Photo: USA Today
Welcome to the final edition of the Metropolitan Poll. If you've stuck around for the entire journey this season, first off, a huge thank you. Second, today's column has a recommended audio companion as you read my final evaluation of our favorite eight Metro teams, and reflect on all the friends we made along the way.
The Final Metro Poll
A slight surprise in my opinion, St. John's finishes the year as our Number One team in the Five Boroughs. Iona is the poll's lone representative in the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn't mean there's plenty of fun in store for these teams in the future.
That being said, where do we go from here?
While they didn't get into the tournament, and while I stand by picking Iona at 1, St. John's was the best team in the poll this year. If it weren't for a few rough games down the stretch, I'm sure the Johnnies would have squeaked into a First Four game as an 11-seed. They were a lock for the NIT, but declined in order to prevent any more potential contact with Covid-19 when making the trip to Texas. Seton Hall made a similar announcement regarding the tournament. I totally respect the decision; student-athlete, coach, and trainer safety is way more important than chasing a few more wins on your record. That being said, I would have absolutely LOVED to see what this Red Storm team can do in a tournament like the NIT. Luckily, the Anderson era in Queens is just beginning to pick up. His fast pace style continues to work for this talented selection of St. John's guards, and with just two seniors on the team this year, I can't wait to see how their game continues to develop.
Never doubt Rick Pitino. It's a slogan I always remind myself of at the beginning of the season to immediately forget about until he pulls off a run like this. At this point, I should probably get that mantra tattooed on myself so I don't forget it...
...On second thought, maybe Rick Pitino and tattoos don't mix.
All jokes aside, while there's no arguing against what Pitino brings to the table in terms of both X's and O's as well as recruiting, the biggest thing about this Iona team is mentality. If you were to look at Pitino's postgame quotes this season, you'd think this team was a failure. However, it turns out that was just Pitino hammering in the drive for perfection that's allowed this team to head to the big dance. They've got a tough matchup against Alabama in the first round, but if there's going to be any crazy upsets in the first round this year, give me the Gaels.
Following whatever run the Gaels go on, Pitino will likely be locked in on the recruiting trail to build around MAAC Rookie of the Year Nelly Junior Joseph.
The Pride definitely had their moments this year, including a solid win off of Richmond right before the Spiders' season went off the rails. Their CAA Semifinal exit was heartbreaking not only because it ends their 2020-21 season, but also it eliminates their chance to complete a journey that started with last year's CAA Tournament win.
Luckily, guys like Caleb Burgess and Isaac Kante still have a few years of eligibility left the get to the dance one more time. If there's one thing the Pride can work on in the offseason to achieve that goal, it's defense. 93-89 games are definitely exciting in college basketball, but only if you're on the winning side. The Pride have the hot hands, but now it's time to bring in a consistent defensive rotation that can guard on the perimeter.
Wagner has hit a perfect storm in terms of their immediate future in the NEC; a) they were able to turn their season around towards the end to clinch a playoff berth and b) they were able to do it with young stars. Leading the multiple award-winning Seahawks is NEC Rookie of the Year DeLonnie Hunt, while Senior Alex Morales won NEC MVP. Seahawks Coach Bashir Mason was named Jim Phelan Coach of the Year.
The NEC is no ACC, but they've got some decent power amongst themselves in programs like Bryant, Mount St. Mary's, and LIU. If Wagner can continue to shake things up, we may see the Seahawks go dancing before Hunt's four years are up.
The best thing LIU can do in regards to this season is to forget it ever happened, which might be the easiest thing for a lot of programs to do this year. The biggest hurdle that the Sharks seemed to struggle with was the back-to-back styled schedule of the NEC this year. With just two series in which the Sharks went 1-1, it seems LIU had a hard time preparing for conference big dogs like Bryant and MSM.
For the sake of the Sharks, as well as any other conference that scheduled games like this, we'll be able to return to some better structured schedules next year.
#6-St. Francis BK
The Terriers offense seems like it's stagnated over the last few years, unable to finish much better than the middle of the NEC table. After 11 years with Glenn Braica at the helm, all the Terriers have to show for themselves is a singular NIT appearance. Maybe the best thing for SFBK to do is bring in some new blood.
Manhattan finds themselves between a rock and a hard place right now. What was once arguably the best program North of the Harlem River, Steve Masiello now finds himself competing for recruits with his former Coach Pitino, as well as a potential competent Fordham hire. While I don't think it's time for Masiello and the Jaspers to move on from one another, they're going to have their work cut out for them in an increasingly top-heavy MAAC.
Finally, my beloved Rams. This season was pretty rough, but the upcoming head coach search has quickly become one of the most exciting stories in college ball right now outside March Madness. Regardless of the recent records, or opinions on how small their gym is, Fordham is a storied program that's catching the eye of some pretty interesting names. Even if Fordham signs a top name, it will take some time before the Rams become a presence in the A-10. However, I think I speak for a lot of Fordham fans when I say I'm excited to see this program grow.
If the David Bowie track finished by the time you got to this part, hit replay or switch over to Simple Minds.
In closing this column for the season, I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone that helped me get this idea off the ground. Will Tondo, Jake Zimmer, Eddy Szalan, and Zach Mastrianni helped make this column what it is with their weekly votes. Overall, I hope this experiment helped us all refine our view on the game within New York.
A big thank you is also owed to anyone who checked my ramblings every Monday. I love New York, and I love basketball, so this column is my best attempt at creating a fitting tribute for these two pillars of my everyday life.
I already can't wait for next year to begin so I can get all my ideas for the future of this column off the ground. Hopefully, you'll be there with us to see what we do next!