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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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Wednesday / March 20.
  • St. John’s can nail down NCAA Tournament bid with Villanova win Sunday

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    Chris Mullin and St. John’s have a golden opportunity in front of them on Sunday.

    With a win over No. 14 Villanova at Madison Square Garden, the Johnnies (18-7, 6-6 Big East) would ice an NCAA Tournament bid, the first of the Mullin Era.

    “That would clinch it,” ESPN’s Joe Lunardi said by text.

    Lunardi currently has St. John’s as a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament against a No. 7 in Jacksonville, Fla. WatchStadium.com has the Johnnies as an 8 seed against a 9, also in Jacksonville.

    “A lot of our players have been through some tough losses, some really good wins,” Mullin told SNY’s Eamon McAnaney Friday night. “Their goal is to make the NCAA Tournament. It’s been a three-year process for most of our guys…That process is ongoing. We put ourself in a good position  and now it’s time finish off the season with a strong finish and then get into the Big East Tournament with some momentum.”

    On Jan. 8. St. John’s was ranked No. 24 in the AP poll and led at Villanova by 11 points in the second half before failing to close and losing 76-71.

    “They beat us at their place, so we want to defend our home turf,” St. John’s guard Mustapha Heron said Friday. “We have to go out and have fun and just play.”

    Still, Villanova sits at 20-5, 11-1 atop the Big East standings while relying on veterans Phil Booth (18.5 ppg) and Eric Paschall (17.6 ppg).

    Jay Wright has coached the Wildcats to two of the last three NCAA championships and is eligible for the Naismith Hall of Fame this year. Big East coaches are already referring to him as a Hall of Famer.

    “Obviously, you have to respect [Villanova],” St. John’s forward Marvin Clark said. “They are winners, Coach [Jay] Wright has coached the program phenomenally, and you can’t help but respect them.”

    Villanova is where St. John’s wants to be: a perennial NCAA Tournament team, and a threat to go deep every year.

    Mullin is 56-67 in his coaching career (.455) and 18-48 (.273) in Big East play. With one more Big East win, he will match his season-best with seven wins in league play.

    The Johnnies already have four Quadrant-1 wins with their two victories apiece over Marquette and Creighton, but a win over the defending NCAA champs would just about ice a Big Dance appearance.

     “We control our own destiny,” Clark said. “The way our games play out, we are in control of them. It is up to us to make or break our season. That was my whole point in coming here, to bet on myself and I would take myself, a hundred times out of a hundred times.”

     

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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.