Courtside: Staff Predictions for Women’s Basketball

The Torch’s Sports Section Staff Predicts How the St. John’s Women’s Basketball will fare in the 2015-2016 season

Q1: Where will the women’s basketball team finish at season’s end?

Stephen Zitolo: “The women’s basketball team will surely be a threat to not only be the best team in the Big East, but to make an NCAA Tournament run. Everything the Red Storm will do this season will run through one of the best backcourts in the nation in senior and Preseason Big East Player of the Year Aliyyah Handford and senior Preseason All-Big East Team selection Danaejah Grant. I can easily see them winning 22-25 games and lasting for a while in the NCAA Tournament.”

Brandon Mauk: “They’re going to be in the hunt for the top spot in the Big East. They were picked to finish second behind DePaul in the Coach’s Poll for a reason. This is an experienced basketball team that has been very successful the last couple of seasons. They are hungry to get back into the NCAA Tournament. They can chase down DePaul.”

Carmine Carcieri: “The Red Storm will bounce back from an NIT berth with seniors Danaejah Grant and Aliyyah Handford returning as one of the best backcourts in the nation. The Red Storm should return to the NCAA Tournament and I won’t be surprised if they make a deep run with their strong guard play and experience.”

Troy Mauriello: “With the Big East Preseason Player of the Year Aliyyah Handford and play makers Danaejah Grant and Jade Walker all returning, I expect St. John’s to take home the Big East regular season title. The Red Storm will win 20-plus games once again and return to the NCAA Tournament, where they will win at least one game.”

Q2: Who will be the X-Factor?

Stephen Zitolo: “Imani Littleton is going to be a key asset for head coach Joe Tartamella and company throughout this season. Littleton’s long athletic frame and her ability to sprint up and down the court will create mismatches on both the offensive and defensive ends. The sophomore forward will be crucial to a potential NCAA Tournament run.”

Brandon Mauk: “We’re going to see Danaejah Grant at her full potential. She played most of last season with a shoulder injury and still averaged 17.1 PPG and 5.4 RPG and was named to the All-Big East Second Team. In the offseason she had surgery on her shoulder and she is now fully healthy going into this season. She’s the perfect partner to Aliyyah Handford.”

Carmine Carcieri: “Aaliyah Lewis is my X-Factor as the 5’5” junior will use her speed and competitiveness to bring fire at the lead guard position. Lewis, who started 33 games, is excellent in transition and can set the pace for the majority of the game.”

Troy Mauriello: “The Johnnies know that they can expect at least 15 points each and every night from Handford and Grant, so for me the X-factor will be their third scoring option, forward Jade Walker. The 6’1” junior was third on the team last season with nine points per game, and she’ll need to at least replicate that output in 2015-16.”

Q3: Who will fill the shoes of the program’s all-time rebound leader Amber Thompson?

Stephen Zitolo: “A player with the skills of an Amber Thompson cannot be replaced with just one player. I think that all the players with post playing ability will have to play a role to fill her shoes. Jade Walker will be a great scoring asset; Imani Littleton will provide length and the ability to rebound, Sandra Udobi will provide physicality and toughness and newcomer Jordan Augstus has the ability to take over the game with her talent.”

Brandon Mauk: “It’s going to be a collective effort to replace Thompson’s presence in the paint. Coach Tartamella will have to play a smaller lineup this season. Thompson was the leading rebounder in the Big East last season, but Handford and Grant were also among the leaders in the conference in rebounding. Jade Walker is also a solid rebounder.”

Carmine Carcieri: “While no one player is going to make up for the loss of Thompson, Jade Walker has the ability to make a leap this season due to her size, strength and toughness. The forward averaged 4.7 rebounds in her sophomore campaign but expect that number to leap above seven per game despite offseason surgery.”

Troy Mauriello: “Walker is the obvious choice, but she won’t be able to replace Thompson all on her own. Look for senior forward Sandra Udobi to play a bigger role in the front court this season after she missed all of 2014-15 due to injury. Udobi along with incoming freshman forward Jordan Agustus should provide all the help that Walker needs in the rebounding department.”