In the second of two Q&A's ahead of the match-up with St. John's at the WFC this weekend, I spoke to Dave Krupinski of JohnnyJungle.com. Dave has been running his site since 2007 and has built JohnnyJungle into one of the top sites covering St. Johns basketball on the internet.
1. What was your reaction to St. John's busting into the top-25 this week?
It's about time. I've been patiently waiting for this renaissance of St. John's basketball. The number next to the team's name just confirms that St. John's basketball is back and in a big way.
Even prior to the ranking the attendance in games at the Garden has really shown how St. John's has come back. Four years ago Madison Square Garden had just over 4,000 fans but against Pitt last week there was nearly 15,000 strong. It feels great to see Garden becoming like the Jungle I dreamed it could be.
2. A lot of Villanova fans were watching the 'Cats play overtime against DePaul on Saturday while the Johnnies were taking care of Pitt at MSG, how did they get the upper hand against the Panthers?
Jamie Dixon quickly dismissed the Garden atmosphere in the post game press conference but there was no way you could ignore the 6th man. St. John's kept it close and Pitt looked like they were just about to run away with it with 7:00 minutes to go. Dwight Hardy took control of the game. With 3:00 minutes to play St. John's cut it to 3 and all 15k rose to their feet as St. John's players waived them up and you just knew that something special was going to happen. Dwight Hardy did his Fred Astaire impression along the baseline with 1.2 seconds left and sank an impossible layup.
3. Your only loss at Madison Square Garden this season was against Syracuse earlier this season. How do you generate that kind of home court advantage in a big NBA arena?
Syracuse has plagued St. John's fans. They really travel incredibly well and they dominate the arena. You wonder why Georgetown refused to sell them tickets.
For many years St. John's has really struggled to gain any kind of advantage at MSG which is why they started playing more games at Carnesecca Arena (financial reasons also played a role). If there were big crowds, St. John's fans were generally out numbered by opponents. The key to creating it is winning. New York wants to back winners and obviously the proof has been in the pudding this season.
4. D.J. Kennedy lead the team in scoring last season but he's third this year. How has his role in the offense changed?
D.J. Kennedy has been the statistical leader in everything for four years. He's truly been a bright spot coming to St. John's as a no name spring signee. He's struggled at points this season taking a back seat to Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee after D.J. thought he was going to be "the man" his senior year.
Earlier in the season he was benched for his demeanor on the court which led to him scoring 20 points and grabbing 6 boards off the bench against Wagner. Problem solved. Since D.J. has been his usual all around self and is quietly having his most efficient season. All of his percentages are career highs while his turnovers are career lows.
5. St. John's gave Villanova one hell of a fight last season at MSG and looked like they could win it throughout the first half. What are your expectations for the trip to Philadelphia? Can they finish what they started last year?
St. John's had Villanova beat last season just as they had Duke, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh. All of those games included blown leads in the 2nd half but this season they've avenged all of those 2nd half losses. I like the chances to make Villanova the fourth.
I think St. John's matches up very well in the backcourt against Nova and more so in the front court. I think Brownlee, Burrell, and Evans can pose problems for Yarou and Pena.
6. Are there any NBA prospects on the St. John's roster? Where do you expect him/them to be drafted?
Justin Brownlee is the best NBA ready player on this team while Justin Burrell has most NBA physicality. I think both players could find a spot in the league given the right situation.
I also think Paris Horne could find a Wes Matthews NBA route because he's such a hard worker and excellent defender. I don't think that Dwight Hardy and D.J. Kennedy have NBA ability. I think Hardy can be much like one of your own, Allan Ray, and play in the highest level overseas.
7. How offensive was it to St. John's fans when Syracuse put ads on NYC cabs declaring themselves to be "New York's College Team"?
Syracuse is Syracuse's team but St. John's is New York's team. They can claim whatever they want though until St. John's beats them at the Garden.
8. When Steve Lavin was hired, there was some speculation that he might give Jay Wright and Rick Pitino some competition for best-dressed Big East coach, but he recently lost the tie and started wearing sneakers regularly. I know it started as a Coaches vs. Cancer promotion, but are you disappointed that he hasn't returned to his former sartorial splendor?
According to Steve Lavin, "Jay Wright is like George Clooney" so he isn't trying to overtake Jay as the best dressed, however this is Steve Lavin being modest.
The first time I met Lav he was rocking skinny legged jeans, trendy sneakers, and black rimmed glasses. Lavin contends that its easier to demonstrate plays with the white Nike's and easier to breathe without the tie which has made him a better coach. During this stretch who is to argue?
Thanks again to Dave for participating.
Please be sure to check out my game preview as well as my other Q&A with Rumble in the Garden and get your entries in for Closest to the Pin.