St. John's Is Peaking at Exactly the Right Time

Dwight Hardy leads Johnnies to second straight Big East road win

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    To make any kind of noise in the NCAA Tournament, you're going to have to play twice in three days on unfamiliar courts against quality opposition.

    After Tuesday night, you can go ahead and consider St. John's ready, willing and able to take on such an undertaking. The Red Storm held off Cincinnati on Sunday and then knocked off Marquette 80-68 to complete a two-game road trip in the Midwest that leaves them as solid a tournament team as you could possibly want with five games left to play. A total collapse, let's say 1-5 including the Big East Tournament, could still keep them out, but it is quite hard to see that happening.

    For starters, the Red Storm are peaking right now. They've won five of six games at exactly the point where their tournament hopes seemed to be on life support. They've done it in varying ways, but they always seem to save their best for the biggest moments of the game.

    On Tuesday night, that came when Marquette opened up a seven-point lead in the second half after the two teams went to the locker room tied at 38. They stepped up their defense, started taking the ball to the hoop and saw the home team fall apart.

    That kind of reserve speaks to the experience of this St. John's team. Seniors make up most of the rotation and their chemistry serves the Red Storm well when the tide starts to turn against them. It's true that this group hasn't tasted much success on the court, but that might even help them more at this point because they know they don't have another chance to go dancing.

    Dwight Hardy certainly plays with that kind of desire. He scored 28 points on Tuesday night and has averaged more than 25 during this impressive six-game run. The Bronx native plays like a member of the great New York point guard lineage, full of swaggering confidence and eye-popping athleticism, which is just as it should be for the leader of the first St. John's team to matter in ages.

    It would be wrong for the Johnnies to get complacent right now because there's still a chance the bottom could fall out. Feeling confident is easy, though. Games against DePaul, South Florida and Seton Hall remain on the slate, so it doesn't seem like that much longer until we'll stop talking about if St. John's makes the tournament and start discussing how far they're going to go once they get there.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.