St. John's reels in Adonis Delarosa

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
Adonis Delarosa, the 6-foot-10 senior center from Christ the King High School in Queens, verbally committed to St. John's on Wednesday.

Delarosa averaged 12 points and 12 rebounds per game for a Christ the King team that won the state federation championship. MSG placed him on its All-New York City second team. ESPN ranked him the 14th-best high school senior in the state.

"He's a space-eating five-man who is very intriguing because of how he can impact the game but needs to commit himself to getting into game shape before he can be a factor at the next level," is the conclusion of his ESPN Recruiting Nation profile. (Click here to read more.)

St. John's desperately needed to add a frontcourt player after the early departures of JaKarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa and the graduation of Orlando Sanchez and God'sgift Achiuwa. The only other post player currently on the roster is 6-foot-7 forward Christian Jones, who averaged 2.5 points per game two years ago as a freshman and redshirted this past season.

Delarosa is the first recruit to commit to St. John's for next season. Coach Steve Lavin has several more scholarships available.

Another target is 6-foot-7 forward Keith Thomas of Westchester Community College, who averaged 15.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game last season at the juco level.
NEW YORK -- Imagine being in just your second year in your chosen profession, and having the chance to compete against one of the very best to ever do the job.

That was Richard Pitino's opportunity on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. And, even better, he came out on top.

In just his second year as a head coach, Pitino guided his Minnesota Golden Gophers to the 2014 NIT championship, defeating Larry Brown's Southern Methodist Mustangs 65-63.

“Obviously extremely happy for our guys to win a championship,” Pitino said. “I’m really, really happy for them that they get to walk off [the] Madison Square Garden court as winners.”

[+] EnlargeRichard Pitino,  Rick Pitino
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II"It meant a lot - not just my dad, but my whole family [being here]," Pitino said after Thursday's NIT triumph. "This is hopefully just the beginning for me."
It was a highly entertaining game, featuring two of the NIT’s four No. 1 seeds. There were 14 ties and 17 lead changes, and neither team led by more than seven.

We saw good performances from several players. Austin Hollins scored 19 for Minnesota, including a huge 3-pointer in the final minute. Nic Moore had 17 points and seven assists for SMU.

But the real stars were the coaches: Brown, the 73-year-old inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002, and Pitino, the 31-year-old son of Rick Pitino, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame just seven months ago.

And the game came down to a coaching decision, in effect. With Minnesota leading 65-62 and 4.8 seconds left, SMU had the ball with a chance to tie. Pitino wouldn’t let that happen. He instructed his team to foul before an SMU player had a chance to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer.

Instead, the Mustangs' Nick Russell missed his first free throw (when he was trying to make it), and made his second (when he was trying to miss it), and Minnesota was able to run out the clock from there.

“Got to give a lot of credit to Richard and his team,” Brown said. “They were really well prepared. Got down seven and I thought he got their kids to dig in.”

Brown is the only coach ever to win both an NCAA championship and an NBA title. But it is Pitino, not Brown, who now has an NIT championship on his résumé.

It would have been a mere footnote in terms of Brown’s legacy. But it’s a significant step for Pitino, given this was his first year at Minnesota, following one year as head coach at Florida International.

Throw in the fact that his father and mother and several other family members were sitting right behind the Minnesota bench, and it’s a memory he will surely treasure.

And not just him.

“I almost feel like crying, I’m so elated with joy,” the elder Pitino said, amid the on-court celebration.

“It meant a lot -- not just my dad, but my whole family [being here],” Richard Pitino said. “This is hopefully just the beginning for me.”

After the Golden Gophers finished cutting down the net, the players and coaches did not immediately head back to the locker room. Instead, Pitino gathered everyone together for one final huddle.

Later, Pitino was asked why he did it, and what he said.

“I just thought for our seniors ... [there’s] something special about walking off the court a winner and ending your career that way,” he said. “[And] I told the guys coming back, I’m so fired up to get back to work.”

The truth is, he was already back to work, mere minutes after this season had ended.

Here’s guessing this won’t be the last net he cuts down.

W2W4: SMU vs. Minnesota

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
Here's what to watch for when Southern Methodist (27-9, 12-6 AAC) plays Minnesota (24-13, 8-10 Big Ten) on Thursday in the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m., and you can watch the game on ESPN.

ONE FOR THE AGES ... The two head coaches are the star attractions in this matchup. It'll be the oldest coach in Division I, Hall of Famer Larry Brown of SMU, versus one of the youngest coaches in Div. I, Richard Pitino of Minnesota -- the son of Hall of Famer Rick Pitino.

Brown is 73 years old, although he certainly doesn't look it. Pitino is 31, and looks every bit of it and no more.

Both have New York roots. Brown was born in Brooklyn and returned to New York to coach the Knicks in 2005-06. Pitino spent part of his youth in New York -- his father coached the Knicks from 1987-89. The elder Pitino attended the semifinals Tuesday and almost certainly will be sitting behind the Minnesota bench again Thursday.

AS FOR THE PLAYERS ... It's a pretty even matchup -- these are two of the four No. 1 seeds in this tournament. SMU overcame a 13-point, second-half deficit to defeat Clemson 65-59 in Tuesday's first semifinal. Minnesota survived a second-half comeback to beat Florida State 67-64 in overtime in the second semifinal.

You should see strong guard play in this game. SMU's leading scorer is sophomore point man Nic Moore (13.5 ppg, 4.8 apg). Minnesota has three guards who average in double figures -- junior Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg), senior Austin Hollins (12.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and junior DeAndre Mathieu (12 ppg, 4.1 apg).

But the X-factor is SMU sophomore forward Markus Kennedy (12.4 ppg, 7 rpg). A transfer from Villanova, Kennedy was dominant in the semifinals, with 21 points and nine rebounds against Clemson. Minnesota must try to limit his touches inside.

SPEAKING OF DEFENSE ... SMU is one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranked seventh in Division I in defensive field goal percentage (38.3). Minnesota isn't as good but is still ranked among the top third of Div. I teams in that category, currently 112th (42.4).

That being said, both teams can create havoc on that end. SMU was 42nd in steals per game in the regular season (7.5), and Minnesota was close behind at 45th (7.4).

You'll probably see some full-court pressure, particularly from Minnesota. Taking care of the ball will be critical in this game.

Larry Brown leads SMU to NIT final

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
videoNEW YORK -- Larry Brown went 23-59 in his one season coaching the New York Knicks.

Things are going a lot better at Southern Methodist.

The Mustangs have now won 27 games this season -- one off the school record -- in only Brown’s second year at the helm. And their latest victory came in a place he knows well: Madison Square Garden.

[+] EnlargeLarry Brown
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanFormer Knicks coach Larry Brown led SMU to the NIT finals.
SMU trailed by 13 early in the second half Tuesday, and didn’t take its first lead until just more than five minutes remained. But once Brown’s crew had the lead, they never relinquished it, beating Clemson 65-59 to advance to the NIT championship game.

“I’m really proud of my team,” Brown said. “I think the first half, Clemson did about as well as any team that we played against. They controlled the tempo, they had much more energy than us, they executed great. And we didn’t have much to say at halftime, except we had to match their energy and possibly play harder than them. I thought it was the best half we played all year.”

It was indeed a tale of two halves. Clemson led 38-26 at the break, thanks to 56 percent shooting from the field. That included making 6-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc, against an SMU team ranked seventh in the nation in defensive field-goal percentage.

The Mustangs picked up the intensity in the second half. And the Tigers shot just 6-for-25 overall and 2-for-11 from long range.

“We just did what we usually do,” SMU forward Sterling Brown said. “We just turned it up a little more.”

Fellow forward Markus Kennedy was the player of the game, with 21 points and nine rebounds. Point guard Nic Moore chipped in 13 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Mustangs, who will play Minnesota in the title game Thursday.

The 73-year-old Brown has nothing to prove. He remains the only coach to win both an NCAA championship and an NBA title, and already has the Basketball Hall of Fame on his résumé. But he has done a remarkable job rejuvenating SMU in short order.

The Mustangs have not made the NCAA tournament since 1993, but just missed this year, the first team left out of the field.

Instead, SMU was awarded one of four No. 1 seeds in the NIT. And four wins later, it has reached the final.

“We haven’t had a lot of nice things happen at SMU for a long, long time,” Brown said. “To be in this environment, playing in this championship in this special building, with our fans so supportive, that’s the most special moment we’ve all had I think since we’ve been there.”

Brown’s brief stint with the Knicks was eight years ago now. But with the Brooklyn native back in town, he was asked to share some memories after the game.

“I love this place,” Brown said. “I’m not happy with the job I did with the Knicks, but I grew up loving the Knicks and loving the Garden, and I wanted our guys to experience [it].”

He was also asked about current Knicks coach Mike Woodson, a former assistant and close friend. Woodson was at the game Tuesday, sitting behind the SMU bench.

“I talk to him every day. He’s a big part of my life,” Brown said. “He’s gone through hell, and they got it going. Last I looked they’re right there with a chance to make the playoffs, and I’m thrilled for him.”

As it happens, the Knicks will host the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday at the Garden, in between the NIT semifinals and title game. And it sounds like the former Knicks coach may attend.

“I don’t know if they’ll let me in the Garden tomorrow night,” Brown said, chuckling. “I’ve got a night off. I don’t know -- I’ll either go see Les Mis or the Knicks.”

Whatever Brown decides to do Wednesday, he’ll be back here one night later, with a chance to add another championship to his collection.

W2W4: The NIT semifinals

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
Larry BrownAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesLarry Brown returns to the Garden for the NIT semifinals.
NEW YORK -- Here's what to watch for in Tuesday's semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. ET, and you can watch the games on ESPN2.

HOME SWEET HOME: Brooklyn native and former Knicks coach Larry Brown returns to the Garden and should receive a warm welcome.

The 73-year-old Hall of Famer has rejuvenated the Southern Methodist basketball program in just two years at the helm. The Mustangs were 13-19 in 2011-12, prior to Brown's arrival. This season they have won 26 games, the second-most in school history.

SMU was the first team left out of the NCAA tournament field, and received one of four No. 1 seeds in the NIT.

When asked last week about returning to New York, Brown said, “I don’t look at it like that, for me. For me, for our kids to have an opportunity to keep playing is great.

"I’m happy for our team, I’m thrilled for our program. After the disappointment we had [Selection Sunday], this is a privilege to still be playing.”

GAME 1: SMU (26-9, 12-6 AAC) will play No. 3 seed Clemson (23-12, 10-8 ACC) in the first semifinal. The Mustangs finished tied for third in the American Athletic Conference with Final Four participant UConn, and beat the Huskies twice in the regular season. The Tigers, in their fourth year under coach Brad Brownell, finished sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Their best win of the season was a 72-59 triumph over Duke at home on Jan. 11.

Two players average in double figures for SMU -- sophomore point guard Nic Moore (13.5 PPG, 4.9 APG) and sophomore forward Markus Kennedy (12.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG). Clemson has just one double-figure scorer -- junior forward K.J. McDaniels (17.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG). McDaniels was also the leading shot-blocker in the ACC (2.8 BPG).

The Mustangs are 18th in Division I in offensive field goal percentage (48.4), and seventh in defensive field goal percentage (38.2) -- quite a combination! The Tigers aren't nearly as good offensively, ranking 265th (42.4). But they are almost as good defensively, ranking 14th (39.3).

GAME 2: A pair of No. 1 seeds, Minnesota (23-13, 8-10 Big Ten) and Florida State (22-13, 9-9 ACC), will meet in the second semifinal, tipping off at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET. The Golden Gophers, in their first year under coach Richard Pitino (Rick's son), finished seventh in the Big Ten. The Seminoles, in their 12th year under coach Leonard Hamilton, finished tied for seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

These two teams met back on Dec. 3 in Minneapolis, with Minnesota winning 71-61. But the Golden Gophers' leading rebounder, junior center Elliott Eliason (5.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG), is likely out for this game due to an ankle injury, as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Three players average in double figures for Minnesota -- junior guard Andre Hollins (13.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG), senior guard Austin Hollins (12.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and junior guard DeAndre Mathieu (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG).

Three players average in double figures for Florida State, as well -- sophomore guard Aaron Thomas (14.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG), senior guard Ian Miller (13.7 PPG, 2.9 APG) and senior forward Okaro White (13.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG).

The Seminoles also stack up very well on both sides, ranking 49th in Division I in offensive field goal percentage (46.8) and 25th in defensive field goal percentage (39.9). The Golden Gophers trail significantly in both categories, ranking 142nd offensively (44.8) and 116th defensively (42.5).

For UConn's Giffey, a bad day turns great

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31

NEW YORK -- Shabazz Napier isn’t the only Connecticut player going to a second Final Four.

Fellow seniors Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander were also on the 2011 national championship team, and can now boast of being a part of two historic Huskies squads.

“It’s unbelievable,” Giffey said, standing in the center of the UConn locker room following its 60-54 victory over Michigan State. “I don’t even know what to say.”

The soft-spoken Giffey had plenty to say though, when he wasn’t smiling or celebrating with teammates -- even though he had just played one of his worst games of the season.

“I think it’s just a maturity process you have to go through,” Giffey said. “At this point it really doesn’t matter who scores and how you score.”

[+] EnlargeNiels Giffey
Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant/MCT/Getty ImagesNiels Giffey finished with six points in 35 minutes on Sunday.
Olander was a bit player this season, but Giffey has been a sometime-starter and key contributor, fourth on the team in scoring at 8.3 points per game.

Giffey shoots 56.1 percent from the field and 51.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, making it all the more stunning that he was 2-for-10 overall and 0-for-5 from deep against the Spartans.

He missed five of his six shots in the first half, and the only one he made in the second half was a dunk. Most were wide-open looks.

“You just gotta keep a clear head, try to not think about your shot too much,” Giffey said. “Keep yourself level, don’t get too emotional, don’t get too negative with yourself.

“Those are the shots my team wants me to take. Even when I got a little frustrated, all the guys came over [and said] keep shooting, keep shooting. That’s just my job on this team.”

Case in point: With less than three minutes remaining and UConn clinging to a 51-49 lead, Giffey unleashed a shot from beyond the arc. He was open, but there were still 20 seconds on the shot clock -- plenty of time to get a better look by a hotter player. And he missed.

But at the next stoppage of play, following a Michigan State turnover, we saw Napier and fellow teammate Ryan Boatright standing in front of Giffey, patting him on the chest and encouraging him.

That kind of thing doesn't happen on a lot of teams, folks.

“I’m missing shot after shot after shot, and he still goes to me,” Giffey said of Napier. “He believes in me, probably even more than I believe in myself.”

Giffey’s teammates picked him up, in more ways than one, and now he doesn’t have to end his college career on one of his worst games.

Instead, he’ll play in his second Final Four -- not bad for a lightly recruited kid from Germany who had few Division I scholarship offers.

“Four months before I committed here I didn’t even know what UConn was and where Connecticut was,” Giffey said.

Now he is a part of school history.

For UConn, return to Garden is extra sweet

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27

NEW YORK -- They call the NCAA tournament the Big Dance, and the Connecticut Huskies danced their way onto the Madison Square Garden floor Thursday.

It was a brand-new floor -- the NCAA installs its own court at each tournament site -- but everything else looked familiar to the Huskies, who played here twice earlier this season and 13 times in the past four years.

No wonder No. 7 seed UConn looked so comfortable as it prepared for its noon 50-minute open practice, with several players shimmying on the sidelines before the team was introduced.

[+] EnlargeShabazz Napier
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesShabazz Napier and the Huskies believe they will have a home-court advantage Friday versus Iowa State.
“I told the guys, this came full circle,” Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said. “I know we came down here and played in the 2K Classic and won that Classic. But to come down here this time, and our guys not able to play in the last Big East tournament that was here last year, it’s all full circle.”

It’s UConn’s 17th trip to the Sweet 16, but this one is extra special. The Huskies were banned from the NCAA tournament last season because of poor academic performance and ruled ineligible for the Big East tournament as well.

It’s also extra special because these will be the first NCAA tournament games at Madison Square Garden since 1961.

Star guard Shabazz Napier, one of several Huskies who elected to stay at UConn despite the postseason ban, admitted Thursday he couldn’t bring himself to watch a single game of the 2013 tourney.

A huge fishing fan, Napier consoled himself by watching shows such as "River Monsters" on Animal Planet instead. “I didn’t want to watch [the tournament] because I felt like if I did, I would be aggravated or annoyed,” he said.

Napier has been one of the best shows in college basketball this season. A likely first-team All-American, the 6-foot-1 senior leads Connecticut in scoring (17.8 PPG), rebounding (5.9 RPG), assists (4.9 APG) and steals (1.8 SPG), and he has a penchant for making plays when it counts.

He hit a game-winning buzzer-beater against Florida in early December, scored nine of his 24 points in overtime in UConn’s win over No. 10 seed St. Joseph’s to open this tournament, and followed that up with 25 points in a victory over second-seeded Villanova two days later.

Napier also scored 20 and 27 points in the Huskies' 2K Classic wins over Boston College and Indiana here back in November, and he believes his team has a definite advantage Friday night against No. 3 seed Iowa State, despite being the lower seed.

“The thing that would help us is our great fan base coming down and supporting us, like they always do,” Napier said. “When we are down and when we’re up, they are still cheering. They give us the support, they give us that sixth man that we need to push us forward.”

Teammate Ryan Boatright believes UConn’s familiarity with the Garden will be a big plus, too.

“It just feels like a second home to us,” Boatright said. “If you’ve never played here before, it’s definitely a different feeling -- the background, the rims ... the whole crowd is dark, just the court is lit up. Everything is different than playing in a regular college stadium.”

It is expected to be a heavily pro-Huskies crowd, with the Connecticut campus just 135 miles away. UConn has always drawn well at the Garden, making this historic ticket even hotter than it already would have been.

The Metro-North commuter railroad is adding an extra express train from New Haven, Conn., to Grand Central Terminal on Friday afternoon, and extra cars to other trains departing New Haven for New York as well (and vice versa at the end of the night).

As of late Thursday afternoon, the cheapest single ticket available on StubHub for Friday’s regional semifinal doubleheader (also featuring Virginia versus Michigan State) was $594.05 -- for a bar-stool seat no less.

Ollie and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, good friends and former teammates with the Chicago Bulls, have both played at the Garden many times.

“It’s special. I can’t say it’s not,” said Ollie, who later called it “the greatest arena alive for basketball.”

The Garden was the first thing Hoiberg brought up in his pregame news conference.

“I’ll start out just by saying how excited our team is to be out here in New York City,” he said. “Our guys get the opportunity to play at Madison Square Garden. I’ll never forget my first time here when the announcer comes on and says, ‘Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena.’”

Iowa State is used to playing in front of large crowds -- the Cyclones were ranked No. 22 in Division I home attendance this season, averaging 13,393 fans per game. But Ames, Iowa, is more than 1,000 miles away, and the Cyclones have played at the Garden only three times in school history, the last being an 84-81 loss to Rutgers in the semifinals of the 2004 NIT.

Heck, Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue, a native of nearby Yonkers, N.Y., had never even set foot in the Garden before Thursday’s open practice.

Hoiberg admitted some concern. “To come out and experience this is just awesome for our guys,” he said. “[But] you try to get the ‘wow’ factor out of the way as quickly as possible, so they can focus on the task at hand.”

The Cyclones did look a little more like tourists than the Huskies did when they walked on the floor two hours later. Hogue asked someone to take a picture of him at center court. Reserve forward Daniel Edozie pointed up at the giant overhead scoreboard in apparent glee.

But Hoiberg sounded confident that come Friday night, his team will be good to go.

“That’s been my message to them -- enjoy this day, in a very casual setting to go out there and get used to the shooting background and the rims,” he said. “Then tomorrow it’s all about business.

“Once that thing goes up tomorrow at 7:27, our guys will be ready to play.”

Max Hooper leaving St. John's

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
NEW YORK -- St. John's swingman Max Hooper has been given permission to explore transfer opportunities, the school announced Wednesday.

Hooper averaged 3.2 points in 9.0 minutes per game in 2013-14, his first season with the Red Storm after transferring from Harvard.

A 3-point specialist, Hooper got significant playing time early in the season, but had trouble on the defensive end. He hardly played down the stretch -- just 15 minutes total in the final nine games of the regular season.

Ironically, Hooper scored a season-high 18 points in his final game at St. John's, in an 89-78 loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.

Hooper is the second player to leave the St. John's program in the past week. Sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson, the team's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, announced Monday that he was leaving school and entering the NBA draft.

Rapid Reax: Louisville 71, Manhattan 64

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21

Some quick thoughts on No. 4 seed Louisville's 71-64 win over No. 13 seed Manhattan on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament:

What it means: The defending national champs are lucky to be alive.

Manhattan nearly pulled off a shocking upset Thursday night in Orlando, Fla. The Cardinals were one of the hottest teams in the country and a trendy pick to win it all for a second consecutive season. But the Jaspers had the lead with less than three minutes to go and nearly took them down in their first NCAA tournament game since 2004.

Steve Masiello, the latest Rick Pitino protege to guide a team to the Big Dance, made his March Madness debut against the man he calls "a second father" and surely did him proud.

[+] EnlargeMichael Alvarado, Chris Jones
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsManhattan's Michael Alvarado finished with 10 points Thursday against Louisville.
The turning point: Manhattan never led in the first half, but it never fell behind by double digits, either. Louisville took its biggest lead, 31-23, on a Montrezl Harrell jumper with 2:24 remaining, but the Jaspers were down only 35-29 at intermission. Michael Alvarado scored 10 first-half points for Manhattan. The Cardinals shot just 36.4 percent (12-for-33) but had 11 offensive rebounds and forced 10 turnovers.

The Jaspers scored the first eight points of the second half to take their first lead of the game, 37-35, on an Emmy Andujar layup with 16:24 to play. But Louisville quickly regained the lead. Manhattan surged in front again late and was up 60-58 on a Tyler Wilson lay-in with 2:35 left. But then Luke Hancock took over.

Hancock, the most outstanding player in last year's Final Four, hit two free throws with 1:53 remaining to put Louisville back on top, 62-60. He nailed a 3-pointer 32 seconds later to make it 65-60. And then he sank the dagger -- another trey with 27 seconds left, making it 68-62. The Cardinals finished the victory off at the foul line.

Star watch: Russ Smith had a game-high 18 points for Louisville, although he shot just 3-for-9 from the field. Hancock scored 16 points. Harrell finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Masiello used 11 different players, and eight of them scored. It was a total team effort on Manhattan's part, and a valiant one. Ashton Pankey scored a team-high 16 points, and Andjuar added 13 off the bench. Leading scorer George Beamon scored just seven points, 12 under his average, shooting 3-for-10.

Number crunch: For the game, Louisville shot just 36.4 percent from the field (20-for-55) and 30.8 percent from beyond the arc (4-for-13). But the Cardinals were 27-for-35 from the foul line (77.1 percent), making 12 more free throws than Manhattan.

What's next: Louisville will play No. 5 seed St. Louis on Saturday. The Billikens made up a 16-point deficit to beat No. 12 seed NC State (in overtime) earlier Thursday night in Orlando.

The Jaspers head home to Riverdale, with their heads held high.

W2W4: Manhattan vs. Louisville

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
Here's what to watch for when No. 13 seed Manhattan (25-7, 15-5 MAAC) plays No. 4 seed Louisville (29-5, 15-3 AAC) on Thursday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Tip-off is at approximately 9:50 p.m. ET, and you can watch the game on TNT or right here at March Madness Live.

STUDENT VS. TEACHER: In his first NCAA tournament as a head coach, Steve Masiello has to go up against his mentor, Rick Pitino, who Masiello calls "a second father." (Click here to read more.)

Pitino ripped the selection committee Wednesday for pitting these two schools, and coaches, against one another. Masiello isn't happy about it either. (Click here to read more.)

Regardless, there's obviously a lot at stake here, so both coaches will do everything in their power to win. The Cardinals are the defending national champions. The Jaspers are in the tournament for the first time in a decade, since 2004.

CARBON COPY: Masiello spent six years as an assistant to Pitino at Louisville, and employs the same style of play. Both teams are high-scoring, and hope to create havoc with full-court pressure defense.

The problem for the Jaspers is, the Cardinals are just better at doing it. Manhattan is 38th in the country in scoring (77.4 ppg), but Louisville is eighth (82.1). Manhattan is 16th in the country in steals (8.3 spg), but Louisville is second (10.1).

One area in which Manhattan's actually better is getting to the foul line -- the Jaspers are fourth in the country in free-throw attempts, and ninth in makes. But they're 283rd (out of 345 Division I schools) in free-throw percentage (66.2). If Manhattan can get to the foul line as often as it usually does, and has an unusually good day shooting free throws, that could be the recipe for an upset.

X-FACTORS: Manhattan has three players who average in double figures -- all seniors -- but leading scorer George Beamon must deliver if the Jaspers are going to have a chance.

Beamon, a 6-foot-4 swingman, averages 19.2 points per game. He is the team's best free-throw shooter (82.7 percent), and can also hit the 3-point shot (37.1 percent). Beamon scored a season-high 34 points in a game against fellow NCAA tournament squad George Washington back in November.

Louisville has four players who average in double figures, but all eyes will be on senior guard Russ Smith -- a Brooklyn native, and likely first-team All-American.

Smith averages a team-high 18.3 points per game. He's been awfully consistent this season, scoring in double digits in 32 of 34 games -- and the two exceptions were blowout victories in which he took a combined six shots. But there's always the chance "Russdiculous" will have an off night.

St. John's season ends with stunning loss

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19

NEW YORK -- St. John’s 2013-14 season was a disappointment.

Its final game was an embarrassment.

After failing to reach the NCAA tournament, the Red Storm were awarded a No. 1 seed in the NIT. Two days later, they were beaten handily by No. 8 seed Robert Morris, at home no less, 89-78.

Losing to Robert Morris is forgivable -- the Colonials were the regular-season champs in the Northeast Conference and upset Kentucky in the first round of last year’s NIT.

It was the manner in which St. John’s played that leaves such a sour taste. (At least only 1,027 fans showed up to see it.)

The Red Storm trailed 19-2 less than five minutes in, 43-18 late in the first half, and 68-42 with eight minutes and change remaining, before making a late run to make the score look somewhat respectable.

[+] EnlargeSt. John's
David Hahn/Icon SMIRobert Morris sliced through the St. John's defense with ease to pull off the upset in the NIT.
“I thought Robert Morris came out and beat us to the punch in every phase of the game,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “Tonight was disappointing because we didn’t bring forth the effort or purposeful play that would have allowed us to be competitive.”

Starting point guard Rysheed Jordan did not play due to tonsillitis, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered. St. John’s biggest problem in this game was defense -- specifically, allowing Robert Morris to shoot 16-for-32 from beyond the arc.

Senior guard Karvel Anderson, the NEC Player of the Year, went off for 38 points, shooting 9-for-15 from 3-point range. Junior forward Lucky Jones added 25, making six of 12 shots from deep.

“We did talk about St. John’s ability to block shots,” said Robert Morris coach Andy Toole. “We felt that if we could get into the teeth of their defense and collapse their defense and be able to kick out, we’d have some opportunities at good shots.”

“We just followed the formula,” Jones said. “Coach just continued to say change sides, screen bodies, they’re a one-side defending team.”

“A lot of people don’t feel like the NIT is worth their time,” Anderson said. “We think differently.”

The Colonials were upset in the NEC championship game by Mount St. Mary’s last week but have now won 22 games despite losing four players to suspension in late January, including their third-leading scorer. Robert Morris dressed only eight players against St. John’s and lost reserve forward David Appolon late in the first half due to injury.

St. John’s overcame some adversity this season as well, bouncing back from an 0-5 start in the Big East and playing through the deaths of people close to three players.

But the Red Storm didn’t show up for what turned out to be their season finale. Leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison scored just nine points, shot 3-for-13, and sat the bench down the stretch. JaKarr Sampson had an inconsequential 11. Chris Obekpa and Sir'Dominic Pointer went scoreless, and Phil Greene had just three points, shooting 1-for-10.

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David Hahn/Icon SMIOnly 1,027 fans (and the St. John's mascot) witnessed the Johnnies' disappointing season finale.
Lavin gave little-used Max Hooper an opportunity, searching for a spark, and he was ready to play, shooting 6-for-12 from 3-point range and scoring a career-high 18. Jamal Branch, starting for Jordan, scored a career-high 22 -- but 20 of them were in the second half, including four 3-pointers in the final minute when the outcome was already decided.

“It’s very disappointing. We had a chance to play all our games in the NIT here,” Branch said. “I feel like we didn’t give it our all out there, until the last seven minutes of the game.”

“I think there was some frustration about not making the NCAA tournament, but at the same time, before the game I felt a good energy, I felt a good vibe,” Hooper said. “And then once they got off to that hot start I saw a dip in our energy, and ultimately the game was lost at that point already.”

Branch and Hooper were the two St. John’s players made available to the media after the game.

Lavin admitted he saw this coming, at least to some degree.

“Coming off the disappointment -- naturally our goal was to play in the NCAA tournament,” Lavin said. “With a quick turnaround from Sunday to Tuesday, we just didn’t have the verve, the purpose, the pluck, the energy that’s necessary to win at this stage of the season.”

When asked to assess the season overall, Branch said, “Very disappointed. Our goal was to make the NCAA tournament, do good in the Big East, and we were short of that.”

St. John's finished 20-13 overall after losing four of its final six games.

“This older group went from 13 wins to 17 wins to 20 wins, so that’s clear progress,” Lavin said. “We’ve made progress, but I think we’re disappointed that we didn’t make the NCAA tournament, and then we didn’t show well tonight in the NIT.”

The actual progress St. John’s made is a topic for debate. But one thing is not.

“We didn’t show well tonight in the NIT” is a gross understatement.

Rapid Reaction: RMU 89, St. John's 78

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
NEW YORK -- Some quick thoughts on St. John's 89-78 loss to Robert Morris Tuesday at Carnesecca Arena:

What it means: A disappointing St. John's season ends in embarrassing fashion.

A No. 1 seed in the NIT, St. John's was beaten handily at home by No. 8 seed Robert Morris in the first round, making it close only at the end (see below). The Colonials came to play, and the Red Storm clearly did not.

Steve Lavin's team finishes 20-13, losing four of its final six games.

The turning point: Robert Morris led 19-2 less than five minutes in, thanks to four early 3-pointers -- three of them by Karvel Anderson, the Northeast Conference Player of the Year. St. John's trailed by as many as 25 in the first half, 43-18, with just under four minutes remaining. The score was 49-27 at halftime.

The Colonials' biggest lead of the game was 26 points, 68-42, on another Anderson trey with 9:05 left. The Red Storm finally made a run, scoring 15 straight points to make it 74-66 with 3:35 to play. They had one chance to cut it to five, on a Max Hooper 3-point attempt at the 2:59 mark, but he missed that one. Robert Morris put it away from there.

Star watch: In desperation, coach Steve Lavin turned to the little-used Hooper and the less-used Marco Bourgault, searching for a spark. Hooper did his best, shooting 6-for-12 -- all from deep -- for a career-high 18 points. Bourgault hit a pair of treys as well.

Leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison had just nine points, shooting 3-for-13, and was on the bench down the stretch. Jamal Branch scored 22 points, and JaKarr Sampson chipped in 11.

Starting point guard Rysheed Jordan did not play due to tonsillitis, but it probably wouldn't have mattered.

Anderson finished with a game-high 38 points, shooting 9-for-15 from beyond the arc.

Number crunch: Robert Morris made 16 3-pointers and shot 50 percent from 3-point range. St. John's shot 37.2 percent from the field (29-for-78).

What's next: Robert Morris will play either No. 4 seed Green Bay or No. 5 seed Belmont in the second round.

St. John's won't play again until November. In the meantime, we'll find out if all the underclassmen come back.

W2W4: St. John's vs. Robert Morris

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
Here's what to watch for when St. John's (20-12, 10-8 Big East) plays Robert Morris (21-13, 14-2 NEC) in its NIT opener Tuesday night (7 ET, ESPNU) at Carnesecca Arena.

MOTIVATION? St. John's finished short of its primary goal this season -- making the NCAA tournament. Instead it's in the NIT for the second year in a row.

The Red Storm were given a No. 1 seed, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll have an easy time of it early in this tournament. Every year, some teams are so disappointed about missing the Big Dance that they show up with no energy.

St. John's came into this season with great expectations. Can the Red Storm gather themselves and play hard going forward? We'll see.

THE BIG MAN: When we last saw St. John's, it was losing to Providence in the Big East tournament quarterfinals on Thursday. Starting center Chris Obekpa played just two minutes in the game.

Obekpa did pick up two quick fouls in the first half, and a third early in the second half. But he never returned to the game after the third foul. Afterward, coach Steve Lavin said the reason was "99 percent" foul trouble, plus he liked the group that mounted the Red Storm's second-half comeback.

Nevertheless, it seemed a little odd Obekpa never returned, considering how big an impact he had made for St. John's in the final few weeks of the regular season. We'll see if Obekpa returns to his regular role on Tuesday.

THE COLONIALS: St. John's and Robert Morris will be meeting for the first time, and the Red Storm better take this opponent seriously. The Colonials were also a No. 8 seed in last year's NIT before stunning No. 1 seed Kentucky 59-57.

As the Northeast Conference regular-season champions, they received an automatic bid to the NIT after being upset in the NEC tournament championship game by Mount St. Mary's 88-71.

Coach Andy Toole has a pair of players who average double figures -- 6-foot-2 senior guard Karvel Anderson (19.1 PPG, 45.3 3-point percentage), the NEC Player of the Year, and 6-foot-6 junior swingman Lucky Jones (13.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG).

Robert Morris is 78th in Division I in 3-point field goals made per game (7.2), and 37th in 3-point percentage (38.3). But the Colonials are just 269th (out of 345 schools) in defensive field goal percentage (45.7).

St. John's settles for No. 1 seed in NIT

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
For St. John's, the bubble officially popped Sunday. The Red Storm will not be in the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row.

Instead, St. John's is a No. 1 seed in the NIT, hosting No. 8 seed Robert Morris on Tuesday at Carnesecca Arena. Although NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Ron Wellman told ESPN's Andy Katz that Georgetown (a No. 4 seed in the NIT), not St. John's, was the Big East team closest to making the field of 68. (Click here to read more.)

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi did not project St. John's even among the top eight teams on the outside of the field.

And St. John's coach Steve Lavin and his players clearly didn't hold out much hope, either. They did not gather as a team to watch the NCAA selection show.

"Naturally the goal this year was to play in the NCAA tournament, and we had aspirations to participate in March Madness," Lavin said on a conference call with reporters Sunday night. "But this group has quickly turned its attention to playing in the NIT, and we recognize that it’s an honor to play in front of our home fans in a postseason tournament that has a special heritage and tradition when it comes to St. John’s University."

St. John's will be playing in the NIT for a record 30th time. As one of the four No. 1 seeds (along with SMU, Florida State and Minnesota), it would play at home in each of the tournament's first three rounds. And the NIT Final Four is, of course, at Madison Square Garden.

If the Red Storm defeat Robert Morris (21-13, 14-2), the regular season champion of the Northeast Conference, they will play either No. 4 seed Green Bay or No. 5 seed Belmont next. Illinois and Clemson are the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in St. John's segment of the bracket.

“It’s disappointing of course to not be in the NCAA tournament, but we have to have short-term memory," said St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison, in a quote released by the school. "We’re glad we got the No. 1 seed so that we can play at home and we’re going to try and win out. It’s all home games for us so that’s a big advantage and we’re looking forward to it.”

"More games is always a plus," Lavin said. "Any time you get more practices and more games, it allows you to continue to build your program and develop a team, both from an individual standpoint as well as the group collectively moving forward."

Iona is the only other local team in the NIT. The Gaels (22-10, 17-3), the regular season champs of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, are a No. 6 seed in Florida State's segment of the bracket. They will open at No. 3 seed Louisiana Tech on Wednesday.

The only way St. John's and Iona could meet would be in the championship game.

Manhattan matchup is nightmare for coach

March, 16, 2014
Mar 16

NEW YORK -- Steve Masiello didn’t raise his arms. He didn’t pump his fists. He didn’t jump out of his chair when he saw his team’s name pop up on the TV screen Sunday night -- what should have been one of the best moments of his life.

No, Steve Masiello closed his eyes.

And when he opened them after a moment, he looked as though he’d just been punched in the gut. Because he had.

Masiello has guided Manhattan back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. But the Jaspers will play the one team Masiello really didn’t want to face -- Louisville, one of the hottest teams in the country, and coached by his mentor, Rick Pitino.

“We got a very difficult seed, [Louisville] really should be a 2-seed in this tournament,” Masiello told the large crowd of family and friends assembled at Thomas Hall on campus to watch the selection show. “We’re gonna have our work cut out for us.”

[+] EnlargeManhattan watch party
Kieran Darcy/ESPNManhattan mania descended upon campus for Selection Sunday as the Jaspers earned a 13-seed.
Louisville's status -- ranked No. 5 in the country but only a No. 4 seed in this tournament -- shocked many college basketball observers nationwide.

Almost equally as stunning was Masiello’s candor Sunday night. After all, this is the same guy who, in his introductory news conference three years ago, boasted that Manhattan would be “the hardest-working team in the country, bar none,” and, “We are gonna take New York back over and be where we belong.” Confidence typically oozes out of him.

But Masiello knows, perhaps better than anyone, how tough Pitino’s Cardinals are.

“How they’re a 4-seed I have no idea,” Masiello said. “They have the best guard in the country in Russ Smith. One of the best if not the best tournament coach. So it’s a really tough game for us to play and a bad matchup.”

Masiello and Pitino go way back -- all the way to 1987, when Pitino was the 35-year-old coach of the New York Knicks and Masiello was a 10-year-old ball boy for the team. Masiello ended up playing for Pitino as a walk-on at Kentucky, and later coaching under him for six years at Louisville, before being hired at Manhattan in 2011.

Masiello called Pitino “a second father” in an interview with in the fall of his first season with the Jaspers. And now he has to try to beat him in order to take the next step on his own professional journey.

Another reporter suggested that the selection committee was having a little fun with this pairing. “Not fun for me,” Masiello said. “I don’t know who they’re having fun with, but it’s not fun for me.”

Masiello has done a tremendous job at Manhattan, turning a program that went 6-25 the season before he arrived into an NCAA tournament squad in three short years. These Jaspers are 25-7, including 16 wins on road or neutral courts -- the second most in the country, behind only undefeated Wichita State (17).

Their biggest strength is their pressure defense -- Manhattan is ranked 16th in Division I in steals per game (8.3), and 60th in defensive field goal percentage (41.0).

The problem? Louisville plays the exact same style, and is even better at it -- second in steals per game (10.3), and 16th in defensive field goal percentage (39.3).

“They’re basically the bigger, better version of us, so it’s very, very tough,” Masiello said. “They’re better than us at every position. I’m going against the guy that taught me everything I know. So they have every advantage there is. And they’re playing the best basketball of anybody in the country. From a matchup standpoint there’s not one good thing about it for Manhattan.”

The Manhattan players still basked in the moment, with hugs and high-fives all around. Senior starters George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Mike Alvarado, who sat with Masiello in the front row Sunday, were around for that 6-25 season, so they know full well how far this program has come.

“I'll be happy playing anybody in this tournament,” said Beamon, Manhattan’s leading scorer (19.2 PPG). “We definitely got a shot against anybody, but we know we’re the underdog. We just gotta go out there and give it our all, play our best.”

Those precious few hours after the selection show Sunday night are the time for players to dream big dreams -- and for the coaches to get to work. Masiello and his staff expected to have a long night ahead of them.

After all, they had to figure out how to beat a better version of themselves.

But by the time Masiello was wrapping up his interviews and getting ready to meet with his assistant coaches, he sounded like a man with an already evolving perspective.

“I’m really excited about the matchup in the sense that, Manhattan’s program is now in the NCAA [tournament] and look at the conversation we're having, we're talking about us matching up with Rick Pitino three years in,” Masiello said. “From that standpoint, I couldn’t be happier and prouder of where this program is and I think it’s gonna be an awesome opportunity.”