NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09: Head coach Chris Mullin of the St. John's Red Storm watches his team in the first half against the Marquette Golden Eagles during the Big East Basketball Tournament on March 9, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Despite not having a Big East win so far this season, St. John’s is holding their own against some of the top teams in the conference.


When a team is struggling like St. John’s has had since Big East conference play began, moral victories are not something that a fanbase wants to hear about. But, despite all the losses, Chris Mullin’s squad has found a way to compete against some of the top teams in the Big East.

That trend continued on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden when the Red Storm took on top-ranked Villanova. In that game, St. John’s never trailed by more than 11 points and only lost 78-71 on a night where Shamorie Ponds put up a career-high 37 points.

Now, this was the first home game in the Big East that the Red Storm had against a Top 25 opponent. Before Saturday night, St. John’s was hanging in these games as a heavy road underdog. When they have played ‘Nova, Seton Hall, and Creighton, their average margin of defeat has been only 6.3 points.

In fact, four of St. John’s six Big East losses have been decided by seven points or less. If you want to go back to last season when the team went 6-10, they only played in six conference games that were decided by that low of a margin (5-1 record).

Of course, things have changed for St. John’s since early December when one of their top scorers, Marcus LoVett, went out with a knee injury. For a team that had hardly any depth to begin with—St. John’s plays seven players that average over 14 minutes per game (Kassoum Yakwe – 13.9)—losing LoVett was a crushing blow.

Without LoVett, they don’t have the playmakers besides Ponds to win games with their offense. Right now, St. John’s has averaged 70.7 points per game in Big East, which is the fewest of any team in the conference. That puts a lot of pressure on Ponds, who has averaged 19.4 points in conference play.

The games for the Red Storm continue to get tougher as they head to the Cintas Center Wednesday night to take on #11 Xavier (8:30 p.m ET, CBS Sports Network). The Musketeers have been one of the premier programs in the Big East under head coach Chris Mack and have a top player in Trevon Bluiett (19.2 ppg, fifth in the Big East).

If St. John’s wants to find a way to stay in this game, they are going to have to bring the defense to the arena. Fortunately, they have two players that can help in that area as Justin Simon averages three steals per game in conference play and Tariq Owens is blocking 3.3 per game. Both lead the Big East in those respective categories.

One of the keys for St. John’s to find a way to win is to have better performances in the second half. Heading into the Villanova game, the Red Storm have been outscored 214-168. Without the team making many perimeter shots (1-for-12 from three against Villanova), it is going to be tough to win on a consistent basis.

This year has been a disappointment for the Red Storm, to say the least. However, for those calling for Mullin to lose his job, its way too soon to do that because the team has recruited well and they have found a way to hang in games they have no business being in.

It is going to take a while for St. John’s to be at the top of the Big East, but this is the time to find out who are some of those key pieces for next year’s team as Bashir Ahmed and Amar Alibegovic are the only two seniors on the roster.

While St. John’s might not have a great record in the conference, when it is all said and done, fans can feel comfortable that Mullin is going to have his team competing on a nightly basis. Now, it is just all about finding a way to win close games and gaining confidence.

I graduated from St. John's University with a degree in sports management. I previously wrote about the Johnnies at Rumble In the Garden.