W2W4: St. John's vs. Providence

Here's what to watch for when St. John's (9-7, 0-4 Big East) plays Providence (11-5, 1-2 Big East) on Thursday at Carnesecca Arena.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m., and you can watch the game on Fox Sports 1.

IT'S NOW OR NEVER: Steve Lavin keeps predicting this St. John's team will jell by February. But the NCAA tournament may be out of reach by then.

The Red Storm are off to their worst start in conference play since 2003-04, when they finished 6-21 overall and 1-15 in the Big East.

The latest edition of ESPN.com's Bracketology was released Thursday. The last team to make the NCAA field of 68 was Minnesota, which is 13-4 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten, with an RPI of 34. St. John's has an RPI of 72.

If the Red Storm can't beat Providence on Thursday and Seton Hall next Thursday on their home floor, forget about the Big Dance.

Will they play with the appropriate sense of urgency? We'll soon find out.

REALIGNMENT? Lavin played an unusual lineup down the stretch in Tuesday's loss at DePaul, going with reserves God'sgift Achiuwa and Max Hooper alongside starters D'Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan and Orlando Sanchez.

JaKarr Sampson, the team's second-leading scorer, was on the bench along with others often on the floor in the final minutes, such as Sir'Dominic Pointer.

Sampson has struggled of late, and Pointer picked up a technical foul early in the second half. Still, there's an argument to be made for having your best players on the court at crunch time.

Lavin is clearly still searching for chemistry and combinations that work. If Thursday night's game is a tight one, will we see Sampson and Pointer or Achiuwa and Hooper again -- or others?

THE FRIARS: Providence is coming off an 18-point home win over Georgetown eight days ago. Before that, the Friars lost at home to Seton Hall (by one in double overtime) and at No. 6 Villanova (by 30) to open conference play. They went 10-3 in nonconference play, including wins over Boston College, Vanderbilt and La Salle and losses to No. 13 Kentucky (by 14), No. 16 UMass (by two in overtime) and Maryland (by four).

Bryce Cotton, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, is the second-leading scorer in the Big East at 20.2 points per game. He is also averaging a team-high 5.7 assists. Three other players average in double figures: 6-9 sophomore forward Tyler Harris (13.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG), 6-9 senior forward Kadeem Batts (12.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG) and 6-6 junior forward LaDontae Henton (12.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG). This team has size and strength, and it'll be a battle on the boards.

Providence is ranked 303rd in Division I (out of 351) in offensive field goal percentage (41.3), but the Friars are No. 1 in the country in free throw percentage (79.7). This St. John's team has been prone to foul trouble, allowing opponents to get into the bonus early in halves. That would be a big mistake against Providence.