St. John’s Earns Top Seed in NIT, Will Host Robert Morris; Iona Heading to Louisiana Tech

lavinBy JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG

St. John’s will not be going to the NCAA Tournament, but the Red Storm still have the opportunity to win a championship and they won’t even need to leave New York City to do so.

Two and a half hours after the field of 68 was revealed, St. John’s was awarded a No. 1 seed for the NIT, where they will face Northeast Conference regular-season champion and eighth-seeded Robert Morris on Tuesday evening at Carnesecca Arena in Queens.

As the top seed, St. John’s will get three home games should it advance through to the quarterfinals. The semifinals and final of the NIT will be played at the Red Storm’s other home court, Madison Square Garden, on April 1 and 3, respectively.

“It’s disappointing of course to not be in the NCAA Tournament, but we have to have short-term memory,” junior guard D’Angelo Harrison said. “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.”

St. John’s (20-12), which saw its NCAA Tournament bubble burst on Thursday when it lost to Providence in a Big East Tournament quarterfinal, is through to the postseason for the third time in four seasons under head coach Steve Lavin. Last season, the Red Storm qualified for the NIT, where they won at St. Joseph’s before dropping a second-round game at Virginia.

“We have a term that we use, which is ‘next play,’ so we have to turn our attention to Robert Morris, whose won a conference championship, whose had postseason success in the past,” Lavin said during ESPNU’s NIT Selection Show. “They have a culture of winning championships and we have to get ready for Tuesday night.”

A year ago, after winning the NEC regular-season title, the eighth-seeded Colonials stunned No. 1 seed Kentucky, 59-57, in the first round of the NIT. Because Rupp Arena was hosting the second and third rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the game was played on Robert Morris’ campus in Moon Township, Pa., which is the hometown of Wildcats head coach John Calipari.

The St. John’s-Robert Morris winner will play the Green Bay-Belmont winner in the second round. The other two first-round games in the St. John’s quadrant are Illinois-Boston University and Clemson-Georgia State.

“When I came here four years ago, the goal was to build a sustainable winner,” Lavin said. “Two years ago we had 13 wins, last year we had 17 wins, went to the NIT and got a postseason victory at St. Joe’s. Now, we’re at 20 wins and even in conference, we went from six wins to eight wins, now 10 wins and the goal is just to continue to move this program forward.”

The other local team in the NIT’s 32-team bracket is Iona, which is in the field after winning the MAAC regular-season title, but losing in the MAAC Tournament final to Manhattan.

There was some hope that the seeding committee would have the Gaels play St. John’s, but that didn’t pan out. As a 6-seed in the Florida State quadrant, Iona will instead get on an airplane and head to No. 3 seed and Conference USA regular-champion Louisiana Tech on Wednesday. The Bulldogs lost in the C-USA Tournament final to Tulsa on Saturday.

Should Iona advance, it would face the winner of Georgia-Vermont. The rest of that quadrant features an intrastate matchup between Florida State and Florida Gulf Coast, and a game between former Big East rivals when West Virginia takes on Georgetown.

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