Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK – As big as St. John’s stunning 93-78 upset of No. 3 Duke was Sunday at Madison Square Garden, the Johnnies still have some serious work to do to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
“It helps out a lot, confidence-wise, and of course when they look at our resume, it helps out a lot,” said senior forward Justin Burrell, who had 8 points and 5 rebounds in the blowout.
“But at the end of the day it only counts as one win so we have to go out and continue to win more games in order to be a contender to be able to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
St. John’s completed a brutal eight-game stretch against Top 25 opponents, going 3-5 during the run.
In halting a three-game losing streak, St. John’s improved to 12-8 overall and 4-5 in the Big East.
“It’s a big feather in their cap,” Jerry Palm, the operator of CollegeRPI.com, said by phone. “I guess it’s their best win of the year. This is a team that had lost five out of six. It’s huge in that it stops the bleeding. But there’s a lot of word for this team to do. This is just a really good win.”
St. John’s now owns a road win over West Virginia and home wins over Duke, then-No. 13 Georgetown and then-No. 9 Notre Dame.
But they also suffered early-season losses to Atlantic 10 bottom-feeders Fordham and St. Bonaventure.
“There’s not a lot of margin for error for these guys,” Palm said.
Looking ahead, St. John’s hosts Rutgers Wednesday before traveling to UCLA, Lavin’s old stomping ground, Saturday and coming back to host No. 5 UConn Feb. 10.
“[Coach Steve Lavin told us] Rutgers could possibly be a trap game for us and not to take them for granted,” said senior guard Dwight Hardy, who scored a team-best 26 points on 9 of 13 shooting. “We can’t afford to lose that at home in front of our friends and family.”
Looking down the schedule, Palm said he sees only three St. John’s games in which St. John’s “will probably be favored” – Rutgers, DePaul and South Florida at home.
Even assuming the Johnnies win those three games, that only brings them to 15 total regular-season victories.
“If you finish the season with 15 regular-season wins, it isn’t going to make it,” Palm said. “Fifteen ain’t gonna get it done.”
Palm figures it will take at least 18 wins to make it, and even that number is a moving target.
“You’re probably going to need at least 18,” he said. “Hardly anybody gets an at-large bid with less than 18.”
That would mean finding six more wins over the last 10 games, a stretch that includes games at UCLA, at Cincinnati, at Marquette, at Villanova and at Seton Hall, and home tilts with UConn and No. 2 Pitt.
Still, Lavin said the Big East is so strong that a team that finishes ninth, 10th or 11th could still deserve an at-large bid to the Big Dance. The Big East is now 6-1 against Top 10 teams not in the conference.
“You can lose eight of nine games or five of six games in this league and not necessarily be playing really bad basketball,” Lavin said. “As a matter of fact, you may be one of the best 65 and deserving of an NCAA Tournament bid but you happen to be in the Big East.”
There will actually be 68 teams in this year’s Big Dance, perhaps giving the Johnnies a greater chance.
Lavin, a former ESPN analyst, was asked what he would say about St. John’s chances if he were still wearing his broadcaster hat.
“I would say you just have to keep making progress and continue to accumulate wins,” he said. “Otherwise, it comes down to the eve of Selection Sunday and you’re sweating it out.”
(Photo courtesy Daily News)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.