It would have been very hard for St. John's to fire Norm Roberts if they beat Marquette at the Garden on Wednesday afternoon. After humiliating UConn on Tuesday, a second straight win against a team in the mix for the NCAA Tournament would have given Roberts a major feather in his cap when he sat down with school brass to discuss returning for another year on the sidelines.
His team couldn't get it done, though. David Cubillan hit a three with 75 seconds to play and Marquette held on for a 55-53 victory that sends them to the Big East quarterfinals against Villanova. It was a tough loss for the Johnnies, who battled back from being down as many as 14 points in the first half to take a late lead, but a much tougher one for Roberts.
The coach must now face the firing squad with nothing other than his complete body of work to speak for him and it's hard to find the compelling reason why he should return. The Red Storm were supposed to take a step forward this season but a second-round loss to Marquette is the same way the season ended in 2009. Sure, there were signs of growth at various points this season. It says a lot about where the program is, however, that one of those signs was beating Siena. Nothing against the Saints, who are a fine team, but the Red Storm still call the Big East home.
In the final reckoning, St. John's was still a team in the bottom quadrant of the conference and unable to compete on a nightly basis with the teams who will play on into the tournament. We're far enough way from the dismal Mike Jarvis era that you need more to constitute actual progress.
That said, if a win on Wednesday would have been enough to overlook everything that happened from November to February it isn't unthinkable that the way they lost won't help Roberts's cause. The team clearly played hard for him and with just one senior on the roster, you could see an argument being built around letting Roberts finish what he started with a team that's sniffed success in the past couple of years.
Also working in Roberts's favor is the school's apparent distaste for spending the amounts of money lavished on basketball programs elsewhere in the conference. Making a coaching change without upping the expenditure would be the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Both those arguments kept Roberts employed after last season. Can he pull off the same trick twice?