Well, this is a fine development, isn't it? New York as a basketball town, if only for one thrilling spring? Me, I'm a baseball guy who spent the past couple of years covering football. But I'm all right with New York wanting to rise up and flex its hoops muscles after being dormant for so long. I think the resurrection of Madison Square Garden is one of the great stories of the year in all of sports, not just New York sports. And I'm all for anything that reminds the rest of the universe which town is its true center.
The debates these days are all about hoops. Can the Knicks win in the playoffs without a big-time center? Should Dwight Hardy be Big East player of the year? Can St. John's win the Big East tournament, and how far can it go in the NCAA Tournament? You can have an opinion on or an answer to any of those questions, but the brilliant thing about them is that they're being asked, and that people care about the answers -- that the Knicks and St. John's can get people fired up again.
I don't think the Knicks can go very far in the playoffs with what they have at center, and I think Dwight Howard delivered a pretty convincing presentation on that very topic Tuesday night. But I also don't think it matters. The Knicks are on the road back to championship contention, and the trip so far has been a blast. Carmelo Anthony looks as if he'll be the scorer everybody said he would, and Chauncey Billups looks like so much more than just a throw-in. They might win a playoff series and they might not, but the big picture is that they're moving in the right direction, and sheesh, they're fun to watch again. How long's it been since the Knicks had a season where you could really even watch them?
As for the college kids: why not dream big? They're sitting Thursday morning at No. 15 in the country, No. 4 in the Big East. Win tonight at Seton Hall and beat South Florida this weekend, and St. John's has locked up a double-bye in the Big East tournament. A tournament which, as if you didn't already know, is being played next week in a building in which the Red Storm has this season beaten Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke, Connecticut and Pitt. The Big East tournament needs no extra juice. It already existed as one of the most thrilling and intense sporting events on the calendar. But having it with a legitimate and red-hot St. John's team that's playing home games adds something special this year.
Can they win it? Heck yeah they can win it. Especially if they land in that top four in the standings and get that double-bye. They'd have to win three home games against teams that know how tough it is to beat them there. They'd be rested. And if they pull it off, oh yeah, dream big. They're being projected right now as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Win the Big East and they'd get a No. 3 seed for sure, maybe even a second seed depending on what happens in front of them. It's not insane and it's not impossible. And folks, if you're a No. 2 or a No. 3 in the big tournament, that means you can win it.
That's what this 2011 season at Madison Square Garden has delivered and keeps delivering -- excitement, thrills and a realistic permission to dream big about your New York basketball teams once again. With football about to shut down, the Mets dealing with all kinds of garbage and the Yankees having just the one starting pitcher, there's nothing wrong with New York being a basketball town again, even if it's just for a little while. I don't know how long it'll last, how it'll turn out or how far anybody will go. All I know is, right now, Madison Square Garden is a blast. And that's the way it should be.