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Is this really progress for St. John’s?

Backing in the tournament and being the 68th team to round the field of 68 should not be something to be proud of from a St. John's perspective.

St. John’s sweated until the bitter end.

When they heard they were the 68th team to round out the field of 68 in the NCAA tournament on Sunday, it was party time.

It was amusing to see St. John’s celebrate their play-in appearance. Who knew being last was a great thing in this situation?

In the eye of beholder, St. John’s had a successful season. They won 21 games. They beat teams like Seton Hall, Villanova and Marquette (twice) to put themselves in a position to make the tournament.


But look closely. For anyone that watch the Red Storm religiously this season, it’s hard to say this season has been a success. Exactly who is St. John’s fooling besides themselves?

They are certainly not fooling New Yorkers since this town has been slow to embrace this program. Put it this way: Marquette fans made their presence heard and seen than St. John’s in what was a home game for St. John’s against Marquette in the Big East Tournament on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

St. John’s enters the tournament as losers of five of seven games, and in the five losses, they have lost by a combined 84 points. After St. John’s 86-54 loss to No. 23 Marquette in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, they have lost last three quarterfinal games by a combined 101 points. They have not gotten beyond the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament in the past 19 seasons.

This does not look like a tournament team. Quite frankly, they were fortunate to play in the play-in game. Hofstra is more deserving than them, but they won’t be in because they did not win the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament after bowing down to Northeastern 82-74 in the title game on Tuesday. Even the Georgetown Hoyas are more deserving to dance in March than St. John’s.

St. John’s made the final cut because they play in the Big East and they have 21 wins, even though most of it is inflated wins against poor competition. Their 8-10 record in the Big East is unacceptable.

St. John’s should have been playing like a team that should have done big things in the Big East Tournament. They should have used this as a springboard to what’s to come to March Madness. Instead, their performance was so bad that they had to be fretting about their chances the tournament.

Here’s what alarming about this program: Their best players such as Shamorie Ponds, Mustapha Heron, Marvin Clark II and Justin Simon have regressed at the wrong time. These players should be getting better heading to the tournament the way Seton Hall’s players such as Myles Cale, Myles Powell, Justin Rhoden and Sandro Mamukelashvili are. There just seems to be a disconnect among St. John’s players.

Why should anyone be optimistic about St. John’s chances of beating Arizona State in the play-in game? Why should anyone even bother caring when they are struggling to reach the final line? When St. John’s coach Chris Mullin mentioned his players need a break from each other in a time where players must come together, this isn’t encouraging.

This is where everything falls on Mullin. It’s his fourth year as the Red Storm coach, and his program has not really taken a big step despite what the apologists say. Yes, his team made the tournament, but so what? The program should be coming around where guys get better year in and year out, and March should be the month where the team comes together. Neither of that has happened under his watch.

St. John’s has been fundamentally bad. Their players can’t pass the ball well as they are looking to get their points, and they play defense when they want to rather than bring it every game. In Mullin’s fourth season as coach, this can’t be happening.

It’s fair to wonder if Mullin is really the guy that can take St. John’s to excellence. These same problems keep occuring where it gets to the point if this is even salvageable. There has been reports about him being disengaged with coaching, and he did not help his cause when there was a camera shot at his assistant coach barking instructions while he looked on during a timeout against Georgetown this season.

Honestly, Mullin is even worse than his predecessor Steve Lavin. Yes, Lavin had his flaws when it came to coaching and recruiting players that had horrible character (i.e. Rysheed Jordan, Sir’Dominic Pointer), but at least St. John’s was decent and being in the tournament with him. History now favors Lavin’s tenure considering how awful Mullin’s teams have been.

It’s still mind-boggling St. John’s hired Mullin to be the head coach when he never coached a day in his life. He was never qualified to begin with, and after four years, he has showed why. Even making the tournament does not mean he has become a good coach. If this season is the best he can do, then he has so much work to do.

Mullin is not in danger of being fired. St. John’s is committed to him with two years to go on his contract, and the university wants the favorite son to do well after a great college basketball career for that school. It wouldn’t be surprising if he gets an extension, which would be ill-advised.

In St. John’s view, this season has been successful. This shows how low their bar is. It’s not about winning the Big East or going far in the Big East Tournament and NCAA tournament. It’s about being decent. That’s what was the Mullin hire was to begin with.

Either Mullin has to get better or St. John’s needs to demand more. Don’t count on either of that to happen.

It’s just business as usual for St. John’s.

Play-in game is apparently the bar at St. John’s.

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