Hot Johnnies host Creighton in dire need of a ‘W’

Published on Sunday, 2/9/14, at 12:15 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

Editor’s note: We could have gone with a picture of Steve Lavin with product galore in his hair, but our better judgement prompted us to give the greatness of Emmanuelle Chriqui some love on the home page. 

After losing five straight games, including a pair of nail-biters at the end of the slump, St. John’s has caught fire. Any opinions on the Steve Lavin Era in Queens are incomplete, and, if he has it his way, those thoughts from the peanut gallery will be of a positive nature.

Lavin took over at UCLA for Jim Harrick after his drama led to his pre-Athens demise in 1996-97, leading the Bruins to five consecutive Sweet 16 appearances and six straight Tournament bids before the wheels came off in a disastrous 2002-2003 year that prompted his dismissal.

Lavin, a Gene Keady protege who paid his dues at Purdue as an assistant from 1988-1991, is in his fourth season at St. John’s. He took the Red Storm to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade in his initial campaign in Queens. However, Lavin was diagnosed with prostate cancer the following year and missed most of the 2011-2012 campaign, a season in which the Red Storm failed to qualify for the postseason.

Following an NIT bid last year, the pressure was on for the Johnnies coming into 2013-2014. Lavin has recruited extremely well during his tenure at St. John’s (just as he did at UCLA), but with his health back at 100 percent it was time to produce this season.

Things started poorly in Big East play, as the Red Storm lost its first five conference games. But St. John’s is in top form going into tonight’s crucial showdown vs. Creighton.

The Red Storm has won five of its last six games both straight up and against the spread, including scalps at Providence and vs. Marquette. However, the Johnnies still have work galore to do for their resume because they don’t own a victory over an RPI Top-50 opponent. In fact, SJU is 3-8 against RPI Top-100 foes.

Creighton brings an RPI Ranking of ninth into NYC, so a victory for St. John’s would be huge and most likely put it on the fringe of the bubble conversation with seven regular-season games remaining, including four against RPI Top-100 foes.

I made St. John’s a 2.5-point home favorite after watching it dismantle a solid Providence squad on the road earlier this week. The Red Storm jumped all over the Friars from the opening tip and cruised to an 86-76 victory as a three-point underdog in a game that the wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

With a 5.5-point difference between my number and the actual line (Creighton -3), I’m confident we’re getting excellent line value with a play on St. John’s, which has won three straight home games.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like this Creighton squad. But it played Friday night and is facing a quick turnaround and probably won’t have the urgency that St. John’s will bring into this game. I like the Johnnies to win outright.

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