The St. John’s Jan. 27 loss to No. 9 Pittsburgh was perhaps the most deflating loss of the year, having come off two spectacular late-game wins against Syracuse and Notre Dame. Their record dropped to 3-5 in the Big East. But, if you took a realistic approach to the game, St. John’s did not yet have any business beating the No. 9-ranked team in the country. The win would have been great but certainly should not have been expected.The best most fans hoped for was anything but a total blowout. Well, it was a total blowout but a loss is a loss, no matter the score. Besides that, there are plenty of other stories to keep you interested in Red Storm basketball. Here are five reasons to keep watching:
1. The Big East tournament is still well within grasp. Thanks to those two big wins against Syracuse and Notre Dame, St. John’s is positioned to make an appearance this year. If the season ended now, they would be in. There are still eight Big East games to go, three of which are against teams currently below the Storm in the standings-plenty of time to blow it or clinch a spot. And definitely something to keep an eye on.
2. The NIT Tournament could be a consolation prize. Perhaps not as exciting as the NCAA Tournament, St. John’s has a much more legitimate chance to earn a spot in this competition. As long as they stay afloat a few games over .500 overall, they will give themselves a decent chance of playing some extra basketball.
3. Larry Wright. With Daryll Hill sitting out recently because of a tender knee, the freshman guard is getting his minutes in. And he’s using them wisely. Over the last three games, he’s logged 61 minutes while scoring 20 points. He scored only three against Pitt, dragging the overall numbers down, but no one scored much against the Panthers. He was the hero against Notre Dame, sinking the game-winning three-pointer with only seconds left on the clock. He’s part of the future for St. John’s and if he can come into his own, he has a chance to be a big part of the present as well.
4. Lamont Hamilton. He’s not going to be around too much longer. We’re seeing the last of the St. John’s big man, the latest in the elite 1,000-point club. He’s been up and down this year, sometimes scoring in bunches and sometimes not at all, but there’s no doubt he is a vital cog in the Red Storm machine. He still leads the team in several key categories, including scoring average (13.2 ppg), rebounds (6.9 rpg), and blocked shots (18). It will be interesting to see if he can lead the team to the postseason for the first (and last) time in his collegiate career.
5. Because baseball season hasn’t started yet. But seriously, there is no better show at St. John’s than men’s basketball. Even when they are losing, no other team on campus can match the atmosphere and excitement of a Big East game at the Garden. And as much as we sometimes fight the typecast, St. John’s is men’s basketball. As Newsday writer and St. John’s alumnus Jim Baumbach advised in our Courtside edition, “…some day you will meet another St. John’s graduate… and all they will want to know are the details of the basketball team, your team. Don’t miss out on the answer.”
In this space last week, I advised against overreaction. St. John’s was winning and the expectations seemed to be ballooning. This week is not so different. It was a bad loss, sure, but there is still plenty of basketball to be played and plenty of stories to follow.