The 2008-09 college basketball season tipped off this Monday and the response from New York City was a deafening silence. There are Duke fans, Kansas partisans and UCLA rooters rolling around the area, but it's hard to find many people who are fretting over the results of Rutgers basketball. There's no buzz, no hype and no attention being paid to college basketball's local representatives.
Preseason polls in the Big East, Atlantic 10, MAAC and other conferences featuring schools in and around New York City found those teams residing in the bottom half of the standings with little chance at playing in the postseason. That's nothing new. Three of the last four NCAA Tournaments took place without local representation, and last year no one even made the NIT. What happened to the days when St. John's and Seton Hall challenged for Big East crowns and sleepers like Manhattan became March darlings?
Any team from the area that did well relied on kids from the city and the suburbs to fill out their rosters. Some would always leave town, but if you kept enough of them there would be more than enough talent to contend. The basketball world's gotten bigger, though. The best young talents are identified much earlier and, whether they go to prep schools or travel the country with AAU teams, they aren't backyard secrets any longer. And, thanks to the massive amount of games available on television, going to Georgia, Texas or Arizona doesn't feel as far away as it did 20 years ago.
An article in today's Daily News places St. John's the center of the decline. It's been nearly a decade since the Red Storm made it to the second round of the NCAAs. In that time they've gone through a series of off-court scandals, failed to recruit any stars and piled up losses. Their struggles mean no big games at Madison Square Garden, no chances for the other local schools to make their bones by knocking them off and very, very little national attention pointed at the city.
"The bottom line is we need St.John's to make it to the NCAA Tournament and maybe reach the Sweet 16," said Hofstra coach Tom Pecora. "When they are going good, everything else in the city seems to fall into place."
If that's what it's going to take it may be a while before college basketball matters in this city again.