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St. John's back in NCAA picture

Chris Obekpa of the St. John's Red Storm

Chris Obekpa of the St. John's Red Storm dunks in the second half against the Seton Hall Pirates at Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 27, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Thanks to a four-game winning streak St. John’s is right back in the NCAA picture. The Red Storm improved to 13-7 and 5-3 in the Big East and host DePaul (10-9, 1-5) on Wednesday.

If anyone within the St. John’s community is thinking NCAA Tournament, they have good reason to. The Red Storm has all the pieces to make a run and earn either an at-large bid or the automatic berth by winning the Big East tournament.

Sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison (940 points) is knocking on the 1,000-point door. Freshman forward Chris Obekpa is averaging 4.6 blocks per game and could eventually set the NCAA all-time record in that category.

Another freshman, forward Jakarr Sampson (14 ppg, 6.6 reb), has shown massive potential. Sophomores Jamal Branch (9.4 ppg), Phil Greene IV (8.4 ppg), Sir’Dominic Pointer (6.6 ppg) and Amir Garrett (6.4 ppg) give the Red Storm a youthful and athletic rotation.

It hasn’t been all roses, though. Getting such a young group to stay on the same page and stay focused has been an issue for coach Steve Lavin at times.

“The team needs to sustain and execute for the full 40 minutes and hopefully dictate our style of play on the opponent and control the tempo. The most challenging aspect for any team is to sustain the same level of execution for 40 minutes,” said Lavin. “How you respond and how you handle prosperity determines how successful you can be. Our youth differentiates us from a veteran team because we are still learning lessons on the court.”

St. John’s has won five of its last seven, and that includes wins over then-No. 14 Cincinnati and then-No. 20 Notre Dame.

With road games against Georgetown, Syracuse and Louisville, sprinkled around contests versus DePaul and Connecticut over the next 18 days, St. John’s has a chance to take a big step forward.

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