Under new head coach Steve Lavin, St. John’s made a big statement with a win over Georgetown last Monday, which at the time was only the latest in a string of impressive wins that included road victories at West Virginia and Providence. Their streak also included a win at Northwestern, which may not sound like much now that the Wildcats are being put in their place by the Big Ten, but when you’ve fallen on hard times the way St. John’s has since 2000, any win over a BCS conference foe is noteworthy.
Lavin is trying to change that mentality to one where those kinds of major conference wins are expected, and what better way to do that than by making some noise in your own behemoth of a league? The Red Storm are trying to do just that, notching three nice Big East wins in the early going while staring down the barrel of a daunting (even by Big East standards) schedule.
A few things have changed since that memorable night in the Garden against the Hoyas, though. For one, Georgetown has staggered to a 1-3 start in conference play. Secondly, five days later, the Red Storm suffered a 15-point setback from Notre Dame, who went on to get mollywhopped by Marquette in a 22-point beating on Monday in Milwaukee. Just one week later, the glass slide is coming under the microscope, but considering that it’s been over ten years since St. John’s received that kind of attention, I think they’ll take it. The Big East conference schedule will test them, but the mere fact that they have to be taken seriously is great for the conference.
The Red Storm will bring that newfound swagger into the Garden for Wednesday night’s game against the Orange. With the start St. John’s has had, I’m eager to see how their fans turn out in a venue that Syracuse has all but officially annexed over the last decade. 2000 was the last year St. John’s won an NCAA Tournament game, and it’s also the last time St. John’s beat Syracuse at the World’s Most Famous arena. This particular St. John’s team may not have the history of success, but they do have history. With eight scholarship players in their final year of eligibility, the Red Storm have more seniors than your local bingo hall.
They’re led by the triumvirate of guard Dwight Hardy and forwards Justin Brownlee and DJ Kennedy, who combine for 42.2 points per game, or about 59% of the team’s scoring output. Hardy in particular has had a terrific season and is averaging 17.3 points per game in four Big East games, while Kennedy does the dirty work down low.
For SU to take the wind out of the Red Storm’s sails, they need to snap out of the shooting funk that was so prevalent during the Seton Hall game. The Pirate defense did a very good job of beating the Syracuse transition attack, denying easy baskets, so even if they didn’t pull off the upset at the Prudential Center, at the very least, they established the blueprint.
Against the Orange, teams have had nightmares of the front of the zone, which has forced one of the better defensive three-point field goal percentages in the conference. Only 17.8% of St. John’s points have come from beyond the arc, so Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters should be able to hedge toward the paint without much concern, ready to provide help defense.
As stated earlier, it may be awhile before it’s determined whether St. John’s first half was a fluke, but for now, they have everyone’s attention. Let’s hope that includes Syracuse on Wednesday night.