St. John's, who had handled Providence twice this season, fell in their Big East opener this afternoon - 74-57 in the second session of the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals. It wasn't close, as St. John's senior-laden team struggled to execute, shoot and get out in transition.
St. John's closed the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the Big East (winning seven of nine games). Besides a beat down at Villanova (which was excusable without injuries to Chris Obekpa and Jamal Branch), the Johnnies looked like they, experienced, energetic and dangerous in transition and from beyond the arc, were cut out for a possible run in the NCAA Tournament until the quarterfinal loss today.
Now 1-5 in his St. John's coaching career in the Big East Tournament, Steve Lavin's Johnnies looked dismal, sloppy and lacking a sense of urgency against Providence.
"There are going to be days where your offense is not clicking," Lavin said after game, "but we were disappointed with our aggressiveness on defense and rebounding. We have to address the deficiencies we saw today and turn our focus to improving as a team to enhance the chances of doing something special in the postseason."
Despite the concerns, Lavin continues to remain positive and he is not blaming the players for this loss. He's blaming himself and blaming himself harshly.
"I don't think it's them," Lavin explained following the loss. "I'm just a poor conference tournament coach. I think I'm winless in conference tournaments, even back at UCLA. I don't think it has anything to do with our players."
Yes, Lavin does not have a strong postseason record but he was wrong about never winning a conference tournament match-up. He's won twice: Once with UCLA back in 2003 and once with St. John's in 2011.
Even regardless of that surprising admission, it's fair to now question how the Johnnies will perform on an even bigger stage in a week after being "tentative" in a game that was critical for seeding purposes.
"We don't feel our aggressiveness was where it needed to be in order for us to be successful," Lavin said, speaking about his players' performance. "The best indication of that is rebounding. Providence was plus 13 on the glass and they beat us to the punch. Not only on the boards but the 50-50 balls."
Lavin then went on to say his players had the "postseason nerves" and the results of that were poor shot selection and a lack of energy on the defensive end.
St. John's struggled Thursday but part of the Red Storm's issue was also the ability of Providence to limit what the Johnnies do best - get out and run.
The defensive adjustment by the Friars from the two games during the regular season to today's game was impressive. The Friars stopped the ball almost every time the Red Storm crossed half court, cutting off Sir`Dominic Pointer's ability to pass in transition and keeping the running Red Storm from getting to the rim.
But Lavin thinks his team is still capable of winning a game of half-court basketball next week.
"We're 8th or 9th in the Big East in terms of transition points if you look at the advanced metrics," Lavin said. "In the half court we rate very well because we shoot the three pointer well and we have interchangeable parts. We do not convert well in transition."
But that wasn't it. Lavin then talked about the positives of the loss including getting healthy and having more time to prepare for the Big Dance.
Even though the Johnnies are expected to be playing in the Big Dance, Thursday's performance shows that a solid postseason performance is not a given with this team. Despite multiple seniors on the roster, none of those players have played past the Big East quarterfinals and none of them have played a single game in the NCAA Tournament.
Can they shake off this loss and make some noise in the Big Dance?