Look, they could have made this a lot easier on themselves, OK? St. John’s has proven through most of the second half of this season that it could well be sitting on the breathe-easy side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, that it is certainly good enough to play with most of the 68 teams who will fill out the brackets.

The Johnnies? All you had to do was see the way they came together in late January, the way they started to click, the way D’Angelo Harrison matured into the kind of leader his coach — and his teammates — have always believed he could be, the way Rysheed Jordan blossomed into a star, the way JaKarr Sampson became the kind of dependable player around which successful teams are built.

It was splendid to see. It was satisfying to watch. But it couldn’t erase the fact St. John’s started conference play 0-5. It couldn’t make the last four minutes of the game at Villanova tilt the other way, yielding the kind of victory that matters for two in the NCAA board room. And it couldn’t prevent the aggravating loss to Xavier at the Garden two weeks ago, the game that makes Thursday afternoon so meaningful.

So critical.

“We’re in a good place,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said, and that’s a hopeful perspective that has virtually nothing to do with reality. This is reality: Thursday at the Garden, the fifth-seeded Johnnies play No. 4 Providence in what is almost certainly an elimination game for the loser. And depending on whom you believe, even a win doesn’t guarantee the victor anything, either.

It’s a tenuous place to be, the most tenuous place to be in college basketball, but it’s where the Johnnies (and the Friars) find themselves because of seasons that were mostly good, occasionally terrific, but just lacking enough that both teams still need to build their résumés at the 11th hour.

“It is [all] speculation at this point,” Lavin said. “Providence may be in the tournament already, we may be in the tournament already, there may be five teams already in, but we really don’t know what’s going on in that room as the selection committee works over the next week, so we can only control what is in our hands.”

It’s better for the Johnnies (and the Friars) to focus on the second part of that than the first. The committee is capable of surprises, we’ve seen that time and again. But almost every reliable tournament model — all of them based on past committee behavior — yields the same three truths:

1. St. John’s, right now, is one of the last four out — a status that can only get worse if other teams in other tournaments (or, say, a Seton Hall or a Butler in this one) ODs on pixie dust and makes a miracle run.

2. Even with a win, the Johnnies probably need for chalk to prevail everywhere else — and would still likely have to make a stopover in Dayton, for a play-in game, on the way to the main draw.

3. Winning twice would allow them to exhale.

There is, of course, a fourth option …

So there’s little need to worry about qualifying for the NCAAs; the Johnnies already should be in full survive-and-advance mode along Utopia Parkway. It’s a mind-set they embraced at 0-5, one that helped them recover and put themselves in position to control their destiny at the Big East Tournament.