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Behind Enemy Lines: The St. John's Red Storm

Red Storm vs Wildcats coverage

What's the best thing for a team struggling to find itself late in the year? Apparently, the hottest team in the conference, the St. John's Red Storm. At least it'll have to be as Villanova needs to find it's way in its final home game of the season. Steve Lavin's crew have been on quite the run lately, first knocking off Pitt, and then romping over DePaul.

As per usual, we hooked up with our SB Nation pals to preview the game, and this time out we're chatting with Pico Dulce from Rumble In The Garden.

Pico's a good guy who has been a prevalent Johnnies blogger for a while, so we're happy he made the move to SB Nation about a month ago. All that is out the window when the ball is tipped this weekend though. Make sure you head over to Rumble and check out the other half of this chat.

On to the Q&A...

St. John's was the popular pick for breakout team of the year - but how does it feel knowing they've actually done it and revived the fanbase?

It's strange. It's weird watching competent basketball like a fan as opposed to in an observational, detached, intellectual way. I feel like I've lost my bearings; I can't analyze things; I don't know which way is up.

I'm talking Boeheim - the new euphemism for "bull____", though maybe the word should be "Calhoun".

I am amazed and thrilled at how excited folks get for good St. John's basketball. It was like this in the 90s and as I loosely remember it, in the 80s (I sat in a middle school classroom that Mark Jackson had been learning in, true story!).  Now I don't feel like the only one writing/ reading about the Red Storm. There are fans at the games. And the team isn't just a fluke or enjoying an early run - they're peaking late and I have a hard time thinking they're going to lose.  Which is absolutely crazy. 

Is this what Nova fans feel, like there are few games where you say "we have no shot. Let's just hope they win and enjoy it with this fine bottle of Main Line Moonshine"? (I just realized that I cannot think of a Philly-based beer. And some of my best friends are from Philly!)

More nonsense with Rumble In The Garden after The Jump.

Steve Lavin looks the obvious choice for Big East Coach of the Year in my eyes - what about Dwight Hardy for Player of the Year?

I don't think Lavin will get coach of the year.  Just a hunch.  Who votes on the award, by the way?  I think Pitino should get some looks, though his players were more highly regarded coming out of HS than people think.  

As for player of the year, Hardy will get some love, but I hope Marshon Brooks gets it.  Hardy's been a killer, but Brooks carries a really bad team with smarts and efficiency (and porous defense, but let's not talk about all that). Ben Hansbrough will be a candidate, as well.

How much has this senior class meant to the program? Are these guys your Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Curtis Sumpter?

Interesting analogy!  I'd say no at first, because those guys were players Jay Wright recruited to be his building blocks. But in terms of playing with toughness and grit, and being the group that leads the program into the light... maybe?  I'd still tend to no, because not enough time has passed yet.

What were the biggest reasons fro all the struggles in past years? What did Lavin do to fix that?

Oh, man.

The team had many issues. One of them was not being grounded in basketball reality - ok, that's in my opinion.  I don't say this as a severe hater, as the kind of fan who wants "that bum" "outta here", but the language and concepts that the staff and administration tossed around were not going to create a winning team.  There was this idea that age alone would bring about change and development enough to hang with the rest of the league... but the players couldn't shoot well, made mistakes all throughout the game, and didn't seem able to defend some of the league's most obvious players (Mike Rosario's career-high, for example). 

The idea that sheer toughness was going to win without skill, or some defensive changes?  Foolish.

The idea that the staff was finally making inroads, despite players often being attracted to coaches who win games? Silly.

The idea that the former staff just needed time to turn it around, despite the fact that if they actually made the NCAA Tourney, the same guys whose recruiting plan continually whiffed on impact talent (and lower-level talent like Truck Bryant who wanted to come to St. John's)? Also silly.

There was a lot wrong with the program, including the adherence to the "we have to get New York guys", despite the draining talent pool in New York City.  Lavin turned around the schools' focus to New York City's focus - the national city, the spotlight city.  He brought some pizzazz to the program, the recruiting visits, the exposure, and even the facilities (using the real Knicks locker room instead of the auxiliary locker room).

And on the court, Lavin has found a way to use the athleticism of the team for their own benefit, instead of getting them into halfcourt sets that often failed to produce points or free throws, filled with aimless dribbling and a frightened guard to guard passing ring around the painted area.

These days, the Johnnies will slow it up, but they look to push first, and then eat clock second. And the team is so much less mistake prone.  There's a reason Sean Evans is just emerging from the doghouse now. There are some things players just shouldn't do if they want to win high-level games... and guys like him did ALL of those things.

I think y'all are going dancing - how much noise can you make it March?

Depends on the matchup. If the Red Storm face a very tall team early... I don't like their chances. I am dead scared of Florida State.  That kind of team - like Cincinnati - can give St. John's real fits.  I think the team can make the Sweet Sixteen, and given the right breaks, they could fall into an Elite Eight trip.  I'd scale that back, but Dwight Hardy is the kind of high-usage, ball-handling, one-man offensive threat that does well in the NCAAs.

Thanks again to Pico - no hard feelings, but here's to hoping the Johnnies Schrute it on Saturday.