After the Big East released the 2017-2018 conference schedule on Wednesday, St. John’s confirmed that this season they will only play five games at The World’s Most Famous Arena.
In addition to the two non-conference games - against Iona on December 17 and the much anticipated February 3 game against Duke - Chris Mullin’s Johnnies will host Georgetown, Villanova, and Seton Hall in Manhattan.
The rest of the home games will be played at Carnesecca Arena on the Queens campus.
Games against Providence, Xavier, and Marquette all head to Queens after being played at the Garden last season.
Obviously, the allure for fans of playing at Madison Square Garden will be lost, but the primary location of home games being Carnesecca might not necessarily be a bad thing for the Red Storm.
The arena, named after legendary men’s basketball coach Lou Carnesecca, has a capacity of 5,602, compared to MSG’s capacity of over 19,000.
Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. It’s no secret that one of the Big East’s best atmospheres is Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse. The arena only sits 9,100. Villanova’s Pavilion only sits 6,500.
Take Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University. It only seats just over 9,300 but the “Cameron Crazies” are one of the most intimidating student sections in the country. Why?
It’s because of their proximity to the court. When opposing players inbound the ball, the students can practically put their hands on them.
Last year, St. John’s pulled off the biggest win of Chris Mullin’s tenure as coach, a 76-73 win over then 13th-ranked Butler. After the final buzzer sounded, Marcus LoVett went over and greeted fans in the crowd.
This little gesture shows why Carnesecca could turn into a nice home court atmosphere for a program rebuilding connection to the Red Storm fanbase. When packed, the fans are literally right on top of the court. In the student section, front row seats are no more than three feet away from the baseline, as opposed to the polite distance between fans and the court at the big arena on 33rd Street.
When the on-campus arena is packed and the team is playing well, the sound echoes and makes it very tough for opposing coaches to convey messages to their players on the court.
Aside from the Butler game, the best example of this last year was against DePaul. Malik Ellison opened the game with three straight baskets, which immediately got the crowd behind the team. DePaul was never able to get back into the came, and had trouble getting into their offensive sets. The crowd was able to get behind the St. John’s defense.
At Madison Square Garden, aside from the courtside seats, it is tough to create an intimidating atmosphere with so many seats that are a fair distance to the court, and with so many seats that are not sold to St. John’s fans (or are empty).
Fans of opposing teams are more likely to buy tickets for a game at MSG than they are to buy one at Carnesecca, harder to access from the center of Manhattan.
Last year against Villanova, there was enough dark blue that it felt at times like a neutral court game.
What St. John’s can’t afford in trying to establish Carnesecca as a primary home court is have blunders like the team had last year against Delaware St. KenPom’s rankings had Delaware St. ranked as 339th out of 351 teams. Losses like that kill fan morale.
Another reason that this whole idea might work is because the University seems committed to the arena. Last season, two-massive jumbotrons were put on both sides of the arena to enhance the fan’s viewing experience.
To turn Carnesecca into a dominant home court, the team will need to play strongly in their non-conference home games.
They open up with New Orleans on November 10, then four days later they host Central Connecticut. The first major test comes November 16 against Nebraska in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. If the Red Storm can beat a Big 10 team at home, that will go a long way in instilling confidence in the fans.
The team opens up the conference season December 28 against Providence. Last year at MSG, just 10,292 fans out of over 19,812 seats showed up.
Maybe a packed house is better than a half-filled, half-partisan arena - at least while St. John’s tries to build winning ways.