Tomorrow night, St. John's — it's a private Catholic university in Queens; Mario Cuomo went there — plays its first game of the season, against the Long Island Blackbirds. If you're tired of watching the Knicks, Giants, and Jets struggle, and hockey scares and confuses you, it's about to be the only game in town.
College basketball has a grand tradition in the city — unlike, say, college football — but it hasn't exactly been a banner decade for the city schools. St. John's only made the NCAA tournament twice (2000 and 2002), as many times as Manhattan (2003 and 2004) and only once more than Wagner (2003). This year has promise for the Red Storm, though: They return all five starters and have two legitimate all-Big East candidates in Anthony Mason, Jr. and Justin Burrell. They're going to be fast and fun. Enough to reach the tournament? That might be pushing it. But if they're going to sneak in, this is the year.
We love college basketball, and we can prove it: Sitting at our desk right now are three college-basketball reference books. College Basketball Prospectus, the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and, our favorite new toy, the massive ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia, which actually runs 1,213 pages. (Take that, Simmons!)
As a service to you, and because we love leafing through all the pages and calling it "work," we're going to take a look at all the city teams. The big ESPN book, insanely, actually ranks all Division I-A teams historically, so we'll do them in that order, with that rank, along with a scouting line on each team from the Blue Ribbon guide. Because St. John's (and, okay, fine, Illinois's) season starts tomorrow night, and we're all excited about it. Anyway, here goes.
No. 16 (ESPN historic ranking), St. John's Red Storm
Coach: Norm Roberts
Record Last Season: 16-18 (thirteenth in Big East)
Best Player: Forward Anthony Mason, Jr.
Home Arena: Carnesecca Arena, Queens.
Blue Ribbon Forecast: "If you're looking for a dark horse in the Big East, look no further than Jamaica. This is Norm Roberts's deepest, most experienced, and most talented squad since he took over the program."
Predicted Conference Finish: ninth.
No. 131, Manhattan Jaspers
Coach: Barry Rohrssen
Record Last Season: 16-14 (tied for fourth in Metro Atlantic)
Best Player: Guard Darryl Crawford.
Home Arena: Draddy Gymnasium, Bronx.
Blue Ribbon Forecast: "It will be difficult, because of the strength of the top teams in the MAAC, for Manhattan to improve upon last season's fourth-place finish."
Predicted Conference Finish: Seventh.
No. 133, Fordham Rams
Coach: Dereck Whittenburg
Record Last Season: 3-25 (fourteenth in Atlantic-10)
Best Player: Guard Jio Fontan (his attempts to transfer from the team were successfully fought by the school).
Home Arena: Rose Hill Gym, Bronx.
Blue Ribbon Forecast: "Fontan's presence doesn't solve all the Rams' problems, but it gives them a chance to move in a positive direction."
Predicted Conference Finish: fourteenth.
No. 175, Long Island Blackbirds
Coach: Jim Ferry
Record Last Season: 16-14 (tied for second in NEC)
Best Player: Guard Jaytornah Wisseh.
Home Arena: Wellness, Recreation & Athletic Center, Brooklyn.
Blue Ribbon Forecast: "A deep team that figures to challenge for the league title."
Predicted Conference Finish: second.
No. 192, Columbia Lions
Coach: Joe Jones
Record Last Season: 13-15 (fourth in Ivy League)
Best Player: Guard Patrick Foley.
Home Arena: Levien Gymnasium, Morningside Heights, Manhattan.
Blue Ribbon Forecast: "Columbia could well establish itself as the best of the rest in the Ivy League and perhaps even give its travel partner, Cornell, a prolonged scare."
Predicted Conference Finish: fourth.
No. 241, St. Francis (NY) Terriers
Coach: Brian Nash
Record Last Season: 10-20 (eighth in Northeast)
Best Player: Guard Ricky Cadell.
Home Arena: Peter Aquilone Court, Brooklyn.
Blue Ribbon Forecast: "Without the fancy campus or gymnasium like some of his Northeast Conference colleagues have to lure recruits, Nash and his assistants at SFNY have to go the extra mile to find players."
Predicted Conference Finish: eleventh.
No. 282 Wagner Seahawks
Coach: Mike Deane
Record Last Season: 16-14 (tied for sixth in Northeast)
Best Player: Guard Chris Martin.
Home Arena: Spiro Sports Center, Staten Island.
Blue Ribbon Forecast: "'We will be so young, I am afraid I will have to cut their meat,' Deane said."
Predicted Conference Finish: tenth.