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Category: basketball

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.

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Dayton Top Seed Favor As A-10 Tournament Tips Off In Brooklyn

Welcome to March Madness.  Wednesday afternoon at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the march to the “Final Four” of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins for the Atlantic -10 Conference. And there is a good chance that Dayton University could reach the Final Four at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Georgia.  

One thing is certain, Dayton is favored to win the tournament and move on.  And unless an upset occurs, which happens in March, that should be the plan.  The Flyers, 2020 Atlantic 10 Regular Season Champion and No. 3 ranked team in the nation, will be the No. 1 seed.

With all 14 conference teams that qualify in the conference tournament it’s Dayton that stands out. They have it all with the offense, defense, and have been ranked in the Top 10 AP poll all season.

They have been here in the past and they know how to play in Brooklyn. They have won two conference championships at Barclays which propelled the Flyers to advance to the “Elite 8” of the NCAA Tournament in  2013-14.

The Flyers registered a league-tying 18 wins and secured only the fourth unblemished conference record (18-0) in A-10 history. After their season finale. Dayton locked up their third regular season title in the last five years  at home against Davidson and received one of four double byes in the A-10 Championship.

It will be difficult to stop the offense. Obi Toppin improved his chances of winning the national player of the year award after scoring 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds in the regular season finale.

Toppin, a forward was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year while his coach Anthony Grant was voted A-10 Coach of the Year by opposing coaches. Toppin,  averaged 20 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, while shooting 63.3 percent from the field, which ranks fifth nationally.

Dayton shot 72.3 percent (34 of 47), the second-best percentage in school history. It tied the A-10 field-goal percentage record set by Duquesne (34 of 47, 72.3) against St. Bonaventure on Feb. 23, 1991.

In addition to Dayton, second-seeded Richmond (14-4), No. 3 Rhode Island (13-5) and No. 4 Saint Louis (12-6) earned byes into the quarterfinal round of the championship. Dayton plays at noon on Friday, followed by Saint Louis at 2:30 pm. Richmond opens the evening session at 6:00 pm and Rhode Island will play in the last quarterfinal at 8:30 pm.

Seeds five through 10 earn byes into the second round and will play Thursday on NBCSN. St. Bonaventure (11-7) is seeded fifth and will play the winner of No. 12 George Mason (5-13) and No. 13 Saint Joseph’s (2-16) at 2:30 pm Thursday. 

Mason and the Hawks will meet Wednesday in the first round at 1:00 pm on ESPN+. Saint Joseph’s earned the 13 seed by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker with Fordham.

Fordham, the local team in the tournament, would need to pull the upset. After another dismal season, the Rams will play the second game. The game between the Colonials and Rams will tip off at 3:30 pm on Wednesday on ESPN+.

After a season ending 65-61 loss to George Mason Saturday afternoon up at Rose Hill the Rams finished last again the Atlantic 10 Conference. It was another dismal season for the Rams, 8-22 overall, 2-16 in the conference.

Erten Gazi scored a career-high 22 points and had six rebounds for Fordham,  Antwon Portley added 11 points, and Joel Soriano had 10 rebounds and three blocks for Fordham in the season finale. 

 “We’re excited to head into Brooklyn on Wednesday to open the Atlantic 10 Championship,’ said coach Jeff Neubauer. “ It’s a new season and we have to get ready to play our best basketball of the year. We have been playing better lately and I hope that translates into a good performance at the Barclays Center.”

 But the Rams are not expected to advance to the championship final set for Sunday, March 15. They do have the distinction of leading the conference in scoring defense, among the top 10 leaders in the NCAA.

And the last four games the Rams got production from Josh Colon and Joel Soriano.  Soriano, the freshman forward has come off the bench and got the late season starts. He  recorded 14 points and 15 rebounds to carry Fordham to a 63-52 win over George Washington last  Wednesday night, breaking the Rams’ 10-game losing streak.

Colon, the junior guard, got better in the last five games and scored a career high 17 points against GW.

The Rams had a private practice the past two days as their campus up at Rose Hill in the Bronx has been closed due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus.

Other players to watch during the next few days could make an impact. Joining Toppin and Gilyard on the All-Conference First Team were Jalen Crutcher (Dayton), Fatts Russell (Rhode Island), Kyle Lofton (St. Bonaventure) and Jordan Goodwin (Saint Louis). 

The All-Conference second team consisted of Kellan Grady (Davidson), Marcus Weathers (Duquesne), Blake Francis (Richmond), Grant Golden (Richmond), Hasahn French (Saint Louis) and Mitchell. Jon Axel Gudmundsson (Davidson), Trey Landers (Dayton), Jeff Dowtin (Rhode Island), Osun Osunniyi (St. Bonaventure), Ryan Daly (Saint Joseph’s) and Perkins made up the All-Conference Third Team.

The 2020 Championship begins Wednesday with two first-round games that will be streamed on ESPN+. Thursday features four second-round games and the quarterfinals are Friday. Thursday’s and Friday’s games will be carried by NBCSN. Semifinals begin Saturday at 1:00 pm on CBS Sports Network and the Championship final is Sunday at 1:00 pm on CBS Sports. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.

Let the Madness begin in Brooklyn.

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

The Knicks Spike Lee and I Grew Up No Longer Exist

Every day it becomes harder and harder to remember the last time the Knicks made for good news. It has little to do with losing.

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

The 76ers took losing to a new tank high. The Cavaliers contributed to Cleveland’s moniker as the Mistake on the Lake. The Charlotte Bobcats once won seven games.

Losing happens. Losing as a corporate environment shouldn’t.

File photo /James Dolan ?Neil Miller/ The New York Extra/copyright 2020

Which brings us to James Dolan. Under his ownership, The Garden and the Knicks have gone from a storied franchise that plays in The World’s Most Famous Arena to a sullied team that competes in building run by an Undercover Paranoid Boss.

Spike Lee and I hail from the same borough (his family moved to Brooklyn when he was a child). He attended Dewey High School. I attended Canarsie.

File photo/Spike Lee at Yankee Stadium /Neil Miller/The New York Extra /copyright 2020

He’s 62. I’m 60. We’re of the same Knicks generation, the one fortunate enough to be in our formative fans years when the Knicks raised their only two NBA Championship banners to The Garden rafters.

We were raised on Red Holzman’s thinking man’s basketball.

None of us will forget that magical night when Willis Reed limped out of the tunnel, drained his first two shots, and Clyde Frazier turned in the greatest performance in Game 7 history. But most forget that every starter on that 1969-70 team averaged at least 10 points and two assists in the regular season.

Spike was the guy from Brooklyn who made it big. That’s what those front row Knicks tickets represent, more than his success as a director. Occasionally we would exchange a nod and quick handshake. Thank goodness for a press pass or I would never have gotten within two levels of Spike.

Of course, there was no social media and no smartphones back then when pickup basketball was the city game and we believed more titles were to come. We were naïve. Not we’re broken. Spike temporarily broken.

The Knicks have been reduced to a soap opera, The Garden as the set on which the segments are filmed.

Charles Oakley fights with Msg security/Neil Miller/The New York Extra/copyright 2020

If Dolan isn’t feuding with former players (Charles Oakley) he’s feuding with teenage fans and now he’s feuding with the most fanatical A-list fan any team in sports has known.

Spike is to us what Jack Nicholson is to the Lakers and a less subdued Drake is to the Raptors. Nicholson’s presence in the Forum has never been a distraction and, if Drake can just stop trying to run huddles, he can continue in his role as self-designated celebrity super fan.

Spike? Spike never was the story, with the exception of one epic exchange in 1995 with Reggie Miller. Heck, if Reggie, who scored eight points in the final 18.7 seconds of a Game 1 playoff game, can’t get under your skin, no one can. That’s a compliment.

Now Spike and Dolan are the story. It matters little who is right or wrong in Monday night’s EntranceGate blowup. It’s the pettiness. The constant siren of pettiness that sounds from The Garden and his heard around the NBA world.

Dolan is the common denominator in all of these petty episodes. The man with enough money to own the most valuable NBA franchise can’t buy himself a healthy sense of self.

The slightest perceived offense triggers some insecure fight response from Dolan. It’s as if he’s never outgrown that 10-year-old, “You started it! No, you started it!” phase.

Dolan announced the hiring of Leon Hall as the Knicks president on Monday morning. Dolan has been quick to remind us that he leaves the business of basketball in the expert’s hands. This way when Phil Jackson or Steve Mills falters, Dolan has his fall guy.

It can’t be his fault. But it is. Free agents know it is. Current players know it is. Current and former coaches know it is.

Makes you wonder if Rose checked the small print in his contract for an out clause. Makes you wonder if Spike will return next season. Makes you wonder if we should too.

Because these are not the Knicks Spike and I grew up on. This is not thinking man’s basketball.

Once Again, Knicks Fans Are Asked to be Patient

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

   Former player agent Leon Rose was officially hired Monday as the president of the Knicks president. As was the case with his most predecessors – Steve Mills and Phil Jackson – Rose asked Knicks fans for patience.

These are Rose’s words:

Nothing about this is easy, or quick, so I ask for your continued patience. What I promise you in return is that I will be honest and forthright. We will develop a plan that makes sense, both to jumpstart our short-term grow and ensure our long-term success. Our team will work hard, stick together and ensure we live up to the honor of wearing the New York Knicks jersey.

This is what Mills had to say after last year’s draft:

I think we’re asking them to continue to be patient. We laid out a plan when Scott [Perry] came on board and then David [Fizdale] joined us that we were gonna build this team the right way. We we’re going to draft well and we’re gonna be diligent about how we make this team and not taken any shortcuts.

And here is the Zenmaster prior to the 2015 draft:

We have a clear plan and expect our efforts to really take shape as we enter the 2015 draft and free agency in the months ahead. I ask that you remain optimistic and hope you will join us in our continued journey as we build a team that once again reflects the spirit of being a New York Knick.

With each regime, this plea for patience gets a little more galling. it’s been almost half a century since a Knicks championship banner was raised in The Garden. Half. A. Century.

Meanwhile, smart rebuilds are taking place all over the NBA map in places much less glamorous than the Big Apple such as Memphis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City. The Thunder have been gutted more thoroughly than all the fish in Greenport yet they have two first-round draft choices in each of the next five drafts. Five!

During this time, it’s hard to imagine another fan base more patient, supportive and perpetually hopeful than Knicks fans. They embraced Frank Ntilinka (Jackson) Kevin Knox (Mills).

There are many NBA executives that say Dolan dearly wants the Knicks to be good. They point to the $60 million he gave Jackson, hoping the extraordinary coach could make the transition to elite execute. He couldn’t.

Dolan tried the tandem of Mills and Scott Perry, hoping they could parlay their good standing in the NBA into bonanza free agent signings. They didn’t.

Now he has gone with the former agent, Rose. Those who know him say he’s sincere and his desire to make the Knicks a premier franchise is genuine. He deserves the benefit of any doubt.

We just have one piece of advice:

Don’t ask these fans to be patient. They could write the book on it.

NCAA Tourney Cheat Sheet Vol. II – Year of the Streaker

ROBBINS NEST

File photo Neil Miller/The New York Extra

By Lenn Robbins

When the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee arrives in New York the Tuesday prior to Selection Sunday they will be charged with one of the most daunting tasks in college basketball history:

Try to make some sense of this unpredictable season.

Why do we proclaim this season to be one of the hardest to predict in history? Consider the streaks we’ve seen this:

When Kansas edged Baylor 63-61 on Saturday it snapped the Bears 23-game win streak, which snapped the prior Big 12 record of 22 straight, held by, yep, Kansas. The Jayhawks also avenged a 67-55 loss to Baylor in Lawrence which snapped a 28-game home streak. Kansas has now won  12 straight.

Baylor’s five-week run as the nation’s No.1 team was the longest in the Associated Press since Kentucky in 2015.

BYU’s  91-78 upset of Gonzaga snapped the Bulldogs 19-game win streak. It also broke Gonzaga’s streaks of 40-straight regular-season wins in the West Coast Conference and 39-straight road wins in the WCC. against WCC opponents. The 40-game winning streak was the longest league streak in the nation.

UNLV took out the last remaining unbeaten, shocking San Diego State, 66-63. The Aztecs opened at 26-0 and unveiled its regular season conference championship banner before tipoff, something that wasn’t lost on the Runnin Rebels.

“They’ve had a historic year,’’ said UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger. “Is there a chance it got talked about in our locker room before the game? Certainly, but I seem to forget what they said.” Doubtful.

In Volume I of our NCAA Tournament bracket cheat sheet, we named Mick Cronin as one of our coaches who is doing a terrific job. It’s only gotten better. Not only did the Bruins post their ninth straight win in their last 11 games, but the last victory was a 70-63 stunner at Colorado.

The Buffaloes were up 50-41 with 12:34 on Senior Night when the Bruins broke off a 20-3 spurt. UCLA’s bench outscored Colorado’s 28-16.

“It’s senior day, they’re playing for the Pac-12 title, it’s huge,” Cronin said. “Nine down with 12 to play, on the road against a great team. They’re playing all juniors and seniors, you’re playing freshmen and sophomores and you’re able to pull it out? It’s monstrous.”

Are the Bruins as dangerous as the Providence Friars? Not according to coach Ed Cooley.

“There’s no more desperate team in America than Providence College,” Cooley said after an 84-72 victory over Marquette.

Providence was 4-4 in the Big East and 11-10 overall after losing three straight. Earlier in the season the Friars suffered losses to Penn, Long Beach State and the College of Charleston.

The win over the Golden Eagles was Providence’s fourth straight over a Top 25 team and moved the Friars into undisputed fourth place in the Big East at 9-6 and 16-12 overall. On a personal note, here’s hoping the Friars get into the Big Dance. Cooley is a helluva coach and one of the great personalities in the game.

Seton Hall continues to be in first place in the Big East and the Pirates remain a legit Elite Eight or better squad but no team wants to face Creighton, which is one game back after winning 9-of-10.

 The Blue Jays shredded Butler, 81-59 by making 15-of-26 3’s. Creighton has three players shooting 40-percent or better on 3’s – guard Marcus Zegarowski (40-percent) set his career high with seven of Creighton’s season-high 15 treys, is Ty-Shon Alexander also is at 40-percent. Mitch Ballock is at 44-percent.

Creighton does this by making the extra pass. It had 19 assists on 27 baskets against the Bulldogs, who lost one of our favorite Big East players in Kamar Baldwin with an ankle injury.

Staying with the Big East, Villanova uses the 3 as well as any team in the league but there’s an edge to this season’s team that could serve them in NCAA play. In a 64-55 loss to the Wildcats, Xavier coach Travis Steele had this observation after watching the X-men score their fewest points at home since a 57-52 win over Temple in January of 2013.

“That’s the most physical team we’ve play all year, by far, and it’s not even close.”

The team that continues to streak is Dayton, which beat Duquesne 70-60 for its 16th straight. The Flyers (25-2) have won 16 straight and moved to 4th in the AP poll and 3rd in the coaches’ poll, their highest since finishing third during the 1955-56 season. They are dunk contest in action. If you haven’t seen this team play, they’re at Rhode Island on March 3rd (CBSSN) in what could be a streak  ender.

Maryland still has a two-game lead in the Big Ten and should win the regular season title but the Terps, 79-72, loss at Ohio State ended their nine-game win streak. Few teams have been streakier than the Buckeyes who won their first nine and were 11-1 after a 71-65 win at Kentucky before losing 6-of-7.

The Buckeyes win might have boiled some blood between the two schools. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson was “allowed to be the bully offensively today. If he’s allowed to be the bully, he is a heck of a player.”

Wesson had 15 points and nine rebounds. Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann didn’t take kindly to that.

“Mark said that? To each his own. His opinion can be his opinion. I thought Kaleb was physical and well within the rules.”

Staying in the Big Ten, Penn State has a legit conference player of the year candidate in Lamar Stevens but he can’t do it alone. After winning eight straight the loss of Myreon Jones (illness) finally kicked in. Jones has missed five straight including the last two losses, including a 68-60 setback at Indiana.

Respect the Game: Hofstra’s Mihalich’s Path to 400 Wins

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

  HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – There were about three and one-half minutes left in Hofstra’s game against North Carolina-Wilmington Saturday night and Pride coach Joe Mihalich was bellowing at the officials.

Hofstra Head Coach Joe Mihalich/Neil Miller/The New York Extra 02/15/2020

They had blown a seemingly meaningless call in a game Hofstra was leading by 15. After a solid 30 seconds of getting tongue lashed, the lead official, both arms extended and palms down, implored Mihalich to settle down.

If you wonder how a coach can win 400 games when none of his 21-plus years is in the first chair has been at ‘power school,’ here’s the answer:

There are no meaningless calls. There no meaningless practices. No meaningless games. Most of all, there no meaningless players. Because that would mean disrespecting the game. As long as a Mihalich is coaching, the game will never be disrespected.

“It’s a team game, right,’’ said Mihalich, after win No. 400. “Things like this happen. More importantly, way more importantly, [guard] Elijah [Pemberton] became the ninth all-time leading scorer in Hofstra basketball. It’s an incredible thing.

“He had exactly eighteen hundred coming in. Eighteen hundred and 23 now, right behind the guy, I forget his name, Speedy Claxton? I had explicit orders from Speedy, ‘When he gets close, take him out.’’’

Claxton is an assistant coach at his alma mater and a link to Hofstra’s glory years during the Jay Wright/Tom Pecora eras. Claxton donated money to the construction of the 5,203-seat David S. Mack Sports and Entertainment Complex, which is a terrific homecourt and begs the question why an announced crowd of only 2,506 attended The Pride’s sixth straight win, a 78-64 win.

Hofstra is the metropolitan area’s best kept basketball secret and Mahalich one of the college game’s best guardians of the game.

The Pride (20-7 overall, 11-3 and 1st in the Colonial Athletic Conference) took control early behind center Isaac Kante’s career-high 23 points and 13 rebounds. In the Pride’s last game, Pemberton matched his career-high with 28.

“The culture we built here over the past few years, guys just buy in,’’ said Pemberton, who had 23. “It’s a brotherhood from the last player on the bench to the coaching staff. I think we’re all comfortable with each other.

“It’s fun to win for a coach like this. And it’s fun to play for him when he lets you play your game.”

This has been the story of Mihalich’s career. He took Niagara to two NCAA tournaments and two NITs by pushing the ball and pushing guys with tough love. He won the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award in 2013, given to the coach who exhibits strong moral character.

Consider this: Mihalich, 63, spent 17 years as an assistant at his alma mater, LaSalle – 17 years as an assistant! He stayed at Niagara for 15 seasons.

You know those coaches that always have one eye on the next job? Mihalich vests his one soul in working with the players he has.

“It’s from the heart,” said Mihalich. “We just got some T-shirts that say, ‘More Than a Team.’ It’s more than a team. As corny as that might seem, it’s a brotherhood in there. There’s a great brotherhood in there. There’s a love for each other.

“We have our tough times. I mean, I’ve gotten on this guy [Kante] and I’ve questioned his manhood, insulted him, but it’s because – it goes back to guys like [former Temple coach] John Chaney, who talked about tough love. It’s because I love you guys so much.”

Mihalich looks for six attributes in a player:

  1. Is he a good person?
  2. Is he a good player?
  3. Is he a good student?
  4. Does he love the game?
  5. Does he hate to lose?
  6. Does he work hard?

Call it what you will – corny, old school, cliché’ – the results speak for themselves. This is Mihalich’s eighth, 20-win season. His overall record is 381-287 (.570) in 21-plus season, the last six-plus at Hofstra, where he’s 116-84 (.580).

But really, he’s from the school of tough love. Mihalich was a walk-on guard who played for coach Paul Westhead at LaSalle. Joe Bryant, father of the late Kobe Bryant, was the star of that team which, which ran an up-tempo offense, a style Mihalich embraced.

Mihalich’s father, Joe, was a pitcher in the Yankees system, rooming with Whitey Ford. When arm trouble ended his baseball career, he became a professor of sports philosophy at LaSalle, which became the family’s second home. Mihalich’s son, Joe, is the coach at Penn.

They should have a box truck that reads – Mihalich and Sons, Respect the Game.

“He believes in you, he tells you he believes in you, it’s fun,” Kante said. “We love you too coach.”

Hofstra led by as much as 28 before Mihalich started running clock. The Seahawks (8-20, 3-12) are reeling, having fired their head coach last month. This was a bit of a trap game for The Pride. They were coming off a 76-63 win over a gritty College of Charlestown team and about to begin their last road trip of the regular season.

Mihalich hopes to take Hofstra to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001 and the second of his career.

“Climbing up that ladder, cutting those nets down, there’s nothing like it,” said Mihalich.

The Pride doesn’t know that feeling. They lost in the conference finals last season. Getting the No.1 seed in this year’s tourney means a first-round bye. Then every game becomes a trap game meaning Saturday’s win was worth remembering.

“I’m, just really proud of the guys for how they handled the day,’’ said Mihalich.

“They treated the game the right way. That’s been a battle cry of ours. ‘Respect the game. Respect yourself. Respect the opponent.’ Our guys did that.”

That’s how you win 400 games.

NCAA Tournament Prep Sheet: Volume I

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

Sooner rather than later, you’re going to fill out your NCAA Tournament brackets. So listen up: If ever there was a season to be a contrarian, this is it. Consider the weekend that was and the season that is.

file photo Neil Miller/The New York extra

San Diego State remains the only undefeated team in the nation. Michigan State, the preseason No.1, dropped out of the Top 25.

Penn State is tied with Illinois for second in the Big Ten (18-5 overall, 8-4 in the league). The Nittany Lions have qualified for the NCAA Tournament twice this century. North Carolina (10-13, 3-9), assuming it doesn’t win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, will miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time in 17 years.

No.1 Baylor is historically a bad NCAA Tournament bet. But the Bears won their 20th straight, a 78-70 win over Oklahoma State, so what’s to worry?

Baylor was a dismal 20-of-33 (60.6 percent) from the foul line. They are 206th in the nation with a 69.7-percentage in free throw shooting. Do you want them in a close first-round game that gets decided at the line?

Remember John Calipari’s 2007-08 team? Terrible all year from the line. Derrick Rose missed 1-of-2 free throws with 10 seconds left in regulation of the NCAA  title game. Mario Chalmers hit a 3 to force OT. Kansas won, 75-68. The Tigers were 12-of-19 (63.2 percent) from the game from the line. The Jayhawks were 14-of-15 (93.3).

MARCH WITH POINT GUARDS: Yes, I’m a firm believer of point guard play translating into tournament success. Dayton has a legit player of the year candidate in PF Obi Toppin. But in a 71-65 win over St. Louis, Toppin wasn’t his usual dominant self. Point guard Jalen Crutcher came to the rescue by making 8-of-8 free throws. He’s an 84.7-percent shooter from the line.

Which brings us to Duke, fresh off its stunning 98-96 OT win at North Carolina. The Blue Devils erased a 13-point deficit in the final four and one-half minutes and a five-point deficit in OT. Guard Tre Jones had 28 points, six assists and five rebounds, which is about as good as it gets, but not as good as LSU’s…

Skylar Mays, who had 30 points (10-for-10 from the line), eight assists, seven rebounds and just one turnover in 42 minutes of a 91-90 loss at Auburn. Auburn (21-2, 802) leads the SEC largely because the Tigers have the green light to shoot 3’s from anywhere on The Plains.

 Before you but Auburn consider its 31.6-percent shooting on 3’s, tied for 275th in the nation. If Auburn is hot in the tourney, War Eagle! But one off game and it’s time for spring football. Just ask Iowa, which….

Got dusted 104-66 at Purdue. The Hawkeyes have the nation’s most consistent inside player in center Luke Garza, who is one-tenth of a point away from averaging a points-rebounds double-double. Whoever faces Iowa in the tourney will have to drop down try to keep the ball out of Garza’s hands, which means open 3’s should be there.

 HOLD IT LIKE AN EGG: San Diego State is the nation’s last unbeaten team (24-0). The Aztecs are 13-0 in the Mountain West, the best start in conference history. In the Aztecs 89-74 win over Air Force, they committed a season-low six turnovers, one in the final 31 minutes and none in the final 21. The Aztecs are 8th in assist/turnover.  

STREAKS, OVER: Seton Hall has a northeast guard in Myles Powell who can flat out take over a game. But the best thing about these Pirates is the way they play. They are a throwback Big East team in terms of mental and physical toughness. Their 70-64 win at Villanova snapped a 17-game road losing streak to the Wildcats. Elite Eight, not so sleeper.

Kentucky has won 9-of-11 since losing two straight including W’s against Texas Tech and Louisville. The Wildcats won at Tennessee for the first time since Rick Barnes took over as head coach. Kentucky is tied for 6th in the nation in free throw shooting at 78.7-percent.

WELL DONE: The following coaches have done a great job.

Mick Cronin, UCLA – the Bruins will never dominate college hoops as they once did but Cronin, who re-established Cincinnati as a national power, is off to a 12-10 start (5-4 in the Pac 12) in his first season. With Arizona shaken by scandal, look for the Bruins to quickly return to the top of the league.

Joe Mihalich, Hofstra – Basketball fans in the Northeast know Mihalich’s Niagara teams were a bitch to play against. So are his Hofstra teams. The Pride (18-7) is in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, playing the same fundamentally sound ball the Purple Eagles played. Mihalich is 133-91 in his seventh season on Long Island, 45-15 over the last two seasons.

Chris Mack, Louisville – It shouldn’t be hard to win at Louisville but if you don’t succeed there is a one-way ticket to a mid-major program and a lot less money. Big East fans know what a solid person, father, coach Mack is. He took over Louisville which was a mess and won 20 games last season. Mack has the Cardinals atop the ACC with a 12-1 record (21-3 overall)

Steve Pikiell, Rutgers – It’s been impossible to win at Rutgers. Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights found themselves in an unfamiliar position Sunday night in the RAC. They trailed Northwestern by 18. It was arguably one of the first time Rutgers, as a heavy favorite, didn’t take an opponent seriously.

The Scarlet Knights rallied in the second half to eke out a 77-74 OT win and remain undefeated at home and just 1.5 games back for the Big Ten lead. Pikiell has instilled a true team culture. One of his first big recruits, Gio Baker, now comes off the bench. He scored 23 of his 25 in the second half to lead the comeback.

SHADES PLEASE: Which was harder to look at? Oregon State’s upset of No.14 Oregon was secured by holding the Ducks without a field goal for nearly nine minutes in the second half. Oregon shot 22-of-55 from the field (40 percent) which isn’t horrendous. Going to the line just four times (and only making two) is. Or…

UCLA held No.23 Arizona to its worst shooting game in the McKale Center’s 47-year history. The Wildcats shot 15-of-59 from the floor (25.4-percent). They missed all 12 of the second half 3’s. Or…

West Virginia missed 20-of-31 layups in a 69-59 loss at Oklahoma. The Mountaineers were 24-of-76 from the field (31.6-percent).

“Seems impossible, but we missed 22 shots within two feet of the basket,” said WVA coach Bob Huggins.

Defense And No Offense Again For Fordham in Conference Loss

Again it was the Fordham defense that made it a game against Richmond up at the Rose Hill Gym Saturday afternoon. Similar to other outcomes it was the Rams inability to score that led to a 59-53 loss.

File photo /Neil Miller/The New York Extra

Fordham lost their fourth straight. It wasn’t their defense as they held Richmond, a team that can score, to 23 points in the first half. But as the conference schedule winds down, Fordham 7-15 overall, 1-9 A-10, can’t get both sides of the game on the same page.

Coach Jeff Neubauer, he  is looking at a way to get this offense going.  It has to be more than one that is open for the shot. It has to be making those baskets in a league that thrives on offense. 

Regardless, this was your typical brand of Fordham basketball. Yes, defense is good, Fordham leads the A-10 in scoring defense and is ranked 16th in the NCAA.

“Defensive effort in the first half is never perfect, but it’s amazing that’s what it’s gotta be,” Neubauer said.  “That’s who we are. Second half still good but needed to be amazing in the second half.”

He was referring, though. to that second half and inability to score.  Antown Portley scored 12 points, Ty Perry added 11 and Jalen Cobb 10. They have been part of the mix.

But the Rams need more. If not, all that defense won’t be enough to escape a bottom seeding next month in the conference tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

 Portley, in his last four games after sustaining an early season injury to his leg, has scored 37 points.  But the senior- guard can’t do this alone with a need for others to get the offense going. 

Neubaurer, has always looked at Portley to take that open shot. Part of the Rams second half eight-point run, that gave them a 44-36 lead, was a run to the basket for Portley.

He also found an open and  converted a 3-pointer beyond the arch. Again, if it wasn’t for the defense, the final outcome could have been wider.

“Good to have him back,” said Neubauer. “His minutes helped. He’s one of our better players. We are a better team when he makes the shots.  We encourage in general that the ball moves.”

This is not to say that the Rams are overmatched. With their defense they have been in games. Last Saturday, at  8th ranked Dayton, it was a game before losing 70-56. 

“We play as a team,” Neubauer said. “When you gave a guy with creativity it makes us better.”

Portley has that creativity.

But this Richmond team, striving to move up the standings in the conference, they have it all.  They have deep scoring and that ability to stop a run at the right time 

Jacob Gilyard scored 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Blake Francis added 18 points for the balanced Spiders offense. 

The Spiders have won three straight, 17 of their last 18 meetings against Fordham, that included an elimination game at Barclays last March in the A-10 Tournament.

“Their style  for us to hold them to 59, there’s a lot of good defense in there but not enough for us to win,” Neubauer said. 

No, not enough Saturday to win a conference game. And with time running out the Rams are destined to finish last or next to last in the conference. The defense has been consistent the last seven games but  that offense has to chime in.

 If not,  it will be the same story Tuesday night at Davidson.

“We have to find  more baskets somewhere in our roster,” Neubauer said. “ More open looks. I’d like to see more guys produce more.  We need everyone to play a little better.”

He wasn’t kidding. Because at Rose Hill this has become a defensive game and you can’t win games in this conference without the offense.

Comment; Ring786@aol.com  Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso

With the Trade Deadline Approaching, Dolan Strikes Again.

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

“We hear from people all the time. From players, from representatives, it’s about who wants to come. We can’t respond because of the NBA rules, etc., but that doesn’t stop them from telling us, and they do. I can tell you from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” – Knicks owner James Dolan, March 12, 2019, ESPN radio

Before Knicks fans replace “Sell The Team,” with “Hire Masai Ujiri,” they should remember the words spoken by their out-of-touch owner less than a year ago. The Knicks didn’t sign any of their elite free agent targets. They didn’t even get visits from some.

Credit Twitter

The fall guy for that, the Knicks 15-36 record, and most of all, those “Sell The Team” chants that reverberated around The Garden and into Dolan’s ears last Wednesday, was president Steve Mills. When “In Denial Dolan” feels he’s been wronged, a head has to roll.

“Steve and I have come to the decision that it would be best for him to leave his role as president of the New York Knicks,” Dolan said in a prepared statement. “We thank Steve for his many years of service to our organization and look forward to continuing our relationship with him as part of our board.”

Mills joins the legions of Knicks fans that have orange and blue pumping in our veins until they bleed out courtesy of all the cuts and slashes that Dolan inflicts season after season.

Consider the timing of this latest move: The NBA trade deadline is Thursday. Thursday! Dolan could not have picked a more tumultuous time to fire the team president, unless, of course, he did this tomorrow.

Dolan reportedly has had his eye on Ujiri for a while now. There’s a lot to like about Toronto’s president. Ujiri put together an NBA championship team in the toughest of places by making the most precarious of trades – rolling the dice on Kawhi Leonard.

Because of Canada’s high taxes, NBA players have been reluctant to go North. Raptors fans have long believed they are a victim of NBA conspiracy – they get the worst schedule and refs. They’re seldom on national TV.

But the fan base is flat out bonkers for their Oh Canada team. Ujiri embraced that, attending rallies before playoff games. He was fined prior to the 2015 playoff series against the Nets for telling the crowd to, “F$%k Brooklyn!”

Leonard did his championship one and done but the Raptors have kept winning, proof Ujiri built a franchise. He’s smart, knows talent, has a passion that would play here.

But does Dolan think Ujiri, and the rest of the NBA – players and executives, trainers and coaches – aren’t taking note of the toxic environment that hangs over the Knicks? Does Dolan think Ujiri doesn’t see the petty owner point out the teenager chanting, “Sell The Team,’ to security personnel.

Does Dolan think the revolving door of coaches and presidents, the ludicrous contracts given to disinterested employees (see Phil Jackson), the snubs by NBA free agents falls on deaf ears and blind eyes?

Does he think the bizarro timing of his latest head-scratching move goes unnoticed?

Yet Dolan has three things going for him, known them named James Dolan:

The Knicks again have nowhere to go but up. The Garden remains the most magical of basketball arenas. And Dolan is willing to offer life-changing contracts. It’s a hard combination to walk away from.

Getting Ujiri, who is under contract with the Raptors until the end of the 2021 season, would likely require a stiff price. It would be so typical of the Knicks, who have wisely held onto their first-round draft picks, to unload at least one of those No.1s on a president, not a superstar.

Regardless of what Dolan offers, it still might not convince Ujiri to leave Toronto. Because what Dolan sees and hears is not what the rest of the NBA does.

Offense Not Defense Is Issue For Fordham

Fordham took St. Bonaventure to overtime Wednesday night up at Rose Hill. Coach Jeff Neubauer, after a 62-55 loss in overtime, said his team played their best game of the year. 

credit Robert Cole

But it was the Fordham defense that kept them in this one.

The Rams lead the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense and rank 15th in the NCAA and that came up strong again allowing the Bonnies to 21 points in the first half.

The offense was a difference which attributed to this loss, and In this conference, you need to score. The Rams scored 22 points in the first half, were 19-for- 58 from the floor, 12-for-33 when shooting for three.

Saturday, Fordham scored  a season low 39 points in a loss at Saint Louis.  

“Our biggest offensive challenge is we cannot make two point baskets,” Neubauer said. “ 

 And making those baskets are so important in the A-10, a high scoring league.

credit Robert Cole

Fordham dropped their seventh game in their last eight. Their overall mark is 7-13, and the Rams  stand next to last in the Atlantic 10 Conference at 1-7.

Saturday, they travel to  Dayton (18-3) the top scoring team in the conference, ranked 7th in the nation. So, the Rams will need to score and not rely solely on their defense.

But the Rams did step up and send the game into overtime. Antwon Portley, limited in his second game back  from injury, forced overtime with a running one-handed shot with 2.8 seconds left.  

He also had a key 3-pointer down the stretch that tied the game at 53. 

Thing is, the Bonnies got the ball and made their shots, outscoring Fordham 9-2 in the extra period. Dominick Welch, a career high 22 points made three free throws that got the Bonnies a two-game sweep against the Rams this season. 

Again, the Rams need to convert their baskets. Though, Portley, does help with his return to the floor. 

“He made clutch shots; that’s who he is,” said Neubauer.

Despite those offensive struggles the Rams in three prior games saw their freshmen and sophomores account for 82.6% of their scoring, 138 of 167 points. 

Neubauer said about this loss, “The offensive rebounds we gave up,  hard to win, 12 rebounds in 25 minutes.” 

And if there is any chance of giving Dayton a game, Fordham has to score.  Their defense has not been the issue.

Neubauer was asked about that Dayton game that awaits. Saturday. He said it will be  a challenge.

“Good challenge as a team and as a coach,” he said.  “ My feeling is that tonight is that game we’ve played really talking about our defense. Our defense had gone to an amazing level.”  

Another conference loss for Fordham. But one they hope to build on with Dayton.

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