St. John's basketball, Rick Pitino expecting better from Joel Soriano

The St. John's basketball team is expecting more from its All-Big East center, Joel Soriano
St. Johns v Xavier
St. Johns v Xavier / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

Joel Soriano was the biggest hold over from last year's St. John's basketball roster when Rick Pitino was hired.

The Hall of Famer made it one of his top priorities to keep the All-Big East center and put a group of players around him that would help him thrive.

It worked perfectly for the first 16 games of the season as the Red Storm looked like a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and Soriano, averaging 17.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, was not only playing at an all-conference level, but at an All-American pace.

Since, Soriano's play has tapered off significantly and the Johnnies are firmly on the bubble, having lost six of eight games entering Tuesday's (7:00 p.m. ET., CBS Sports Network) critical showdown with the Providence Friars (15-9, 6-7 Big East) in Rhode Island.

The latest performance was a dismal 2-point, 5-rebound effort against then No. 7 Marquette on Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee in which his backup, Zuby Ejiofor, outplayed him.

Soriano was 1-for-4 from the field, never visited the free throw line, and was limited to just 17 minutes because of foul trouble and Ejiofor's strong play.

Rick Pitino was not happy with, specifically picking up an unnecessary technical foul late in the first half that gave him his second foul, and started Ejiofor, who finished with five points and seven rebounds -- six of which were offensive --, in the second half over Soriano.

It was the first time this season that Ejiofor's minutes exceeded Soriano's.

"I have a captain who gets a technical foul and I didn't want him to get his third foul, for no rhyme or reason," Pitino explained after the Johnnies (14-10, 6-7 Big East) blew a 15-point lead to lose, 86-75 in Milwaukee.

Joel Soriano is averaging 11.3 points and 8.1 rebounds over the last eight games.

If St. John's wants to turn its season around, and it must do so quickly, Soriano has to play better or the Red Storm will be no better than an NIT squad.

We'll find out a lot more about Rick Pitino's thoughts on the situation by who he starts at center in Friartown, Joel Soriano and Zuby Ejiofor.

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