What does St. John's need to make the NCAA Tournament?

For the St. John's Red Storm's seniors, the big carrot at the end of this season is the NCAA Tournament. This is why they play the game, why they came to St. John's.

And despite a number of losses and a strange at-large resume for participation, the Red Storm are in the hunt. At 5-5 in the Big East, and with some tough contests coming up, they have work to do. But there is hope; the Johnnies are on the right side of the cut line, but they need to take care of business and improve on what they have done on the court so far in Big East play. 

This is crunch time.

What exactly does St. John's need to do to make the NCAA Tournament? An outline of what the Johnnies will need to do to break on through to the Tourney side, below.

For context, here is a look at the RPI rankings (taken from RPIRatings.com's estimations), Pomeroy rankings, and Sagarin rankings of St. John's opponents since conference play started, as of today (2/9/2011). I've also added average rankings by each metric for the first ten opponents (West Virginia -  Duke) and the second ten opponents (Rutgers - South Florida). Completed games are in grey:

Team
RPI
Pom Rk
Sagarin
St. John's 
22
53
35
West Virginia
17
19
19
Providence
100
66
78
Georgetown
5
16
10
Notre Dame
9
22
13
Syracuse
18
13
8
Notre Dame
9
22
13
Louisville
26
20
18
Cincinnati
38
30
20
Georgetown
5
16
10
Duke
8
4
5
Rutgers
101
79
86
UCLA
40
55
50
Connecticut (H)
10
17
12
Cincinnati (A)
38
30
20
Marquette (A)
64
26
29
Pittsburgh (H)
6
5
3
DePaul (H)
229
202
218
Villanova (A)
13
10
11
Seton Hall (A)
93
63
84
South Florida (H)
142
117
126
1st half OPPs
23.4
25.5
20.8
2nd half OPPs
73.6
60.4
63.9

 

Bracketologists seem to think the Big East can get more than 9 teams into the NCAA Tournament. I don't bank on that.

For a realistic chance, I think the Red Storm need to be at .500 in conference at the end of the Big East season, and not lose their first-round Big East game. They need to split their remaining games (4 wins, 4 losses). If they're over .500, I think they're a lock with their strength of schedule, which is #1 according to Jerry Palm ($ req'd).

The second half of the schedule is a more manageable beast - only 3 top-25 opponents. Unfortunately, three of the "winnable" games (Cincinnati, Marquette, and Seton Hall) are away, and two of the tougher games (Connecticut and Pittsburgh) are at home. The other two home games are at Carnesecca Arena, where St. John's has struggled to put opponents away. The other game is a road game at Villanova, who have come on strong of late.

A realistic NCAA Tournament berth would require wins against South Florida and DePaul, a win against two of Seton Hall/ Marquette/ Cincinnati (I would think Seton Hall + Cincinnati), and an upset win - over Connecticut (more likely), Pittsburgh, or Villanova (much less likely).

Doable?

Maybe. St. John's shouldn't lose to South Florida and DePaul at home. Seton Hall will be a tough game, but the Red Storm can beat them as well. The others will take strong game planning, smart play from the seniors, and more consistent performances and energy. With the 5 days off of game play, I expect the team to look to:

  • generate turnovers consistently.
  • find two consistent scorers. Preferably, it would be Justin Brownlee, who has struggled since the Louisville game with the exception of Duke, and hasn't performed well against taller players. It would be nice to see Dwight Hardy with continued scoring and some more time off of the ball, as well.
  • find a third scorer. Paris Horne for a few standstill jump shots per game, perhaps? D.J. Kennedy getting in the flow of the offense? An attacking Malik Boothe?
  • improve the post defense. Right now, it seems that any team with a solid low post scorer can have his way with St. John's bigs.

Can they make the necessary improvements and make the NCAA Tournament? What do you think?

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