If the NCAA tournament began today, St. John's would be a No. 9 seed in the Big Dance, according to the latest ESPN bracketology.
The Red Storm did themselves a big favor by knocking off No. 10 Marquette on the road on Tuesday, and now play five of their next six games at home. This stretch is pivotal for the Johnnies (17-6, 5-5 Big East), who can really help their NCAA tournament chances by taking care of their home court -- both at Madison Square Garden starting with Saturday's tilt against Providence and at Carnesecca Arena.
St. John's best opportunity for another signature win during the homestand comes on Feb. 17 when they host No. 14 Villanova, which is undefeated in the Big East (10-0) entering its tilt on Saturday at Marquette.
"St. John's is definitely an NCAA tournament team," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said last Saturday after his team handled the Red Storm 91-61 at Cameron Indoor Stadium behind 29 points from Zion Williamson, whom the Knicks are dreaming of landing with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. "They gotta win just like everybody, but they're a big-time team. The could beat anybody, I think."
Villanova and Marquette are the only teams above .500 in the Big East right now, with St. John's and Georgetown both at the .500 mark. Only three Big East teams are in the ESPN mock right now -- Marquette, Villanova and St. John's -- with three others -- Butler, Creighton and Seton Hall -- among the "first four out."
That means there is a lot of room for movement as the Big East schedule heads into the stretch run ahead of the Big East tournament, which runs March 13-16 at the Garden.
St. John's is in good position after going 2-1 on a recent three-game road swing that saw them win at Creighton and Marquette, both difficult places to play, while getting smoked by Williamson and No. 2 Duke at Cameron, where Mullin made his first trip since his official visit nearly 40 years ago.
"Especially now the way the conference is stacked up with everyone piled up on each other, each and every game is going to be important," Mullin said. "But you can only play one at a time. We're not playing doubleheaders."
Mullin said before the season the goal is the NCAA tournament, and that hasn't changed now. This is the coach's best team in his four-year tenure, and he has improved his win total each season.
Despite Duke's blowout win, Coach K gave Mullin credit for bringing the St. John's brand back.
"Chris is one of the great players in the history of the game and it's so good that St. John's has him back," Krzyzewski said. "For him to take the job and try to bring back the brand ... The St. John's brand is spectacular but it hasn't been as much. But it's still there."
That brand will continue to flourish if St. John's can build up more wins in the next few weeks. Two of their five league wins have come against Marquette, whose only two losses are to the Red Storm. Now Shamorie Ponds and the Johnnies must earn some wins against other teams as well.
"They have really good players," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "They're a dynamic offensive team. They're a really good defensive team, too."
Big recruiting weekend ahead
Mullin and his staff are expected to be out on the recruiting trail this weekend watching games at the Metro Classic.
The Johnnies are targeting Precious Achiuwa, the 6-foot-9 senior wing from Montverde (Fla.) Academy who is the younger brother of former St. John's big man God'sgift Achiuwa. North Carolina, Kansas and UConn are also in hot pursuit of Achiuwa, one of four McDonald's All-Americans who will be featured at the Metro Classic.
"I've lived in New York pretty much since I've been in the States," Achiuwa, who transferred to Montverde from St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, said last month. "My brother went there. Pretty much I have a connection to them because of my brother. But I still have to sit with my family and decide what I should do for college because obviously me and my brother have different paths. We don't have to go to the same spot. We're just looking for the best option."
- Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) January 20, 2019
St. John's will also scout Jonathan Kuminga, a high-flying Class of 2021 wing from Our Saviour New American.