In an article posted to ESPN.com yesterday, The Worldwide Leader's resident "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi argued his case as to why he believes St. John's will not be among the 68 teams playing in the NCAA Tournament come March.
Lunardi makes some valid points in his article, and it can be read here if you have an ESPN Insider subscription. But if you are among those without an ESPN Insider, I'll sum up Lunardi's thoughts for you.
His main point is that, although they do have a decent tournament profile at first glance (51st in RPI, 13th in strength of schedule), the Red Storm are not going win enough games, or "enough of the right games" as Lunardi puts it, to be considered for an NCAA bid.
"If the Red Storm had held on against Duke, as they should have, the remainder of their season is entirely different," wrote Lunardi. "Instead, St. John's will have to bank on flipping a 2-4 Big East record."
He would go on to list four home games, Gonzaga (which was technically a neutral-site game but we'll let that slide), Butler, Villanova, and Duke, where St. John's had major opportunities to pick up a marquee win. Instead they came up empty in all four tries.
To round out his thoughts, Lunardi cites the Red Storm's losing conference record and 2-5 record against top 50 teams as reasons why they are not a tournament team. "Our last team in, Kansas State, is 5-2 in a better league and 4-4 against the top 50," he wrote. "The Red Storm would win the so-called ‘eye-test,' but K-State has won more meaningful games."
So what do the 13-6 Johnnies have to do to change Lunardi's, but more importantly the NCAA Tournament selection committee members, minds? Well Lunardi seemed to lay it out for St. John's in his article by saying that they'll need to pick up a few "marquee" wins to improve their NCAA resume.
With the Syracuse and Minnesota victories looking less and less impressive as the season goes on, and "good losses" against Gonzaga and Duke not counting for much, St. John's is in desperate need of a few quality wins that they can point to when selection Sunday comes around.
Here's some of the opportunities that they'll have to pick up those quality wins going forward.
The Friars are a six-seed in Lunardi's current tournament field, and he has them as the 22nd best team in the nation at this moment. At 5-2 in the conference, Providence is currently in third place just a half game back of Georgetown for the Big East lead. St. John's has already toppled the Friars once this season, on the road on January 14th, and if they can do it again at home on Saturday that would be a huge boost to their NCAA chances.
Not to mention, although they have impressed so far in Big East play, Providence still has to play the likes of Georgetown, Villanova (twice), Seton Hall (twice), and Butler, and it's very possible that they could slide and end up on the bubble in a few months as well. A sweep over Providence would no doubt give the Johnnies an edge over them if both teams end up on the bubble.
At Butler (2/3)
Lunardi has Butler one spot behind Providence in his current tournament field as a six-seed at number 23 overall. The Bulldogs have put together a remarkably impressive tournament resume at this point in the season, with a top 25 RPI and BPI ranking, the ninth toughest schedule in the nation, and six victories against top-50 RPI teams.
Barring a total collapse in the final 10 games of Big East play, Butler is in an outstanding position to make the NCAA Tournament at this point in the season, and a win over them on the road would do nothing but help the Red Storm's tourney hopes.
Georgetown (2/17 and 2/28)
The Red Storm will get two cracks at the 21st-ranked Hoyas in the remainder of this season, with the first coming on the road on February 17th. Georgetown has a top-15 RPI and strength of schedule, and they currently lead the conference with an impressive 6-2 record including an upset win over Villanova.
St. John's will likely not need a sweep of Georgetown if they can take care of business in the other games listed here, but at the very least they will need one victory over the surging Hoyas.
At Villanova (3/7)
To close out the regular season, St. John's will get one more shot at the 7th-ranked Wildcats, with this one coming on the road in Philadelphia on March 7th. In their first meeting, the Red Storm were able to hang with Villanova for much of the game before things fell apart for them midway through the second half on their way to a 90-72 loss.
This is by far the toughest game remaining for the Johnnies going forward, and a win in this one may be the exclamation point that they'll need to get into the tournament.
Big East Tournament (3/11-3/14)
While this may be pointing out the obvious, St. John's simply cannot afford to bow out without winning at least one game in the Big East Tournament if they hope to be selected into the tournament field.
It's very likely that the Red Storm will face the same situation as they did last year going into the Big East Tourney, on the bubble and playing for a tournament bid. With a loss in their first game to Providence last season, the Johnnies all but guaranteed themselves an NIT bid, if that same situation plays out this year they can expect the same results.
So while St. John's is currently on the outside looking in according to Lunardi, they still do have plenty of chances to improve their resume going forward. With 13 wins at the moment, they'll likely need at least 20-21 to be considered for a bid, which means that they'll need to either go 7-5 or 8-4 in their final 12 Big East games.
It's a tall task to have to accomplish as they've dug themselves into a hole for the second straight year, but if they come out with the intensity that we saw on Sunday then they can clearly accomplish it. All things considered, the Johnnies will need to at least pick up a few wins in the games listed above if they hope to even have a shot at making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.
Do you think the Johnnies have it in them to make a tournament run over the next two months?