An up-and-down year for St John’s basketball has continued to take dramatic turns in the offseason. The Johnnies narrowly missed out on the NCAA Tournament this year after surging late in the season.
St John’s took down Seton Hall in their last game of the season to overtake them for 4th place in the Big East, but regardless of the result, the two would face off in the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Seton Hall pulled away in overtime, handing St John’s another bitter end to the season. The loss likely cost the Red Storm a chance at qualifying for the NCAA Tournament and ended incredible seasons for a handful of players.
In his first season, freshman forward Posh Alexander made an instant impact, consistently scoring in double figures while picking up his fair share of steals. Alexander’s presence was massive for St John’s, who went 11-2 when he scored at least 10 points.
A breakout sophomore season for Julian Champagnie was instrumental in St John’s big surge forward. Champagnie averaged just under 20 points as he stepped into a more prominent role after a decent first year.
Alexander and Champagnie led St John’s on a massive 8-2 run in January and February that turned around the season. During the run, the Red Storm won seven conference games, including wins over two top 25 teams, #23 UConn and a huge upset over #3 Villanova.
Alexander averaged around 15 points with 5 assists and 4 steals during the stretch, a big presence on both sides of the ball. Champagnie continued to impress with his consistent scoring, but was also a presence on the glass, grabbing 13 rebounds against Villanova and 10 against Providence.
Champagnie made the decision to test the NBA draft waters after the season concluded, joining his twin brother, Pittsburgh star Justin, in declaring for the draft. Both players are projected as possible 2nd round picks, but if Julian returns to St John’s, it will give them a massive boost on offense next year.
If Champagnie is selected by a NBA team it will leave St John’s with a big hole, something that may not be easy to fill with the departure of three players to the transfer portal. Two big rotation players, Greg Williams Jr and Marcellus Earlington, both departed St John’s, following a handful of others, including Josh Roberts, Vince Cole, and John McGriff, who was head coach Mike Anderson’s first recruit.
The shakeup means next season’s roster will look quite different, though a big part of that will be the new faces coming into the program. While they lost a good chunk of players to transfers, St John’s has picked up a few new names to fill big places of need.
Joel Soriano, a forward at Fordham, has crossed town after improving in his second year with the underperforming Rams. Soriano averaged close to a double-double this season and provides a big presence on both ends of the court. Despite Fordham’s abysmal season, Soriano ranked 3rd in the Atlantic 10 in rebounding, dominating the offensive glass.
Joining Soriano as a transfer is Rutgers guard Montez Mathis, who St John’s hopes will fill out the roster in his last two years of eligibility. Mathis played in the NCAA Tournament with Rutgers, who broke their tournament drought with a win over Clemson in the first round. Mathis recorded 10 points in their 2nd round loss to #2 Houston.
Another big addition is Stef Smith, a graduate transfer from Vermont. Smith was a 3-year starter with the Catamounts, and brings some experience and depth at guard as he spends his final year of eligibility in Queens.
Rounding off the list of new transfers is athletic big man Aaron Wheeler, who was an impressive defender at Perdue. The Boilermakers forward has never put up strong offensive numbers, but will fill in as another big defensive presence.
After narrowly missing the big dance this season, St John’s will be eyeing another transformative season. The Red Storm placed 9th in the Big East in 2019-20, but made a massive improvement to finish 4th this season. If they continue their positive trend, the program will be back to a strong competitive level, and we can hope to see the Johnnies take the court in the NCAA Tournament once again.
St John’s has not put together a tournament run in some time, not making it past the first round since 2000, when they lost in the 2nd round. Since then St John’s made just 3 appearances in the tournament, losing in the first game of each. In 2019, St John’s qualified for a First Four matchup against Florida State for an 11 seed spot. In their toughest test of the year, Arizona soared past St John’s.
However, the tides seem to be changing in New York. With the hire of Mike Anderson and a fair share of dedication and hard work, St John’s has turned their basketball program around. Dynamic young players are again on the Red Storm’s radar, and though this offseason brings some changes to the roster, St John’s is hopeful to return next season with a purpose.