Of all the new coaches hired during the offseason, none created as much buzz as Steve Lavin at St. John's.
In six months, Lavin raised $2 million for the basketball program. He increased season ticket sales, hired one of the top assistants in the country in Mike Dunlap and convinced legendary coach and mentor Gene Keady to move to the Big Apple and join the Red Storm staff.
Then somehow, in the middle of everything, Lavin managed to sign the nation's second-ranked recruiting class.
So, yes, there's plenty of reason for optimism lately when it comes to the St. John's basketball program.
Even after Monday's 76-71 loss at St. Mary's in the season-opener.
Fans certainly have reason to be frustrated over the defeat. With 10 seniors, St. John's boasted more experience than the Gaels, who lost leading scorer and rebounder Omar Samhan from last year's team. And the Red Storm was certainly more athletic.
Still, the last few years have shown us that St. Mary's is one of the top mid-major teams in college basketball. There's no shame in losing to Randy Bennett's Gaels.
Two years ago St. Mary's produced NBA draft pick Patrick Mills, who is now with the Portland Trail Blazers. And last season Samhan led the Gaels to an upset of Villanova in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Perhaps St. John's players watched that game. By that point they'd already been eliminated from the NIT.
That's my point.
It's one thing to pass the eye test, but it's another to have the poise and moxie to grit your teeth and eke out close wins down the stretch. St. Mary's has learned to do that under Bennett.
At St. John's, it's a work in progress, but there's no reason to believe it won't happen. After all Lavin has done the last six months, there's no reason to doubt him now.
1. Pittsburgh (3-0) – Brad Wanamaker is averaging a team-high 19.3 points.
2. Syracuse (3-0) – Rick Jackson had 22 rebounds against Detroit on Tuesday and is averaging 14 boards.
3. Villanova (2-0) – With a weak Preseason NIT field, don't be surprised if the Wildcats take a spotless record into their Dec. 30 showdown with Temple.
4. West Virginia (1-0) – Remember the name Deniz Kilicli.
5. Georgetown (2-0) – Austin Freeman, the league's preseason player of the year, is averaging 20 points through two games.
6. Marquette (2-0) – The Golden Eagles used a 24-0 run to rally against Bucknell.
7. Seton Hall (1-1) – Jeremy Hazell is on pace to become the school's all-time scoring leader.
8. Louisville (1-0) – Nice win over Butler on Tuesday. But I'm not going to overreact.
9. Notre Dame (2-0) – The Irish won't reach their potential unless Tyrone Nash emerges as more of a force down low.
10. St. John's (0-1) – Dwayne Polee Jr. took 16 shots against St. Mary's. Pretty bold for a freshman.
11. Connecticut (1-0) – Alex Oriakhi looked like Dennis Rodman while pulling down 18 rebounds against Stony Brook.
12. Cincinnati (1-0) – The Bearcats need a go-to player, a star.
13. South Florida (1-1) – The Bulls may regret giving Stan Heath that contract extension.
14. Rutgers (1-1) – Rebounding will be a problem all season for the undersized Scarlet Knights.
15. DePaul (1-1) – The Blue Demons lost at home to Western Carolina on Tuesday.
16. Providence (2-0) – I'm a little surprised Keno Davis let the program get in this bad of shape.
Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame – Tyler's younger brother has been on fire from 3-point range. A senior, Hansbrough has made 9-of-15 shots from beyond the arc and is averaging 19.5 points.
Villanova's balance – Seven Wildcats players scored between eight and 17 points in Tuesday's victory over Marist. The best of the bunch was sophomore guard Maalik Wayns, who is averaging 16 points.
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse – After going scoreless in his first game, the point guard has netted 40 points over his last two contests. Jardine had 13 points against Canisius on Sunday before erupting for 27 points in Tuesday's win over Detroit.
NBA draft prospects – Of the 60 players projected to be taken in the 2011 NBA draft, only six are from the 16-team Big East: Kemba Walker (No. 12) and Kris Joseph (No. 26) are listed as first-rounders. Kevin Jones, D.J. Kennedy, Gilbert Brown and Yancy Gates are picked to go in the second round.
Jarrid Famous and Gus Gilchrist, South Florida – Instead of living up to their reputations as the two best players on the team, Gilchrist and Famous are each averaging just 7.5 points. South Florida is 1-1 with a 60-53 loss to Southern Miss and a 74-71 victory against Fairfield.
Fab Melo's foul problems – Syracuse's freshman phenom didn't have much of an impact in the Orange's first two games. He fouled out of both contests and scored a combined six points.
Louisville's non-conference schedule – The Cardinals won’t play a game outside the state of Kentucky until Jan. 9.
New coaches found mixed results early. DePaul's Oliver Purnell split a pair of games against Chicago Sate and Western Carolina. Rutgers' Mike Rice and St. John's Steve Lavin suffered losses against Princeton and St. Mary's, respectively. Seton Hall looked terrible in a loss at No. 22 Temple in Kevin Willard's debut. But the Pirates bounced back two days later with a commanding win against Cornell, which made the Sweet 16 last season. … Pittsburgh's three victories have come by an average of 32.3 points … Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope get most of the attention at Seton Hall, but a rising star could be point guard Jordan Theodore, who had 10 points, seven assists and seven rebounds against Cornell … Cincinnati freshman Sean Kilpatrick had a memorable college debut. The freshman guard scored 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting in a victory over Mount St. Mary's … The Bearcats only won that game by 10 points, solidifying Mick Cronin's spot on the hot seat … Five Rutgers players are averaging between 10.5 and 13 points … Forward Jae Crowder – not guard Vander Blue – has been Marquette's top freshman thus far. He's averaging 10.5 points and 8.5 rebounds … John Flowers posted career-highs in points (16) and blocks (seven) in West Virginia's victory over Oakland.
THREE TO WATCH
Pittsburgh vs. Maryland at MSG, Thursday – If the Panthers get by Maryland – and they should – they'll face either Texas or Illinois in Friday's championship game of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
Seton Hall vs. Alabama, Friday – The Pirates travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands to take on a pesky Crimson Tide squad featuring standout forward JaMychal Green. Games such as these are must-wins if Seton Hall has NCAA tournament hopes.
Marquette vs. Duke at Kansas City, Monday – The Golden Eagles are playing in one of the country's toughest non-conference tournaments: The CBE Classic. After facing the top-ranked Blue Devils, Marquette will play either Gonzaga or crowd favorite Kansas State on Tuesday.