Posted by Matt Jones
A quick scan of what you should care about from Monday's slate of games:
St John’s is for real
We knew going into the season that St. John’s would be improved. Steve Lavin’s club had its supporters, including Rick Pitino, whose comment that the Red Storm would win the Big East made one wonder if he lost more than his stamina in his old age. However an NCAA berth still seemed a stretch to many and early success in the Big East was met with more skepticism than compliments. With tonight’s 61-58 victory over Georgetown, it has now become clear that St. John’s will be a force for the entire Big East season. The Red Storm finished strong down the stretch and had the Garden rocking in a manner that doesn’t’ yet hearken back to the days of Mullin, Berry and Jackson, but does at least get the blood flowing. The next seven games however will give a test unlike any we have seen in college basketball in some time. St. John’s will play Notre Dame twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, Georgetown and Duke, all teams ranked in this week’s poll. If Steve Lavin’s team can simply come out of this stretch with a pulse, relevant college basketball in New York City could be back in February and March for the first time in over a decade.
Michigan State is on track
It has been the usual difficult trip for Tom Izzo and the Spartans during the nonconference season. An ambitious schedule led to more losses than Michigan State had hoped and the start of Big Ten play brought some trepidation about how the team would fare in a much-improved conference with significantly more depth. Tonight’s 65-62 win at Northwestern helps alleviate some of the initial worries, as Sparty controlled tempo and helped keep the Wildcats’ star John Shurna at bay, holding him to 11 points on 1-11 shooting. Northwestern fought back from a late deficit with an 12-0 run that put them within one with, as Kalin Lucas went to the line with 13 seconds left. After a free throw miss, Draymond Green made another big play for Izzo’s team, by getting a key offensive rebound and scoring to solidify the win. It was a tough loss for Northwestern, who needs a couple of resume building wins for March, while Michigan State showcased that even with the early struggles, it is exactly where we believed it would be in the preseason…atop the Big Ten and grinding out victories on the way to postseason.
Butler and Florida State are Fraudulent
Two weeks ago in Hawaii, Butler and Florida State faced each other in a well-played game that suggested both teams were ready to make real noise going into conference play. Butler had seemed to overcome its horrendous star, while the Seminoles seemed poised to overcome their traditional underachieving and become a real contender for the title of second best team in the ACC. In fact, the game was so engrossing that I almost forgot that I was watching it two days before Christmas and risking the wrath of my entire family. Now tonight it was proven once again that both teams are the frauds that we thought before their Hawaiian adventure. Butler was embarrassed in a conference game, losing 76-52 to Milwaukee in a game that will cripple the Bulldogs’ at-large berth potential come March. Even worse, Florida State lost 65-60 to the worst college basketball team in a BCS conference, Auburn. Previously the Tigers had fallen to UNC-Asheville, Campbell, Presbyterian and Samford, but luckily for Tony Barbee’s team, the schedule brought the disappointment juggernaut that is Florida State into its arena and with it, a much-needed victory. For both Butler and Florida State, the promise of two weeks ago has diminished and reality has since set in. Each is the same team that we saw before they met in Hawaii, meaning neither is yet worth our full attention.