On a few occasions this season (prior to games vs. Northwestern, Georgetown, ASU, and Duke) we’ve had a warm feeling–positive expectations–about a given game. Damn us for announcing in the past that we had no idea why. Frankly, there’s only one real player on the team, one super athletic but raw freshman, lost in the half court for more than a month, and a collection of short role players. No size at all. Very under talented. You know how much we love Steve Lavin and how thoroughly we have professed our love for him since second one of his tenure. In fact, we had been torching AD Chris Monasch for his sluggish, trumped up pursuit (if you could call it that) of Billy Donovan and Paul Hewitt, but once we caught the slightest whiff of the Lavin to SJU rumors, we promptly cut it out. It may have taken us 23 games to fully comprehend that Lavin has cooked up the good feeling surrounding the program with tireless recruiting efforts–for both players and coaches–courting and re-establishing the connections to St. John’s royalty like Chris Mullin and Ron Artest, and making a team out of the talent and size poor bunch he inherited from the inept Norm Roberts.
As former Knick big and esteemed commentator Len Elmore pointed out during the broadcast, Lavin might not have gotten all the ingredients in for this Johnnies squad, but he did “bake the cake.” L-ELM??? We’d see Lavin as more like the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. Despite watching UConn recently light up Marquette on the road in the 2nd half, we felt the Lavin positive vibe last night. Until Lavin chatted with former ESPN colleague Elmore in the tunnel prior to the game, and told the camera that Elmore would probably have a much better time watching that game than Lavin would.
Luckily, such talk was more low key Lavin and false modesty. From about the 9 minute mark of the first half on, St. John’s destroyed a very good Husky team. So St. John’s only has 1 offensive player? If that guy is getting to the rim and looking for his shot, that guy, Dwight Hardy (above), showed Thursday that he’s all you really need. 5-8 from 3 pt. range, and 33 pts total, including 12 in a row on a Hardy to UConn 12-0 run, mixing long range bombing with a nasty ability to get in the paint and convert several conventional 3 point plays. St. John’s weathered a late first half Husky run, took a small lead into the half, and then went on a 19-3 run spirited by Hardy, who took to heart his marquee matchup with Bronx rival and Big East scoring ace Kemba Walker.
So St. John’s, capping an NCAA record 7th straight game against top 25 teams, railed Connecticut in front of a decent Garden crowd, and are now 7-1 at MSG and 4-3 against teams in the top 25. Their recent win against Duke was Duke’s worst out of conference loss in 20 years, and though they followed it with a stumble at UCLA in Lavin’s return to Pauley Pavilion, Hardy poured in 32 and the Johnnies had a chance late on the road in a very tough non-conference tilt. Lavin had to have wanted that one badly, and the team had to have known it. They brought incredible to focus into the UConn game, and for the 3 game set, couldn’t have gone a better 2 and 1. St. John’s had an insane 22 rating in the RPI going into last week, and today, they notched a very impressive road win over Big East foe Cincinnati on the road.
They got the win today despite blowing a 52-40 lead late, and they couldn’t buy a field goal in the closing minutes of the game. They did it with excellent position play and hustle, poise at the line, and confidence. Hardy had another 18 today and nailed another 4 3 point field goals, but it came down to defense for the Johnnies, who were exploited a bit on both ends on the glass by the Bearcats. UConn was unable to pull that off the other night when St. John’s, despite the lack of size, killed the Huskies on the glass 43-33.
Defense and hustle were also on display against the Huskies, who St. John’s seemed to run cirlces around. St. John’s scored the first 27 fast break points of the game, and in the end, notched a 27-2 win in fast break points. So much so in fact, that many Husky fans have been questioning HOF coach Jim Calhoun’s preparedness with regard to the St. John’s game.
We were very interested to see how this team would respond today on the road after such an impressive win. Especially when we heard Lavin’s post game remarks about the St. John’s mindset right now. When the Johnnies beat Duke, Lavin gave the team 2 hours to celebrate. No such break was issued Thursday night. “That was the biggest game of the year.” he would say. “Now, the next one is.”
This team has grown, and they are a very tough out despite the shortcomings. All credit to Lavin, b.t.w., for taking a look at these kids and seeing that Dwight Hardy, who Norm Roberts didn’t rate as a starter, as the premiere player on the team. And again, for hiring the staff that he did. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it more. Getting Keady was a master stroke, and what kind of guy would get a guy like Keady to come here at 70 something and do this while living out of a hotel? Do not under estimate Keady’s influence on this squad. They play extremely smart ball, and in the Keady fashion, they squeeze every drop out of their talent. And how about the hiring of Mo Hicks? Hicks, an NYC amateur basketball power broker, is no doubt part of the reason why high school sophomore phenom Isaiah Lewis (above) of Christ the King, is looking hard at the Johnnies, and who could be the top player in the nation in the class of 2013. But then again, Lavin didn’t have Hicks yet when he landed Mo Harkless, who many have touted as the best player in NY in the 2011 class. It helps with these kids that Lavin is always saying the right things. About opponents, about recruiting, about the mindset of the team, his message to the team, or to legends he wooed and added to this dream staff. Lavin is always making things happen, whether it’s a big win, celebrity pull, or another recruiting gem, like Chicago standout Phil Greene (below), who committed to St. John’s earlier this month. Greene is a 6’2/6’3 combo guard who is expected to compete for a starting spot in next year’s backcourt , and who should receive quality minutes at any rate.
As we’ve mentioned, seeing Chris Mullin around the team, whether at Carneseca, MSG, or on the road (St. Mary’s) is also a big boost. Or established NBA players like Dejuan Blair or Knick great Allan Houston. And did you hear what Ron Artest said?
“They whupped on UConn. They whupped on their butts. And Duke too.”
On Lavin, Artest would say:
“Doing great. I’m really happy about that.”
You and me both, RA. And wait ’til next year, when they have a collection of A grade talent, which includes a scoring machine in Nurideen Lindsey at the lead, a top big in Norvel Pelle, and Harkless leading a cast of 8 other prized recruits. The schedule isn’t falling off any time soon, but we’re looking for our boys to record a few other popping wins–regular season and tournament.
Crack (http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, www.crackbillionair.com)