New York-area college basketball has never looked so good. Although no team in the area is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, there are several squads that could find themselves dancing if they continue to thrive.
St. John’s – Home wins against Duke, Georgetown and Notre Dame, an underrated road victory over West Virginia, and an impressive 89-72 thrashing of 10th-ranked Connecticut at the Garden on Thursday night has the Red Storm thinking NCAA. Thursday's win over UConn made last Saturday’s loss to UCLA not a devastating one. Although the Red Storm (14-9, 6-5 Big East) is currently in a four-way tie for seventh in the Big East with five wins over ranked teams, it can’t afford to let any winnable games slip away. NCAA Chances: Promising.
Princeton – The Ivy League is Princeton’s to lose. The Tigers (17-0, 5-0 Ivy League) already have a win over second-place Harvard (16-4, 5-1). But Princeton has a four-game road swing beginning on February 11 at Columbia, which could make or break its season. Wait, it gets worse. Princeton returns home for a two-game home stand only to end its season with a three-game road trip, culminating with a season finale at Penn. The Ivy League schedule makers have to be Harvard graduates. The road challenges notwithstanding, Princeton is the best team in the Ivy League. With no conference tournament all the Tigers need to do is win the regular season title. NCAA Chances: Promising.
LIU – The Blackbirds (19-5, 11-2 Northeast) won for the fifth straight time on Wednesday night. Yes, we know LIU needs to win its conference tournament to get a bid, but they’ve looked so good with four double-digit scorers and a fifth who is averaging 9.8 points per game, we can’t see them slipping up. The Blackbirds haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since the Charles Jones era (1996-1997). NCAA Chances: Promising.
Fairfield – Fairfield is trying to be Siena of the past few years. Fairfield has won six of its last seven games. Monday’s loss to Rider was a bit of a downer because it was a home game. That setback notwithstanding, we still think Fairfield (18-5, 11-2 MAAC) is the best team in the conference. NCAA Chances: Promising.
Hofstra – The Pride gave themselves a great chance to finish in the top four with Wednesday’s 79-68 win over Georgia State. With a two-game lead over fifth-place Drexel and four CAA games to go, the Pride are almost a lock to finish fourth and get that first-round bye. The Pride hasn’t had a bye in a long time. Even with they bye, winning three games in three days in Richmond is a challenge. NCAA Chances: 50-50.
Iona – The Gaels (14-10, 8-5 MAAC) really ruined any chance they had at the regular season MAAC title with a recent four-game losing streak. They got back on the winning track with a win over Manhattan on Tuesday. The four-game skid notwithstanding, anything can happen when dealing with mid-major conferences. And the Gaels have some serious firepower with double-double machine Michael Glover (19.1 ppg, 10.5 reb) in the fold. NCAA Chances: 50-50.
Rider – Rider (17-8, 9-4 MAAC) proved it is here to stay with a big road win over Fairfield on Monday. That win keeps Rider in line for a shot at the MAAC regular season title. With five games left in the conference season, anything can happen. NCAA Chances: 50-50.
Stony Brook - The Seawolves (10-14, 5-7 America East) have had their issues this season. Injuries and a lack of scoring punch have made for an inconsistent performance. But Chris Martin's return, coupled with the emergence of sophmore Leonard Hayes and freshmen Anthony Jackson and Dave Coley will make Steve Pikiell's crew a tough out. All it takes is one good weekend at the America East tournament to make it happen. NCAA Chances: 50-50.
Rutgers, Seton Hall - Both of these squads have at least one signature win. Rutgers (13-11, 4-8 Big East) had one with a dramatic 77-76 win over Villanova on Wednesday night. Jonathan Mitchell converted a four-point play in the final seconds to give the Scarlet Knights a win at the RAC. Seton Hall (10-14, 4-8) drilled Syracuse a couple of weeks ago, 90-68. The return of Jeremy Hazell gave some people hope the Pirates would wake up. But they've actually gone 3-5 since his return. The bottom line is these teams need to make a miracle run in the Big East tournament to make the NCAAs. NCAA Chances for both: Slim.