March Madness Envy

There isn’t a deep history of men’s college basketball on Long Island as there is in other areas of the country. This is mostly because, out of the five Division I schools on the Island, St. John’s is the only one that has gotten close to winning a national title. Regardless, it’s interesting to look back over the years and see what each school achieved in their best season since the start of the NCAA Tournament in 1939. While none of them ever achieved the glory that is winning the tournament, they at least entertained their fellow students, alumni, and fan base along the way.

Let’s start with St John’s and head back to the 1984-85 season. The Red Storm had high expectations from the start as it was ranked no. 7 nationally in the AP Preseason Poll. Better yet, the team exceeded those expectations after going 25-2 in the regular season and being ranked no. 1 nationally in the AP Poll for five straight weeks. In the Big East tournament, the Storm made it all the way to the championship where it fell to Georgetown 92-80, the second time they fell to the Hoyas that season. As a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, St. John’s breezed through Southern and barely beat Arkansas to face Kentucky in the Sweet 16, where the Storm prevailed 86-70. In the Elite Eight, they beat NC State, ranked no. 16 nationally, with a score of 69-60. This led to yet another rematch against Georgetown, where the Hoyas took down the Red Storm for a third straight time to advance to a national championship. St. John’s finished the season with an overall record of 31-4.

Hofstra’s basketball team had its best season at the start of this millennium. During the 2000-01 season, the Pride started 8-4 before rattling off 15 straight wins to finish 23-4 in the regular season. They tacked on three more wins in the American East Tournament to win their conference and clinch an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, Unfortunately, they fell in the first round to UCLA 61-48. The Pride’s head coach, Jay Wright, left Hofstra after seven seasons to become head coach of Villanova, where he just won the national championship in 2016.

Some great seasons on the Island are far more recent than you would think. Take the 2010-11 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds season as an example. Very similar to Hofstra’s signature season, the Blackbirds started the season 6-4 before an eight-game winning streak and a 10-game winning streak, sandwiching one loss in between. They played three tough games in the Northeast Tournament, including an overtime championship game, to win the conference and earn a place in the NCAA Tournament. A #10 seed heading into March Madness, it lost its first game to #7 North Carolina. The Blackbirds finished with an overall record of 27-6. Their best player, Julian Boyd, was named Northeast Conference Player of the Year and, a season later, an honorable mention in the AP All-American Team.

The most recent spectacular season for Long Island was the 2015-16 Stony Brook Seawolves. Until that season, the Seawolves haven’t been in the NCAA Tournament since the start of the Division I program in 1999. The season started at an even 4-4 before the Seawolves built an 18-game winning streak. Despite stumbling into the American East Tournament after losing two of their last three games, they flew through the tournament and defeated Vermont 80-74 to get their first shot at the big dance. While Stony Brook went on to lose to Kentucky in the first round, it was still one of the national feel-good stories of the 2015-16 season.

Finally, there’s the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers. While the team has never made the NCAA Tournament, they’ve come pretty close. Just recently, in the 2014-15 season, the Terriers were favorites to win the Northeast Conference. Despite a losing record outside of the conference, the Terriers were the regular season conference champions with a 15-3 conference record. However, in the conference tournament, the Terriers fell in the championship game to Robert Morris and was sent to the National Invitational Tournament instead. The Terriers finished with a 23-12 record.

Will we ever see an NCAA Title come to Long Island? Probably not, but its fun seeing these teams play the underdog. Just this season, St. John’s took down no. 1 Villanova and no. 4 Duke in the regular season. The 14-13 Red Storm, along with the other four Long Island teams, will all have a chance to play in their conference tournament and see if they can jump into March Madness.

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Christopher Birsner
In addition to being the editor of the Massapequa Observer and Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald, Chris Birsner is the sports editor for Long Island Weekly and often contributes gaming articles to the arts and entertainment publication.

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