St. John's Basketball

St. John’s Red Storm: February opportunity to cement NCAA Tourney bid

02/08/2019
Ricky Keeler

After their upset win over Marquette on Tuesday, St. John’s can cement an NCAA Tournament bid with a strong month of February.

Ricky Keeler

The St. John’s Red Storm put the Big East back on notice Tuesday night with their 70-69 upset win over #10 Marquette. For a team that is now on the bubble, having two wins over a top 10 team should be enough in most years to get a team on the right side of the bubble to get in the NCAA Tournament next month.

However, with the Red Storm’s best non-conference win being VCU on a neutral court and a 5-5 record in the Big East, their tournament hopes are far from a lock, but they have as good a chance to punch their ticket with the schedule they have to end the season. As Zach Braziller of the New York Post points out, the Red Storm do have some good quality wins as a part of the new NET Rankings:

With eight games remaining until the conference tournament, Chris Mullin’s squad only plays one ranked team (#14 Villanova at home on Sunday, Feb. 17) and five of those games are either at Madison Square Garden or Carnesseca Arena. Plus, five of those games are against Providence, Xavier, and DePaul. Yes, DePaul beat St. John’s earlier this year, but that was without Shamorie Ponds.

The point is that the Red Storm have every opportunity to make the big dance if they just take care of business and don’t play down in a conference that hasn’t had much success other than ‘Nova and Marquette. With the lack of big wins left on the schedule, each loss will hurt them rather than help them.

Of course, everyone knows how great Ponds is and he showed that Tuesday night with his 28 points and the game-winning layup in the final 15 seconds of the game. He can take over games, but this offense has arguably been more dependent on him this year than last year when you look at how out of rhythm the team is when he struggles.

Ponds needs that second scorer to help take the pressure off him and that’s where Justin Simon has contributed in a big way. Simon had 19 points with 14 of them coming in the first half and he once again found a way to stop Markus Howard. The key stat for Simon is that all 11 field goals he took were inside the arc and that is a good sign for a player that struggles from the perimeter.

St. John's Basketball

If Simon can continue to attack the basket and get to the free throw line, he should find more success after only combining for 17 points in the previous four games. In fact, out of his last 38 shot attempts, only five of them have come from three-point land.

Another thing to remember is that St. John’s beat a ranked team without getting a single point from Marvin Clark II, who missed all four of his shot attempts.Now, that is going to happen for a player who’s 33 of his last 42 shots are from downtown, but anytime Clark can hit that three-point shot in the corner, it only boosts the production that this offense can put up.

If the Red Storm can go at least 5-3 in their final eight games and get one more big win against ‘Nova or the revenge home game against Seton Hall Feb. 23, they would finish with an over .500 record in the conference and have 22 wins. That should be enough to get this team playing in the NCAA Tournament.

The pressure is on St. John’s now as they will be favored in most of the games that they have left considering the tough part of their schedule is over. Will they beat up teams that they should beat? Or will they play down to the competition in what has become a crowded middle in the Big East? Only time will tell.

At least, the win over Marquette showed this team can rise to the level of competition on a given night and play with anyone not named Duke, or anywhere that isn’t Cameron Indoor Stadium. However, since February is a make-or-break month, it’s time for St. John’s to prove it on the court and show why they belong in March Madness.

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