For St. John's, the bubble officially popped Sunday. The Red Storm will not be in the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row.
Instead, St. John's is a No. 1 seed in the NIT, hosting No. 8 seed Robert Morris on Tuesday at Carnesecca Arena. Although NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Ron Wellman told ESPN's Andy Katz that Georgetown (a No. 4 seed in the NIT), not St. John's, was the Big East team closest to making the field of 68. (Click here to read more.)
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi did not project St. John's even among the top eight teams on the outside of the field.
And St. John's coach Steve Lavin and his players clearly didn't hold out much hope, either. They did not gather as a team to watch the NCAA selection show.
"Naturally the goal this year was to play in the NCAA tournament, and we had aspirations to participate in March Madness," Lavin said on a conference call with reporters Sunday night. "But this group has quickly turned its attention to playing in the NIT, and we recognize that it’s an honor to play in front of our home fans in a postseason tournament that has a special heritage and tradition when it comes to St. John’s University."
St. John's will be playing in the NIT for a record 30th time. As one of the four No. 1 seeds (along with SMU, Florida State and Minnesota), it would play at home in each of the tournament's first three rounds. And the NIT Final Four is, of course, at Madison Square Garden.
If the Red Storm defeat Robert Morris (21-13, 14-2), the regular season champion of the Northeast Conference, they will play either No. 4 seed Green Bay or No. 5 seed Belmont next. Illinois and Clemson are the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in St. John's segment of the bracket.
“It’s disappointing of course to not be in the NCAA tournament, but we have to have short-term memory," said St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison, in a quote released by the school. "We’re glad we got the No. 1 seed so that we can play at home and we’re going to try and win out. It’s all home games for us so that’s a big advantage and we’re looking forward to it.”
"More games is always a plus," Lavin said. "Any time you get more practices and more games, it allows you to continue to build your program and develop a team, both from an individual standpoint as well as the group collectively moving forward."
Iona is the only other local team in the NIT. The Gaels (22-10, 17-3), the regular season champs of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, are a No. 6 seed in Florida State's segment of the bracket. They will open at No. 3 seed Louisiana Tech on Wednesday.
The only way St. John's and Iona could meet would be in the championship game.