This purpose of this year was progress. Seeing that the plan was working. Proving this program, after two decades of inconsistency and wayward leadership, was finally on the right path.

It started poorly for St. John’s and Mike Anderson, with a 1-5 record in the Big East. Then came a month of terrific basketball, six straight wins and seven victories in eight games. A commanding upset of league powerhouse Villanova. NCAA Tournament talk arose. Buzz began to circulate. Local players Posh Alexander and Julian Champagnie were emerging as two of the best players in the conference.

But just as soon as hopes heightened, the Johnnies took massive steps backward. They blew a 15-point lead at Butler. They played their worst game of the Anderson era as an 11-point favorite in a loss to DePaul, the perennial bottom-feeder in the conference, and they failed to rebound in an ugly 23-point setback at Villanova.

Now comes the true litmus test of where this program stands. Can it get off the mat again, finish the year well and reach the NIT? Or will this recent poor stretch continue to mushroom?

It’s why this week is so important for St. John’s — not only for how we remember this season, but what it can tell us about the future.