Mike Anderson never had a losing season as a head coach. He reached the NCAA Tournament with three different schools. It shouldn’t have been a shock that “40 minutes of hell” could travel north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Despite inheriting a lack of depth and size in his first season at St. John’s, Anderson earned his 18th straight winning season with the strength of an aggressive defensive system that allowed the Red Storm to finish second in the nation in steals.
There is no longer any question how the 60-year-old Alabama native will fit in New York. And to him, there is no question how his team will perform in its second year in the system.
“It’s kind of like, seeing is believing,” Anderson said during Wednesday’s Big East media day. “It started paying off. Hopefully, we can start that this year a little earlier, and you’ll see an even better team at the end of the year.”
Last season, St. John’s (17-15, 5-13 Big East) was one of the final two teams standing, as its Big East Tournament quarterfinal game against Creighton was canceled, along with the season.
When the team left a near-empty Madison Square Garden on that life-altering afternoon of March 12, the Red Storm led the league’s top-seeded team at halftime. St. John’s had won three of its final four games, which included a blowout victory over No. 10 Creighton.
“I think this has the makings of a really good basketball team,” Anderson said. “I thought as the season progressed we started finding our identity, and that’s big. When you come in, you’re creating a culture, a style of play that guys are not used to playing. … Hopefully we can build upon that.”
Few expect him to.
St. John’s was picked by the Big East coaches to finish ninth in the league, with no players earning preseason honors.
Last season, St. John’s was picked to finish ninth and held that seeding in the Big East Tournament. However, Anderson pointed out that Creighton was picked to finish seventh and became co-champions.
Unprompted, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard also shared optimism for the Red Storm.
“I think a lot of people are sleeping on St. John’s,” Willard said. “They’re going to be much deeper, and I think they’re getting used to playing the way Mike does.”
There is more depth — with George Washington transfer Arnaldo Toro, JUCO All-American Vince Cole and three-star point guard Posh Alexander joining a returning core of Julian Champagnie, Rasheem Dunn, Greg Williams Jr. and Marcellus Earlington. St. John’s, however, also lost Mustapha Heron, LJ Figueroa, its top-two scorers and 3-point shooters from a team that hit just 32.1 percent from deep.
Plenty of questions remain in Queens. Does Anderson have enough answers?
“I think we’re gonna build off what we did last year, “Anderson said. “I like this team right now. I really, really do. I just see something I didn’t see last year. … I think they’re taking some ownership of this team.”
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