According to ESPN "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi, St. John's and Providence are among the "First Four Out" of the NCAA Tournament heading into their quarterfinal meeting in the Big East Tournament this afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Of course, Lunardi is not on the NCAA Selection Committee, but his take on the process has not escaped D'Angelo Harrison and his Red Storm teammates.
"I hate to see it," Harrison said. "I do not like seeing our name on the 'First In' and 'First Out.' We're a great team. I know we can compete with anybody, and we've shown it throughout the season.
"Win the Big East Tournament, and it's going to change a lot of heads. That would be big. That's what we want."
Fourth-seeded Providence (20-11) against fifth-seeded St. John's (20-11) is as close to an NCAA "play-in" game as you can get. The Red Storm is on the bubble because of a 0-5 start in conference play that nearly broke their spirit.
Coach Steve Lavin stressed to his players not to give up on the season. "The concern was we're not as far away as it feels," Lavin said. "It's the old darkest before dawn. My dad's favorite was: 'Out of the mud grows the lotus.' You just want to hold onto the rope as a team and a staff and keep fighting because we could see the dramatic improvement. I said, 'If we stay with it, we're going to make our run.' "
The Red Storm won 11 of its next 14 games. St. John's stumbled recently with back-to-back losses at top-seeded Villanova and at home to Xavier while faced with off-court issues, including the deaths of five people close to several members of the team that left them in a fragile emotional state.
Sir'Dominic Pointer, who went home to Detroit for the funerals of two cousins who were shot to death, said, "It affected me a little bit, but I did what I had to do . . . I buried my people, and that's the end of it. That's it. I'm fine. I'm back with the team. We have a big game coming up, and that's what my mind is on now."
Reflecting on how the Red Storm climbed out of the 0-5 hole they dug in the Big East standings, Pointer said, "With our backs against the wall, we fight out of the corner. That's what I feel we're going to do this week: Fight out of the corner and get our way in."