Perhaps no squad has as much of an upside as the St. John’s men’s basketball team. After posting its first Big East Tournament win in five years and earning a berth in the College Basketball Invitational, the Red Storm return all their key players from last year’s team. Redshirt senior Anthony Mason Jr. will also be back from injury.
Strength: Depth. With the Red Storm returning 90% of their scoring, this is now an experienced team. “Two or three year ago, I couldn’t tell you two or three players who would be key,” said head coach Norm Roberts. “Now I can tell you eight or nine players.”
Key Player: Junior Guard Paris Horne: The guard took huge strides last season, upping his scoring average from 5 to 14.6 points per game. If Horne, who had six 20-point games last year, can stay effective even with Mason’s return, the Red Storm have a chance to pull off some upsets.
Best Case Scenario: The juniors shoot the ball very well everyone stays healthy, St. John’s advances to the third round of the Big East tournament and gets serious NIT consideration.
Long Island University
The Blackbirds might go under the radar, but in the NEC, they’re a pretty big deal. Picked to finish second in the conference, LIU returned four starters from a team that finished 12-6 in the conference and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NEC tournament.
Strength: Experience. “I think we have a lot of talent coming back, a lot of experience coming back, and a lot of depth coming back,” said head coach Jim Ferry. “We are focused on the same goal and will have a successful year coming ahead of us.”
Key Player: Junior Guard Kyle Johnson. Senior Jaytornah Wisseh may be the highlight player, but the Blackbirds were just 4-4 in games when Wisseh scored 20 points. Wisseh cannot be a one man show, and Johnson, who averaged 13.8ppg last season, must step up. (LIU was 4-2 in games where Johnson scored 20+ points.)
Best Case Scenario: LIU takes advantage of a watered-down Northeast Conference, and the Blackbirds reach the NCAA tournament as a 15 seed.
St. Francis College
The Terriers were expected to struggle last season, but things went south when forward Kayode Ayeni went down with a torn ACL in December. However, instead of folding, the Terriers fought and scraped their way to the final spot in the NEC tournament. This year, with everyone healthy, the Terriers look to build upon last season’s learning experience.
Strength: Better scheduling. Terriers head coach Brian Nash admitted that St. Francis was too ambitious with it’s scheduling in the past, a sin that will be corrected going forward. Said Nash: “We’re not playing games where we’re expected to lose.”
Key Player: Sophomore Stefan Perunicic. Perunicic, a swingman from Belgrade, can take over games, like he did against NEC champion Robert Morris last seasons, scoring 28 points to help St. Francis pull off a 87-79 upset.
Best Case Scenario: Anything is possible in the topsy-turvy NEC, but the Terriers will be quite content with a winning record and a low seed in the NEC tournament.