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college basketball

Time for Big East Play for St. John’s

Steve Lavin's St. John's Red Storm have had a strange little non-conference schedule. A team with a rather stunning ten seniors — this is a difficult feat to achieve even if you're not entirely reconstructing the roster with top-tier recruits over the next few years — the Red Storm have still been weirdly inconsistent, considering the experience they had. They beat NCAA hopefuls Northwestern and Arizona State but lost, insanely, to St. Bonaventure and Fordham. Had they won those two games, games that should have been easy, they would be heading into tonight's Big East opener at 9–1, on a nine-game win streak, and maybe even in the top 25. Now? Not so much.

The Storm are in Morgantown, West Virginia, tonight to play the West Virginia Mountaineers, a team that is not ranked but is beloved by advanced metric folk like Ken Pomeroy. It is the beginning of the Big East slate and also the beginning of a brutal, nasty stretch of games. They couldn't start the Big East off much tougher, with games against West Virginia, Providence, Georgetown, Notre Dame (twice), Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Georgetown, and Duke before February. Ken Pomeroy has the Johnnies going 2–8 in that stretch. That would put them at 9–10 overall, which wouldn't even get them in the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tournament.

If they can even win half of those games, they'd have a chance to make a tournament run. (The easy Big East games, Rutgers, DePaul, South Florida, all come from February on.) Coach Steve Lavin has already established his recruiting bona fides, and in a lot of ways, this year is nothing but bonus time, Lavin playing with house money. If Lavin can get St. John's hot this year, with another man's players, you just wait. (That'll be the implied aside, hence the italics.) But if it gets ugly, and it might, the skepticism that has surrounded St. John's hoops for, oh, a decade or two, will remain. Lavin doesn't need to win some hearts and minds this year ... but a run would bring some excitement around here.

It's not that crazy of a notion; last week, ESPN "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi gave St. John's a 50 percent chance (registration required) at sneaking in the tourney. We'd take those odds.

But it requires some upsets. St. John's gets its first chance tonight.

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Photo: David Stluka/Getty Images