The most important part of the college basketball season in this region begins in earnest today. With the exception of St. John’s, just about every team in the New York-Metro area will need to excel during its conference season in order to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a breakdown.
Hofstra (4-8, 0-0 CAA): The return of Dion Nesmith (knee) couldn’t have come at a better time. Hofstra’s offense struggled during his three-game absence in early December. Nesmith is averaging 16 points per game since his return to the lineup against Siena last week. A healthy Nesmith, playing alongside Zeke Upshaw (17.7 ppg) and freshman Jamall Robinson (9.9 ppg) should give the Pride a nice triple threat once CAA play begins. Moussa Kone (7.2 ppg, 6.1 reb), Stephen Nwaukoni (7.2 ppg), Chris Jenkins (6.6 ppg) and Jordan Allen contributed solid minutes this season. Hofstra still has two non-conference road affairs against Tulane and FDU before taking on conference rival Delaware on Jan. 8.
St. John’s (9-4, 0-1 Big East): St. John’s didn’t get the start in conference play it wanted as it dropped its Big East opener, 70-60, to Xavier on Tuesday. But you can’t complain about a nine-win non-conference season. The Red Storm, which struggled against the top competition on its non-league slate (Wisconsin, Syracuse) will still need a few quality wins (Villanova, Butler, Creighton, etc…) in addition to a strong conference season to impress the NCAA selection committee. There is certainly enough talent on both sides of the ball, with D’Angelo Harrison (19.5 ppg), Jakarr Sampson (12.7 ppg) and Chris Obekpa (5.8 reb, 4.4 blk), to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. St. John’s is at Georgetown on Jan. 4 and travels to No. 11 Villanova on Jan. 11.
Stony Brook (9-4, 1-0 AE): It was a good non-conference season for Stony Brook, with wins over Northeastern, Detroit and Loyola-Maryland. Close losses to Indiana and LaSalle hurt, but the Seawolves recovered. The road could still get bumpy before the Seawolves get into the meat of their conference season as road games against VCU and Columbia remain. Conference play resumes on Jan. 12 at Hartford for Stony Brook, followed by a two-game home stand against Binghamton and UMass-Lowell. Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell can thank a balanced offense led by super sophomore Jameel Warney (15.9 ppg, 9.6 reb), Anthony Jackson (14.8 ppg) and Carson Puriefoy (12.2 ppg) and a rugged defense for the strong start.
Manhattan (9-2, 2-0 MAAC): Outside of tough non-conference losses to George Washington and Fordham, Manhattan couldn’t have asked for a better start. George Beamon (21.3 ppg, 6.8 reb) and Michael Alvarado (11 ppg, 3.7 ast) has been a dynamic combo.
Princeton (10-2, 0-0 IVY): Princeton is hot and put a stamp on its non-conference slate with consecutive wins over Rutgers and Penn State in mid Dec. There was also a win over George Mason and a three-point loss to Butler. T.J. Bray (17.1 ppg) and Hans Brase (11.5 ppg) are both shooting 42 percent from three-point range. The Tigers still have a non-conference battle with Liberty on Jan. 4 before hosting Penn (Jan. 11) in its first Ivy League game.
Seton Hall (9-4, 0-0 Big East): Outside of head-scratching losses to St. Peter’s and FDU, the Pirates took care of business in their non-conference schedule. Things will get tougher on Jan. 4 when Seton Hall hosts Creighton. That game will be followed by another home contest vs. Villanova. Sterling Gibbs (15.9 ppg) leads an offense that features five double-digit scorers.
St. Francis NY (9-5, 0-0 NEC): The Terriers have won four straight and are dangerous. Jalen Cannon (14.8 ppg, 8.2 reb) is a double-double waiting to happen, while Ben Mockford (9.3 ppg) and freshman Wayne Martin (8.4 ppg) have been solid…Fordham (7-6, 0-0 A-10): The Rams have hit a valley since a 6-3 start, dropping three of their last four games. A win at A-10 rival Duquesne on Jan. 8 would help right the ship.
Iona (5-6, 2-0 MAAC): The non-conference season wasn’t kind to Iona, but the Gaels, who have lost four straight won their first two league games. Tim Cluess’ crew is at Quinnipiac on Thursday night…Columbia (8-6, 0-0 Ivy): Northport graduate Luke Petrasek has been a pleasant find for the Lions.
Rutgers (6-7, 0-0 AAC): The Scarlet Knights are hoping to make one last splash in conference play before moving on to the Big Ten. Myles Mack (16.5 ppg), Kadeem Jack (14 ppg) and Brentwood product J.J. Moore (12.6) lead a potent offense.
LIU (5-8, 0-0 NEC): Jason Brickman (12.2 ppg, 10 ast) is leading the way for LIU, which is banking on the return of Julian Boyd.
NJIT (6-10): The Highlanders showed some spark with wins over New Hampshire, two victories over Maine and a close loss to Tulane. But they're on a five-game losing streak now.
It’s going to be a struggle for St. Peter’s (4-7, 0-2 MAAC), Fairfield (3-9, 0-2 MAAC) and FDU (3-10, 0-0 NEC).