In a season where the typical Big East powers – UConn, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh - find themselves in rebuilding phases, could this be the season where a team flying under the radar can surprise the nation and make some noise? We saw what Cincinnati did last season, is there a chance St. John’s can be this season’s surprise Big East team?
More important than the question just posed, if this is not a spectacular season for St. John’s, is it a poor reflection of the job that Steve Lavin’s done with the team?
I know that I’m jumping the gun a bit here questioning Lavin’s job security, but has he proven anything in his two years with the team? Not to sound ridiculous, but in his first season he was coaching a team that had been together for several years, which he had no part in putting together. Sure they ended up winning 21 games (four against top-10 teams) and making the NCAA Tournament that season, but they lost their first (and only) NCAA Tournament game. Coming into his second season with St. John’s with much hype, and some players he actually recruited, the Red Storm struggled mightily last season as Lavin didn’t coach many games, spending a good amount of time absent from the team treating his prostate cancer.
While Lavin has put great coaches next to him in Gene Keady and Mike Dunlap to help coach and recruit, he’s lost his two super assistants. And even though assistant coaches come and go, Lavin also lost two of his best players from last season in freshman Moe Harkless (NBA) and transfer Nurideen Lindsay (Rider – seriously, who transfers from St. John’s to Rider?), both of whom left the program because they were disappointed in their experience – or lack thereof – with Lavin.
While Lavin has his health (knock on wood) heading into this season, he’s also reconstructed his roster with more transfers and another good (but not great) recruiting class, which begs for me to question whether or not St. John’s can be a contender in what will be a less than typical season for the Big East. I do think Lavin has a great eye for talent, and if he has anywhere near the success with transfers (both JUCO and D-1) as he’s had in the past then St. John’s could probably hang around the middle of the pack at the worst, but Lavin was brought in to turn things around at St. John’s and he simply hasn’t accomplished anything yet.
Lavin’s been touted for having a great eye for talent and being a great recruiter, but what has that gotten him? According to ESPN, St. John’s had the third best recruiting class heading into last season, could you tell? Yes, we saw how incredibly talented D’Angelo Harrison, Harkless, and Lindsay were, but if it was that good of a recruiting class wouldn’t they have won more than six games in a middle-heavy Big East last season?
I understand not every team comes out and wins big with their freshmen and new players, and maybe I’m not giving enough credit to returning players for this years squad like Phil Greene and God’sgift Achiuwa, who really must have needed Lavin’s coaching to reach the ceilings that were set for them. But what if Lavin has another season where he’s limited from participating with the team? What if the only season Lavin actually achieves anything ends up being the season he took Norm Roberts’ seasoned vets and won with them? Lavin wasn’t brought to St. John’s for anything less than taking the basketball program back to the top of the Big East, and if this season is anything like last year, it’ll be two disappointments in a row.
I know I’m not allowing Lavin much of a leash, and considering he’s only coached two seasons (partially at that) and one was the most successful that the program’s had since the days of Ron Artest and Erick Barkley (almost 15 years ago!), he probably earned himself a couple of years to prove his worth. I just think that the main concern is with not accepting being better than they’ve been over the past decade, but becoming a vastly improved program and returning to the top of the conference much like they were for much of the 80s and 90s.
Steve Lavin is an absolute game changer. He comes from a great background and has recruited and coached some great talent. He may have charmed the pants off of St. John’s athletic director Chris Monasch, but unless the Johnnies get back to the postseason, and get there soon, I can’t see Lavin hanging around Queens for too much longer.
Which begs the question, is this a make or break season for him?
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