Eight games against ranked opponents is a difficult season in most leagues.
In the Big East, it’s just another month.
St. John’s (11-5, 4-2 Big East) brought their record to 2-2 midway through their eight game top 25 gauntlet by defeating #9 Notre Dame on January 16, four days after falling to #4 Syracuse.
“It’s by far the best league,” said Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey regarding the Big East. “We played Marquette Monday and I said well look at their next six games, look at anybody’s next six games in this league.”
St. John’s was able to defeat Brey’s squad in a game the Johnnies never trailed with suffocating perimeter defense, holding the Irish to 3-15 from behind the arc one week after giving up seven threes in the first half on the Irish’s home floor.
“Our execution was at a higher level [today],” said Red Storm coach Steve Lavin, referring to their second match up with Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3).
Earlier in the week the Johnnies hung with Syracuse (18-0, 5-0) early, but were unable to keep up with the undefeated Orange.
“Early we did some good things, both with our pressure in the full court and able to get some good looks at the basket, but Syracuse clearly dominated the game from about the eight minute mark through the second half,” said Lavin, who added you have to play near perfect to knock off a top four team.
Since the New Year, St. John’s has beaten #9 Georgetown, lost to Syracuse and split with the Fighting Irish and the schedule shows no signs of letting up.
Senior D.J. Kennedy realizes conference play is a day in day out struggle.
“This is the Big East, you beat one team, you come back and you might get blown out [next game].”
This is the reality in a league as deep as the Big East this year, where there are eight teams in the top 25 and 10 teams making the NCAA tournament is in play.
For all the minefields teams must navigate through, a league this deep presents opportunities.
“The good thing is you always have quality wins to get. The tough thing is they can break your will,” said Brey.
Even if you don’t let it break your will, you still have to be prepared to keep fighting battles.
“We didn’t really have time to dwell on [the consecutive losses] because every other day there’s pretty much another game we have to get prepared for and focus for,” said senior point guard Malik Boothe, who was given the game ball after scoring 14 points against Notre Dame.
The Red Storm have defeated two top 25 teams in the same season for the first time since 2005-06. If they want to be a tournament team again after a nine year absence, the Johnnies will have to continue to pick up victories over ranked teams.
They’ll have no shortage of opportunities.
For more daily updates on St. John’s basketball, be sure to check the Storming the Court blog.