Chris Mullin isn't looking for pity. "We knew exactly what was going on,"

Mullin said. "What we walked into is what we walked into."

The greatest player in St. John's history has endured one of the program's worst seasons in his first year as his alma mater's coach. The Red Storm bring an 8-21 record to Omaha to play Creighton on Sunday. St. John's has won one of 16 Big East games.

That victory came against DePaul, which sits just above the cellar-dwelling Red Storm in the conference standings.

In more than 100 years of basketball, St. John's has had just two teams compile worse winning percentages than this season's group. When Mullin played for St. John's, the school was a national championship contender.

Now, he and his team are just trying to take a step toward respectability.

None of this comes unexpectedly for Mullin, who replaced Steve Lavin last April. Lavin led the Red Storm to two NCAA tournament appearances and two NIT berths in his five seasons as coach.

That wasn't good enough to satisfy all segments of the fan base, and Lavin and St. John's parted ways shortly after the Red Storm lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

St. John's lost several seniors off that team. The top remaining players — guard Rysheed Jordan and center Chris Obekpa — left the team after Mullin took over.

Only three role players returned. Mullin and his staff recruited nine new players, five of them freshmen.

From day one, Mullin preached the need for consistency to his young team. The Red Storm got off to a 7-3 start, with victory No. 7 coming against former Big East rival Syracuse at Madison Square Garden.

St. John's then went more than two months without a victory before beating DePaul on Feb. 17. Two more losses have followed, including an 83-75 setback at DePaul on Thursday night.

"All this stuff is part of building and part of the process of becoming a winning program again," Mullin, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said after the DePaul victory. "It takes a lot to be a good player. It takes a lot to be a winning team.

"It just doesn't happen. Whatever you wind up doing in life, things aren't handed to you."

All the losing has been difficult on the players. The Red Storm have lost by 37 points to Vanderbilt, 33 points to Butler at home and by 25 at Georgetown. But eight of their 15 conference losses have come by 10 points or fewer.

St. John's dropped two games to fifth ranked Xavier by margins of eight and seven points. It played No. 1 Villanova to a 10-point loss in February and came within a basket of upsetting red-hot Seton Hall six days ago.

"The fact we're competing against the best teams in the nation and just keep coming up short, that's the most frustrating part," senior guard Ron Mvouika said to the New York Post. "But that's also the part that makes us work hard every single day."

Mvouika began his career at Missouri State and is one of two graduate transfers in the program. Mullin said he has been encouraged by the development of his younger players. Federico Mussini ranks in the top 25 in the league in scoring, while Kassoum Yakwe and Yankuba Sima rank 1-2 in blocked shots.

"All of our young guys have made tremendous improvement," Mullin said. "There's no denying that.

"To sum this year up, it's motivational. After a year like this, you can go two ways. You can be angry, but that doesn't help in terms of getting better. We just have to learn from this, work hard and try to flip the script."

Contact the writer: 402-679-2298, steve.pivovar@owh.com, twitter.com/PivOWH

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