Image courtesy of St. John’s University Athletics.

By: Robbie Stratakos

Last season Julian Champagnie was an enticing freshman for the St. John’s Red Storm. If head coach Mike Anderson’s unit is going to win the Big East, they need Champagnie to have a monster sophomore season.

In the three games he has appeared in this season, Champagnie has been impressive on the offensive end, posting 29, 25 and 16-point games.

Champagnie has a mult-faceted offensive game. He puts the ball on the floor, finishes inside with conviction and shoots with confidence from inside the paint, mid-range and beyond the arc.

His offensive arsenal is one that a team can rely on. It’s a matter of him keeping up the hot start and coming into his own as a prominent scorer.

Champagnie was getting into a groove offensively towards the end of last season. He was attacking the rack with more confidence and shooting more efficiently. Across St. John’s last 10 full games (their round two matchup with the Creighton Bluejays in the Big East Tournament was cancelled at halftime), he averaged 13.6 points per game while shooting 34.2 percent from beyond the arc. In the previous 16 games he appeared in, Champagnie averaged 8.3 points per game while shooting 28.2 percent from beyond the arc.

Posh Alexander looks like he could be Anderson’s answer at point guard. He has played well in isolation, been a burst in the halfcourt and a difference-maker on that end of the floor. At some point, the freshman will take his lumps, as all youngsters do. Anderson needs additional staples to ensure that Alexander’s growth doesn’t hold back the offense.

Greg Williams Jr. is a capable outside shooter who takes what the defense gives him; Marcellus Earlington is a gritty inside player; Rasheem Dunn is at his best when attacking the rack; guard Vince Cole has flashed an ability to stretch the floor.

These are all steady players who bring a different skill set to the table, but none of them have been consistent isolation scorers.

Champagnie has shown an ability to be a jack of all trades. To date, he has been their best scorer on the young season. However, St. John’s is yet to play a game with the second-year player present that came down the wire.

Front 2016-19, former head coach and school royalty Chris Mullin relied on Shamorie Ponds to score and facilitate, which he did at a high level. The role Ponds vacated proved to be severely detrimental.

Relentless defense and making the extra pass are Anderson hallmarks. At the same time, St. John’s had difficulty closing out tight games and maintaining sizable second half leads. They struggled to execute in late-game possessions, and that derived from the lack of a true go-to scorer.

It was a team offense that functioned but didn’t have a player who dominated in the halfcourt and was therefore forced to rely on its defense.

Can Champagnie be their answer in the halfcourt? Is he the one that others feed off as the season progresses?

Conference play has bit this university in the rear in recent memory. In the 2017-18 season, they lost their first 11 conference games; the ensuing season they went 8-10 in conference play; last season they went 5-13 in Big East play.

One way or the other, St. John’s has to find a way to play competitive basketball against the likes of Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall and the rest of the Big East. That’s going to come from them having players who can get them late-game buckets, not just playing fundamentally sound on both ends of the floor; many of their rivals are already ingrained in that philosophy.

Does St. John’s have the talent to win the Big East? They do, but the only way they do so is one of their rotation mainstays breaking out; Champagnie is their best bet.