Local Flavor Returns to the NCAA Tournament - NBC New York

Local Flavor Returns to the NCAA Tournament

The tri-state area is well represented in the Big Dance



    Local Flavor Returns to the NCAA Tournament
    Getty Images

    We only needed one glimpse at the brackets to know that 2011 is a far better year than 2010 for college basketball in the tri-state area.

    That's because a look at last year's teams ended without a single team from our proud hoops region vying for a chance to cut down the nets.

    You had to look all the way up to Syracuse and Ithaca for something remotely resembling a local rooting interest -- no, Cornell's medical school doesn't count -- which made for an empty feeling even when both teams made it to the Sweet 16.

    We won't be left without rooting interests this time around. In addition to the return of the Orange, who we realize are a de facto New York City team because of their hardy alumni in the city, there are five local outfits taking part in this year's field of 68.

    Because of the way they recovered their mojo after years as a whipping post, St. John's is the most notable of those five entrants.

    We've already discussed how tough it will be for them to navigate their way past Gonzaga and BYU into the Sweet 16, but that won't change how exciting it will be to gather with other hardy souls late on Thursday to watch them do their very best to make a few more happy memories.

    Connecticut's one-year absence from the tournament field was much shorter, but, given their success, it felt like it was just as long.

    They're back in the field this year and couldn't be any hotter after their five-day jaunt through the Big East at Madison Square Garden last week. Kemba Walker is as dangerous as any player in the country, Jim Calhoun knows all the secrets to successful March runs and any team that runs through that conference so completely is going to be a tough out.

    If the Huskies are the hottest local outfit entering the dance, Princeton took the most exciting route to the tournament.

    Douglas Davis's buzzer beater against Harvard, assisted by a clock operator whose senior thesis might be how to make seconds longer than previously thought, was a thrill.

    It's the first trip to the tournament since 2004 for the Tigers and they'll get a shot at Kentucky, a school that has the same meaning to basketball that Princeton has to academics. 

    It will likely be a short visit for Princeton, but at least they'll have company.

    Long Island University hasn't lost since January 22nd, a run of 13 straight victories, but they will be facing historical and logistical obstacles. They will be facing perennial giant North Carolina in Charlotte as a 15th seed, a seed that has won only four of 104 first-round games.

    The odds are a little better for 14th-seeded St. Peter's, 15.3 percent winners, but the smart money is still on Purdue winding up in the second round (or third, if you're buying into the new math pushed by the NCAA).

    They are a very strong defensive team, but that defense was only good enough to land them in fourth place during the MAAC regular season. 

    They won the conference tournament to land their bid, though, which makes for a pretty good ending point. It's March and anything can happen so long as you have a dog in the hunt.

    Our area's got a bunch of them which is going to make this a pretty terrific week of basketball.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.