Is St. John’s Basketball back?

When the buzzer sounded on Monday Night in Madison Square Garden, the St. John’s Red Storm had moved to 3-0 in the Big East with another impressive victory over 13th-ranked Georgetown. At 3-0 in the Big East, it is the best start for St. John’s in the Big East in over a decade. For years St. John’s has had moments where you thought they were just about to break out of the slump, before they’d go and lose eight in a row and crush all hope.  So the question is, have the Red Storm finally broke the slump, or is this just a hot streak in another season without a NCAA tournament bid? To answer this question we must look at what has happen over the last calendar year for the Johnnies.

After another disappointing season, in which hopes were of a tourney bid, St. John’s finally let Norm Roberts go. Roberts had done his best to pull St. John’s out of the gutter but it wasn’t enough to get them to the next level. Quickly the administration moved to make a big hire. First it was Billy Donovan (good), then Paul Hewitt (awful) amongst others in a list of coaches who turned them down. Finally they found their man in Steve Lavin, who sat behind the desks at ESPN since getting fired at UCLA back in 2003. Lavin, a California man, some feared would not succeed in New York because of a lack of recruiting ties and his lack of understanding the X and O’s of the game. Now about halfway through his first season we can examine some of these fears.

The first thing Lavin did when he was hired was go and get a team of assistants who could help him in recruiting New York as well as help with the X and O’s. The fears of recruiting New York might have been valid, but what most didn’t realize was his overall ability to recruit just about anywhere. With ten seniors on the roster this year, Lavin needed a big class for 2011, and he got just that. Eight players, six of which are rated in the Top 100 recruits, were signed to the Red Storm for next year. Say what you will about where they come from (just about anywhere in the USA), they are a very talented group that might be good enough to win from day one.

Lavin has also showed us that he is no Coach K in his X’s and O’s of the game, but he’ll be good enough with the talent coming in. Early season losses to Fordham and St. Bonaventure were bad, but now five straight wins over teams like West Virginia, Northwestern and Georgetown has helped us forget those ugly performances.

As we get into the meat of Big East play St. John’s is bound to trip up…probably many times, but it is hard to argue that the future isn’t as bright as its been since the 1990’s. The Johnnies might not make the NCAA tournament this year, but it is clear they will be back soon. Lavin will bring in talent every year, and often elite talent who will good enough to make average coaching an afterthought for a while. Down the road, Steve Lavin probably won’t end up in the rafters with Lou Carnesecca, but when his tenure is done I expect St. John’s to once again be one of the most desired coaching jobs in the country.

New York is a sporting mecca, and basketball might be biggest sport in this great city. When New York Basketball is at its best, its when the Knicks and Red Storm are rocking the Garden. The Knicks have done their part over the last couple months to awaken the Garden, and now it is St. John’s turn. On Monday night when the Johnnies took down long time rival Georgetown at MSG it was almost like the great battles of old.

So in the end, the question remains, is St. John’s basketball back?

Not quite yet, but the night (hopefully later this season) that the Johnnies rock the Garden like years past, I will officially declare them back.

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