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ESPN’s Lunardi predicts NCAA Tournament For SJU

The Johnnies are gaining national attention

Team leaders Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon
Wendell Cruz

ESPN’s Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi has liked what he’s seen in the early going from the Johhnies. In his latest bracket predictions, he has the Johnnies making the big dance as an 11-seed.

In this projection, St. John’s would be a participant of the East region, taking on sixth-seeded Cincinnati in the first round of action.

ESPN’s December 21st Bracketology screenshot

As many predicted before the season started, the Red Storm have taken care of their non-conference schedule much better than in Head Coach Chris Mullin’s first two seasons. Their only two blemishes have been against Missouri in the AdvoCare Invitational and in Los Angeles against third-ranked Arizona State.

In that game on the west coast against the Sun Devils, an 82-70 final score didn’t tell the whole story. The team played well, being down as little as one-point in the final two minutes while missing starting guard Marcus LoVett, who was injured during the UCF win.

In the absence of the talented ball handler, defensive pest and best outside shooter, the team has performed well. They’ve gone 4-1, with that loss coming against Arizona State.

LoVett’s backcourt partner Shamorie Ponds has been the team’s primary scoring option. He had struggled with his outside shooting percentages in the early part of the season, but an extremely efficient performance Wednesday in Connecticut against St. Joe’s suggest he might have shot himself out of the slump.

Furthermore, in a much maligned front court, Tariq Owens has shown a nice touch in the midrange, while junior forward Kassoum Yakwe his shown flashes of his breakout freshman season. Both look more comfortable on offense, and on defense they’ve been exactly what fans expected. Owens currently ranks top 5 in the country in blocked shots.

This team looks to be talented enough to make a run into the tournament. In transition, St. John’s are one of the most athletic teams in the country.

However, slow starts have been a recurring problem. Against non-conference opponents, the team has been able to claw their way back and take control in most games. Against Big East opponents, overcoming deficits could be a different story.

Can St. John’s maintain their in-your-face defensive intensity against higher quality opponents? The Johnnies have certainly bought into what Coach Mullin has been preaching all offseason.

After the Christmas break, St. John’s begins the grueling Big East schedule, with three games to serve as a litmus test. The Red Storm face Providence at home, then takes the bus across the river to face Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Seton Hall; after those games, the Red Storm travel out west to take on a ranked Creighton squad in Omaha.