Quick show of hands; how many of you out there thought the St. John’s Red Storm would be ranked No. 15 in the polls as the calendars turned to March?
Sure, the announcement of Steve Lavin becoming the head coach of the Red Storm this past offseason was big news, but not many considered the underwhelming Johnnies a threat in the Big East this season.
Although the team got off to a quick 6-1 start, the mood around the team quickly soured after back-to-back losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham. Many pundits were ready to write off the Red Storm after these gut-wrenching losses.
However, the team would respond once Big East play started as they would win their first three conference games including an upset over 13th ranked Georgetown at Madison Square Garden.
Just as it seemed as though the Johnnies were starting to gain momentum, they proceeded to lose five of their next six games, and even an upset over No. 9 Notre Dame was met with little enthusiasm.
When Duke came to the Garden on Jan. 30, most assumed the game would be a blowout. A blowout is what indeed happened, however, St. John’s shocked the nation by thoroughly dominating Duke in an easy victory.
Little did anyone know that this would be Dwight Hardy and the Red Storm’s coming out party.
How far will St. John's go in the NCAA Tournament?
After that impressive victory, St. John’s was back in the discussion for the NCAA Tournament, somewhere the team hadn’t been since 2002. Most analysts agreed that the Storm would have a lot of work to do if they wanted to make the tournament for the first time in almost 10 years.
The win against Duke would just be the beginning of a very impressive (and current) 8-1 winning streak that saw the Red Storm take down four ranked teams and firmly take the team off the bubble.
The question now being asked by the experts was not if St. John’s would make the tournament, but how far could they go?
Led by potential Big East Player of the Year, Dwight Hardy, and fellow seniors Justin Brownlee and D.J. Kennedy, the Red Storm are peaking just at the right time of the year.
Senior experience is vital during tournament time, as the 2010 Cornell squad can attest. The 2011 Red Storm boasts nine hungry and experienced seniors who are all anxious to prove they belong in the Big Dance.
It may seem unreasonable to expect the Red Storm to maintain they torrid pace for the next month, but a lengthy tournament run is very, very possible.
For starters, as mentioned above, the Red Storm have a wealth of experienced seniors ready to lead the team to uncharted territory later this month. St. John’s also features one of the best defenses in the country, and the team is hungry to prove that they are for real.
Steve Lavin also brings a good deal of tournament experience from his days as a head coach at UCLA. Although he may not be the most renowned coach, Lavin’s clubs always played their best ball in March.
One final factor that bodes well for St. John’s this season is that due to playing in the Big East, they are very familiar with playing in big games, and will not shrink from the moment, as evidenced with their impressive standings currently in the conference.
No one can say with absolute certainty how far St. John’s will go this season, but one thing is for certain, the Johnnies are relevant again and (pardon the pun) the 2011 season may be the perfect storm for St. John’s to return to prominence.