Just one year removed and the roles have swapped entirely.
The St. John's Red Storm (10-15, 4-9) will travel to Newark on Tuesday night to face the Seton Hall Pirates (17-8, 6-7) at the Prudential Center. The Hall, led by second-year head coach Kevin Willard, are scratching and clawing for an opportunity to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 2006.
St. John's, whose postseason hopes have dwindled in recent weeks, knows that there is unfinished business to take care of. The Pirates snapped the Johnnies' incredible six-game win streak last March at the Prudential Center, keeping St. John's from a 13-5 conference record, sole possession of third place in the Big East, and a double-bye in the conference tournament.
No, these Pirates aren't seeking an automatic pass to the third day at the Garden in a few weeks. Rather, they're fighting for something even more important. An NCAA Tournament selection would give a senior class that once belonged to estranged head coach Bobby Gonzalez a memory to remember forever.
More, below the fold.
Seton Hall fans don't want to hear the words that make a fan more nervous than anything in the world. It's an avoid-at-all-costs kind of thing.
Tuesday's game against St. John's is an absolute, indisputable must win.
The Pirates have had a roller coaster season - thrilling victories and disappointing losses. But, on Valentine's Day, they're right in the thick of things. They virtually control their own destiny, though it may be a bit early to make that distinction.
St. John's enters Tuesday's tilt approaching from the other extreme. It's been a season of struggle in terms of wins and losses for a young group who may have been expected to achieve more than plausible. The Red Storm can ruin Seton Hall's season with a victory. An "upset" in more ways than one, perhaps.
This is what the Big East is about - or at least what it is supposed to be about anyway. One team has everything to play for, while the other nothing. That's what it would seem. But these games are about pride. Something to prove.
And that's before you factor in Metropolitan bragging rights.
Seton Hall is fueled by its seniors, most notably Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope. They're coming off two of its biggest wins of the season - a reclamation of Jersey pride over Rutgers and a nail biter over Pittsburgh. Already with seven conferences losses, they cannot afford to fall again.
But, for the Johnnies, the game-by-game pressures are beginning to lax. A season that should have been defined by development and progress from the onset is now, well, all about that incremental improvement.
"If we play hard, we're going to win games," mentioned Moe Harkless. "I don't know when it's going to happen, but we're going to win games."
As losses have accumulated and the season has looked dim, the Red Storm continues to be confident. They'll need that swagger in Newark to steal one from the desperate Pirates.
Maybe it's time for St. John's to end a Seton Hall winning streak.