Jr. and senior big man Daniel Miller, who does a little bit of everything. If St. John's faces Andy Kennedy and the Rebels, they will get a stern test in the backcourt with point guard Jarvis Summers returning to anchor the guard stable that also includes shooters LaDarius White and 5-10 sophomore Derrick Millinghaus. However, Ole Miss loses a combined 24 points and 17 rebounds per game from big men Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway after they both graduated, not to mention the team has still yet to make a decision on the future of lightning rod star Marshall Henderson.

Saturday, December 7th vs. Fordham: For the fifth straight year, the Johnnies and Rams lock horns, and will do so in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden for the third consecutive season. After two straight years of exacting revenge against Fordham following a blown 21-point lead at Rose Hill in 2010, St. John's faces a much tougher matchup with Tom Pecora's scrappy bunch of up-and-comers than they have in any other year. Chris Gaston has graduated, but the trio of Travion Leonard, Ryan Rhoomes and Ryan Canty; the latter of whom had one of the games of his life against the Red Storm last year, will provide the perfect complement to Pecora's trademark backcourt trio, which this year adds freshman Jon Severe to the firmly entrenched combination of senior Branden Frazier and sophomore Mandell Thomas, not to mention junior Bryan Smith off the bench.

Sunday, December 15th vs. Syracuse: As much as everyone would love to think this is a misprint, it sadly is not. Syracuse is officially a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference now, but Jim Boeheim and the Orange will return to their home away from home at Madison Square Garden to make this matchup a de facto road game for a Red Storm team that does not play a true road game outside of Big East play this season, something Lavin had done several times in his first three seasons. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams and shooting guard Brandon Triche are gone, but Syracuse returns arguably one of the most underrated players in the nation in C.J. Fair to serve as the game-changing wing in Boeheim's world-famous 2-3 zone defense. With Baye Keita, Jerami Grant, DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas all returning to the Carrier Dome, the Orange's massive interior depth will make up for their huge losses in the backcourt in this front end of a two-year home-and-home series, with the return match to be contested in Syracuse next season.

Wednesday, December 18th vs. San Francisco: Former NBA role player Rex Walters remains at the helm of the Dons, who upset St. John's in California last December, and now return the favor by traveling to Carnesecca Arena. Senior swingman Cole Dickerson joins his fourth-year classmate Cody Doolin, who singlehandedly torched the Red Storm last season, to lead San Francisco yet again after the two were the leading scorers on last season's 15-16 squad. If you like sweet-shooting guards, UCLA transfer De'End Parker and sophomore Avry Holmes will be two players you'll want to watch, as the two shot 45 and 47 percent from beyond the arc, respectively, on a team that averaged 40 percent from long range last season.

Saturday, December 21st vs. Youngstown State: Youngstown State is more than just the school Jim Tressel led to widespread success in Division 1-AA before he met his untimely demise at Ohio State, it is a program coming to Carnesecca Arena off an 18-win season and appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Senior point guard Kendrick Perry loses his running mate Blake Allen after he graduated this past May, but burgeoning big man Kamren Belin will have more than his share of opportunities to pick up the slack for the Penguins.

Saturday, December 28th vs. Columbia: The third and final game for St. John's at the Barclays Center comes against the school that Lavin picked up his first win at the helm of the Red Storm against when the two schools met last in November of 2010. Kyle Smith's Lions have improved since then, and the upward mobility should continue on the Upper West Side this season even without superstar point guard Brian Barbour, who graduated in May. In his place, sophomore Grant Mullins will step in easily after a rookie season that showcased his mounds of potential, and will join lethal outside shooter Steve Frankoski to form one of the best backcourts in the Ivy League. With Mark Cisco having graduated, do not be surprised to see Alex Rosenberg have a breakout season up front, as the 6-7 power forward displayed a versatile blend of physicality and offense on multiple occasions last season.

Saturday, January 18th vs. Dartmouth: The last nonconference game for the Johnnies comes at Carnesecca Arena against a Big Green unit that went 9-19 last season, and returns everyone to a roster that only has one senior on the squad in guard Tyler Melville. Leading scorer and rebounder Gabas Maldunas returns for his junior season, and the 6-9 Lithuanian should make some fans recall the deft shooting touch of former St. John's Lithuanian import Tomas Jasiulionis, while Alex Mitola returns as the starting shooting guard after a rookie season that saw the New Jersey product shoot 39 percent from three-point range.

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