Category: basketball

Anderson The Entertainer In His St. John’s Debut

Robbins Nest

St Johns caoch Mike Anderson at Tuesdays game /Neil Miller/ The New York Extra 2019

By Lenn Robbins

If Hollywood ever decides to create a remake of the Oscar-winning epic, Gladiator, Mike Anderson should be the one standing in the middle of the colosseum bellowing, “Are You Not Entertained?!”

Anderson made his St. John’s coaching debut Wednesday and the Johnnies pressed, ran, passed and defended Mercer in a 109-79 blowout that wasn’t that close. The Johnnies forced 24 turnovers which led to 30 points.

“I hope our fans enjoyed it,” Anderson told reporters after the game. “It’s an entertaining style of basketball, but it’s winning basketball.”

That remains to be seen in the Big East, where some of the greatest guards that ever played the game took their city handle and carved up opposing defenses. Safe to say Villanova, Seton Hall, Marquette, et al will be better prepared and certainly more skilled to handle the Anderson’s style.

The flip side is that no team in the Big East plays this style. It’s similar to playing Army in football. That option is impossible to prepare for.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, almost as quickly as St. John’s got ahead of Mercer and really never let up. The Johnnies led 15-6 by the first media timeout and the Bears should have begun warming up the bus right there and then.

Anderson’s hire was a bit of a head-scratcher. He has used this swarm-of-wasps style to succeed at Tulsa, Missouri and Arkansas, but he couldn’t tell you where to get a good slice in the city no less the top games in the Grady and Lincoln history.

The Johnnies had one of their own – the best player in school history – on the bench these last four seasons. Chris Mullin left after the death of his brother and a feeling that the administration wasn’t sufficiently backing him and the program.

If there are spirits in Carnesecca Arena than Mullin and St. John’s will both find success.

Certainly, there was spirit in the bandbox on the corner of Union and Utopia. Anderson’s style is right out of the West 4th Street cage and every other proving ground in the city.  The Johnnies got right up in Mercer’s chest. Secondary defenders were eager to help. Mustapha Heron (25 points), LJ Figueroa (18) and Nick Rutherford (14) combined for 12 assists.

Defensive is a lot easier to sell when it turns into offense. The Johnnies  score 40 fastbreak points.

For one night, Anderson sold his vision better than Popeye’s is selling its chicken sandwich. The 109 points were the most for a St. John’s coach making his debut.

“For two hours every game, we are going to provide sheer entertainment,” Anderson told reporters earlier this week. You won’t even want to take a bathroom break.”

First Win For Fordham Leads To Optimism by Rich Mancuso/The New York Extra

Jeff Neubauer is always optimistic and Tuesday night the fifth year men’s basketball coach at Fordham University saw his team up at  Rose Hill win their first game of the season. This coach had every reason to be optimistic.

Fordham men’s basketball head coach Jeff Neubauer at last nites game Neil Miller/The New York Extra 2019

His team responded in the second half.  The Rams overcame a fourteen point deficit and won their season opener, 68-59 over St. Francis of Brooklyn.   

But this was one game and the Atlantic-10 Conference will be on the agenda. The win was satisfying and the coach will take it. 

“So many guys gave us real contributions,”said Neubauer. “We had leadership from our veterans. They have been through something like this before. They got some resolve, they’ve got some  toughness, they got some experience to fall back on.”

The Rams and their coach hope this is the season they make more inroads.  They have the veterans, 12 players have returned, and in the Atlantic 10 Conference not many basketball programs  have that retention.

They play in a conference that has three of the top 25 schools in pre season polls.  Davidson, Richmond, and Dayton are on the schedule in January when conference play begins.

As always, this won’t be easy for the Rams but they hope by mid March to go a step further when the A-10 Conference Tournament tips off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

And if Tuesday night is any indication, despite this being the first game, Neubauer could see his team take that next step.  Winning these non conference games are important.They provide some indication of what to expect in January when the schedule gets tough.

It is early in November. The Rams and their coach, well, they know the pressure is always going to be there. Alumni and supporters are starving to see their program move out of the bottom three in the conference and take that next step. 

But patience may be running thin. There are always rumors that this coach needs to win. Neubauer arrived at Rose Hill four years ago. The Rams finished 17-14 overall, 8-10 in the conference, and an appearance in the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament was not the NCAA or NIT in his first year,

Everyone wants to be a part of the Big Dance in March. So winning these non conference games are as important as those in the Atlantic-10.

There were mistakes Tuesday night.  There always are as a team begins to respond and find out what has to be done in that first game. There were the freshman responding and 12 returning players which is more than the other thirteen teams in the conference. 

“The way we phrase it, we have twelve  guys back from last year,” Neubauer said. “ look around  the A- 10, you may find that teams lost six- seven guys to transfer so we do have an experienced team. Our job is to attack the rim something  we did not do well last year.”

And they won the first game  without Nick Honor. The highly touted recruit and leading scorer as a freshman transferred to Clemson.

But they played that second half as if they were ready for March. 

#1 Chuba Ohams Neil Miller/The New York Extra
#13 Antown Portley Neil Miller /The New York Extra

Ivan Raut, the junior guard had 15 points. Two of his 3-pointers turned it around as Fordham went on a 16-4 run in that second half. Chuba Ohams, the junior forward, had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Antown Portley added 14 points.

#4 Ereten Gazi Neil Miller /The New York Extra

And a senior, Erten Gazi, came off the bench and scored 11. They responded after losing so many last year by not converting the three-pointers. They have changed a bit, more inside than shooting beyond the arch. 

“The  problem, we were in a bunch of them,” said the coach.”If  you look at how many games we lost by three last year, it’s more than most teams lose by three in a  decade so I do think all those experiences from last year helped.”

And as they say, the first game is in the books that leads to optimism.

Comment: Ring786@aol,.com  Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso

Four Things We Learned From the Champions Classic

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Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

  By now you have learned certain things in life are meaningless.

  The fortune inside the cookie. Meaningless.

  The LCD boards in every subway station. Meaningless.

  ToyotaThon…You get it.

  Such is the case with preseason college basketball rankings. Pathetically, utterly meaningless.

   Michigan State, one of the nation’s premier programs, came into the season with its first-ever preseason No.1 ranking under coach Tom Izzo. That lasted all of one game.

  The Spartans were upended by No.2 Kentucky, 69-62, Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in The Garden. No. 4 Duke technically upset No.3 Kansas, 68-66, in the other game.

“There’s a chance we could be ranked No. 1 for the first time in the history of our school to start out the season, which means — unfortunately — nothing,” Izzo said at the team’s media day.

Why the sport continues this tradition isn’t a mystery. The angst of the rankings makes for a lot of headlines and handwringing. A lot of diehard college hoop fans don’t start paying attention until January so this is good for the sport – theoretically.

The coach of the team picked No.1 usually reacts in one of two ways:

Exasperated indignation: “Obviously no one has seen us practice. If they did, we might not be in the Top 25.”

Or, outright dismissal: “Doesn’t mean a thing. If we’re No.1 at the end of the season, then I’ll be excited.”

The early rankings are more meaningless than ever, fortunately, because they don’t matter when it comes time to select the 68 teams that make the NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA, masters of making the simple complicated, introduced the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) last season. Although it relies too much on analytics for my taste, it is as objective as an IRS accountant.

The NET is comprised of five valuations – team value index, net efficiency, winning percentage, adjusted win percentage and scoring margin.

The team value index rewards teams that beat good teams. It takes into account the opponent, location and outcome.

Net efficiency is a team’s offensive efficiency minus its defensive efficiency. Waaay to nerdy for me.

Winning percentage is just that.

Adjusted win percentage factors in location of games and result.  A road win is worth 1.4. A home loss is -1.4. A neutral site loss, such as the Champions Classic, is +1 or -1

Scoring margin is a team’s total points minus its opponent’s points. The winning margin was capped at 10 points per game so it doesn’t matter if the Spartans beat Binghamton by 12 or 50 in its next game. (Disclaimer: author is a Stony Brook grad).

So what did we learn about the nation’s top four  ranked teams. Oops, those rankings.

Izzo has decided to challenge the best player on what might be his best team. After guard Cassius Winston scored a game-high 21 points (1-of-7 on 3’s) and had just four assists, Izzo had this to say to ESPN.

 “Cassius was a little tired tonight,” he said. “I was surprised because he’s in really good shape.”

 Calipari said he didn’t start freshman Tyrese Maxey because he wanted his five-star recruit to come off the bench firing. Maxey had a game-high 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting. More impressive is that the freshman got to the line 10 times in his first college game, making nine.

His 3 with a minute left proved to be the game winner. Don’t expect Maxey to be coming off the bench for long.

“What I saw today is what I saw in high school,” Calipari said. “I [had] not seen it to this point. I’m in practice, where’s the sniper that I recruited? … But the two days prior to this, all I talked about was you be that sniper — play. We need you to get baskets for us.”

Duke has been a perennial power under Coach K because of one word – defense. Yes, teams usually look bad on offense this early in the season but that doesn’t excuse the 28 turnovers Kansas committed.

 If the Dukies, who shot 35.9 percent from the field (Kansas shot 46-percent0 weren’t this relentless on defense, they don’t eke out the two-point win. Which means Duke’s offense has a loooong way to go. Freshman Cassius Stanley was the only Duke player to shoot 50-percent or better from the field.

‘Overall, we were able to stay fairly fresh defensively,’’ said Krzyzewski. “And that’s gonna have to be a key for our basketball team.”

Bill Self certainly wasn’t laughing on the inside after those 28 turnovers. When asked if it was a positive sign that his Jayhawks only lost by two, he quipped, “I guess if you are Tony Robbins you could look at it that way.”

Kansas has NBA-type height in the 7-foot Uduke Azubike, 6-10 David McCormack, 6-9

Silvio De Soussa, 6-8  Tristain Enaruna and 6-5 Marcus Garrett.  The Jayhawks outrebounded Duke, 40-30.

But if the Jayhawks don’t get better point guard play, that height gets negated. Devon Dotson (six turnovers, one assist) was outplayed by Duke’s Tre Jones (seven assists, three turnovers).

Starting Tonight, Nets Must Show They got the Message

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

MEMPHIS, TN – OCTOBER 27: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots the ball against the Memphis Grizzlies on October 27, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

If the NBA season ended today, the Brooklyn Nets would not make the playoffs as would the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Folly, of course. The Nets have another 79 games so the above statement probably will turn out to be ridiculous.

Here’s what is not ridiculous: If the Nets don’t learn from their 134-133 OT loss to the Memphis Grizzlies then they are staring at a season of struggle.

The Grizzlies are in full rebuild, just as the Nets once were. Few teams have written a better rebuild story than Brooklyn. Through the smart workings of GM Sean Marks and positive energy of coach Kenny Atkinson, the Nets have risen from doormat to one of the most intriguing teams in the league.

credit twitter

And when Kevin Durant returns from his surgically repaired Achilles tendon, there’s a real chance this franchise can win its first-ever NBA title. But not if they don’t a few things.

The Nets dug a 14-point hole in Memphis but rallied to take the lead. They couldn’t hold a late eight-point lead. They allowed the Grizzlies to shoot 48.5-percent from the field and 42.4-percent on 3’s.

credit twitter

 “We could never get stops,” Atkinson told reporters after the loss. “I don’t know how many straight possessions they scored, but I never felt like we could get the requisite stops to win this game.

“It started in the first quarter when we gave them 14 free throws, a lot of silly mistakes, putting them on the line. Got in a hole again, down 14. We could look at the end and say this and that, but really we didn’t deserve to win the game.”

That’s as honest and accurate an assessment as you’ll ever read.

Atkinson’s words, “Really we didn’t deserve to win the game,” might find a place in the Nets training facility. This team won 42 games and made the playoffs last season because, more often than not, they deserved to win. They outworked, outhustled, out-defended and out-willed the opposition on many nights.

It’s not easy to do. But it’s a little easier when teams view you as the new kid on the block. Before last season’s resurgence the Nets won 69 games over the previous three seasons.

A lot of eyes turned toward the Nets last year. And then, of course, came the Lotto free agency trifecta of Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan. Even knowing that Durant will likely miss the season, the addition of Irving along with the development of young players make the Nets a must-watch team.

No longer will opposing teams see ‘Brooklyn’ on the schedule and crack a smile. Nope, you better come ready to play, unless, of course the Nets do not, as was the case in Memphis.

Every team that builds toward a championship run has to learn this lesson, learn what it’s like to have to come be at your best every night because that ‘target on the back’ cliché’ holds a lot of merit.

 “We digressed a little bit where just individual pride, keeping your man in front of you, simple sort of backside rotations whatever it might be, just sort of a little bit off at this point,” Joe Harris told reporters. “It starts with taking individual ownership and being able to guard your man.”

Starting with Wednesday night’s home game against the Indiana Pacers, the Nets need to get back to doing that. They need to fully grasp that with greater expectations come greater challenge every night.

If the Nets do that, they will be one of the better NBA stories. If not, what seemed ridiculous in October may be of real concern in April.

Kyrie Irving to Reprise Roll of The Bodyguard for KD

photo by Lenn Robbins

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

Kyrie Irving has played a lot of roles in his NBA career;

Clutch shooter: It was his 25-foot 3 with 53 seconds left that brought Cleveland its first-ever NBA title.

Ridiculous scorer: There are a lot of scorers in the NBA but no guard provides more breathtaking finishes around the basket than Irving.

And now Irving has added a new role: The Bodyguard.

Irving made it blatantly clear Friday that he will protect Kevin Durant from coming back too soon from his torn Achilles tendon injury.

“A lot of people have responsibilities for why that happen on a national stage,’’ Irving said yesterday’s at the team’s Brooklyn practice facility. “We all know KD was not ready to play in that environment. We all know that, whether people want to admit or not.

“He was out 31 days … We put him out there to sell a product that came before the person, Kevin. And now I am here to protect that. I am going to be the protector and not let anyone infiltrate that circle. ‘Hey K, do you, get right. We’ll be fine.’”

Safe to say Irving won’t be getting any Christmas cards from the Warriors. He doesn’t care about that. He cares about KD and what a magical season the Nets can have in 2020-21 when Durant returns from his injury.

But first, there is the matter of this season. The Nets were one of the league’s feel-good stories last season. After a woeful start they gelled under the guidance of Kenny Atkinson, as down to earth a coach as you’ll find in any sport, and the patient planning of GM Sean Marks.

The Nets slipped into the playoffs, losing a first-round series to the Philadelphia 76ers. And then the late-night fun began.

Free agents Irving, Durant and veteran center DeAndre Jordan stunned the , and floored the Knicks, by signing with the Nets. Locker room fave Lance Thomas signed with the Nets on Friday. He will take the roster spot many assumed Durant pal Carmelo Anthony would get.

Add those four players to the existing nucleus of Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and 3-point champ Joe Harris and as Atkinson said, “We know there are expectations.”

Expectations?! Wait til next year, when Durant is back.

There has been talk about KD returning this season. Not on Irving’s watch.

We’ve already seen the terrible results of rushing a player back. Durant missed a month of the 2019 playoffs with what was listed as a calf injury. He returned for Game 5 of the Finals against Toronto. Two minutes into the second quarter he fell to the court clutching his right calf.

“I’ll be over-patient with Kevin because I don’t want that to happen to anyone ever again especially on that type of stage where he was answering questions about whether he would be back or not. I want him to be 101 percent healthy,” Irving said.

Durant said he would be at games while he continues to rehab. Word of caution to any reporter or Nets fan that wants to know if he’ll back this season: They’ll have to go through Irving.

Pirates at Mets 07/26/19

all photos nysportsextra/neil miller copyright 2019

Knicks Plan B Might be Better Than the Clippers Plan A

file photo nysportsextra Neil Miller copyright 2019

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

  It’s been said many times that patience is a virtue. It can be a tortuous one.

  The Knicks, under the guidance of president Steve Mills, GM Scott Perry and coach David Fizdale, have vowed to be patient, vowed not to part with No.1 picks, vowed to build a team that could sustain success.

 In other words, they vowed not commit the foolish Knicks blunders of the past.

 Some say this is an impossible path to take in the metropolitan area. New Yorkers love superstars, crave instant gratification from their teams and, shoot, why worry about the future if there’s even a sliver of a chance of winning today.

  This is how that mindset has played out for the Knicks:

  They last won an NBA Championship in 1973.

 Not every management team committed the same blunders as the most one headed by Phil Jackson. But there have been enough mistakes made to fill every seat in The Garden.

 Finally along came what was supposed to be the summer of redemption, of celebration, of rebirth.

  The possibility of the No.1 pick in the draft, a Fort Knox amount of salary cap space, and the outdated notion that New York and The Garden are enough to lure free agents, had Knicks fans believed their decades of wandering in the NBA desert were over.

You know what came next. The first pick became the third. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant chose the Nets over the Knicks. And if you read the fine print, owner James Dolan is an obstacle that must be overcome, or bought out.

 The news that broke early Saturday morning that Kawhi Leonard was signing with the Clippers, who also are acquiring Paul George, might have tasted like a latte with spoiled milk to Knicks fans. Not only is Brooklyn more desirable than Manhattan, but the Clippers are a more favorable franchise than the Knicks.

 That last statement might be a bit unfair but when did fairness go into the fans’ though process. The Knicks never had a chance at signing Leonard.

 But at the least the Knicks Plan B was better than the Clippers Plan A.

 The Clippers reportedly will send four unprotected future first round picks (2021, 2022, 2024, 2026), a protected first round pick (2023) to the Thunder in addition to Oklahoma’s right to swaps picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.

  In poker parlance, this is the epitome of all in.

  As we learned from the Toronto Raptors, who gambled on trading for Leonard a year ago, a championship trumps any hand. Although Leonard didn’t resign with Toronto, he gave the city, heck, the entire nation of Canada, it’s first NBA Championship.

 If Leonard and George bring a title to other NBA franchise in LA – the Clippers – than this trade might be worth the Herschel Walker-like haul that Oklahoma City is obtaining for Paul. But if they never manage to win it all (they might not be the best team in LA) than the Clippers are going to be golfing in June for a long time to come.

  This is where tortuous patience paid off for the Knicks. Having lost out on one of the greatest free agent classes of all time, the Knicks went to a smart Plan B. They signed Julius Randle (three years), Reggie Bullock (two years), Bobby Portis (two years), Wayne Ellington (two years) and Elfrid Payton (two years).

  Add in RJ Barrett and the Knicks will be significantly better than they were last season. They might even sneak into the last playoff spot if Barrett plays like the former No.1 high school recruit and second-year swingman Kevin Knox takes the next step.

 Regardless, the Knicks didn’t overspend for Boogie Cousins and other second tier free agents. They didn’t hand out any absurdly long contracts. They kept their first round picks.

  What the Knicks need is for Barrett or second-year center Mitchell Robinson to emerge as first team All NBA players. Than they will have the cache that Leonard, Durant, James, Irving and George have – elite players that can attract other elite players.

  It’s a matter of patience. Tortuous patience.

Can Barrett-Williamson Become the Next Great NBA Rivalry?

photo credit ,Twitter

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

Not since former Maryland star Len Bias have I seen a college basketball touched by the athletic hand of God as was the case this season.

Duke’s Zion Williamson was heavier than almost every NBA player, yet he could leap to the top of the backboard. He has biceps a professional body builder would envy. He handled his season in the spotlight with more grace than should be expected from an 18-year-old.

That’s right, Zion is just 18. Notice, he already is identifiable but just his first name – like Serena, or Tiger, or LeBron.

It was with great hope that Williamson goes on to enjoy a healthy and successful NBA career. Three-three years from now I hope he’s being compared to James, Jordan and Magic. Everything points to him possibly achieving such heights. Godspeed.

So why, on the day that Williamson was the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft by the New Orleans Pelicans, do we mention him and Bias in the same space? Because no one, repeat, no one knows for certain the future of any player or for that fact, any person.

With that in mind, Knicks fans should be thrilled, not disheartened by the fact that their team selected Duke’s RJ Barrett with the third pick. He was nattily dressed in a pink suit over a black shirt and tie. He pumped both of his fists twice when Adam Silver announced his selection.

“I’ve given this game all I got for a long time and I’m just ready for this and I want to embrace the city and embrace the team and everything,’’ Barrett told ESPN’s Maria Taylor. “So I’m ready to go.’’

The Knicks, of course, had the worst record in the NBA and therefore had a terrific chance of gaining the No.1 pick and selecting Zion. It didn’t happen.

Those Knicks fans need to stop bemoaning what might have been and start celebrating what is:

Barrett has all the signs of developing into a perennial NBA All-Star. His father player at St. John’s. His mother is a Brooklyn native who ran track for the Johnnies. His godfather is Steve Nash.

He has played in The Garden and is as prepared to play in the Big Apple as any player coming out of college after one season.

“RJ will flourish here in New York,’’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said on his SiriusXM show this week. “He wants to be here. He is so mature. He just turned 19 last Friday, but he’s been a part of the Canadian basketball program since [he was] a little guy, always played up.”

In a perfect world, wouldn’t it be spectacular if Zion and RJ developed a Magic-Bird like rivalry?

The socio-economics of the time made for the perfect landscape for those two Hall of Famers. They seemed as polar opposite as two Americans could be, yet they developed into the closest of friends and possibly saved the NBA.

Zion has a Xenon smile. Barrett is more reserved by comparison. Zion blew out a Nike sneaker causing a temporary plunge of the company’s stock price. Does anyone know what sneaker Barrett wears?

This potential rivalry has foundation Magic and Bird didn’t have. They already are best of friends. They’ve been teammates at Duke. They know each other’s families and friends. What if McDonald’s shot a commercial at Duke (assuming this isn’t a violation of some tedious NCAA rule) featuring Barrett and Williamson?

Or what if they do an Instagram video of them playing one-on-one in Cameron Indoor Stadium? Bird and Magic didn’t have the burden and opportunity of social media.

Wouldn’t it be great for the NBA if its biggest market – New York – and one of its smallest markets – New Orleans – met in the NBA Finals several times in a few years? Zion vs RJ. RJ vs Zion.

I can see it. A pre-Finals video of them dining at Commander’s Palace in the Big Easy and Peter Luger’s in the Big Apple?

This scenario is not a pipedream. The Knicks are building with young talent in Barrett, Kevin Knox and Michael Robinson. The Pelicans are building with young talent in Williamson, Jrue Holiday and a rededicated Jahil Okafor.

Pelicans fans can choose to wallow in the bitter pool dug by Anthony Davis who shaded the Crescent City by demanding a trade. Or they can bask in the glow of a future with Zion, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and three first-round draft picks.

Knicks fans can opt to stew in the humid summer of disappointment. Or they can revel in the cool ocean breeze of the two additional first-round picks they received in the Kristaps Porzingis trade.

None of us know the future. But the Knicks and Pelicans have good reason to be cautiously ecstatic.

NOTES: The Brooklyn Nets selected Mfiondu Kabengele with the 27th pick. According to reports, the Nets traded the pick to the Clippers. In return, the Nets got the 56th pick in the 2019 draft and a first round pick in 2020.