NEW YORK— The Big East Media Poll picked St. John's to finish 15th and Georgetown eighth. But after the Johnnies knocked off the Hoyas 64-59 in the first round of the Big East Championship, it's the Johnnies that look like the eighth-best team in the league while the Hoyas are looking like one of the worst.
St. John's kept its season alive with the school's first Big East Tournament victory since 2003, the same year former coach Mike Jarvis led the team to an NIT Championship. But this year, if and when St. John's loses in the Big East Tournament, there won't be an NIT bid waiting for them.
What will be waiting for St. John's and coach Norm Roberts is a team full of budding underclassman that embraced Roberts' advice.
"I said to them that the bottom line is, here's the momentum," Roberts said. "You're going to either define your moment or let the moment define you, and I've been telling [my players] that for the last three weeks: do not let the moment define you."
St. John's defined its moment when it came back to take a lead at half despite an early seven-point deficit.
St. John's defined its moment when it clamped down on defense and prevented Georgetown from scoring a field goal for over four minutes early in the second half.
St. John's defined its moment when it blew a 10-point lead, but reached back for a little bit more and outscored Georgetown 11-3 over a three-minute stretch late in the second half.
St. John's defined its moment by winning four of its last six games despite all of the team's problems.
"We weren't dealt some very good cards throughout the year with [Anthony] Mason going down, losing our guard [Malik Boothe] for nine games, then Justin Burrell having to wear a mask the whole year," Roberts said.
John Thompson III received a similar deck of cards filled with hardship, but his Hoyas are headed in a different direction. Despite losing four key seniors and two transfers from last year, Georgetown excelled early beating Memphis and Connecticut.
But attitude problems with Jessie Sapp, a lack of defensive intensity from DaJuan Summers, and a bench thinner than Paris Hilton have the Hoyas in reverse.
But Georgetown's second loss to St. John's in a week still doesn't mean the Hoyas' season is over. Georgetown will likely be headed to the NIT despite losing 11 of its last 15 games and being one and done in the Big East Championship.
"[The loss] is extremely disappointing," Thompson said. "They all are. I can't think of any loss [as] 'Oh, that's a good, happy loss.' This is the Big East Tournament. When you lose in this tournament, it's tough."
Through this rough stretch, Thompson claimed his team's mental psyche hasn't been shaken.
"We still struggled, but I don't think we've ever shown up not confident that we can go out and play well and get a win," Thompson said, "We haven't executed as we should have, but I don't think confidence is part of the equation."
Georgetown needs to figure out its execution problems quickly. The Hoyas cannot afford to take a nose-dive in the NIT (assuming they play in it) and end the season losing the way this team has.
Only Jessie Sapp graduates so this core of players will return together. A culture of losing can develop quickly if a coach doesn't prevent it.
It will be on John Thompson's shoulders to ensure his Hoyas learn how to win again.
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