St. John's Can Build NCAA Tourney Resume at Preseason NIT | 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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Monday / October 2.
  • St. John’s Can Build NCAA Tourney Resume at Preseason NIT

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    Before the season began, St. John’s senior guard D’Angelo Harrison told me it would be a “complete failure” if the Johnnies didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament this year.

    With the NIT Season Tip-Off  set to begin Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Red Storm has a golden opportunity to notch some significant non-conference wins that could be critical come March.

    St. John’s (3-0) will face Minnesota (3-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in one semifinal, with Georgia set to take on No. 10 Gonzaga in the nightcap. The winners will meet in Friday’s championship game, while the losers will square off in the consolation game.

    Minnesota, of course, won the postseason NIT championship last April by taking down Larry Brown and SMU.

    “We know how important these next two games are,” Harrison said Monday. “To come out 2-0 in this tournament would be big for this program in making people take us seriously. Coach [Steve Lavin] stresses to live in the present. Wednesday will be one of the biggest games of our careers.”

    The Johnnies need to come out of this event with at least one win. If they win the tournament, it would serve notice on a national scale.

    If they somehow lose both games on their home floor, that would not be a good look considering they have very few other non-conference opportunities to get signature wins.

    St. John’s visits Syracuse Dec. 6, but the Orange fell out of the Top 25 this week after losing to Cal on Thursday in the 2K Classic.

    The Johnnies also face No. 4 Duke Jan. 25 at the Garden. But for now, they need to beat Minnesota to build their resume.

    “This is an important two-game stretch that will have a similar feel to the NCAA Tournament, because it’s a great venue and the competition will be strong,” Lavin said. “This is an opportunity for our team to take another step forward, playing two teams with contrasting styles within 48 hours. It will give us a better sense of our strengths and the areas that require improvement.”

    St. John’s has been going with a small lineup of essentially four guards and big man Chris Obekpa.

    “Playing with these guys for four years now, we can adjust to anything,” Harrison said. “I look at the court and it’s the same guys I’ve been with. We’ve been through a lot here. The lineups don’t matter, we just have to focus on defense and rebounding and we’ll be alright.”

    Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said that lineup could cause “a lot of matchup problems.”

    “I think St. John’s has potentially got one of the best starting fives in the country,” Pitino said. “They’re so talented at every single position, so we understand that we’re playing a very talented basketball team, a team that was very close to making the NCAA Tournament, that was playing good basketball.

    “There’s a lot of matchup problems. Obekpa’s probably the best shot-blocker in the country, D’Angelo Harrison maybe one of the best shooters in the country so we know that they love playing in the Garden. It’s a road game for us in a neutral-site tournament so we gotta be prepared for that. It will be a great test for us early.”

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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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