In Beating Georgetown, St. John’s Well-Positioned For an NCAA Bid

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 2015

Sitting at 14-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big East after a blowout loss at Butler on February 3, the NCAA Tournament was the last thing on the mind of the players at St. John’s. The pressure was mounting on Steve Lavin and his senior-laden team, a group that had not earned a ticket to the Big Dance in their collegiate careers. Fast forward to the end of February and this same Red Storm team is sitting pretty at 20-9 and 9-7 in the Big East after a convincing victory over Georgetown in front of more than 13,000 lively supporters at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. This victory was Lavin’s 25th win in the month of February as the head coach of the Johnnies, and the February rise has almost become an annual tradition for St. John’s under his leadership. In 2011, the Red Storm won seven of eight games in February to lock up an NCAA bid. Just last season, St. John’s put together a six-game winning streak to get itself onto the bubble, only to eventually fall a game or two short of dancing. Lavin’s team has again appeared to turn the corner, going 6-2 in the second calendar month of the year to put itself in prime position for a trip to the NCAAs.

Steve Lavin's Group (USA Today Images)

Steve Lavin’s Group Has Used the February Rise to Get Back Into the NCAA’s Good Graces (USA Today Images)

“Our upside is the most intriguing part of our team,” Lavin said afterward. “I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet.” If he is right, the rest of the Big East should be put on notice. Playing on its home floor in just over a week, St. John’s should enter the Big East Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the league and a dark horse threat to take home the title. The seniors on this team are playing at a high level, starting with Sir’Dominic Pointer. Including his 24-point performance against the Hoyas, Pointer has averaged a robust 20.0 PPG over his last six games, fueling the team’s late season surge. Pointer was all over the floor on both ends, utilizing his energy, quickness and athleticism to flummox Georgetown all game long. Hoyas center Joshua Smith fouled out in only eight minutes of action, unable to keep himself in front of Pointer. With Smith constantly out of position, St. John’s repeatedly got to the rim, especially in transition. As a result, that opened up the perimeter where fellow senior Phil Greene IV could take advantage. The Chicago product poured in 26 points and made six of his seven three-point attempts on the night. “You have to limit them. You have to make them score in the half-court,” said Georgetown head coach John Thompson III. “We had too many breakdowns defensively when we needed to get stops.”

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A Column of Enchantment: The Mystery of Steve Lavin’s Future

Posted by Joseph Nardone on February 5th, 2015

(Ed. Note: quotes may or may not be verbatim. Or accurate.) 

It is not another typical day at the St. John’s campus. Something seems different. Maybe it is the dark clouds that hover in the air, or the students walking around, seemingly faceless and unhappy. Possibly it is the basketball team that is strutting around aimlessly, daydreaming about the things that could have been. Nevertheless, something is strange at 8000 Utopia Parkway, Jamaica, NY. Some will say it shouldn’t be that way. St. John’s is a fine school. It enrolls nearly 21,000 kids despite only accepting about half of the people who apply to attend such a fine university. Still, there’s whispers of a big change coming. Not from an academic standpoint, though. A possible looming change could be what is making everyone seem, if not on edge, a bit too sad.

—————–

A man named Steve Lavin is the current face of St. John’s. Steve typically wears fine suits with a pair of sneakers because he treasures comfort as much as he does style. Slicked back hair, slightly pudgy but certainly not fat, Steve has been helping mold young minds at the program for nearly five years. He came to St. John’s after years as a TV personality and before that as a molder of young minds over on the West Coast. Steve is a very likable fellow. He has always had a reputation of getting the best of the best to enroll at whatever school he was affiliated with at that particular moment, but things haven’t quite worked out that way since joining the big New York university. Sure, Steve has shown some glimpses of brilliance that made the people within the university fall in love with him in the first place, yet that era of him being all that and a bag of recruiting potato chips has seemingly passed.

St. Johns coach Steve Lavin

Steve Lavin and Chris Monasch in Happy Times (NY Post)

He isn’t a broken man, though. No one keeps a good guy like Steve down. Few people have been through as much as he on a personal level over the last few years. Still, St. John’s brought him in to do a specific job and he hasn’t lived up to his end of the bargain. It wasn’t always that way. When Steve first took over the basketball program he had a slew of kids brought in by another man, Norm Roberts. Norm and Steve could not have been any different — Steve coming from a high-profile program and gig while Norm coming from the land of lesser known places of higher education. However, where Norm failed to bring St. John’s, Steve did in his very first year with the program. All in all, because of Steve’s immediate success. many thought their basketball program was on the way back up.

——————–

There’s a note on Steve’s desk this morning. It reads: “Steve, we need to talk. Sincerely, Chris Monasch.” Chris is the boss. The head honcho of all things related to sports at St. John’s. Often mentioned as a kind man, who by all accounts really likes Steve and wants him to succeed if for no other reason than Steve being a good person, Chris has been under a different kind of pressure than the head basketball coach. People are starting to implore Chris, through newspapers, new media and social media, to look at the future of the St. John’s basketball program through a different lens. It is that pressure from the outside which has resulted in such a note landing on Steve’s desk.

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St. John’s Bent But Not Broken With Duke Looming

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 22nd, 2015

St. John’s fans expected a regular NCAA Tournament team by now. When head coach Steve Lavin was brought in five years ago to revive the Red Storm program from the woeful Norm Roberts era, there were high expectations based on his recruiting connections and player development abilities. Playing with a senior-laden roster in his first season at the helm, the Red Storm went on to make the NCAA Tournament before bowing out in the first round. Since then, however, Lavin’s teams have fallen well short, either striking out completely or wavering on the bubble (50-48 from 2012-14). Despite having a talented core of players ranging from the Big East’s second-leading scorer, D’Angelo Harrison (20.0 PPG), to the nation’s third-leading shot blocker, Chris Obekpa (3.5 BPG), depth, largely driven by recruiting misses, has been a problem. Highly-acclaimed recruits Adonis DeLaRosa and Keith Thomas, for example, have yet to see playing time after failing to meet academic standards, and Rysheed Jordan, the third-ranked point guard of his class, has not meshed well into the system, frequently cited for attitude problems both on and off the court. Needless to say, the fans are getting restless, and understandably so. After starting this season off strong and making its way back into the Top 25 (at one point as high as #15), St. John’s has fallen off in dramatic fashion. An 11-1 team with good wins over Minnesota and at Syracuse came into Wednesday night’s game versus Marquette having dropped four of its last five games and looking to get back on track.

Steve Lavin (USA Today Images)

Steve Lavin Needs to Turn Things Around Quickly (USA Today Images)

For such an important game, it was remarkably sluggish. Harrison shot a dismal 3-of-18 from the field; Phil Greene and Rysheed Jordan struggled to navigate Marquette’s zone defenses; and Obekpa, while strong on the shot-blocking front, contributed little in the way of scoring. Yet the Red Storm’s defense was sufficient and vital in keeping the team afloat, grabbing 10 steals and holding Marquette to 33.9 percent shooting on the evening. The bottom line is that it was a necessary win for Steve Lavin’s squad, although an unconvincing one. “When you have a stretch where you feel snake-bitten, it’s good to have a win and get some momentum,” he said after the game. With Harrison unable to find the basket, concerns have arisen and postseason expectations have warped. “It’s clear his injury is bothering him… it’s rare for him to have back-to-back games like that,” Lavin added. A usually reliable scoring threat, there is no question Harrison will eventually find his rhythm. But the when needs to be now, as the team gears up for a huge game against Duke on Sunday. One game at a time should be this group’s mantra with its biggest test of the season just a few days away. “The Duke game presents a big opportunity for us on our home court against a very talented team. We’ve got a couple of days to prepare here and get ready. To beat Duke it’s going to be a collective effort,” Lavin said.

For a St. John’s team that appears wobbly and shaken, a midseason non-conference tilt against Duke offers the greatest of opportunities to refocus some of the negative energy that has once again started to creep into this program’s psyche.

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A Column of Enchantment: On Charter Planes, Losers & Bill Self Crazy Like a Walrus

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 22nd, 2015

This past week was a good one in the world of college basketball. We had things ranging from last second shot attempts to schools imposing some “stiff” penalties on their own beings to finding out that the NCAA is incapable of properly booking flights. All in all, really, just some good ole fun courtesy of some unpaid labor doing terrific things and people who keep the unpaid labor from being paid being about as smart as a bag of rocks. Good times.

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Those types of things are not trends, however. Rather, they are themes that seem to keep happening and happening. If this were the world of pro wrestling, it would be like fans who are all upset because John Cena has never left the title picture despite the odds always being stacked against him. Weird analogy, I know, but it truly seems like any person with any sort of resemblance to power in college basketball is doing the same thing over and over, none of them being that swell or beneficial to anyone but people in other power positions, yet there is nothing we can do about it because, well, the Sam Cassell Jr. if I know.

Arm-drag.

———

Holy charter planes, Batman! Reports have come out that teams may have to pack for an extra day when the NCAA Tournament begins. While it would be a lot funnier if this was because Mark Emmert didn’t know how to properly use Expedia, it is essentially as simple as there being more men’s and women’s teams traveling too near the same time as there will be a proper number of charter planes. So, yeah, some kids will have to stay a full extra day after they are eliminated from the Big Dance.

Never mind the fact, though, that these kids should have never been rushed to go back to school, home or wherever it is they go back to, to begin with. I was never comfortable with the NCAA using them for a single night, only to shuffle them away as quickly as possible. Like college football bowls, first dates and encounters with aliens from outer space, the NCAA Tournament should feel like an experience for these kids — not just a business trip. You know, because it isn’t a business, right Mark Emmert?

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A Column of Enchantment: People Hate Kentucky, Expect Nothing, Unicorns…

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 8th, 2015

We made it through the marathon known as the holidays. This is a good thing for so many different reasons. Between ridding yourselves of unwanted family time, being able to start making your checking account look (semi) decent, all the way to not needing to tippy-toe around the idea of a scary, bearded man sneaking down your chimney being a good thing, and not a thing that your children should fear and an event which shouldn’t result in you calling Dateline ID for some new story — it is over. It is all over. Let the sanity of normal life begin, except not at all.

You people are all batpoop insane. Not normal insane or just a little bit insane or Gary Busey insane, but batpoop insane. Batpoop insane, by my definition, is just above Busey insane yet two tiers lower than being I have to punch that old lady for a baseball in the stands insane. I say that because of my Twitter timeline. A combination of the people I follow, the people they retweeted, and the not so smart idea of doing a Twitter search made my eyeballs want to escape the depths of my cranium. Why? Because it seems like a very large number of humans really hate Kentucky.

Why?  (USA TODAY Sports)

Why? (USA TODAY Sports)

With Ole Miss taking the Wildcats down to the wire on Tuesday night it seemed like everyone and their (respective) mothers were rooting for Big Blue Nation to falter. But why? I am seriously curious about this certain type of bizzaro fandom. I get rooting for your team to the point of it being unsettling and even bordering on inappropriate, although, I have yet to understand the type of fandom which results in people hating teams or conferences or athletes that much. Sans the few examples of certain athletes being worse than an evil-doer in The Walking Dead or being nauseated by the oversaturation of certain conferences, what makes a person hate a team so much? I am genuinely curious.

I get being jealous of Kentucky’s success or — to some extent — not being in love with John Calipari’s one-and-done approach. Still, shouldn’t we be celebrating what and how they do it? I mean, in an age when everyone complains about selfish players and whatnot, Calipari continues to recruit tippy-top-recruits (how do I get a patent?) and convinces them to play unselfishly, putting their numbers and individual accolades to the wayside, all in favor of Kentucky basketball. It is the same thing people used to do when they applauded Coach K’s methods during Duke’s great runs. However, because Cal and/or Kentucky basketball is less likable because I haven’t the slightest, people continue to hammer them for whatever reasons they can find and instead of celebrating a close win after a two-week layoff they rather poke holes in all things surrounding the program.

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Defense Provides St. John’s With an Identity

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 20th, 2014

For the Red Storm, it was never a question of talent. D’Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan were All-Big East team nominees and Chris Obekpa has been one of the most intimidating shot blockers in the country. But despite being picked to finish third in the Big East this season, there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the team chemistry and the collective focus on the defensive end of the floor heading into the season. It was a problem that plagued talented teams of the past, and without a leader, it would continue to do so.

St. John's Defense (USA Today Images)

St. John’s Defense Gives the Red Storm an Identity (USA Today Images)

D’Angelo Harrison changed that. With 5:29 remaining in the game, the senior motioned his teammates into a huddle, drawing them away from an increasingly confrontational game against St. Mary’s. Frequently cited for attitude problems in the past, it showed signs of the team’s long-awaited maturation; a coming of age, displayed in just a matter of moments. From there, the Red Storm rallied, together as a team, to capture another home court win. However, that’s not to say the win came easily. In the first half, the Johnnies looked completely out of rhythm, reverting to their old, all too familiar “take ‘em” strategy. Like a bad habit, the problem for is one that becomes self-reinforcing over time: shoot first, think second. When it works, the perimeter tandem of Harrison, Jordan, and Phil Greene looks unstoppable, especially when Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer are on the floor to grab offensive rebounds. But when it doesn’t? The team looks desperate and confused.

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One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)

Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?

Expectations are high for Jay Wright and Company. (Getty)

Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)

Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.

RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?

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Assessing the Steve Alford Era at UCLA Almost One Year In

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 26th, 2014

It was a year ago this week that the change was made at UCLA. Ben Howland was dismissed after an opening round NCAA loss to Minnesota, and the following week, on Saturday morning of the Elite Eight to be precise, UCLA announced that it would hire New Mexico head coach Steve Alford – who had just recently agreed to a lengthy contract extension with that school after its own untimely exit from the NCAA Tournament – as the 13th head coach in the storied program’s history.

Steve Alford, UCLA

The Steve Alford Era Had A Bumpy Start, But Has Settled Into A Nice Groove (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Suffice it to say that the beginning of the Alford era in Westwood did not begin smoothly. The hire was greeted with anywhere from an outright disdain for the choice to a more wait-and-see approach, but few if any saw the hire as a home run. (Here, we called it a solid line-drive single, and our response was probably one of the more favorable ones you may have read). From those initial reactions, the temperature dipped dramatically over the next week after an unreceptive opening press conference delved into his handling of a sexual assault case at Iowa 11 years earlier and went downhill from there. A week later Alford finally apologized for his handling of that case and an uneasy truce with the local media began.

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Rushed Reactions: Providence 79, St. John’s 74

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 13th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Providence Advances to the Big East Tourney Semifinals (USA Today)

Providence Advances to the Big East Tourney Semifinals (USA Today)

  1. Providence is alive. St. John’s, not so much. With the win today, Providence lives to see another day. I’m not quite sure that the Friars are in the field of 68 just yet, but they get another opportunity for a win tomorrow night. However, that win would have to come against Seton Hall, a sub-100 RPI team. Now we know the Pirates are not a bad team, but a loss to them would qualify as a “bad” loss on Providence’s NCAA resume. The Friars surely don’t want to lose that one and put themselves in jeopardy with a chance to win their way into the NCAA Tournament. As for St. John’s, it is the unfortunate loser of what was likely an NCAA elimination game. With 12 losses on its resume and not many quality wins to boot, the Red Storm appear to be NIT-bound. Still, it has been a remarkable turnaround for a team that started 0-5 in conference play.
  2. It was important for Providence to show it can win without a strong Bryce Cotton performance. Cotton, the star Friars senior, struggled to the tune of a 1-of-10 shooting night and yet the Friars still held a comfortable advantage for most of the game. Cotton made up for that by getting to the line 13 times (making 10), but it was certainly not a dominant game for him. It was interesting to note that Cotton played “only” 34 minutes, his lowest game total since playing 32 minutes against Vermont on November 18. The good news for Providence? Cotton isn’t likely to shoot this poorly tomorrow night, and as an additional bonus, should be relatively well-rested.
  3. Free throw shooting continues to serve Providence well. The Friars are the No. 2 team in free throw shooting nationally and Carson Desrosiers’ clutch makes at the end of the game sealed this win. For the game, the Friars got to the free throw line 30 times, making 22. When you can get to the line that often (specifically Cotton), great free throw shooting can be a lethal weapon. It quells runs and seals games in the final minute. If Providence does end up in the NCAA Tournament next week, don’t be surprised if it wins a game based on free throw shooting alone.

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St. John’s Showing Real Signs of Improvement

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2014

It was not even a month ago, 24 days to be exact, that St. John’s was sitting at the very bottom of the Big East at 0-5 in league play along with Butler. At 9-8 overall and winless in the conference, panic was starting to set in amongst the fan base and some media folks who thought this year’s St. John’s team could contend for a high conference finish and make the NCAA Tournament. Fast forward to approximately 9:15 pm EST on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden and St. John’s had flipped the script after upsetting Creighton and moving to 15-9 overall and 5-6 in conference play after its sixth win in seven games.

Steve Lavin's Group May be Turning the Corner (AP)

Steve Lavin’s Group May be Turning the Corner (AP)

The Red Storm locked down defensively in the second half, holding National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott (25 points, 10-18 FG) without one single shot attempt over the final eight minutes and 41 seconds of the game. “They did a good job of fronting him to make his catches tough,” said McDermott’s father and Creighton head coach Greg McDermott. St. John’s sophomore JaKarr Sampson did most of the heavy lifting for the Red Storm when it came to guarding McDermott, using his length, quickness and athleticism to frustrate the nation’s best player for most of the evening. “My mindset was to focus on defense,” Sampson told reporters after the game. Focus he did and it resulted in McDermott becoming frustrated and a non-factor down the stretch despite a hot start to the game for the Creighton senior. “Their length and their athleticism…it distracts you,” said Doug McDermott. “They did a great job of taking me away.”

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“Super Saturday” Results Give Hope to St. John’s and Georgetown

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 2nd, 2014

Brian Otskey (@botskey) attended the “Super Saturday” doubleheader at Madison Square Garden yesterday and filed this report.

When this year’s college basketball schedule was released, many people circled February 1 on their calendars as it would feature a doubleheader at Madison Square Garden on the day before the Super Bowl involving three quality Big East teams and a national championship contender from the Big Ten. Fast forward to the actual game day and the storylines coming in to Saturday’s games were a lot different. Marquette, picked to finish first in the new look Big East, was looking to get its season back on track after losing nine games before February and posting just a .500 mark in Big East play. St. John’s, a trendy surprise preseason pick, had stumbled badly and came into yesterday’s game with a 2-6 league record. Georgetown, picked right behind Marquette in the preseason poll, entered the weekend with an 11-9 overall record and in the midst of a five-game losing streak. The only storyline that hadn’t changed from the preseason was Michigan State is still a national title contender, although the Spartans are currently playing without two injured starters in Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.

Georgetown's Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins got the best of Gary Harris and Michigan State on Saturday. (Credit: Anthony Gruppuso--USA Today)

Georgetown’s Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins got the best of Gary Harris and Michigan State on Saturday. (Credit: Anthony Gruppuso–USA Today)

So much for that. Those storylines flipped once again after the games were played, as St. John’s blasted Marquette in a game that wasn’t remotely close, and Georgetown pulled a huge upset in knocking off the Spartans in the day’s second game. For Steve Lavin’s team, the win was further proof that the Red Storm are beginning to find their identity. The win was the fourth in five games with the only loss coming by three points at Creighton last Tuesday. St. John’s is playing better basketball and a lot of folks are starting to take notice. “Everything’s moving in the right direction,” said D’Angelo Harrison, who led the Johnnies with a game-high 27 points on 6-of-11 shooting from three-point land. “We’re buying into the process.” Lavin, while downplaying the win when a media member asked if it may represent a turning point, echoed Harrison’s comments. “The kids took another positive step forward. Since halftime of the Georgetown game, this team just keeps getting better,” said the fourth-year Red Storm head man. “I see it in practice, I see it in games. I haven’t had a group that fights back like this group.”

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Big East M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 27th, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Things aren’t going well for Georgetown as demonstrated by this sad fan which may be the funniest college basketball meme of the season. The Hoyas have lost five of six games to fall to 11-8 on the season and are on the outside looking in with respect to the NCAA Tournament. That stretch began with Joshua Smith’s first missed game (and he’ll miss the rest of the season), and Jabril Trawick only played in the first loss to Providence. Those two certainly have their flaws, but they’re significantly better than the other players who remain in John Thompson III’s frontcourt. It appears that it will be a long 2014 for the Hoyas and Sad Scott is only going to get sadder over the next two months.
  2. Creighton is fully embracing Ethan Wragge‘s status as a three-point shootin’ lumberjack. More importantly, Wragge has also adopted the persona as depicted in an excellent Omaha.com profile about the nation’s best shooter. Wragge revealed in the article that at one time he considered transferring from Creighton, but thankfully for Bluejays’ and college basketball fans everywhere, he stuck around. Wragge currently leads the nation in effective field goal percentage at 73.4 percent and true shooting percentage at 74.1 percent, and his 50 percent three-point stroke makes him a key part of the top offense in college hoops this season.
  3. Xavier coach Chris Mack thought he had escaped LaDontae Henton when the Providence wing picked the Big East’s Friars over the Atlantic 10’s Dayton during his recruitment. Then the Musketeers joined the Big East and Mack was stuck facing Henton, who had 23 points in the Friars’ win on Saturday, anyway. Henton’s improvement is one of the primary reasons why Providence has been able to weather a storm of player injuries and suspensions to be in a position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
  4. Butler‘s Big East struggles culminated over the weekend with a 17-point home loss to St. John’s. The Bulldogs, a team that had already dropped six of seven conference games heading into the Saturday match-up, may have finally hit rock bottom according to IndyStar.com writer Zak Keefer. With three road games in a row coming up next, Butler is likely to find itself looking up at DePaul in the league standings for the rest of the season. This could turn out to be the first year that the Blue Demons don’t finish last in Big East play since 2008.
  5. Are things already going sour for Steve Lavin at St. John’s? The Red Storm only have one NCAA Tournament appearance in four years under the head coach and they likely aren’t headed to the Big Dance once again this year. The pressure may be on Lavin after a recent report suggested his relationship with the school is going south. He’s already denied the report, of course, but Lavin needs to start winning with the tremendous amount of talent he keeps bringing into this Big East staple.
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