Bracket Big Board: Red Storm rising thanks to Lavin, Keady

The Bracket Big Board takes into consideration past returns, current performance and expected future gains in determining who should be included among the field of 68 (31 automatic and 37 at-large bids). Essentially, the Bracket Big Board is a cheat sheet designed for amateur bracketologists if they were filling out a Tourney Pick ‘Em '11 entry today (Sign up now!). The Bracket Big Board is updated every Monday until the dance card is officially unveiled March 13.

Whether in business, politics or sports, successful leaders always keep their most trusted confidants close by. After all, the knowledge imparted by these advisors fosters creativity, profitability and, most importantly, sustainability.

For St. John’s’ Steve Lavin, counsel is just one chair away.

Six years ago, Gene Keady, second only to former arch-rival Bob Knight in career victories among Big Ten coaches with 512, stepped out of Mackey Arena for the last time, leaving an indelible legacy. During his 25-year tenure in West Lafayette, the legendary coach, whose fiery sideline antics were both hilarious and effective, claimed six conference titles, earning National Coach of the Year honors six times. He is to famous comb-overs what Lou Carnasecca is to loud sweaters, an icon.

Although Purdue achieved marginal tournament success under Keady's watch – The Boilers never reached the Final Four – the impact of his teachings stretched far and wide, spawning a new generation of successful coaches. Bruce Weber, Kevin Stallings, Matt Painter and Lavin are all fruits grown from the Keady tree.

When coaxed away from the television booth last March, Lavin inherited a famed program which had lost its bright light. The Johnnies, a perennial Big East favorite and NCAA participant under Carnasecca, last punched their dance ticket in 2002. When constructing a staff Lavin’s first call, naturally, was to his mentor. From ESPN New York:

"He’s the most influential person in my life other than my mom and dad. A sounding board at critical junctures. I wanted that grandfather presence with our team," Lavin said. "Coach Keady has the energy, vitality, and a great deal to offer us. The timing and the fit just seemed right."

The timing was indeed impeccable.

Standing at 19-9 and 11-5 in a loaded Big East, the Red Storm has carved a destructive path, particularly at home. Many have entered The Garden. Most haven’t survived. Ranked opponents Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke, Pitt and UConn top the list of victims.

Unfortunately, the Johnnies’ stellar home reputation has preceded it. Several analysts have expressed their doubts whether this team has the resolve necessary to win away from the Big Apple. But the critics couldn’t be more wrong. Toppling Villanova in Philly over the weekend, St. John’s now has four marquee road wins (West Virginia, Cincinnati and Marquette the others). As Lavin remarked Saturday, this is a team “starting to learn how to have a road warrior mentality,” a mindset which will make it very dangerous in postseason play.

Experience might be slightly overrated, but the senior-laden Red Storm is a battle-tested club with the statistical profile of a Final Four contender. This is an excellent defensive squad that possesses toughness akin to recent Michigan St. teams. Over its past nine games, Lavin’s bunch has held foes to a mere 0.96 points per possession. On the year, St. John’s ranks in the upper-tier nationally in turnover percentage defense and steals percentage.

Offensively, the Johnnies are no pushover either. Big East Player of the Year frontrunner Dwight Hardy is an elite scorer with a fearless attitude. He can hurt you from outside or inside with remarkable efficiency. Since January 30, the Bronx Bomber has averaged 25.1 points per game, draining 52.6 percent of his shots.

Now ranked for the first time in 11 years, sporting a No. 14 RPI and destined to be tabbed a 4-5 seed on Selection Sunday, the Johnnies have the appearance of an unstoppable juggernaut. Quite an achievement considering this team dropped back-to-back games to lowlights Fordham and St. Bonaventure in December.

Credit Lavin’s “personal Mr. Miyagi.” His influence on St. John’s basketball is ubiquitous.

Maybe soon Keady will finally be rewarded with a Final Four appearance.


Here are the movers and shakers on this week's Triple-B:

*For games played through Sunday, February 27
*RPI data provided by Rivals
*Teams in orange rising, blue falling

On the Bubble: Penn St. (15-12), Baylor (18-10), Boston College (17-11), Washington St. (18-10), Clemson (19-9), Southern Mississippi (21-7), St. Mary's (23-7), Colorado St. (18-10), USC (17-12)

Dropped Out: Minnesota, Nebraska, Boston College, Baylor, St. Mary's, Wichita St.

Conference Breakdown: American East (1), ACC (4), Atlantic Sun (1), Atlantic 10 (3), Big 12 (6), Big East (11), Big Sky (1), Big South (1), Big Ten (6), Big West (1), Colonial (2), Conference USA (2), Horizon (2), Ivy (1), Mid-American (1), Mid-Eastern (1), Missouri Valley (1), Mountain West (3), Northeast (1), Ohio Valley (1), Pac-10 (3), Patriot (1), SEC (6), Southern (1), Southland (1), Summitt (1), Sun Belt (1), SWAC (1), West Coast (1), WAC (1)

What to Read Next