St. John's, Creighton chart opposite paths

St. John’s continues to stumble to the finish line of what has turned out to be a disappointing college basketball season. 

The Red Storm did cover a point spread of + 12.5 Wednesday in a 71-60 loss to Villanova. But that was their ninth outright loss in the last 11 games. St. John’s is just 2-5 against the spread in its last seven. Headline-making December victories over West Virginia and Arizona are distant memories.

St. John’s hosts the hard-charging Creighton Bluejays on Sunday (noon, FS1). Creighton has been playing some of the best basketball in the country the last several weeks:

— Creighton has won nine of its last 10 in the tough Big East. Though the conference has no team projected to earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, it’s deep with quality. 

— Creighton has covered five in a row and eight of its last nine against market prices that have been stubborn to recognize a late-season surge. Creighton’s covers have come by 17, 11.5, 21, 10.5, 3.5, 21.5, 5.5 and 17 points. If the lines had moved five points toward Creighton, they’d still be 7-2 ATS in the last nine. That mix includes six double-digit covers. 

— Creighton stormed to the top of the Big East in market-respected rankings posted by Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com) and Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. The Bluejays ranked in the top dozen nationally midweek in both assessments. They might still have time to earn an Elite Eight seeding. 

At worst, the Bluejays will be a team nobody wants to face in March. If recent form continues, they will be solidly on the short list of national championship hopefuls. 

A potential point of vulnerability entering the Big Dance appears to be team defense. An adjusted defensive efficiency ranking in the mid-60s, points allowed adjusted for pace and schedule as calculated by Pomeroy, looks strong on a national scale of 353 teams but is much worse than other contenders projected to go deep in the tournament. 

One-and-done is dangerous for teams that must shoot well every time out to advance — particularly when they run into superior defenses. 

St. John’s will carry an offense ranked about No. 125 and a defense ranked about No. 60 into its final seven days of action. After colliding with Creighton, the Red Storm visit Butler on Wednesday and then host Marquette on Saturday. The 2020 Big East championship tournament will run from March 11-14. St. John’s is already locked into an opening-night preliminary as a No. 8, No. 9 or No. 10 seed. 

How should you handicap St. John’s and Creighton the rest of the way? For the Red Storm, try to evaluate energy and enthusiasm. There’s no reason to bet on a group that has given up. For Creighton, fly with the Bluejays as long as the market refuses to acknowledge their consistently high level of play. 

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