Heading into the Big East tournament, the No. 5-seeded St. John’s men’s basketball team is keenly aware of its place on the NCAA bubble – and how quickly its chances can go from within grasp to either non-existent or reality.
A quarterfinal matchup with No. 4 seeded Providence will go a long way to deciding that fate. The game serves as a virtual play-in game with the loser almost definitely headed to the NIT and the winner likely heading to the Big Dance, according to ESPN bracketology breakdowns.
“I want to be able to turn on ESPN and not see our name on television the whole time on the bubble watch,” junior guard D’Angelo Harrison said yesterday. “When I don’t see that I’ll understand: there it is. Until then I don’t taste the [NCAA tournament] yet. We still have to get there.”
Getting there isn’t the easiest task, even with only 10 teams in the revamped Big East and a start in the quarterfinals. If the 20-win Red Storm can get by the Friars Thursday afternoon, they’ll likely face top-seeded Villanova who is also ranked No. 3 in the nation. Two wins this week would go a long way in solidifying tournament hopes.
“It’s challenging [and] that’s what I think our team takes pride in. When we get down we bounce back,” junior forward Sir’Dominic Pointer said referring to the team’s slow starts early in the year. “I think [when] we’re the team with our back against the wall we fight out of the corner. That’s what I feel we’re going to do this week. Fight out of the corner and get
our way in.”
Head coach Steve Lavin drew parallels between this group that started conference play 0-5 before finishing 10-8 and the UCLA team from 1999-00 season that started Pac-10 play 4-6 and finished 10-8 a month later before making it to the Sweet 16 that March.
“Having navigated a season like that gave me an immediate reference point with this group,” Lavin said. “We talked about that and what an opportunity to be able to author one of the great turnarounds in the history of St. John’s and in this conference.”
With each game making the difference between survival and elimination, Harrison said the pressure is helping to bring out the best in St. John’s.
“Obviously I want to be on the other side of the bubble, but it’s making our team fight harder than ever,” he said. “We’re playing good basketball right now, it’s good to play [it] late.”
Pointer boiled the point down to a sentiment that many St. John’s students and fans can understand as the calendar rolls through March.
“I’m a college student,” Pointer said. “I’m a college basketball player. Of course I follow the bubble. I know exactly where we’re at on the bubble.
“We need to get some wins to put us in,” he added.