St. John’s cannot afford a let down.December 1, 2009
It’s funny how quickly things can change in sports. The Jets and Giants both got off to impressive starts, but are now struggling to stay alive in their respective playoff races. The Rangers started the season 7-1, but now have just 13 points in their last 19 games. The Knicks, off to one of their worst starts in franchise history, were all set to sign Allen Iverson, just to nix the deal at the last-minute.
Last week, I wrote an article about how the St. John’s Men’s Basketball program was a shell of its’ former self. The heralded recruits weren’t coming in, the Garden was empty, and the NCAA tournament bids were non-existent. The Red Storm was off to a 3-0 start, but the competition was weak at best, and furthermore, the Johnnies were unimpressive in their victories. I began to wonder how much longer Norm Roberts would be coaching this team.
New York City is ripe for the taking, and Norm seemed to let opportunity die. The Knicks and Nets stink, the Jets and Giants are fading away, and nobody really cares about hockey until the playoffs. St. John’s had a shot to take over the town, but the future looked grim. Nonetheless, after this weekend, and despite my past prognostic, things may be changing for the better. It’s been a long time since St. John’s had a basketball team worth getting excited about, but as Roger Rubin said in the Daily News, “The Red Storm is beginning to look like a force….Let the buzz begin.”
St. John’s was everything media outlets and yours truly thought it was going to be this past weekend in Philadelphia. After coming from behind and dominating the second half against a good Siena team, the Johnnies posted a 55-48 win over Temple in what was virtually a Temple home-game. The Red Storm ar 5-0 for the first time under Norm Roberts and first time since 02-03. Three of those wins have come away from home, and now St. John’s has two wins against NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago. Moreover, Siena received the 27th most votes for the ESPN rankings pre-season, and Temple already gave Big East powerhouse Georgetown fits earlier in the season in a 1-point loss.
“I’m not sure it’s time for the bandwagon yet, but it might be,” said Junior forward Justin Burrell, who emerged from a three-game funk with nine points, three rebounds, and a pair of blocked shots against Temple.
“St. John’s has been in the bottom of the Big East for a while now and there’s all the trouble they had in the past,” added Junior guard Paris Horne, referring to the team’s 2004 sex scandal. “New York is just waiting for us to have a breakout year. I think this is our year.”
If St. John’s looks ahead, they will see a daunting matchup Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium against No. 5 Duke. The Blue Devils have looked outstanding so far this season, including a drubbing of Connecticut Friday night at the Garden. One might look at this matchup as a test of how good the Red Storm really are. However, the players cannot look ahead past Stony Brook, and the rest of their “cupcake” schedule for that matter.
St. John’s should be favored in six of their next seven games before the Big East schedule begins on New Years Eve at Georgetown. Their toughest matchups come against the previously mentioned Blue Devils, the Georgia Bulldogs at the Garden in the Big East/SEC Invitational, and either Davidson or Cornell in the Championship of the Holiday Festival. Sprinkled amongst those games are matchups against local rival’s Fordham and Hofstra, both capable of pulling the upset if the Red Storm does not come to play. If you remember, Hofstra was beating UConn on the road late in the 2nd half.
The Johnnies next game is Wednesday night against Stony Brook, who play out of the America East Conference, and were picked 4th in the coaches pre-season poll. They are 5-1 on the season and fully capable of upsetting St. John’s Wednesday night if the Johnnies do not come to play. If you have followed this team over the past few seasons, you know that St. John’s has a tendency of playing down to their competition.
If St. John’s takes care of business, and win the games they are supposed to win, they will be 11-1 heading into Big East play (assuming a loss to Duke.) Even if the Johnnies slip up, and lose to say Davidson, Cornell, or Georgia, a 10-2 record is not too shabby at the end of December. And remember, the Red Storm will see the return of arguably their best player, Anthony Mason J.R., in about two weeks.
The Big East schedule will be tough, but an even a .500 record in conference play could get the Red Storm dancing in March. Nevertheless, if St. John’s wants to separate themselves from Redmen teams of the past four or five years, they cannot falter in the rest of the non-conference schedule.
“It’s only 5-0. We’ve got a lot more to go,” said team’s leading scorer D.J. Kennedy. “We have a great start. We haven’t done it before. St. John’s basketball is back to what it once was in my opinion. Every time a team plays us, it’s going to be a tough game that will come down to the end.”
The great start should continue Wednesday night.