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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.
  • Chris Mullin on the NCAA Tournament: ‘We have a lot of work to do’

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    In this year of the incredibly soft bubble, St. John’s appears in the NCAA Tournament despite having gone under .500 in the Big East Conference and losing 4-of-5 entering the Big East Tournament.

    “I don’t understand the doubt about St. John’s,” CBSSports bracketologist Jerry Palm told me last week. “I’ve been asked about them more than any other team in the last day or so.”

    He went on to add that St. John’s (20-11, 8-10 Big East) has six Quadrant-1 wins. Both Palm and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently have the Red Storm as an 11 seed in the Big Dance.

    When I asked head coach Chris Mullin on Monday if he believed his team was headed to the NCAA Tournament, he said, “Yeah, I think we got a lot of work to do. The big picture goals are nice to have but we always focus on what we need to do to succeed.”

    That starts Wednesday night at 9:30 when No. 7 seed St. John’s will face No. 10 DePaul in the first round of the Big East. DePaul is 2-0 against the Johnnies this season. The winner gets Big East Player of the Year favorite Markus Howard and No. 2 Marquette in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

    “We are totally focused on DePaul,” Mullin said. “They are a handful for us. They’ve beaten us twice. So our sole focus is on starting a brand-new season and focusing on DePaul.”

    If St. John’s loses to DePaul for a third time this season, it really would not be a good look. St. John’s would still appear to be in the NCAA Tournament, but they would be limping in like an injured animal.

    “Obviously, when you’re playing in Madison Square Garden you can’t overlook the fact that they’ll have a lot of fans there,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “It would feel a little bit like a home game, but at the same time it’s going to come down to what goes on between the lines. I’m sure they’re looking at it like both of those games were close enough that they could’ve or should’ve won, so their adjustments will be according to that.”

    Mullin was asked what his team — which features All-Big East first team pick Shamorie Ponds and Big East Defensive Player of the Year Justin Simon — can do differently this time around.

    “Yes, probably nothing I would put out publicly,” he said. “We have had some success in those games, two very different games. In the last game there were two different halves, quite frankly. So, we know what we have to do. We have proved it to ourselves, you know the style of play we need to be successful. Making sure we make it happen is our sole focus.”

    If St. John’s pulls a Kemba Walker/UConn deal and runs the table at the Garden this week they will get an automatic bid to the Big Dance. But that seems like a fantasy given how they’ve performed of late. After a 12-0 start, they have gone 8-11.

    Still, it’s March, and anything’s possible.

    “It’s not like the NBA,” said Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing, whose No. 6 seeded Hoyas face No. 3 Seton Hall on Thursday at 9:30. “If you get on a run you can go all the way to the Final Four and the championship.”

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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.