Mississippi Valley State meets St. John’s in matchup of retooling teams

NCAA Men's Basketball

Lindsey Hunter knows what it takes for a Southwestern Athletic Conference school to upset a Big East power. As the head coach of Mississippi Valley State, Hunter also understands his task will be a tall one Tuesday when the Delta Devils visit St. John’s in the season opener for both schools.

Mississippi Valley State is picked to finish last in the 12-team SWAC this season after going 2-22 (2-13 in conference) in 2020-21. St. John’s is projected to place fourth in the Big East after going 16-11 (10-9 in conference) last season.

Both programs are undergoing a rapid, on-the-fly retooling after the NCAA rule change in April allowing first-time transfers to play immediately at their new school.

The St. John’s roster features 10 new players, including six transfers. Julian Champagnie, who led the Red Storm with averages of 19.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season, posted a double-double (19 points, 13 rebounds) in a 107-43 exhibition win over Division III Baruch on Oct. 27.

St. John’s center Joel Soriano, a transfer from Fordham, added 17 points.

“These games here are great barometers to find out who’s ready,” said Mike Anderson, who is entering his third season as St. John’s coach. “There are some guys who are more ready to play than others. Some of these guys are playing for us for just the first time.”

Mississippi Valley State, ranked last among the 357 Division I programs by KenPom.com last season, has 11 new players on its 17-man roster. The Delta Devils return their top two scorers, Caleb Hunter — the son of Lindsey — and Terry Collins, each of whom averaged 12.3 points per game last season. Collins also is the team’s top returning rebounder (5.1 boards per game).

Lindsey Hunter played his final three seasons of college ball at SWAC rival Jackson State and led the Tigers to a 90-88 overtime upset of UConn in the 1993 NIT before embarking on a 17-year NBA career in which he won championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons. He is entering his third season as Mississippi Valley State’s head coach.

“It has been a dream of mine to run my own program,” Hunter said after being hired in April 2019. “I have had opportunities to go other places and work for other people, but at a certain point and time in your life, you have to do the things that you want to do and start your own journey.”

–Field Level Media

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