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St. John’s quest for another quality win falls short at No. 9 Villanova

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Having won nine of their last ten games entering Saturday’s contest at No. 9 Villanova, St. John’s has been one of the hotter bubble teams in the country. A win over the Wildcats would further cement St. John’s status as a team charging towards an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. And given their 0-5 start to Big East play, the fact that the Red Storm is in this position is a testament to the work done by Lavin and his players.

Unfortunately for St. John’s they produced their second-worst shooting performance of the season at Wells Fargo Center, shooting just 32.2% from the field in a 57-54 loss to the Wildcats. But even with the poor shooting the Red Storm had chances to either tie or take the lead in the final minute, but two violations (a travel by Phil Greene IV and a lane violation by Rysheed Jordan) resulted in lost opportunities.

Leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison finished the game with 15 points but he needed 15 shot attempts, making just four. But based upon the team’s shooting it’s clear that he wasn’t the only player to struggle offensively. Add in the fact that shot blocker Chris Obekpa, back after missing the Butler game with a sprained ankle, was ineffective (one point, two rebounds and two blocks) in 24 minutes of action and it’s clear why the Red Storm had a tough time getting over the hump.

As a result of these issues St. John’s missed out not only on a quality win, but also the opportunity to grab sole possession of third place in the Big East. And with the middle of the Big East loaded with teams hoping to claw their way into the field of 68, St. John’s didn’t take advantage of the chance to set themselves apart from the pack.

Offense was an issue for both teams, with Villanova making just 39.2% of its shots on the afternoon. The one player who didn’t seem to have as much of an issue in this physical contest was Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard, who scored a game-high 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field. The Wildcats did outscore the Red Storm by 18 points from beyond the arc (27-9), but St. John’s was able to remain competitive due to their scoring 20 points off of 15 Villanova turnovers.

St. John’s will play two of its final three games at home, with Xavier and DePaul visiting before the Red Storm finish the regular season at Marquette. Win all three and the Red Storm could be in a position where one win at the Big East tournament would be enough to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. But that will be a tough task, with both Xavier and Marquette looking to do the same.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: