The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.
Team: St. John's
Important People: Kieran McArdle (A); Kevin Cernuto (A); Colin Keegan (A); Mark DiFrangia (D); Andrew Viscusi (D); Connor Mullen (M)
Formerly Important People: Dillon Ayers (LSM); Jeff Lowman (G); Alex Lagodich (M); Brandon Ayers (SSDM)
Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: ARV; Coaches: ARV
2013 Record: 9-4 (3-3, Big East)
2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!
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Here's the issue: St. John's struggled at the defensive end of the field in 2013 -- the Johnnies finished the season ranked 49th in adjusted defensive efficiency -- and has lost arguably its best two defensive players (Lowman and Ayers) to the scourge of graduation. This is . . . well, when Don Draper sighs with the weight of humanity on his shoulders, it's because he's thinking about the Johnnies' defensive situation 50 years in the future and not because he's degraded into a horrible human being. There are assets here with developmental growth value -- DiFrangia was just a sophomore in 2013, Viscusi was growing into his role in-close last season, and Addona was a junior finding his leadership capacity on the defensive end -- but the team's defensive status requires elevation to provide much need balance in order to complement one of the best offenses in the nation. The biggest concern, though, is in the crease: Lowman was St. John's goalkeeping for the last three seasons, efforts that saw the keeper collect all-Big East honors in his final two campaigns. The Johnnies are only listing two goalies on its roster at the moment (Harry Burke and Andrew Boyer), with only Burke seeing any notable time in the cage (and that time is limited to one start in 2013 against Villanova). This combination of transitioning to a new experience in the crease and a field defense that must mature execution-wise is cause for pumping the brakes a little on the Red Storm.
A Thousand White Doves
St. John's should throttle through 2014 on rocket fuel, accelerating through existence marked only by a scoreboard that doesn't blink but rather blurs toward final counts. Returning arguably the nation's most destructive attack -- McArdle, Keegan, and Cernuto, a senior-driven unit that bent reality sideways as they assaulted the opposition with brute strength and a willingness to pursue goalie embarrassment at all costs -- and all but one (Lagodich) of the team's double-digit point generators from 2013, the Red Storm could actually improve on an offensive effort that saw the Johnnies finish last spring ranked third in adjusted offensive efficiency. This is an unbelievable volume of offense that Jason Miller has at his disposal, and that unit -- if it comes correct in 2014 and smashes faces with a sledgehammer -- could erase some of the team's defensive problems, drowning the opposition in races to 20 tallies (not unlike Albany a season ago). St. John's gets lost in the shuffle a little bit with respect to the Red Storm's offensive ability and what it means for the Johnnies' ceiling (Are there five attack units stronger than what St. John's has? Are there more than a half-dozen offenses that return (1) the value that St. John's does, and (2) value that was exceptional -- in totem -- in 2013?), but there is potential in Queens for the Red Storm to ride this unit not only into the Big East Tournament as a high seed but also into the NCAA Tournament as a draw that no team wants to see.
The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: Challenges Denver for the Big East title and McArdle is named a Tewaaraton finalist; NCAA Tournament team with quarterfinals potential given their matchup difficulty; the defense coalesces and Burke erases the memories of Lowman with steady play; the team's seniors -- all 12 of them! -- take St. John's to heights the program has never seen.
The Moon: Finishes second in the league but plays a dozen games that are merely scoreboard races, creating madness in execution; defense is inconsistent but holds things together; NCAA Tournament bubble team due to inability to pass Denver and uneven results that emboldens skepticism built upon an opaque resume; an odd loss or two mirrors an odd win or two.
Six Feet Under: Team struggles defensively and a replication of the team's 2013 campaign comes into focus; the pressure on the offense to generate tallies creates inefficiency; outside of Denver, the Big East struggles to find an identity and St. John's is pushed from the national consciousness; fails to make Big East Tournament due to odd tiebreaker scenarios; McArdle is lost for the season after a freak covered and smothered accident at Denny's.