St. John's guard Mustapha Heron dunks against Marquette during a quarterfinal game of the Big East conference tournament on March 14, 2019, at Madison Square Garden.

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Keidel: St. John's Tries To Take Another Step Back Toward Relevance In NCAA Tournament

Red Storm Face Arizona State Wednesday Night

Jason Keidel
March 20, 2019 - 12:30 pm

The charm of March Madness, beyond the hardwood anarchy of all those games, is it manages to bridge basketball and spring for the Big Apple. It's that time in the sports calendar that opens a portal into April while keeping us madly entertained. 

Locally, however, there hasn't been much to cheer about. At least until Wednesday night, when St. John's takes on Arizona State in the last of First Four games to finalize the 64 teams pining for that national title. (The game tips off at 9:10 p.m. and can be heard on WFAN.)

Anyone from the five boroughs, at least with a few years under their belt, remembers the halcyon years of the Big East, when St. John's was a pillar in the best league in college hoops. While Villanova has carried the Big East flag to two national titles in three years, it's hard for us in this area to cherish the deeds down there. It's kind of like Giants fans rooting for the Eagles in the Super Bowl. 

St. John's coach Chris Mullin was in the vortex of that Big East of the 1980s -- especially in 1985, when the conference sent three teams to the Final Four -- and is trying to carry his alma mater back to relevance. He knows, more than we do, that he has to win Wednesday night to say the Red Storm were truly part of this year's dance. Even if they technically qualified by squeezing into this game, we start scratching our brackets in earnest Thursday.

There are a couple of tasty narratives in this game. You have an old-world power surging back to the back page. And there's the Sun Devils' head coach, Bobby Hurley, whose New Jersey family oozes history. (Even if he goes by Bob, it's hard for some of us to recall him as anything but Bobby.)

Related: Mike Francesa Interviews Chris Mullin Ahead Of NCAA Tournament

Hurley was the point guard on perhaps the most loved and loathed team ever -- the Duke teams of the '90s, led by Hurley, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill. They went to three straight NCAA championship games, winning the last two, while pressing every kind of cultural hot button along the way. Hurley's father, Bob, had a legendary career -- including 26 state titles -- coaching St. Anthony High School in Jersey City. Hurley's brother, Dan (aka Danny), is the head coach at another monolithic college program, Connecticut.

Of course, the NCAA Tournament is a seismic sports event that ripples from coast to coast. And a cynic could assert that the nation's interest will be held as long as Zion Williamson is playing. The surreal athletic splendor of the Duke Blue Devils could be the last we see on a college court, as the NBA may erase the rule that requires a kid to wait a year after high school before entering the NBA. For the die-hard college basketball fan, or a walking encyclopedia like Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports and WFAN, there will always be themes to the tournament. 

But almost all news is local, so while Iona or Fairleigh Dickinson or any number of schools that freckle our area can make some noise in March, St. John's is particularly poignant. Not only for the over-40 crowd, but also alums (including Mike Francesa), New Yorkers and anyone who remembers the program before they became the Red Storm, when the team's patriarch, Lou Carnesecca, paced along the bench belching orders in his uniquely raspy voice.

It's also comforting to know the old man is still around to see his school, and one of his favorite hardwood sons, back where they belong. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.​