St. John's head coach Rick Pitino against Seton Hall in...

St. John's head coach Rick Pitino against Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals on Thursday. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Rick Pitino and his St. John’s basketball team gathered on campus Sunday to see the NCAA Tournament field unveiled. Even after 48 hours of watching conference tournament upsets and stolen bids,  the players were “pumped,” in Pitino's words.

They watched as each regional was unveiled, paying special attention to which teams ended up on the Nos. 10 and 11 lines, where they had hoped to see “St. John’s.” Said Pitino, “The room got more somber with each [regional].”

The reality, however, was that it was over before it started. As it turns out, the Red Storm’s best shot at getting an at-large berth vanished when they lost eight of 10 games from Jan. 13 through Feb. 18. St. John’s not only wasn’t in the 68-team field, it wasn’t even one of the last four candidates to get cut.

The Red Storm’s late-season resurgence and six-game winning streak didn’t save them. The high level of play they displayed in upsetting Creighton, beating Seton Hall and taking overall No. 1 seed Connecticut to the wire also didn’t save them. No Big East team with 11 conference wins and no team with a NET ranking as good as St. John’s 32 had ever been denied a bid — but that didn't save them either.

The one-point loss at Creighton? The one-point loss to Marquette at the Garden? The three-point loss at Providence and the six-point loss to Seton Hall at UBS Arena? Those were killers.

“I've never been on this end of the stick before as a coach and it certainly hurts, but for me, it's the hurt in the eyes of my players,” Pitino said. “That's what hurts the most.”

Selection committee chairman Charles McClelland explained that five automatic bids went to teams that were not going to make it — Oregon in the Pac-12, UAB in the American, Duquesne in the Atlantic 10, New Mexico in the Mountain West and North Carolina State in the ACC — but even if there had been only four, St. John’s wasn’t getting in.

McClelland said the bid-stealers “made it a very difficult process,” and when he was asked specifically about St. John’s, he pointed out that the Red Storm played seven games against the conference’s top three — UConn, Marquette and Creighton — and went 1-6. He added that they had “no significant non-conference wins of note.”

“Every possible upset happened . . . more upsets than I’ve seen in a long time,” Pitino said. “You’ve just got to say  the committee did the best job they could. We weren't considered.”

There can be no doubt that the selection committee and its use of the NET metric — which Pitino called “fraudulent” — needs to be reexamined when the Big East has only three teams in the field: No. 1 UConn, No. 2 Marquette and No. 3 Creighton. That hasn’t happened since 1993, and for it to happen for a conference power ranked No. 2 behind the Big 12 on Kenpom.com? That raises eyebrows.

When the prospect of the Big East getting only three teams into the NCAAs was raised to UConn coach Dan Hurley after his team’s Big East championship win Saturday, he replied, “If we don’t get six teams in, that’s incredibly disrespectful.

“If Seton Hall is not in, that’s embarrassing, and there’s a larger problem relative to the respect that the Big East gets,” he added. “St. John’s is just as good as everyone else . . . There’s a lot of truth to what some of these conferences did relative to manipulating the NET. When you look at some resumes of some of these programs that are in the leagues that are considered the best, they . . . literally beat nobody in the non-conference.”

Pitino said the Red Storm would decline any invitation to play in the NIT. The program resources, he explained, are better used for building next season's team and not for preparing for more games.

“If we're going to move forward, most of our time now needs to be spent recruiting because we're going to have to bring in probably seven or eight new players,” he said. “And preparing for the NIT does not help our future.”

At season’s start, Pitino said he measures the success of a season by whether a team makes the NCAA Tournament.

When asked about that, he replied, “I look at it more as reaching your potential, and I think we reached our potential. We didn't reach the NCAA but . . . down the stretch we looked like a really good basketball team . . . We’ve had a lot of people that really, really enjoyed watching us play.”

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