As the start of practices approaches, one question being asked is who will challenge defending regular season champion Villanova for Big East supremacy. Jay Wright’s Wildcats return the majority of their rotation from last season, with the biggest loss being first team All-Big East selection James Bell, so they’ll likely be favored to repeat as a result.
As for the question about possible challengers, that picture isn’t as clear as we approach the month of October. One team hoping to be Villanova’s stiffest test is St. John’s, with the Red Storm aiming for (at minimum) the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011. Steve Lavin’s Red Storm have some questions to answer in the front court, with newcomers Keith Thomas, Adonis Delarosa and Amir Alibegovic arriving on campus in a position where they’ll need to contribute immediately alongside junior Chris Obekpa.
As for the backcourt, St. John’s lacks neither depth nor talent, with seniors D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch, junior Sir’Dominic Pointer and sophomore Rysheed Jordan leading the way at the three perimeter spots. And in an article written by Zach Braziller of the New York Post, the guards didn’t lack confidence when discussing their standing amongst the nation’s top perimeter rotations.
Take senior guard Phil Greene IV, for instance, who was asked if the Johnnies have the best backcourt in the Big East.
“The country,” he said emphatically during St. John’s Dribble for the Cure cancer fundraiser event on campus Saturday afternoon. “You see it every day in practice. We compete at a high level…Versatile. Each of us brings different skills to the game and to our team. That’s what makes us such a deep backcourt.”
Greene was the first to make the bold proclamation, but he was backed firmly by fellow senior guards D’Angelo Harrison and Jamal Branch.
Harrison was the most productive of the guards last season, averaging 17.5 points per contest while shooting a career-best 37 percent from beyond the arc. But it’s Jordan who has the greatest upside among the players in Lavin’s perimeter rotation. Jordan was a more consistent option during conference play, with his best performance (24 points, three assists vs. Georgetown, 20 points, six assists vs. Marquette) coming in the season’s final month.
There’s no question that the Philadelphia native is talented; if he can build on the improvement shown late last season the Red Storm will be a more difficult team to defend.
There will be a number of teams (and fan bases) who will beg to differ with Greene’s assessment and his teammates backing the statement, and that’s perfectly fine. But what’s also understood is that the Red Storm guards will have to go out and back up their claims on a nightly basis when the season begins.
And given the major question marks in the front court, whether or not they prove capable of doing so will have a significant impact on how much success St. John’s enjoys this season.