Game Preview: NIT First Round vs. Robert Morris

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

St. John's has a path to the NIT title. Will they take it and send seniors like Orlando Sanchez out on a high note?

It might not have been what a lot of people around St. John's basketball had wanted, but it is postseason basketball.

After high hopes for a getting a seat at the big dance, St. John's (20-12, 10-8) has been asked to attend the junior prom, the NIT. The Red Storm were elected as a #1 seed, and will have home court advantage all the way to the final at Madison Square Garden, assuming they make it that far.

"It’s disappointing of course to not be in the NCAA Tournament,"  junior guard D'Angelo Harrison said on Sunday night, "but we have to have short term memory. We’re glad we got the No. 1 seed so that we can play at home and we’re going to try and win out."

Scouting St. John's

In their first NIT game on campus since 2003 (then named Alumni Hall) the Johnnies will meet the regular season NEC Champion, Robert Morris Colonials (21-13, 14-2). Tip off is slated for a 7 P.M. start and can be seen on ESPNU.

Fourth year head coach Steve Lavin is simply happy to be playing postseason basketball. He doesn't really seem bothered or irritated that it is the NIT.

"Anytime you get postseason experience, whether it is the NCAA or the NIT, it gives your younger players a chance to develop," Lavin said. "We start three underclassmen and we saw the development of this team as we went along over the course of the season."

A prime example of this is freshman Rysheed Jordan who just seemed to get better and better every time he was on the floor.

Lavin has made been to a postseason tournament three out of the four years he has been at St. John's. Lavin is looking at this as a chance for his players to play more games and continue to get better.

This could also be a coming out party for some players who have been flying under the radar a little bit.

Phil Greene IV has been shooting the ball unbelievably better this year, but has become more reserved than he was at the beginning of this year. He was very aggressive on the offensive side of the ball; now, sometimes he goes into a shell and gets away from attacking.

Another player who could emerge in his last games in a Red Storm uniform is Orlando Sanchez. He was arguably a bigger addition than Jordan in the summer because he gave a low post presence on both sides of the floor. He also has the potential to be so much more and yet we see him at times shy away from his strengths, choosing to take long jumpers.

Scouting Robert Morris

The Colonials have had their ups and downs this season as well. In fact, these teams are very similar in the fact they both faced a lot of adversity.

During their season their starting center and reserve guard quit the team.

Along with that, a few weeks later four players from the team were suspended. It certainly didn't affect them as they ran through the NEC.

On the court, this team will live and die by the three pointer. Head coach Andy Toole gives them the green light, and they certainly take it.

Toole admitted Monday that at times his team doesn't play their game against big conference opponents. "A bigger thing that happens sometimes is guys end up worrying about themselves because they're not as comfortable on the floor," he said. "They worry more about themselves versus worrying about the team, and not in a selfish way. In a survival-type way. 'I don't want this guy to dunk on me. I don't want this guy to embarrass me. As opposed to doing the things you would normally do in basketball. I think teams that have success in games like this play the same way against their high-major opponent as they do against any other opponent."

It's kind of perplexing to have Toole say this when his team has played in conference championships and NCAA Tournaments in the past.

Game Notes

St. John's has won 5 NIT Championships, most all-time. Their last championship in 2003 was vacated in 2006.

Karvel Anderson finished tied for first in scoring for the NEC with 19.1 PPG.

St. John's is 41-27 all-time in the NIT. 46-27 including the 2003 Tournament.

Predictions

St. John's 84 Robert Morris 69

What's your prediction?

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