But as the St. John’s season officially goes underway, the fourth-year does feel that his Red Storm are primed for their best campaign yet, as well as a possible NCAA Tournament bid.
“It’s definitely not the goal not to make it,” he said at Big East Media Day when asked about March Madness. “To sit here and say no would be silly. But most importantly, it’s to understand what it takes.”
In the Big East’s Preseason Poll, the Johnnies were fourth as selected by the coaches. The fourth place finish would be the best of Mullin’s tenure by far – their best was eighth out of 10 in 2016-17 – and their highest conference tournament seeding since 2013-14.
Under Mullin, the Red Storm have an overall record of 38-60 and are 12-42 in conference games.
“In some respects, those first two years, we didn’t go walking into many games as favorites,” he said. “Now we’ve got this experienced group, we’ve got a good group of players. I would’ve liked to have it gone a little quicker, but we’ve still made steady progress.
“Experience is a huge factor, and we have that,” Mullin added. “We’ve got good talent, good offensive players, we can rebound and play defense. We’re optimistic.”
A big part of their optimism sits with star guard Shamorie Ponds, who entered the NBA Draft in 2018 but withdrew his name in favor of a third year of college ball.
Ponds returns as the Big East’s leading scorer, averaging 21.6 points per game as a sophomore one season ago. Ponds was also second in steals at 2.1 – only behind teammate Justin Simon at 2.3 – and fifth in assists with 4.7.
All resulted in the Brooklyn-born sharpshooter being named Big East Preseason Conference Player of the Year.
“Our expectations are very high,” Ponds said. “I feel like we could surpass them if we just stay together as a team and stay level-headed.”
The team will also return Simon and other key contributors from a season ago, like Marvin Clark II, whom Mullin referred to as “extremely grateful” since arriving to Queens via Michigan State prior to 2016.
“He’s one of our most experienced players,” said Mullin. “He played under a great coach at Michigan State in Tom Izzo. He’s been through a lot in his life. With those experiences comes appreciation and gratefulness of the situation that he’s in.”
The Red Storm will also have Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron on the team after being granted a waiver by the NCAA.
During his previous two years at Auburn, Heron played and started in all 64 of his games, averaging 15.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He also hit 44 percent from the field, 37.2 percent from three, and 78.6 percent on free throws.
The 6-foot-5 guard earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors in 2017, and was named All-Conference Second Team last season by the Associated Press.
The Red Storm’s season begins on Tuesday, November 6, against Loyola-Maryland at Carnesecca Arena in Queens as part of the Legends’ Classic.