In truth, the St. John's predicament is the same as it was once the team fell to 0-5 in the Big East - the team needs to win games to get to the NCAA Tournament, and Marquette is a team that stands in the way.
The Johnnies will look to get back to the form that earned the Red Storm a 8-1 streak in Big East play before falling to Villanova and Xavier in a week of tumult and personal loss for the Johnnies. The Red Storm did defeat DePaul in a game that almost slipped away, but the team is still looking to recapture the play that reminded the country that Steve Lavin's charges could contend with the nation's best.
If the Johnnies win, the path to the NCAA Tournament is hard, given the Big East Tournament scenarios for the Red Storm. If they lose, the Johnnies may end up playing an extra game (but only if Georgetown wins), making their road even harder.
It's complex and confusing and at the heart of the permutation is: St. John's needs to beat every team that comes to the center circle for the face off.
Scouting St. John's
St. John's (19-11, 9-8) are on a two-game losing streak. But the players are preparing to come out and fight with the same hunger and aplomb that marked their hot streak.
"We're approaching this like winner takes all," said Phil Greene IV, "as if it's our last game. We're going to come out hungry, ready to fight."
Some of the battle has been evident; the Red Storm defense held both Villanova and Xavier to under 1 point per possession (which is impressive). But on offense, disjointed play, uncharacteristic turnovers (over 20% of the team's possessions in each game) and an inability to dictate the game with forced turnovers left the team looking as lackluster as early in the Big East season.
Is there a lot to take from the losses (and the close win over DePaul), considering they lost to the likely winner of the Big East and the team whose defense forces the Johnnies into their least efficient shots?
Maybe, maybe not. But the Johnnies need a win to keep their realistic at-large hopes alive - and then some wins in the Big east Tournament to prove themselves worthy of inclusion.
All season, there has been an expectation that maybe Marquette, with all of the talent and Buzz Williams' coaching, would break out.
It hasn't happened yet; the Golden Eagles continue to play hard, force turnovers, attack the basket and draw fouls. But except for a hot start against Xavier, the Golden Eagles have struggled to gain and maintain separation from Big East opponents all year.
Still, Buzz Williams is, as Steve Lavin called him after the first game between the teams, a "hip-pocket coach", meaning Williams will "go with whatever's working to put his team in the best position to win."
Make no mistake, Marquette has talent - from the size down low in Davante Gardner (15 points/ game, 6 rebounds/ game) and Chris Otule (6 points/g, 1 block/g) to the shooting/ scoring of Jake Thomas (8 pts/g, 39% 3-PT shooting) and Todd Mayo (11 pts/g) - to send the Red Storm home scrambling for answer: St. John's comes back together and plays with purpose on the road, pulling out a 71-61 win.
What's your winner/ score prediction?