Syracuse will travel to Madison Square Garden on Sunday for a meeting with former Big East foe St. John's at noon. With that in mind, Carmine Carcieri of Rumble In The Garden, SB Nation's St. John's blog, was nice enough to stop by and answer some of our Red Storm-centric questions. See below:
St. John's seems to have taken a big step back this season. With so many departures from last season's team, was this expected?
Yes, this was expected. The St. John's program is in rebuilding mode after losing 96% of their scoring from last year's NCAA Tournament team. They brought in a new head coach Chris Mullin, who basically had to build the roster from scratch with only three returning players. Mullin and his star-studded staff were able to land eight new student-athletes, a combination of graduate transfers, freshman and JUCO prospects, but all of them have very little experience at a high Division I level. The two graduate transfers, guards Durand Johnson and Ron Mvouika, both sat out last season with injuries, two of the freshman, big man Yankuba Sima (Spain) and point guard Federico Mussini (Italy), are playing American basketball for the first time while stretch four Darien Williams (JUCO) has had major shoulder injuries. Then there's the three returning players, Christian Jones, Felix Balamou and Amar Alibegovic, who all averaged less than 10 minutes per game last season.
What's the general feeling so far, if there is one, on Chris Mullin in his first season as St. John's head coach?
It's tough to judge Chris Mullin and his coaching abilities this early in his tenure, but I will say that his players love to compete for him and he has brought optimism with his early recruiting efforts. Every newcomer that I spoke to at the team's Media Day said they joined the program because of the chance to play for a Hall of Famer like Mullin. On the court, the rest of Mullin's first year will be judged not by wins but by how much the team improves. So far the general feeling is that Mullin and his staff have the potential to develop this roster over the course of time, especially after showing flashes of offensive excellence in the Maui Invitational against Indiana.
Is there a Johnnies player that Syracuse fans should be most concerned about?
Yankuba Sima. Sima has a developing offensive game but has the ability to finish around the rim with both hands and has some skills on the offensive glass. His presence is really felt on the defensive end of the court where he can block and alter shots at the rim, which helps make up for the lack of foot speed the Johnnies have on the perimeter.
Would you like to see Syracuse and St. John's play on a pretty consistent basis during non-conference play in the future?
Absolutely, I would love to see them continue to play on a consistent basis because it brings back memories of the 16-team Big East Conference that we used to have. Syracuse and Georgetown started their home-and-home series this year and it's obviously a positive whenever two of the more high profile teams in New York battle against one another at the World's Most Famous Arena. Add that on to the fact that it's a tremendous opportunity for both teams to gain a resume building victory early in the season.
Prediction time: Who wins Sunday?
Syracuse, who was ranked 14th in the country last week, will win this game by double digits regardless of the venue. St. John's is in transition mode and they struggle mightily with turnovers against pressure defense. Syracuse likes to trap out in their zone and the Johnnies have yet to see the length that the Orange roster has. It will be a fun afternoon for 'Cuse fans at the 'Mecca of Basketball.'
Thanks to Carmine for stopping by, and be sure to check out Rumble In The Garden for St. John's coverage ahead of tomorrow's game.