Jon on Johnnies: NIT is just right for SJU

Since Providence won its first Big East Tournament since 1994 and the inaugural tournament in the new realigned conference, many St. John’s fans have been saying “That could’ve been us!” or “We could’ve won the Big East Tournament.” And the answer is simple: No.

No Red Storm fans, your favorite team could not have seen the same fate as the Friars. While the matchup consisted of two pretty even teams, the Red Storm were far away from Ed Cooley’s crew. St. John’s lacked many things: the inability to get over the hump, a consistent rotation and – most of all – a killer instinct, the same plagues that have been hindering the Johnnies since Nov. 2011.

The entire year the Red Storm could never get over the hump and take the bull by the horns. See the Syracuse and two Villanova games, where the Red Storm had the lead in and were out-played in the late stages in the second half. Or how about the home Xavier game? That was the prime opportunity for the Red Storm to put itself in the NCAA tournament and they simply blew it.

It took until the middle of January for Steve Lavin to establish one consistent lineup, and once the cards stopped being shuffled the team had lost its first five games. Once that lineup was set, the Red Storm were in cruise control. It also helped that the tougher part of the schedule was already gone and they managed to knock off No. 12 Creighton for the team’s first and only signature win.

Of course there is that last quality that the Red Storm will need to implement next year, and that’s the killer instinct. The 2010-11 team and this year’s team are like comparing apples and oranges, but you could see the hunger of Dwight Hardy, Justin Burrell, Paris Horne, DJ Kennedy and Malik Boothe when they took the floor. When they were on the court with Duke, Notre Dame, Villanova and UConn, the Red Storm put them to bed early. This year’s team hangs around for 35 minutes and it’s a coin flip the rest of the way. Take this as a point of reference. When the Red Storm overcame a 17-point deficit and got within one point of the Friars, the Red Storm got the stop they needed and had a two on one with freshman Rysheed Jordan and sophomore JaKarr Sampson on the push. Sampson scooped up the loose change, passed to Jordan who passed it back to Sampson who looked like he wanted no part of that shot and blew the layup. If the situation was reversed and it was Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton making the run, the ball handler would’ve taken the shot. Or even to stay in the same program, Dwight Hardy would’ve never passed that ball like Sampson did.

These group of players are not clutch. They didn’t rise to the occasion when they needed to and are in the NIT for the second consecutive year. The Friars were hungry, they had players who weren’t afraid to lose and instead of updating every bracketology board and calculate how many wins the team needed, Ed Cooley’s team went out and just won the tournament. The Red Storm said that winning the tournament was the goal, but there’s not one team in the conference that didn’t have winning the tournament as its goal.

So unless the Red Storm gain that same killer instinct on the court that the 2010-11 team had or the Big East champions had, it’ll be a disappointing class.