St. John's basketball eyes 'winning Big East' but UConn will be toughest challenge

The Red Storm have to go through the gauntlet of Huskies to achieve its goal

St. John's v Seton Hall
St. John's v Seton Hall / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

Its win over Seton Hall likely clinched an NCAA Tournament berth but the St. John's basketball team doesn't want to hear anything about that.

"We're trying to win the Big East title," Rick Pitino said after its dominant 91-72 victory over the Pirates when asked his thoughts about the team potentially locking up a bid on Thursday.

The problem that now faces the Johnnies?

In order to win its first conference championship since 2000, the most dominant force in college basketball stands in its way, the defending National Champion UConn Huskies.

Connecticut didn't look like itself in the first half on Thursday against Xavier, only leading by a point at halftime, before outscoring the Musketeers by 26 points in the second half.

"We got a lucky draw," Pitino joked about the Johnnies' third matchup with the Huskies. "Easy game."

St. John's had every opportunity to upset UConn in Hartford two days prior to Christmas but could not come up with the plays in the final two minutes to leave with a victory.

It's second meeting of the season was in the middle of a trend which the Red Storm would play well in the first half before bottoming out in the second half and coming away empty. It resulted in a 13-point loss.

Despite the regular season sweep, Dan Hurley's squad was never fully healthy in either of those games. All-Big East center Donovan Clingan (foot) did not play in December and star forward Alex Karaban (ankle) did not play in January.

The Huskies will be fully healthy on Friday night and have only lost one game at full health this season, an 85-66 shellacking in Omaha against hot-shooting Creighton.

"We know Connecticut is a great team. We know they're one of the best teams in the country," Pitino continued.

"I can tell you from being in Iona, the second unit is as good as their first unit."

It's not exactly David vs. Goliath since the Red Storm aren't a lowly mid-major, but the Huskies are most definitely Goliath in every situation this season.

Daniss Jenkins had a similar comparison saying, “UConn is like the big dragon. You want to take him down".

A UConn victory would mean its fourth win against Rick Pitino in the calendar year after the Huskies defeated the Hall of Famer's Iona Gaels in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Pitino also joked that he would have St. John's watch three separate film sessions of the Huskies between Thursday night and Friday, including waking the team up at 1:00 a.m. to scout UConn.

He was serious, however, when he said the Red Storm will need to play a perfect game to have a chance at defeating Connecticut.

Nahiem Alleyne, who is very familiar with the operation of the Huskies from last season, explained the game is going to come down to effort and doing the little things right in order to pull the upset.

"Hopefully the third time is the charm," he said.

The anticipation is already high for the matchup and that will only grow until tipoff.

St. John's and Rick Pitino against UConn and Danny Hurley for a spot in the Big East Championship inside Madison Square Garden on Friday night (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX). It doesn't get much bigger than that.

The eyes of the college basketball world will all be on midtown Manhattan hoping this legendary tournament has another classic game brewing.

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