The Red Storm vantage point is unique, precarious. A talented team just wants a chance to prove itself against the best, but has a couple of damaging losses - and only one marquee win - to bolster its case for the Big Dance. Close doesn't count for wins, and it doesn't count for losses.
St. John's fans know that a number of events need to break correctly for the Red Storm to have a real shot at an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament from the parity-riddled cluster that is two-thirds of the Big East Conference.
As of today, with just four more days of regular season play left, seven teams have a shot at .500 or better records, thanks to the beatability of DePaul and Butler and for most, Seton Hall. (Xavier couldn't crack that Pirate nut in two tries.)
There are plenty of good teams in the same boat as St. John's - good enough to be very good, but no proof that they should be one of 34 at-large teams chosen by the selection committee.
Last night's Big East games muddled the decision process for the selection committee - and for St. John's path through the Big East Tournament, as well.
Marquette took a chance to 10-7, took it to double overtime in Providence, and with a win almost in the bag, Jake Thomas got tied up on an inbounds play (shades of Max Hooper against... Providence! Ed Cooley has inbounds magic! And double-OT magic!) and Providence earned possession and the win.
Providence's RPI slides up to 51 per the RPI Forecast's update (so don't take that number as official), though with a softer strength of schedule at 62 - two important components of the selection committee's decision.
Georgetown decided to play to win on senior night, knocking off a suddenly-lackluster Creighton Bluejays side 75-63. Not only does that win take some of the luster from St. John's win over Creighton, who have now lost two straight, but the Hoyas' RPI slides up to 56 with a strong strength of schedule (14 per RPI Forecast; 24 per Real Time RPI). The Hoyas are gripping the side of on the NCAA bubble with St. John's, Providence and possibly Xavier.
Yes, the Hoyas have a worse record than St. John's at 8-9. But if St. John's loses on Saturday and Georgetown wins, that could leave, based on the tiebreaker scenarios (which I ran in my head based off of the linked document, let me know if I'm wrong):
- a 10-win Marquette in fifth place (unlike Xavier and Providence, the Eagles did not beat Creighton or Villanova);
- Georgetown in sixth place, with wins over both Creighton (as St. John's has) and Villanova (which St. John's doesn't have);
- and St. John's in seventh place, playing in the opening round against Butler (currently in last place) or DePaul (if Butler defeats the Blue Demons).
If St. John's wins and Xavier and Providence win, the Johnnies land in fifth place.
If St. John's wins and Xavier and Providence both lose, Xavier gets third place, Providence gets fourth because of their better head-to-head record against Xavier and St. John's gets fifth.
In other words: it's important to win on Saturday to avoid a meaningless extra game before an evening matchup with Creighton. A Creighton game COULD be beneficial, and the best way to the NCAAs for the Red Storm; Steve Lavin's team knows they can beat the Bluejays, though the McDermotts probably want to prove they can get by an athletic defense like St. John's.
Of course, if Villanova loses tonight and Saturday, Creighton wins the Big East because of their head-to-head dominance over the Wildcats. And Villanova would be the #2 seed in the tournament.
In other words: it's important to win on Saturday.