It seemed a certainty about three weeks ago. Today it is hard to tell. St. John’s lost four of five to finish the regular season and enters this week’s Big East conference tournament in a seemingly precarious place with regard to making the NCAA Tournament.
The Red Storm (20-11, 8-10) fell from sole possession of third place after downing nationally-ranked Villanova on Feb. 17 to the No. 7 seeding and it plays a 9:30 p.m. outbracket game Wednesday at the Garden against DePaul (15-14, 7-11), which beat the Storm twice. St. John’s may need a win or two to feel safe.
Storm coach Chris Mullin was asked during Monday’s pre-tourney conference call whether he felt his team had done enough to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2015 or whether the team still has work to do. He replied “I think we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Maybe. Maybe not. St. John’s went 3-1 against ’Nova and Marquette and has a win over VCU on its resume. Regarded NCAA bracket prognosticators Jerry Palm of CBS and Joe Lunardi of ESPN both have the Storm as a No. 11 seed and not even playing an outbracket game in Dayton. St. John’s doesn’t want to glimpse Selection Sunday on a four-game skid after a third loss to the Blue Demons.
Storm star Shamorie Ponds, this week anointed a first-team all-conference selection, was asked Tuesday if he felt the team’s bid was on the line and answered “I would say yes and I would say no.”
“Pretty much we had a bad ending, but you just can’t take away what we did — the games we won. It’s definitely tough since we lost three in a row. We definitely have to turn it around now.”
“It’s not a position we want to be in, but it’s the card we were dealt — the cards we dealt ourselves, honestly,” Marvin Clark II said. “Now we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
St. John’s hasn’t looked like the team that beat Seton Hall on Feb. 23 in weeks. The Storm hasn’t — or can’t — get its transition game going and sustained it. Ponds’ diagnosis of it isn’t pretty.
“It’s just sometimes everybody goes through the motions. It happens in basketball,” he said. “I feel like if one person is going through the motions, somebody on the team has to pick that person up for us to move forward...It’s been happening but it’s been two or three guys — including myself. Everybody’s been going through the motions. It’s not going to win games.”
The Storm has everything to play for and more in this one. Mullin’s brother, Roddy, died Saturday after a battle with cancer. He missed Tuesday’s practice for the funeral. Clark said players channeling their sympathetic feelings could help against DePaul.
“I hope so. If it doesn’t, you don’t need to be playing,” he said. “If you can’t rally behind what coach is going through and play your hardest for him and for what he is going through, how are you wearing a St. John’s jersey?”