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How St. John's 'Stormed' back to top

St. John's huddle

St. John's huddle Credit: Getty Images

After a regular season that exceeded most expectations, No. 17 St. John’s is looking to excel in postseason play. In coach Steve Lavin’s first year, the Johnnies (20-10, 12-6 Big East) notched their first 20-win season since 2003. The fifth-seeded Red Storm play in the conference tourney’s second round tomorrow (2 p.m., ESPN).

Seniority rules under Lavin

St. John’s, with 10 seniors, is one of the most experienced teams in the country. Lavin got these players to buy into his system, and he has expressed his gratitude for their commitment.

Aggressive style of play

An athletic team that likes to play at a fast tempo, the Red Storm often utilizes a full-court press before falling back into an aggressive zone defense. Offensively, they are unselfish — often passing up a good shot for an even better one.

Season-long Garden party

The Red Storm owned Madison Square Garden this season, posting a 7-1 record and beating a top-ranked team seemingly every week in 2011. After years of disappointing fan support, the Johnnies gave local college basketball fans a reason to cheer.

The star: Dwight Hardy

Point guard Hardy, right, is St. John’s leading scorer, averaging 17.9 points per game. The Big East’s Most Improved Player is the Red Storm’s only serious 3-point threat, as well as the man who will have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.

The glue guy: D.J. Kennedy

The 6-foot-5 swingman does a little bit of everything for St. John’s. Third on the team with a 10.7-point average, Kennedy is No. 1 in rebounding (5.9) and steals (1.8). “When D.J. plays well, it elevates our team to a new level,” Justin Burrell, the Big East’s Sixth Man Award winner, said recently.

Appraisal: A factor to go far in the Big East tournament

Given St. John’s success at MSG this year, the Red Storm has to be considered one of the favorites to win the Big East tournament. The path to the title, however, won’t be easy. Seton Hall or Rutgers could give St. John’s a tough game in the second round tomorrow, and a win would mean a matchup with Syracuse, the only team to beat St. John’s at the Garden this season. Lavin should have his team focused to play well knowing that each win will improve St. John’s seeding for the NCAA tournament.

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