Now St. John’s fans must sit and await NCAA Tournament fate

The worst part starts now, if you are a St. John’s fan.

The worst part always comes when there are no more games left with which to argue for your inclusion in the Field of 68, and when there is still plenty of time left for minds to be changed and metrics to be studied, for other results from all across the country to give you acid indigestion.

There are no more games left for St. John’s, and if what we saw Thursday night is the kind of testimony the Red Storm were going to provide, perhaps that is for the best. The Johnnies beat Marquette twice this year, and it’s those two wins (plus the feel-good Garden victory over Villanova that feels like it happened during the first Bush Administration) that are the keystones of their case to make the NCAA Tournament.

It’s a good thing both of those games were televised, because after the way they played Thursday night — the way they’ve played most of the last month, truth be told — it’s good to have evidence to prove there was a time when the Johnnies could channel the better angels of their split basketball personality for more than two possessions at a time.

“We struggled all night,” Chris Mullin said, surveying the detritus of an 86-54 slaughter at the hands of the Golden Eagles, and it was more than they struggled — they looked tired. We will say it was “tired” because the only other word to use would be “disinterested” — and we wouldn’t want to believe that with the NCAA’s eagle eyes watching everything that happens these next 72 hours, they would possibly be as carefree as they looked.

All of the prognosticators with their formulas and their numbers and their steadfast belief in forecasting what the Selection Committee will do still insist the Johnnies are in the tournament, almost all of the credible ones going a step further and declaring they are safe from taking a two-day detour though Dayton to play a preliminary-round game.

Typical of these is ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, whose bracket prediction following the Johnnies’ outbracket-game defeat of woebegone DePaul had them safely in as an 11 seed in the South bracket (with an opening-game matchup against Mississippi State, in Des Moines). Lunardi isn’t always perfect, but he has an awfully good track record, and it has been his steadfast belief in St. John’s that has helped nourish its most fervent fans.

Two things about that.

Lunardi is good. But he doesn’t go 68-for-68 every year.

And even his brackets are fluid. So far St. John’s has survived the bid-stealing thievery of Saint Mary’s, which had the audacity to knock off Gonzaga. Could they survive if, say, West Virginia builds on its stunning win over Texas Tech in the Big 12 and runs the table in Kansas City? What if someone across town in the A-10s — let’s pick a totally random team, like St. Bonaventure — has a good weekend in Brooklyn?

Such are the things that await St. John’s fans the next few days. The folks who actually work for and play at St. John’s don’t seem all that worried, truth be told. Asked to do what just about all coaches do at this time of the year and make a public case for his team, Mullin declined.

“I’ll be watching Sunday [when the Selection Show airs on CBS],” he said. “I’m not really here to make a case. If I needed a lawyer — we do what we did, and we’ll see what happens Sunday. No politicking. I stay out of politics.”

Pressed further if he’ll pay attention to other relevant games or simply push everything out of the team’s mind until Sunday, Mullin said: “I told my guys to take a break. They need a break mentally, physically, maybe need a little break from each other, and we’ll be back together Sunday, have a good practice, then probably watch the Selection Show and see what’s what.”

If only you, as a fan, could be so cool, right? Instead, the hard part is just beginning. And so is the longest 72 hours of the college basketball season.

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