The Battle 4 Atlantis tournament recently announced the bracket for this year. The bracket can be viewed here.
Michigan State will be playing against St. John’s in the first round, followed by either Baylor or VCU in the second round. I wrote an overview of the tournament earlier, but want to take a more in-depth look at St. John’s following the recent announcement.
The Johnnies finished last year with an 8-24 record during a season that had very few bright spots. They had a shocking victory over Syracuse, but aside from that upset, wins over DePaul and Rutgers were their only other major-conference victories.
They lose a few role players, but the majority of their starting unit will remain intact. That said, the difference between starters and role players on last year’s team was minuscule at best. Chris Mullin had eight players who averaged between 20 and 30 minutes per game. St. John’s will lose forward Ron Mvouika, who averaged 8.5 points with 4.0 rebounds per game. Additionally, Durand Johnson, the team’s leading scorer from last season with 12.0 points per game, will not be returning. The losses of role players Felix Balamou and Christian Jones individually are not detrimental, but the departure of the pair will certainly have a notable effect.
Of those returning, there are a couple of players who showed promise last season. Freshman point guard Federico Mussini was handed the reigns to the offense and did admirably, scoring 10.7 points while adding 2.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Joining Mussini with integral roles in the offense last year were fellow freshmen Malik Ellison, Kassoum Yakwe and Yankuba Sima. If any of these individuals can make a jump as sophomores, then St. John’s will already be looking at a much improved team.
Chris Mullin is bringing in 5'11" Shamorie Ponds, a highly touted recruit who wants to remain in his hometown. The team also welcomes in New York native Bashir Ahmed, who is one of the top JUCO talents in the nation. Ahmed is a sizable 6-7 forward who has a nice shot, but also enjoys playing around the rim.
In the impending contest between St. John’s and Michigan State, the Spartan’s primary advantage will be on the interior. The bulk of St. John’s scoring last season came courtesy of their backcourt, which is a trend that should continue into next year. Ahmed should be able to provide production in the paint, but Michigan State’s frontcourt is overwhelmingly better than St. John’s.
This is a match-up between one of the best rebounding teams from last year and one of the worst. The Spartans should dominate the glass in this game as long as they can neutralize any threat Ahmed could pose around the rim.
For Michigan State, another key to winning the game will be defending the Red Storm’s guards. If Tum Tum Nairn Jr. and Eron Harris are up to the task, the Spartans should roll to an easy win. If not, Chris Mullin and St. John’s could prove to be a tougher out than expected.