The Big East Tournament Is Going to Rock This Year

St. John's will have some serious home-court advantage come tourney time

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Whether we're talking about the professional or collegiate game, the buzzword for basketball in New York this season is relevancy.

    The Knicks might be hovering around .500 and engaged in the most prolonged trade talks since Nixon went to China, but the fact that people are actually dying over whether or not to trade Timofey Mozgov shows you how much people care about the team again. And they aren't even New York's biggest basketball success story this year.

    That would be the St. John's Red Storm. After Saturday's 60-59 win over Pitt, the Johnnies are dancing in the heights of the Big East with a 9-5 conference record. With games left against DePaul, Rutgers and South Florida, it isn't unthinkable that they could wind up with a top-four seed when the Big East tournament kicks off next month.

    It might not play out that way, but the mere fact that it is on the table makes the mind boggle. So does the fact that you can't have a serious discussion about Coach of the Year without including Steve Lavin. When Lavin was at UCLA, he had a reputation as a great recruiter who was lost when the game was in progress. This year, though, he's taken a team laden with seniors put together by others and extracted results far beyond anything they managed in their first three years in the program.

    Give the players, especially the remarkable Dwight Hardy, credit, but don't sell Lavin short. This team takes punches and then returns them with twice as much force. In a physical war with a very good Pitt team Saturday, they never backed down and never shied away from doing everything they needed to secure a win.

    That was never the case with Lavin's UCLA teams full of prima donnas who faded when faced with adversity. All preconceived notions about Lavin have been confounded, which makes you think we're just scratching the surface because he's got a great class coming in next year.  

    Not that anyone should be looking that far ahead just yet. The Pitt conquest marks the fifth win at MSG over a top-15 opponent this season and they are 7-1 on the Garden floor overall. The crowd will be a bit more mixed than usual come the tournament, but there will still be the ghosts of the past on their side at the first Big East tournament to feel like an event in its home town for a long, long time.

    Pick against Lavin's boys at your own risk and that message remains come the big dance when you have to like a team that's survived the Big East bloodbath as well as the Red Storm have this season.

    We're way past relevancy now, boys and girls.

    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.