This ranking of the greatest college basketball programs was incredibly tight. By assigning a numerical value to how schools compare in several categories (NCAA tournament success, number of wins, tournament titles, NBA players produced, among others), it came down to the slimmest of margins.
This is important because No. 19, St. John's, starts off a run of nine programs separated by essentially a great season or two. Perhaps a Final Four berth or a conference crown combined with another team's sub-par season would vault one school ahead of another.
And that's what St. John's has been missing for some time – some semblance of hoops success. It's been to just five NCAA tournaments since Lou Carnesecca retired after the 1992 season and has missed the last six. NCAA penalties for rules violations haven't helped, either.
St. John's was among the most successful teams in each decade from 1930 to 1990 (winning at least 70 percent of its games except for the '50s, when it won a mere 69 percent of 'em), while serving as the East Coast's hoops hotbed for talent.
(The Red Storm has always produced more than its fair share of NBA players, from Dick McGuire to Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson to Ron Artest. Only Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA have sent significantly more players to the pros.)
St. John's has 27 NCAA tournament appearances, two Final Fours and 1,670 wins in just over 100 years, good for a .6627 win percentage (10th best in D-I history).
But most impressively, the Red Storm own the NIT.
St. John's has 27 NIT appearances, 6 titles and have another finished among the top four an additional 10 times, by far the best performance of any team in the tournament's history.
Which makes sense, too. Playing in NYC always gave St. John's an edge and usually made it the school's preferred postseason tourney until the 60s. Consider that legendary St. John's coach Joe Lapchick (career record 334-130) had just one NCAA tourney berth, but four NIT titles. The first two, in 1943 and 1944, would've been considered the trophy in college hoops.
Still, quantifying that St. John's NIT success isn't easy. Is it worth an NCAA tournament title? Two? Three? Hard to say. All of which is to say St. John's seems like a program that should be higher than 19th, but somehow isn't. (Much the same way I thought Temple and N.C. State would've been higher.)
This shouldn't overshadow any of the Red Storm's glorious history.
Starting with the "Wonder Five" and their 24-game win streak in the 20s, coach James "Buck" Freeman set the stage for their hoops tradition. The team was 88-8 in Freeman's first four seasons, and he would finish 177-31 in nine seasons.
Lapchick replaced Freeman and emerged as a larger-than-life figure, both because of his 6-foot-5 frame and his winning ways a coach for St. John's and the Knicks.
Simply put, he was adored by the press and the fans. From Gus Alfieri's book, "Lapchick":
The sports editor of the New York Post, Ike Gellis, was a very good friend of Lapchick's. Gellis once said something like, If Joe Lapchick assassinated John F. Kennedy in Times Square in broad daylight, no one would write about it the next day.Retrieved from "http://hoopedia.nba.com/index.php/St._John%27s_Red_Storm"
Even when Lapchick left to coach the Knicks in 1947, he was replaced by another Hall of Fame coach, Frank McGuire, (that's three, with Lapchick, Carnesecca and McGuire), who led the team to the NCAA title game in 1952. He departed for North Carolina after that and Lapchick returned to St. John's in 1956.
When he retired in 1965, his assistant Carnesecca took over and more success followed. The pair formed the basis for all things St. John's basketball. Even now, it's hard to escape their shadow.
When Carnesecca guided St. John's to its second Final Four in 1985 (his loaded squad included future NBA stars Chris Mullin, Walter Berry and Mark Jackson), a 31-4 season ended with a loss to Big East nemesis Georgetown, who would lose to another Big East team, Villanova, in the final.
Between the trademark sideline sweater and affable ways with the press, Carnesecca was a Big East mainstay for years, even if he wasn't a huge fan of having then-independent St. John's joining the new league in 1980. He didn't want to schedule those same teams – Syracuse and Georgetown, for example, every season.
Still, after a few years he recognized how important the league's rivalries would become, and took away many fond memories.
"One time we were playing Seton Hall, everything went in, I had the players,'' he told the N.Y. Times. ''We're up by 40 in the second half, and I mean, I'm using everybody. I feel a tap on my shoulder. It's the Seton Hall manager. He handed me a slip of paper. He said Coach Raftery wanted me to read it. It said, 'I surrender.' He surrendered! And he said, 'P.S.: If you want to work against a zone, I'll do it.' Great personalities.''
Next Tuesday: No. 18 on the list of greatest programs.