Almost 10 years since their last appearance in the NCAA tournment, the St. John’s Red Storm have returned after an impressive season where they went 21-11 overall and 12-6 in the Big East, the most feared conference in the Nation.
St. Johns started off the year unranked and didn’t receive one vote in the preseason coaches poll. But in January, the Red Storm beat #13 Georgetown, #11 Notre Dame, #3 Duke, #9 UConn and capped it off with a win against #4 Pittsburg on a last second layup. By the end of the regular season, St. John’s was ranked 18th in the country and came in 4th in the Big East.
After a first round bye in the Big East tournament, they beat Rutgers in a controversial second round game, before losing to 4th seeded Syracuse 79-73. But the bigger loss came when leading rebounder D.J. Kennedy tore his ACL early in the first half. He will miss the entire tournament.
St. John’s drew a 6th seed in the Southeast regional and will play the W.C.C. champion Gonzaga Bulldogs, the 11th seed at 9:45 on Thursday night.
St. John’s will miss the presence of Kennedy on the floor, but have plenty of talented players still available. Top scorers Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee averaged 18 and 12 points per game respectively, and Brownlee also averaged 5.3 rebounds per game, just 0.3 fewer than Kennedy.
But even with a roster full of seniors, St. John’s lacks the experience of a team like Gonzaga which hasn’t missed the tournament since 1999. Senior Steven Gray and Junior Robert Sacre lead the team in scoring, and Sacre also leads in rebounding. Though not a star-studded team, Gonzaga has a lot of talent and should not be overlooked. The Bulldogs have won 9 straight games and eleven of their last twelve, and momentum can never be underestimated in the tournament (Butler won over twenty games in a row leading to their run to the championship last year).
Whoever wins this matchup will face either the 3rd seed Brigham Young or the 14th seed Wofford.
My Pick: St. John’s 76, Gonzaga 70