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Crunch time for local hoops teams

St John's D'Angelo Harrison races toward the basket

St John's D'Angelo Harrison races toward the basket against Marquette. (Feb. 1, 2014) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

It's almost crunch time for local hoops teams trying to make a run for the NCAA Tournament.  Here’s a quick breakdown on which of our locals has a shot at the post season.

Hofstra (8-20, 4-9 CAA; RPI - 286): A 20-loss season is not a good thing under any circumstances. That said, Hofstra could pose a threat to one of the higher seeds in the CAA tournament. With two big scorers in Zeke Upshaw and Dion Nesmith, the Pride has the ability to play with most teams, as evidenced in an 81-77 loss to Delaware on Wednesday night. In their first meeting with the Blue Hens, the Pride fell, 86-79. There is also a blowout win over third-place William & Mary and two narrow defeats to Drexel Hofstra can point to as reasons for hope. It would take a Herculean effort for Hofstra to win the CAA tourney, but winning a game or two is not out of the question.

St. John’s (18-9, 8-6 Big East; RPI - 54): St. John’s has transformed itself from a disappointment into a possible NCAA lock. Six straight conference wins can do that. The Red Storm isn’t completely out of the woods, though. They still have four conference games left, including a Saturday tilt at No. 9 Villanova. Taking three of their last four and winning at least two games in the Big East tournament might be enough to earn Steve Lavin his second big as St. John’s coach. It’s worth noting that St. John’s will be without its top post defender in Chris Obekpa for at least the next eight to 10 days.

Stony Brook (19-8, 11-2 America East; RPI - 180): It looks like it will be another year and another 20-plus win season for the Seawolves. Stony Brook controls its own destiny as far as the NIT is concerned. If the Seawvoles win out, they will secure their fifth America East league title in six years. That gets them an automatic bid to the NIT. But we all know Stony Brook wants to make its first trip to the NCAA as a Division I program. Can it happen? Of course. The Seawolves play great defense (as usual) and have a rotation full of players who can score. There is some question about depth at point guard, though.

AAC – Rutgers (4-9, 10-16; RPI - 190): Sorry Scarlet Knights fans, your swan song as you bolt the AAC for the Big Ten will not include an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Atlantic 10 – Fordham (2-9, 9-15; RPI - 187): A 7-4 start was followed by a complete fall by the Rams. Although the Atlantic 10 invites all teams to the conference tournament, Fordham will need to climb Mount Everest to win it.

Big East – Seton Hall (13-12, 4-8; RPI - 131): Even in a somewhat diminished Big East there is nothing doing for Seton Hall this year.

 IVY – Columbia (15-10, 4-4; RPI - 159), Princeton (14-7, 2-5; RPI - 140): Both the Lions and the Tigers are mathematically in the IVY race. But it would take a serious run over the second half of their Ivy schedules to catch first-place Harvard (20-4, 7-1). On paper they both have a chance. Realistically, not even close.

MAAC – Iona (17-8, 14-2; RPI - 86): Tim Cluess has done it again. The Gaels won’t earn an at-large bid if they fall short of winning the MAAC Tournament, but they will be an extremely tough out. Manhattan (20-6, 13-4; RPI - 87): The Jaspers hit a lull midseason, dropping three of four during one stretch. But George Beamon is back to 100 percent and the team, winners of six straight, is on a roll. Unfortunately as it goes with mid-majors that don’t have a signature win, the Jaspers must win the MAAC to make the NCAA Tournament. Quinnipiac (17-8, 12-4; RPI - 93): Not a bad season for a newcomer to the league. Quinnipiac is on fire. But like Manhattan and Iona, they need to win the MAAC for an NCAA bid. Rider (13-12, 9-7; RPI - 182); Marist (11-15, 8-8; RPI - 207); St. Peter’s (9-16, 5-11; RPI - 238); Fairfield (5-22, 2-14; RPI - 292); Monmouth (10-18, 4-13; RPI – 273): Giant-killer is about all you can expect from Rider, Marist, St. Peter’s, Fairfield and Monmouth.

NEC – Wagner (13-11, 7-4; RPI - 233): Wagner has played well the second half of the season and proved it will be a threat after a four-point loss to Robert Morris on Jan. 25 and an uplifting 12-point win over Bryant last week. St. Francis (15-12, 6-6; RPI - 204): The Terriers looked like a threat to challenge for the NEC title earlier this season. But suspensions of key support players like Westbury’s Sheldon Hagigal and Shirley’s Anthony White could derail any chance they have of making a tournament run. LIU Brooklyn (8-16, 3-8; RPI - 288): LIU’s hopes for a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance are not likely to come to fruition. When Julian Boyd (2012 NEC Player of the Year) tore his ACL for the second time last summer, the hope was he would return by Jan. of this year. But he tore the ACL for a third time in Dec., ending any hopes of a return. A healthy Boyd, along with NCAA assists-leader Jason Brickman (10.1 apg) and a solid frontcourt duo of E.J. Reed (12.2) and Landon Atterberry (12), would’ve given the Blackbirds a chance at a tournament run. FDU (8-17, 4-7; RPI - 285); Sacred Heart (4-22, 1-10; RPI - 339): No real need to talk about FDU or Sacred Heart’s chances at anything.

Patriot League – Army (13-13, 9-6): The Black Knights, after a 6-1 start in league play, have lost five of their last eight and are beginning to fade.   

Independents – NJIT (12-15): There’s no light at the end of tunnel for NJIT since the Highlanders are not affiliated with a conference. But they did start the season 6-4, posting wins over Army, New Hampshire, Main (twice), Lafayette and UMass-Lowell. The message: NJIT is ready to join a conference.


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