This year there are three different New York teams in the Big Dance. Of these three, only one was expected to succeed, while the other two were left to be in their shadow. Now these three will fight to have the right to not only call themselves New York's college basketball team, but also the right to call themselves National Champions.
1) Syracuse Orange
First Opponent: Indiana State
The Orange are coming off another quality season. Being one of the 11 teams from the Big East, Syracuse finished with a 26-7 overall record, with a 12-6 record in the Big East. Led by future Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, the Orange are looking to make another Final Four appearance.
After starting off red hot with an 18-0 record, the Orange had a four-game skid as they were upset by Seton Hall and Marquette while also losing to Villanova and Pittsburgh. The Orange rebounded against Connecticut and South Florida but lost again to Louisville and Georgetown.
They were able to finish their regular season on a positive note though; after suffering the two losses, Syracuse went on a five-game win streak entering the Big East Tournament. After beating the Red Storm of St. John's, they suffered an overtime loss at the hands of Connecticut and Kemba Walker.
The Orange have an all-around team that includes sharp-shooter Brandon Triche and Forward Kris Joseph. In addition to these two is the always consistent Rick Jackson and up and comer Fab Melo. The combination of this core-four will allow the Orange to attack their opponents from any part of the basketball court, whether it's from beyond the arc or down in the paint.
Syracuse was seeded in the stacked East bracket, which includes Ohio State, Kentucky and North Carolina. They should be able to make it to the Sweet 16 without too much difficulty, but upsets can happen at anytime in the Big Dance.
2) St. John's Red Storm
First Opponent: Gonzaga
After starting off slowly, it seemed as if the Johnnies were going to be the team that would destroy anything in its path until they get to Houston in April. During the middle of the season, the Red Storm blew past several skilled opponents at Madison Square Garden. Some of these teams were Duke, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Notre Dame.
After beating such talented teams, St. John's ended their season on a low note. In their last four games, the Johnnies are 2-2 with losses to Seton Hall and Syracuse (eliminated them from 2011 Big East Tournament). Controversy also struck when St. John's beat Rutgers in their second round Big East Tournament matchup when Justin Brownlee went out of bounds with 1.7 seconds left.
However, the referees said the game was over; St. John's won by two points. Just like the proverb "when it rains it storms," it was the exact situation for St. John's. In their loss to Syracuse, the Johnnies suffered a loss to their one of their best players, DJ Kennedy (forward).
Kennedy suffered an ACL injury early in the game and will be out for the rest of the season. Because of this injury, Forward Justin Burrell had to play 38 minutes against Syracuse. Now that Kennedy will be out for the NCAA tournament, it will be interesting how head coach Steve Lavin will allocate minutes for his players.
Someone will have to step up and be able to fill Kennedy's shoes as they will miss his consistency (almost six rebounds a game and 10 points per game). It is most likely that Lavin will turn to senior Sean Evans who has a presence in the paint; Evans can make up for Kennedy's rebounds and will be able to contribute points-wise as he'll be an asset in the post and can use his body as an advantage for put-backs.
3) Long Island University
First Opponent:North Carolina
Surprising most New Yorkers this season is the Long Island University Blackbirds. Coming out of the Northeast Conference, the Blackbirds have an overall record of 27-5 with a 16-2 conference record. To secure a bid in this year's Big Dance, Long Island had to get past Robert Morris University in the conference tournament.
As expected, the Blackbirds beat the Colonials. In a game that went into overtime, Long Island was able to produce consistently the entire game and when it counted most, they came up big. In this game, forward Jamal Olasewere score a career-high 31 points.
The Blackbirds did not receive the seed they really wanted as they will now play North Carolina in the second round. Although the Tar Heels played poorly against Duke, they now have time to regroup and prepare themselves for the NCAA tournament, which head coach Roy Williams has plenty of experience in.
Long Island University does have something they can use to their advantage though. The Blackbirds have a great distribution of statistics. Although Olasewere had a fantastic game against Robert Morris, there are other players who can produce just as well. An example would be forward Julian Boyd, who is averaging the same amount of points per games as Olasewere. What this allows head coach Jim Ferry to do is spread out the amount of time each player plays since most players produce almost as much as their teammates.
This ability to spread out playing time will help them out in the long run if they make it past North Carolina and the other talented teams in the East bracket.
Who Will Go Farther?
It is likely that Syracuse will be the team that goes farther. There is a chance that St. John's will lose to Gonzaga in the second round as they will travel to Denver. Meanwhile, the Blackbirds have to play a tough North Carolina team. While the other two Empire State teams have tough opponents, the Orange have a much less threatening opponent in Indiana State as they will be Syracuse's first game in the East bracket.