It has been 20 years since St. John’s won the Big East Tournament. It has been two decades of disappointment during the most thrilling time of the year.
On seven occasions, the Red Storm dropped their first game of the conference tournament. Four times in the former incarnation of the league, they failed to even qualify for the event. Every time, St. John’s was stopped before reaching the semifinals.
Even with teams that reached the NCAA Tournament, Mike Anderson’s predecessors found little success. Chris Mullin lost three quarterfinal games by a combined 101 points. Steve Lavin didn’t win a single Big East Tournament game in his final four seasons.
Anderson walks into Madison Square Garden with a Big 12 Tournament title under his belt, a pair of SEC Tournament title game appearances and two visits to the Conference USA championship game.
He walked out of his first regular season at St. John’s with two wins in the final three games — including over regular-season champion Creighton — and heads into the Big East Tournament preparing for the improbable.
“I think this team is built for tournament play,” Anderson said Tuesday. “I look forward to this time of the year, especially with the way our team evolved over the season. … The tournament is a different mindset. We try to build our team for this.
“Everybody’s 0-0. It’s a new season. Everybody’s got an opportunity and that’s the great part about the postseason. You survive and advance or you lose and go home. We’re looking forward to it.”
For the fifth straight year, No. 9 St. John’s (16-15, 5-13 Big East) will be featured in Wednesday’s first round, when the Red Storm will face No. 8 Georgetown (15-16, 5-13) for the third time in four years. The winner will face No. 1 Creighton in Thursday afternoon’s quarterfinals.
St. John’s dropped both regular-season meetings with Georgetown — a 21-point blowout in Washington, followed by the Hoyas battling back from a 17-point deficit to win by one at the Garden on Feb. 2 — but the games seem as relevant as the Red Storm’s first round wins in 2017 and 2018.
Georgetown’s star center, Omer Yurtseven, has missed the past four games — and all but one since Feb. 8 — with an ankle injury. Second-leading scorer Mac McClung has been sidelined seven straight games with a foot injury.
Patrick Ewing’s already shorthanded squad is down to just six healthy scholarship players, should Yurtseven and McClung be unable to return.
“They’ve been short on guys but not short on heart,” Anderson said. “The last time we played them we were up and they went to a pressure defense and I thought we caved in a little bit. We have to take care of the basketball. They’re coming in with a lot of confidence because they beat us twice. The [Big East] Tournament is a new season now.”
When it comes to the coronavirus, the only change the Big East will make is cutting off media access to locker rooms, the conference announced Tuesday.