Posted on: January 4, 2011 12:37 am
Edited on: January 1, 2012 10:16 pm
Posted by Matt Norlander
The Johnnies picked up their most significant win in, well, a long, long time tonight.
The 61-58 home victory over No. 13 Georgetown was not a stunning win, despite the AP's headline linked above, but it was still a bit unexpected. After all, St. John's had stumbled against St. Bonaventure and Fordham, losing those games back to back just three weeks ago. I'll disagree with our good friend Rob Dauster, who is trying to poop on partiers in Queens tonight. (Such a downer, that Dauster.)
After a 3-0 start in Big East play, those memories of bad losses have to feel 4,000 miles away.
The clutch win, catalyzed by the play of Dwight Hardy (an impressive 20-point, onion-filled performance), was a big one in the big picture, as St. John's now faces a gauntlet unlike anything any other team in the country will endure: at Notre Dame, Syracuse, Notre Dame, at Louisville, Cincinnati, at Georgetown, Duke.
Then January ends.
Who knows if Georgetown's really sliding. But in a game that featured just 54 possessions (a very low number for the tempo-free ignorant), St. John's, not the veteran team that's shown the capability to adapt to different pace, kept its cool and didn't faulter down the stretch. The Hoyas rebounded and shot better, but it was because St. John's turned over the ball on only 7.5 percent of its possessions that it had a chance. The free-throw shooting also came in handy.
A fun game that got the Garden alive (legendary former head coach Louie Carnesecca was the beneficiary of about 35 cutaway TV shots, too), it's now time to change our perception of the Johnnies, even if they do go on a skid upcoming, we'll know they're capable of some good wins. They'll be capable of, at the very least, playing spoiler.
Right now, they're early contenders.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: January 3, 2011 11:54 pm
Edited on: January 4, 2011 12:39 am
Posted by Matt Jones
A quick scan of what you should care about from Monday's slate of games:
St John’s is for real
We knew going into the season that St. John’s would be improved. Steve Lavin’s club had its supporters, including Rick Pitino, whose comment that the Red Storm would win the Big East made one wonder if he lost more than his stamina in his old age. However an NCAA berth still seemed a stretch to many and early success in the Big East was met with more skepticism than compliments. With tonight’s 61-58 victory over Georgetown, it has now become clear that St. John’s will be a force for the entire Big East season. The Red Storm finished strong down the stretch and had the Garden rocking in a manner that doesn’t’ yet hearken back to the days of Mullin, Berry and Jackson, but does at least get the blood flowing. The next seven games however will give a test unlike any we have seen in college basketball in some time. St. John’s will play Notre Dame twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, Georgetown and Duke, all teams ranked in this week’s poll. If Steve Lavin’s team can simply come out of this stretch with a pulse, relevant college basketball in New York City could be back in February and March for the first time in over a decade.
Michigan State is on track
It has been the usual difficult trip for Tom Izzo and the Spartans during the nonconference season. An ambitious schedule led to more losses than Michigan State had hoped and the start of Big Ten play brought some trepidation about how the team would fare in a much-improved conference with significantly more depth. Tonight’s 65-62 win at Northwestern helps alleviate some of the initial worries, as Sparty controlled tempo and helped keep the Wildcats’ star John Shurna at bay, holding him to 11 points on 1-11 shooting. Northwestern fought back from a late deficit with an 12-0 run that put them within one with, as Kalin Lucas went to the line with 13 seconds left. After a free throw miss, Draymond Green made another big play for Izzo’s team, by getting a key offensive rebound and scoring to solidify the win. It was a tough loss for Northwestern, who needs a couple of resume building wins for March, while Michigan State showcased that even with the early struggles, it is exactly where we believed it would be in the preseason…atop the Big Ten and grinding out victories on the way to postseason.
Butler and Florida State are Fraudulent
Two weeks ago in Hawaii, Butler and Florida State faced each other in a well-played game that suggested both teams were ready to make real noise going into conference play. Butler had seemed to overcome its horrendous star, while the Seminoles seemed poised to overcome their traditional underachieving and become a real contender for the title of second best team in the ACC. In fact, the game was so engrossing that I almost forgot that I was watching it two days before Christmas and risking the wrath of my entire family. Now tonight it was proven once again that both teams are the frauds that we thought before their Hawaiian adventure. Butler was embarrassed in a conference game, losing 76-52 to Milwaukee in a game that will cripple the Bulldogs’ at-large berth potential come March. Even worse, Florida State lost 65-60 to the worst college basketball team in a BCS conference, Auburn. Previously the Tigers had fallen to UNC-Asheville, Campbell, Presbyterian and Samford, but luckily for Tony Barbee’s team, the schedule brought the disappointment juggernaut that is Florida State into its arena and with it, a much-needed victory. For both Butler and Florida State, the promise of two weeks ago has diminished and reality has since set in. Each is the same team that we saw before they met in Hawaii, meaning neither is yet worth our full attention.
Posted on: January 3, 2011 6:03 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2011 7:21 pm
Posted by Eric Angevine
The Creighton Bluejays lost a bit of national luster when Dana Altman departed to Oregon , but the program made a nice hire in luring Greg McDermott from Iowa State to take over in Omaha. McDermott was no doubt comforted by the knowledge that a game-changing player was already enrolled at the school and ready to make his life easier at the end of the fall semester.
Gregory Echenique left Rutgers before former Scarlet Knights head coach Fred Hill was dismissed, but he no doubt feels relieved to have missed the drama. The transition from Altman to McDermott has been a smooth one.
“I’m 6-foot-8 myself, so I think it helped that I had played the position that Gregory plays,” said the 46-year-old head coach, who manned the front line for Northern Iowa in the mid-1980s. “It was evident to me that Gregory r eally loves Creighton, has developed a lot of friendships – not just on the team but around campus – and that made it a lot easier to sell. This is where he wants to be.”
The atmosphere at the small, private Midwestern school clearly agrees with the big man from Venezuela. He was pushing three bills when he left Rutgers, but his head coach says he’s proven his dedication to becoming a great player by shedding 30-plus pounds since he arrived in Omaha. His physical game is expected to impact Creighton’s prospects greatly as his mind and muscles gradually recall how to play the game they have missed over the past year.
A mid-season transfer, Echenique became eligible to take the floor for the Bluejays on December 18. At the time, the Jays were 5-4, having suffered near-miss losses to Nebraska and Iowa State (the team McDermott left to come to Creighton) as well as double-digit setbacks against Northwestern and Brigham Young.
“Looking back, we lost one-possession games at Nebraska and with Iowa State on a neutral floor. I don’t think there’s any question that he would have had an impact on those two games,” said McDermott. “Because of his ability to score, he draws a lot of attention, and really demands a double-team or some help in some fashion. In the first four games he really impacted our team with his presence defensively and his ability to score around the basket. ”
Echenique has actually appeared in five games for the Bluejays, but his head coach isn’t counting the January 1 game against Drake, in which the man-mountain was hampered by foul trouble that limited him to six minutes of play in the win, which pushed the Bluejays to 2-0 in the MVC. His absence from the game reminded fans that the team already has a potent scoring trio, which was led on that night by Doug McDermott, the coach’s freshman son, who poured in a career-high 28 and grabbed 10 rebounds. Senior center Kenny Lawson also had a double-double (14/16) and junior guard Antoine Young added 15. Still, there’s little doubt that Creighton would prefer to keep Echenique on the floor now that they’ve finally seen what he can do.
“Our high-low game functions a little bit more smoothly than it did before because of his presence down low,” the elder McDermott confirmed. “Defensively, he’s big enough and a good enough shot blocker that he’s blocked nine shots in four games. He’s changed the game defensively, and the attention he attracts on the offensive end makes it much easier for his teammates.”
The head coach doesn’t want to see his newest weapon become tentative on the blocks in the wake of the foul-plagued outing. He has cautioned Echenique to stay aggressive; to earn his fouls instead of succumbing to fear of the ticky-tack. The Bluejays will need him at full strength as they prepare to take on 2-0 league rival Missouri State on Tuesday night. His coach knows he is capable of drawing more fouls than he commits.
“Playing in four games, he’s been to the free throw line 33 times,” said Greg McDermott. “Obviously, he’s going to be fresh tomorrow night, because he only played six minutes the other night. He should be ready to go.”
Missouri Valley rivals, consider yourselves warned.Photo: AP
Posted on: January 3, 2011 4:30 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2011 5:14 pm
Posted by Eric Angevine
The ACC, like any conference, can be seen as a series of tiers.
Duke is at the pinnacle, rather more alone there than usual. Based on talent alone, UNC, Florida State NC State and possibly Maryland make up the next level. Wake Forest, Virginia and Georgia Tech seem to be wallowing near the bottom right now.
That leaves a grouping of four teams that could go either way when conference play begins. Virginia Tech has struggled with preseason expectations that they'd challenge for the ACC lead. Miami hasn't established an indentity yet. Boston College is off to a surprising start under new coach Steve Donahue and nobody knows how that will translate to league play.
That leaves Clemson . The school that made the quietest hire in the offseason made the right choice. Brad Brownell (left), a little-known strategic mastermind who proved his ability to win at UNC-Wilmington and Wright State, has his team ready to win now. The stylistic change from Oliver Purnell's fast-paced offense (69.1 posessions per game last season) to Brownell's deliberate style (66.7) might not thrill casual fans, but few can argue with the recent six-game win streak the Tigers have put together while ringing in the new year.
Senior Jerai Grant was a bit of a revelation during the month of December. Early in the season, the 6'8" forward from Maryland struggled to put a complete game together, as evidenced by a four point, 2 rebound performance in a win at Seton Hall. As soon as the calendar flipped to the twelfth month, a light went on, and he's scored in double figures in every game since. He's shown an ability to rebound on both ends of the floor, but shot-blocking has become a huge part of his game in recent weeks. Grant has averaged 3.6 blocks per game over his past eight contests, with a season high of eight against East Carolina coming last week.
Grant's interior presence has created plenty of room for fellow senior Demontez Stitt and junior guard Andre Young, both of whom are shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc. As sophomores Devin Booker and Milton Jennings improve, the Clemson front line could prove to be very disruptive in the upcoming league race.
Brownell is under no illusions as he prepares his team to host Miami on January 8th. Six straight wins over non-conference foes of varying strength is not enough.
"We've improved in the last month," Brownell told the Charlotte Observer. "We needed to run the table. We know we're going to have to play better to win in the ACC ."Photo: US PRESSWIRE
Posted on: January 3, 2011 3:52 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2011 3:57 pm
Posted by Matt Norlander
News just came down: Renardo Sidney will return to the court to play for Mississippi State. His first game back will be the SEC opener against Alabama Saturday.
His teammate, junior co-captain Elgin Bailey (right), will transfer from the program.
If you need to be reminded why these two have sat for the past week and a half, it's because they decided a basketball arena would be an OK place to go fisticuffs on one and other.
Without the two (both capable of being starters), the Bulldogs dropped to 8-6 after losing to Hawaii and Saint Mary's in the wake of the brouhaha. Here's Rick Stansbury's official response, per the school's press release.
“We wish him the best as he moves on. Elgin has had to deal with some very tough injuries, but he’s worked very hard to get to where he is now. Wherever he ends up, I hope he’s able to have a lot of success. As for this team, it’s time to move on and learn from these mistakes. Hopefully, by sending Sid and Elgin home following the incident, a strong message was sent that this type of behavior is unacceptable."
What message is Sidney receiving? That multiple chances for bad behavior, a defiant attitude and fighting with teammates is the normal, real-world end result for those actions? Sidney's pure basketball ability is the only thing that's kept him on a BCS conference team, a team that's a mess and probably had its season go down the drain already.
Remember, if it wasn't for his attitude and reported lazy work ethic, Sidney would've already tried to give the NBA a shot.
You know this drill. The one with more talent gets more chances. Stansbury had waited SO long to get Sidney on the court. So, if there was reasonable doubt, he wasn't going to kick the kid off the team. With enough evidenced piled up against Bailey, a separation needed to happen.
Bailey (a captain, remember) was more expendable than Sidney, which tells us something about the Bulldogs' leadership. But I keep going back to: Even if Bailey was completley in the wrong here ... why didn't Sidney just walk away? No, you saw the video: He was just as eager to throw down as Bailey was. Instigator be damned, both parties fouled up.
But one gets to stay. Here are his words:
“I’m very embarrassed about what happened," Sidney said in the statement. “I know how bad it looked on TV and the embarrassment it caused for everyone associated with Mississippi State. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and I will learn from this mistake, move forward and become a better man.”
Becoming a man is the step that needs to be taken first. Men don't let their emotions take over and start swinging knuckles when families and impressionable children are around.
The double-edged sword in all this: Keeping Sidney around could do as much to help Stansbury's job status as it would hurt it.
Posted on: January 3, 2011 1:59 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2011 2:23 pm
Posted by Matt Jones
Chris Rock's career is a total mystery. On the one hand, there is the brilliant Chris Rock, one of the five funniest stand-ups in the business, who kills it every time he appears on a talk show or is asked to host any event where he can make fun of the powers that be in Hollywood or Washington D.C. That Chris Rock produced arguably one of the top three stand-up comedy specials in history (Bring the Pain ) and created bits that not only made people cry with laughter, but also led to debates on issues that permeated popular culture. That Chris Rock is an icon and has been quoted more often than any entertainment entity since Caddyshack. We all aspire to be that Chris Rock.
But then there is the other Chris Rock, the one that produces movie stinkers the likes of which would even turn Rob Schneider red with embarrassment. The list of Chris Rock movies is arguably the longest string of movie sludge to have ever been produced by one comedic actor in recent memory. When one reads the titles, Down to Earth , Pootie Tang, Bad Company , Head of State , I Think I Love My Wife, and Grown Ups , memories of ten dollar tickets and misplaced hopes that this would be the movie where it finally clicked for Rock, all come racing back to mind. Its as if when Rock turns his attention to the big screen, he flips off the part of his brain that creates astute social commentary wrapped in comedy and replaces it with benign mainstream drivel wrapped in Kevin James or Anthony Hopkins. Movie Chris Rock is not comedian Chris Rock and to see the two of them side by side would suggest they are different people.
That same dichotomy is evident this year in Corvallis, where Craig "seriously stop saying I am Barack Obama's brother-in-law...it was cute at first, but now it is just annoying" Robinson's Oregon State team seems to have taken on two completely different personalities in non-conference and Pac 10 play. The Beavers' non-conference resume is Rock-like, although without the early CB4 , to demonstrate potential. Oregon State lost to Texas Southern, Seattle, Montana and even something called Utah Valley State, a string of games that probably caused the OSU administration to wonder if John Boehner had a brother-in-law who knew hoops. That Oregon State team looked inept on offense, was incapable of getting key defensive stops and seemed to be in contention with Auburn and Wake Forest for the title of "Worst BCS Basketball Team."
But then, just when all hope seemed to be lost, Oregon State got its equivalent of a call for a new HBO special and entered Pac 10 play, where the Beavers have hit their groove. First came a 80-58 victory over Arizona State, which was dismissed by many as a fluky New Year's Eve score best explained by ASU being without its leading scorer Trent Lockett. But then late last night, after most college basketball fans had been put to sleep by the Seattle-St. Louis NFL game, Oregon State upset Arizona, 76-75, putting the Pac 10 on notice that a rebirth may have occurred. The Beavers now stand 2-0, on top of the Pac 10, and for the first time playing with as if they are visiting David Letterman, not doing a voice over for Madagascar 2 .
What is the real Oregon State team? That is hard to say. With a terrific athlete and scorer in Jared Cunningham and a couple of Seniors in Omari Johnson and Calvin Haynes who provide solid leadership, it could just be that this team needed time to gel and is ready to reach its full potential now that the new life of conference play is upon them. Or it could be that the run against Arizona teams is simply a byproduct of a two games in three days stretch, where the Beavers caught lightning in a bottle and took advantage of a New Year's hangover by its opponents.
Or maybe Oregon State is really Chris Rock. When it plays outside of the Pac 10, it looks into the camera and forgets it possesses even the most basic of skills that made it successful. While in the Pac 10, it finds its groove and transforms into must-see television. Will Oregon State be the transformative "I'm not saying he should have killed her...but I understand " or rather go the way of "I want to get chocolate wasted "...only time will tell.
Posted on: January 3, 2011 12:20 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2011 12:37 pm
Posted by Matt Norlander
There was one time Chris Mack was a part of a team that was down to nine scholarship players. It was during his sophomore year of college at Evansville.
But as a coach? This has been hellish, unprecedented and daunting, to say the least.
“We just have to deal with the circumstances at hand," Mack said. "As I told our guys, no one’s going to feel sorry."
Well, I will. That OK, coach?
“A lot of people are making a bigger issue out of it than it needs to be,” he said.
Well ... all right. Still, let's reset just all that's gone wrong with this team in the past three months, and I won't even include the team's travel issues in this timeline. It's pretty clear 2011 couldn't get here fast enough.
Oct. 24: Brad Redford, one of the team's most vital long-distance shooters, tears his ACL and is done for the season.
Oct. 25: The next day, Xavier is informed Justin Martin, a player immediately expected to help replace Redford's production, is ineligible. That ineligibility will last the entire season. Why? He is ruled a "partial qualifier," meaning he can be on scholarship and practice, but can't suit up for games. Paired with the Redford injury, this puts Xavier down to 10 scholarship players before it's played a game.
Nov. 2: The hits keep coming. Literally. Senior forward Jamel McLean is ruled out for four to six weeks after he cracks an orbital socket around his eye in an exhibition game. McLean makes it sooner than expected, however.
Nov. 6: Bellarmine, a D-II school, beats the Musketeers in an exhibition.
Dec. 1: Xavier takes its first really bad loss of the season, losing by 11 to sub-.500 Miami University.
Dec. 28: X can't get out of 2010 without any more harm; Jay Canty, another player who was needed to replace Redford, is ruled out four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Dec. 31: Twenty-ten ends on a particularly sour note when wobbly Florida beats X to end the 'Eers' 30-game win streak at the Cintas Center.
Through all of this, Mack never made an excuse or allowed his team to.
“We are a different team than maybe when the ship set sail in October, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be a successful team," the Xavier coach told me over the phone last week. "Kids are going to have to play more minutes. We have to play with higher expectations.”
Xavier, once considered to be at the top of the Atlantic 10 — along with Temple — is now an 8-4 team that's prepping for its passionate intra-city battle against undefeated Cincinnati later this week before conference play begins Sunday at Rhode Island.
Because of all the injuries, Mack’s only been effectively playing seven guys, and it's clear the Musketeers will need to lean on them as much as possible to tread water and hope big wins come soon. Jordan Latham, a freshman, has improved, according to Mack. (He's yet to earn significant playing minutes, it should be noted.)
Amid the bumpy ride, Mack's been open and honest with this group about the challenges and what can still be achieved.
"As a coach, you’re constantly assessing on where your team’s at. You’re open and honest with them. The injuries are no different in that regard," he said. "They understand their role may change a little bit. The expectation you have from them may change a little bit.”
That includes something that's often overlooked: egos, and how they're affected by playing time, substitutions, etc.
"We now have to make sure we always have experience on the floor," Mack said. "We’ve had to watch our substitution patterns. We have to have experience on the defensive end. We’re dealing with a limited deck, so we have to be sure of who's out there.”
Perspective is something the often-humorous coach has gone back to with himself, his coaches and his players. The depleted roster is the go-to topic after every game. But the team is doing better, resume-wise, than about 85 percent of other teams in college basketball. And plenty of opportunities remain.
“It’s going to make us tougher. Hopefully it’ll harden our mental toughness,” Mack said. “I told my guys, 'If this is the worst thing that happens to you in your life, you’re going to have a great life.'”
Posted on: January 3, 2011 10:19 am
Edited on: January 3, 2011 11:29 am
Posted by Eric Angevine
"I was just trying to get (assistant coach) Tony Jones some reps."
"Josh had 23 points and 14 rebounds? Oh my gosh."
Hot Seat: Trent Johnson, LSU
If anyone made his seat hotter this week, it's LSU's Trent Johnson. The man who won 80 games in a difficult recruiting environment at Stanford probably thought winning in Baton Rouge would be a piece of cake, but things have gone downhill since his first season with the purple and gold, which ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Last year there was no postseason bid at all, and this season looks much the same. The Tigers are 8-7, and this week's road trip, with a short turnaround between playing Rice in Houston on December 29th and then Virginia in Charlottesville on January 2nd, didn't do him any favors, as both ended in losses to very beatable teams.
Louisiana State fired John Brady two years after he reached a Final Four. How much patience will they have with Johnson? The road trip continues on Saturday with a trip to the terrible, horrible, no-good Auburn Tigers. If that game ends in a loss, Tiger fans will be howling for Johnson's head on a platter.