Photo Credit: Nick Bello (nbello8)
Talent. Experience. Resilience. These were all words to describe St. John’s in their fourth season under head coach Chris Mullin. A team who’s best player was voted to be the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, surrounded by newfound talent. It was the perfect storm that turned out to be a dark cloud hanging over Queens.
The Big East is as competitive as ever. There’s no clear-cut favorite, making the Big East Tournament highly anticipated. This was supposed to be the year St. John’s was a cut above the rest. They clearly had the leagues best roster in a season where almost every team suffered significant losses in personnel. But, the Johnnies failed to capitalize and sit with a conference record of 8-10, and 20-11 overall after starting the season 12-0.
So, St. John’s is back to playing on a Wednesday night in the tournaments opening round. A win against Xavier in their last game of the season would’ve locked up the three seed, and likely an NCAA tournament bid. Instead, they’re in the Big East basement. A three-game losing streak to end the season will do that.
A big reason St. John’s has collapsed is the offense has gone cold. Teams have been quick to show a zone against an athletic Johnnies team, opening up plenty of opportunities outside the arc.
However, Marvin Clark II is shooting 37% from three, down from 41% last season. While that’s still good, he’s averaged just 8.6 points since Jan. 5, and has scored zero points twice in that span.
Mustapha Heron has scored 10 points or less in the last three games he’s played. To his credit, he’s been plagued by injuries. Justin Simon is known more for his defense, and averages 10 points a game. L.J. Figueroa has been one of the team’s more consistent scorers of late, but it remains to be seen if he can be relied upon.
The one player who can be relied upon is Shamorie Ponds. Like the rest of the team, Ponds hasn’t been his best the past month or so. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, like against Seton Hall at the Garden on Feb. 27. His percentages are better this season, and the numbers say he’s been a more efficient player. Yet, if St. John’s wants to make any noise deep in to March, and to salvage a disappointing campaign, they’ll need Ponds to take it to another level.
There were times last season where if Ponds was given the ball, you knew he was scoring. His ability to create for himself and get to the rim would make your jaw drop. This season has seen Ponds be more passive, looking to dish and get his teammates involved, which makes sense. The team is more talented, and hero ball ultimately isn’t sustainable.
But, this team desperately needs a heroic Ponds performance. It needs to open up the Big East Tournament and jolt Madison Square Garden. It needs to make a statement that their seeding isn’t indicative of who they are.
If anyone should want to make a statement, it’s Ponds. He was named to the All-Big East First Team, but wasn’t a unanimous selection like Markus Howard, Phil Booth, Eric Paschall and Myles Powell. Frankly, that is flat-out disrespectful to one of the best guards in the country, but playing with a chip on his shoulder is nothing new for Ponds.
For St. John’s, they better hope that chip is bigger than ever. Remember UConn’s improbable run in 2011 when the Huskies won the Big East Tournament and the National Championship? Kemba Walker cemented his legacy with that 11-game stretch. Now is the opportunity for Ponds to do the same. He’s certainly capable. Simply put, if the Red Storm want to dance, it’ll have to be the Shamorie Ponds show.