A lack of depth really left the St. John's Red Storm with little chance of being a factor in the Big East last season. With Steve Lavin healthy and back on the bench, and improved depth up and down the roster, St. John's will be a bigger factor this season.
Besides losing Moe Harkless to the NBA Draft and reserve Mailk Stith, who left the program, the Red Storm returns five players who logged heavy minutes a year ago while also welcoming in some impact newcomers. For a high-energy, full court, up-and-down team like Lavin likes St John's to be; that depth will be crucial as the Red Storm tries to wear down its opponents.
The top returning player is shooting guard D'Angelo Harrison, who led the team in scoring averaging nearly 17 points per game as a freshman. His ability to stroke it from deep is needed since the team really struggled shooting it from distance in 2011 and doesn't have a ton more deep threats this year.
Starting point guard Phil Greene is also back and will be pushed heavily for playing time by the highly touted Jamal Branch, who becomes eligible in the second semester after transferring in from Texas A&M. Branch has the ability and potential to eventually replace Greene as the starting floor general. Freshman Felix Balamou provides needed depth at guard.
There is plenty of athleticism at forward with Sir'Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett. Both guys are capable of playing multiple positions and are at their individual bests in the full court, whether it be offensively or defensively. The Red Storm get a shot in the arm with the addition of lengthy forward Jakarr Sampson, who was supposed to join the team last season but didn't qualify academically. JUCO transfer Marc-Antoine Bourgault and Christian Jones help alleviate the lack of depth the team suffered last season.
God'sgift Achiuwa brings some muscle and strength inside. Adding JUCO transfer Orlando Sanchez and highly recruited Chris Obekpa triples the size down low, which is key considering Harkless had to play the role of center frequently last year.
There isn't a shortage of talent or depth on this year's Red Storm team, but unlike the deep group Lavin had two years ago, experience will be the question. How quickly this young team gels together will be the difference between St. John's returning to the NCAA Tournament or settling for a trip to the NIT.
Player to Watch: Jakarr Sampson, F
Sampson's length and versatility on both ends will allow him to play a Harkless-type role for the Red Storm right away. He has decent range on his jumper, can take bigger defenders off the bounce and finish explosively at the rim while also being able to post up smaller opponents.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/13 vs. Detroit
11/15 vs. Charleston (Charleston Classic)
11/16 vs. Murray State/Auburn (Charleston Classic)
11/18 vs. Baylor/Boston College/Colorado/Dayton (Charleston Classic)