St. John’s shows NCAA Tournament isn’t out of place

As St. John’s finished off Xavier on Wednesday night as he mistreated this likely NCAA Tournament team in Cincinnati, the same thoughts kept bouncing around in my head.

Where was it? Where was this targeted effort? This attention to detail? This miserly defense? That ball-traveling infraction?

Where was this team hiding?

This is the team Big East coaches chose to finish fourth in the conference. It was the unit that needed to make the NCAA Tournament and possibly even end the Red Storm’s 22-year drought without a tournament win.

Wednesday night, Mike Anderson’s team looked the part. Julian Champagnie played as one of the best wingers in the country. Posh Alexander, on just one good ankle, created chaos in defense and controlled the game at the other end of the field. Transfers Joel Soriano, Aaron Wheeler, Montez Mathis and Tareq Coburn all made significant contributions. It was the best body language they had shown in weeks, the belief that they would find a way to win a big game.

“I know what the team is capable of,” Champagnie told The Post Thursday as St. John’s prepared to host Butler Friday in Queens. “It’s a breath of fresh air to play like that.”

It was also the kind of performance that was missed too often, the reason the Johnnies aren’t in the NCAA Tournament picture. Consistency eluded this group.

classy alexander
classy alexander

The capacity is clearly there. We saw it in the blowout wins at Xavier and Seton Hall, and the near win at No. 24 UConn. Even short of their best, the Red Storm really should have knocked out No. 8 Providence, Seton Hall and UConn at home, three games decided by a combined 13 points. Win a few of them, and this season is very different. The tournament is not a pipe dream.

I expect this to be an offseason of storylines. What if Wheeler had found his game earlier? What if St. John’s manages to win a few of those aforementioned home games? What if Alexander arguably didn’t miss the team’s two most important home games last week due to his right ankle injury?

The team, however, doesn’t seem to be operating as if all is lost. Champagnie said the Johnnies didn’t have time to look back. It can happen after the season. Give Anderson, his team and their players credit for not sending him out. For playing as hard as they did against Villanova and for 40 minutes against UConn without Alexander, and putting on arguably their best game of the season on Wednesday at Xavier.

mike anderson
mike anderson

There are many reasons to criticize St. John’s (14-11, 6-8 Big East), to be frustrated, furious and disappointed with how this season has gone. But effort is not one of them.

“All we can do now is watch this movie [of our tough losses] and see where we messed up. I know the guys aren’t done. We played our best,” Champagnie said.

He added: “That’s what we’re looking for, to win these next [few] games and enter the conference tournament with some momentum. I feel like we’re still in the mix.

St. John’s is 3-0 in its last three full-strength games. The remaining schedule is relatively soft, including home games against Butler, Creighton and Xavier, and road contests at DePaul and Marquette. A 4-1 finish is not out of reach. That could lead to a top-six seed in the Big East Tournament and at least crafting a passable resume that currently includes two Quad 1 wins, just one Sub-Quad 2 loss and a NET ranking. of 78. Maybe the NIT isn’t so inevitable. Crazy things can happen in March – just look at last year’s Big East tournament won by eighth seed Georgetown.

Wednesday night showed there was plenty of fighting left on this team. Perhaps it was a preview of the weeks to come. At the very least, St. John’s is giving its fans reason to still believe.

New York Post

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