All about the Big East: Rejuvenated Johnnies

St. John’s pulled off one of the most shocking wins of the college basketball season by beating defending national champion and Final Four favorite Duke by 15 points Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Don’t be surprised if the Red Storm follows it up with a loss to Rutgers.

It’s been that kind of season for St. John’s – a moment or two of greatness spoiled by a head-scratching spell of mediocrity.

Steve Lavin’s squad had lost five of its previous six games before Sunday’s upset of the Blue Devils. For each win over a Top 10-caliber team such as Notre Dame or Georgetown, there’s a loss to St. Bonaventure or Fordham.

Justin Burrell knows beating Duke won't mean much if St. John's doesn't keep winning.
(Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

Now 12-8 overall and 4-5 in league play, St. John’s is hoping to break that trend.

Fueled by the momentum it gained in Sunday’s victory, the Red Storm remains confident it can earn the NCAA tournament berth that has eluded the program’s seniors since they arrived on campus four years ago.

“At the end of the day, [the Duke victory] only counts as one win,” forward Justin Burrell told reporters. “We have to go out and win more games to be a contender to play in the NCAA tournament.”

St. John’s certainly has a chance at earning a spot in the bracket for the first time since 2002. The Red Storm, after all, has already endured the toughest part of its Big East schedule, as each of its last eight games have been against ranked teams.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened,” Lavin said. “I’ve had teams that have played 12 Top 25 opponents stretched out, but the odds of drawing eight [in a row], from a mathematical probability … it’s got to be one in a zillion.”

Beginning with Wednesday night’s game against Rutgers (12-9, 3-6), only three of St. John’s final 10 contests are against opponents ranked in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. Two of those games – against No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 6 Connecticut – will be played at home. St. John’s takes on No. 12 Villanova on the road.

“You can lose eight of nine games or five of six games in this league and not necessarily be playing really bad basketball,” Lavin told reporters. “As a matter of fact, you may be one of the best 65 teams [in the country] and deserving of an NCAA tournament bid.”

That’s the kind of squad St. John’s looked like Sunday.

Red Storm fans hope that, this time, it will continue.


(Last week’s rank in parenthesis.)

1. Pittsburgh (20-2, 8-1) – The Panthers scored 12 of their last 15 points from the foul line in a 65-62 win at Rutgers.

2. Notre Dame (17-4, 6-3) – The Fighting Irish have wins against three Top 10 teams.

3. Villanova (17-4, 5-3) – Saturday’s loss to Georgetown marked Villanova’s first home defeat of the season.

4. Georgetown (17-5, 6-4) – The 13th-ranked Hoyas are climbing back toward the top of the AP poll.

5. Louisville (17-5, 6-3) – Rick Pitino has been at the top of his game this season.

6. Connecticut (17-3, 5-3) – Alex Oriakhi averages nine points and two blocks.

7. Marquette (14-8, 5-4) – The Golden Eagles’ next three games are on the road.

8. Syracuse (18-4, 5-4) – The Orange have lost four consecutive games for just the third time in Jim Boeheim’s 35-year coaching tenure.

9. St. John’s (12-8, 4-5) – Forward Justin Brownlee has a fractured thumb but is not expected to miss any time.

10. West Virginia (14-6, 5-3) – The Mountaineers’ road win at Cincinnati was a big victory for former Bearcats coach Bob Huggins.

11. Seton Hall (10-12, 4-6) – Herb Pope has two double-doubles in his last three games.

12. Cincinnati (18-4, 5-4) – Ibrahima Thomas has worked his way back into the starting lineup.

13. Providence (13-9, 2-7) – Standout recruit Ricky Ledo has decommitted from the Friars.

14. Rutgers (12-9, 3-6) – The Scarlet Knights couldn’t have made a better hire than Mike Rice.

15. South Florida (8-14, 2-7) – The Bulls have just one player shooting better than 34 percent from 3-point range.

16. DePaul (6-14, 0-8) – The Blue Demons have lost 27 straight road games.


Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut – Who says the Huskies are a one-man team? Lamb has been every bit as good – if not better – than teammate and All-American candidate Kemba Walker the last few weeks. The 6-foot-5 freshman is averaging 17.6 points over his last five games and is shooting 36-of-62 from the field (58 percent) during that span.

Cleveland Melvin, DePaul – The Blue Demons’ struggles have overshadowed a brilliant season by the 6-foot-8 freshman. A Baltimore native, Melvin is averaging a team-high 14.5 points while shooting 52.6 percent from the field. Melvin, who is averaging 20.5 points in Big East play, has reached double figures in 13 straight games.

Georgetown – The 13th-ranked Hoyas have won five straight games, including two in a row against ranked opponents Villanova and Louisville. Point guard Chris Wright – who was scoreless against Villanova – erupted for 24 points in the victory over Louisville on Monday.


Syracuse – The Orange have lost four in a row following an 18-0 start, and things might not get any better any time soon. Six of Syracuse’s final nine games are against ranked opponents. “You can’t do nothing but move on,” forward Rick Jackson said.

Cincinnati – The Bearcats’ 11-point home loss to undermanned West Virginia on Saturday marked their third setback in five games. A defeat at Pittsburgh on Saturday is sure to follow. With no victories over teams currently ranked in the Top 25, Cincinnati may have a tough time making the NCAA tournament unless it pulls off a few upsets down the stretch.

Villanova – For the second straight year, the Wildcats are struggling down the stretch. Jay Wright’ s squad has lost three of its last four games. Three of Villanova’ s next four contests are at home – but the matchups are against Marquette, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Unless things turn around in a hurry the Wildcats will have a tough time remaining in the Big East title hunt.


Syracuse at Connecticut, Wednesday – The Huskies will try to keep Jim Boeheim and the Orange on the skids.

Marquette at Villanova – A road victory over the No. 12 Wildcats would be huge for Marquette’ s NCAA tournament resume.

St. John’ s at UCLA, Saturday – Steve Lavin returns to Westwood to coach against his former school.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Feb 2, 2011