For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some analytic fun. Today's subject: the St. John's Red Storm.
When you're previewing and projecting teams in the middle of the summer, oftentimes the best you can do is look back. Who played well last season? Who improved toward the end of the season? Who are the obvious breakout candidates? How experienced is the team? How well do they play as a unit? Who graduated or went to the NBA, and what do those personnel losses mean? Add those factors up, do a little film study, dig into Synergy scouting information, check in on Pomeroy's ratings, and do your best. Inexact though it is, that's the formula.
The 2011-12 St. John's Red Storm are not subject to any of those rules.
How do you project a team that lost 10 -- yes, 10 -- seniors in a single offseason, only to see those seniors replaced by nine -- yes, nine -- freshmen in a star-studded recruiting class? I mean, what do you even say? That kind of roster turnover is almost unprecedented. I can't remember the last time a team exchanged this many seniors for this many freshmen in a single offseason. It never happens.
That's why the best thing you can say about St. John's -- other than the fact that Steve Lavin's No. 3-ranked recruiting class is deep, talented and the cornerstone of a program turnaround that might just resurrect the long-dormant college hoops scene in New York City -- is to call this team a grand experiment in the power of youth.
No one knows how this experiment will play out. Everything is on the table. The Red Storm could take the Big East by, ahem, storm (sorry); they could also fall prey to a rough-and-tumble conference that requires strength, experience and leadership on a nightly basis. We've seen countless veteran teams become its victims. The 2009 Notre Dame Fighting Irish come to mind; that team, considered a title contender before the season, lost seven straight games in January and February and was never quite the same again. Even UConn, your 2011 national champions, finished 9-9 in league play. Old or young, grizzled or green, the Big East can eat you alive.
The good news for St. John's? These freshmen are really good. Six of the nine newcomers are ranked in the ESPNU 100. Among them, three -- small forwards Dominic Pointer, Jakarr Sampson and Maurice Harkless -- are among the 10 best incoming players at their positions. D'Angelo Harrison is the No. 16-ranked shooting guard; Norvel Pelle, whose name just rolls off the tongue, is the 12th-ranked power forward. There are also a couple of junior college players in the mix, shooting guard Nurideen Lindsey and center (and immediate all-name first teamer) God's Gift Achiuwa. That's good news, too, because juco players aren't nearly as green as true college freshmen; they're older, bigger, more experienced and more prepared for the move to big-time basketball.
But talented as they all are, there's no getting around the fact that this team is insanely, jaw-droppingly young. That makes predicting the course of this team's season an exercise in futility. Indeed, the only safe prediction is this: Win or lose, the 2011-12 St. John's Red Storm is going to be a fascinating bunch. Let the grand experiment begin.