St. John's basketball - along with the rest of the Big East - released the nearly-full schedule last Friday. The only thing that's missing are the game times. But those will come.
Some quick notes on the schedule follow; there will be a team-by-team preseason breakdown in the coming weeks. But it's a solid schedule, with intriguing local teams, some national exposure, some solid possible matchups with Northwestern and Arizona State for NCAA consideration and big-time tilts against two of the nation's best teams, UCLA and Duke.
Click the "Read More" to see notes about the Red Storm's basketball schedule, below>>>
1- What's a Westmont? Steve Lavin's brother in law, John Moore, coaches the Westmont Warriors basketball team. They're a small NAIA school in Santa Barbara, and will also play UCLA in an exhibition game. St. John's will bring them in and undoubtedly, Steve will take the brother-in-law out for a fine meal in New York City.
2- Saint Mary's College... at 2 AM Eastern time?? As a season opener?! I don't know how you sleep for that, or how you play ball when you might be winding up your nightlife with a late-night greasy meal or the one drink too many.
It will be excellent exposure, participating in ESPN's now-annual 24-hours of hoops broadcast. And it'll be a solid contest, with an experienced and well-coached Gaels team, in their tough little arena in Moraga, CA. A road win (fingers-crossed) against an experienced NCAA team and a winning program in the West Coast Conference will look great on the tournament resume and show the Red Storm just where they need to improve. A loss doesn't dull the shine of the St. John's season,but I think there is pressure for them to start off hot and let the nation know the Red Storm are back.
I'm already planning to take the next day off from work so I can watch late at night.
3- This year's early-season tournament action will come in the Great Alaska Shootout, a now-fading late fall contest in Anchorage, Alaska. While it's not a marquee tournament (unfortunately, no television) and some of the opponents could hurt the RPI (Southern Utah, D-II Alaska Anchorage, and Houston Baptist), the other marquee team is a Arizona State Sun Devils squad that could be a Pac-10 player. There is also a Weber State team that has some talent. Besides that... well, the competition is not great, and anything less than making the final could hurt the team's postseason chances. St. John's starts against the Ball State Cardinals, and if the bracket holds, should play Drake, and then Arizona State.
The other tournament, the annual St. John's-hosted Holiday Festival, comes with sneakily excellent competition. First will be a Davidson Wildcats team led by the crafty Bob McKillop. His young Davidson team played last year's eventual Holiday Festival champion Cornell close, losing in overtime, and beat a Hofstra team that had tournament aspirations. They are older and bring in some talent at the forward positions. Meanwhile, former assistant coach Glenn Braica brings in St. Francis to play the Northwestern Wildcats. Northwestern should emerge from the other side of the draw hungry for a notable win to help them get to their first NCAA Tournament berth.
4- There will be three locals. Columbia is playing under a new coach. They weren't good under their old coach. Somehow, I don't think this will be an Brown situation, where an experienced Ivy League team finds a way to shoot 70% on shots inside the arc in the second half against a Big East team to make a close game out of it.
I am not bitter, nor am I still disturbed by that debacle. Nope.
The other local games are excellent - Fordham on the road at Rose Hill (a game I hope to make it to from the midwest) and now coached by Tom Pecora, and Wagner, now under Hurley family management. Both may be weak teams, but the coaches are teachers and will be competitive for New York City talent in the future. Fordham has a chip on their shoulders; they could surprise. One hopes these two games become a series.
5- The beasts in the schedule come during conference season, strangely enough - at UCLA on February 5th (if only it were over New Year's, I could go!) and the Duke Blue Devils at the end of January. It's not out of the realm of possibility for St. John's to have a real chance to knock off one or BOTH of these teams.
Unlike some contests in the past, Duke should not be pre-empted by some other simultaneous contest away from New York. And it must be mentioned that the vitriol and haterade from the UCLA fans will be amazing... possibly even ugly? One hopes the Bruin fans who are harboring anti-Lavin resentment from 7 years ago don't depart from the usual Pauley Pavilion classiness.
6- Having two non-conference games during conference play means a lot of time for training in November and December... and no long breaks between games in conference play. Will this tire the team out? Or keep them in rhythm? Give backup players more chances to shine? Having 3 games in 6 days (12/29-1/3) with 2 on the road, playing Notre Dame twice in 8 days... it could be an interesting start to the season. The last few weeks - after the trip to Milwaukee to play Marquette - leave the team near home against a Villanova team that should be near the top of the standings, and the neighbors/ rivals at Seton Hall.
There are 7 games at Carnesecca Arena, 8 at Madison Square Garden, 5 on the west coast or Alaska. And no games on Valentine's Day. It's ok. Your lady friend will not find a suggestion of a road trip to Cincinnati and Milwaukee a romantic Valentine's suggestion. Believe me, I floated the idea.