St. John’s Red Storm

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LJ Figueroa staying at St. John’s

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St. John’s received some positive news on Wednesday as LJ Figueroa decided to return to the program after exploring transfer options.

Hitting the transfer portal after the departure of previous head coach Chris Mullin, Figueroa will be able to play next season instead of sitting a transfer year.

By staying with the Red Storm, the 6-foot-6 Figueroa gives St. John’s a proven two-way wing and double-figure scorer for new head coach Mike Anderson. Figueroa averaged 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game last season — his first with the school — as he shot 51 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point range.

St. John’s has a chance to be solid with Figueroa returning next season but they’ll have to figure out how to plug a few roster questions — most notably replacing point guard Shamorie Ponds. The return of Figueroa at least gives the Red Storm an all-conference threat who helps them in multiple ways.

Report: Chris Mullin stepping down at St. John’s

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St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin is expected to step down from his position with an official announcement this week.

First reported by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, Mullin will exit his alma mater after four seasons at the helm. Even though St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg said that Mullin would be back next season as head coach with a statement only a few days ago, Mullin will step aside after a disappointing tenure.

One of the greatest players in program history, Mullin’s hiring was met with a lot of local excitement. After landing some talented recruits, those expectations grew even bigger. But Mullin was never able to make a significant postseason run as he struggled to gain traction in a tough Big East.

During his tenure, Mullin finished 59-73 overall and 20-52 in the Big East as St. John’s had a disappointing end to this season after a 12-0 start. Flaming out in the First Four of the 2019 NCAA tournament after barely making into the Field of 68, the Red Storm suffered a blowout loss to Arizona State in Dayton to end their season.

Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley could be an option to make a move back to the East coast as his name is already being linked to the St. John’s opening.

“Chris Mullin is our coach,” St. John’s AD says

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Chris Mullin will be back at St. John’s next year, according to the school’s athletic director.

“Let me be clear and I said from the start, Coach Mullin is our head coach and we are not looking for another head coach,” Mike Cragg said in a statement released to Jeff Goodman of Stadium.

Speculation had begun to run rampant regarding Mullin after he completed his fourth season at his alma mater with an NCAA tournament exit in the First Four. It was the first NCAA tournament appearance for the Red Storm under Mullin, who has gone 59-73 overall and 20-52 in the Big East without a single winning season in conference play.

The lack of success isn’t the only issue facing St. John’s as a pair of departure have hurt the program as well. Shamorie Ponds, one of the Big East’s best players last year, has announced his plans to go pro without the intent to return to school. Mullin also lost assistant Matt Abdelmassih, who had recruited the bulk of the Red Storm roster, to Nebraska and Fred Hoiberg.

The program has had momentum and success in small supply in four seasons, and what little there was last season – Mullin’s first with a winning record – looks as though it will be difficult to sustain going forward.

St. John’s junior Shamorie Ponds going pro

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Shamorie Ponds’ college career is coming to a close.

The St. John’s junior will declare for the NBA draft and sign with an agent, he announced Thursday.

“Playing for St. John’s has been nothing less than amazing for me. To RedStorm Nation, I thank y’all each & every night for giving me the confidence to be myself and accept me for who I am thru my highs & lows,” Ponds wrote on Instagram. “With that being said, coming to St John’s was one of the best decisions of my life. After speaking it over with my loved ones, I want to announce that I WILL BE ENTERING THE 2019 NBA DRAFT & hiring an agent.”

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Playing for St. John’s has been nothing less than amazing for me. To RedStorm Nation, I thank y’all each & every night for giving me the confidence to be myself and accept me for who I am thru my highs & lows❤️. To my brothers, we been thru hell & back but this season was a success even though we ain’t get the outcome we wanted. I appreciate my dawgs for picking me up when I was down, and challenging me each and every night to be the best me. GANG 4Eva🤞🏽🖤. To the coaching staff, all 3 years y’all brung out something new in me, I’ve mature over the years, y’all helped me become a better person on and off the court. I thank y’all for that🙏🏾. With that being said, coming to St John’s was one of the best decisions of my life. After speaking it over with my loved ones, I want to announce that I WILL BE ENTERING THE 2019 NBA DRAFT & hiring an agent. #NWNBForever✍🏽 & the Journey continues . . . #2out ✌🏽 💔

A post shared by Shamorie Ponds (@_slicck_) on

The 6-foot-1 Brooklyn native averaged 19.7 points this past season, shooting 45.3 percent overall and 35.3 percent from 3-point range. His scoring and playmaking helped the Red Storm make their first NCAA tournament in four years under coach Chris Mullin, albeit a First Four loss to Arizona State. Ponds projects as a a late-first, early-second round pick heading into the early predraft process.

His departure surely isn’t overly surprising, but it does underscore the fact it could be an uphill climb for St. John’s next season. Even with the tourney bid, it’s hard to see how Mullin won’t be under considerable pressure to show positive momentum after barely getting into the Big Dance. Now he’ll have to do it without his best player of the last two years.

Arizona State races past St. John’s

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Arizona State raced out to an early lead and never trailed as they advanced past St. John’s with a 74-65 win on Wednesday night during an NCAA tournament First Four game in Dayton.

Jumping out to a double-digit lead 10 minutes into the game, the Sun Devils were barely threatened until late in the second half as the Red Storm had a disjointed night on offense. St. John’s had some early momentum in the second half during an 8-0 burst when the Arizona State lead was cut to eight points. The Sun Devils quickly pushed the lead back to double-digits with another run. With under five minutes left, St. John’s made a final push to cut the Arizona State lead to seven but they never made it over the hump to get fully back into the game.

Freshman Luguentz Dort was the standout for Arizona State on Wednesday as he finished with 21 points. Although Dort experienced a scary fall early in the second half, he shook off the hard landing to return. Dort’s health will be something to monitor for the next round as he’s clearly the best offensive weapon for the Sun Devils. Forward Zylan Cheatham (14 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Sun Devils on Wednesday as Arizona State didn’t play a particularly crisp game on offense.

Although Arizona State (23-10) led the entire game, they had 21 turnovers and some sloppy possessions that they’ll need to clean up before Friday’s first-round matchup with Buffalo. Arizona State advances to play the No. 6 seed Bulls on Friday in a West Region game in Tulsa. The matchup will feature Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley going against his former team as he left Buffalo four seasons ago to take the job in Tempe. Hurley will also be facing a head coach, Nate Oats, that he hired as an assistant coach at Buffalo. Wednesday’s win for the Sun Devils also marks the first NCAA tournament win for Arizona State since 2009 when they beat Temple in the first round.

St. John’s (21-13) never found a rhythm on offense as they shot 32 percent (22-for-69) from the field and 26 percent (8-for-31) from three-point range. Junior guard Shamorie Ponds (25 points, four assists) and guard L.J. Figueroa (19 points) were two of the only bright spots for the Red Storm as St. John’s turned the ball over 16 times.

Starting the 2018-19 season with a 12-0 record, St. John’s finished the year 9-13 as they plummeted once Big East play started. After such a promising start to the season, many predicted that St. John’s would be a factor in the Big East race.

Instead, St. John’s slipped to the point of barely making the Field of 68 as they were the last at-large team let into the field. Losing in a First Four game after being a top-25 team only two months ago is a very disappointing ending to what looked like a comeback season for this program. The Red Storm have not won an NCAA tournament game since 2000 as they’ve dropped five straight in the Big Dance.

2019 NCAA Tournament: The guards you need to know

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The saying goes, it’s guards that win games in the NCAA tournament, and the history is there to back it up. Whether it’s a point guard making his teammates better (Tyus Jones, Duke) or dominating play (Kemba Walker, UConn). There will be a whole host of guards, some we know and some we don’t, that’ll make a huge difference over the next month.

Here we’ll take a look at a group that maybe aren’t quite as well known as the country’s absolute top-tier. So you won’t find R.J. Barrett or Cassius Winston or Carsen Edwards or Ja Morant here. You will, however, find a group that can make or break a bracket.

Markus Howard, Marquette

It’s a bit surprising that Howard hasn’t broken through as a major star in college basketball given he’s a 5-foot-11, sweet-shooting guard who absolutely fills it up. He’s a high-volume guy with one of the highest usage rates in the country while still shooting 40.8 percent from 3-point range en route to averaging 25 points per game. Howard is certainly no secret to those who follow college basketball closely, but given how celebrated 3-point shooters are in this day and age, Howard, truly one of the country’s elite in that department, seems broadly under-appreciated. His shooting is potent enough to put the Golden Eagles on a run, even if they’re entering the tournament on a downward trajectory.

Josh Perkins, Gonzaga

There have been plenty of questions about Perkins on these pages but he’s largely answered the bell this season for the Zags. He’s averaged 11 points with an assist-to-turnover ratio great than 3:1. He’s shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point range. He’s run the point for one of the best and most successful teams in the country. But…there are still a couple of red flags. Perkins had four turnovers and was 4 of 14 (0-3 from 3) in the Zags’ loss in the WCC title game to St. Mary’s, and in Gonzaga’s last loss before that, all the way back in December, he had six turnovers against North Carolina. He had nine assists in a loss to Tennessee, but was also 0-6 from the field. There might be some that say Killian Tillie is Gonzaga’s x-factor, but with how good they are already in the frontcourt, I still think Perkins remains the guy that can swing the pendulum the most in either direction for the West’s No. 1 seed.

Sam Merrill, Utah State

Merrill has been the best player you haven’t heard of this season. He’s averaging 21.2 points, 4.2 assists and 4.0 boards for a Utah State team that won the Mountain West tournament. He’s averaging 27.2 points over the last five games, in which the Aggies beat Nevada to lock up an at-large bid and then rolled through the field to win their league’s automatic bid. He’s terrific.

Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State

An foot injury sidelined Wigginton for most of November and December, and the former five-star prospect has been coming off the bench for an up-and-down Iowa State team since returning. A year after being the Cyclones’ best and perhaps only scoring option, Wigginton now finds himself a part of a more balanced attack that actually features another player – Virginia transfer Marial Shayok – more than him. Still, he’s a 38 percent 3-point shooter with high-level athleticism, and his ability to score in bunches could be the catalyst that keeps the Cyclones hot after their Big 12 tournament championship.

Fletcher Magee, Wofford

The Terrier senior has a chance to become a Big Dance darling thanks to his 41.3 percent shooting from 3-point range and his prowess for big-scoring games ( he’s averaged 20-plus for two years). Wofford became something of a national novelty as they cracked the Top 25 for the first time in school history, but here’s guessing Magee shows why the Terriers weren’t just a collecting wins in the Southern Conference – they’re actually a serious threat over the next few weeks.

Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s

If St. John’s is going to storm out of the First Four and make a dent in coach Chris Mullin’s first NCAA tournament with his alma mater, Ponds is going to be what’s powering it. The 6-foot-1 Brooklyn native is averaging just under 20 ppg with 5.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game as well. Ponds is a threat to go for 30-plus every time he steps on the floor.

C.J. Massinburg, Buffalo

It’s hard to live up to the hype when you drop 43 in an overtime win at West Virginia in the season’s first week, but the Bulls’ senior has been really good all season. Massinburg is a statsheet stuffer with 18.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3 assists per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3 and 46.4 percent overall. It’s not going to be surprising at all to see Buffalo outperform its six seed with its senior guard leading the way.

BJ Taylor, UCF

The Orlando native has starred for the hometown Knights as they’ve secured their first NCAA tournament berth since 2005.  The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 16 points and 3.3 assists per game. He converts at a 36.8 percent clip from 3-point range.