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St. John's storms toward NCAA tournament

Steve Lavin

Steve Lavin Photo Credit: Getty Images

Heading into its Jan. 30 game against Duke, St. John’s had lost five of its last six and wasn’t in serious contention for an NCAA tournament bid.

Since then, the Red Storm has won five of six, including a sweep of Connecticut, Cincinnati and Marquette (the latter two on the road) in a span of just six days.

St. John’s (16-9, 8-5 Big East) has five remaining regular-season games and needs a win in just one of them to guarantee a .500 finish in conference. With two or three wins, St. John’s should be going to the Big Dance for the first time since 2002, with experts slating them as a likely No. 7 seed.

vs. (4) Pittsburgh (24-2, 12-1)
Sat., Madison Square Garden, noon on ESPN
Pittsburgh has not lost a road game all season, but St. John’s is 6-1 at the Garden this year, including four wins against Top 13 teams. Even without injured leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, the Panthers have continued to roll and will likely be St. John’s biggest challenge yet. The key will be whether the Red Storm can put up a fight on the glass; in conference play, Pittsburgh is the best rebounding team and St. John’s is the worst.

vs. DePaul (6-18, 0-12)
Carnesecca Arena, Feb. 23, 7 p.m. on MSG+
The numbers say it all: DePaul, which played at Providence late last night, has lost 25 straight conference games and has been competitive in just a few such matchups this season. St. John’s should have no problem with the visiting Blue Demons.

at (15) Villanova (20-6, 8-5)
Wells Fargo Center, Feb. 26, 2 p.m. on ESPN
The edge certainly goes to the Wildcats in this one. St. John’s will have to play at a very high level to pull off the road upset. Villanova has not lost to St. John’s since February 2003.

at Seton Hall (11-15, 5-9)
Prudential Center, March 3, 7 p.m. on ESPN2
The record isn’t pretty, but the Pirates have come within a possession or two of scoring several upset victories on their home floor. St. John’s has a slight edge here but can’t afford a let-down effort.

vs. South Florida (8-19, 2-12)
Carnesecca Arena, March 5, 8 p.m. on MSG
South Florida’s lone conference wins came at home against fellow basement dwellers DePaul and Providence. The Red Storm should get a relatively easy win here in their regular-season finale and Big East tournament warm-up.

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