NCAA Selection Sunday is here, and for the first time in a long time there are three NYC metro area men's basketball programs that will be watching this year's selection show with interest.
Steve Lavin has led the return to prominence for the St. John's Red Storm (21-11) this season, but his team will not be the only metro team viewing Channel 2 at 6 p.m.
In Brooklyn, Jim Ferry and his NEC champion Long Island Blackbirds (27-5) will be holding their own selection show party, while John Dunne and the MAAC Champion Saint Peter's Peacocks (20-13) will be holding a party of their own across the river in Jersey City.
Despite the likely season-ending injury to DJ Kennedy during their Big East tournament loss against Syracuse, the Red Storm should earn a No. 5 seed. Enough has been written about the Johnnies this year so let's focus on the metro area's other two teams headed for the tournament.
Long Island, the winningest D-I men's team in the state of New York, should escape the NEC champions' usual fate as the warm-up team for one of the four top seeds. Despite an RPI ranking of 76, it's tough to ignore the 27 Blackbirds wins. Yes, they lost all three games against top 100 RPI teams (Saint Peter's, Iona, Northwestern). Yes, they play in the 18th-ranked NEC, and yes, their strength of schedule is 258th in the country.
What is also true is they are ranked 14th in the latest CollegeInsider.com mid-major Top 25 poll, have the fourth-highest PPG average in the nation (82.6), are in the midst of a 13-game winning streak, sport a 13-3 road record and have lost just one game since their loss at Northwestern on Dec. 13. Being selected any lower than a No. 14 seed will be an insult to the Blackbirds, who absolutely have the ability to win a game or two in this year's tournament. Their eight-man rotation is an advantage most lower seeds do not bring to the postseason.
On the other side of the Hudson River, Saint Peter's looks to earn at least a No. 15 seed. Despite the fifth-lowest RPI in the 68-team field (93rd), the Peacocks did knock off the top three seeds in the MAAC tournament to earn their chance to dance. Saint Peter's held their foes to a 37.4 field-goal percentage this season—second best in the nation. They also limited opponents to just 59.9 PPG, 12th best in the nation.
The Peacocks are quite capable of victory in the early going, especially if they are put in the East bracket. Seniors Ryan Bacon, Jeron Belin, Nick Leon and Wesley Jenkins would like nothing more than to head to the Sweet 16 at the Prudential Center in Newark, knowing the Peacock Nation could assemble and create a home-court advantage for them.
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