Back in mid-December, St. John's picked apart Syracuse's 2-3 zone and knocked down 12-threes on their way to shocking victory at Madison Square Garden over a team that was just a few weeks removed from finishing first in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Johnnies were riding high and had two winnable games against Incarnate Word and NJIT on deck, but the season quickly took a difficult (but expected) turn.
Nearly two months later, the Johnnies have lost 15-games in a row and have yet to record a Big East Conference victory. And with just six match-ups remaining (Villanova, DePaul twice, Creighton, Seton Hall and Providence), the regular season is quickly coming to a close.
All the losing may be taxing on a roster filled with freshman and inexperienced upperclassmen, but instead, the Johnnies have impressed head coach Chris Mullin with their dedication and superb work ethic.
"I think the pros of this team is their attitudes," Mullin said during the Big East Coaches Conference call on Thursday. "They are really good kids. Great teammates, hard workers. Their character, work ethic and the way they conduct themselves (is outstanding)."
Just imagine how difficult it must be to have the longest losing streak in the nation. Or to be one of just four major conference teams to be winless in conference play. Or to be two games clear of DePaul for just 9th in the Big East standings.
The positive energy bodes well for earning a win in the next few weeks and most importantly, it bodes well for the future. The freshman continue to show the coaching staff that they are capable of taking adversity in stride at the Division I level and that they can wipe the slate clean and play with passion following a major disappointment.
Some credit also should go out to Mullin and his coaching staff for preaching a 'day-to-day' attitude, focusing on the fundamentals and stressing that with hard work and purposeful play, the team will eventually be victorious. And don't forget about Ron Mvouika, who has shown excellent leadership throughout the season and has proved to be a remarkable mentor for these high character first year players.
Regardless, the Johnnies still have a talent deficit when they step on the floor and it won't get any easier Saturday night. They will have to push their two recent blowouts behind them for a date against the number one team in the country Villanova. This will be a daunting task but Mullin is hopeful that his squad can play with the purpose and the force that they showed in the first half of the first meeting against 'Nova.
"We haven't been going into games expected to win so I always talk about the opportunity," Mullin said. "That opportunity only comes if you play hard, with energy and if your mentally focused on the game-plan. The preparation is important leading up to the game. Then when the game comes you have to just play free.
"Whatever their number (ranking) is, to me it doesn't matter that much. More importantly we want to show progress and play unselfish. We want to play a little deeper in the second half (this time), put some pressure on and see what they are made of."