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St. John's exposed in loss to Villanova

St. John's (11-4) stares at the possibility of a second straight 0-5 start in Big East play. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Nothing has changed.

That is the prevailing feeling I am left with following St. John's loss to Villanova.

Nothing has changed.

I had been away from the St. John's beat this season prior to Tuesday night, working on other assignments. But I watched almost every minute of every game. Yes, the team got off to a very nice start, including a win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. But remember, this isn't a vintage Syracuse team -- the Orange also lost nonconference games to Cal and Michigan.

I returned in time to see St. John's lose its third consecutive game to open Big East play. Now, Villanova is the best team the Red Storm have faced thus far, currently ranked No. 8 in the country. But the defeat laid bare the difference between these two programs.

"[They're] kind of the gold standard for the Big East conference right now," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said of Villanova.

Yes, they are. And St. John's is still a rung or two below.

The Red Storm hung with the Wildcats for 32 minutes or so. But they ran out of steam down the stretch.

With a six-man rotation, St. John's can't afford foul trouble or injuries. Both were an issue Tuesday night. Sir'Dominic Pointer fouled out with nearly eight minutes left, Chris Obekpa nearly fouled out, and both Obekpa and D'Angelo Harrison suffered leg injuries that hampered them in the second half.

The Red Storm got virtually nothing from their bench. Meanwhile the Wildcats had three reserves play significant minutes and make key contributions, including 25 points.

Harrison (38 minutes), Phil Greene IV (37) and Jamal Branch (35) all played practically the entire game. On the other side, only one player got more than 31 minutes, Ryan Arcidiacono (34).

No wonder St. John's wore down late.

And that's not an anomaly. St. John's has three players -- Harrison, Greene and Pointer -- all among the top seven in the entire Big East in minutes played per game. Villanova, on the other hand, has only one player averaging 30 minutes or more -- just barely (Arcidiacono, 30.3).

And the grueling Big East campaign has only just begun.

St. John's does have other players on its bench besides Rysheed Jordan. But they're clearly not capable or ready to play at this level -- Lavin said so himself Tuesday night.

"It's gonna be tough," Lavin said of getting other players in the mix. "We'd like Amar [Alibegovic] and Joey [De La Rosa] and Christian Jones to continue to show us in practice some promise, which gives you the confidence to then put them in the games."

In other words, they haven't shown much of that yet.

Lavin thought he was going to have a couple more players this year, juco transfer Keith Thomas and De La Rosa's younger brother Adonis. Both failed to qualify academically. But that's no excuse.

Watching Tuesday night's game at the Garden, I couldn't help but think back to the 2011-2012 season, when St. John's was also saddled with a six-man rotation.

That team wasn't nearly as good, finishing 13-19. But it featured an all-freshman starting five, including Harrison, Greene and Pointer. The future looked pretty bright.

Harrison, Greene and Pointer are seniors now. They've yet to play in an NCAA tournament game. And the future doesn't look nearly as bright, with only one recruit landed to fill their shoes.

St. John's has a lot of season left to play. But with road games up next against Providence and DePaul, the Red Storm could easily start 0-5 in the conference, as they did a year ago. And as we saw then, that's a difficult hole to dig out of.

"It's a daunting task when you're O-3," Lavin said after the Villanova loss. "The good news is, we got off to the 11-1 start, so we're still ahead of schedule in overall wins and we're ahead of schedule in quality wins, we're ahead of schedule in our RPI, our strength of schedule, our conference RPI."

With all due respect, "ahead of schedule" is the last phrase I would use to describe St. John's in 2014-15.