Is the St. John's season over?
We don't know. But we do know that their Big East Tournament run is over. And the discontent begins. Steve Lavin isn't satisfied... and neither are the fans.
In the postgame comment thread, fans have expressed disappointment at how the end of the season went, the promise of a 15-8 team (and 7-4 in conference) dashed by a 1-7 ending. Note, of course, that except for surging Providence, the Red Storm lost to a much harder schedule of NCAA Tournament teams.
Maybe the dismay about the season is built in part on the structure of the season. The Johnnies got to feast on the bottom four teams in the league in four consecutive games in late January, pushing a winning streak to five.
If those wins were distributed differently - say, a win over DePaul between the Syracuse and Louisville games - would you feel differently about the team's record?
There is a lot of hand wringing in the papers, and you can read our media links post to catch up with what others are saying. There is enough to say about Lavin's postgame speech - which might be his last of the season, or not, dependent on the NIT.
Coach Lavin spoke about the challenges of the season and of his optimism for next season. Jaden (contributor here and writer at his own site, Daly Dose of Hoops) provides some postgame quotes from Steve Lavin.
"I was very open about the fact that this would be the most challenging season of my coaching career because it's the youngest team I've ever been a part of or covered. I don't know if there has been a younger team, but it's just very unusual. I'm proud that this young group had to come of age in the toughest league in America. It's kind of the 'school of hard knocks,' and I think that will pay off for us after whatever happens next week, spring, summer, our foreign tour, and coming back next year."
"We were playing a team tonight that's going to be in the same situation we're in next year, a hungry group of players that didn't get to the winner's circle the last two years, didn't get to experience the NCAA Tournament. The future is bright. Like I said earlier this week, as a coach, you always have a four or five-year plan. I think we were a whisker from being 10-8 or 11-7 in this league. We just have to move forward and learn from it. There are a number of areas, both individually and collectively as a group. I told them I'm proud of them, and we'll get better."
Lavin's evaluation of St. John's losing eight of their last ten games:
"There were some things beyond these kids' control, and I told them I'm proud of the way they dealt with things. The losing streak started the day I found out my dad was going to die. Things happen, but I share a major part of the responsibility in the fact that we didn't finish as well as we would have liked to. Sometimes, there are takeaways and lessons even in that, because there is no coaching manual on having a father die, and I've never navigated through something like that in my career. From February 3rd forward, it's been really tough. That's probably why I feel as close to this team as any in my coaching career, and why I'm so grateful to work with them, looking forward to brighter days ahead, to the future with these kids. They deserve it. They're a good group, and they're going to do special things before their careers are over, both here and beyond in basketball and in life."
Lavin sounds hopeful in his postgame talk, and in truth, recent weeks have seen him a little beaten down by the tumult around his team.
Next year, though, the School of Hard Knocks season they had needs to result in wins. The conference will be easier by a decent margin, but not easy; the incoming and remaining Big East teams (or also-moving Big East teams, if that's your semantic desire) are solidly improving.
There are issues that we will be tracking this spring, and on-court development that badly needs to happen before next fall. A summer tour is ideal for a group that needs to make another step.
This year has been incremental progress. But given the highly touted recruiting class of 2011, and supplemental class of 2012 - along with the coach-inspired hype about Orlando Sanchez - fan expectations and impatience will be high next season, whether the Johnnies play in the NIT or not.
Hope sprang high this season with a string of wins, but when faced with chances to knock off bigger, better teams, and to be crowned one of the best 34 at-large teams, the Red Storm were found wanting, and without enough scorers to replace D`Angelo Harrison, booted from the team for being detrimental to the team concept.
Kudos on Lavin for establishing order, but offensive issues were loud and bright alarms even before Harrison's frustrations and personality caused a rift.
Can D`Angelo Harrison come back? And if he comes back, can he improve from the struggling guard we saw in the month of February?
Can Orlando Sanchez cure what ails the Red Storm?
Can JaKarr Sampson get better?
Can the team find post offense? A shooter?
Can the team come together and knock off teams like Syracuse, who come to the Garden this December?
The guy waiting his turn may be a savior; he may not. The team as a whole has to develop into a cohesive unit that scores enough to support the defensive improvements - the change in the team may not be on one team member, but in familiarity and experience and player development.
In an offseason where his talented sophomore class become upperclassmen (and possibly one of the "oldest" teams in the NCAA in a sudden leap, the coach and his staff face a great many questions without a clear answer in sight.