Updated: Dec 12, 2020
As non-conference play winds down across the country, plenty of teams in the Five Boroughs have a lot of work to do as we head into the next phase of the season. Overall, the state of New York City college basketball is in pretty good shape, but a few of the top programs still have a little ways to go before I can call them tournament-worthy teams. No poll update today. Check back on Monday for how these games affect our pundits' choices.
Iona loses to Morgan State, Johnnies barely scrape past Rider
I realize now that my praise for Iona in Volume 1 of the Metro Poll was a bit premature. We are not yet in the portion of the movie where the Iona Gaels are racking up wins in a montage set to Kurtis Blow, and Tuesday's 83-72 loss to Morgan State is proof of that. Iona was shaky from the start, missing their first four shots of the game and allowing Morgan State to quickly jump to a 9-0 lead. The Gaels eventually found their composure and were able to make a few runs of their own, but Morgan State stayed way too hot for Iona to catch up, shooting a whopping 57.9% from beyond the arc.
Iona is simply not where they want to be heading into conference play, but luckily for them, their Coach is Rick Pitino. Following the loss, Pitino broke down exactly where this program is in it's development, emphasizing his goal to bring in some top recruits. In terms of this season, Pitino was hopeful that the return of senior point guard Asante Gist, who is returning from a pinky injury, will breath some new life into this team going forward while also bringing some more depth to their offense. Gist did make his first appearance of the year late in the second half against Morgan State, but his presence that late in the game was not enough to make a difference.
St. John's got the win against Rider on Tuesday, but boy was it not pretty. Entering the game as an 18.5-point underdog, Rider looked competitive against the Johnnies, with 49% shooting from three-point range aiding in their 11-point lead late in the first half. This performance was further emboldened by an abysmal shooting performance from the Red Storm in the first half, shooting 14 for 40 in that span.
It's clear that St. Johns was not playing to their full potential. which was remedied late in the second half, as a 14-3 run midway through the second half allowed St. John's to take back the lead, finishing a back-and-forth stretch on top by 3 to claim the win. Wins like these are frustrating if you're someone like Head Coach Mike Anderson, but they're not entirely surprising. It was a Tuesday night game against a small school, and St. John's treated it like that for a large portion of the game before they let it get too out of hand. A 5-1 record bodes well going into conference play, but in a very competitive Big East, the Johnnies aren't going to be able to rest on their laurels for very long.
Wagner and St. Francis begin their seasons
Wagner was at a clear disadvantage going into their Tuesday night matchup against Seton Hall. Seton Hall size and speed over Wagner, allowing them to score a lot of their points in fast break opportunities. Center Deandre Wilkins was simply overworked in the paint, as just could not handle the big man duo of Sandro Mamukelashvili and Ike Obiagu. The Pirates excelled in laying a press on Wagner early. It wasn’t like Wagner wasn’t trying. On a few possessions, the Seahawks double was pretty effective in keeping Seton Hall from getting off an outside shot, but there was nothing they could do after Seton Hall resorted to just dishing it to Mamukelashvili down low.
Wagner forced a five minute Seton Hall scoring drought midway through the first half, allowing themselves to climb within 1 point at 24-23. Unfortunately, their shooters just could not keep up, allowing Seton Hall a 14 point run to close out the first half, eventually losing 78-45. It’s one of those games that just shows you how large Division 1 really is, and the talent gap that can exist between programs.
St. Francis had a bit of an easier opening to their season, with the pandemic forcing the Brooklyn-based program to go straight into conference play for the first time in school history in a doubleheader against Bryant. In Game 1, Bryant seemed to have complete control over the pace of the game, jumping to a 25-9 lead midway through the first, forcing five turnovers that were backed by some solid three point shooting. St. Francis had a couple decent stretches, but it seemed that they had trouble keeping their composure, with fast breaks often interrupted by Bryant-drawn charges. Bryant took the first game 101-82. Game 2 started off in a very similar manner, allowing the Bulldogs to have a comfortable 16-point lead late in the second half. However, Terriers sophomore Rob Higgins led a 16-1 rally late in the game, scoring a career high 24 points himself in a tight 93-91 win.
Coming this weekend
St. John's opens up Big East play against one of the better Seton Hall teams we've seen in recent years.
Iona begins conference play in the MAAC against Fairfield after having a few troubles getting their schedule together due to the pandemic.