Did They Peak Too Early? St. John's Not Playing at Same Level as Season Ends

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Did They Peak Too Early? St. John's Not Playing at Same Level as Season Ends
Photo Courtesy of New York Daily News and AP Images

January and February were magical months for St. John's and the Red Storm faithful. After defeating teams like Georgetown, Duke and Notre Dame in January, the Johnnies carried their momentum into February.

They ended February with a record of 7-1.  Just like January, three of these wins came against ranked teams; Pittsburgh and Connecticut fell to the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden, while Villanova lost at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

With all of these victories, the Red Storm worked their way to a 15/15 ranking when the new rankings were released on February 28th.  This ranking, along with the publicity St. John's was receiving, allowed them to put the bad losses (i.e. Fordham, St. Bonaventure, St. Mary's) they had suffered in their rear-view mirror.

As February became March, it seems like the Johnnies changed as quick as the months did.  On February 26th, the Red Storm defeated a good Villanova team; five days later, they traveled across the Hudson to the Prudential Center to play against the Seton Hall Pirates.  

Against Seton Hall, it was like seeing a completely different team on the court.  Some put a hefty amount of blame on the referees, but in all honesty, St. John's did not respect Seton Hall.  Before playing St. John's, the Pirates were 11-17 (5-11 in the Big East), yet they manhandled the Johnnies. A prime example of St. John's poor play would be the fact that Seton Hall (worst three-point shooting team in the conference) made 12 three-pointers.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Justin Brownlee dunking against Duke

On Saturday, the Red Storm looked to redeem themselves against the Bulls of the University of South Florida.  The game had a lot of hype around it; it was labeled the "Blackout Game" since students and fans were asked to wear black as the team would be donning their black uniforms.  The game had both a positive and negative impact on St. John's future.

First, the win gives them some momentum going into the Big East tournament.

Had St. John's beaten Seton Hall on Thursday, they would be entering the Big East tournament with a double bye.  The momentum gained by beating South Florida isn't much, but they now have until Wednesday to try and fix mistakes they've made up until this point.

What is not very helpful to St. John's is the fact that they allowed South Florida to keep it close for so long.  This game reminded me of the stretch of games the Jets had when they were playing against average or below average teams and had to pull out close wins.  Granted, the margin of victory was 16 points, but St. John's was losing from the start of the game up until the first few minutes of the second half.

Not being able to take an early lead on a team as bad as South Florida is not a good sign.  St. John's is known for their ability to dominate at home this year; one would expect that in their last game ever at Carnesecca Arena (for the 10 seniors), there would be more intensity, and they would be destroying South Florida.  It was not until the last six minutes when the Red Storm were able to create a sizable lead, which turned into the 16-point margin of victory.

At this point, most fans are hoping that the decline in intensity and lack of production on the court does not mean that the Johnnies peaked too early this season.  The Big East tournament will be a great test to see how this experienced squad can handle a tournament of this magnitude as they'll advance on to the NCAA tournament later this month. 

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