Friday, December 4th, 2009...12:58 am

Jump On The Johnnies Bandwagon

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Call yourself gullible Gary if you actually thought I gave a crap about an underachieving Big Ten squad when I blogged about Michigan basketball the other day. If you’re a true member of the L-Hoops Mafia, then you well know that my heart’s allegiance lies squarely with the JOHNNIES.

Despite just missing out in the recruitment of shady blue-chip prospect “Born Ready” Lance Stephenson, and yet another injury to Anthony Mason Jr., I was optimistically psyched going into the season. Alas, squarely holding down a .500 record (0-0) with no losses throughout the off-season is all it takes to get me “optimistically psyched”. But the Red Storm also returned all five starters (all juniors) and added some depth with Omari Lawrence, Malik Stith, Dwight “Buckets” Hardy and Justin Brownlee. Going into the season, this was their deepest and most well-rounded team since the Pittsburgh Sexcapade left the team in ruins during the 2004 season.

What is quickly becoming a father-son tradition; I forced my dad to check out the season opener at Carnesecca Arena as SJU had an uneven performance in a victory over lowly LIU. The Johnnies, and my aorta, then survived agita inducing squeakers against St. Bonaventure and Brown. Listening to the Johnnies play in a close game on the radio could be more stressful than awaiting your HIV test results after “transgressions” with hookers. At this point, I had lost some of my enthusiasm for the team’s potential although I wouldn’t let anything damper a 3-0 undefeated record. I found myself walking around town with my chin up, the sun shining on my back, and a beaming smile coming from the man in the mirror. Is that you Jesus? Digger Phelps predicted a NCAA bid for SJU. Before that prediction, I was certain that if I knew anything about college basketball, it’s that Digger Phelps knows nothing. After that prediction, I think the brilliance of his highlighter matching his tie is only topped by his knowledge of college hoops!

I sensed my bubble was about to be burst as the Johnnies headed to Philly over Thanksgiving weekend to face Siena and Temple. But they somehow stormed out of the game in the second half to take down the Saints and then sloppily roughed it out over Temple for two quality victories. I wasn’t able to watch or listen to the Temple game but when my friend Rob pulled up the final score on his phone I promptly offered to buy the whole damn Great Neck North High graduating glass of 1999 a shot of Patron (Thankfully Rob was the only one who had any clue what was going on). An easy W over Stony Brook this week and we find ourselves at 6-0, the best darn start during the Norm Roberts Era.

At some point in the last week the college basketball media has decided to jump on the Johnny locomotive along side Digger. SI’s Seth Davis is ready to whittle Norm some dancing shoes out of beach wood. Dickie V. is tweeting big ups. Will Leitch is the closest thing we got to a celebrity beat writer in his New York Magazine sports blog! There’s even a cadre of twitter dudes who are solidly in St. John’s corner including @Peter_R_Casey and @STJ_Basketball who both live tweet games. Heck, we got “other receiving votes” in both the AP and coaches’ poll. Do you realize the global significance here, people.

If all that isn’t enough to arouse your passions, please realize that the Johnnies take on DUKE this weekend. Yup, it’s good vs. evil down at Cameron Indoor Stadium come this Saturday. A victory will be their biggest win in years and put SJU solidly in the Top 25 for the first time in way longer than I’d like to not remember. Duke is coming off a loss to Wisconsin this week in which they were probably looking ahead to the Johnnies and suffered a collective mental lapse due to poor coaching. I’m usually never one to root for the Dukies but must admit I’m disappointed they dropped a game before facing SJU. We’re trying to shock the world this weekend. But now when we win, the critics will say that all we did was beat a bunch of over-hyped white boys.

Now, before we get too jazzed up, the Johnnies still have some major question marks. They’ve had trouble scoring all season. I was hoping Paris Horne would establish himself as the main scoring threat, but he has struggled and didn’t even score against Stony Brook this week. The point guard combo of Malik and Malik can’t really do much of anything all that well. Justin Burrell is having major confidence issues and forgot how to score and rebound. The saving grace has been the continued emergence of DJ Kennedy as the team leader and go to player. JUCO Newcomers Hardy and Brownlee might be the team’s most polished players even though both come off the bench (at least for now). With a ten man rotation, Norm is still trying to feel out his squad and see which players work well together and who will step up to take a more dominant role. Let’s just say it hasn’t “clicked” yet.

But I can’t complain. Things have certainly started as splendidly as this blogger could hope. SJU is #4 in the RPI. This means if the season ended today we’d be in line to receive a #1 seed in the big dance! After Duke the Johnnies remaining non-conference games are all very winnable. That means St. John’s can end December at 11-1 (or 12-0) with one of the best non-conference RPI rankings in the country. St. John’s could be well-positioned to go dancing if they can .500 in conference. This is asking a lot (they were 6-12 last year with a similar team in bit stronger conference) but is definitely possible and will keep yours truly buzzing for at least the next month.

I’m hosting the L-Hoops family (the blood version) at my apartment for the game this weekend. Courtney is a Duke graduate and pretends to like the basketball team (all the Cameron Crazies pretend – nobody can really like them). Even she will admit Coach K is a dick. Howie Hoops best be rooting for the Johnnies. I swear to Hashem, if he tries to pull this “I’m happy for Duke also”, or if I catch him celebrating a Schuyer jump shot, I’ll label him Galitziana trash and lock him out on my deck in the cold with the rats!

Ladies and Gentlemen, please join one of the most storied traditions in college basketball, hop on the bandwagon and check out ESPN2 at 3:30 this saturday. That feeling in your heart after the Johnnies are victorious is unadulterated joy.