How could a team fall to a mid-major in UNC-Asheville and a middle-of-the-road Big East squad in Villanova, yet invade one of the Big East's elite and come out of Cincinnati with a win?
It doesn't seem to make much sense. The last three games for St. John's (9-5, 1-1) have been a roller coaster of emotions. Though the team's season seemed nearly unsalvagable after two difficult losses, they're back in the fold of confidence now heading into the conference home opener.
We knew the Johnnies would be an up-and-down team in Steve Lavin's third season. With the youngest team in America, there are often many fluctuations in a year as the team learns how to win, learns each other, and learns the game.
Even so, St. John's is still in position to make noise in the Big East in 2013. That position depends heavily on the result of its next three games. The Red Storm will host three consecutive contests at Madison Square Garden beginning Wednesday with Rutgers, and then #19 Georgetown and #17 Notre Dame.
Winning in the Garden is what many attracted many of the players to Steve Lavin's program. This is their marquee chance to make some needed noise in the standings, and to tell fans and supporters who the young Johnnies can really be this season.
For a squad that hungers for success, Big East road wins are precious.
But winning games on your home floor is necessary.
When the Johnnies made their NCAA Tournament appearance two seasons ago - their first trip to the big dance in nine years - they did so by taking care of business at the Garden and Carnesecca Arena in conference play. The senior-laden group led by Dwight Hardy and D.J. Kennedy went 7-2 at home in January and February, including knocking off four ranked opponents.
Moreover, because St. John's entered Big East play with four non-conference losses, with two of them somewhat questionable in quality, the pressure is certainly on.
If the Storm would like to play important basketball in March, they will likely need to win at least ten conference games. With their big win over Cincinnati on Saturday, they now have one.
An up-and-coming Rutgers squad coming off a win over Pittsburgh, a team that also hopes to ride youth to glory - is a needed win. After that game, two nationally ranked opponents in Georgetown and Notre Dame will provide solid tests for Lavin's young and talented Johnnies.
If St. John's loses two or even all three games during the Garden homestand, would the season technically be over?
But it would certainly make for a miniscule margin for error in the final 13 games of the year - something a team comprised of all underclassmen wouldn't be able to afford.
So far, the Red Storm have been inconsistent, plagued by defensive and rebounding liabilities. But against Cincinnati, the team played an inspired brand of basketball, battling for each and every carom off of the glass. If they can find a way to channel that hunger (and rebound), they can beat anyone.
And the winning really needs to begin now.
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