If anyone thought St. John’s would cruise all season long, that was unrealistic. The Big East teams are a tad different than the nonconference creampuffs they play every year.
St. John’s fans knew it, and even the St. John’s players and coaches would not be fooled by their record this season. The Red Storm had to show their worth by winning their fair share of games in Big East play.
If St. John’s is being honest, they haven’t distinguished themselves in conference play. After their 89-78 loss to the Georgetown Hoyas on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, they are now 15-5 and 3-5 in the Big East.
This is not going to be good enough in the eyes of the NCAA committee when it comes to determining their fate to play in March. They are on the bubble right now mainly because most of their wins come from their nonconference schedule and not enough good wins against the Big East teams. Their only good win came against Marquette on Jan. 1.
It does not get any easier for the Red Storm when they play three straight road games against Creighton, Duke and Marquette and then follow it up by playing three straight home games against Providence, Butler and Villanova. This stretch will define their season, their postseason hopes and St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin’s tenure. If they don’t get some wins out of it, they will be playing in the NIT, and the fourth-year St. John’s head coach will not have the benefit of the doubt by the fans who are hoping for the best.
In a long season, teams are defined by how they respond to adversity. That’s why they call it a long season where there are going to be highs and lows. This is by far St. John’s lows right now after losing four of five.
St. John’s played awful against Georgetown. They struggled to run their offense and make shots. Their defense offered no resistance to Georgetown’s freshman guard Mac McClung, who led the Hoyas with 25 points, and they allowed Georgetown to shoot 13 3-pointers in this contest. Mullin wasted his timeouts early in the game. Despite scoring 21 points, Ponds surprisingly came up lame in a game St. John’s needed him to come up big.
Despite all that, St. John’s could have won or tied the game and take it to overtime. Georgetown struggled to score down the stretch. With 1:23 to go in the game and St. John’s trailing 79-77, L.J. Figueroa stole the ball and missed a three-pointer that could have given them the lead. After his miss, they had three chances to tie it. Instead, Sedee Keita and Justin Simon could not put the ball in the basket, and Figueroa and Mustapha Heron collided, and McClung pick up the loose ball and dunked it to put the game away.
This was a lesson for St. John’s right there. They did not deserve to win this game just by getting by and not being prepared to go.
Let’s not confuse Georgetown to their halcyon days. They are trying to find themselves under head coach and Knicks great Patrick Ewing just like St. John’s. They were begging to lose this game when they struggled offensively down the stretch. This is a team that is decent at 13-7, but only 3-4 in conference play. Just like St. John’s, this is a team that needs to make an impression this month to the NCAA committee about making the tournament.
In a way, this was a must-win game for both teams, especially St. John’s when looking at their schedule. Ponds even admitted it was a must-win game for his team.
St. John’s failed to put on their best effort. In fact, one can say it was their worst effort of the season. They were flat to start the game at home, which is inexcusable. No one should talk about the noon start, especially when the Johnnies did not have to travel.
It’s surprising this was the case. The Johnnies knew their schedule was not going to be easy. They had to play with a sense of desperation and urgency against a team they should be beating in Georgetown. Maybe they felt if they showed up, they would win.
This is where Mullin has to be held accountable. It’s his job to coach them up, and it’s his job to have them ready to go. This was not a good day for him, and games like this are why people question his hiring as St. John’s head coach in the first place. With a team that needs guidance, he failed to deliver.
Mullin is not a rookie coach anymore. He is in his fourth year. He should be experienced enough to know how to lead through the team in crisis. There’s no excuse for him to ever have his team unprepared.
This St. John’s head coach has escaped criticism in town mainly because no one cares about St. John’s and he was learning on the job, but at some point, there should be statute of limitations of him getting a free pass. It’s time to demand results from him.
St. John’s should be a playoff team. They have enough talent that it would be considered a failure if they don’t play March. They have the best player in the Big East in Ponds, and they have enough of a supporting cast in Heron and Figueroa to win games. They have proven they can be good enough with a win against Marquette and a loss against Seton Hall.
No one is saying this season is over, but if St. John’s doesn’t figure it out in the tough gauntlet of their schedule, it will be. We are going to find out the character of the players. We are going to find out if Mullin is the real deal once in for all. We are going to get answers to many questions about the program.
There are no benefit of the doubts anymore. It’s about results and nothing else.
Judgement day has arrived for Mullin and St. John’s.