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St. John's, characterized by wild mood swings

How can a team be down 15 and up 11 in the same game?

St. John's is now at home and back on social media following the final loss of the season, an 11 point loss to NEC champion Robert Morris in the NIT that wasn't actually that close. It was a resounding thud in a season that seemed to have promise in stretches and hopelessness in others.

How did this season come to this?

Maybe it's always been like this. Maybe every game has been a mini-version of the season.

Consider: the Red Storm went on the run in the season, starting with the win over Dartmouth, that led to the Red Storm harboring real hope of an NCAA Tournament. The Johnnies looked to have an inside track, only to fall victim to a lack of attention, or passion, or just forget their desperation - we don't know what's in their minds, we can only guess.

Consider: remember the Creighton game in Omaha? St. John's began with some passion, with Jamal Branch and Rysheed Jordan attacking the Bluejays.

Then the Johnnies fell victim to hot shooting. Down 18, the Red Storm looked dead on the road. But under pressure, they put the pressure back on the Bluejays, looking at first "competent" and then as if they could really, really steal this game despite being down so much.

And in the last seconds, with the game back to even, the Red Storm switch poorly on Doug McDermott, who clinically dispatches the Johnnies hopes with a three.

Just like a season that has hot streaks, brought the Red Storm back to the cut line of the NCAA Tournament, only to lose focus and lose crucial games when they counted, failing in the big moment despite the talent to get close enough to taste the moment.

This isn't a discussion about flops - or at least not only about flops. It is instructive to think about the defining moments of the season:

- St. John's travels to South Dakota with a chance to knock off a highly-rated opponent; they get worked over for a half by Wisconsin, but mounts a comeback to make the score respectable. The Johnnies were down by as much as 18, but lost by 11.

- St. John's enters a tournament in Brooklyn against a high-major opponent, gets down to Penn State, gets worked over for a half, but mounts a comeback, takes a lead, makes the score respectable but loses in OT. ST. John's was down 15, ended up leading by two points with 10 seconds to go in regulation, and lost  by 7.

- St. John's looks like they're about to be blown out by Georgia Tech, mounts a come back, beats first major conference foe. They were 15 points down, but won by 11.

& on.

Whether it was Syracuse or Longwood, whether Georgetown or Providence, St. John's had a special ability to play wild games, filled with swings. St. John's was a stranger to those taut close games, those back and forth battles. Instead, St. John's could spend half a game getting blown out and six minutes looking like the most dominant team in the country.

The smallest spread between the most St. John's was down (or the least they were up) and the least they were down (or the most they were up) was ten points. Why does that matter? It speaks to the volatility of the team, their ability to be down a significant amount to any team and to make a run and either win or make it respectable. The graphic below doesn't account for wins and losses - just the volatility.


The spreads don't answer the question of how this season ended up like this, but let it serve as a reminder of a team that could both be a roman candle and a dud in the same night.

Furious comebacks speak to a team's ability to bounce back. But deep holes speak to a team's ability to lose focus, to be sloppy on defense and to be affected by stretches of poor performance.

Can the team of sophomores and juniors return as juniors and seniors to find enough consistency that they get on top of the Longwoods of the world and handle their business? And with those lessons, can they topple the Villanovas and Syracuses? Is the problem schematic, offensive, or emotional?

Will this team deliver on its enormous potential?