Column: What-ifs aside, St. John's Poised To Do What Previous Three Teams Couldn't | Zagsblog
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Saturday / December 3.
  • Column: What-ifs aside, St. John’s Poised To Do What Previous Three Teams Couldn’t

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    NCAA Basketball: Providence at St. John'sBy JOSH NEWMAN

    NEW YORK – On the backs of its senior class, St. John’s appears to have locked up a spot in the NCAA Tournament thanks to an 81-70 win over Georgetown on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

    Fifty of those 81 points came from seniors Sir’Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene IV on a day when classmate D’Angelo Harrison scored just one point. Those three seniors have been through a lot in four years at St. John’s, so Saturday very much served as something of a culmination of their hard work.

    Still, Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin will allow his mind to wander sometimes. He will go back four years ago when his vaunted 2011 recruiting class first came together. Led by a boatload of four-star recruits including Harrison and Pointer, Rivals ranked the class No. 3 nationally and great things were expected. He will even go back to last year when 2011 recruit JaKarr Sampson bolted to the NBA, and even three years ago when classmate Moe Harkless did the same.

    “Can you imagine? Two NBA players running around with this group?” Lavin said. “It would be pretty special. Talk about a margin for error, ours would be second-to-none. Obviously, Kentucky has the most, but other than three or four programs this year, we’d be right behind them.”

    It would be silly to have expected Harkless, an Orlando Magic small forward, to stick around all four years, especially after winning Big East Rookie of the Year in 2012. However, even one extra year could have made a major difference for St. John’s.

    “Because Moe, everyone, all GMs said he would’ve been a top-3 pick (in 2013),” Lavin said of the 15th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. “So if you have a top-3 pick, then you have a first-team All-American, you have a National Player of the Year candidate. To have had him in his sophomore year with this group, instead of 17 wins, maybe you’re 25 wins. A National Player of the Year is worth five, six, seven wins, at least in my experience.”

    “It’d be a whole other kind of team,” Harrison said. “If Moe was still here, maybe would have stayed two, three years. JaKarr, too, but they’re pros and if we had them, it would be crazy. It would be a whole different kind of team.”

    The what-ifs, hypotheticals and daydreaming drew wide smiles and laughs from Lavin and Harrison. It can be fun to consider those things, but the fact of the matter is this team, with Harrison and Pointer leading the way, appears primed to do what none of the other three teams before it could do.

    The Red Storm’s road to 20-7 overall, 9-7 in the Big East has been a rocky one, too. After an 11-1 non-conference slate with the one loss being by just seven to a Gonzaga team stalking a No. 1 seed, St. John’s came out of the gate in the Big East by losing its first three games and five of its first seven.

    After that, Lavin’s six-man rotation turned a corner, winning six of its next seven to arrive on the cusp of meaningful March basketball. The one loss in that stretch, a 79-57 drubbing at Georgetown on Feb. 17, was avenged Saturday. Furthermore, it left Hoyas head coach John Thompson III thinking the Red Storm could be a real factor in the field of 68.

    “That’s a very good team, that’s a senior-laden team that’s been in the trenches and hungry,” Thompson III said. “Could they pose problems? They could go deep, not just pose a problem for a game or two.”

    The latest version of Bracketology from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi on Friday had St. John’s comfortably in Big Dance as a No. 10 seed in the South Region. That seeding could go up with Saturday’s win and will almost certainly rise if the Johnnies keep winning. They close the regular season Wednesday at Marquette and next Saturday at Villanova. The Big East Tournament opens at the Garden on March 11.

    When all is said and done for this St. John’s senior class, the most-revered member will be Harrison. At one time a combustible guard who was suspended with three regular-season games left in his sophomore season, the loudest and longest cheers during Senior Day festivities were saved for a player who will go down as one of the best ever at St. John’s.

    Wanting nothing more than to play in an NCAA Tournament, Harrison told SNY.tv on Big East Media Day that the season was a ‘complete failure’ without an NCAA bid. Harrison isn’t officially there, but he is close enough where he can taste it.

    “Lil’ bit, appetizer,” said Harrison, who then laughed before turning a corner, disappearing after one of the most important wins of his career.

    Follow Josh Newman on Twitter