Most bracketologists have St. John’s in the NCAA field – although a victory over DePaul in the Big East Tournament on Wednesday surely would be a wise insurance policy.
But they still have had one of the most confounding, mercurial seasons in the country, leaving everyone who follows them unsure what will come next.
“Nothing would surprise me,” Steve Lavin, who preceded Chris Mullin as the Red Storm coach from 2010-15, said on Tuesday at a breakfast to promote CBS/Turner’s coverage of the NCAAs.
“Get a win tomorrow, get a win on Thursday and suddenly by Friday night you’ve got a packed Garden that is rooting for St. John’s to win.”
Easier said than done for a team that closed the regular season with four losses in five games.
“I think they’re going to be fine, but you don’t want to go five [losses] out of six and be on that bubble,” CBS/Turner analyst Wally Szczerbiak said. “Once they’re in the tournament, that’s a team that’s tough to match up with.”
Lavin said it was difficult to assess St. John’s during their 12-0 start because of a relatively weak schedule. “You’d rather win than lose, but you can’t make heads or tails of it because there weren’t the challenges,” he said.
Overall, though, he likes what he has seen. The biggest challenge under Mullin, he said, has been managing the comings and goings of transfer players. “It’s a delicate alchemy and balance that I think is difficult,” he said.
But Lavin said Mullin is doing a good job leveraging the inherent positives of the program.
“The things that jump out to me that are attractive: The style of play, small ball, pedal-to-the-metal, high-octane is the way young kids want to play,” he said. “And then you have two Hall of Famers [Mullin and Mitch Richmond] on the bench. You’re able to frame the argument that if you want to play at the next level here are two guys who have been there and are in the Hall of Fame and can impart their experience and wisdom.
“And then Madison Square Garden, the greatest venue on Earth, and New York City and then the tradition. Those would be the five things that are really attractive. That’s what we pretty much sold, except I played Division II basketball and had Gene Keady on my bench [as an assistant].”
Fellow CBS/Turner analyst Charles Barkley said he is not so sure the Red Storm is a lock for the NCAAs, but that he is pulling for them.
"I root for them, because Mustapha Heron played at Auburn [Barkley’s alma mater] and I root for Chris and Mitch . . . Listen, I’m old school. Any time St. John’s and Georgetown do well, it’s good for college basketball.”
Asked whether he believes St. John's guard Shamorie Ponds is an NBA prospect, Barkley asked how tall he is and was told that he is 6-1.
“Six-one is tough, brother,” Barkley said. “Not a lot of 6-1 guys in the NBA, especially if he’s going to play the point. The point guard is probably the toughest position in the NBA today.”