March Madness: Will St. John's Make the NCAA Tournament?

Fran BerkmanContributor IFebruary 4, 2011

Red Storm Leading Scorer Dwight Hardy    Image: AP Images
Red Storm Leading Scorer Dwight Hardy Image: AP Images

At the heart of this question lies the debate over how many teams the Big East will send to the tournament. The previous record for a conference was eight teams, set by none other than the Big East in 2006, 2008 and 2010. That record will almost certainly be broken this year. The question is: Can the Big East send 10 teams?

Here are two things we have learned about the Big East this year. First, on a given night, any Big East team can beat pretty much any other Big East team. Second, on a given night, any Big East team will probably beat any non-Big East team. Do these statements seem like hyperbole? They are, but only slightly. 

Let’s consider them one at a time. To support the former, no Big East team is undefeated in conference play. Not to mention the likes of Providence and Seton Hall have upset conference titans No. 12 Villanova, No. 15 Louisville and No. 17 Syracuse. 

For the latter statement, the Big East as a whole has a 159-40 non conference record. The top 10 teams in the Big East are a combined 11-4 against non-Big East ranked opponents, including 3-0 against teams currently in the top five (Texas, Duke).

So where does all this leave St. John’s? Currently, the Johnnies are tied for 10th place in the Big East with Marquette; both have 5-5 records. Let’s take a worst case scenario and say that the Big East will only get nine bids. If we assume that the eight current top 25 teams in the conference (that’s right I said eight) make it, that leaves one spot for three teams: St. John’s, Cincinnati and Marquette. 

These three teams each play each other one more time, so those games will be of incredible consequence to their NCAA hopes. St. John’s has three ranked teams left on their schedule, Cincinnati has five and Marquette has only two. 

If all these teams finish with around the same record, look for the selection committee to give an edge to St. John’s due to their proud tradition, and because their roster features nine seniors who have battled through significant adversity during their careers.

That being said, St. John’s really just needs to keep pace with these two teams, which probably means finishing out their Big East schedule at 4-4. Then, maybe add on a win in the Big East tournament.

Of course, the outlook improves when you consider that due to their dominance, the Big East could potentially squeeze 10 teams into the bracket. In addition, West Virginia has a hellacious schedule, facing seven ranked opponents in their final nine games. It is very possible they could come back to the pack, opening up another potential bid.

The Johnnies' signature win over Duke at Madison Square Garden will certainly go a long way toward getting them a bid. With RPI and strength of schedule ratings heavily in St. John’s favor, 20th in the nation and second in the nation respectively, look for five more wins to be the magic number. Meet that goal, and they should be celebrating in Queens come selection Sunday.