Villanova will make their pre-Big East Tournament pilgrimmage to the Mecca on Sunday to face a struggling St. John's program still finding their feet in the first year of Chris Mullin's reign. They've got some exciting young talent, but have understandably struggled to put it all together after some major roster turnover.
To get a sense of what the Red Storm are all about, we spoke with good friend Norman Rose from Rumble In The Garden. Enjoy!
Talk to me about the Chris Mullin era thus far - below, at or exceeding expectations for Year One and are you #ALLIN or still have some concerns?
Any new coach comes with concerns. With Chris Mullin, the lack of head coaching experience means he's on a learning curve, and helping him out are his friends Barry Rohrssen and Mitch Richmond, neither of whom has successful coaching experience, Matt Abdelmassih, who was part of a great rebuild at Iowa State, and Greg St. Jean, who was a senior at Wesleyan University four years ago.
The off court rhetoric is great. The fans are generally understanding of the idea of a rebuild, the media has generally been easy on the Red Storm (except for Jeff Goodman, who has a bug up his tailpipe over what seems to be some piddly stuff, to paraphrase Don Draper), and the players seem like they're still working hard.
But what do they look like after an offseason? How will Mullin mesh the returnees with new players who KNOW they're brought in because the current crop needs a lot of help? How does he manage the heirarchy of alpha dogs?
As far as expectations, it's at about "meeting" expectations. This is a roster of players who should be getting spot minutes but they're playing full games. It would be really hard to fall below expectations, thought losing to Incarnate Word and NJIT... well, according to KenPom, neither team is that bad. But still.
More impressive first year: Federico Mussini or Yankuba Sima?
Maybe Kassoum Yakwe, but that's not the question.
Neither Mussini nor Sima have blown me away, but I would give the nod to Sima. Mussini is learning a lot, playing point guard and not having a chance to play off the ball and show off his shot. But Sima, playing his position, shows potential - he can protect the rim a little and score more than I would have guessed. With a little strength and some rebounding skill he's an all-league player, a fast and agile center.
Have the hires of Slice and Matt Abdelmassih had the desired impact on recruiting? Who do you see St. John's bringing in with Shamorie Ponds and Bashir Ahmed?
Yes - Slice gets St. John's in the conversation with players like Rawle Alkins and Thon Maker, while Abdelmassih gets Bashir Ahmed to commit. They're very good, and St. John's has been able to keep a steady stream of players from classes 2016-2018 interested and engaged with the program.
St. John's has four slots, barring transfers, for new players. I don't expect Alkins to commit but St. John's stands a good chance. German 6'8" combo forward Richard Freudenberg is said to be leaning towards St. John's.
A few other players have been mentioned, and I expect Rohrssen and Abdelmassih to be active in the transfer game as well.
How did you guys let Steve Lavin right back in to the spotlight? Shouldn't there have been some Non-Compete clause that prevented him from being on my TV screen for a year?
I mean, he's a wonderful analyst and is never lacking for words and he enunciates well.
It's so strange to watch him talk about how undermanned St. John's is with a straight face. He's actually quite gentle on the Johnnies, but... can't help but think that the roster was rather bare when he left...
How many teams from the Big East go dancing this year, and who are they?
Four to six. Villanova, Xavier, Providence for sure. I think Seton Hall. Then the scrum that is Georgetown, Creighton and Butler has to work itself out. All three could make a case but need a big win or two in February. The Butler/ Seton Hall games are play-in games, but Butler probably wants a winning Big East record.
Georgetown and Creighton need at least one win over Villanova/ Xavier/ Providence to be taken seriously.
Should the Big East bring Rutgers bac----okay fine bad joke, but would you vote yes or no to possible expansion?
Nah. League is a-ok now, and I don't see what teams would make it better. Davidson, maybe? No one wants to have to go to Dayton. U Conn would be nice but they're public and they want their football.
Do the Johnnies have a chance on Sunday? What do they need to do to spring the improbable upset?
There's always a chance! If Villanova comes out flat and St. John's shoots out of their minds, and the Wildcats don't press at all, it could happen!