Despite Huge Win, Johnnies Still Have Work to Do | Zagsblog
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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.
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Friday / September 22.
  • Despite Huge Win, Johnnies Still Have Work to Do

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    NEW YORK — Jerry Palm is in his 18th year tracking the NCAA tournament.

    And during that time he says only one team has made the Big Dance without finishing at least four games over .500.

    That was the 2001 Georgia Bulldogs.

    That club made the tournament despite finishing the regular season at 16-14 because they were rated No. 1 nationally in both RPI and Sagarin ratings.

    “Everybody else was at least four games over,” Palm, who owns and operates, said Thursday night by phone.

    We bring this up now because St. John’s (14-9, 6-5 Big East) now stands at five games above .500 after its latest dramatic victory, an 89-72 rout of No. 10 UConn Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

    “It’s a much needed win, there’s no question about it,” Palm said of the game in which senior guard Dwight Hardy poured in a career-high 33 points. “If they don’t win this game you wonder how they have a shot.”

    Palm said he had read tweets from various college basketball “experts” claiming that the UConn win automatically put St. John’s into the tournament.

    “That’s just ridiculous,” Palm said.

    Under first-year coach Steve Lavin, St. John’s owns victories this season over then-No. 13 Georgetown, then-No. 9 Notre Dame, then-No. 3 Duke and No. 10 UConn, all of whom are currently in the top 11.

    All the wins came at the Garden. The Johnnies haven’t won on the road since Jan. 1 at Providence.

    “They’re basically a home-court hero,” Palm said. “It’s like a blind pig finding an ear of corn.”

    St. John’s, which last made the Big Dance in 2002, has seven regular-season games remaining.

    Four of those are on the road — Cincinnati, Marquette, Villanova and Seton Hall.

    The three home games include Pittsburgh, DePaul and South Florida.

    “I would expect they’d be underdogs in five of these games, even at Seton Hall,” Palm said, referring to the four road games and the Pitt home contest.

    “They lose all five, that’s 14 losses in the regular season and a 15th in the Big East tournament, because we’re talking about an at-large bid.”

    Indeed, if St. John’s goes 2-5 in the remaining seven regular-season games, they would stand at 16-14 overall, 8-10 in the Big East.

    “You’re in trouble at 16-14 entering the conference tournament,” Palm said. “I don’t know what seed you are at that point.”

    Bottom line?

    Even if St. John’s loses to Pitt at home, they need to find a way to go at least 3-4 in the remaining seven games.

    That means winning one orĀ  two road games in addition to beating DePaul and USF at home.

    “It’s nice to have good wins,” he said. “It’s nice to prove you can beat good teams. But it depends. At some point you’ve got to have a decent record.”

    Palm was also asked about Rutgers’ chances of making the NIT in the wake of the Scarlet Knights’ dramatic 77-76 victory Wednesday night over No. 10 Villanova.

    Rutgers is now 13-11 overall, 4-8 in the Big East.

    “If they get above .500 overall they have a shot,” Palm said, referring to their end-of-year record.

    “It depends. Three more NIT teams will be in the NCAA this year. That makes room for somebody.”

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    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.