Well, we have now hit the stretch run of the basketball season. BracketBusters is completed, and the New York City area schools involved in the event went 4-2 overall. While the MAAC took a weekend off from conference play, the NEC attempted to get some sense of order in the middle of the league standings. Sacred Heart, Fairleigh Dickinson and Wagner all find themselves jockeying for seeding in the eight-team conference tournament, and Long Island and St. Francis (NY) need wins and help in order to qualify.
In the Big East, St. John’s is getting closer to the Big East Championship, holding a three game edge in the win column over 13th place. Who’s in thirteenth? Seton Hall, and with two games separating the Pirates from a Connecticut team that they’ve already lost to, things don’t look too good for Bobby Gonzalez’s club. In the Atlantic 10, Fordham is stuck in the middle of the pack record-wise, and where they could end up in terms of seeding by the end of next weekend is still to be decided. Army and Stony Brook find themselves at the bottom of the Patriot and America East conferences, and they don’t figure to stick around their conference tournaments for too long.
In the Colonial, it’s going to be tough for Hofstra to make up their two-game deficit with two games to go, but they still need wins in order to ensure that they end up on the side of the bracket opposite first-place Virginia Commonwealth. Lastly, Columbia doesn’t have the luxury that other teams in the area have since the Ivy League doesn’t have a conference tournament. And with the Lions five game behind Pennsylvania in the loss column with five games (for the Quakers) to go, it looks like another year without an NCAA tournament for CU. Now here are a few games to keep an eye on over the next couple of days in the area.
Lafayette @ Army, Wednesday 7 PM EST
Yes, both teams are tied at the bottom of the Patriot League standings with 3-9 league records, but the winner of this contest will go a long way in avoiding the bottom two seeds in the conference tournament. All games in the tournament are played at the higher seed, and with the top two teams being Holy Cross and Bucknell (their order is still up in the air as well), any pipe dream of making a miracle three-game run would have to include finishing at least sixth in the league.
The Black Knights have lost their last seven, and with Bucknell visiting West Point to end the season three days later, they need this one for confidence reasons as much as for their record. The Leopards certainly aren’t hot right now either, going 3-11 in their last fourteen games. Expect this one to be a low scoring affair with the team doing the better job of limiting their turnovers getting the win.
Also: St. John’s @ Louisville.
Manhattan @ Siena, Thursday 7 PM EST
This one is big for seeding in the MAAC Tournament, as well as the fact that Siena is one of three teams one game (in the loss column) behind first-place Marist. Siena’s won six straight heading into this contest and a win at home over the Jaspers sets them up for a showdown at Marist on Saturday for a share of the regular season crown. The Jaspers have a lot to gain in terms of seeding as well, but if they want to play the role of spoiler they’d better make sure that all five Saint starters don’t reach double figures in points like they did in the first meeting, an 80-69 Saint win on January 21st. Manhattan must have an answer for guard Kenny Hasbrouck, who went for 22 in the first meeting, if they are to keep this one close.
Also: Mount St. Mary’s @ Wagner.
St. Peter’s @ Iona, Friday 7 PM EST
An ESPNU audience will get to watch two area rivals get together in what should be an entertaining game despite their records. Iona has been hit hard by injuries and academic issues, but they silver lining in their cloud of a season has to be that freshmen are getting valuable experience for next year. St. Peter’s is also a young team that will have a lot of returnees next season, so this game could be a springboard into 2007-08 for both teams. And given the unpredictable nature of conference tournaments, one of these teams (or both) could pull an upset or two in Bridgeport next weekend.
Siena @ Marist, Saturday 11 AM EST
Yes, this game starts at eleven, but it also gets an ESPN2 audience. And depending on what Siena does against Manhattan on Thursday night, this one could be for a share of the MAAC regular season title. Marist won the first meeting between the two back on January 15th thanks to twenty-four from their star guard Jared Jordan. But look out for reserve forward Wilfred Benjamin; better known as “Spongy” (this is one of the best nicknames in college basketball). Neither team relies heavily on their bench, but in his last four games Benjamin has averaged 11.2 points per game for the Red Foxes. The McCann Field House should be jumping for this one, regardless of the time of day.
Also: Fordham @ Rhode Island, Fairleigh Dickinson @ Wagner
Duke @ St. John’s, Sunday 2 PM EST
The Blue Devils make yet another trip north to take on the Red Storm, and this is one that St. John’s usually has no problem getting up for. This SJU team is nowhere near the teams of Artest and Bootsy Thornton that found a way to win at Cameron Indoor, but don’t expect Norm Roberts’ bunch to back down from this challenge. Lamont Hamilton will have his hands full with Josh McRoberts, but this one may ultimately be decided by how well Duke point guard deals with St. John’s guard Eugene Lawrence, one of the better defensive guards in the Big East. On paper, Duke should leave the Garden with a win, but you never know what can happen in this one.
Here are the updated rankings.
Marist (last week: 1): The Red Foxes took care of business last week, and they have a few extra days off before Siena comes to town on Saturday.
Hofstra (2): Hofstra got lucky at home on Senior Day, needing two free throws and a lost second block from Carlos Rivera to beat Holy Cross.
St. John’s (3): They lost a tough on at Providence last week, but the fact that none of the teams behind them did anything of note last week keeps the Red Storm at three.
Fairfield (4): The Stags have alternated wins and losses in their last five, but a win over St. Peter’s on Sunday could go a long way in giving the Stags a boost heading into the MAAC Tournament.
Sacred Heart (8): The Pioneers recovered nicely from their loss to CCSU by taking Mount St. Mary’s out behind the woodshed, then winning a close one over FDU.
Fairleigh Dickinson (7): They lost a tough one against Sacred Heart, but the Knights win over Central Connecticut State gave the rest of the NEC hope that someone could beat the Blue Devils come tournament time.
Fordham (5): The Rams ended their four-game skid by holding on at home against Duquesne on Sunday. Next up is a two game road swing at Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure.
Manhattan (6): The Jaspers have lost their last four games, and they need some kind of positive momentum to take into the MAAC Tournament next weekend.
Seton Hall (9): The Pirates haven’t played very well of late, but none of the teams behind them in this poll have either.
Wagner (11): The Seahawks won at St. Francis (PA), and then lost at Robert Morris. This team has had a hard time sustaining positive momentum throughout the season.
Columbia (10): The road sweep at the hands of Penn and Princeton pretty much ended the Lions’ chances to win the Ivy, not that the numbers were in their favor heading into the trip to begin with.
LIU (13): The Blackbirds, winners of three of their last four, are starting to wake up. Unfortunately for them, however, it may be too late to qualify for the NEC Tournament. The St. Francis (PA)/Robert Morris road swing wraps up the season.
St. Francis (NY) (12): The Terriers made a run at eighth, but it looks like with a two-game gap to make up in the final two games of the season, it may be too late. Don’t expect this team to be on the outside looking in next year, however.
Stony Brook (15): The Seawolves beat New Hampshire by eighteen on Sunday, but they’re going to have a much tougher time with Albany on Thursday night.
Army (14): The losing streak has hit seven, and if they want to end it before the season ends, they need to take care of Lafayette.
NJIT (16): The Highlanders, led by senior guard Clayton Barker, have gone 2-2 in their last four games.
St. Peter’s (17): The Peacocks found a way to beat Iona, but they weren’t so fortunate in their 59-58 loss at Tennessee-Martin.
Iona (17): The Gaels got their first road win of the season, 52-50 at Delaware. Yes, it was Delaware, but for this young team it’s still a good win.