Near the end of December, some felt that the St. John’s Red Storm, then 11-2 with wins over two ranked teams, had a good chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
But the Big East happened, and the Johnnies, despite some surprising wins over West Virginia and Arizona, fell back toward preseason expectations.
The Red Storm are 16-15. The Red Storm are 5-13 in Big East play.
But! The Johnnies, despite suffering seven losses of 10 points of more, can look back on the schedule and note that they were close in at least one contest in the Big East round robin of contests, except against Villanova.
Cold comfort and empty hope, until one realizes that the draw in the Big East Tournament is actually relatively favorable to the Red Storm.
The teams they have been least effective against are on the other side of the bracket. Conference tournaments can be unpredictable (that’s why we watch, after all), and the Johnnies have stepped up play with wins over once-ranked Marquette and ranked Creighton at home...
...and the Big East Tournament is played at home.
A trip down speculation lane
St. John’s faces a depleted Hoya team in the first round on Wednesday. The Hoyas are down two starters (Mac McClung and center Omer Yurtseven). In the last meeting, the Red Storm had a 17 point lead; they lost that lead with uncharacteristic turnovers and overly cautious basketball.
The Hoyas are no gimme, given their height and their tall, tough guards. But the Hoyas are losers of six straight, beating a team three times is generally difficult, and the Red Storm certainly have found some new energy on offense behind Julian Champagnie, Greg Williams, Jr., and David Caraher.
After the Hoyas would be a midday tip off against Creighton in the Big East Quarterfinal matchup.
No, not ideal.
Yes, Creighton will want revenge.
But... Marcus Zegarowski finished the game with a leg injury. The Creighton coach says it was “not serious”, but he was on crutches.
If Zegarowski, a main focal point for the Creighton attack and a dangerous scorer himself, sat out, how much of a hit would Creighton take on the court? St. John’s could realistically disrupt their attack, as they did in the first matchup. The Johnnies also found space to get shots, funneled the Bluejays inside, and were able to take them off the dribble going to the basket.
Creighton is probably a far better matchup than Seton Hall or Villanova; then again, they are tops in the league for a reason.
But, in case of a win, the Johnnies would face the winner of Providence and Butler on Friday, March 13th. The Johnnies were close against Butler in their first contest (by the end) and defeated Providence in February.
Villanova and Seton Hall would be the most likely teams in the finals. Not great matchups for Mike Anderson’s squad. Still, anything is possible at that point in front of the home crowd in Madison Square Garden with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line.
Given that scenario, the Red Storm probably still do not have a legit shot at an at-large berth, but it will be worth a conversation. At that point, the Johnnies could have six Quad 1 wins. That is assuming MSG is considered “home” for NCAA ranking purposes, and if the Red Storm knock off Creighton and defeat Butler; Providence is 36 in the NET ranking, just outside the top-30 needed for a Q1 home game.
But if that close, there’s only one answer for the Red Storm, right?
Win the whole thing.
At the very least, a win over Georgetown first clinches a winning season.
A win in the next round over Creighton should assure and NIT bid.
But winning the Big East Tournament would be the most epic end-of-season turnaround since Georgia saved Dennis Felton’s job in 2008 with a run through the SEC, which earned then Dawgs a 14 seed.
If you’re wondering, by the way, the Red Storm would be a likely 11 seed with a Big East Tournament win.
St. John’s extra points
Pundits had St. John’s finishing 9th in the league, exactly where they finished.
In the preseason, we had the Johnnies going 6-12 in the Big East and 8-4 in non-conference play (that should have read 9-4). The prediction was for a losing regular season. So they half outdid the prediction, going 11-2 in non-conference, but missed on the league prediction, going 5-13.
Also included in the preseason prediction:
St. John’s [loses] to Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Arizona. The team goes 6-12 in Big East play, crushing Creighton’s at-large hopes along the way.
Creighton was much better than predicted, but the Red Storm DID pound them something senseless in Queens.
All Big East Freshman honor!
Julian Champagnie was named to the Big East’s All-Freshman team.
Mike Anderson on Champagnie:
“He’s 18 now but I’ve seen a development, a progression and just turning into a BIig East player. Kudos to him. He’s been really impactful on our basketball team as a freshman. He’s been scoring at a high clip in the last couple of games, rebounding the basketball, just being a force out there on the floor.”
The injured Hoyas
St. John’s takes on Georgetown, who may be without center Omer Yurtseven and guard Mac McClung. Despite missing both, they were within a point of ranked Villanova in their season finale.
Yurtseven has missed the last four games — and six of the Hoyas’ last seven. McClung has missed five games, and nine of the last 10.
“The last time we played them,” Mike Anderson said, “we were up and they went to a pressure defense and I thought we caved in a little bit.”