It’s just not a college basketball season unless the Holiday Festival is headlined by the St. John’s Red Storm inside the venerable confines of Madison Square Garden.
Fortunately for college basketball purists and old-school fans, history will once again be repeating itself, as the boys from Queens will take their talents to midtown Manhattan in what will be the second trip to the Garden for the youngest squad in program history. Most of these players will be making their debuts inside the home of the New York Knicks one month prior as part of the culmination of the 2K Sports Classic, an event that will also include Arizona, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.Following a two-day confluence in which Steve Lavin’s NCAA Tournament participants first disposed of Davidson in a hard-fought nonconference matchup, the reigning Holiday Festival champion Red Storm will take the court at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” against Fordham University on December 17th.
Though the roster will feature just one player from 2010-2011, the Red Storm will be looking to erase the memory of a shocking upset loss to the Rams that, ironically, ended up being the turning point of last season’s miraculous run.
Rutgers will face Stony Brook in the second half of the Garden doubleheader on the 17th, but there will be no consolation or championship game the following day. As reported via Twitter yesterday by college basketball insider Jon Rothstein, the Holiday Festival will now be a one-day event, as opposed to the tournament-style affair it had earned its name and reputation as, in the past.
One benefit of this one-day format is that it will give all four schools the opportunity to play a game at Madison Square Garden and avoid the letdown of losing both contests that has been felt by some teams in past Holiday Festival. However, the opportunity for teams to say they played two games inside one of the most recognizable venues in the world has been taken away.
In addition, a traditional Holiday Festival setup could have potentially provided an intriguing matchup between St. John’s and Rutgers before the two teams collided in a Big East matchup in Piscataway. Adding to the fire would be the fact that the Red Storm and Scarlet Knights would be facing each other for the first time since the controversial ending to their Big East tournament meeting last March. As if anyone needed a reminder, in last year’s game, Justin Brownlee appeared to step out of bounds and travel while throwing the ball into the crowd in a sequence that was ignored by the officials and subsequently criticized as a result.
Though the Holiday Festival is no longer a conventional tournament, one thing remains the same: All four programs will still get the opportunity to show their stuff to the Madison Square Garden crowd. Four local schools inside the Mecca of basketball eight days before Christmas; it simply doesn’t get much better than this for big-time college basketball fans.