Don't look now, but there's not just one, two or three -- but four -- good SB Nation New York men's college hoops programs this season. Of course, most Big East Conference basketball fans know about No. 1-ranked Syracuse Orange and the feel-good story of No. 24 Seton Hall Pirates. However, to overlook the St. John's Red Storm and Rutgers Scarlet Knights as postseason candidates (NIT or NCAA) is just silly.
On Wednesday, Rutgers (10-7, 2-2 Big East) slaughtered the struggling Pittsburgh Panthers, 62-39, to earn its second league victory in three games and place the Scarlet Knights just a half-game behind fifth-place No. 17 Connecticut Huskies (13-3, 3-2).
Now, for most Big East programs fifth place wouldn't be an accomplishment worth striving for or celebrating, but for a group that has started three freshman -- guards Eli Carter and Jerome Seagears, and forward Derrick Randall -- sophomore center Gilvydas Biruta and junior forward Dane Miller during four league games, it's a solid start.
"These guys are embracing the formula," said Rice after the game Wednesday. "They are embracing the energy and intensity that you need. For our first road victory to be at the ‘Pete’ in front of the Oakland Zoo is a (big deal). I know how big of a thing it is. I’m not sure if (our players) do because they are so young, but maybe that’s why they played so hard and didn’t have a fear of it."
Currently, Carter paces the Scarlet Knights in scoring averaging 18.8 points per game, while freshman guard Myles Mack is coming off the bench to added 8.3 ppg.
The next three games will be the turning point for Rutgers, as its 2011-12 schedule features a Saturday match-up at West Virginia Mountianeers, a Monday contest against visiting Notre Dame Fighting Irish and a Saturday, Jan. 21, battled at the Georgetown Hoyas.
That trio of Big East showdowns will test this young squad and separate them from the cellar dwellers they're used to being or postseason contenders.
Meanwhile, despite losing 83-64 at No. 25 Marquette Golden Eagles the Red Storm (8-8, 2-3) have been surprisingly competitive this year.
On Saturday, behind a buzzer-beating, tip-in t\from freshman guard Moe Harkless the Johnnies upset the Cincinnati Bearcats, 57-55. St. John's is another young tri-state area program that should be on the rise in the next few years, but instead is a bit ahead of schedule.
Freshman guard D'Angelo Harrison leads all Red Storm scorers with 15.6 ppg, while Harkless is averaging 15.4 ppg and a team-best 8.4 rebounds per game. Two other freshman -- guard Sir'Dominic Pointer and forward Phil Greene -- are averaging more than 28 minutes per game, while junior forward God'sgift Achiuwa is a powerful, inside play-maker that can easily match up with some of the bigger insidemen in the league.
Like Rutgers', the St. John's basketball schedule features a big match-up against visiting Georgetown, Sunday (noon on ESPNU). Then, two winnable games at the South Florida Bulls, Wednesday, and vs. Villanova Wildcats, Saturday, Jan. 21.
For more on Rutgers basketball, check out the SB Nation blog On The Banks, while Rumble In The Garden has everything on the Johnnies. Need a Big East basketball fix? Visit Big East Coast Bias or the SB Nation college basketball homepage.