Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Underrated St. Johns Developing Into Big East Contender

Posted by CoHoops DeAnte Mitchell
Before the season, the St. John's Red Storm (17-9, 9-5) acquired coach Steve Lavin to lead 10 seniors to possible success in their final season.

Coach Lavin was quoted saying their goal heading into the season was to make the NCAA tournament and send their seniors out on a high note.

The Big East coaches voted St. John's as the sixth best team in the Big East during the preseason and the Johnnies also received one first-place vote.

So, to say this St. John's team came out of nowhere is ludicrous. But, the fact that they have overachieved is something that has brought smiles around the St. John's athletic program and in New York.

"I think we are ahead of schedule in terms of the high level of basketball that we have played in six of the last seven games," said coach Lavin.

St. John's has recently received it's first ranking (No. 23 AP, No. 25 ESPN/USA Today Poll) on the season and the first since the 2000 season.

"It is empirical evidence that their hard word is paying off," said coach Lavin. "They have an outstanding work ethic, focus and resolve to finish their careers on a high note."

This St. Johns team has defeated five ranked teams this season, all of which were ranked inside the top-15 in both polls.

More impressively, the Johnnies defeated Duke for the first time since 01-02 and should be NCAA tournament bound with the impressive resume put together this year by St. John's.

The Johnnies went on an unbearable stretch of eight games where their opponents were all ranked in the polls.

"We played eight consecutive games against ranked teams, made three trips to the West Coast," said Lavin. "It takes pressure, heat and time to make a diamond. It shows how together this group is."

St. John's finishes the stretch with wins over three ranked teams but more disappointing, five losses. Since then, the Johnnies have been 5-1 picking up wins over UConn and Pitt.

Right now, the Johnnies are at 9-5 in the Big East conference, which has been regarded as the best conference in basketball many times. Not to mention, being tied for forth and only three games back from overtaking first place in the conference.

The eyeball test doesn't do much justice for St. John's. The Johnnies may not post eye-popping statistics like it's counterparts but St. John's brings much more athleticism, and leadership, which makes them the most underrated tournament contender in America.

Granted, St. John's has a 4-6 road record but all four wins have come against Big East teams on the road; and on the road in the Big East are tough for anybody.

But what makes them tougher than their record indicates is their versatility and depth. It's not just one player dominating on this team; it's everybody.

Dwight Hardy has played like a Big East Player of the Year, and averages a team-high 17.2 points per game. But, D.J. Kennedy leads the team in rebounds with 5.5 and Malik Boothe leads St. Johns in assist with three per outing.

Three players score in double figures for St. Johns as well as six pulling down at least two boards per game.

This St. Johns team is very dangerous because of their ten seniors along with their depth and athletic ability.

"My hope was to, by March, have a dangerous, opportunistic team that could beat anybody in the country, that didn't bring an A game or if they overlooked us" said Lavin. "It appears we hit that in late January and February."

St. John's No. 1 ranked SOS has the Johnnies thinking NCAA tournament. St. John's hasn't made the tournament in 10 years but this season it's certainly obtainable.

St. Johns has quality wins over the Georgetown Hoyas, Notre Dame Irish, Duke Blue Devils, UConn Huskies, and Pittsburgh Panthers.

With so much talent, experience and leadership, St. Johns will certainly contend for a title in March. The Johnnies have a Big East POY contender in Hardy, Justin Brownlee who continues to improve game-by-game and Kennedy who can do it all.

The overall experience from the seniors has allowed the Johnnies to pull away late during a few games this season. St. Johns complete shocked the world with a 15-point win over the defending champs and a win over Pitt.

The Johnnies will take on DePaul at home this Wednesday (Feb 23) before traveling to Villanova for their Big East showdown on Saturday (Feb 26).

For more CoHoops news follow us on Twitter (@Collegiate_Hoop) or subscribe via email