Monday, September 17, 2018

Big East all-conference predictions

While Shamorie Ponds will likely receive preseason accolades, Villanova's Eric Paschall is primed to shoot his way into all-Big East honors in senior season. (Photo by The Journal News)

College basketball season appears closer than ever before as we transition into the start of practice for each Division I team, and in a Big East Conference where many teams are retooling in the wake of Villanova's second national championship in three seasons, the speculation surrounding preseason all-conference honors is as widespread as the predictions of where each of the league's ten teams will finish.

Yes, there are certainties abound just as much as there are the ever-present question marks and intrigue just over one month removed from media day at Madison Square Garden. Selecting 15 players to fill three teams is always a tall order going into any year, but nonetheless, we will make the attempt to offer a mild prognostication before the Big East descends upon the Big Apple in October:

First Team
Preseason Player of the Year: Shamorie Ponds, St. John's (21.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.3 SPG, 42% FG, 86% FT in 2017-18)
Kamar Baldwin, Butler (15.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, 44% FG, 78% FT, 33% 3-pt FG)
Jessie Govan, Georgetown (17.9 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.1 BPG, 51% FG, 76% FT, 35% 3-pt FG)
Markus Howard, Marquette (20.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 46% FG, 94% FT, 40% 3-pt FG)
Eric Paschall, Villanova (10.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 53% FG, 81% FT, 36% 3-pt FG)

Analysis: Ponds, the reigning Haggerty Award winner who easily could have challenged Jalen Brunson for Player of the Year honors last season had St. John's not started Big East play 0-11, is the consensus choice entering his junior season, and rightfully so. The Brooklyn native followed up his rookie campaign with a multifaceted and well-rounded sophomore season, stuffing the stat sheets on a nightly basis and captivating the rabid Red Storm fan base with a commanding month of February that transcended the league and included a 44-point outburst against Marquette to set a Carnesecca Arena scoring record. Not to be outdone, Baldwin continues to be an emerging star for Butler, and the most unbelievable part of the explosive guard's game is that he is only a junior. A perennial mainstay on these lists in just a short amount of time, Baldwin will lead the Bulldogs to greater heights in year two under LaVall Jordan, who has exhibited the calm demeanor under which Brad Stevens led the former mid-major darling to two national championship games, and continues to grow each time he leads his alma mater onto the floor. With Angel Delgado having graduated, Govan now takes over the title of dominant big man in the Big East, and should have no problem replicating his double-double per game numbers from his junior season. Howard is Ponds' primary challenger for the conference scoring title this season, and with Andrew Rowsey having graduated, the stage should grow wider in Milwaukee for the 19-year-old junior to take his already dynamic game to yet another level. The wild card here is Paschall. It speaks to just how strong Villanova is that the Wildcats could conceivably lack a first-team all-conference selection going into a national championship defense, but Paschall has drawn rave reviews from nearly every major basketball aficionado this offseason as he steps into the role of team leader with each of Jay Wright's top four scorers having turned pro early -- something not usually seen on the Main Line -- while immersing himself further into the fabric of a contender.

Second Team
Alpha Diallo, Providence (13.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 47% FG, 73% FT)
Sam Hauser, Marquette (14.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 50% FG, 84% FT, 49% 3-pt FG)
Myles Powell, Seton Hall (15.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 43% FG, 79% FT, 38% 3-pt FG)
Justin Simon, St. John's (12.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 5.0 APG, 2.5 SPG, 47% FG, 66% FT, 42% 3-pt FG)
Max Strus, DePaul (16.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 41% FG, 80% FT, 33% 3-pt FG)

Analysis: Diallo had arguably the quietest and most underrated productive season in the Big East a year ago, helping lead the Friars to an unprecedented fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament. Much like head coach Ed Cooley, the burgeoning big man gets nowhere near the amount of credit he deserves for helping maintain the status quo in the Ocean State, but that notion should undoubtedly change this season. Hauser will likely be a first-team player by season's end, but his recovery from offseason hip surgery may hinder his progress in the early going. Either way, when the marksman is back at 100 percent, he and the aforementioned Markus Howard will have the Golden Eagles firing on all cylinders. The Most Improved Player in the Big East last season, Powell is now the unquestioned leader for Kevin Willard in South Orange, and will have more than his share of opportunities to score and facilitate in equal parts for the Pirates, who have a deceptively strong core to back him up. Simon reprises his role as Shamorie Ponds' wing man in Queens for St. John's, and the redshirt junior could average a double-double if his breakout last year is any indication. Simon has been a big part of the Red Storm's transition defense game since becoming eligible, and projects to do exactly that once again for Chris Mullin. Finally, Strus returns to DePaul for his senior season to give the Blue Demons their most formidable scoring presence since the days of Cleveland Melvin (remember him?), something Dave Leitao will need more often than not if he is to navigate out of the cellar.

Third Team
Eli Cain, DePaul (11.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 35% FG, 66% FT, 31% 3-pt FG)
Marvin Clark II, St. John's (12.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 46% FG, 85% FT, 41% 3-pt FG)
Emmitt Holt, Providence (12.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 52% FG, 68% FT, 34% 3-pt FG in 2016-17)
Paul Jorgensen, Butler (10.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 42% FG, 84% FT, 35% 3-pt FG)
Martin Krampelj, Creighton (11.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.3 APG, 67% FG, 62% FT)

Analysis: This may finally be the year that Cain, now just a senior even if it feels as though he has been at DePaul for a decade, finally gets his due. The Blue Demons should be much improved from last season, but unfortunately for those around Chicago, the rest of the conference has gotten better as well. Either way, the steady hand of the New Jersey product at point guard will help ease the pain in spurts throughout the year. Clark, the third piece of St. John's troika of scorers, could average a double-double provided he is able to stay out of foul trouble, no easy feat considering the Red Storm will have to break in yet another big man alongside him now that Bashir Ahmed has graduated and Tariq Owens has transferred to Texas Tech. Holt makes his return to the Providence lineup after abdominal surgery sacrificed what would have been his senior season, and he appears to be back in his old form as the Friars gear up for a sixth-straight NCAA Tournament run. Jorgensen possesses the two-way ability to make Kamar Baldwin a factor off the ball, which will only aid Butler in its progression this year. Last, but certainly not least, is Krampelj, who is still recovering from a torn ACL. Before his injury last season, head coach Greg McDermott proclaimed on a Big East coaches' conference call that "if there's a more improved player in our league from last year to this year, I'd like to see him." The same holds true this season with the Bluejays' Slovenian import, one who is eager to make up for lost time and return Creighton to the postseason in what would be both a feel-good story and a well-deserved piece of redemption.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hofstra releases non-conference schedule

Reigning CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman heads into senior season as driving force behind a contending Hofstra team. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Hoping to rebound from three seasons of what-if and even further March agony to a program suffering from nearly two decades of such heartbreak, Hofstra took the first step toward rewriting the narrative Thursday afternoon, as the Pride released its non-conference schedule, a 13-game ledger in which head coach Joe Mihalich and senior guard Justin Wright-Foreman -- the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year -- look to bring championship hardware to Hempstead for the first time since 2001, when the program was still a member of the America East Conference.

The journey begins on November 9, when Mount St. Mary's and new head coach Dan Engelstad is the first opponent to enter the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, and continues two days later with a trip to Marshall. All told, those two games are the first of four contests in eight days for Hofstra, who will soldier on by welcoming North Carolina A&T to Long Island on November 14 before visiting the University of Maryland two days after that. A slight break ensues before Cal State Fullerton comes to Hempstead on November 21, the Pride's final home game before the Thanksgiving holiday, which is followed by a trek to Richmond and former CAA rival VCU on November 24.

Hofstra renews its series with Siena this season, and the Saints are the first of four Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opponents on the docket, with new head coach Jamion Christian leading the former mid-major power into battle on November 28. A return game at Kennesaw State opens December, doing so on the first day of the month before a trio of MAAC opponents await the Pride.

Monmouth (December 5) and Rider (December 8) both make the drive across the Hudson River before Manhattan welcomes Hofstra to Draddy Gymnasium on December 10 in a meeting where the Pride will be looking to defeat Jaspers head coach Steve Masiello for the first time as the former Bobby Gonzalez and Rick Pitino assistant enters his eighth campaign on the sidelines in Riverdale. Hofstra's non-conference schedule concludes with a December 19 visit to Long Island rival Stony Brook, the penultimate tuneup for CAA play and precursor to a December 22 tilt against Division III Rosemont College.

Hofstra Non-Conference Schedule
Friday, November 9: vs. Mount St. Mary's, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, November 11: at Marshall, 2 p.m.

Wednesday, November 14: vs. North Carolina A&T, 7 p.m.

Friday, November 16: at Maryland, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, November 21: vs. Cal State Fullerton, 7 p.m.

Saturday, November 24: at VCU, TBA
Wednesday, November 28: vs. Siena, 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 1: at Kennesaw State, 2 p.m.

Wednesday, December 5: vs. Monmouth, 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 8: vs. Rider, 4 p.m.

Monday, December 10: at Manhattan, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, December 19: at Stony Brook, 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 22: vs. Rosemont, 4 p.m.

Seton Hall's Big East schedule: 5 Thoughts

With Seton Hall's senior class having graduated, Myles Powell has green light to shoot Pirates back to NCAA Tournament for a fourth consecutive year. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Kevin Willard has always stressed his notoriously difficult non-conference schedules when preparing his Seton Hall teams for the rigors of the Big East season that follows, emphasizing that the early-season tests the Pirates are subject to will end up being beneficial at the end of the year.

Such has been the case in each of the past three seasons, where Seton Hall -- the Big East tournament champion in 2016 -- has emerged from its non-conference season with battle scars that have forged resilient wins to lead it to back-to-back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, and is repeated again this year after Willard's latest gambit serves as a prelude to a conference slate where four of the Pirates' first six games take place away from the Prudential Center, the end result of Disney On Ice and the New Jersey Devils having already booked Newark.

While the bulk of the early league games will be in hostile environments, the Big East comes back around to Seton Hall down the stretch, particularly in the form of two marquee home games to close out the season. That is one of the many takeaways when analyzing what lies ahead for the Pirates, a summary of which can be found in our five thoughts below:

1) Two tough trips out of the way early.
Immediately following Seton Hall's Big East opener -- a December 29 showdown at the Prudential Center with St. John's -- is a flight to Cincinnati for the traditionally difficult journey to Xavier, which serves as the second league game of the season on January 2. Ten days later, Marquette -- a road foe who dominated Seton Hall in Milwaukee last season -- opens up the new Fiserv Forum to the Pirates for the first time in what is sure to be a pivotal game as it relates to positioning in the standings through the first third of the schedule.

2) A blessing in disguise?
Willard has, at times, cited the schedule and the way it falls as a contributor -- sometimes positive, sometimes not so much -- in Seton Hall's ebb-and-flow performance during the Big East portions of the past few seasons, and with five games in fourteen days, there is no doubt that the attrition can play a factor in the start the Pirates get off to. Beginning with Xavier on January 2, and ending at Providence on January 15, The Hall runs the gauntlet early and often for a stretch that will baptize the younger players and push veterans like Myles Powell and Michael Nzei to the limit, but it will be more a boon than a bane come March.

3) Will it be sunny in Philadelphia?
Seton Hall takes on Villanova inside the Wells Fargo Center on January 27, marking the second straight season that the Pirates and Wildcats will face off in the home of the Philadelphia 76ers. Last year, Seton Hall matched the eventual national champions shot for shot through the first half, but foul trouble for Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez gave way to a game-changing 17-3 run that allowed Villanova to pull away. However, the odds are much kinder to the Pirates on paper than they would be if the game were at The Pavilion, Villanova's on-campus venue that has been a house of horrors for Seton Hall for the past quarter-century. A strong showing by the visitors could set the tone for a potentially productive February.

4) Three of four at home, plus a repeat opponent eight days later.
Seton Hall's make-or-break stretch in February begins with home games against Creighton (February 9) and Georgetown (February 13) before visiting the Bluejays in Omaha eight days after the initial encounter between the two teams. Together with Xavier, who invades the Prudential Center on February 20, the Pirates have a portion of the schedule where a 3-1 record in that span should be more the expectation than the goal leading into a February 23 quasi-home game against St. John's at Madison Square Garden, Seton Hall's second home of sorts over the past four years.

5) Saving the best for last.
Most of the early speculation regarding Big East rankings has centered on Villanova and Marquette presumably being predicted to be the top two teams in the conference, and as fate decrees, both will appear in Newark during the regular season's final week. Much like Villanova and Butler last year, the Golden Eagles and Wildcats will represent juicy showdowns for the Pirates to -- hopefully -- raise NCAA Tournament prospects on March 6 and 9, respectively.

St. John's Big East schedule: 5 Thoughts

Chris Mullin and St. John's will need to play hard from start in Big East season, as Red Storm's league slate begins with marquee games against Seton Hall and Marquette. (Photo by Rumble in the Garden)

St. John's learned its Big East Conference fate Thursday afternoon, and for a team whose non-conference schedule eschewed early-season tests in favor of stacking the opening part of the season with mounds of winnable games, the maturity curve for the Red Storm will grow steep right out of the gate.

The tremendous upside Chris Mullin leads into battle entering his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater will be put through the gamut immediately in conference play, with three of St. John's first four games coming on the road, and doing so against the heavyweights of the Big East in the process.

The slate does grow favorable for the Red Storm toward the middle of the 18-game schedule, but by and large, the corner of Union and Utopia could soon grow restless if success does not brew itself in a season where a double-digit win total in the Big East is seemingly a requisite for the NCAA Tournament berth that the rabid St. John's fan base is viewing as the barometer by which 2018-19 is to be judged, especially if Mustapha Heron is able to receive a hardship waiver to play in a rotation centered by Big East Preseason Player of the Year favorite Shamorie Ponds.

Before the ball is tipped, and before the non-conference season gets underway, we offer some insight on what the future may ultimately hold for Mullin and the Red Storm, beginning with the arduous journey that awaits in the opening stages of league play:

1) High stakes in the opening hand.
For the third time in five seasons, the Red Storm and local rival Seton Hall will square off in December, doing so this year in an 8:30 p.m. soiree at the Prudential Center in the December 29 conference opener. Last season, St. John's put forth a gallant effort without the services of both Ponds and Marcus LoVett, yet fell five points short to a Pirate outfit that later went on to win an NCAA Tournament game and nearly reach the Sweet Sixteen. Seton Hall will not be as experienced as they have been in recent meetings, but nonetheless, the prospect of Ponds and Myles Powell engaging in a shootout represents a pivotal battle to commence Big East play for a team whose road gets tougher from there, hosting Marquette at Carnesecca Arena on January 1 before hitting the road again for clashes with Georgetown and reigning national champion Villanova, the latter coming on campus at The Pavilion, a nearly impossible environment in which to prevail as a visitor, unlike St. John's captivating victory over the then-top-ranked Wildcats at Wells Fargo Center this past February.

2) The early bird catches the worm.
Of the nine conference home games, only two will tip off after 7 p.m., allowing fans to come out in full force to support the Red Storm, who will have five of its league tilts on campus at Carnesecca Arena (more on that later) during the second half of the season. The two late-night windows do not come until February, with Butler visiting for an 8:30 start on February 12, followed by Seton Hall returning the home-and-home series with a Saturday night special, facing St. John's in an 8 p.m. skirmish from Madison Square Garden, which welcomes the Pirates for a fifth time in seven years.

3) Welcome to my house.
Carnesecca Arena has slowly returned to its intimidating form in recent seasons, chief among these instances being a sellout crowd exhorting the Red Storm to victory over Butler in December 2016, and the old bandbox will once again be home to a majority of conference contests for the Red Storm in 2018-19. An appetizing New Year's Day meeting with Marquette is first up for Mullin & Co., who also welcome the likes of Butler, Creighton, DePaul, and Xavier back to the Queens campus in a similar layout to last year's schedule. In fact, only Providence -- against whom St. John's opened the league season last year -- is changing venues, going from Carnesecca to Madison Square Garden this time around, taking on the Red Storm in a noon matinee on Saturday, February 9.

4) Midwest swing with a side of non-conference.
The highly anticipated rematch with Duke -- which comes in Durham on February 2 -- sandwiches what is traditionally the toughest road trip of the season, the trek to Omaha and Milwaukee to face Creighton and Marquette. All in all, St. John's gets three of its marquee games on the road, going from the 18,000-seat CHI Health Center to Cameron Indoor Stadium, then to the new Fiserv Forum to face a Golden Eagles team predicted to be the strongest threat to usurping Villanova's crown.

5) The season-defining stretch?
Five of six games at home in February will ultimately make or break St. John's, beginning with Providence on February 9 at Madison Square Garden. The opener of a three-game homestand that welcomes Butler to Carnesecca and then Villanova to the Garden on February 17, the Friars are forwardly placed on paper in the preseason rankings, and should bring a raucous fan base that is sure to create a great college basketball atmosphere when meshed with the Red Storm faithful. Following a trip to Rhode Island to take on the same Ed Cooley-coached program, Seton Hall and Xavier visit the Big Apple on February 23 and 28, respectively -- Xavier doing so at Carnesecca in what could be a monumental opportunity for the Red Storm -- to wrap up a spate that can bring a positive return if navigated properly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Breaking down Manhattan's non-conference schedule

Steve Masiello and Manhattan begin non-conference season with six games in 19 days, which should position Jaspers team ready for MAAC play and late-season push. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Twelve games, the first half of which will come within a 19-day span in November.

That is Manhattan's non-conference schedule in a nutshell after it was released Wednesday evening, a slate that will get a relatively young Jasper team ready for Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play in a season that head coach Steve Masiello has already compared to his first go-round at the helm in Riverdale, attributing the similarity to the makeup of his initial roster in 2011-12, which won 21 games and reached the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.

The challenge for Masiello -- who begins his eighth season in charge of the Manhattan program -- will be to assimilate a group of five newcomers to a system in which only seven players that saw minutes last season return for the 2018-19 campaign. However, if past history is any indication, the ability of the fifth-winningest coach in school history -- who needs only 14 more victories to pass his former boss, Bobby Gonzalez, for fourth on the all-time list -- to develop talent and get it ready for competition should never be taken into question.

Beginning with the Jaspers' earliest-ever season opener -- on November 6 -- and ending on December 23 for the second-straight year, we now offer our annual closer look at each team lining up on the opposite of the floor from Manhattan, shedding further light on the first half of the season in the Bronx:

Elon: Tuesday, November 6 - Draddy Gymnasium
The Phoenix appears on the Manhattan schedule for the first time, and head coach Matt Matheny will look to build off a 14-18 season with an opening-night affair that will be a precursor to Elon hosting North Carolina three days later. Tyler Seibring, a second-team all-Colonial Athletic Association forward last season, is back for his senior year in the paint and should be the focus on the scouting report for Pauly Paulicap following a junior season in which the 6-foot-9 all-purpose threat averaged over 15 points and six rebounds per game, and shot 49 percent from the floor, connecting at a near-43 percent clip from distance. Fellow seniors Dainan Swoope and Steven Santa Ana, the latter of whom gained brief fame after he was inadvertently tripped by Grayson Allen in a game against Duke earlier in his career, will carry the load in the backcourt.
Did You Know? After going five years without opening the season at home, Manhattan will do so for the second season in a row. In addition, Elon's Duje Radja, a sophomore forward, has NBA lineage. His father, Dino, is a Hall of Famer who spent four years with the Boston Celtics in the 1990s.

UMBC: Monday, November 12 - UMBC Event Center, Catonsville, Md.
The second first-time opponent for the Jaspers is the program responsible for slaying the giant this past March, as the Retrievers became the first No. 16 seed to win an NCAA Tournament game, thrashing No. 1-seeded Virginia by a 74-54 final score that captivated the nation. While guards Jairus Lyles and K.J. Maura have since graduated, head coach Ryan Odom retains the services of third-leading scorer Joe Sherburne for one more season, and the three-point threat will likely be the go-to guy for UMBC as a senior. Junior wing Arkel Lamar should also see an uptick in production after a double-figure scoring season as a sophomore.
Did You Know? One of three opponents from the America East Conference this season, UMBC is the league's first school to play Manhattan since January 1, 2013, when the Jaspers welcomed Stony Brook -- who will visit Riverdale on December 5 -- to Draddy Gymnasium in a battle of future professional big men Rhamel Brown and Jameel Warney.

Coastal Carolina: Friday, November 16 - BB&T Arena, Highland Heights, Ky.
The first of three games in Northern Kentucky's multi-team tournament comes against the Chanticleers and head coach Cliff Ellis, once the architect of Power 5 programs at Clemson and Auburn, and the winner of 825 games in a career approaching its sixth decade. Senior Zac Cuthbertson, a 6-foot-7 slasher who averaged nearly 15 points and seven rebounds per game last season, will be the primary option on offense for Coastal Carolina, while Canadian Amidou Bamba, a 6-foot-8 junior, will slide into the starting lineup after coming off the bench for 30 of the Chanticleers' 32 games last season. As a sophomore, Bamba shot over 63 percent from the floor, and will likely have the first assignment against Paulicap.
Did You Know? Coastal Carolina represents the second Cinderella on Manhattan's schedule. Although not related to the basketball program, the Chanticleers shocked the world en route to winning the 2016 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship.

Northern Kentucky: Saturday, November 17 - BB&T Arena, Highland Heights, Ky.
Only two starters return for the Norse after a 22-10 season that ended in a near-upset of Louisville in the National Invitation Tournament, but one of them is double-double threat Drew McDonald, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound senior who could be among the contenders for Player of the Year honors in the Horizon League by the end of the season. Redshirt sophomore Jalen Tate, the other incumbent starter for head coach John Brannen, is a 6-foot-5 wing who could pose a matchup problem at any given time. Junior guard Tyler Sharpe is a former Louisville transfer who shot 38 percent from three-point range last season.
Did You Know? Northern Kentucky marks the second Horizon League opponent that Steve Masiello will have coached against in his career.

UNC Asheville: Sunday, November 18 - BB&T Arena, Highland Heights, Ky.
The Bulldogs have a new head coach this season in Mike Morrell, the former Shaka Smart assistant who replaced Nick McDevitt after the latter took over at Middle Tennessee. The new sheriff in town will have a difficult first season, though, as only four players who suited up last season return. One of those four, LJ Thorpe, is a redshirt freshman who was injured just six minutes into UNC Asheville's season opener.
Did You Know? Mike Morrell is the second coach with VCU ties to coach against Manhattan this season, and will do so 24 hours after Northern Kentucky's John Brannen, who was on staff under Anthony Grant from 2006-2009.

George Washington: Saturday, November 24 - Charles E. Smith Center, Washington, DC
The Colonials will need to replace Yuta Watanabe in what has already been described as a make-or-break year for head coach Maurice Joseph. To make matters more arduous in Foggy Bottom, Jair Bolden and Patrick Steeves -- the second and third-leading scorers for George Washington -- have also departed, bringing on a full rebuild just two years removed from a National Invitation Tournament championship. Sophomore Terry Nolan will be the likely point guard after registering 82 assists as a freshman, second-best behind the aforementioned Bolden. Former St. Benedict's Prep standout Arnaldo Toro, a former high school teammate of Warren Williams, could be a sneaky double-double threat after recording almost eight points and seven rebounds per game as a sophomore.
Did You Know? George Washington and Manhattan will face off for the first time since November 16, 2013, when the Colonials -- behind Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood -- handed the eventual MAAC champion Jaspers their first loss of the season in an 80-74 decision at Draddy Gymnasium. In addition, George Washington sophomore Justin Mazzulla is the younger brother of former West Virginia stalwart Joe Mazzulla, whom Steve Masiello coached against while on Rick Pitino's staff at Louisville in the mid-2000s.

Fordham: Saturday, December 1 - Draddy Gymnasium
Riverdale is the site for the 111th Battle of the Bronx, and what is sure to be a full student section will contribute to a certainly raucous atmosphere as the Jaspers seek retribution for a loss at Rose Hill last November. Head coach Jeff Neubauer enters his fourth season in charge of the Rams with question marks in multiple places on his roster, particularly in the frontcourt behind senior Prokop Slanina. If David Pekarek and Jesse Bunting can stay healthy, Fordham can be deceptively strong and allow for sophomore marksman Ivan Raut to be a more lethal option on the perimeter. In the backcourt, the loss of Joseph Chartouny will be almost impossible to overcome, but the arrivals of Erten Gazi and Antwon Portley -- both of whom sat out last season after transferring from DePaul and Saint Peter's, respectively -- have allowed for hope to once again spring eternal. Portley's past experience against Manhattan could prove to be a significant factor.
Did You Know? When the Battle of the Bronx is played in December, Manhattan is 3-0 under Masiello. Furthermore, the Jaspers have not allowed more than 57 points to Fordham in the three previous meetings in December during Masiello's tenure.

Stony Brook: Wednesday, December 5 - Draddy Gymnasium
Now in his third season coaching the Seawolves, Jeff Boals has forged his own imprint on the program, as no player recruited by his predecessor, Steve Pikiell, remains on the roster. What Stony Brook does possess, though, is a potential all-America East player in redshirt junior forward Akwasi Yeboah, who remains the focal point of Boals' attack. Senior guard Jaron Cornish returns as the second option for the Seawolves, and Elijah Olaniyi -- a sophomore from the Newark East Side program that produced Seton Hall glue guy Ismael Sanogo -- should take a step forward as a steady big man down low.
Did You Know? Sophomore Anthony Ochefu, the younger brother of former Villanova big man Daniel Ochefu, has already been compared to Jameel Warney, the Seawolves' all-time leading scorer and program-changing recruit from Roselle Catholic. To add to the burgeoning big man's resume, he played behind Mohamed Bamba -- the sixth overall pick in this past June's NBA Draft -- at the Westtown School in Ochefu's native Pennsylvania.

Hofstra: Monday, December 10 - Draddy Gymnasium
The longstanding series with the Pride returns to Riverdale for the fourth time in seven seasons, and will see Manhattan attempt to stop Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra's dynamic senior guard who ranked fifth in the nation in scoring last year. The reigning Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year and a Queens native, Wright-Foreman will be the unquestioned face of perhaps a sleeper contender to win the CAA, and will have a deep cadre of running mates with him, as Hofstra's backcourt retains the services of Eli Pemberton, Desure Buie and Kenny Wormley. The question mark for Joe Mihalich will be in the paint, as rebounder extraordinaire Rokas Gustys has taken his talents to the professional ranks, leaving 6-foot-10 graduate transfer Jacquil Taylor with the opportunity to step in and pick up the pieces immediately.
Did You Know? Steve Masiello has never lost to Hofstra in his tenure as Manhattan's head coach, and has not lost to Joe Mihalich since February 2013, when the Jaspers suffered a narrow four-point defeat to a Niagara team that won the MAAC regular season championship and represented the conference in the National Invitation Tournament.

Connecticut: Saturday, December 15 - Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn.
The Dan Hurley era begins in full swing for the Huskies, who have a roster ready to compete as UConn's new leader hopes to restore the gravitas and elite status that Jim Calhoun spent two-and-a-half decades crafting to perfection. Guards Jalen Adams and Christian Vital return for their senior and junior seasons, respectively, and if Alterique Gilbert can return at 100 percent, the backcourt in Storrs could be among the best in the nation. Brendan Adams, a recruit initially committed to Hurley at Rhode Island before following the coach to the Nutmeg State, will have time to develop, and will be able to learn from graduate transfer Tarin Smith (Duquesne by way of Nebraska) in the process. Up front, the Huskies will rely on graduate transfer Kassoum Yakwe and redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson, both of whom arrive in Storrs by way of St. John's.
Did You Know? Masiello and Hurley split the Peter A. Carlesimo Award, given by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association to the best coach in the New York area, in 2012. UConn assistant Tom Moore, who followed Hurley back to the program he spent 13 years at under Calhoun, has also coached against Masiello during his time at Quinnipiac.

Albany: Thursday, December 20 - SEFCU Arena, Albany, NY
In what is sure to be a defense-oriented chess match between Masiello and Will Brown, the Great Danes will need to overcome the loss of each of the program's top four scorers from last season. Senior forward Devonte Campbell is the top option among the incumbents, and junior Ahmad Clark is the only other significant returner. Three backcourt newcomers who are immediately eligible will go a long way toward maintaining the status quo in the capital region: Junior college transfer Jeremiah Starks, UMass expatriate Rayshawn Miller, and former Seton Hall walk-on Philip Flory, who was an unsung hero for the Pirates down the stretch last year when Desi Rodriguez was injured.
Did You Know? Manhattan's only other meeting with Albany provided Masiello with his first career postseason win, as the Jaspers defeated the Great Danes in the 2012 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, 89-79, behind 34 points from George Beamon.

St. Francis Brooklyn: Sunday, December 23 - Pope Physical Education Center, Brooklyn, NY
Fifth-year senior and Staten Islander Glenn Sanabria remains the backbone on the corner of Remsen and Court, and he will once again serve as floor general for the Terriers alongside the likes of sophomore Jalen Jordan, who will be more integral to the machine now that Rasheem Dunn has transferred to Cleveland State and Josh Nurse will be out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured leg. Brooklyn native Cori Johnson remains in the rotation as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered two years ago, and he will be a key cog in the paint for the Terriers, who will welcome junior college transfer Christian Rohlehr to the roster in the hope that he provides the same defensive spark that Amdy Fall did en route to Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Did You Know? Manhattan has defeated St. Francis Brooklyn in each of the past three seasons, erasing a double-digit deficit in last year's season opener to down the Terriers in overtime on a night where Rich Williams made his return from a torn meniscus that sidelined him for the entire 2016-17 season. Masiello and Terriers head coach Glenn Braica were also assistant coaches in the Big East together, as Braica was Norm Roberts' top deputy at St. John's while Masiello was on staff at Louisville.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Dunne relishing opportunity to start over at Marist

John Dunne leaving Saint Peter's for Marist came as a surprise to most, but his optimism to resurrect Red Foxes' success has validated his decision multiple times over. (Photo by Marist College Athletics)

This November, one of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's familiar faces will take on a new beginning.

John Dunne -- the longtime head coach at Saint Peter's before leaving Jersey City for league rival Marist in April -- spent twelve years finding innovative and praiseworthy ways to get a program off the ground in a place where few thought he would be able to succeed. Now four months into a challenge that sent shockwaves through the college basketball landscape, the affable 48-year-old is confident that the hire that ranked among the more surprising in the offseason's coaching carousel will pay off at a program seeking its first postseason appearance since 2007.

"It was a difficult decision," he said of leaving Saint Peter's for what ultimately attracted him to Marist, who hired Dunne to succeed Mike Maker, who was fired after four seasons in which the Red Foxes failed to escape the bottom two rungs of the MAAC standings. "I just loved the people at Saint Peter's, and it was really difficult to leave the new athletic director there, the administration, and most of all, the players. I have a deep affection for those guys, especially the upperclassmen. I'd been through so many wars with those guys, so it was a difficult decision. But (Marist athletic director) Tim Murray presented me with an opportunity here that, quite frankly, I just couldn't pass up for a number of reasons -- the beautiful campus, the academics, the support -- I thought it was just a good opportunity."

"Sometimes, in life, change is good. I'd been at Saint Peter's for twelve years, and even though it was very difficult to leave, sometimes change can just be good."

However, despite a longtime relationship with Murray from his sixteen years in the MAAC as both a head and assistant coach, Dunne initially wavered on taking the journey into the Hudson Valley. It was not until Patrick Beilein -- the head coach at Division II Le Moyne College who was also a candidate for the vacancy at Siena that ultimately went to Jamion Christian -- declined the chance to take over at Marist that the negotiations were revisited, with a payoff at the end of the road.

"Tim reached out, and he was just feeling out my interest level," Dunne said of how the hiring process began. "It's funny, because for all the reasons I ended up taking the job, I explained to him that those were the reasons why I wouldn't want the position, but quite honestly, in my mind, I wasn't ready to leave Saint Peter's at that point -- not just Saint Peter's, but I have a 13 and a 9-year-old and a wife, and we were all settled, and we had been in New Jersey for 16 or 17 years -- so we kind of had a long talk, Tim and I. And at that point, we kind of decided to go in opposite directions. Tim went about his business, and while he was going about his business, I was having discussions with my wife, wondering if we had made the right decision by not looking harder at the job and at the move."

"We kind of came to the conclusion that maybe we had made a mistake, and the job was offered to somebody else, and we kind of thought it was a done deal that we wouldn't be making the move. To be honest, when he turned it down, I felt like maybe this was meant to be. Tim and I began our talks again, and while he was interviewing other people, he made it known to me that I would be his choice if I wanted the job. After a couple of talks, he put me on the phone with President David Yellen, and I had a great conversation with him, so after a few talks with Tim and a great talk with David, I knew it was the place to make my next stop."

Still making the 90-minute drive each way from the Florham Park home in which he still resides, Dunne -- as he has done so many times in the past -- is finding ways to make it work, driven by his trademark confidence and upbeat optimism that always resonates through even the longest of seasons, the most adverse of circumstances. For starters, the familiarity with his new crop of players from having coached against them the past several years has aided the transition process, as has the continuity he has been able to bring on staff by taking assistants Serge Clement and Dalip Bhatia with him to replicate what they had forged at Saint Peter's.

"It's good that I've been in the league and I know those guys pretty well," said Dunne. "You don't really know individuals until you've been around them every day, because although you could see their talent, until you're coaching them every day, you don't really know what's in the heart and the mental toughness side of it. Being around those guys, they're hungry to win. The seniors are definitely hungry to win. We did a lot of defense this spring and summer -- more so than I typically would -- and all of them responded particularly well. They have enough talent, they have the character, and now I've just got to get the best out of them."

"We want to build long-term sustainable success here, and that's gonna take some time. That's not going to happen overnight, but that being said, I think the seniors do have a chance to win right away. Year two here for me could really be like year one, because then we're kind of starting over from there, but I think where the consistency is good is that we have seniors that are capable of getting some wins, and I think having a staff come in that knows the league and knows them gives them the best chance to win right away. Within a couple years, man, we're just trying to build some consistent success."

Never one to back down from a challenge, Dunne was forward in addressing his biggest obstacle in four months on the job at Marist, that being how to position the program to right the ship from its decade-long morass that saw his three predecessors unable to charter a promising course, but is realistic about what lies ahead by not expecting to change the world overnight, yet knowing the responsibility to cultivate a winning culture is incumbent upon him, especially in year one with pieces in place to potentially overachieve.

"When you haven't won, it's easy to get down on yourself," he cautioned. "It's easy to lose confidence, and it's our job to be demanding and point out what we're doing wrong, but at the same time, try to maintain a confident group because we do have enough talent and we have a guy (Brian Parker) that's a first-team potential kind of guy. We are going to, at some point this year, go through a rut. It's inevitable. Then they're going to have to decide: Are they going to dig deep and fight out of this, or are they just going to put their head down and think this is the same old Marist men's basketball team? It's our job to help them get out of that rut, but it's also their job to be mentally tough and fight themselves out of it."

The mental toughness of which Dunne speaks has been among the primary catalysts in his career success to date, and that, along with his excitement to bring Marist back to its now-halcyon days of the 1990s and mid-2000s, has slowly pervaded a program and athletic department whose $30 million commitment to renovating the McCann Center is as much a harbinger of things to come as the positivity outwardly conveyed by the new sheriff in town.

"At the end of the day, we have great leadership here that cares about athletics, and that's where it all starts," said Dunne. "You don't get the money put into the programs and you don't get the facilities that are needed to have success without great leadership. We have that leadership, and it trickles down. We're committed to success here in all areas. It's not going to happen overnight, but we're pretty confident that over the next few years, we'll be able to turn this thing around and stay consistent, because that's what's most important."

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Holloway ready to lead Saint Peter's, promises "different" look for Peacocks

Shown here with championship net from Seton Hall's 2016 Big East Tournament victory, Shaheen Holloway is excited to bring winning pedigree and positive energy to Saint Peter's. (Photo by John Fanta/College Hoops Digest)

Thrust into the unusual position of having to hire a new head coach after John Dunne departed for Marist following twelve seasons at the helm, Saint Peter's University did not look very far to find his successor, replacing the affable Dunne with Shaheen Holloway, who had spent the past eight years as Kevin Willard's top lieutenant at the same Seton Hall program from which the Peacocks had plucked Dunne in 2006.

The similarities do not end there, however. Closing in on just 42 years of age, Holloway -- a former student-athlete at Seton Hall and metropolitan area legend on both sides of the Hudson River -- has the same outlook as the man he replaces in Jersey City, a grounded reality encapsulated by his palpable excitement to build something at a program generally dismissed for what it does not have in comparison to its larger brethren before it is lauded for its accolades.

"My dream always was to be a head coach, especially the opportunity of working with someone that you know and trust," Holloway said of what attracted him to Saint Peter's and the opportunity that presented itself this past April, when athletic director Bryan Felt -- a former administrator at Seton Hall -- made the former Pirate his choice. "Off the bat, that attracted me to Saint Peter's. Also, just going over there and getting a chance to work around the league -- I coached at Iona for three years -- I think that's a place where Coach Dunne did a great job, and I also think it's a place where the ceiling is pretty high for improvement."

Through four months with a team ready to contend by virtue of its returning players, such as point guard Davauhnte Turner and forwards Sam Idowu and Quinn Taylor, Holloway has embarked upon the process of not only changing the culture around the program, but also revitalizing it in its second season removed from a CollegeInsider.com Postseason Championship, and was quick to commend his predecessor for not only the tools already in place, but also for continually extracting so much from what was perceived to be so little.

"I saw Coach Dunne on the road in July, and I told him that I was blown away with the type of kids that he had in the program," Holloway said, a profound sense of pride evident in his humble tone. "As far as character kids, these guys all work hard, they're all great kids, all respectful. That's been a blessing, and then I'm excited about the opportunity. We've got some pieces that are pretty good. We've just got to put it together."

One of the unsung heroes behind Seton Hall's resurgence into a Big East power through the better half of this decade, Holloway -- who followed Kevin Willard to South Orange from Iona, where he served as Willard's protege for three years in New Rochelle -- is very much like his mentor in a number of ways, from recruiting to player development, all the way down to the even keel with which he steers his ship. In fact, Willard provided Holloway with valuable advice he brings forth with him into his new endeavor.

"I owe a lot to him," said Holloway of Willard and the impact on his coaching career. "He took a chance on me, hired me when he first got the job at Iona. I've been with him eleven years, and we've been through a great journey together at Iona and at Seton Hall. The one piece of advice he gave me was to look into the league and see how good the coaches are. He said that's one of the things he didn't do when he first got the job at Iona."

"I was blown away by how good the coaches in this league are. I think this is an unbelievable league, a league that people outside this area don't know too much about, but the coaches are big-time coaches. That was one of the main things he told me, to just make sure I knew I what I was going to get myself into."

The preparation for what lies ahead, forged with the experience of having helped build at a higher level, has Holloway taking an open-minded approach less than three months from opening night, and the coach insists he is still learning on the fly, in some aspects.

"I've just learned that when you take over a program, there's a lot of things that when you're younger, you don't understand you're in charge of," he said. "For instance, I'm not only responsible for my players, I'm responsible for my coaches and their families, and also my family. That's a lot of pressure right there. You've also got to channel things a little differently."

"As an assistant coach, you've got to be a little more in-your-face. As a head coach, you've got to treat everybody the same, but different. You've got to know when to hug a kid, when to get on a kid, and the same thing with coaches. I've got to teach them how I want them to be, and the things that I like. It's been a whirlwind."

Although proclaiming Saint Peter's this season would be different, some of the behind-the-scenes work has struck a familiar chord, particularly the first moments on the job after replacing Dunne, something Holloway can relate to from his own playing days.

"I remember when I played at Seton Hall, when Coach (George) Blaney got fired and we brought in Tommy (Amaker)," he said. "It was such a difference for me to get used to him, it took me a couple years to get used to his style. It's going to take some time. I thought John did a great job with what he had and what he tried to do, the way he wanted to play. I'm just used to playing a different way, so it's going to take time for these guys to get to know it and understand it and do it. So far, it's been good. My older guys have been great -- they've taken on a lot of leadership -- but it's going to take time to get my imprint on the program and kind of play it the way I want to play it."

"I'm just coming in trying to do the best I could do and to get these kids to work hard. We'll be able to compete every night at a high level. We're going to have fun, we're going to do it the right way. It's going to take time for me to get to know my players, their likes and dislikes, but it's going to happen. I'm different. I want to go out and challenge my guys."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

MAAC schedule: Thoughts and games of interest

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference released its league schedule Wednesday morning, a slate that, for the second straight year, is an 18-game conference season for each of its eleven member institutions, creating an unbalanced schedule that is generated through a matrix largely fueled by a consensus preseason ranking of each team.

Before we look into some of the prevailing opinions of the schedule and how it benefits everyone, plus some significant games of interest, here are two quick thoughts:


  • The Nassau Coliseum tripleheader games -- Quinnipiac-Fairfield, Monmouth-Marist, and Manhattan-Iona -- that were slated to return to Long Island in the second of a two-year agreement were scrapped this season, presumably due to paltry attendance (a grand total of 2,515 attended the three games last January) and the MAAC's selection of Atlantic City as its future tournament venue, beginning in 2020. Coincidentally, Fairfield, Marist and Iona, each of whom were to give up their home game against their aforementioned opponents to accommodate the tripleheader, lose the game entirely, and will once again be the road team against Quinnipiac, Monmouth and Manhattan, respectively, in the lone meeting between the schools this year.

  • Expounding on that point, the fact that Manhattan-Iona -- arguably the MAAC's marquee rivalry over the past decade given that Steve Masiello and Tim Cluess have combined to win each of the last six conference championships -- is only a one-off renewal this season is a major loss to both the conference and its fans, who have usually turned both Draddy Gymnasium and the Hynes Center into sellout crowds. With that said, the Friday time slot for this year's reprisal between the Jaspers and Gaels (February 22) will almost certainly lend itself to an ESPN telecast, but being a one-game series for the first time since the MAAC's inception in 1981 changes the dynamic of what has always been one of the league's best games and atmospheres.
Takeaways and Games of Interest
Canisius: The Golden Griffins will have the chance to show the potential that has Reggie Witherspoon excited to build on one of the more successful seasons in program history, opening with five of eight games away from home. On paper, the opening trip to Marist and Siena should be a 2-0 start if all goes well, leading into a pivotal early weekend test against Rider and Iona, the regular season and tournament champions from last season, respectively.
Games of Interest: January 11 vs. Rider, January 13 vs. Iona, January 30 at Niagara, February 27 vs. Niagara

Fairfield: The Stags have mounds of opportunities to cultivate a home court advantage in the first part of the conference season, with six of nine games in familiar territory to open league play. Not having to undertake the Buffalo trip until mid-February is also a boon to Sydney Johnson's squad as life without Tyler Nelson begins in earnest. Having to start the slate against Rider and Iona will serve Fairfield well toward the end of the year.
Games of Interest: January 3 vs. Rider (only meeting with Broncs), January 27 vs. Iona

Iona: Aside from only getting one crack at archrival Manhattan, against whom the Gaels are undefeated over the past three seasons, the three-time reigning champions have a favorable road ahead to what could be an unprecedented and historic four-peat come March. One key statistic in Iona's schedule is that seven of its nine conference home games will come while school is in session, allowing the Maroon Maniacs to assert themselves as the MAAC's most influential and raucous student section inside the conference's strongest home court.
Games of Interest: January 25 vs. Rider, February 22 at Manhattan, March 1 at Rider

Manhattan: After getting its first two league games at home, the Jaspers are subject to a four-game road trip over twelve days, something that will have Steve Masiello building character in a team that could potentially be the most intriguing in the league behind Pauly Paulicap, last year's MAAC Defensive Player of the Year. The schedule catches up to Manhattan in February, when four straight games are played in Riverdale. 
Games of Interest: January 12 at Monmouth, February 5 vs. Rider, February 22 vs. Iona

Marist: Expectations are high for the Red Foxes as John Dunne journeys up the Palisades Parkway from New Jersey and into the Hudson Valley, where a cadre of seniors are seeking to bring Marist its best finish in over a decade. Dunne is among the best at getting blood out of a stone, and getting his first three conference games at McCann Arena will go a long way toward shaping the season.
Games of Interest: January 3 vs. Canisius, January 13 at Saint Peter's, February 22 vs. Saint Peter's

Monmouth: The opening to last year's conference schedule was one Hawks fans would love to forget. Having to go to Iona to begin league play this season does not do Monmouth any favors either, but several winnable games await before taking the Buffalo trip in late January. Having three of its final four games at home will certainly help King Rice and his program continue to turn the corner.
Games of Interest: January 3 at Iona, January 20 vs. Iona, February 24 vs, Quinnipiac

Niagara: Head coach Chris Casey remains confident in his Purple Eagles even without Kahlil Dukes and Matt Scott, and his beliefs will be tested with both a late start to conference play and a two-game road trip to Manhattan and Fairfield to get the ball rolling. Four home games bridging January and February, including one with crosstown rival Canisius, are going to be the biggest key to the schedule.
Games of Interest: January 11 vs. Iona, January 30 vs. Canisius, February 27 at Canisius

Quinnipiac: Baker Dunleavy's encore from an improbable run to the MAAC Tournament semifinals begins in the same venue his regular season ended last year -- Draddy Gymnasium -- as the Bobcats seek to avenge a double-overtime loss to Manhattan. Projected to be among the top tier of the league this season, Quinnipiac gets games against Rider and Canisius in its first five MAAC contests, enabling Dunleavy to gauge his team's progress right out of the gate.
Games of Interest: January 5 at Rider, January 17 vs. Canisius, February 8 at Iona

Rider: The prohibitive favorite to repeat as regular season champions will have four of its first six MAAC games contested on the road, having to go to Buffalo in the third and fourth games of the season before taking on Iona in New Rochelle less than a week later. With the schedule fairly even in terms of home and road swings, Kevin Baggett's group will truly have to earn the title of league's best if the Broncs are to make lightning strike twice.
Games of Interest: January 11 at Canisius, January 13 at Niagara, January 25 at Iona

Saint Peter's: The Shaheen Holloway era has already seen the Peacocks land high-profile non-conference games, and will be christened formally in MAAC play with Siena on January 3 at the Yanitelli Center, where the Saints have not won since 2009-10, the last of the three-straight MAAC championship seasons under former coach Fran McCaffery. Saint Peter's gets six of its next eight games away from home, however, forcing a young team to grow quickly under its charismatic new mentor. Only having to play one game in Western New York could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Games of Interest: January 13 vs. Marist, January 22 at Niagara, January 31 at Rider

Siena: Jamion Christian has quickly shown the understanding of what he is getting himself into in the basketball hotbed of Albany, and believes that the Saints could surprise the skeptics in his first year at the helm. Having to begin league play at Saint Peter's, where the Saints carry an eight-year winless streak into Jersey City, is no easy task, but the Saints have chances to quickly build something with the hand they have been dealt. Of significant consequence are two road trips: One to Monmouth (January 31) and Iona (February 2), and the season-ending swing in Buffalo.
Games of Interest: January 31 at Monmouth, February 2 at Iona, March 1 at Canisius, March 3 at Niagara

Breaking down St. John's non-conference schedule

A favorable non-conference schedule provides St. John's with many early chances to build wins and solidify its case for NCAA Tournament, allowing for Chris Mullin and fans to potentially enjoy the view as season comes into focus. (Photo by The Athletic)

Released last Thursday, the finished non-conference schedule for St. John's was generally received as a softer slate than any of the previous three that head coach Chris Mullin had either put together or inherited upon his arrival. With four Northeast Conference teams and a traditionally bottom-dwelling RPI program in Maryland Eastern Shore all coming to Carnesecca Arena, the prevailing feeling among both media and fans was that the Red Storm loaded up on cupcakes in order to pad its win total leading into Big East Conference play, which begins in January.

But while the largely favorable opponents are the primary takeaway, one can read between the lines and infer that Mullin has scheduled progressively this season, his program being tested early in a hostile road environment against Rutgers before taking on a high-major team in Cal shortly thereafter, not to mention a pair of Atlantic Coast Conference foes in Georgia Tech and Duke. If the Red Storm can get through its non-league affairs in good order, the roster as it stands -- with or without Mustapha Heron, whose case to receive a hardship waiver is still in line to be heard by the NCAA -- is a potent outfit capable of surprising the Big East to post a double-digit win total that could very well get St. John's into the NCAA Tournament for the third time this decade. However, the pitfall surrounding that hope can be evidenced in last year's Nebraska team -- ironically, one that suffered a blowout loss at Carnesecca last November -- winning 22 games and not having a strong enough resume outside the Big Ten to strengthen its impressive league credentials.

Should St. John's perform as expected, its profile will be thoroughly scrutinized. Until then, the 13 opponents that comprise its non-conference season will be the subject of debate here, broken down in greater detail for each game in which New York's college team takes the floor:

Loyola (Maryland): Tuesday, November 6 - Carnesecca Arena
The Greyhounds, former Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions in 2012 under Jimmy Patsos before leaving in favor of the Patriot League two seasons later, have a new coach for the second time in the last six years, as Tavaras Hardy -- a former Big East assistant under John Thompson III at Georgetown -- takes over in Baltimore after G.G. Smith, who replaced Patsos following his departure for Siena, was shown the door after five seasons. Loyola is still a young team in many ways, but junior guards Chuck Champion and Andrew Kostecka, both double-figure scorers a year ago, will carry the torch while sophomore Isaiah Hart builds off a productive rookie season at the point guard position. Junior forward KaVaughn Scott will have his hands full down low against the likes of Marvin Clark II and Sedee Keita, the latter of whom is eligible this season following his transfer from South Carolina.

Bowling Green: Friday, November 9 - Carnesecca Arena
The Falcons, of the Mid-American Conference, are the second team to come to Queens in an opening homestand that echoes back to Steve Lavin's second year at St. John's, when the Red Storm hosted William & Mary and Lehigh on November 7 and 9, 2011, respectively. Redshirt sophomore Justin Turner will be the player to watch for Bowling Green. A 6-foot-4 Detroit native, Turner averaged nearly 16 points per game as a freshman last year, leading the Falcons with a three-point field goal percentage of .379. Senior forward Demajeo Wiggins averaged a double-double last season, and at 6-foot-10, will be a matchup problem for a St. John's front line that will need to limit its foul trouble early and often this year in order to remain efficient. A 16-16 team last season, Bowling Green returns all but one player from its roster, which will position the Falcons forwardly in the MAC and present a deceptively strong early-season foe for the Red Storm.

Rutgers: Friday, November 16 - Louis Brown Athletic Center, Piscataway, NJ
The latest collision with St. John's former Big East rival is once again a matchup in the Gavitt Tip-Off Games, pitting the Red Storm and Scarlet Knights against one another for the second time in four years after the two met at Carnesecca in November 2015 during Eddie Jordan's last season on the banks of the old Raritan. Jordan's replacement, Steve Pikiell, already owns an exhibition win over St. John's from last year, and will now go about life without Corey Sanders and Mike Williams by entrusting his offense to sophomore Geo Baker, whose Big Ten Tournament showing at Madison Square Garden has scores of Rutgers fans intrigued about a future that seems to only grow brighter with each passing day, highlighted by the arrival of freshmen Montez Mathis and Ron Harper, Jr. Pay close attention to Eugene Omoruyi, a glue guy in the mold of former Seton Hall stalwart Ismael Sanogo that can frustrate the Red Storm and get what will undoubtedly be a raucous crowd at the RAC to come alive.
Did You Know? St. John's sophomore guard Mikey Dixon and Rutgers' Peter Kiss were teammates as freshmen, having started together at Quinnipiac before transferring in the wake of former coach Tom Moore's firing in March of 2017.

California: Monday, November 19 - Barclays Center
The semifinal round of the Legends Classic creates a Big East vs. Pac-12 matchup in the form of the Red Storm and Golden Bears, the latter of whom is looking to regain its footing after rebuilding in the first season under head coach Wyking Jones, a former Rick Pitino assistant at Louisville. Sophomore wing Justice Sueing, Cal's top returning scorer, is a 6-foot-7 slasher who can score and rebound at will, and his three-point shooting should be markedly improved from the 31 percent rate at which he connected as a freshman. Fellow sophomores Darius McNeill and Juhwan Harris-Dyson will be counted upon to make strides on a youthful roster.

Temple or VCU: Tuesday, November 20 - Barclays Center
Assuming it is Temple who faces the Red Storm in the Legends Classic championship, the Red Storm have the potential to score a Quadrant 1 win in the first month of the season against an Owls squad that could be a team to watch in the American Athletic Conference. Fran Dunphy returns both of his leading scorers from last season in senior Shizz Alston and junior Quinton Rose, both of whom will anchor the backcourt while 6-foot-10 senior Ernest Aflakpui will be the target for St. John's in the paint. Roselle Catholic product Nate Pierre-Louis is in line for a breakout sophomore season after averaging over seven points per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor as a rookie. If it is VCU taking on the Red Storm, the Rams will see Mullin for the second time in three seasons, having faced off in the Battle 4 Atlantis in 2016. Head coach Mike Rhoades, now in his second season at the helm of the program he once assisted Shaka Smart at, will have a team that can still contend this year even without all-Atlantic 10 forward Justin Tillman, as VCU loses only one senior -- backup guard Xavier Jackson -- from the roster after this season. De'Riante Jenkins and Issac Vann are prime candidates to be all-conference talents in Richmond this season, not to mention Rice transfer Marcus Evans, eligible again after following Rhoades to VCU and sitting out last year. A guard-heavy team by tradition, the Rams also possess a pair of difference-makers in the interior, as 6-foot-8 sophomore Sean Mobley should make tangible progress from his freshman numbers alongside graduate transfer Michael Gilmore, who returns to the black and gold following a brief stint at Florida Gulf Coast.

Maryland Eastern Shore: Tuesday, November 27 - Carnesecca Arena
Three of the five starters for the Hawks are gone from a team that finished 7-25 last season, but UMES' leading scorer -- 6-foot-7 junior Tyler Jones -- remains. The Atlantic City native averaged a dozen points and five rebounds per game last season. Redshirt junior guard Ahmad Frost is the only other double-figure scorer returning to the fold for head coach Clifford Reed, the former head man at Bethune-Cookman.

Georgia Tech: Saturday, December 1 - AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
A neutral-site game in the Hoophall Miami Invitational takes place against a Georgia Tech team that may very well return to the postseason two years removed from a National Invitation Tournament runner-up performance. Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers are no longer around for Josh Pastner, but the Yellow Jackets will get to build around former Christ the King standout Jose Alvarado, now entering his sophomore season. In Lammers' absence, 6-foot-9 junior Abdoulaye Gueye will have mounds of chances to improve on his productivity for a team featuring eleven players on its roster that are either freshmen or sophomores.

Mount St. Mary's: Wednesday, December 5 - Carnesecca Arena
The Mountaineers have a new shepherd in Emmitsburg, as Dan Engelstad arrives following the exodus of Jamion Christian to Siena. The Mount will be one of the youngest teams in the nation this season, with no juniors OR seniors on its roster. Omar Habwe, a sophomore who averaged 11 minutes per game last season as a freshman, is the top returning player.

Princeton: Sunday, December 9 - Madison Square Garden
The yet-to-be-announced Holiday Festival will once again feature the Red Storm, who take on a perennial Ivy League contender in Princeton for their MSG debut. The Tigers lose Amir Bell this season, but return two of the best guards in the area in seniors Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens. In his first trip to New York, Cannady singlehandedly won a pivotal late-season game at Columbia as a freshman, with his late three-point shooting giving Mitch Henderson's team the jolt it needed to take down an upset-minded Columbia team that later went on to win the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. Stephens, a former Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, will likely get the first crack at Shamorie Ponds while also sliding over to defend Justin Simon on occasion. Sophomores Sebastian Much and Jerome Desrosiers will be looked to as the tag team that will replace Bell and his impact down low.

Wagner: Sunday, December 16 - Carnesecca Arena
Twice in the past three years, the Seahawks have entered March as the favorites to represent the NEC in the NCAA Tournament. Twice in the past three years, the postseason dreams on Staten Island were instead relegated to the National Invitation Tournament as Wagner was not able to protect its home court against Fairleigh Dickinson or LIU Brooklyn with an automatic bid to the field of 68 hanging in the balance. Head coach Bashir Mason has his work cut out for him this season if he is to replicate last year's success, as he must replace both JoJo Cooper and Blake Francis, the two most integral pieces in the Seahawks' backcourt, and along with the returning Romone Saunders, two of the three leading scorers on Grymes Hill last season. Expect seniors Elijah Davis and Devin Liggeons to take on a greater role in the offense for Mason, whose defensive prowess will surely reveal itself as the season goes on. AJ Sumbry should reprise his role as Wagner's rim protector while Nigel Jackson continues to develop alongside him as he enters his sophomore season, and if freshman guard Jonathan Norfleet is as good as advertised, the Seahawks could give St. John's a game deep into the second half.

St. Francis Brooklyn: Wednesday, December 19 - Carnesecca Arena
Another longtime familiar opponent makes its way into Queens in the form of the Terriers, who scored a 53-52 upset victory on the night that Alumni Hall was officially renamed in honor of Lou Carnesecca, back in 2004. Fifth-year senior and Staten Islander Glenn Sanabria remains the backbone on the corner of Remsen and Court, and he will once again serve as floor general for the likes of sophomore Jalen Jordan, who will be more integral to the machine now that Rasheem Dunn has transferred to Cleveland State and Josh Nurse will be out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured leg. Brooklyn native Cori Johnson remains in the rotation as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered two years ago, and he will be a key cog in the paint for the Terriers, who will welcome junior college transfer Christian Rohlehr to the roster in the hope that he provides the same defensive spark that Amdy Fall did en route to Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Did You Know? Head coach Glenn Braica, now entering his ninth season at the helm at St. Francis, came to Brooklyn from St. John's, where he spent six seasons as Norm Roberts' top assistant and lead recruiter, helping bring the likes of D.J. Kennedy, Paris Horne, Justin Brownlee and Dwight Hardy to Queens.

Sacred Heart: Saturday, December 22 - Carnesecca Arena
he Pioneers will have a tall task in replacing the likes of Joe Lopez and Mario Matasovic, but head coach Anthony Latina's cupboard is by no means bare. Sophomore E.J. Anosike, a Paramus Catholic product from a basketball family, could be the next dominant big man in the NEC, and will be the face of the program by year's end. Guard Sean Hoehn has Big East blood in his lineage, as former Villanova point guard and conference Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono -- now of the Chicago Bulls -- is his cousin.

Duke: Saturday, February 2 - Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC
The in-conference-season non-conference game against the Blue Devils is reprised one year after Ponds -- in one of his many take-charge performances in the second half of last season -- unleashed a tour de force that led to an upset of the then-fourth-ranked Duke team that was the preseason No. 1 in the nation. As he usually does, Mike Krzyzewski has reloaded, and done so with four of the top seven recruits in the country, getting R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones -- younger brother of Tyus, whose three-pointer at the end of the Duke-St. John's game in 2015 that gave Krzyzewski his 1,000th career win was the dagger -- Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson to take their talents to Durham to play before the Cameron Crazies in his latest attempt to deliver a sixth national championship to the basketball powerhouse. Now juniors, Javin Delaurier and Marques Bolden may be the most experienced players half the country has never heard of, serving as unsung heroes for a program that remains, until proven otherwise, a perennial threat to cut down the nets in April.