St. John’s is at it again. Another top ten team fell at the hands of the Red Storm today. A Pittsburgh team that had seemed to have mastered the rigors and challenges of the Big East Conference was unable to handle the athleticism and toughness of St. John’s on this day. And lets be entirely real, Pittsburgh is quite possibly the “baddest” team in the land. No team can play the grind it out physical style that Pittsburgh plays. They have mastered what the term “winning ugly” means during the Jamie Dixon tenure. Watching Pitt play brings back memories of the Bob Huggin’s Bearcat “Bad” Boys of the 90s and early 2000s.
Well on this day, St. John’s was the tougher team. The Red Storm’s record will not wow you by any means. Currently, they sit at 17 and 9 overall, but they are 9 and 5 in the brutal Big East. A bubble team? No way. This is a sure-fire tourney squad. Even if they lose their last 4 games (which they won’t), they would still go 500 in the nation’s toughest conference and be able to say that they beat 3 top 10 opponents, and 5 top 15 opponents. How many teams can say they accomplished that?
So who is the brains behind this St. John’s resurgence? It feels like the 1980s Chris Mullin days again. Well not quite. But they may not be far away. There was a Lou Carnesecca spotting in the crowd today. Nobody is loving this rebirth more than him. For those of you who are unaware, Carnesecca was the Red Storm’s Head Coach from 1965-1970 and then again from 1973-1992. He won 6 Big East championships and led the Johnnies to a Final Four appearance in 1985. Outside of a couple of years in the Mike Jarvis era (Ron Artest days), the success has been little to none. Things actually got so bad for the Red Storm, that the last two coaches, Kevin Clark and Norm Roberts went a combined 83 and 118 overall, with a horrific 33 and 85 record in the Big East. The program had appeared to hit rock bottom.
Then the Red Storm decided to a hire a new coach. This man would act as a brainchild to bringing New York a College Basketball contender again. This man would be none other than the former UCLA Bruin’s Head Coach, Steve Lavin. Lavin has done a simply amazing job. Now I will tell you that the man had definitely done his homework upon accepting this position with a team that had struggled for a good 5 plus years before his arrival. Possibly working in the booth at ABC and ESPN had helped in his research? I honestly feel that head coaches who are fired in any of the major sports should spend some time in the broadcast booth if they have the opportunity. The work load is not nearly the same as being a Head Coach, the money is good, and it appears to be a lot of fun. Plus it gives coaches such as Steve Lavin, an opportunity to really take some time to look around at what jobs interest them.
Lavin walked into a senior laden squad that thirsted to win some big time ball games. This squad has 9 seniors. And they have outstanding athleticism to go with the experience. Yes College Basketball has become the one and done show. It has become the “young” age for the sport. But talent can only take a team so far. And Lavin saw this opportunity which would help speed up the rebuilding process. Now Lavin has a winning program, and has backyard access to recruit out of basketball’s largest hotbed, New York City. Strap in folks, because St. Johns is back. The glory days of Frank McGuire and Lou Carnesecca do not appear to be far away. Maybe they should start calling Coach Lavin, Steve “Big Game” Lavin?
Isn’t it eerie how similar Steve Lavin and John Calipari appear to be? Each produce NBA players with ease due to being amazing recruiters and both have great hair. The real question in my eyes though. Is Steve Lavin a basketball genius?
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.