St. John's Basketball: Long Way To Go Before They Are New York's Team

Leslie MonteiroSenior Analyst IMarch 10, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange looks on from the bench against the St. John's Red Storm during the quarterfinals of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters  at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Watching this afternoon's game between St. John's and Syracuse, it was easy to detect that the fanbase stood out. The place was filled with orange with a little red.

There were more Syracuse fans than St. John's fans in today's contest. That is disappointing. The thought was it was going to be 50-50 at Madison Square Garden.

There's no question St. John's was stunned about the turnout. The university figured their fans would go out and do everything possible to combat Syracuse's crowd.

It's startling, and it shows St. John's has a lot of work to do. They may be winning now, but they are finding out it's going to take a long time until they have a fanbase the size of Syracuse's.

The fans were turned off after Mike Jarvis' scandal that resulted in probation from the program. Then, it was the losing and the lack of recruiting under the Norm Roberts' administration that cause people to not pay attention to St. John's.

When Steve Lavin was hired by St. John's, it registered a yawn. The diehards were enthusiastic. They were happy to see a named coach wanting the job.

They did not anticipate much success. They were thinking it would be the third year where good things will happen. If they think this was the year, they are lying.

In fact, those fans started believing in the team after a win against Duke. That's when the buzz began. St. John's continued its momentum by beating Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Villanova.

With winning, St. John's shared the popularity with the Knicks. They received equal attention on sports radio and in the newspapers. They have been a topic on newscasts too.

The success means Lavin's program is going to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001. There is talk they could go to the Elite Eight in the playoffs.

The university felt the program's success would get a big crowd in the Big East Tournament. It hasn't happened in the two games the team played.

In yesterday's game against the Rutgers, most fans were bored. The audience couldn't get themselves motivated to scream or heckle. In fact, there were many empty seats at the game.

It was interesting St. John's fans did not call up sports radio to defend the team's victory against Rutgers. That had to irk the administration.

Today's game was the same story. For every shot the Orangemen made, there was more hollering from Syracuse fans. For every show St. John's made, it was met with indifference by those fans.

Syracuse fans made it a point to be seen in camera. They were loud and proud. St. John's couldn't muster to match that passion.

Don't think for a second Syracuse's crowd played a role in giving their team a momentum in the second half. Those fans picked it up when Fab Melo and Scoop Jardine made shots to start the second half, and the team fed from that.

Syracuse always seem to rally around the crowd. St. John's fans couldn't do it.

This shows New Yorkers love Syracuse more than St. John's. Jim Boeheim built a successful program over at Syracuse for a long time, and the fans here grew up watching that team from 1988. Since then, they kept following them.

St. John's lost fans to Syracuse and Connecticut for years of losing and failing to recruit city kids. It is going to take time to develop new fans. They can forget getting those old fans back.

It is going to take a while to get the students to follow them. In fact, most of the kids are starting to learn about them now, so to expect them to all of sudden cut classes and watch them at the Garden, that was unrealistic.

St. John's needs to be consistent in winning games and recruiting well. They need to go farther in the playoffs every year. There has to be a expectation where fans expect St. John's to be in the tournament every year.

That's how a program builds a following.

It's good to see them do well, but this is a wait-and-see crowd. They want to see more. They don't want this to be a fluke.

When St. John's crowd matches with Syracuse crowd at the Garden in a few years, it will be a sign the program has come a long way.