The table is set for St. John's to play its way into an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, but the Red Storm (18-10, 8-7 Big East) must clear a major hurdle against Xavier (18-9, 8-6) Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The playing status of freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan, who Monday in Philadelphia attended the viewing of a family member who died recently, is uncertain.
Coach Steve Lavin will discuss the appropriate action with Jordan. "It's difficult to speculate how a person is going to respond to losing someone they are close to," Lavin said.
Teammates said they believe Jordan will play.
Home victories against the Musketeers and DePaul on Sunday at the Garden are critical because they would give the Red Storm 20 overall wins and would assure the team of a winning conference record before its final regular-season game at Marquette. If the Storm loses one of those two home games, it will sink into a mad scramble for an NCAA invitation in the middle of a tightly bunched Big East pack.
Only conference leaders Creighton and Villanova are assured of NCAA bids. Xavier is third among Big East teams with an RPI of 50, but its strength of schedule is rated 61st. St. John's has an RPI of 53 and an impressive schedule ranked 35th. Three other Big East teams -- Providence (62 RPI, 65 SOS), Georgetown (64, 33) and Marquette (75, 73) -- are in the running, but the Big East likely will get no more than five bids and maybe only four.
"If we take care of business by continuing to accumulate wins, then we put ourselves in position to do something special come March," Lavin said after Saturday's tough three-point loss at No. 8 Villanova. "A winning record in league play is important, and then to do well in the conference tournament can help our cause.
"So much depends on what we do against Xavier, DePaul and Marquette. If we get to 20 wins, that's important. If you don't stub your toe in the conference tournament, that's important. Then you get looked at."
Lavin said the "eye test" -- how well a team is playing at the end of the season -- is vital.