As of four hours ago, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi tweeted an update of tournament bubble teams. On that list was St. John’s, who as of now is part of the last four in.
Why is that significant? A perennial bubble team teetering on the edge of a tournament berth? Well, because about a month ago, St. John’s was 0-5 in the conference and looked like even the NIT would be out of reach.
The Red Storm have completely turned their season around. The perfect example of the 180 was Sunday nights contest with Georgetown. The Johnnies won 82-60 after jumping out to a 15-0 lead to start the game, a month ago St. John’s fell to the same Hoyas 77-60 and scored just 16 points in the first half.
What’s the difference? Swing man Sir’Dominic Pointer put it simply saying, “Role players learned their roles and our scorers are scoring.”
Seems basic, but appropriately, Dom has a Point (get it?). Steve Lavin said before the year that his team would get off to a rough start but find their way in February and become a dangerous team down the stretch. Admittedly, I was skeptical and when 2014 started and St. John’s got off to their abysmal conference start I called for Lav’s head. But, apparently, Steve Lavin knows more about this basketball team than I do (who knew).
On Sunday night, Lavin clarified his reasoning for his early season prediction; Orlando Sanchez and Phil Greene IV both had off-season surgery, D’Angelo Harrison was suspended from the team at the end of last season, and Rysheed Jordan was a freshman who would have to make the transition to college basketball in a crucial role for his team.
Now? Sanchez and Greene provide crucial minutes and points off the bench, D’Angelo is the third leading scorer in the conference and Jordan is living up to every bit of the hype, (the freshman scored the first 7 points of the game against Georgetown and finished with a career high 24 points). That, coupled with the already established scoring prowess of Jakarr Sampson and being the top shot-blocking team in the country (see: Chris Obekpa) have the Johnnies as the hottest team in the Big East with their future in their own hands.
This is how the rest of the schedule pans out for St. John’s, who sit at 17-9 and 7-6 in the conference:
Tonight; Butler; MSG; 9:00- Three weeks ago St. John’s disposed of Butler with a 17 point win on the road; should have no issues tonight.
Saturday; Villinova; Philadelphia, PA; 1:30- This is by far the toughest game left on the schedule. Last time out, St. John’s was able to hang with Nova at home, but fell late. And now they have to travel to take on the top-15 opponent. Can it be done? Yes, but I don’t have a great feeling about this game.
2/25; Xavier; MSG; 7:00- Xavier is another tough one, as they defeated St. John’s by 10 to start conference play, but that team was completely different than the one we’re seeing now. I think if they go 1-1 between Villinova and Xavier they should be in good shape.
3/2; DePaul; MSG; Noon- This should be another fairly easy victory. Last time out DePaul defeated SJU by 2 in Chicago, but without Clevland Melvin, their leading scorer, and at MSG one would think the Johnnies are in good position again.
3/8; Marquette; Milwaukee, Wis; Noon- Up until the Georgetown game, this was probably SJU’s most complete win of the season on 2/1 and while Marquette will almost certainly shoot better than they did in the first contest St. John’s has proven they can beat this team.
Overall, I think it’ll take 20 wins for St. John’s to earn an at-large bid in the tournament. It is feasible to think that they can finish the season with 21, before the Big East tournament. The schedule at this juncture weighs favorably for the Johnnies, but this wouldn’t be the first time St. John’s held their future in the palm of their hand and dropped the ball.
Steve Lavin said Sunday that the Johnnies best basketball was still yet to come. Here’s to hoping he’s right.