3:25 pm Oct. 18, 2012
The Big East Conference held its annual Media Day on Wednesday, and along with it came the familiar coaches' poll, ranking the fifteen teams in predicted order of finish.
Louisville is expected to win the league, followed by Syracuse and Notre Dame. St. John's, picked to finish tenth, is the highest-rated of the area Big East teams. Rutgers was picked to finish eleventh, with Seton Hall checking in at fourteenth.
All three teams have talent; Rutgers has three Top 10 upsets on its resume over the past two years, but has lacked consistency. And Seton Hall, though it lost its two best players in forward Herb Pope and point guard Jordan Theodore from a team that came up just short of an NCAA tournament bid last year, should be deeper this season.
The Red Storm have an extremely young but talented roster. The team has nine sophomores and four freshmen, and even that overstates the experience on the team; many of the sophomores are junior college transfers.
The team's leader is likely to be guard D'Angelo Harrison, who averaged 17 points per game for the Red Storm last year, and was named to the All Big East Preseason Second Team.
“It motivates us more than ever,” Harrison said of the low ranking Wednesday during the Big East media day at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan. “Having the stuff we brought in, the JUCO transfers, we can definitely finish better than that. … We can shock a lot of people. We’re gonna win a lot of games, we’re gonna play hard, play defense and lock people up. We’re all hyped sitting right here. We’re ready to start right now.”
A number of other St. John's newcomers were highly touted out of high school, such as forwards JaKarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa, and guard Jamal Branch, each of whom ranked in the ESPN Top 100 as seniors. Lavin has a roster that reflects his ability to recruit in a way his first two seasons didn't.
That had little to do with any fault of Lavin's. In 2010-11, he inherited a team with 10 seniors, and turned a team picked to finish sixth in the Big East into an NCAA tournament team. Last season, Lavin spent most of the season fighting prostate cancer, a battle he appears to have won.
"Cancer-free, and feel 100 percent better than I did at this time last year," Lavin said Wednesday. "And probably 75 percent, in terms of where I'd like to be in terms of stamina. But that's natural -- that's a normal [amount] for this stage. It's pretty common."
Exactly how much Lavin can get from his talented neophytes remains to be seen. But the conference has more room at the top than it has in years, thanks to some declining programs, like Connecticut and Villanova. So this could be Lavin's chance to really solidify St. John's position in the league's pecking order.
"Every year our goal is to make the NCAA tournament," Lavin said. "And that's the way it should be at St. John's."
It hasn't been that way for a long time. But Lavin and the team he's assembled could be just the group to change that.