Men’s Basketball team to face Gonzaga

For the first time in nine years, the St. John’s men’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA tournament.

The Red Storm earned the No. six seed in the Southeast region of the tournament bracket, and will head to Denver, Co. for their first-round game against No. 11 Gonzaga on March 17. It is the Red Storm’s 27th NCAA tournament appearance in program history and the first since 2002, where No. 9 St. John’s team lost to No. 8 Wisconsin in the opening round.

The Red Storm will make their third trip to the west coast this year, where they lost on opening night to a St. Mary’s team that just missed making the tournament and a UCLA team they could see again if they were to each advance to the Sweet 16.

St. John’s beat six teams ranked in the Top 25 and four ranked in the Top 10 throughout the year, taking down four Top 25 teams at Madison Square Garden. However, St. John’s will have to make this tournament run without senior swingman D.J. Kennedy, who tore his ACL during the Big East tournament. The injury dropped the Red Storm from a projected No. 4 seed to a No. 6, which they earned, and put the Johnnies on early upset alert against a surging Gonzaga team.

If St. John’s were to advance past the Bulldogs, they could face No. 3 BYU and take on senior Jimmer Fredette, who is the nation’s leading scorer. The 6-foot-2 Fredette averaged 28.5 points per game this season and is the odds-on favorite for National Player of the Year honors.

A record 11 Big East teams received berths into this year’s NCAA tournament, with Pittsburgh earning the No. 1 seed in the Southeast, widely regarded as the tournament’s weakest region. St. John’s beat Pitt at MSG back on Feb. 19, 60-59, as senior guard Dwight Hardy made the game-winning layup with seconds remaining in regulation.

Ohio State captured the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament after the Buckeyes won a Big 10 conference that was arguably the toughest in the country outside of the Big East. Ohio State’s East region also includes No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Syracuse and No. 4 Kentucky, though the Buckeyes are still National Champion contenders.

Other No. 1 seeds include Kansas in the Southwest region and Duke in the West. Duke may have the toughest road to the Final Four, as the defending National Champions could square off against a Texas team that many thought was ranked lower (No. 4) than actually deserved, as the Longhorns earned the nation’s No. 1 ranking in the Top 25 during the regular season.

Connecticut, which won five consecutive games during last week’s Big East tournament, earned the No. 3 seed in the West. The conference tournament’s runner-up, Louisville, will play as a No. 4 seed in the Southwest region against a No. 13 Moorehead State team that could be one of the first round’s most entertaining games.