Perhaps it was junior Rob Gottergan who summed up best the fighting mood at St. John's Queens campus as the Red Storm prepped to face the Gonzaga Bulldogs in tonight's first-round NCAA basketball matchup:
"We're going to do it for D.J."
Gottergan is talking about St. John's forward D.J. Kennedy, who suffered an ACL tear during the Johnnies' losing effort against Syracuse in the Big East Conference semifinal at Madison Square Garden last week.
And though Kennedy flew with the team on Wednesday to Denver, he won't be able to play in tonight's game — or in any other this season.
"He's a good player, but we have lots of seniors on the team this season," said St. John's junior Bernard Plashke, near the Franciscan school's Athletic Center. "We're deep."
With St. John's 21-11 record, and with some prominent college basketball talking heads calling the 2011 NCAA Tournament one of the most-evenly matched in years, some Red Storm fans were already looking past the first round to a potential matchup with BYU.
"I think we can win against those guys," Gottergan said.
But first the No. 6-seeded Red Storm will have to contend with No. 11 Gonzaga — a notorious scrappy squad with a history of toppling deep, talent-driven teams. Longtime college basketball fans will remember that it was the 'Zags that knocked out St. John's in the Round of 32 in the 2000 NCAA Tournament.
And it won't be just history that the St. John's will have to contend with. There’s also the NCAA tourney picks of inarguably the most closely watched basketball fan in the nation.
"I hope the President [Barack Obama]'s bracket isn't right, because he's got Gonzaga beating St. John's," Gottergan said.
The St. John's-Gonzaga first round Western Division matchup will be televised starting at 9:45 p.m. on CBS 2 tonight.