When St. John's hired Steve Lavin to replace Norm Roberts as the head men's basketball coach of the Red Storm in late spring, the school and everyone else in New York City believed they had hit the jackpot. Lavin, who had enjoyed many years of success at Pauley Pavillion at UCLA, has an outgoing personality and is an outstanding recruiter. And although most predicted major success for the Johnnies come 2011, when the new recruits are set to arrive, you can bet that they were hoping 2010 wasn't just going to be a throwaway year.
However, it seems to be turning ugly fast. Despite their 10 experienced seniors, the Johnnies have had a lot of trouble holding onto late leads. At home against St. Bonaventure, the Red Storm chucked up a 20 point lead en route to a one point loss. The same happened to them a couple days later against Fordham, a team that finished 2-26 a year ago. They led by 21 with just over 16 minutes to go, but collapsed to a team with limited talent.
St. John's was picked to finish sixth in the Big East and even received a first place vote. They were ahead of Notre Dame, Louisville, and Connecticut; all of those teams are in the top 25 poll now.
What has really hurt them this year is offensive inconsistency. Although their record is 7-3, four of those wins were definite struggles that could have gone either way. Against Columbia, the Johnnies trailed at halftime and needed a second half spurt to propel them against the Lions. Against Ball State, they needed overtime to take the W. Their win against Wagner was a struggle, as the Seahawks, who won three games last year, kept it close to the end. Against Davidson last night at Madison Square Garden, their offense seemed non-existent for periods of the game as they managed just 62 points.
The Red Storm currently rank 116th in Division 1 in scoring. Although that is in the top third in the league, it isn't all that amazing considering the fact that they are a high-powered Big East squad playing some not-so hard teams to start the season. 116th place ranks 13th in the Big East, ahead of only Seton Hall—a team who lost their best player to injury, Rutgers, and South Florida.
They are a dreadful 265th in rebounding, despite a bunch of athletic big men in Dele Coker, Justin Brownlee, and Justin Burrell. Their most athletic player is D.J. Kennedy, and athleticism can win games, but they need more mental strength to win games in the Big East.
In order for the Red Storm to make the tournament, they will need either a very strong performance in Big East play or a deep run (and maybe even a flat out victory) in the Big East Tournament. They need to find a way to cancel out these two terrible losses that they have suffered in the early season to two of the worst Atlantic-10 schools.
Otherwise it's another March Madness spent on the couch.