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Let the conference battles begin

St. John's Chris Obekpa reacts after the Red

St. John's Chris Obekpa reacts after the Red Storm's 67-51 loss to Georgetown. (Jan. 12, 2013) Credit: Jason DeCrow

With the conference season under way, it's not too early to give an early assessment on our local teams.

Stony Brook: The Seawolves (12-4, 3-0 America East) find themselves in the same situation they were in last year, poised to win the America East Regular season title. Stony Brook has an RPI of 93, thanks to a schedule that included Connecticut, Maryland and Seton Hall. Those losses were by a total margin of 19 points. Just imagine what there RPI would be if they were victorious in at least one of those games. With freshman sensation Jameel Warney in the paint, senior Tommy Brenton (16 points, 10 rebounds vs. Hartford on Saturday) and a backcourt led by Dave Coley (16 pts. vs. Hartford) and Anthony Jackson, there’s no reason to believe Stony Brook will not win the regular season title. Warney was named America East rookie of the week for the sixth time this season. And did we forget to mention freshman guard Carson Puriefoy, who had a career-high 15 points against Hartford? Numbers: Stony Brook is off to its best 16-game start in its Div. I history, surpassing the 2009-10 team's 11-5 record…The Seawolves have won 12 straight home conference games, dating back to February 2011…Stony Brook is now 43-16 (.729) at Pritchard Gymnasium since moving back into the facility for the 2008-09 season…The Seawolves are now 10-0 this season and 70-18 in the Pikiell era when holding their opponent under 60 points. Outlook: Stony Brook is long past the “fledgling mid-major” status and shouldn’t be overlooked anymore.

St. John’s: The Red Storm (9-7, 1-3 Big East) has battled the inconsistency bug for much of the season. They followed a great win over Cincinnati on January 5 with back-to-back losses to Rutgers and Georgetown. But there is a lot of promise surrounding this team. Chris Obekpa has been a real find for Steve Lavin. The 6-9 freshman set a school mark with 11 shots blocked in a 58-47 win over Fordham on Dec. 8. The Our Savior New American graduate leads the NCAA in blocked shots and has had five or more rejections in nine games. Offensively, St. John’s has revolved around D’Angelo Harrison (20.6 ppg) this season. He’s a fine player, but the Red Storm needs a little more punch from the rest of the team. Jakaar Sampson (13.6 ppg) has played well, but he needs some help in the paint. The 1-3 start in conference play is not insurmountable since five other teams have just one conference win and at least two losses. The Big East schedule doesn’t get any easier. Notre Dame is next for the Red Storm on Tuesday, followed by games against an improved DePaul team, Rutgers and Seton Hall. Numbers: St. John’s leads all of NCAA Division I basketball, and the BIG EAST, with 8.6 rejections per contest…St. John’s is averaging only 11.3 turnovers per game, a mark that ranks tied for fourth among BIG EAST programs and tied for 21st in the nation. Outlook: With so many underclassmen dominating the roster, the Red Storm should expect more growing pains. That doesn’t mean Steve Lavin’s crew won’t be dangerous at conference tournament time.

Hofstra: Considering where the Pride (5-11, 2-1 CAA) started this season and the intense legal situation that hit the program hard, coach Mo Cassara has to be thrilled that his team has a 2-1 CAA record. Guards Tara Buie and Stevie Mejia have been the ringleaders on offense. If Hofstra expects to make a run in the CAA, frontcourt scoring is a must. Right now, Stephen Nwauloni (6.3 points, 7.6 reb) leads all frontcourt players in scoring. David Imes (6.1 ppg) and Moussa Kone (5.9) will need to kick it into another gear. Fresno State transfer Daquan Brown, had a good effort (13 points) in a loss at Delaware on January 9. Hofstra will need more of that from him. The Pride gets Northeastern, George Mason and Drexel over its next three games. Outlook: Hofstra will continue to have its struggles due to a lack of depth. Some of that will be offset because the CAA will only have seven teams eligible for its tournament. If Brown develops and Buie and Mejia can stay consistent, the Pride could have an opportunity to sneak up on teams.

Iona (11-6, 5-1 MAAC): The Gaels have won five straight and looked poised to win the MAAC title…Manhattan (5-11, 3-3 MAAC) is still hanging around despite the absence of George Beamon…Wagner (9-6, 3-1 NEC) and St. Francis NY (7-8, 3-1 NEC) are hanging tough in the Northeast Conference…Seton Hall (12-5, 1-3 Big East) is starting to slip, while Rutgers (11-4, 2-2 Big East) continues to remain a factor in conference play.

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