St. John's comes into the 2014-15 season on a mission: Big Dance or bust.
That may be the goal of every college basketball team, but for St. John's, it has more meaning. The Johnnies have made the NCAA Tournament once in Steve Lavin's tenure, their only trip to the Dance in 12 years. For the No. 1 team in what was once the primary haven for basketball talent, it's more than unacceptable.
After dropping their first five Big East games in 2014, the Johnnies finished 10-3 in their final 13 regular season conference games. But after a disappointing loss to Providence in the Big East tournament, the Red Storm laid an egg in the NIT tourney, failing to complete a second-half rally at home against 8th-seed Robert Morris.
But with a new year comes new opportunities - opportunities that St. John's plans to seize on its road back to the NCAA tourney. Out is JaKarr Sampson, in is JuCo transfer Keith Thomas, an elite rebounder that bolsters the frontline with Chris Obekpa (given the expectations that he'll stay out of trouble). Returning are seniors D`Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene, as well as point guard Rysheed Jordan, who battled suspension and tragedy in his freshman year.
Expectations are high again in Queens, with a candidate for Big East Player of the Year in tow in Harrison, and an impressive starting lineup led by Jordan at the point, who should make a big leap heading into his sophomore campaign. Don't look now, but St. John's could be this year's Providence come tournament time, a difficult task in a conference that only sent three teams to the tournament in 2014. But they'll need some key victories against several Big East opponents on the way to March.
Dec 31 at Seton Hall - The rivalry continues on New Years Eve, as St. John's heads across the Hudson to battle Seton Hall. But the most intriguing storyline here isn't these two hated rivals, but the prized recruit from Coney Island that spurned Steve Lavin and committed to the Pirates. Isaiah Whitehead will be on display in the final game of 2013, leading a top-10 class for head coach Kevin Willard. St. John's swept Seton Hall last year, but won both games by a single point. Expect a high-scoring affair to ring in the New Year.
Jan 18 at DePaul - Surprisingly, the Blue Demons played the Johnnies well last year. DePaul held off a late surge at home last year for a two-point win over the Red Storm. At MSG, it was DePaul making the late comeback before St. John's put them away. D`Angelo Harrison dropped 24 and 25 in both contests, respectively. The senior to dominate the smaller Demons in January, and in their bout in Queens on Feb. 11.
Jan 31 vs Providence - Providence went 2-1 over the Johnnies in 2014, including a 79-74 loss in the Big East quarterfinals. St. John's nearly erased a 17-point deficit late in the 2nd half before the Friars pulled away on their road to the Big East title. Free throws and second-chance points proved to be the downfall of St. John's last year, who'll be out for revenge against the team that ended their NCAA tournament dreams.
Feb 28 vs Georgetown - Senior Day will be a matinee showdown on national television as the Hoyas visit MSG on CBS. Georgetown jumped out to a 42-16 halftime lead in their first meeting last year, suffering its worst loss of the season. The Red Storm led wire-to-wire in game two, scoring the first 15 points of an 82-60 rout in the Garden. Harrison and Rysheed Jordan both scored 24 in the game, and although this should be a much-improved Georgetown team coming to New York, seniors like Harrison won't lie down in their final home game inside the Mecca.
March 7 at Villanova - A gritty St. John's squad gave Villanova a fight last year, losing by 3 in Philly last February. Barring a complete disaster, Nova should have a top-3 spot in the Big East tourney locked up by this matchup, while the Red Storm will likely be playing for seeding, pride, and momentum heading into tournament time. A key win on the road over Villanova would give St. John's a big boost come Selection Sunday.
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