EYE OF THE STORM
Just when it appeared things couldn't get worse for St. John's, the once-proud program was rocked by an embarrassing episode in Pittsburgh early last Thursday morning after several members of the team brought a woman they had met at a strip club back to their hotel for a sexual encounter. (The woman first told police that she was raped, but one player produced digital sound and images recorded on his cellphone, in which the woman reportedly threatens the rape charge unless she's paid for the sex.) The school expelled senior forward Grady Reynolds, is seeking expulsion for sophomore guard Elijah Ingram and senior center Abe Keita, and suspended senior center Mohamed Diakite and freshman forward Lamont Hamilton, leaving the Red Storm with just four scholarship players, three of whom are seniors. After a blowout loss to Boston College on Sunday, St. John's (5-15,0-9 in the Big East) figures to finish with the most losses in school history and likely won't qualify for next month's Big East tournament.
Whoever is hired as a permanent replacement for Mike Jarvis, who was fired on Dec. 19, faces a difficult road. Because the NCAA allows schools to award just five scholarships in a single year, the Storm may have as few as six players on scholarship next year.
The NCAA may soon consider eliminating the mandatory two-year waiting period that prevents teams that have just joined Division I from playing in their conference I tournaments. That, however, won't happen soon enough to help Birmingham-Southern, which was in first place in the Big South Conference at week's end with a 10-2 record (17-5 overall) but most likely won't get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament since that would require an at-large bid. Still, if there's any justice, the Panthers should be invited to the NIT if they win the regular-season title, especially since that tournament expanded from 32 to 40 teams two years ago.
UNDER THE RADAR
Bryant Matthews, Sr., F, Virginia Tech
When teams play Virginia Tech, the first item in the scouting report is always the same: Stop Matthews. With a nose for the basket and a knack for doing what it takes, Matthews was leading the Big East in scoring (23.6 points per game) and was second in rebounding (9.7 boards per game) at week's end, but he gets little attention because the Hokies (9-10, 2-6 in the Big East) don't play any games on national television this season and have never qualified to play in the conference tournament.
Matthews was passed over by higher-profile programs because, coming out of Columbia (S.C.) High, where he also played wide receiver, he was considered a better prospect in football than in basketball. Former Virginia Tech coach Ricky Stokes was one of the few to offer him a hoops scholarship.