The St. John’s Red Storm entered Big East play with moderately high expectations under first-year Hall-of-Fame coach Rick Pitino. After a couple of bumps in the road to start the season, the Johnnies righted the ship just in time for conference play.
Now at 2-1 after an 86-70 win over Butler, the Red Storm will turn their attention to the Villanova Wildcats in a pivotal early-conference matchup on Saturday.
“We did some really, really good things,” Pitino said following the win over Butler. “We did a lot of things we must get better at.”
St. John’s is now 8-2 in their last 10 games, relying on their offensive firepower to carry the load as Pitino’s defensive scheme continues to iron out the wrinkles. Most of that firepower has come from outside as Pitino was able to attract a plethora of recruits in the offseason. After needing time to jell together and fit into the system, the transfers are starting to hit their stride as one.
The charge has been led by Daniss Jenkins, a graduate transfer from Iona who is averaging 17 points in the Johnnies’ last three games. The dynamic guard has turned into a floor general for the Red Storm, especially after going toe-to-toe with Butler guard Posh Alexander Tuesday night. Alexander, the former St. John’s guard before transferring this offseason, was held to 5-of-12 shooting and 11 points in his return to Carnesecca Arena. Jenkins and Alexander even exchanged pleasantries pregame.
“You get on the court, and I’m competitive. He said something and I said a little something back to him,” Jenkins said.
The Iona grad transfer certainly got the better of Alexander as he racked up 17 points and seven assists, leading the team in both categories.
Not only has St John’s started to click on the court, but they’re starting to get healthier too. RJ Luis, another transfer from UMass, has only appeared in four games this year due to injury. The sophomore wing has proven to be one of the most versatile players on the Red Storm roster, working his way into the starting lineup and recording double figures in the last two games.
“I wish he would show his passing skills more because he’s great at that,” Pitino said. “He’s the best passer on the team by far. He’s 6-foot-7, he sees everything.”
While a lot of the attention has been paid to newcomers and transfers, the star of the show continues to be Joel Soriano, the anchor of both the offense and defense in the paint who is leading the team in points per game with 17.1 and rebounds per game with 10.4. While these numbers jump off the stat sheet, Pitino believes there’s more in the tank for the former second-team Big East talent.
“I think Joel can play so much better than he’s playing,” he began. “He’s still nowhere near his potential and that’s a great thing.”
With pivotal matchups coming up against Villanova, Providence, and Creighton, there will be no rest for the weary in the Big East this season. While every team improves throughout the season, the Red Storm have a higher ceiling than most teams given the talent they acquired in the transfer portal. With a Hall of Fame coach leading the charge, the Johnnies will be a team to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
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