After a practice session Sunday evening, St. John's coach Steve Lavin said his players gathered to watch the National Invitation Tournament selection show. That show doesn't attract as big an audience as the NCAA Tournament selection show, but even so, there was a thrill when the Red Storm (16-15) appeared in the bracket with a first-round game Tuesday night at Saint Joseph's (18-13) in Philadelphia.
"It was great to see the joy of the players," Lavin said. "We talked to them about St. John's unique place in NIT history, and the larger picture is it's another building block."
St. John's postseason status was uncertain after a 1-7 finish and the loss of leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison, who was suspended for disciplinary reasons before the last four of those losses. But Lavin was confident his team would get a bid because of its strength of schedule, its respectable 8-10 Big East record and the fact that seven of St. John's final eight losses came against NCAA Tournament teams, including No. 1 overall seed Louisville, second-seeded Georgetown, third-seeded Marquette and fourth-seeded Syracuse.
"It's a 'value' experience to be in the postseason," said Lavin, adding that this is the first team he's coached that has no players with postseason experience. "When I look at this group, I like their development. I'm bold on our team and the future of our program because we're this close to having 21 or 22 wins."
The Red Storm might have trouble getting to 17 wins playing at hostile 4,200-seat Hagan Arena against a Hawks team that was 8-8 in the tough A-10. Lavin said St. Joe's thrives on alley-oop dunks and three-pointers with a roster that includes four double-figures scorers in guards Carl Jones (14.7) and Langston Galloway (13.7) and forwards Ronald Roberts (11.2 points, 8.4 rebounds) and C.J. Aiken (10.6). Former Hofstra forward Halil Kanacevic (8.6 points, 7.0 rebounds) is tough off the bench.
It's a major challenge, but Lavin believes it will prepare his team for better days ahead.
"We laid out their road map to the 2013-14 season, starting with the NIT at the top," he said of the schedule planner he gave his players. Except for a two-week summer vacation, the Red Storm will be occupied for the next year with workout programs and a foreign tour leading to next season.
"A year from now, there will be a selection show," Lavin said, meaning the big NCAA show, "and our goal, obviously, is to be chosen from 1-68."