Wondering why the Knicks are traipsing through the Midwest all week, and why you can’t get Ice Capades tickets? The Big East Tournament has taken over Madison Square Garden this week, and for the first time, the Big East invited all sixteen of its members to the men’s basketball tournament, which means teams like DePaul (who went winless during the regular conference season), Rutgers, and our own St. John’s actually got to play yesterday. (Ordinarily, only the top twelve teams would be invited.)
And guess what? DePaul won its first conference game with a huge upset win over Cincinnati, and — more to our own interests — Queens’s St. John’s took out Georgetown, knocking the Hoyas off the NCAA Tournament bubble and setting up a battle against No. 21 Marquette at 2:30 p.m. today.
Considering the Red Storm were 15–16 during the regular season and will need a miraculous (read: impossible) run to win the Big East Tournament and make the NCAA Big Dance, yesterday was the highlight of their season, and one of fourth-year coach Norm Roberts’s biggest moments. After all, it was St. John’s over Georgetown at the Garden, warming the hearts of anyone who remembers the old Chris Mullin–Patrick Ewing battles of the eighties.
Of course, that was a very long time ago, which is why Roberts, a Queens native who served as an assistant to Kansas coach Bill Self before returning here, still has a ton of work to do. The Red Storm hasn’t made the tournament since 2002, which was before Roberts took over, and he’s taken considerable heat for it. (Though he did sign a four-year contract extension a year ago.) Roberts is a likable guy, and young players like Paris Horne and Malik Booth show promise. (Next year they’ll also have Anthony Mason Jr., who missed most of this season, back, along with all five starters.) But St. John’s season is almost certainly going to end today, and they play in the toughest conference in the country. Yesterday’s game will remain a highlight for a while; the NCAA Tournament, while attainable, still feels a long way away.