Feb. 21, 2011
QUEENS, N.Y. - St. John's checked in at No. 23/25 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls, respectively, marking the first time the Red Storm has been nationally ranked in 11 seasons, and senior BIG EAST Player of the Year candidate Dwight Hardy was named the conference's Player of the Week for the second-straight week and for a league-leading third time this season, both announced on Monday.
Bolstered by wins in six of the last seven games, a 2-0 week and its fifth Top 25 victory and fourth Top 10 win of the season in toppling then-No. 4/4 Pitt, St. John's is ranked in the national polls for the first time since Nov. 28, 2000, when the Red Storm was No. 24 in the AP Poll. The Red Storm had recently received votes this season on Feb. 14, Jan. 10, 17 and 31, and for five weeks during the 2009-10 season.
"I think it's a benchmark of achievement for the senior class and naturally it will be helpful in recruiting with the national exposure," said first-year head coach Steve Lavin. "It is empirical evidence that their hard work is paying off. You try not to have emotional peaks and valleys and you are always concerned and mindful of complacency. But with this group, they have an outstanding work ethic, focus and resolve to finish their careers on a high note."
The Red Storm's now No. 1-rated strength of schedule is another sign of what this team has been able to achieve with five wins over ranked opponents, four in the BIG EAST and another over Duke. Only No. 5/5 Texas has defeated more Top 25 teams (6) than the five topped by BIG EAST squads No. 23/25 St. John's, No. 4/6 Pitt, No. 9/9 Notre Dame, No. 11/11 Georgetown, No. 14/15 Connecticut, No. 15/14 Villanova and No. 16/16 Louisville. The BIG EAST occupies eight of the 25 spots in both polls this week.
"I think it's an interesting thing that they forged through such a challenging schedule," Lavin said. "We played eight consecutive games against ranked teams, made three trips to the West Coast. It takes pressure, heat and time to make a diamond. It shows how together this group is."
Pretty wins on some nights and gritty wins others have added up to a 9-5 mark in BIG EAST conference play for St. John's, which gives the Red Storm a share of fourth place in the league standings. With a 17-9 record that includes seven wins away from home and a 4-3 road record in BIG EAST play, St. John's is currently No. 12 in the RPI report according to the NCAA and RPIRatings.com, with the consensus strongest schedule in the nation. The Red Storm is now 6-4 vs. the RPI top 25, 7-7 vs. the top 50, 9-7 vs. the top 100 and 12-8 vs. the top 150. Thirteen of St. John's 26 opponents have been ranked in the Top 25 in 2010-11 (50 percent).
"It's great to see a number by our name. We know we are the first St. John's team since 2000 to be ranked in the Top 25," said senior point guard and Queens native, Malik Boothe. "Being from here, myself and my teammates are proud of the resurgence of college basketball in New York, and getting the city back excited - The Garden is electric every night. But we're not going to get complacent now. We just have to keep it going, and keep getting better." Meanwhile, Hardy continues to key the Red Storm to victories with high-volume scoring and clutch play-making. In wins over Marquette and Pitt last week, Hardy averaged 23.5 points, 4.0 steals and 3.5 rebounds per game. He went 11-for-26 from the field (42.3 percent), was 3-of-7 from 3-point range (42.9 percent) and connected on 22-of-27 free throws (81.5 percent).
Playing in a hostile environment at Marquette on Tuesday, Hardy scored a game-high 28 points, set a new career-high with five steals and tied a career-best with 12 made free throws. His clutch free throw shooting down the stretch helped secure the 80-68 victory, marking the Red Storm's first win over the Golden Eagles since 1966 and the first in Milwaukee since 1960. In a nationally-televised game against conference-leader Pitt at Madison Square Garden, Hardy saved his best performance for the very end. Trailing by one with 11 seconds remaining, Hardy drove to the baseline, doubled back and scooped a layup over his shoulder for the game-winning basket with 1.2 seconds remaining. That shot, along with his 19 points, punctuated yet another dominant performance over a top 10 team at The Garden.
Hardy's second-straight BIG EAST Player of the Week honor gives him three for the season (Jan. 2, Feb. 14, Feb. 21), the most of any conference player in 2010-11, in addition to being selected on the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll for the week ending on Jan. 30. Hardy's first honor made him the first Red Storm BIG EAST Player of the Week since 2005 when Darryl Hill was selected. Earlier this season, classmate Justin Brownlee was named to the BIG EAST Honor Roll on Nov. 29.
Because of his clutch play in the national spotlight, Hardy has again been nominated for the Capital One Cup Impact Performance of the Week, an award that selects the top four men's basketball clutch performances from the past week and features them on ESPN and ESPN.com for fans to vote on. Fans can share the voting link (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/feature/index?page=caponecup) on their own Facebook and Twitter feeds to help encourage their networks to vote for Hardy. Voting ends on Wednesday night and the winning performance is announced on Thursday.
No. 23/25 St. John's returns to Carnesecca Arena, its on-campus home on Feb. 23 for a 7 p.m. contest against DePaul. Tickets are available by visiting www.redstormtix.com.