With the last-minute win over Marquette on the road, St. John’s is back at 5-5 in the Big East, and has two marquee wins (though over the same team).
Now, the team needs to do themselves & the Big East a solid: win six or seven of their next eight.
The fundamentals are there; per Bart Torvik’s site, the Red Storm’s efficiency margin (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency, in points per 100 possessions) is third-best in the conference, just ahead of Creighton, and behind a still-dominant Villanova and Marquette.
The results have not been there. The Johnnies are stuck in the middle of the league’s pack, within one game in the league standings of DePaul, Georgetown, Butler, Seton Hall and Creighton. Two games separate the Red Storm from Providence and Xavier.
Efficiency margins are nice indicators, but when the selection committee sits in their room, eating canapés and quaffing seltzer between sips of espresso & figuring out ways to get 10 Big Ten teams into the tournament*, they won’t just see the NET rankings, they’ll see the good and bad losses.
* note: artist’s rendering of NCAA selection process
St. John’s has dropped home games to Georgetown and DePaul — both solid teams, but still not great losses. Those losses have diminished St. John’s stature. And since St. John’s defeated Marquette twice (perhaps because they have favorable matchups), when St. John’s loses, they take a little bit of Marquette’s reputation/ quantitative strength with them.
But if the Johnnies can find a way to defeat Butler, to handle Providence and Xavier, to actually win over Seton Hall on the scoreboard, and to snatch a road win from DePaul, the committee will remember the team is streaking, see a St. John’s team that is truly a top 40 squad, and will regard both Marquette and St. John’s favorably.
It’s less of an easy path. St. John’s might just match up well with Marquette, a team whose strength is in the guard and wing positions -- positions St. John’s can guard well.
Teams like DePaul and Georgetown can bang at the Red Storm’s interior weakness. They get back on defense, minimize easy transition opportunities, and cut off driving lanes better than Marquette does. Aside from Creighton (and Butler, to some extent), the rest of the league has a lot of height.
Providence and Xavier, in particular, have tall backcourts along with tall big men. Like Butler, they slow and control the pace of the game.
St. John’s has not yet faced in conference play this season. Both teams have struggled, but given three months of play and practice, both will give the Johnnies a tough test.
Going 5-3 in the last stretch of games will make the NCAA Tournament selection process more nerve wracking than if the team wins six of those games (one against Villanova helps the profile for the committee, obviously).
Going 5-3 also leaves the door open to question the overall quality of the league, in a year where a new NET rating system and surprise non-conference wins might elevate a less-heralded conference like the Southern Conference to multi-bid status.
February started well for St. John’s.
But knocking off the teams nipping at their heels in the standings will require the high level of execution, poise, and energy Chris Mullin’s squad displayed last night.