|Big East coaches assembled for their annual Media Day picture, with St. John's Chris Mullin third from left. Photo by Jason Schott.|
Big East Media Day was on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, and the conference released its preseason poll for the occasion and announced its preseason honorees.
The St. John’s men’s basketball team was picked to finish sixth in a preseason poll of the league’s coaches. Two of their young stars, Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett, were named to Preseason All-Big East Second Team.
St. John's exceeded expectations in the 2016-17 season, finishing eighth in the Big East with a 7-11 record, up from two conference wins the year before. They had an overall record of 14-19. The Red Storm won their first Big East Tournament game since 2011 to cap off the season in style.
St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin, who is entering his third season, said of where he thinks his team is entering this campaign, "Every night, I talked to our guys yesterday, we can play with anybody in the country on a given night night, and we can get beat, and that's a good thing. Always have your guard up. That's why you rehearse, that's why you practice, that's why you spar with each other. Every time you come out, you know damn well, if you don't put your best effort out there, you're going to get beat."
Senior forward Bashir Ahmed said of the team's progress, "Last year, I feel like we made a big improvement. Over the summer, all the guys on the team have been working hard. Coach (Mullin) has really been pushing us, and I feel like this year, we're pretty confident with all the new pieces that we've added. We're just looking forward to it."
Last season, Ponds and LoVett were both unanimously selected to the Big East All-Freshman Team after forming one of the nation’s highest scoring pairs of rookie teammates.
One of just two teammate duos to both finish in the top 10 in the Big East in scoring, Ponds (5th-17.4 ppg) and LoVett (9th-15.9 ppg), helped lead the Red Storm to one of the NCAA’s best turnarounds in conference play as the Johnnies claimed seven victories in league play. Included in those seven Big East wins were a triumph over No. 13/13 Butler, a road win at Providence and victories at The Garden over Seton Hall and Marquette.
Ponds, who set the St. John’s single-season freshman scoring record with 573 points, also proved himself to be one of college basketball’s most tenacious defenders in 2016-17, becoming the first freshman to lead the Big East in steals, with 2.1 per game, since Providence’s John Linehan in 1998-99.
LoVett and Ponds also displayed an aptitude for sharing the rock when necessary, as each ranked in the top 11 in the conference in assists per game with 3.8 and 3.1, respectively.
On what he learned in his first year with St. John's, LoVett said, "When you're a freshman, everything is fast-paced. You're just running, not really knowing what everything is. The fact that I know what everything is now will make it much better. Now I know what Big East play is, and I think all of that, the maturity and everything, has to factor in."
Ponds said of what he learned from his freshman season, "The biggest takeaway was losing. nobody wants to lose, so now that we had a losing season, I feel like everybody's mindset is based on our losses. We know what the expectations are and where we can do."
Ponds said of what the focus has been in the offseason, "This year, Coach (Mullin), basically, he's emphasizing defense, so I mean, most of our drills are based on the defense. We start the drill defensively, then it turns over into offense. I mean, basically, all our drills are defense turn into offense because Coach knows like we're going to score and he's going to focus on defense."
Practices are being conducted differently by Mullin this season, and Ponds said of that, "I pretty much don't think anything's different, he's basically keeping things the same, but up the tempo, more intense, just play more physical so we can know the do's and don'ts in a game."
For the fourth-straight year, Villanova was predicted to finish first in the preseason coaches poll followed by Seton Hall, Xavier, Providence and Creighton, respectively. After the Red Storm in the six spot, Marquette, Butler, Georgetown and DePaul rounded out the league.
The Red Storm kicks off its 2017-18 campaign on Friday, Nov. 10, playing host to New Orleans at 7 p.m. inside Carnesecca Arena.