It's time for that Midwestern voyage.
The young St. John's Red Storm (7-7, 1-2) are set to travel to Ohio and Wisconsin for battles with two of the Big East's better teams. Saturday's tilt with the Cincinnati Bearcats and Wednesday's match-up with the Marquette Golden Eagles will certainly test the standing of the Johnnies.
Cincinnati and Marquette joined the conference in 2005 in response to the departures of Boston College, Miami (FL), and Virginia Tech. Both programs have been successful basketball additions and never easy marks. Both the Bearcats and Golden Eagles have had struggles at times this season.
This week, the Johnnies visit both teams on their courts consecutively. It will be the third time St. John's has made the trip in the seven years of the 16-team Big East.
See also: 5 questions with Bearcats Blog (St. John's vs. Cincinnati pregame) | Full game preview this afternoon
Though St. John's is decorated with fresh faces and inexperienced players, the westerly swing is all too familiar.
More, below the fold.
You probably remember it well. It was only 11 months ago, after all.
The senior-laden Johnnies traveled to both Cincinnati and Marquette in mid-February of 2011 in what turned out to be a critical road trip. In venues that had been houses of horror for a group that became so accustomed to mediocrity, the Red Storm escaped with two huge victories in just three days.
St. John's collected its second and third victories in the most successful nine-game stretch in years, gained steam heading toward the finish line, and accomplished something its fans never thought to be possible.
Following the 59-57 escape from Cincinnati, the feelings and reactions after the Red Storm completed its relatively anxiety-free wiping of the Golden Eagles (80-68) at the Bradley Center were those of genuine shock.
"Did they really just complete the Midwest sweep? This is unbelievable," was the gist of conversations by students filing out of the campus' D'Angelo Center following a viewing of the game. They didn't know what to do with themselves.
The Red Storm were piled on a pair of quality wins over two tournament contenders and had brought its BIg East record to 8-5. The season had been completely turned around. It's as if, for the first time, that team started to really click. They knocked off 4th ranked Pittsburgh four days later.
Much like a year ago, they embark on their Midwestern journey following a bout of inconsistency of both highs and lows.
"For us to go on a run and do what we did last year, I don't think we've had that type of turning point yet," said St. John's lone-returnee Malik Stith on Thursday afternoon. "You don't know when it's going to come. It just happens."
Stith should know better than anyone within the boundaries of the current locker room. The team's two road wins a year ago at Cincinnati and Marquette essentially 'just happened.' They came out of nowhere.
If the Johnnies want to resurrect their season, they may need to be poised for an encore.