Chris Mullin and St. John's are reportedly adding Iona to schedule this season, with Gaels slated to face Red Storm in December 17 Holiday Festival. (Photo by SNY)
With the perennial cache of St. John's in the New York college basketball market, and the recent dominance of Iona as the winningest local program in this decade, many fans around the Big Apple have clamored for a showdown between the Red Storm and Gaels, two programs long reluctant to square off against one another.
No longer, according to CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein.
The dream matchup appears to have become a reality, as Rothstein reported early Monday morning that St. John's and Iona would headline the Holiday Festival on December 17 at Madison Square Garden. Army and Air Force will comprise the second matchup, but the main attraction will be a pair of programs that have not seen one another on the same floor since 1995, when Brian Mahoney and Tim Welsh patrolled the sidelines for their respective programs.
St. John's is expected to take the next step toward becoming a major contender in the Big East in year three under head coach Chris Mullin this season, with guards Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett leading an experienced group of players that now adds four-star recruit Sidney Wilson to its arsenal while also retaining forward Bashir Ahmed, who will be returning to Queens for his senior season, according to Zach Braziller of the New York Post.
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions for two years running, the Gaels will be participating in the Holiday Festival for the first time since 2012, when they were defeated by Rutgers three months before winning the first of three MAAC titles under head coach Tim Cluess. Iona will be competing in the Garden for the first time since 2015, when they defeated Niagara. Ironically enough, that game was the second half of a doubleheader that featured St. John's taking on Duke earlier in the afternoon, a game most notable for Hall of Fame mentor Mike Krzyzewski recording his 1,000th career victory as the Blue Devils erased a double-digit deficit to sink the Red Storm.
Led by a stable of guards headlined by junior Rickey McGill and senior Deyshonee Much, Cluess will guide Iona into a nostalgic meeting of sorts when he locks up with St. John's, having begun his collegiate career on the corner of Union and Utopia before transferring to Hofstra, where he completed his eligibility on his native Long Island. The Gaels are still in the midst of retooling their latest outfit into contention, and are expected to be firmly in the mix for yet another MAAC crown, alongside bitter adversary Manhattan and two-time defending regular season league champion Monmouth among others.