Red Storm Rising: How Steve Lavin Turned St. John's Basketball's Fortunes Around

James PattersonContributor IFebruary 26, 2011

Steve Lavin has Red Storm fans looking forward to another NCAA Tournament run.
Steve Lavin has Red Storm fans looking forward to another NCAA Tournament run.Chris Chambers/Getty Images

With its win over 14th-ranked Villanova on Saturday, St. John's added another ranked team to its list of victims in what is becoming the best comeback story of the NCAA basketball season.

A year ago, the Red Storm were languishing through another subpar season under head coach Norm Roberts. Today, they're making a run at a second-place finish in the Big East. With wins over Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Duke and Georgetown, and now Villanova, and eight wins in their last nine games, the Red Storm are one of the hottest teams in the country.

For a coach who had been away from the sidelines since the 2002-2003 season, Steve Lavin is making things look easy for the 25th-ranked Red Storm, who should move up in the national rankings come Monday afternoon. Lavin left UCLA after missing the NCAA tournament in 2003, but is now a front-runner for Coach of the Year.

Lavin inherited a team that had only been to the postseason once—a first-round exit in last year's NIT. The good news for Lavin was that he inherited nine rising seniors, one of the oldest rosters in the country. That experience has been one of the difference-makers for a St. John's team that is playing its way into contention for possibly a No. 4, or even perhaps a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. St. John's hasn't been placed that high in the Big Dance since it reached the Elite Eight in 1999 as a No. 3 seed.

Much of the credit goes to 6'2" senior guard Dwight Hardy's stellar play. He recorded a career-high 34 points against Villanova, and teams have had success over St. John's when they're able to keep the ball out of his hands, such as during the Red Storm's three-game losing streak at the end of January. Hardy averaged only nine points during that span of games.

The Johnnies have two games remaining in the regular season—Seton Hall and USF—both in the dregs of the Big East standings. If the last two weeks are any indication, Lavin's squad should be on pace to finish with a 13-5 record in the Big East, which just might be good enough for second place, depending on how Louisville and Notre Dame finish out their schedules.

With a combination of positive momentum, a top seed in the Big East tournament and Hardy playing at an All-American level, all signs point to a deep run in March for Lavin's Red Storm.