St. John’s heads into Big East tournament with question marks; UConn, Marquette are rolling

The Big East men’s basketball tournament is ripe with compelling storylines:

•Marquette won the regular-season title under Shaka Smart with the emergence of Tyler Kolek and without bringing in a Division I transfer and enters as the No. 1 seed

•UConn is looking like its old conference-stalwart self and playing as well as anyone in the country as we enter the second week of March

•Sean Miller leading Xavier to the No. 2 seed in his return to Cincinnati after being forced out of Arizona in the wake of the FBI scandal

•Providence reloading after a historic season last year

•Creighton showing flashes of the preseason Top 10 team and conference favorite

•Shaheen Holloway coming home to coach Seton Hall and keeping the Pirates competitive despite a lot of roster turnover

•Villanova struggles under first-year coach Kyle Neptune before Justin Moore’s return from injury has the Wildcats playing like the team no one wants to face.

Then there’s St. John’s.

Picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll and expected to compete for an NCAA tournament bid, the Johnnies have underwhelmed, going 7-13 in the league (17-14 overall) and fortunate to be the home side in Wednesday’s first-round game against Butler.

After winning 11 of their first 12 games against a light schedule, Mike Anderson’s squad lost 13 of its final 19 games. Barring an improbable, magical run this week, the Red Storm won’t even sniff a tournament berth and Anderson’s job security is as strong as how much the university can stomach paying him a lot of money to walk away and a lot more to entice the right coach to turn around a program that hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game in 23 years.

St. John’s did produce some bright spots this season with Joel Soriano tying for the nation’s best with 23 double-doubles, earning the big man the Big East’s Most Improved and All-Big East Second-Team honors. Freshman AJ Storr received an All-Freshman team nod. Soriano is averaging 15.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.

Yet the regression of preseason All-Big East first-teamer Posh Alexander and the up and [mostly] down season of big-name transfer Andre Curbelo sticks out in a season of disappointments.

Still, the Johnnies posted their biggest win of the season on Jan. 16 at No. 6 UConn, 85-74, and beat Providence at the Garden. And they nearly pulled off a miracle comeback last Saturday at Marquette, which looms as St. John’s quarterfinal opponent if it is fortunate enough to bear Butler in Wednesday’s opening round. The Red Storm also allowed a Carnesecca Arena record for an opponent in a 96-85 loss to the Golden Eagles at the turn of the year.

What many St. John’s supporters early in the season had hoped would be a week that cemented their team as an NCAA tournament lock has turned into a disgruntled fan base itching for another coaching change to help recapture what made this a proud program.

With that, the week is set up for a UConn Renaissance. The Huskies, who reached as high as No. 2 in the AP poll in December, have won five straight and 8 of 9. Led by All-Big East first-teamers Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hankins, they’re the last team to beat Marquette [87-72 on Feb. 8], which could flirt with a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament if it won the Big East tournament.

Big East tournament predictions


UConn. Husky Nation will invade the Garden as it did in Big East tournaments past, get by Providence in the quarters, take out Marquette, and then dispatch Creighton in the final to win their first Big East crown since Kemba Walker broke a ton of ankles in 2011.


Seton Hall. The Pirates, fresh off a blowout win at Providence without two key players, will knock off No. 2 Xavier to reach the semifinals.