Down Year For NY Schools In March Madness?

No New York team is a lock for the tournament in this first year of legal mobile sports betting
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For all those years of excellence from Syracuse and St. John’s in particular, there never was a doubt that New York would be represented in the annual March Madness NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

But as the fateful month arrives, not a single one of the 22 New York Division I schools is assured of an at-large berth in the 68-team event.

In fact, CBS’s Bracketology only foresees two Empire State teams qualifying: Iona as a 12th seed and Colgate as a No. 16 seed.

And in both cases, the teams would have to convert their first-place regular-season standing into winning their conference tournament — Iona in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and Colgate in the Patriot League.

If there is any good news here, it’s that both squads are 16-2 in conference play and four games better than the runnerup.

(And if there is any bad news here, it’s that, despite the January launch of mobile sports betting in New York, residents still can’t bet on these games legally in the state. The law does not allow for wagering on New York colleges while in New York. But New Yorkers can continue to cross over to New Jersey, including to the FanDuel Sportsbook at the Meadowlands Racetrack. And for the first time this year, Connecticut also is a safe haven to bet on New York state college teams, with mobile betting there as well.)

The outlook for those two conference leaders

Colgate has the advantage of playing each game at home for as long as the Raiders win, and they are 11-1 on their home court this season. They have a quarterfinal game on Thursday against the winner of the Lafayette (7-11) vs. Bucknell (5-13) preliminary round game.

That most likely would be followed by a contest on Sunday against either Lehigh (10-8) or Army (9-9) — a fellow New York squad.

If the Raiders advance again, Navy (12-6) is the most likely opponent for the tournament title on March 9.

Iona, meanwhile, has two meaningless regular-season games this week before the MAAC tourney kicks off on March 8, with all tournament games on neutral ground in Atlantic City (where legal bets cannot be made because the event is in New Jersey). The Gaels open the following day against the winner of the 8-9 seed game — which could feature two New York schools, Niagara and Manhattan (both 7-11 so far).

Marist is just a middle-of-the-pack team at 9-9, but Siena (12-6) is vying for a No. 2 seed and gives New York another real chance of gaining this conference crown.

Whither Syracuse and St. John’s?

Syracuse has made 41 NCAA Tournament appearances — sixth-most in college basketball history — and has qualified at least seven times each decade in the 2010s, 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s.

But this year, the Orange are a modest 9-9 in Atlantic Coast Conference play — eighth in the 15-team conference. If Syracuse keeps that slot this week, the team will head to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for a game on March 9 against the No. 9 seed — possibly Florida State.

The winner would then be saddled with meeting the top seed, likely Duke — which just beat the Orange by 25 points on Saturday. Syracuse’s 6-foot-11 star center Jesse Edwards missed the game with a broken wrist that has ended his season.

“Jesse is a difference-maker for this team. It’s been too hard to overcome,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim told reporters after the game. “We can’t handle Duke. It’s pretty simple.”

St. John’s is 7-10 in the Big East and also would have to run the table in conference play to reach March Madness.

The Red Storm have reached the NCAA Tournament 30 times, including all but one year from 1976-1993. But St. John’s in the last two decades has only added appearances in 2011, 2015, and 2019.

St. John’s will land in the preliminary round on March 9 at Madison Square Garden since only the top five of the 11 schools get byes into the quarterfinals. The Red Storm could face a nationally ranked team like Providence or Villanova in the quarterfinals the following day.

The best of the rest NY schools

There are five other New York schools that have better than just a miracle shot at landing in March Madness: St. Bonaventure, Hofstra, Wagner, LIU, and Buffalo.

As always seems to be the case, mid-major St. Bonaventure of the Atlantic 10 has dreams of getting an at-large bid even if it loses in the A-10 finale — but those dreams almost always are dashed.

The Bonnies (11-4) are one of six schools with between 10 and 14 conference wins with two games to go, including 14-2 Davidson. A strong finish would get the Bonnies a bye into the quarterfinals of the 14-team event, on March 11 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., but one or two losses could force St. Bonaventure into a preliminary-round battle a day earlier.

Hofstra (12-5) will be the third seed in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, and on Sunday the Pride will meet No. 6 Charleston (8-9) on the Washington Wizards’ home court in D.C.

Wagner (15-3) and LIU (12-6) finished second and third, respectively, in the Northeast Conference, and both have hopes of knocking off top-seeded Bryant (16-2). But the Seahawks and Sharks first will have home games on Wednesday in the quarterfinals against lesser opponents before a likely semifinal showdown on Saturday.

Buffalo, 13-4 in the Mid-American Conference, is in fourth place but would move up by knocking off Toledo (15-3) and Kent State (14-4) this week. That would clinch a quarterfinal contest for the Bulls in Cleveland against a team not among the five main contenders with records of 12-6 or better.

Cornell doesn’t look like a contender at 6-7 in the Ivy League, but that record was good enough to land the fourth seed in the four-team conference tourney. The Big Red must wait until March 12 to visit top-seeded Penn in the semifinals.

Columbia, last in the Ivy League, and Stonybrook — bounced from America East postseason competition because the school has elected to leave the conference — are the only New York schools to be eliminated as February ends.

But two other New York-based America East schools — Albany (9-8) and Binghamton (8-9) — face an unlikely task of getting past Vermont (16-1). Still, both schools at least will avoid the Catamounts in quarterfinal round action on Sunday.

Finally, Fordham — 6-9 in the Atlantic 10 — and St. Francis — 7-11 in the Northeast Conference — seem to be in “just happy to be here” mode. The Rams will play a preliminary-round game on March 10, while the fifth-seeded Terriers visit Mount St. Mary’s in the NEC quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Photo: Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY

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