For Justin Burrell it’s been “four long years,” for fans of the team it’s been even longer.
St. John’s (17-9, 9-5) – for the first time since 2000 – has crashed the top 25 rankings.
The #23/25 (AP/Coaches Poll) Johnnies have returned to the rankings on the strength of winning six of seven, including wins over three top ten teams, culminating with Saturday’s thrilling, last second victory over #4 Pitt.
The Johnnies have not been ranked since coming in at #24 on November 28, 2000 in the AP poll, and have been left out of the Coaches poll since the last ranking of the 1999-2000 season.
Owners of the toughest schedule in the nation, St. John’s has been on the precipice of the top 25 this year; they’ve been highly rated in the RPI and have received votes in multiple weeks, but never enough to crack the rankings.
But now on the strength of five victories over ranked opponents, including four in the top ten, and sitting in fourth place in the toughest conference in the country, St. John’s could no longer be denied.
For the ten Red Storm seniors this day has been a long time coming.
“It’s been four long years without one of those numbers. So I’m really excited,” said senior Justin Burrell. “We deserve to see that number.”
“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.
Though they have reached the rankings, the team knows their job is not done.
“We’ll enjoy it for a while, but at the same time, we can lose that number just like that,” said the two-time reigning Big East player of the week Dwight Hardy after beating Pitt. “So we just gotta stay focused and stay positive and keep working hard so we can maintain that number.”
“We’re not going to get complacent now. We just have to keep it going, and keep getting better,” said Boothe.
The storied university, which has the seventh most victories all-time, has hit a rough patch over the past decade since their last tournament appearance in 2002. This year under the tutelage of first year coach Steve Lavin, the Johnnies, and their fans, have been rejuvenated.
“Being from here, myself and my teammates are proud of the resurgence of college basketball in New York, and getting the city back,” said Boothe.
The tournament was a goal for Lavin before the season started, but how quickly this team has become a legitimate threat surprised even the coach.
“I think we are ahead of schedule in terms of the high-level of basketball that we have played in six of the last seven games,” said Lavin. “My hope was to, by March, have a dangerous, opportunistic team that could beat anybody in the country, that didn’t bring an A game or if they over looked us.”
Lavin is correct that the Johnnies are both dangerous and opportunistic, but now it doesn’t matter if the opponent brings their A game; the Johnnies can play with, and beat, any team in the country on any day. And for the first time in nearly a decade they’ll get the chance to show it in on the national stage in March.