St. John’s has made one thing clear through six nerve-wracking wins

Grab your antacid pills. Stock up on some Pepto Bismol. Eat light on game days.

The early indications are St. John’s fans are going to be in for quite a roller-coaster ride this winter. Off to its first 6-0 start since 2018-19, St. John’s won the Empire Classic the last two days at Barclays Center in chaotic fashion. It faced double-digit deficits in the first halves of both games. It went on extended runs when the defense was stout and shots fell, failed to close out the games only to prevail anyway.

It is a fascinating team, led by newcomer Andre Curbelo, a big-time talent who can also cause fans to pull their hair out. Like this team in general, Curbelo can be brilliant one moment and mistake-prone the next. He can slice through defenders and make passes that only a handful of players in the country can deliver, but he will also commit unnecessary, and sometimes careless, turnovers.

It’s extremely early, and St. John’s best wins, over Temple and Syracuse, aren’t going to make national headlines. But for a team that couldn’t win close games last year, going 4-9 in games decided by six points or less, pulling out back-to-back nail-biters is significant. There are areas that need to be tightened up. The Johnnies are averaging 14.8 turnovers per game, which is way too much. The shot selection can be better. Both of these wins could’ve been much easier, had St. John’s just done some of the little things better.

Andre Curbelo celebrates for St. John’s during win over Syracuse on Nov. 22, 2022.
Corey Sipkin/NY Post

But this is also clearly coach Mike Anderson’s most talented team yet. Big man Joel Soriano has five double-doubles in six games, and might be the most improved player in the Big East. DePaul transfer David Jones, averaging a team-high 17.2 points, seems capable of stepping into the No. 1 scorer’s role left by Julian Champagnie. Posh Alexander has defended at a high level and remains one of the better all-around guards in the conference. Fellow returnee Montez Mathis has improved across the board. There is scoring depth, five players averaging at least 9.7 points, that was lacking in past years.

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The last two days, St. John’s showed its potential and its warts. Anderson’s team was as unpredictable as the weather. I learned one thing about this group: It will be impossible to take your eyes off of them.

Half the battle

Anderson has been criticized for his in-game coaching during his time here, and I have been one of those critics. The slow starts are going to bite this team at some point. But the fourth-year coach has made a habit early on this season of making quality halftime adjustments. St. John’s has outscored its seven opponents by 74 points after intermission. That’s a huge number. Against Syracuse, he smartly put Alexander on Orange standout freshman Judah Mintz, and Alexander held him to four points after the break. Mintz had 16 points in the opening half. At the start of overtime, he went to Dylan Addae-Wusu instead of Mathis on Syracuse star Joe Girard III because he wanted a fresher defender out there. Addae-Wusu held Girard scoreless in the extra session. This team has played sharper and with more focus after halftime. The coach deserves credit for that.

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More from Posh

Alexander is the rare player who doesn’t have to score to impact the game. Despite averaging 6.5 points in the two games at Barclays Center, he was still a plus-22. But St. John’s needs him to be more offensive-minded. Cleary, he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in his jumper right now. He’s attempted eight 3-pointers this year and has yet to hit one. He has to be more of a threat for this team. There just aren’t enough shot-makers on the roster, which cuts down the court the opposition has to defend, and his passivity hurt the Johnnies at times in the Empire Classic.

Posh Alexander goes up for a shot against Syracuse
Posh Alexander goes up for a shot against Syracuse
Corey Sipkin/NY Post

Close group

There was a very touching moment during the trophy presentation when Soriano engulfed Esahia Nyiwe in a big hug and you could see Nyiwe breaking down. He recently lost his younger brother, Naayian, and had been away from the team. Several members of the team then embraced the two. It was a snapshot into a tight-knit group that seems to be very fond of one another. 

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