The timing may not be perfect, but it's pretty close. After a heartbreaking defeat in the opening game against Big East, St. Johns will regain its league leaders for the season's first real street game.
Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati, Mustapha Heron returns after an ankle injury on December 10th. After three missed games, the Senior Guard is expected to be available when the Red Storm visits Xavier.
"He's made pretty good progress. He'll appear to be available," said coach Mike Anderson in a phone interview. "He feels more comfortable with every workout. It continues to build our depth when you look at what he brings to the table. He is one of our leading goal scorers. Without a doubt, people have to honor him because he can score. He is our most experienced player on our basketball team. That means a lot. "
St. Johns (11-3) survived without Heron, defeating Albany and No. 25 Arizona, but fell to Butler No. 11 on New Year's Eve. In defeating Arizona and losing to Butler, it fought aggressively down the route. Heron, who averaged a team's top 15.0 points per game, would have helped. With 40.8 percent, he is the team's best 3-point shooter, spans the ground and also frees his compatriot LJ Figueroa.
It is important to be in full strength as St. Johns reaches the most difficult part of its schedule. As of Sunday, five of the next seven games are on the program, and one of the two games on this route is against Seton Hall – the favorite of the Big East pre-season. This will be a new experience for the Johnnies, some of whom have never played a Big East Road Game before.
"I think it's another question mark for this basketball team," said Anderson. "How do we play in someone else's place in an unfriendly, hostile environment?
"It's a big challenge. We'll learn more and more about our basketball team as this season unfolds early. You will be able to deal with some adversity on the street."
So far from home, St. John's is 2-1, defeating Arizona and UMass, and losing to Arizona State. However, that was different. They were neutral games. Xavier is against a team that is known to be difficult to beat in their own building. This season it is 8-0. After all, St. Johns is an outsider with 7 ½ points.
"I'm curious to see how they come out," said Anderson.
It would help if the Johnnies started out how they ended up against Butler when they eliminated a 23-point deficit by forcing 16 sales in the second half and almost getting a big surprise. In the end, St. Johns missed out on the 3:08 final by five points, but the performance was impressive, especially as Heron was still out and Figueroa was on the bench in bad trouble.
"We have to build on that and get more minutes," said Anderson. "Let's see if we can get 40 minutes like that."