Must-win games start Sunday for St. John's to get back in NCAA Tournament picture

The St. John's basketball team has to find a way to land a signature victory against Creighton
Jan 6, 2024; Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA; St. John's Red Storm guard Daniss Jenkins (5) reacts to
Jan 6, 2024; Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA; St. John's Red Storm guard Daniss Jenkins (5) reacts to / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

St. John's needs to be perfect in order to make the NCAA Tournament, and maybe that will not even be enough.

The Johnnies (15-12, 7-9 Big East) snapped a 3-game losing streak on Wednesday night, holding off a late Georgetown rally to defeat the Hoyas in Washington D.C., but things get much tougher against No. 15 Creighton on Sunday (12:00 p.m. ET, CBS) inside Madison Square Garden.

The Bluejays (20-7, 11-5 Big East) are fresh off its 19-point victory against No. 1 UConn on Tuesday and have been playing elite offensively over its last nine games, seven of which have been victories, averaging 87.5 points per contest.

However, the game means far more to the Red Storm than Creighton after its recent skid knocked the team off the NCAA Tournament bubble and it doesn't have many notable games left to try and get back in the good graces of the selection committee.

"This year is not over," Zuby Ejiofor said on Friday. "Right now, we are mainly focused on what we can do to increase our chances at making the [NCAA] Tournament."

What once many thought was a favorable end to the regular season, facing basement dwellers Georgetown and DePaul three times in the final five games, has actually hurt the Johnnies with no ability to land marquee victories.

Sunday against Creighton and Wednesday on the road against Butler (16-11, 7-9 Big East), both of which are currently Quad 1 games, will be the deciding factor if the Red Storm have any chance at an at-large bid.

"It's obviously a big time opportunity," Ejiorfor continued. "We are all locked in and we all know what's at stake."

"We have not given up yet [on the season]. Not a single one of us...we know how big of a game this is."

Drop either of those games, and the only hope St. John's has at seeing March Madness in Rick Pitino's first season will be running the table at the Big East Tournament.

Finishing the season on a 5-game winning streak should get the Storm into the No. 6 or No. 7 seed at The Garden in mid-March, and would set up a favorable opening night matchup against either the Hoyas or Blue Demons. A win likely creates a date with Marquette or Creighton in the quarterfinals, which could be the determining factor if the Johnnies get into the field.

Reaching 21 wins feels like it would safely put the Red Storm in the tournament while 20 victories would be leaving things in the hands of the committee.

St. John's NET is currently No. 50, with a 7-11 combined Quad 1 & 2 record and 8-1 mark in Quad 3 & 4 games, as well as a No. 45 ranking in KenPom. Both metrics need to improve for the Johnnies to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

It has become normal in college basketball for teams with bad records to upset ranked teams on its home floor, it's what makes the sport so great. St. John's doesn't have a bad record, nor is it a bad team, but defending its home floor against a ranked opponent has been a near impossible feat for this program.

This season, St. John's is 0-5 against ranked teams, losing two of those games at home. It's 1-9 in the last three seasons against ranked teams at home, not including the Big East Tournament.

It's finally time for St. John's to beat a ranked team at home and inject some life in what has been a very disappointing five weeks for the program.

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