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Sunday / July 14.
  • Season is a Failure If Johnnies Don’t Make NCAAs

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    NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament-Providence vs St JohnsNEW YORK  — Make no mistake about it.

    This year must be considered a failure for Steve Lavin and St. John’s if they don’t make the NCAA Tournament.

    And after losing to Providence 79-74 in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals on their home floor Thursday afternoon, it certainly appears as if the Johnnies are bound for the NIT.

    “If we get in the NIT our goal is to win it,” D’Angelo Harrison, who went for 21 points and 10 rebounds in the loss, said after at Madison Square Garden. “If we get in the NCAA our goal is to win it.”

    The NIT certainly wasn’t the game-plan coming into this season.

    Not when the Johnnies had a slew of potential future pros in Rysheed Jordan, JaKarr Sampson, Chris Obekpa and maybe even Harrison, too.

    “This is a year where we’re positioned to do something special,” Lavin said back in September.

    This was supposed to be the year Lavin took a team loaded with his players — not Norm Roberts‘ players — to the NCAA Tournament, maybe on a wild ride to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 or beyond.

    “I think St. John’s is the most talented team in the league,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said the other day, echoing comments he made before the season.

    Lavin is set to get an extension on his current deal, but an NIT appearance is certainly not what the fans and St. John’s boosters are looking for.

    The fans are irate at this loss, even as the Johnnies fought back from 17 down to make it tight at the end.

    Sterling Gibbs and Seton Hall had already taken out No. 1 seed Villanova in the earlier game, meaning the Johnnies would have had to beat Seton Hall, not the Wildcats to make the final.

    There they might have played Creighton, a team they’ve already beaten once, and fought to the final buzzer in a loss.

    Instead, either Seton Hall or Providence will make the Big East championship game in the first year of the new-look league.

    Meantime, Lavin admitted afterward that he may not get that much sleep on Saturday night entering Selection Sunday, but he also said he won’t be surprised either way, NIT or NCAA.

    “Losing [in] the first round of your conference tournament is not a good thing when you’re trying to play in the postseason,” Lavin said.

    Providence coach Ed Cooley said he would be “shocked” if St. John’s doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament.

    He also said the Big East should get “5-6” teams in every year, so take all that with a grain of salt.

    “I thought we played a great team,” Cooley said. “That was a tournament game. I think St. John’s is clearly an NCAA Tournament team when you look at the depth of our league.”

    Always cerebral, Lavin said he wasn’t necessarily buying that this was a play-in or play-out game. He pointed to St. John’s winning 11 of their final 14 games and even said earlier this week that it was possible both St. John’s and Providence were already in the tournament.

    “I don’t think it’s an automatic that we’re not in,” Lavin said. “I know people have been saying that, but I think we didn’t help our cause any by losing today, but I haven’t bought that this was a play-in game for either team….

    “You’d prefer to take it out of the Selection Committee’s hands by winning today, winning tomorrow, and winning on Saturday. But now that we weren’t able to do that, we have to hope that they look at the body of work of a young team that’s getting better, a freshman point guard that improves with each practice and game, challenging ourselves against the Wisconsins and Syracuses, and the 11 of 14 down the stretch.”

    It probably won’t be enough and Lavin and his players will go to bed Saturday feeling uneasy about what is to come.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

    This was supposed to be the year the Johnnies brought some excitement in March.

    And none of these players should consider leaving for the NBA, either.

    They’re not ready.

    If they don’t make the NCAAs, the best-case scenario now is they make a run in the NIT and then get everyone back next year for one more run.

    And then the pressure will really be on Lavin to deliver.

    Photo: USATSI

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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.

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