St. John’s will finally get back on the floor at Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament 364 days after their opening postseason matchup with Creighton was canceled at halftime — a benchmark moment for the sports world that, by the end of that day, was completely shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Red Storm, ranked fourth in the Big East and led by the conference’s Coach of the year, Mike Anderson, will meet No. 5 Seton Hall in the tournament’s quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, FS1) where they are poised to finally exorcise some of their longstanding demons.
Seton Hall is sliding having lost their last four games of the regular season to Georgetown, Butler, UConn, and in the finale, St. John’s. That victory on March 6 helped propel the Red Storm to the No. 4 seed where a favorable draw could be laid before them.
A win on Thursday over Seton Hall would see St. John’s make the Big East semifinals for the first time since 2000; they won the conference before advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where they were upset by Gonzaga.
St. John’s would then likely meet top-seeded Villanova, should they defeat the winner of No. 8 Georgetown and No. 9 Marquette in the quarterfinals. But the Wildcats were recently dealt a tough blow when their reliable sophomore guard, Justin Moore, suffered a significant ankle sprain over the weekend where he’ll be doubtful for the Big East tourney.
It was another difficult blow for Villanova’s backcourt after losing starting point guard Collin Gillespie — one of five finalists for this season’s Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard — to a torn ACL on Wednesday.
A run to the final, regardless of result, could be enough to get St. John’s into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid.
St. John’s will rely on their young duo of sophomore forward Julian Champagnie and freshman guard Posh Alexander — both Brooklyn natives — as they’ve done all season to make their postseason run.
Champagnie is just the fifth-ever St. John’s sophomore to gain Big East First-Team honors after averaging 19.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season.
Alexander is the favorite to win Big East Freshman of the Year accolades after posting 11.1 points and 2.6 steals per game.
Offensive prowess aside, they help anchor one of the more aggressive defenses in the country. St. John’s ranks 15th in the nation in turnovers forced per game and fourth in steals.