College Basketball 2011–2012 in New York City
by Jonathan Zeller, 11/02/2011
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Update (December 7): The lockout is ending, and the NBA is coming back on Christmas! This means we can finally see the Knicks and Nets in action again. Still, the fact remains that there are numerous outstanding college basketball matchups taking place in New York City all season long.
With any luck, the NBA lockout will end soon so that Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks can take the floor at Madison Square Garden. No matter how long we have to wait for the pros to return, though, New York City will remain the world's roundball capital. And from November through March, a parade of top college teams will play at Madison Square Garden and in on-campus arenas throughout the five boroughs.
Huge names including Kentucky, Duke, Pittsburgh and Kansas—all of whom figure to make noise in March—are scheduled to play at MSG this season. Seeing them in action might not make you forget the likes of Deron Williams, but it'll be fun. (Not insignificantly, it will also give you a head start on researching for your office March Madness pool. This is your year!)
The City's local teams are returning to the court, too, headlined by two squads that made last season's NCAA tournament: the St. John's Red Storm and the Long Island University Blackbirds. Both were bounced in the first round, but we have a feeling they'll be back with a vengeance. Coach Steve Lavin's Johnnies boast a promising batch of new recruits, while the experienced Blackbirds are stacked with weapons like the (practically) unstoppable Julian Boyd. Local gyms offer great sight lines, low ticket prices and a chance to feel some authentic college sports pageantry; we're sure the atmosphere will be electric when Xavier, ranked No. 15 in ESPN's preseason poll, visits Fordham's Rose Hill Gym.
Do we miss the NBA? Of course. But if you think there's no great basketball in the City right now, you're just not paying attention.
Games at Madison Square Garden:
State Farm Champions Classic: Duke vs. Michigan State and Kentucky vs. Kansas
November 15, 7pm
No disrespect to Belmont University—we love underdogs and would be thoroughly delighted to see the Bruins defeat Duke (ranked sixth)—but the smart money says that the Duke vs. Michigan State half of this doubleheader will present Mike Krzyzewski with a chance to break Bob Knight's coaching record, so long as the Blue Devils take care of Belmont and Presbyterian in the season's first two games. The second game of the event pits the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats against the No. 13 Kansas Jayhawks. As a kickoff to the basketball season at Madison Square Garden, it's not too shabby.
2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer: Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State and St. John's vs. Arizona
November 17, 7pm; November 18, 4:30pm
New York City's own St. John's returns to the Garden, hoping to build on last year's NCAA tournament appearance. The 2K Sports Classic should provide a nice early test for the Red Storm. The rest of the field comprises No. 19 Texas A&M, Mississippi State and No. 16 Arizona—not a pushover in the bunch.
NIT Season Tip-Off
November 23, 7pm; November 25, 2:30pm
For some particularly obsessive fans, Thanksgiving week is not about turkey/Tofurky, stuffing and quality time with family members—it's about getting an early look at some of the nation's top college basketball teams. That's because the Wednesday and Friday bracketing Turkey Day are the dates when the NIT Season Tip-Off decides its champion. This year, such prominent programs as Syracuse, Oklahoma State, Stanford and George Mason hope to reach the semifinals and finals at Madison Square Garden, but must first fend off scrappy underdogs in the earlier rounds.
Big Apple Classic
December 4, 3pm
Division II Virginia State and Virginia Union square off in the first half of this doubleheader showcasing teams from historically black colleges and universities. Howard and Hampton, both of the Division I MEAC, battle in the second game. In 2001, Hampton pulled off one of the NCAA tournament's biggest-ever first-round upsets, downing second-seeded Iowa State. No matter what happens on the court, the dazzling drumline competition alone is worth the price of admission.
Jimmy V Classic
December 6, 7pm
Missouri—ranked No. 25 in the preseason—faces Villanova in the first game of this doubleheader, and Marquette (No. 21) takes on two-time defending Pac-12 tournament champion Washington in the nightcap.
Carquest Auto Parts Classic
December 10, noon
Duke plays another game at the Garden; Washington—back at MSG for the second time in one week—would love to spoil the Blue Devils' return to NYC. In the second matchup, Oklahoma State of the Big XII takes on eleventh-ranked Pittsburgh, who is still, for this season at least, in the Big East.
Maggie Dixon Classic (Women's)
December 11, 11am
The City's biggest women's tournament always delivers compelling matchups and big names, and this year is no exception. Game one of the doubleheader pits St. John's against Baylor—led by the 6'8' Brittney Griner, whose dunking ability has made her a YouTube favorite. The second game pits coach Pat Summitt—whose battle with dementia made news this off-season—and the Tennessee Volunteers against the DePaul Blue Demons.
Holiday Festival Presented by Foot Locker
December 17, noon
For years, the Holiday Festival had been a two-day tournament, but now it's a single-day doubleheader. While no team will be able to declare itself champion (as St. John's did last year), the two games—St. John's vs. Fordham and Rutgers vs. Stony Brook—still give four local programs a chance to prove their mettle before shifting their focus to conference schedules. It's a particularly big deal for Fordham and Rutgers fans to get to see their teams at the storied Garden—and St. John's is likely looking for revenge after Fordham's stunning upset win when the teams played last winter.
Big East Tournament
March 6–10, various times
This just may be the last year for the Big East Tournament (and, indeed, the Big East itself) as we know it. Syracuse and Pittsburgh already have one foot out the door, and West Virginia and UConn might not be far behind. So do yourself a favor: go see this dramatic, intense New York City tradition in person while you still can. You might catch something like Syracuse's legendary six-overtime win—and, no matter what, you'll take in some of the nation's best basketball players and most passionate fan bases on the world's biggest stage.
National Invitation Tournament
March 27 and 29, 7pm
Some naysayers dismiss the nation's second-oldest postseason college basketball tournament—created just a year after NAIA tournament and a year before the NCAA tournament—but savvy fans know that's a mistake. There are around 350 Division I college basketball teams, and only 100, not even a third of them, compete in either the NCAA tournament (68) or the NIT (32). This means that the NIT field, which generally includes a few regular-season conference champions, is bound to be strong. Plus, well-known MSG heroes (Walt Frazier) and villains (Reggie Miller) actually starred in the NIT long before making their marks on Knicks history.
Local Teams on Campus:
Columbia: Morningside Heights' Ivy Leaguers have a smart-alecky pep band, and their conference sometimes produces postseason Cinderella stories (notably Cornell in 2010 and last year's Princeton squad, which came thisclose to toppling Kentucky).
Fordham: This Atlantic 10 team draws big crowds at historic Rose Hill Gym, the second-oldest on-campus arena in Division I. Georgia Tech visits on December 29, and No. 15 Xavier comes to town on January 7.
Long Island University (LIU): The runnin', gunnin' Blackbirds snatched the NEC title in front of a packed house in Brooklyn last spring, winning the hearts of Jimmy Fallon and the whole City. Then North Carolina ended their season in the NCAAs. This time, with star Julian Boyd and coach Jim Ferry back in the fold, they could return to the Big Dance and maybe even win a game.
Manhattan: The Jaspers face MAAC rivals in Riverdale, led by high-scoring junior George Beamon.
New York University: The Division III [Fightin'] Violets' pep band cranks out rock-funk covers. Attendance should be healthy on January 27 and February 17 "Tear it Up!" nights, when students get free food and often participate in giveaways, raffles and contests.
St. Francis (NY): LIU's NEC rivals play at a welcoming, intimate home where fans can watch the game from just a few feet away.
St. John's: The Red Storm, when they're not at the Garden, play in a sterling on-campus arena. They'll look to make back-to-back NCAA appearances with the help of a heralded recruiting class and nycgo.com's official Favorite Name in Sports: God's Gift Achiuwa.
Wagner: The Staten Island–based Seahawks' Josh Thompson made waves online when he dunked over his own mother in a preseason contest. NEC opponents better watch out; these guys obviously have no fear.