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The Season of the Asterisk Claims Mets Syndegaard Pitcher

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#34 Noah Syndegaard pitches in spring training of 2020 Neil Miller/The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

By Lenn Robbins

Let’s be honest. This 2020 MLB season, if it’s ever played, is going to come with an asterisk.

If a player gets off to a horrid start, (asterisk!) it’s because spring training was halted, throwing off his rhythm. If a player hits 25 home runs in, say, an 80-game season (asterisk!), fans will wonder if he could have kept up that pace.

Every accomplishment or failure will come with an asterisk: Yankees win the World Series – * season shortened.

It’s a can’t win season. Same with the NBA and NHL and all the other seasons that have been interrupted by this plague known as COVID-19. The season of the asterisk is the tertiary damage of the novel coronavirus.

Years from now, any athlete that misses this season won’t be differentiated from athletes that play.

So, although Mets pitcher Noah Syndegaard will not pitch in 2020 because he needs Tommy John to repair an acutely torn UCL with acute compression of the ulnar nerve, it’s the perfect season to miss. The season with the asterisk.

Don’t be mistaken. This is a sad turn for the Mets pitcher who has teased us with his Viking god-like physical stature and power pitching. It’s a sad turn for the Mets who still might be considered a playoff team but that road just got more daunting.

It’s not as if Syndegaard had a choice. The injury needs surgery and it needs it now. If all goes well, Syndegaard could be back on the mound by June of 2021.

Boston’s Chris Sale also will have Tommy John surgery. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Sale decided to have his surgery now to avoid missing significant time in 2021.

It doesn’t matter. Five, 10 years from now, the empty stat line for Syndegaard and Sale won’t warrant a second glance. This is the season of the asterisk.

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Is Fantasy Football Being Optimistic for an NFL?

Let’s get right to it.

This shelter in place deal stinks. We are social creatures forced to behave in an antisocial way. It stinks. I can pet my neighbor’s dog but can’t shake hands with said neighbor. I’m washing hands so often I will never sing, “Happy Birthday,” again.

One of the ways to cope is fantasy. This morning I fantasized that it wasn’t a Sunday in COVID-19 March, rather a Sunday in vaccine October. NFL season. Glorious NFL season.

Which team will be the most fun to watch:

The Arizona Cardinals, with Kyler Murray throwing to DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald and a tight end to be named later?

Or, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Tom Brady throwing to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard?

In fact, I’m willing to purchase a separate NFL South Division RedZone so I can see Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Todd Gurley II and TE Hayden Hurst, and Drew Brees throwing to Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Alvin Kamara?

Or Patrick Mahomes throwing to Tyreke Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mercole Hardman, Travis Kelce and Damien Williams.

Or Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer throwing to tripled teamed Julian Edelman? (I’ve waited almost two decades for this)!

Or Dak Prescott throwing to Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Zeke Elliott?

Or Mitch Trubisky throwing to the yard marker? Or is that Nick Foles?

Or, don’t dismiss this one, Phillip Rivers throwing to T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell and tight end Jack Doyle?

Or, Deshaun Watson throwing to? It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.

Or Josh Allen hopefully throwing to Stefan Diggs, John Brown, Cole Beasley and Devin Singletary?

Or Sam Darnold throwing six more touchdowns than interceptions?

Or Lamar Jackson throwing, to himself?

Or Jared Goff throwing for 78 yards two weeks after throwing for 517 (both losses)?

Or Ryan Tannehill completing 70-percent of his passes with a quarterback/interception of better than 3-to-1? Ryan Tannehill?

Or Derek Carr throwing to Nelson Agholor? Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Or Aaron Rodgers throwing to anyone at any time from any place on the field?

Or Drew Lock throwing for a passing rating of 48.2 yet going 4-1?

Or Tyrod Taylor hoping the Chargers pass on quarterback in the draft?

Or the Redskins passing on a quarterback because, well, they’re the Redskins?

Or a healthy Teddy Bridgewater getting his much-deserved chance to be a starter and having a weapon as versatile and potent as Christian McCaffrey?

Or Kirk Cousins posting his sixth straight season of 3,600 yards or more without getting to an NFC Championship game?

Or 23-year-old Joe Burrow throwing to 32-year-old A.J. Green?

Or Russell Wilson throwing to Tyler Locket, DK Metcalf and Greg Olsen?

Or Jimmy Garoppolo throwing for 165 yards one week and 349 the next?

Or Daniel Jones throwing from an upright position?

Or the warrior known as Matthew Stafford throwing to Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola and T.J. Hockenson.

Or Ryan Fitzpatrick playing catch with Tua Tagovailoa?

Or the Pittsburgh Steelers throwing a Hail Mary in the 2nd round of the draft?

Or Carson Wentz throwing to Zach Ertz or Dallas Goedert, or to Dallas Goedert or Zach Ertz?

Or Baker Mayfield throwing 21 interceptions and dropping 42 verbal farts?

Or Gardner Minshew II throwing to, uh, how ‘bout that draft?

Or Patrick Mahomes throwing to Tyreke Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mercole Hardman, Travis Kelce and Damien Williams? Wait. Didn’t we write that already?

O.K. how about this?

Training camp to open this summer giving all of us sports-starved fans hope of watching the NFL in the fall. Amen.

When Sports Goes to the Dogs We All Win

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By Lenn Robbins

The next time I read about a professional athlete under contract for say, $12 million per year who wants to renegotiate, I’m going to introduce him to Thomas Waerner.

Waerner, aka The Ice Warrior, is the winner of the 2020 Iditarod Trail Sled Race (just the Iditarod to us groupies). He and his League of Extraordinary Dogs completed the 1,000-mile course in nine days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and 47 seconds, give or take a couple of snowdrifts.

He received the winner’s purse of about, wait for it, $50,000, and possibly a pickup truck. More on that later.

You read that correctly: not five million, or $500,000, rather $50,000. And the truck. Don’t forget the truck. More on that later.

To recap, Waerner traversed the 1,000-mile, brutally cold, windswept journey in nine days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and don’t forget those 47 seconds. Upon crossing the finish line in Nome, Alaska and receiving his bounty, The Ice Warrior, boasted:

“This is a money-spending sport!”

Clearly, these Iditarod athletes are a different breed.  And we’re not talking about the dogs.

Despite repeated satellite phone calls and carrier pigeon messages that went unanswered, we believe the dogs’ purse was a chewy toy and nine days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and 47 seconds worth of free Purina Dog Chow as their winner’s purse.

None of the dogs complained.

Because of the Covid-19 virus, which has canceled sporting events all over the world, the Last Great Race on Earth as it’s known, got more media coverage than it has in decades.

It was one of the lead sports stories (one of the only stories) on the 5 p.m. news -in New York. Officials asked fans not to fly to Nome for the finish. We were unable get a non-stop from New York to Nome.

“We mushers are so lucky that we are in our own world,” Waerner told reporters. “We don’t think about anything.”

Probably not enough time to entertain idol thoughts when your sport consumes nine days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and 47 seconds to win.

Of course, the Ice Warrior knows he couldn’t have done it alone. He thanked his 10 dogs, petting and rubbing each. The dogs received a hot snack, which sources told TheNYExtra.com, was a double Shake Shack cheeseburger with grilled onions, and a side of cheese fries.

Still, we’re reminded that success can lead to greed. His lead dogs – K2 and Bark – declined to comment, however, sources say K2 is looking for an increase to K1 and Bark wants to change his name to Loud Bark.

Their agent, Brian “Family Guy” Blue was vague when asked about his client’s demands.

“This has never been about the money,” Blue said. “My clients just want to be shown the respect they’ve worked so hard for and the sacrifice they’ve given to this team.”

Waerner threw his support behind his four-legged friends who dragged his rear end for nine days, 10 hours, 37 minutes… He said that K2 is, “the inside engine that never stops,” and Bark is, “the one just charging through everything.”

Waerner won his first Iditarod in only his second time competing. Three-time champ Mitch Seavey finished second about five hours behind. He will earn about $43,000 for the finish. No truck.

Waerner will have to pay about $20,000 in taxes in Norway on the prize money and about the same for the truck, usually a Ram 2020 4×4 Pickup. But on the Monday before the finish, Fiat Chrysler announced it was dropping its sponsorship. Truck?

The dogs were heard whimpering.

“I was looking forward to doing a Nome bar crawl in that truck,” said K2.

“We should renegotiate,” said Bark.

Oh man.

Mets Fans Know Exactly How Pats Fans Feel Today

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East Rutherford, N.J., Monday, October 21, 2019. Patriots QB Tom Brady looks to pass to tight end Ben Watson, right. (Photo by David L. Pokress,The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com)

By Lenn Robbins

The beauty and curse of being a sports fan is that you never forget some days.

June 15, 1977. I was working a summer job at a pool club Canarsie when the news began to spread. Unbelievable news in the sense that it simply could not be true. It was unbelievable. Then it became friggin’ unbelievable! And then all sight and sound became a jumbled cacophony. Everything happened in slow awful motion.

The Mets were trading Tom Seaver.

It couldn’t be true.  But that night, there was the most Amazin of Mets crying on television. We cried, too. It was dubbed the Midnight Massacre and surely thousands of Mets fans felt a piece of themselves get killed that night.

Patriots fans woke up Tuesday morning to their own version of The Seaver Nightmare: There will be no Brady sequel.

Brady announced he was ending his 20-year marriage in New England, with Boston, with Patriots Nation. He’s packing up his six Super Bowl rings, four Super Bowl MVP trophies, three NFL MVP awards and deflated balls and heading to where?

Tampa? Some nice beaches for sure, but it pales in comparison to the culture of Beantown and the close-knit community that is New England.

San Diego? Can’t beat the weather but the Chargers have flipped that city the birdie by moving to Inglewood and sharing a stadium with the Rams. Nothing like eight road games and eight neutral site games to end your career.

Chicago? Wonderful second city with an odd attempt at pizza, but if Brady wants to win another ring, the Bears don’t have better weapons than the Patriots. And Chicago’s line was rated 29th in the league in 2019 meaning Brady might want to pack his Cape Cod Beach Chair.

You know what? Who cares?

It doesn’t matter where Tom lands. It’s where Tom is leaving.

Mets fans didn’t care what team their Tom had been traded to. Cincinnati? Where? What? They were despondent that No. 41 would be wearing a different jersey, dazzling another fan base, making hitters look the fool.

Of course, there are differences between their Tom leaving and our Tom leaving although both moves were tied to free agency, the bane of every sports fan everywhere. Never again can fans embrace a player as theirs. Just ask Cavaliers’ fans.

Seaver was already in a brutal, year-long conflict with owner M. Donald Grant over the direction of the team. He was livid the Mets did nothing to improve the roster after a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached the previous summer. He wanted to remain a Met but felt he couldn’t under Grant’s penny pinching and elitist attitude.

Brady, knowing a new CBA would likely be reached this year, insisted the Patriots deal he signed last season prevented New England from slapping the franchise tag on him. When the new CBA was approved on Sunday, Brady was a free agent. He wanted to find another home.

In about as brutally timed announcement as imaginable, Brady took to Twitter on a St. Patrick’s Day like never before. Bars and pubs are closed because of Covid-19. There’s not even a place to drown one’s sorrows with other mourners!

You know what? Who cares?

Patriots fans know one brutal truth today – their franchise is done. The Greatest of All Time is leaving. New England is just another team on the NFL map.

Sure, there will be storylines to follow: Is Jarrett Stidham the answer? Is Phillip Rivers a good stopgap for a season or two? Is the replacement in the upcoming draft and will the Pats will make a stunning deal to move up?

You know what? Who cares?

This is not to say we feel bad for New England. Hell no. It just means Mets fans know the feeling that Pats fan are experiencing today. It will never be forgotten. They’ll never forget where they were today. It’s a wound that never heals.

Free Agency Mayhem: Call it the No Figurin’ League

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Credit Twitter

By Lenn Robbins

Now that the National Football League Players Association agreed to a deal put forth by the owners, this is the perfect time to consider a new definition for the NFL acronym.

Based on what has happened immediately after the deal was announced, how about No Figurin’ League.

Consider these transactions:

The first reaction to the DeAndre Hopkins deal was this was a scam designed to get one to read one of those “20 Worst Trades in NFL History,” which this now qualifies. 

The Texans sent DeAndre Hopkins, one of the top three wide receivers (Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Julio Jones) and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Cardinals for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-round pick.

Hopkins, 25, is in the prime of his career. His deal has (interrogate his agent on this one), three years and about $42 million left (about $14 million per season), which is a bargain.

Consider Amari Cooper, a fine WR but not in Hopkins’ class, signed a  five-year,  $100-million deal to remain a Cowboy on Monday. Odell Beckham Jr. earns about $18 million per season. The Giants got a 1st-round pick, a third-round pick, and Jabrill Peppers for OBJ so Dave Gettleman padded his resume on this one.

Hopkins is Deshaun Watson’s favorite target, a player who dictates defensive coverages, and has missed just one game due to injury. The man’s a warrior.

Johnson was a great all-round back – in 2016. He amassed 2,118 all-purpose yards and scored 20 touchdowns. Over the next three seasons he tallied 2,191 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns.

He missed almost all of 2017 with a wrist injury and has had knee injuries. He’s 28, close to the outer edge for running backs, and carries cap hits of $10.2 million in 2020 and $7.9 million in 2021.

 The Cardinals had essentially moved on from him after placing the franchise tag on RB Kalen Ballage. Johnson was there for the taking at maybe a conditional fifth-round pick, probably lower.

So why would Houston coach and de facto GM Bill O’Brien make such a move?

Is it that he had already traded away first round picks in 2020 and 2021 and desperately wanted to get back into the top of the draft? He craves a bell cow back in the era of quarterbacks? In a draft loaded with WRs there might be a good one available in the second round?

The Cardinals now have an elite WR for young QB Kyle Murray. They have a valuable, extra fourth-round pick. This also makes the one-year $11 million deal for Larry Fitzgerald more beneficial. The combination of Murray, Hopkins and Fitzgerald is reason to purchase Red Zone.

This deal might be remembered as O’Brien’s Alamo.

TRICK QUESTION: Yep. Ryan Tannehill, the 31-year-old, one-year wonder never posted a rating of higher than 93.5. The Dolphins had to pay $5 million of the $7 million they owed Tannehill to get the Titans to take him off their hands.

The Titans are built around the human battering ram known as Derrick Henry, which means Tannehill isn’t asked to win games, just not lose them. He did that very well for the majority of one season after replacing Marcus Mariota.

But riddle me this. Tannehill is guaranteed $62 over three years, more than some guy named Russell Wilson, who is the focal point of Seattle’s attack.

Tannehill or Wilson? Umm.

DEXTER LEONARD INTERIORS – The Giants are expected to tag DT Leonard Williams, who they acquired from the Jets for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 conditional fifth-round pick.

The feeling here has always been that Williams is a very good interior lineup who never fulfilled the expectations that come with being the No.6 pick in 2015. We also feel compiling dominant DL depth is paramount.

The Giants now have the 25-year-old Williams alongside the 22-year-old Dexter Lawrence. It will cost $15.5 million to see if Dexter Leonard Interiors pays off.

BRADBERRY THEATER – After the Hopkins theft, no deal was going to move the needle much but the Giants signing of Carolina cornerback James Bradberry to a three-year, $45-million deal was smart. Really smart. Gettleman knows the 26-year-old from his Carolina days, where he was the Panthers best defender last season. Like this move a lot.

EXPENSIVE FLOWERS: Ereck Flowers didn’t block a daffodil with the Giants as a tackle. As a guard, he was solid for the Jaguars. This landed him a three-year, $30 million deal ($20 million guaranteed) with the Redskins, who rarely gets it right. Would have been more optimistic about this working out if offensive line coach Bill Callahan, hadn’t left Washington for Cleveland.

THE CALLAHAN EFFECT: The Browns, roommates with the Redskins in mismanagement, are taking a chance on Titans OT Jack Conklin, one of the best in the game – if healthy. He’ll benefit from Callahan and possibly by having a mobile QB in Baker Minefield, uh, Mayfield.

WINNERS – Every franchise not named Texans.

Tight end Austin Hooper leaves the downward trending Falcons for the possibly ascending Browns and gets $44 million over four years, making the third or fourth best tight end (maybe) the highest paid at his position.

The Baltimore Ravens, who just keep getting it right. They signed Mark Ingram last season. This year they acquired Jacksonville DE Calais Campbell, who we have loved since he played for The “U.” The Ravens gave up a fifth rounder for the 33-year-old Campbell, who’s coming off a 75-tackle. 6.5-sack season. They got that fifth rounder by trading backup kicker Kaare Vedvik (they felt comfortable with that Justin Tucker guy) to the Vikings. Vedik became Campbell.

Kirk Cousins gets another two years and at least $56 million to get the Vikings to the Super Bowl. He has topped the $100 million mark. It’s good to be the Kirk.

Ravens II – Baltimore traded backup TE Hayden Hurst and a 2020 fourth-round pick to Atlanta for a 2020 second and fifth-round pick. With the emergence of Mark Andrews and backup Nick Boyle, the Ravens could afford to lose Hurst. It remains to be seen what the Ravens turn those two picks into but we’re betting in their track record.

LOSERS – Bill O’Brien. With every deal he has more people wondering if he has pictures of Houston owner Janice McNair.

Janice McNair – see above.

Deshaun Watson – see above.

Jacksonville Jaguars defense – Oh how the mighty have fallen, been traded or released.

The Chicago Bears keep throwing good money after bad. The blundered horrifically by taking QB Mitch Trubisky with the 2nd pick in the 2017. Since then they’ve been throwing money at the problem, such as signing TE Jimmy Graham to a two-year deal with $9 million guaranteed.

WINNER OR LOSER? Byron Jones – In 1996 the Cowboys lost CB Larry Jones, the Super Bowl MVP, to free agency when he signed a five-year, $12.5 deal with the Raiders. He never lived up to the deal. Jones, with just two interceptions in 79 games, got a five-year $82.5 million deal from the Dolphins. The 27-year-old wins. Do the Dolphins?

J-E-T-S – anyone heard from them?

Iona Just Became on the Best Basketball Labs in the Nation

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By Lenn Robbins

The Gym Rat Coach is back.

Back in the metropolitan area where his love affair with basketball began. Back in the college ranks, which he is more suited to than the NBA. Back in the gym of a small Catholic college not that different from his prep days at St. Dominic of Oyster Bay.

The shock is where Rick Pitino has resurfaced.

It is not the NBA, or a power five school, or a Big East school such as Providence, where he first garnered national attention. Iona College, a birthplace of college basketball coaches, announced Saturday that Pitino, one of the most polarizing figures in the game, will coach the Gaels next season.

It immediately makes Iona’s games and practices must-see basketball. On and off the court, Pitino stirred the pot with his, how do we phrase it, passionate and competitive nature.

Those traits helped Pitino win two NCAA titles, a Greek Cup and Greek Basket League championship and transforming the 1988-89 Knicks into the Bomb Squad, the most exciting show in the NBA.

His high-strung persona also found him embroiled in an alleged pay-for-play scandal at Louisville, a lawsuit against the university and Adidas, an extortion case in which a Pitino admitted to having an extra-marital sex with a woman who tried to extort him, and almost started a Civil War in basketball-crazed Kentucky by winning NCAA titles at with the Wildcats and then Cardinals (vacated).

But what can never be questioned is Pitino’s standing as one of the greatest innovators and motivators in the game. His before and after records are astonishing:

BU was 10-15 before Pitino arrived; 17-9 in his first season. Kentucky was 13-19; 22-6 in Pitino’s second season. The Knicks were 24-58 before Pitino; 52-30 in his second season. Louisville was 12-19 before; 19-13 the next.

After playing point guard at UMass, Pitino began his coaching career as an assistant coach in Hawaii. The journey led to Syracuse, Boston College, the Knicks, Providence College, the Knicks (head coach), Kentucky, Celtics, Louisville, Greece and now Westchester County.

Iona is in many ways the perfect ending. He has made enough money to not need another big payday. He doesn’t need more validation, yet craves it.

This will be coaching at its purist – college players who have not been fawned over since they were in junior high.

Pitino takes over for Tim Cluess, who missed this season with illness. Cluess had followed in the footsteps of Jim Valvano, Tim Welsh, Jeff Ruland and Kevin Willard – Iona coaches that won and went on.

“My passion in basketball started in New York and will end there at Iona College,” Pitino said in the statement. “Tim Cluess has done a spectacular job creating success and a winning spirit. I wish Tim a speedy recovery and Iona will always cherish his accomplishments.

“At Iona, I will work with the same passion, hunger and drive that I’ve had for over forty years. There is a real professionalism in how things are run here and this is a very tight, strong community.”

True. The Westchester County college has a rabid fan base that enjoys heated rivalries with Fordham, Manhattan and other Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schools.

It isn’t hard to imagine him leading the Gaels into next year’s NCAA Tournament and scarring – if not upsetting – a much higher seed. Pitino took the Friars to the 1987 Final Four.

Will he have that level of success at Iona? Doubtful. But the Hynes Center just became one of the top basketball labs in the country.

COVID-19 CAN STEAL OUR SPORTS BUT NOT OUR SOULS

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By Lenn Robbins/An editorial by The New York Extra,Editor – in- Chief

COVID-19 is a thief.

It has no conscience, no empathy. It will steal the most precious heirlooms – family and health – if we allow it.

Already it has stolen all of our spring conference tournaments, the NBA, the NHL, Spring Training, and pushed back Opening Day, soccer and tennis matches. You name a sporting event, chances are it’s gone for the foreseeable future.

New York, NY. Thursday, March 12, 2020. Big East commissioner Val Ackerman announces the cancellation of the Big East Tournament during halftime of the St. John’s-Creighton game. St. John’s vs. Creighton at Madison Square Garden.

“I’ve got to tell you, it breaks my heart,” Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said Thursday after canceling her conference tournament midway through the St. John’s-Creighton game. “This is the greatest college basketball tournament ever. But we respect the decision of authorities. We’re very mindful about what’s happening nationally. We do not want to be imprudent as it relates to the safety of our participants and our fans.

New York, NY. Thursday, March 12, 2020. Nick Rutherford of St. John’s drives to the basket while defended by Jett Canfield (10) and Mitchell Ballock of Creighton. St. John’s vs. Creighton at Madison Square Garden.

“And it’s terrifying, frankly, what’s evolving here as the science and the assessments of the science are progressing. And I don’t think any of us know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

We don’t.

It was disheartening to turn on the TV at 7:00 p.m. and not to choose between the ACC and Big East tournaments.

It was jarring to receive texts from my Rutgers students asking what would comprise the midterm exam now that there is no Selection Sunday to cover.

It was surreal walking into my CVS and seeing empty shelves where there had once been five brands of toilet paper.

And yet all of us can be the lucky ones.

As I passed a neighborhood schoolyard, I saw a father and his junior high school aged daughter shooting hoops. A couple of friends played ping pong. A group of grade school kids played pickup basketball. Couples and families and friends strolled to the rhythm of their own laughter.

It is not the fault of COVID-19 that we have been increasingly isolated by the greatest communication tool in history – the Smartphone.

It is not the fault of COVID-19 that streaming has replaced conversation at the dinner table.

It is not the fault of COVID-19 that texting is replacing talking as the favorite means of communication for teenagers.

COVID-19 can push us further apart or we choose to draw closer together.

We can mourn the loss of sports, or we can try to help low-wage workers whose income is dependent on taking tickets or serving hot dogs or cleaning arenas.

We can mourn a spring without NCAA and conference tournaments, or we can support all of the seniors who will miss a chance to make a priceless memorial.

We can the mourn the possibility that we might have witnessed the end of some of our favorite professional athlete’s career or we can hold on to the memory of the joy they provided.

This is what we can make sure COVID-19 doesn’t take. As social animals, we need each other. We need compassion and empathy. We might not be able to congregate in large numbers but we can offer large and open hearts.

Many around the world have lost friends and family. COVID-19 will take more lives. It will take more sports. But it can’t take our souls. That’s worth any sacrifice we have to make.

Why St. John’s Just Became Mike Anderson’s Team

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By Lenn Robbins

St John’s #30 LJ Figueroa clebrates after sinking a 3 point basket late in the 2nd half tonight

Nolan Richardson, creator of “40 Minutes of Hell,” once said this about his former player, Mike Anderson:

“There are those that play to play and those who play to win, and Mike was playing to win in every ball game.”

Mike Anderson ,in tonight’s opening game of he Big East/Neil Miller/The New York Extra/copyright 2020

For the first 20 minutes of Wednesday night’s opening round game of the Big East Conference Tournament, Anderson’s St. John’s team was playing (pathetically) to play. In the second half, the Red Storm played like their coach, erasing a 15-point second half deficit with a 23-0 closing run to storm past reviled rival Georgetown, 75-62, in The Garden.

St John’S #30 LJ Figueroa pulls down a rebound in the 1st half tonight Neil Miller/The New York Extra/copyright 2020

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said forward LJ Figueroa, who had a game-high 22 points. “Coach always emphasizes we’re never out of game. We just go out there, play as hard as we can. I mean, honestly, I don’t think anybody knew on the court that we were on a 23-0 run. It just felt like we were out there having fun, and that’s how it’s supposed to feel.”

It was the biggest come-from-behind victory for The Johnnies in 41 years of conference tournament play, an impressive achievement for Anderson, who is in his first season in Queens. He assembled this team on the fly after getting the job in mid-April.

The Big East announced that it will limit attendance for the rest of the tournament because of the spread of the coronavirus. Each team will receive an allotment of 200 tickets per game.

St. John’s is not the most talented team in the Big East but you could do worse walking down a dark alley with these guys by your side. Even after missing their first seven shots of the second half (and committing one turnover) the Johnnies, continued to play to win after falling behind 48-33.

When Georgetown’s Terrell Allen made a layup with 6:31 left, the Hoyas had repulsed a couple of St. John’s mini runs and coach Patrick Ewing seemed to have his team in control with a 62-52 lead. They didn’t score again.

“I thought the last six minutes was a classic,’’ said Anderson.

Not for Georgetown.

“It still doesn’t feel real, to be honest with you,” said guard Jagan Mosley. “After their, I guess, 20-0 run, it kind of still hasn’t hit me that the game ended like that.”

St. John’s forced 10 straight misses and four turnovers. The Hoyas finish 15-17 unless they get a bid to minor postseason tournament.

St. Johns’ 17-15 will face top-seeded Creighton (24-7) at noon Thursday in what will be a near-empty Madison Square Garden. DePaul (16-16), a 70-65 winner over Xavier (19-12) will face Villanova.

St. John’s scorched the Bluejays, 91-71, on March 1st. It was Creighton’s worse conference loss of the season. Creighton will be without guard Marcus Zegarowski who will have surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus suffered in the regular-season finale.

But for one night Anderson should cherish the night they went from playing to play to playing to win.

The Hall Has What it Takes to Cut Down the Nets

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File photo /Neil Miller/ The New York Extra/copyright 2020

By Lenn Robbins

The time between the end of the regular season and the beginning of conference tournament play is a little like the NFL Combine: Players that have had solid seasons are stripped to their undies while scouts try to find flaws.

No wonder why Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard is in damage control.

The Pirates had, by any measure, a terrific season. They went 21-9 overall and grabbed a share of the Big East regular season title at 13-5 with Creighton and Villanova.

They did this despite losing top scorer Myles Powell for a couple of games with a concussion and versatile forward Sandro Mamukelashvili for 10 games with a broken wrist. The Pirates beat Maryland and snapped a 17-game road losing streak at Villanova.

Heckuva year.  Until the final week.

Villanova edged Seton Hall, 79-77, in The Prudential Center. Then the Pirates got drilled 77-60 at Creighton. Had Seton Hall won either of those two games they would have claimed their first outright league title since 1993.

While the Pirates sat in a funereal visiting locker room in Creighton’s CHI Health Center, the Bluejays, who claimed the No.1 seed in the Big East Conference Tournament, partied with their fans and cut down the nets.

Seton Hall had gone from the team to beat to the team that couldn’t close it out.

“I wish I could bring my kids out here right now because they’re cutting down the nets and I’ve got 13 kids who think they failed miserably,” Willard told reporters after the game. “I just tried to tell them, this is an unbelievable accomplishment.

“Yes, we had a chance to win it outright, we had two chances and it didn’t come through for us, but to take away from what this team has done and what this team accomplished, it would be a big mistake.”

This would be another mistake: Picking against the Pirates to win the Big East Conference Tournament which begins Wednesday night in The Garden. St. John’s (16-15) and Georgetown (15-16), two of the most storied teams in the league, tip off at 7 p.m. followed DePaul (15-16) vs Xavier (19-12).

Seton Hall, the No.4 seed, opens Thursday night against Marquette (18-12). The Hall won both regular-season games, 69-55 and 88-79. A third win (not easy) would set up a likely semifinal round rematch with Nova, the No. 2.

The Pirates are the pick because of their experience, toughness, defense and the ability of Powell to turn a game. That’s what it takes to cut down the nets.

One Shining Moment Meets One Empty Dome

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

Can you imagine, “One Shining Moment” played in one empty dome?

March Madness with no crying fans? Or euphoric fans? Or any fans?

Imagine it.

 As much as the oft-misguided overseers of the NCAA are hell bent on playing their cash cow known as the NCAA Tournament before full houses, they can’t ignore what’s taking place in every major sports league and around the world. Doors are closing to fans because of Covid-19.

Which would mean what for a Big Dance that’s shaping up as one of the most unpredictable of all time? Wagering mayhem.

In no way are we making light of this pandemic that has every reasonable person questioning how to live his or her life today, tomorrow, a month from now. There is much we don’t know about this global health threat other than it has killed thousands and dramatically affected the quality of life around the globe.

But fans or no fans in the arena isn’t going to stop the millions of dollars wagered on the Big Dance. Here’s where it gets tricky.

If the season were to end today, Gonzaga would get the No.1 seed in the West Region as per noted Bracketologist Joe Lunardi. The Bulldogs would play their first two games in Spokane, giving them a huge home court advantage.

Unless, of course, there are no fans in the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. There goes that home court edge. What’s to prevent a much-maligned Arizona team (the No.8 seed), which lost by four to the Zags earlier this season, from extracting some revenge?

The same holds for Kansas, which is projected to be the overall No.1 seed playing in Omaha. The Jayhawks might not need much fan support to get past No.16 Winthrop but we could see a very physical Houston team giving Kansas fits.

By this reasoning, this would be the Tournament of Upsets. No home crowds for the top seeds equals more opportunity for the underdogs. Or would it?

Consider this scenario: When Loyola of Chicago became the fourth No.11 seed to advance to a Final Four, the Ramblers started their run in Dallas, where Texas Tech, a No.3 seed was only school to have a home court advantage.

But the Red Raiders, who advanced to the regional final in Boston, would never have faced the Ramblers, who won the South Region in Atlanta. The six other teams in Dallas all got behind Sister Jean-led Loyola-Chicago.

The same held true in Atlanta where the Ramblers two opponents – Nevada and Kansas State – had no geographic advantage. The Georgia Dome became Chicago South, especially after K-State ousted Kentucky.

We see this all over the nation every time a “Cinderella” shows up. The crowd backs the underdog. It’s what March Madness is all about. The Ramblers earned their four wins but would they have gone as far as they did without enjoying the mojo as the fan favorite? Doubtful.

By that logical reasoning, this should the Tournament of Favorites. Without the dual burden of being the higher seed and facing a crowd darling, the superior teams should prevail.

This is March Sadness – having to consider the ramifications of empty arenas when filling out your bracket or laying a wager. But you better consider it. Because you know the oddsmakers in Vegas already have.

March Madness begins in earnest this week in the metropolitan area. Here are our picks:

Atlantic 10 Conference – Dayton. No one else is close.

American East – Vermont, see Dayton.

Big East – Seton Hall. Talent, toughness, experience – the league recipe for success.

Big Ten – Michigan State. See Seton Hall.

Colonial Athletic Association – Hofstra. The Pride is playing its best defense of the season.

 MAAC –  Siena. The best point guard in the league, Jalen Pickett, is the difference.

Northeast – Robert Morris. Home court advantage.