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St. John’s forcing its way into NCAA Tournament picture



St. John's forcing its way into NCAA Tournament picture

St. John’s stunning upset of third-ranked Villanova on Wednesday night was about more than the moment. It wasn’t just the significance of a 9.5-point underdog thoroughly outplaying the premier program in the Big East. It wasn’t about proving the Red Storm’s recent stretch of solid play wasn’t a fluke.

It was about what this victory could do for Mike Anderson’s team five weeks from now.

“That win is going to have staying power and it’s certainly going to be an eye-opener,” Dave Ommen, a noted Bracketologist who publishes, said in a phone interview. “Sometimes that is the difference between making it in and not making it in.”

Ommen was referring to the NCAA Tournament. Yes, St. John’s is now firmly in the mix, according to four Bracketologists — Jerry Palm of CBS, Michael DeCourcy of Fox, Ommen and Brad Wachtel of Facts & Bracks — The Post spoke with. Palm has St. John’s in the field in the First Four. DeCourcy has them in his Next Four Out. So does ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. The others haven’t updated their brackets, but said St. John’s is on the outside looking in at the moment.

The consensus among the experts is the Red Storm (12-7, 6-6 Big East) have now played their way onto the radar. The win over Villanova, the Johnnies’ fifth straight and sixth in seven games, garnered significant attention. Now they have to build on it, starting Saturday at Providence. Their résumé needs work.

“I see St. John’s as one of those teams in that First Four, Next Four Out range right now,” Ommen said. “They’ve certainly played their way into at-large consideration.”

St. John’s has only three combined Quad 1 and 2 victories in nine opportunities, at home over Villanova and on the road against Marquette and Connecticut. It has a NET rating of 67, the tool the selection committee uses to evaluate teams. It does have four wins away from home, which is traditionally important in the committee’s eyes, since the tournament is played at neutral sites. And, Palm pointed out, just one bad loss, at home to Marquette, a Quad 3 setback.

There will be plenty of opportunities for the Red Storm to improve their standing. They still visit Villanova and host Seton Hall and Xavier. A previously postponed home game against UConn is expected to be rescheduled. A 5-3 league record the rest of the way, Wachtel said, would likely get them in. A 4-4 Big East mark and a tournament bid would depend on who the Johnnies beat.

“They’re going in the right direction and the schedule gives them some really good opportunities,” Palm said.

According to all of the Bracketologists, the selection committee always considers who bubble teams have defeated when comparing them to one another. Beating other likely tournament teams is important. St. John’s has knocked off two of them, Villanova and UConn, and has the chance for more. A positive in the Johnnies’ favor is their 12-7 overall record. A number of bubble teams are dangerously close to .500. Only two at-large teams that have been fewer than three games over .500 have reached the tournament, DeCourcy said. But this isn’t a normal season, with teams playing a maximum of 27 games, which could lead to exceptions being made.

“I just can’t see them going there if they don’t have to,” DeCourcy said.

The bottom line is so much can happen over the next five weeks. If St. John’s stays hot, it likely will reach the tournament. It can ill afford any cold spells and their margin for error is slim. But it sure beats where St. John’s was only a few days ago. It controls its own destiny.

As Al Davis liked to say, “Just win, baby.”

Dancing would almost certainly follow.

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Athletics’ Sergio Romo pulls down pants during substance check



Athletics' Sergio Romo pulls down pants during substance check

MLB pitchers aren’t taking kindly to the league’s new foreign substance rules.

Athletics pitcher Sergio Romo seemed particularly annoyed that the umpires performed a substance check on him Tuesday night.

After working a one-run seventh inning for Oakland, the umpire beckoned for Romo to come over for the check. Romo responded to the moment by tossing his hat and glove to the ground and whipping his belt off.

MORE: Rays’ Wander Franco homers in first MLB game

Then came Romo’s final act. He pulled his pants halfway down to prove that he wasn’t harboring any illegal substances.

Romo certainly made his point, but Dan Iassogna, the umpire checking him, didn’t seem too bothered by his high jinks. In fact, the umpire flashed a smile at Romo, who the broadcast described as “heated.”

Romo wasn’t alone in being bothered by the substance check on Tuesday. Max Scherzer was checked for foreign substances three times in the first four innings of the Nationals-Phillies game and became increasingly irritable with each examination. He directed his rage at Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who was later ejected for jawing at Scherzer. The checks didn’t seem to faze the three-time Cy Young winner too much; he earned the win, pitching five innings while giving up just a run and striking out eight.

Needless to say, these antics will be fairly common as MLB attempts to implement these rule changes on the fly.

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Nationals’ Max Scherzer feuds with Phillies’ Joe Girardi over substance checks



Nationals' Max Scherzer feuds with Phillies' Joe Girardi over substance checks

MLB’s new sticky substance rules are already causing havoc, and resulted in a feud between Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Phillies manager Joe Girardi on just their second day since being implemented.

Scherzer was checked for foreign substances three times in his first four innings against Philadelphia. He came up clean each time. The Washington starter didn’t look happy about his first check of the game after the opening frame.

That said, all starters will be checked for foreign substances under MLB’s new protocols, so that was expected.

MORE: Wander Franco cranks three-run homer in first career game

What wasn’t expected was that Scherzer would be checked after the third inning as well. He finally drew the line when Girardi requested that Scherzer be checked in the middle of the fourth inning.

The feud between Scherzer and Girardi reached its boiling point in the fifth inning. Scherzer stared at Girardi on his walk back to the dugout after retiring the Phillies in order, and Girardi took exception to it. He came running out of the dugout yelling at Scherzer and was ejected while the pitcher mocked him from a distance.

Be prepared to see more of these mini squabbles and frequent substance checks. Managers have the right to have the opposing pitchers checked, so they will likely take advantage of this as baseball implements this major rule change on the fly.

Though the Scherzer-Girardi feud was amusing, it’s certainly not a feather in MLB’s cap. If anything, it’s a bad omen that the league’s hastily made protocol changes could result in more conflicts, slowdowns and controversies as umpires figure out how to properly deal with them.

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Rays’ Wander Franco hit game-tying homer in first MLB game, and Twitter loved it



Rays' Wander Franco hit game-tying homer in first MLB game, and Twitter loved it

Welcome to Major League Baseball, Wander Franco.

The top prospect in baseball made his long-awaited Rays debut on Tuesday night in an effort to help the team snap a six-game losing streak. Almost immediately, the move paid dividends.

Franco walked in his first plate appearance, but made a lot of noise in the fifth inning. With the Rays trailing 5-2, Franco hit a three-run homer off Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez to tie the game.

Franco drove the slightly low slider 362 feet and helped Tampa Bay come from behind in a critical game against Boston. The Rays owned a half-game lead over the Red Sox atop the AL East entering play on Tuesday.

MORE: Four things to know about Rays prospect Wander Franco

The 20-year-old became the youngest player to homer in his first game since Jurickson Profar did so on Sept 2, 2012, with the Rangers.

He also is the youngest member of the Rays to homer since B.J. Upton in 2004.

The blast inspired many reactions from MLB Twitter, as fans and analysts alike were excited to see Franco deliver on the hype immediately.

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