And then Villanova happened.
The Big East buzzsaw from Philadelphia blew out the Red Storm only several hours after the New York City representative knocked off the Hoyas the previous night.
“It was amazing,” said Shamorie Ponds, who led the Johnnies with 17 points in the win over G’Town. “The crowd and everything was amazing. This is the best tournament in the country.”
The ‘Nova Wildcats defeated the Red Storm at noon the next day, 107-66, tying the record for the biggest blowout in Big East tournament history.
“They’re the best team, we give full credit to them,” said Red Storm head coach Chris Mullin after the loss. “That was a good position to be in, to be able to play in today’s game. No regrets.”
The loss put a stamp on the Red Storm season, which ended with a record of 14-19, 7-11 in conference play. Ponds led the team with 17.4 points per game on 43.9 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 2.1 steals.
The five-time Freshman of the Week was joined by a two-time recipient of the same honor, Marcus LoVett, who posted 15.9 points on 46.4 percent shooting, 3.7 assists and 1.3 steals.
LoVett, apparently, is weighing the option of going pro, originally reported by the New York Post, which he didn’t exactly deny by sharing the proposition on social media.
LoVett redshirted last season before being eligible for 2016-17, and just turned 21 on March 4, making him an elder freshman as opposed to most, like Ponds, who are in the 18-19 age range.
LoVett potentially leaving for the NBA Draft could complicate things for a blossoming young St. John’s squad, who have one senior in Darien Williams, who averaged about 12 minutes per game this past season.
The Red Storm have shown flashes and ability, knocking off programs like Syracuse, Seton Hall, and ranked squads like Butler and Marquette, and could take the next step under coach Mullin, who will be entering his third season.
“I want to give St. John's credit for the season they've had,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said after beating the Red Storm by 41 on Thursday. “They've done a great job with that team this year. A lot of young guys are going to be really good.”
In fact, a lot of the young guys are going to be good, assuming they stick around. We’ve seen this happen with the Red Storm in recent years where, for a multitude of reasons, players have departed early.
There’s Mo Harkless entering the draft as a one-and-done in 2012; Jakarr Sampson entering after two seasons and going undrafted in 2014; Chris Obekpa transferring in 2015 (and not playing) at UNLV before trying his hand at the NBA; Rysheed Jordan’s abrupt exit and attempted murder (in that order) last year; and Yankuba Sima’s random request for a transfer release, which was granted this past December during the season.
Super frosh LoVett could, in all likelihood, join the list, which would leave a big hole at guard despite a litany of likely returning Johnnies next season.
LoVett and Ponds could grow into one of the best backcourts in the nation and eventually lead this program back into the NCAA Tournament, with other key cogs Bashir Ahmed, Federico Mussini, Malik Ellison, Tariq Owens and Kassoum Yakwe.
If LoVett goes, the mountain becomes that much steeper for the program as it continues to try and re-establish itself as a regional power with national respect.
Seton Hall joins Madness
In the South Regional of the NCAA Tournament, the number-nine seeded Seton Hall Pirates will face the number-eight Arkansas Razorbacks on Friday, with the winner likely doing battle with number-one North Carolina on Sunday.
The Pirates, led by senior Angel Delgado and junior New York natives Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington, reached the semifinals of the Big East Tournament before being ousted by eventual champion Villanova last Friday by a 55-53 final.