St. John’s basketball: A storm’s brewing

Dwight Hardy believes St. John’s can compete for the national championship.

St. John’s is relevant again, but this week will determine if the Johnnies are for real.

Best-case scenario, the Red Storm run through the Big East tournament and cut down the nets. Fans have surely thought about that moment since Steve Lavin was hired last spring. But have the players?

“I definitely have,” Big East Sixth Man of the Year Justin Burrell admitted yesterday. “I really try to live in the now but I definitely have. Of course, I have.

“To be able to do that, to cut down those nets, would be the most spectacular feeling besides winning the national championship.”

Belief is wonderful. Belief juxtaposed with practicality is a formula for success. The Red Storm recognize there are games that need to be contested, starting with this afternoon’s Tri-State bloodletting revival against Rutgers, which topped Seton Hall, 76-70, in overtime yesterday afternoon. The Red Storm beat the Scarlet Knights, 58-56, in the only regular season game between the rivals.

The winner of that game will get Syracuse Thursday afternoon. The Orange are the only Big East team against whom that these seniors have not experienced a win. Syracuse routed St. John’s, 76-59, Jan. 12 at the Garden.

“Any team that beat us this year, we want to play. I think I’ve got a win against pretty much every team but Syracuse. So, for myself, I’d like to see Syracuse one more time,” Burrell said.

A potential quarterfinal date against Syracuse means a matchup against the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense. The Red Storm struggled against the zone in the 84-70 road loss at Seton Hall last Thursday and the 72-56 senior night win over South Florida Saturday night at Carnesseca Arena.

“The value I really thought was the blessing, even though we’d have rather won the game, was from the Seton Hall experience. It forced us to dust off, bring some of the zone offense concepts out of the treasure chest,” Steve Lavin said. “We hadn’t seen zone in about a month. We really hadn’t seen a steady dose of zone since Syracuse. I think the value in that was in the last couple days. There was dramatic improvement from the first game—Seton Hall versus South Florida—and the practice in-between and the practice (yesterday). We’ve worked a good amount on our zone offense because we’ll see it in our first matchup. If we’re fortunate enough to win, we’ll see a heavy dose of it with Syracuse out there.”

Translation: Yes, it is entirely possible that this St. John’s team could find themselves celebrating the school’s fourth Big East championship Saturday night. It is also wholly reasonable to think that the Johnnies could be in Houston competing for the national championship on April 2-4 if it revisits the winning formula that saw them win six straight last month.

“There’s some level of satisfaction, but we know we’re (not) done. We can do way better,” emphasized Dwight Hardy, who has helped the Johnnies to their first 20-win season since 2003. “We can make a real push for the national title.”


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