Two months later, disappointment has been replaced by excitement. Frustration is now intrigue.
St. John’s roster, which is now complete after last weekend’s addition of 7-foot-1 high school prospect Mohamed Keita, looks far better than initial expectations.
When last season ended with a heartbreaking Big East Tournament quarterfinal loss to Villanova, an uncertain offseason was full of gloom.
It started that way, with the expected departures of standout forwards Julian Champagnie and Aaron Wheeler to the professional ranks. But coach Mike Anderson and his staff have responded extremely well, not only landing two difference-making transfers in point guard Andre Curbelo (Illinois) and wing David Jones (DePaul), but keeping the rest of the roster intact after there were eight defections the previous year.
On paper, experts believe this has the potential to be a top 4-5 team in the Big East, a group that if more goes right than wrong, should reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Anderson’s arrival in 2019.
The Post spoke to two analysts – Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports and John Fanta of Fox Sports and the Field of 68 – and three college coaches (on condition of anonymity) with strong knowledge of the Big East to break down the Johnnies’ new-look roster.
“They once again are one of the home-run hitters of the offseason in the Big East,” Fanta said. “You could say that they’ve had the best or the second- or third-best offseason in the Big East. … They have a realistic chance of being fourth or fifth. In that regard, the offseason gets an ‘A.’ ”
It all starts with the big three of Curbelo, Jones and returning point guard Posh Alexander. Curbelo was the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman, a former top-50 recruit out of Long Island Lutheran who had a down sophomore year that was impacted by a concussion which cost him two months. The versatile 6-foot-6 Jones averaged 14.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in his first full year at DePaul, and picked St. John’s over Oregon, Memphis and West Virginia, giving the Johnnies a go-to guy on the wing in place of Champagnie. Then there is the dynamic 6-foot Alexander, who notched 13.8 points, 5.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds a year ago.
“You’re going into next season, which is a pivotal season because they haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2019 and they haven’t made it under Mike Anderson, with Posh Alexander, Andre Curbelo and David Jones as three guys who all have the potential to be All-Big East players, ”Rothstein said. “If you have three guys who are in position to be All-Big East players, you should have a team that’s in the NCAA Tournament.”
There are, of course, questions. Questions about chemistry and questions about shotmaking. St. John’s is hoping Curbelo and Alexander, two pass-first point guards used to play with the ball in their hands, can co-exist. The coaching staff made sure Alexander was on board before recruiting Curbelo, sources told The Post. Though the two didn’t have a preexisting relationship, they are familiar with one another having both attended high schools in the area.
There is hope Alexander’s shooting can improve playing off the ball more. As a freshman, Alexander shot better from 3-point range than he did this past year – 29.9 percent compared to 21.7 – when playing next to another point guard.
“They will be really hard to guard. I think it could be really dangerous if the two of them can connect and be on the same page, and my feeling is Posh is pretty easy to do with that, ”said one of the coaches. “He doesn’t seem to have much of an ego when it comes to getting his.”
The bigger question, everyone agreed, is the lack of perimeter shooting. Curbelo and Alexander are non-shooters. Jones shot 30 percent from deep last year. Wheeler and Champagnie were St. John’s top shooters a year ago for a team that hit just 33.5 percent of its attempts from deep, a mark that ranked 195th in the country. The opposition will pack the paint. It will play off Curbelo and Alexander. Someone – whether it is rising junior Dylan Addae-Wusu, talented but unproven rising sophomore Rafael Pinzon or prized recruit AJ Storr – will need to make shots from beyond the arc when the game slows down.
“That’s obviously the concern,” Rothstein said. “That’s the one thing that people are going to have questions about.”
The three coaches said that although St John’s has top-five talent in the league, actually finishing there is another thing. Last year’s team was supposed to make the NCAA Tournament and fell well short. Consistency has eluded the Johnnies in recent years. It is an intriguing roster with some high-end talent, but still one with major question marks. The pieces are not guaranteed to fit together.
“I think it is a boom-or-bust type of team,” one of the coaches said. “It can be really good and compete in the top three or four in the league, or it can be just a bad mix.”