It’s been over a decade since the St. John’s basketball program has gone on a run in the NCAA Tournament. Over the years, the program has gone through issues on and off the court. They have never been able to achieve the success they did under Lou Carneseca in the ‘70’s, ‘80’s, and early ‘90’s. With how pathetic the Knicks have been this season, Madison Square Garden could use a winner right about now.
In 2014, Steve Lavin has something special going on. The Red Storm are winners of six straight and nine of their last 10 after losing five straight to open Big East play. This team has turned it around and are putting together dominant performances. Five of their eight conference wins have come by double digits in the last month. A win over 12th-ranked Creighton on Feb. 9 was the Johnnies statement to the Big East and the rest of the nation that they indeed are for real. They now are 5th in the conference at 8-6 and are 18-9 overall.
Lavin’s team can beat you in a lot of ways, but they are led by their stifling defense. They are first in the country in blocked shots, led by Chris Obekpa’s 3.2 BPG. The 6’9" Nigerian will miss the next two weeks with an ankle injury. They have the big boys in the paint and the defensive intensity that is up there with the best in NCAA. Lavin preaches defense to this team and when they can force turnovers, watch out. Their athleticism is tremendous, led by their leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison. The junior guard should be a NBA prospect once his time in Queens is done. Freshman Rysheed Jordan has also burst on the scene after dropping a career-best 24 points in a blowout win over Georgetown at a rowdy MSG Sunday. The teams’ second leading scorer, Jakarr Sampson, has been a major presence on both sides of the floor. The sophomore forward is long and uses his length to finish in the paint.St. John’s should be a force to be reckoned with come March. Right now, they stand as one of the final teams to get into the big dance. They still need to get to 20 wins to get in, but with the way this team is rolling right now, nobody wants to see the Red Storm as their opponent when the brackets come out. Their intensity on defense and ability to run the floor makes them lethal out in transition. New York City finally has something to buzz about in March. It’s been a while since the Johnnies have been relevant in the Big apple, but this is the program that can get everyone excited again. They have the talent and they have the coach that can get them there. Keep an eye out for St. John’s when March Madness arrives.