Despite one non-conference game remaining for the St. John's basketball team, the page has flipped to Big East play and Rick Pitino does not know what to expect from his squad.
“I don’t know. Everything for me with this team is a guess," the Hall of Famer said on Tuesday afternoon of what he expects from his team against the rest of the league as the Red Storm (7-3) prepare for Xavier (6-5) on Wednesday night (7:00 p.m. ET, FoxSports1) in Queens.
The Johnnies have dropped three games in its non-conference schedule and two of them (Dayton and Boston College) felt very winnable, but it does boast an impressive victory over surprising a Utah team on a neutral floor.
However, the Big East is a different animal from any of the out of conference teams St. John's has faced.
“It’s the best basketball conference since the inception and Dave Gavitt starting it," Pitino stated.
The Musketeers are dealing with its own injuries as stars Zach Freemantle and Jerome Hunter are likely out for the season and it has seen losses -- at home -- against mid-majors like Oakland and Delaware.
"We are playing against a [Xavier] team that's a much better team than us right now. Not saying they have better talent, but a much better team."
Defense has been the biggest issue for St. John's this season but Rick Pitino said he saw strides from his team in its bounce back victory over Fordham on Saturday, holding the offensively challenged Rams to only 25.4-percent shooting.
It feels imperative for the Red Storm to begin league play on a positive note -- something it has not done consistently in nearly two decades. The last time the Johnnies started 3-2 in the Big East was during Steve Lavin's first season as the program's head coach in 2010-11.
A trip to No. 5 UConn -- the defending National Champions and one of the favorites to win the title again -- looms on Saturday night, making its matchup with Xavier that much more critical.
"I think it is very important, because you want to build momentum," captain Joel Soriano said about starting fast in the conference.
"The Big East is a very, very tough conference because you are going to have to fight every night. Stacking up as many wins as possible is key."
St. John's is currently ranked No. 61 in KenPom and is No. 66 in the NET Rankings with a combined record of 1-3 in Quad 1 and 2 games, but 6-0 in Quad 3 and 4 games. It is still too early to gauge but 12 victories in Big East play -- 20 overall -- should be enough to land the Red Storm its first NCAA Tournament bid since the 2018-19 season when it was bounced in the First Four under Chris Mullin.