Russell: St. John’s Loses, but Villanova Good For Conference

Villanova was ripe to be upset. They didn’t play their best game, maybe because of a noon start, maybe because they were just due. The defending champions only had nine assists and turned the ball over 20 times. Kris Jenkins missed nine of his 10 shots. And they still beat the Red Storm 70-57 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

“When you get a team like that to miss shots and turn the ball over 20 times, and don’t capitalize, that’s frustrating,” Red Storm coach Chris Mullin said.

Freshman guard Shamorie Ponds admitted he didn’t like the effort in the second half but the coach isn’t playing psychiatrist. “I’m not gonna talk about what’s in his mind,” Mullin said. “I got kids of my own, I don’t want to know what’s in their minds.”

More important than yesterday’s game is the overall state of the Big East. Although St. John’s has lost four straight games, it’s a good time for the conference, especially after Villanova’s exciting championship game win over North Carolina last season. “I think all of us have been lifted by each year,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Getting five teams in the NCAA Tournament, six teams in the NCAA Tournament, and then we were saying there’s someone gonna break through. We didn’t know who it was going to be, we just knew someone would break through, happened to be us. And then you come back and see this season and see what everyone does non-conference, you see a game like today, 18,000 people at the Garden, Chris Mullin coaching St. John’s, it’s as pure as it gets with college basketball in the Big East.”

“We all feel like it’s us against the football world,” Wright said. “We gotta make it happen and I think we all inspire each other and everytime we have successes out of this conference and at the NCAA Tournament.”

Despite the rivalries, it’s beneficial for St. John’s to be able to say that the champion is from the Big East.

“It’s great for the conference,” said Red Storm guard Malik Ellison. “A lot of people say the Big East is not the same as it was back in the day, so the fact that they won a championship, they just represented for our conference, it was great for the conference.”

Mullin played at St. John’s at the height of the Big East, when three teams from the conference made the Final Four in 1985. Now there’s defending champion Villanova, and schools like Creighton, Butler and Xavier that are ranked. “I love the Big East right now and no disrespect to football, but it kind of ruined the original Big East and now it’s back to it’s rightful place as a basketball conference and I think it’s a tremendous conference with built in rivalries, home-and-home series, and I think organically we’ll grow and I think the way it’s set up now is perfect,” Mullin said.

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