Local Hoops Squads Hope for a Chance at the ‘Big Dance’

Danielle Patterson, a graduate student forward on the St. John’s University women’s basketball team, hopes to lead the Red Storm to the NCAA Tournament. (Photo: Courtesy of St. John’s)

Now that it’s March, you know what that means: March Madness is back!

The men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments start up in the middle of this month. Sunday, March 12, is “Selection Sunday” for both the men and women, with tournament games officially beginning later that week.

Here’s a look at how our diocese’s two Division I Catholic colleges stack up against the field.

St. John’s University Men

The St. John’s University, Jamaica, men’s basketball team got off to a torrid start this season. The Johnnies won 10 straight games — most of which were by double-digit point margins.

Yet we all know how tough the Big East Con- ference schedule can be. The early momentum St. John’s built waned very quickly as the team lost its first five Big East games and has yet to recover after the hot start.

With a stacked Big East field, it would take a miracle for head coach Mike Anderson to lead the Red Storm to the “Big Dance.” At this point, the team would have to either win the conference tournament outright or make a deep run to convince the selection committee of their worthiness for the tournament.

St. John’s leading scorer Joel Soriano played his high school ball at Archbishop Stepinac H.S., White Plains, N.Y. He will need his supporting cast of David Jones and Posh Alexander to continue to step up if the Johnnies have any hopes of a miracle run.

The men’s Big East Conference Tournament takes place March 8-11.

St. John’s University Women

The St. John’s women bested the men with a 13-game winning streak to start off the season. While that pace slowed slightly into Big East play, the Red Storm have turned in some signature wins along the way, including head coach Joe Tartamella’s milestone 200th career victory on Feb. 8.

On Feb. 21, St. John’s shocked No. 4-ranked UConn with a five-point road win. In the game, graduate student forward Danielle Patterson, a former high school All-American at The Mary Louis Academy, Jamaica Estates, matched her career high with 20 points.

Skye Owen, a freshman guard who played at St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, is also a member of the St. John’s squad. Whenever her number is called, she does her best to contribute.

Just like the men’s field, the women’s Big East Conference is strong. In addition to UConn leading the way, Villanova, Creighton, and Marquette are all tough teams. It’s hard to envision any more than four Big East teams receiving a tournament bid, so it will take a few Big East Tournament wins at the very least for St. John’s to even be on the bubble.

The women’s Big East Tournament tips off March 3-6.

St. Francis College Men

Here’s a trivia question you never want to be part of: Which four men’s basketball original Division I members have never played in the NCAA Tournament?

The answer: Army, The Citadel, my alma mater the College of William and Mary, and our beloved St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights.

In 2015, the Terriers came within three points against Robert Morris University in the Northeast Conference championship game, which would have broken the streak. Since then, it’s been a tough go for St. Francis, led by head coach and Bishop Ford H.S., Park Slope, graduate Glenn Braica in his 13th season.

While they’ve turned in a respectable 2022-2023 campaign, the Terriers might have to wait at least one more year to break the curse. The team is heading for one of the lower seeds in the Northeast Conference Tournament, played March 1-7.

Three alums of Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, are on the team: sophomore guard Nick Folk Jr., junior forward Elijah Hardison, and sophomore guard Matthew Gonzalez.

Just like the Brooklyn Dodgers used to say, it will likely be “wait till next year” for the Terriers.

St. Francis College Women

The St. Francis College women’s team appeared in its first and only NCAA Tournament in 2015. Though the team struggled out of the gate this season, the Terriers have held their own in Northeast Conference play.

Unlike St. John’s and the Big East, the only scenario for the Terriers to go dancing would be if they won their conference tournament outright. Standing in their way will be top seeds Fairleigh Dickinson University and Sacred Heart University.

St. Francis, coached by Linda Cimino, has been led all year by senior guard Alyssa Fisher, who has averaged 17.0 points per game. For the Terriers to make a run in the conference tournament, Fisher will need to be on top of her game and then some.

The women’s Northeast Conference Tournament will be held March 6-12.

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