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Countdown to Tipoff: Previewing St John’s, Northwestern, and Arkansas

Early non-conference road tests for the Jackets.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

St. John’s Red Storm

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-St. John’s vs Xavier Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Queens, NY

Conference: Big East

2017-2018 Record: 16-17, 4-14 in conference

Head Coach: Chris Mullin, 38-60 in his 4th season

Best Season: 1952 NCAA Runner up, 1985 Final Four

Record vs. Jackets: 5-4

Pre-Season pick: 4th in the Big East

Leading returning scorer: Shamorie Ponds, 21.6 points per game

Chris Mullin enters his 4th year as St John’s head coach with talent returning and a push to show progress in the re-tooled Big East. Ponds, Marvin Clark II, and Justin Simon all return as double-digit scores from last season’s squad, Ponds was named pre-season Big East player of the year. Mullins must replace 2 starters in the front count and will look to South Carolina transfer Sedee Keita to fill that role. The Red Storm will be even more dangerous if the NCAA grants a waiver for Mustapha Heron to be immediately eligible, Heron was an All-SEC performer before transferring from Auburn. Tech will face a strong early season challenge from a team that may be a competitor in the Big East.

Northwestern

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Evanston, IL

Conference: Big Ten

2017-2018 Record: 15-17, 6-12 in conference

Head Coach: Chris Collins, 88-77 in his 4th season

Best Season: 2017 NCAA Tournament, Round of 32

Record vs. Jackets: 2-2

Pre-Season pick: 12th in the Big East

Leading returning scorer: Vic Law, 12.0 points per game

In what almost seems like and annual matchup, the Jackets have played the Wildcats 4 times since 2010, the Jackets will travel to Evanston for the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Collins took the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history in 2017 and has been working to build on that success. Northwestern will look to seniors Vic Law and Dererk Pardon will be the senior leaders and main drivers of the Wildcats success. Collins signed a banner class in 2018, with Pete Nance and Miller Kopp both being top 150 rated players. Look for graduate transfer Ryan Taylor to be the distance sharpshooter the Wildcats have needed. This is another tough early season matchup for the Jackets, where they will learn a lot about themselves through this matchup.

Arkansas

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Fayetteville, AR

Conference: Southeastern Conference

2017-2018 Record: 23-12, 10-8 in conference

Head Coach: Mike Anderson, 155-86 in his 4th season, 351-184 overall

Best Season: 1994 National Champions

Record vs. Jackets: 1-4

Pre-Season pick: 10th in the SEC

Leading returning scorer: Daniel Gafford, 11.8 points per game.

Mike Anderson will have his hands full trying to replace 6 seniors, 2 of which were all-SEC players, off last year’s NCAA tournament team. The good news is that Anderson has Daniel Gafford returning, when he could have left early for the NBA. The Hogs will have 10 newcomers to add to the squad this season. There is only one returning guard with experience on the roster, and this experience was not at Arkansas. It will be a tough rebuilding year for the Razorbacks, but still an early season road test for the Jackets.

The Jackets face some tough early season road tests. Squeezing 2 wins out of this group will help Tech build some momentum moving towards the conference season.