Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pink Whistle: Hoop Heaven Spring League

BY RAY FLORIANI

Allendale, NJ - The return to action after the completion of a busy winter of officiating and coverage. The Hoop Heaven Spring League utilizes the Hoop Heaven facility in Waldwick, NJ, as well as several locations around Bergen County. Late April saw four games, three of them girls’ games, all contested at Brookside School in Allendale, NJ.

April 21: Allendale 26, Gryphon 16
I do not know what Gryphon is or stands for. They are a sixth-grade team from Bergen County in Northern New Jersey. Here they are facing Allendale, playing in their home gym at Brookside School.

I have often noted how I am against teams at this level pressing the entire game. It is better to learn the game, especially on defense, at half court. Allendale pressures, but utilizes it like a blitz in football, not for the whole game but as an element of surprise.

The script is repeated several times. Gryphon trails and uses their size to get it to a one-possession affair. Allendale pressures and gets the lead back to double digits. The pressure plus sound dribble penetration on offense are too much for Gryphon to overcome.

Allendale finishes a solid win. In their defense, Gryphon set solid, fundamentally sound screens. Commend the coach on her team setting better screens than some high school teams. She enjoyed the compliment, but went on to list the things her club needed to work on. Every group has that list. Some longer than others.

Ring City 34, Hoop Dreamz 28
The teams are warming up. Coach Billy Armstrong is watching his eighth-grade Hoop Dreamz club from center court. Billy is one of my favorite coaches to work for. He played for Bob McKillop at Davidson in the late nineties, and to this day, speaks regularly with his former coach. To no surprise, he employs the Davidson offense, tailored to the level of eighth-grade girls.

Upon saying hello, I mention to Armstrong his alma mater edged mine in the Atlantic 10 tournament. “What school?,” he asked. “St.Bonaventure,” I replied. Armstrong noted he was at that game.  I mentioned I was as well, on press row covering a heartbreaking yet thrilling contest. “Hey,” he said. “Your (Marcus) Posley kid could play.” My reply: “Your Jack Gibbs did quite the job as well.”

Perception: I spent a few minutes with Armstrong and you do not know if the opposition’s parents and/or coach notice. To devote ‘equal time,’ I introduce myself to the Ring coach and chat briefly about her team before wishing the best of luck. Perception can be huge in officiating.

Early in the game as Hoop Dreamz runs their offense, I think back to that Bonaventure-Davidson game. Quick reminder to myself: Put that Friday night at Barclays behind, as there is a competitive game here demanding 100 percent effort and concentration.
Hoop Dreamz leads by four at the half. In the second half, Ring City abandons the dribble handoff offense to go into an attack-the-basket mode. That seems to ignite Ring City, as they post a hard fought 34-28 victory.

Armstrong exchanges postgame pleasantries with us, the Ring City coach and team. After meeting with his team briefly, he is on the way out. A stickler of fundamentals, Armstrong had to be upset over two deciding factors. One, the inability to close out on Ring City’s No. 13, who buried three second-half three-pointers; the other, several unforced turnovers, very uncharacteristic of Armstrong’s teams. Rest assured those points would be addressed at the next practice.  

April 28: Allendale 19, Saints 15

The Saints hail from Essex County. St. Catherine of Siena, based in Cedar Grove and a school for whom I have enjoyed working better than two decades, is involved in several spring leagues. On this night, they have made the trip to the Hoop Heaven League with a game in Allendale. The sixth-grade competition has the Saints up against Allendale Travel. The Saints coach, a personable lady in her forties, puts the team through a few pregame offensive sets. The Saints use their size to build an early 8-2 lead. Allendale has only five players at the start. Gradually, the latecomers arrive. With girls also playing in soccer and softball leagues in the spring, late arrivals are more the norm. The addition of the additional players allows Allendale to regroup and close out the half with a one-point lead.  

The second half sees Allendale, as they did last week, use the press as an element of surprise. The pressure allows the home team to maintain a lead. The Saints have difficulty on defense stopping Allendale’s penetration. The visitors incur a number of reach-in fouls. The game is aggressive, with players sometimes hitting the deck. Coaches are looking for a call on every sequence. Bottom line: They are competing, we as officials are taking care of business, and basketball is a physical game. Allendale is far from perfect from the line in the stretch. They hit enough to keep the Saints at bay and close out the win.

After the game, both the winning and losing coaches do commend us for our work. Our scorer suggests the tape of this game might not end up in Springfield. At any rate, the teams competed, which is what it’s all about.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Heather Vulin introduced as Manhattan women's basketball coach

Flanked by Manhattan College president Brennan O'Donnell and athletic director Marianne Reilly, Heather Vulin is introduced as Jaspers' new women's basketball coach. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College Athletics)

Manhattan College christened the latest chapter in its women's basketball program Friday morning, officially welcoming Heather Vulin to Riverdale as the eighth head coach in Jasper history.

"I'm so thankful and honored for this amazing opportunity that Manhattan College has given me," said Vulin in her introductory press conference inside Draddy Gymnasium. "From the moment I walked on campus, I felt the energy and the commitment to make Manhattan College the best it can be from everyone I met with."

Vulin replaces John Olenowski, whose contract was not renewed after guiding Manhattan to a 12-win improvement in his seventh season at the helm last year, finishing 15-16 and advancing to the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. The Jaspers' new shepherd is no stranger to success in the Division I coaching ranks, having spent 16 years as an assistant, first at North Dakota State before spending six years on the staff of Ed Swanson at Sacred Heart and seven more with the legendary Harry Perretta at Villanova. Most recently, Vulin was an assistant coach at Virginia Tech, where she helped lead a seven-win improvement in Blacksburg as the Hokies accepted a bid to the Women's National Invitation Tournament. In her tenure as an assistant, Vulin's teams enjoyed winning campaigns in all but two of those 16 seasons.

"I'm not afraid to say our goal here at Manhattan College is to win a MAAC championship," she said moments after describing herself as an "incredibly competitive person."

"More importantly, we'll do things the right way, and we won't cut corners," she continued. "We will not sacrifice character and integrity for short-term success."

Vulin inherits a roster that, although losing five seniors to graduation, remains a competitive unit, as reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Amani Tatum and rim protector Kayla Grimme return for their junior seasons, as do perimeter threats Nyasha Irizarry and Taylor Williams.

"I think right now, this team really wants to win," Vulin told the Jasper Sports Network's Christian Heimall shortly after her official welcome to the Manhattan community. "With what we have returning, I'm really excited, because a lot of times when you get an opportunity, it's because the program's not in good shape. I'm very blessed that we have our top three scorers coming back, and obviously Amani's defensive presence and Kayla's blocks."

"It's surreal," she admitted of the whirlwind experience that now culminates in her first career head coaching opportunity. "It's overwhelming, but it's just extra rewarding because it was worth the wait."

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A magnificent, and lucky, seven years now in the books

Over 141 games, some memories stand out more than others. Stony Brook's long-awaited America East championship win was just one of many this past season. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

It is once again April 17, which may be just a typical day in the lives of most people, but to the braintrust behind this site, it is a symbolic day.

A day of celebration, one where I just have to stand from a distance and marvel at what has taken shape over the years, what came to be in the executive offices of WSJU Radio now seven years ago today.

This site has taken on a cult-like following over the years, and for those of you who are regulars in this space, you already know the significance of April 17. For those who are more casual observers of our content, please allow me to give a little background.

On April 17, 2009, this site was born late on a Friday afternoon, getting its start as a generic sports update blog with no real niche. A hiatus or two later, coupled with a desire to remain in the college basketball landscape in case my broadcasting career fell flat on its face, which it thankfully has not, saw a reborn outlet, one committed to establishing a brand for itself in and around the New York area.

Credentialed work produced while covering St. John's soon led to Brian Beyrer of Iona becoming the first sports information director outside my alma mater to open his doors to this site, and I was able to play a small part in helping tell the story of the Gaels as they received just the second NCAA Tournament at-large bid in MAAC history. Joe DiBari at Fordham followed suit. By the end of the 2012-13 season, nearly every school that was in the area and within close distance of mass transit, as those who know me well know that I work the MTA about as well as John Calipari works the one-and-done market, was within the Daly Dose Of Hoops sphere of influence. Here we stand seven years after a creation that was equal parts intended and spontaneous, and just about every program within a 50-mile radius has at least heard of the site; if not seen myself or my staff in person, and know of its three million-plus page views, and 3,200-plus Twitter following.

It's not about the numbers, though. It's about each and every one of you contributing to those numbers and making me a part of your season in some capacity. Without you, there is no me, and if you know anything about me, I make sure to interact with as many of you as possible, making you just as much a part of my experience. As a broadcaster at heart, one of the first things I was taught was to engage the audience. If I'm preaching to the choir and turning my back on the people that came to see me, where's the fun in that?

This past season broke records, and NCAA Tournament action in three local venues played a large role in getting me to 141 games when all was said and done. Although I saw some teams more often than others, I made sure to treat everyone with the utmost respect and professionalism possible. Over five months, the nights were long, the travel could probably land me an endorsement for Hotwire or Expedia or whatever other name you want to throw out there, and the lack of sleep was disturbing at times, but the experience was one that will not soon be forgotten.

Mike Lonergan, after not being able to bring a ladder across the court to cut the second of two nets, gets a boost from his team to further commemorate NIT championship. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

My exceptional staff deserves some credit for this season too, starting with Jason Schott and Patrick McCormack, who contributed as best they could with their hectic schedules. Of course, Ray Floriani's advanced stats added their own element to what we were able to bring you during the year, and his photographic work told more stories than any amount of words ever could. Josh Adams and Teddy Bailey also showed up with cameo appearances during the season, and I thank both of them for that as well. I was also fortunate to welcome two close friends aboard the ship this season, and I would be lost without both of them.

Norman Rose, who you may know from Rumble in the Garden, moved to Albany shortly before the season and became my point man for Siena coverage. In fact, Norman's MAAC Tournament coverage alongside me made this year's trip to Albany extremely gratifying from both a business standpoint and a desire to share as much of the experience as we could.

In December, I welcomed Jason Guerette, a colleague of mine in the broadcast booth at St. Francis Brooklyn and a longtime fellow Big East scribe, to the staff after New Jersey Newsroom went down. Immediately, Jason's five thoughts after every Seton Hall game gave us more of a presence in the Pirate community, and either or both of us were in the front row at the Prudential Center for every home game this year, which meant a lot considering it was a show of trust in our coverage by the Seton Hall administration.

I am also proud to announce that the Daly Dose staff will grow by at least one more next season, as Brandon Scalea will be joining the family as one of our MAAC contributors, most notably at his alma mater, Rider. Brandon does excellent work covering the Broncs for the Rider News and is a broadcaster in his own right much like I am, and I look forward to sharing his work in the near future, as well as that of anyone else interested in coming on board. I will probably not be able to pay just yet, but what I can offer is a chance to showcase your talents and give you exposure that can hopefully lead to something bigger and better. Send me an e-mail to dalydoseofhoops@gmail.com, and I will be more than happy to discuss it further.

They say you need to be impartial on press row, but admittedly, watching Seton Hall win the Big East championship live at Madison Square Garden just hours after watching Stony Brook finally slay the dragon and earn their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth out on Long Island, ranks among the most fulfilling nights of my career, right up there with calling Manhattan's MAAC championship last year. The icing on the cake came later in March when North Carolina, the team that got me hooked on college basketball when a young boy just months away from turning seven watched the 1993 national championship game for his baptism into the sport, won the East Regional with me there to watch it unfold from the Philadelphia Flyers' press box inside the Wells Fargo Center. I digress for a moment, and I apologize.

I cannot thank everyone with whom I have worked this past year enough, from all the coaches, players, administrators, and staff at each school I visited along the way, to my contemporaries in the media, and most importantly, to each and every one of you who reads what I put out there. As I always say, and I always say this because I mean it as humbly and truthfully as possible, your support means the world and all of you are much bigger parts of my life than you will ever know.

With seven years now in the books, I remain moved by all the adulation shown toward myself and this site. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I offer yet another "thank you," and hope that until we meet again for our eighth season together in November, that God keeps you all firmly within the palm of His hand.

Enjoy the offseason, and I'll still be around to offer as much content as I can before the practices and the games start up again. Until then, and as a New York Rangers fan, I have no guilt in the following clip I'm about to post; considering it was played in the wake of the timeless 1994 Stanley Cup celebration, let me remind you all that you are simply the best.

Thank you for everything, my friends. Much love to all of you!

Jaden Daly
Founder and Managing Editor
A Daly Dose Of Hoops

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Aaron Walker signs with Manhattan

Aaron Walker, whose stock rose at SNY Invitational, will remain in New York for his college career, as Cardozo product signed letter of intent to play for Manhattan. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

In his five years as head coach, Steve Masiello has built his Manhattan program around tough New York guards who embody the philosophy of his teams on and off the floor.

Today, another local talent has pledged to write his own chapter to the legacy in Riverdale as Aaron Walker, who plied his wares at Cardozo High School in Bayside this past season, signed his National Letter of Intent with the Jaspers, becoming the newest member of Manhattan's 2016 recruiting class.

"He's a warrior," said Walker's high school coach, Ron Naclerio. "He hasn't scratched the surface of his potential yet, and the way Steve plays, there's no better recruit at the guard position than Aaron."

The 6-foot-1 Walker averaged 19 points per game in the regular season for Cardozo, supplementing his offense with over six rebounds and four assists per contest as he led the Judges into the PSAL playoffs. He will slide into a Manhattan backcourt that undergoes a transition of sorts next season, as the Jaspers bid adieu to four-year stalwart RaShawn Stores while welcoming Walker and Zavier Turner, who sat out this past season after transferring from Ball State.

"They did the best job recruiting him," Naclerio said of the Manhattan staff. "They showed the most love. Steve really did a great job and made him feel loved, and I think Aaron felt that. The way he was hawking him, he was like a young kid that liked the girl and kept calling the girl."

A late bloomer on the recruiting trail, Walker caught the attention of many with his MVP performance at the SNY Invitational, which raised his profile beyond his early suitors. But while several programs at higher levels threw out their overtures, the budding star showed a loyalty to his new coach in much the same vein that Masiello has defended his players, sticking with the Jaspers throughout the recruiting process, which began when Masiello offered Walker a scholarship last October.

"He's a great kid to coach," said Naclerio of Walker. "The one thing that I hate is seeing kids you grow so tight with move on, but that's part of coaching. The one good thing is I'll be able to watch him play in college whenever I want."

Monday, April 11, 2016

2015-16 MBWA Men's Basketball Award Ballot

Tuesday night marks the annual MBWA Haggerty Awards dinner at the Westchester Marriott, and for the fourth consecutive year, this writer submitted a ballot to recognize the area's best.

Just as we did for the women's basketball awards, we will share our picks on the men's side with you. Among the items of note on Tuesday are whether the Big East, fresh off a national championship win for Villanova, will claim a third straight Haggerty Award after D'Angelo Harrison and Sir'Dominic Pointer brought hardware back to St. John's in each of the past two seasons, as well as how much recognition Monmouth garners after a 28-win season that set school records even though the Hawks did not make the NCAA Tournament.

So, how did I end up voting? Keep reading as I share my ballot below.

Haggerty Award: Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall (photo courtesy of The Bergen Record)
For almost the entire season, this award was going to go to Justin Robinson. Then, February happened. And within that month, Whitehead kicked his sophomore season into another gear as he drove the bus for Seton Hall through a stretch run that saw the Pirates celebrate a Big East championship for the first time since 1993, and culminated with South Orange celebrating its first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade. With averages of over 18 points and five assists per game, Whitehead's maturation was evident in how he was able to gradually master the point guard position, conquering a new challenge with each passing game as Seton Hall fulfilled their longtime potential.
Also considered: Justin Robinson, Monmouth; Jameel Warney, Stony Brook

Rest of All-Met First Team, in alphabetical order:
A.J. English, Iona
Juan'ya Green, Hofstra
Rokas Gustys, Hofstra
Justin Robinson, Monmouth
Jameel Warney, Stony Brook

Before I go any further, allow me to explain Gustys on the first team. Through some colleagues that shared their votes shortly after the ballot submission deadline, something I did myself on Twitter, I saw that several placed Columbia's Maodo Lo on the first team, a deserving honor if the Lions' soon-to-be graduating senior indeed garners it. However, Gustys, who averaged 13.5 points and 13.0 rebounds per game; AND shot 66 percent (!) from the floor in the ninth-strongest conference in the nation according to RPI, deserves the highest possible recognition despite being a sophomore. If Jameel Warney is a lock for first team honors, and I believe he is, why penalize Gustys; who posted better rebounding numbers in a much stronger league than Warney, for being two years younger? He has the better numbers in my opinion, hence his standing on my first team.

All-Met Second Team, in alphabetical order:
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield
Maodo Lo, Columbia
Shane Richards, Manhattan
Ameen Tanksley, Hofstra

All-Met Third Team, in alphabetical order:
Michael Carey, Wagner
Khallid Hart, Marist
Carson "Tre" Puriefoy, Stony Brook
Ryan Rhoomes, Fordham
Isaiah Williams, Iona

Rookie of the Year: Micah Seaborn, Monmouth (photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year and a third team All-MAAC honoree, Seaborn made quite the impact in his freshman season in West Long Branch, serving as Monmouth's second-leading scorer during the Hawks' banner year. The Texan showcased his ability to thrive in situations that required him taking the big shot, and did not shy away from pressure even as Monmouth played for their postseason lives down the stretch of a 28-win campaign that ended with a regular season title and a trip to the National Invitation Tournament.
Also considered: Joseph Chartouny, Fordham; Antwon Portley, Saint Peter's

Coach of the Year: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall (photo courtesy of the Asbury Park Press)
Willard entered the season on perhaps the hottest of hot seats in the New York area after how 2014-15 ended for Seton Hall, who went down in the flames of locker room turmoil caused by a perceived rift between Isaiah Whitehead and since-departed Sterling Gibbs over who was the true team leader. The former Rick Pitino assistant silenced his critics en masse, feeding off the precocious developments of his sophomore class and guiding the Pirates to a Big East championship and NCAA Tournament appearance when some wondered whether he had the ability to keep his players shielded from distractive influences. Assuming Whitehead, who is testing the waters with regard to entering the NBA Draft, returns, Seton Hall could easily be a Top 15 program next season, and Willard's calm, confident demeanor will be a major reason why.
Also considered: King Rice, Monmouth; Bashir Mason, Wagner

Sunday, April 10, 2016

2015-16 MBWA Women's Basketball Award Ballot

With the annual MBWA All-Met Haggerty Awards dinner taking place Tuesday night at the Westchester Marriott, I figured I would take the time to unveil my picks on both the men's and women's sides. The women's awards are actually decided somewhat differently, on a committee headed by Associated Press writer Doug Feinberg, who covers the women's game better than anyone I know around these parts. However, if there were a formal vote for women's basketball honors, my ballot would look something like this: (drumroll, please)

Player of the Year: Kelsey Minato, Army West Point (photo courtesy of ESPN)
Admittedly, this was probably the toughest call I had to make, choosing between Minato; the do-it-all center of gravity for Dave Magarity's Army team, and Tabatha Richardson-Smith of Seton Hall. In the end, I just couldn't overlook how important Minato was to the Black Knights as they won the Patriot League and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. I had the privilege of calling two of her games in her sophomore and junior seasons, and was still amazed by her incremental improvement every year, culminating with averages of 23 points and nearly five rebounds and four assists per game, all while shooting 48 percent from three-point range. It's a shame she wasn't recognized more often over her four years.

Rest of All-Met First Team, in alphabetical order:
Joy Adams, Iona
Danaejah Grant, St. John's
Aliyyah Handford, St. John's
Tori Jarosz, Marist
Tabatha Richardson-Smith, Seton Hall

All-Met Second Team, in alphabetical order:
Hannah Kimmel, Sacred Heart
Erika Livermore, Fairleigh Dickinson
Marina Lizarazu, Iona
Jasmine Nwajei, Wagner
Shakena Richardson, Seton Hall

All-Met Third Team, in alphabetical order:
Sydney Coffey, Marist
Kahleah Copper, Rutgers
Kelsey Cruz, Fairleigh Dickinson
Aleesha Powell, Seton Hall
Amani Tatum, Manhattan

Rookie of the Year: Ogechi Anyagaligbo, Stony Brook (photo courtesy of Stony Brook University Athletics)
Anyagaligbo blossomed into the next big star for Caroline McCombs and the Seawolves this season, showing flashes of brilliance that will no doubt come over her next three years. The native of Miami put together a remarkable freshman campaign, averaging ten points and nine rebounds per game, backing it up with an impressive 56 percent field goal percentage. Also considered were St. Francis Brooklyn's Maria Palarino and Alexis Lewis of Iona, but Anyagaligbo gets the nod among the area's top freshmen.

Coach of the Year: Tony Bozzella, Seton Hall (photo courtesy of The Setonian)
Picked fifth at the start of the season in the Big East's coaches' poll, Bozzella looked for one word before tipping off his third year at the helm in South Orange: Consistency. What followed was a non-conference effort that had many of the Pirate faithful thinking that Seton Hall could possibly top last year's 28-6 mark, a record that ushered in more than just promise for a long-neglected program, signaling a new status quo in the process. Although ending the year at 23-9, Bozzella exceeded expectations for a third consecutive campaign, solidifying his program as the unquestioned best in New Jersey in the process. With a record of 71-29 since returning to his alma mater in 2013, the affable and charismatic leader has served notice that his teams, although they may have to reload, are not leaving the top of the stratosphere anytime soon.
Also considered: Jessica Mannetti, Sacred Heart; Billi Godsey, Iona

Sam Cassell Jr. transfers to Iona, immediately eligible

Sam Cassell Jr. brings NBA lineage to Iona, where he is immediately eligible after transferring from UConn. (Photo courtesy of the Hartford Courant)

Less than two weeks after making their first splash in this offseason's transfer market, Iona was active again on Sunday.

The Gaels have landed a commitment from Sam Cassell Jr., who will use his final year of eligibility in New Rochelle after spending the past two seasons at the University of Connecticut. CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein was the first to break the news, and stated that Cassell would also be immediately eligible for head coach Tim Cluess as Iona enters the 2016-17 season on the heels of capturing the program's ninth Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship last month.

Cassell played in only 18 games for the Huskies this past season, averaging just 2.2 points per game and competing for just 118 minutes on the year as UConn advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He played in 18 games during the 2014-15 season as well, averaging 3.9 points per game over an average of just over 15 minutes per contest. Initially a commitment to the University of Maryland after a postgraduate year at Notre Dame Prep, the son of former NBA champion Sam Cassell was declared ineligible, deemed a non-qualifier after an NCAA investigation into Notre Dame's core classes. Cassell Jr. then spent his freshman season at Chipola College in Florida.

The 6-foot-4 Baltimore native is the second transfer Iona has landed this offseason, joining Jon Severe, who is also immediately eligible after announcing his intent to depart Fordham on March 30.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Making sense of Madness (or at least trying to)

In a season filled with improbability, perhaps Kris Jenkins' national championship-winner at the buzzer was a fitting way to wrap up 2015-16. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

"Whenever I'm weary, from the battles that rage in my head..."

"You make sense of madness, when my sanity hangs by a thread."

Let me proclaim this once and for all before I go any further: This will be the ONLY time you see anyone, in any universe, equate the game of college basketball to Richard Marx, whose 1994 song "Now And Forever" opens with the two lines listed above.

But let's be honest: Marx's prose is a pretty apropos way of describing what college basketball is to people like us, especially the media member that writes this, one who is at a game six out of seven days a week on average.

I'll try not to get too autobiographical, given I'll be doing a lot more of that in my annual offering of thanks to all who read the content on this site, which comes on April 17th of every year and will again twelve days from now as I wrap up my seventh year of operating this little engine that could.

Normally, and in recent years, I have used this space for a March Madness postmortem column in which I ranted about certain things, namely how the coverage of the NCAA Tournament has changed drastically since CBS aligned with Turner. For those of who expecting that on this night that has now become early morning, I apologize for disappointing you. That won't be coming in this column, because after watching a national championship game which will go down in the annals as either the greatest or second-greatest of your lifetime, largely depending on whether or not you were born before 1983, you cannot begin without first speaking merely one word.

WOW.

Come to think of it, one "wow" doesn't do it enough justice. How about one more?

WOW.

Thanks to Kris Jenkins, not to be confused with the Pro Bowl defensive tackle in the National Football League, we have the all-time ending we have sought to a season since Dereck Whittenburg to Lorenzo Charles thirty-three years ago in Albuquerque. The ending that practically all of America, save for the small but vocal group of Duke fans hoped Gordon Hayward would provide in Indianapolis for Butler.

Villanova 77, North Carolina 74.

And for those of you who know me well, who spend enough time following my inane and sometimes nonsensical, sometimes manic ramblings on Twitter, you know that I have been a North Carolina fan since the Tar Heels baptized me into the sport. The first game I watched from start to finish was the 1993 national championship, when Dean Smith defeated the Fab Five. I was hooked, and my heart is colored Carolina blue more often than not. Way too many times for my own good, I breach media impartiality when UNC enters the room, and you've all seen it. I'm no angel, and I'll never say that I am.

Enough about me, though. Let's talk about what took place in Houston, and how we'll all be able to tell our kids, and their kids, and their kids' kids about the forty-minute epic played out to a crowd of 74,000-plus live and in living color, and the billions watching across the world.

Let's talk about Jay Wright, one of the true class acts of the industry, a man who has such reverence from everyone he comes across that no bad words have ever been spoken about him. Let us speak of Ryan Arcidiacono, selfless to the absolute end, defining a four-year career marked by a humility and veteran poise that continues to defy his young age; of how the senior point guard, who everyone in Chapel Hill will swear from now until eternity was taking the shot in the final seconds, decided to share the joy, let Jenkins have the moment. Of Josh Hart, a model of efficiency through an unforgettable NCAA Tournament run, of Phil Booth, one of Villanova's cadre of reserve guards that just so happened to step up with perhaps his two biggest games in a Wildcat uniform on no bigger stage.

Then there's Roy Williams, who was denied what would have been sweet redemption after enduring perhaps his most agonizing campaign as a head coach, having to respond to question after question regarding North Carolina's alleged academic fraud that the NCAA investigated.

Marcus Paige, whose miraculous game-tying three-pointer with 4.7 seconds remaining in regulation erased a ten-point deficit only to have his and his team's hearts ripped out at point-blank range on Jenkins' dagger, handled the moment as he has handled everything else: With class, grace, and aplomb far beyond the reach of any other 21-year-old.

Marcus Paige, for four and seven-tenths seconds, had the shot for the ages, only to be done in by Kris Jenkins' heroics on the ensuing, and final, possession. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

"There's 75 possessions in the game," he said, visibly shaken but cool as a cucumber nonetheless, not collapsing amid the heartbreak, but facing the moment head-on. "They just happened to get the last one and make the shot."

That, unfortunately, is how this game is sometimes. For as much sheer joy a dramatic ending like this can evoke, fate can just as quickly, and simultaneously, be a fickle temptress. As the late Glenn Frey so eloquently put it:

"Somebody's gonna hurt someone, before the night is through..."

"Somebody's gonna come undone...there's nothing we can do."

There may be a heartache in Chapel Hill tonight, but college basketball and its fans, regardless of to whom their allegiances lie, should be celebrating. After all, in a season where the biggest storyline from the opening tips in November all the way through the cutting of the net and playing of "One Shining Moment" late Monday evening was parity and how there was no one dominant team in the nation, isn't it somewhat appropriate that Villanova; one of those "very good, but maybe not everyone's championship pick" teams, was the one to capture the ultimate payoff?

And so it goes into next season, one of new promise and hope for all 351 teams in Division I, whether or not you're Villanova, or early 2016-17 favorite Duke, or even a local team like NJIT trying to author another gripping chapter in its Cinderella story.

On that, we bid adieu to college basketball for the next seven months. Congratulations to Villanova, Jay Wright, his players, his staff, and everyone in a truly respectable program, for winning a championship they rightfully deserve. While we're at it, we'll extend congratulations to sports information director Mike Sheridan, a true pro's pro who has managed to help people like me and my colleagues do our jobs a lot easier. Covering Villanova a grand total of four times this season, I feel privileged to have seen a run like this, and many others can concur.

Monday night and Tuesday morning ran the gamut of emotions through everyone watching, fan and nonfan alike, and that is what should be celebrated. Forget about the Big East versus the ACC for a second. Forget about good versus evil, or any other conflict that we in the media paint through our words and images. Let's just celebrate the sheer beauty of what unfolded, and appreciate that a spectacle so grand was able to yield one of those "forever" visuals that you only see in Hallmark cards, romance novels, and Hollywood dramas.

That, and that alone, is what we all live for, and it came on a three-point shot. Let's all savor every last drop until these games get played all over again.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Jim Engles returns to Columbia, replaces Kyle Smith as head coach

Jim Engles, who did yeoman's work building NJIT program, moves across Hudson River to take over for Kyle Smith at Columbia. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

Columbia University did not look very far to hire a new head coach, only reaching across the Hudson River to one of their former assistants, who spent the past eight seasons as the coach who may have done the best job in the New York metropolitan area.

Jim Engles, best known for his tenure at NJIT, where he guided the Highlanders from a 51-game losing streak to consecutive 20-win seasons and CollegeInsider.com Tournament semifinal appearances, was announced Sunday evening as the Lions' 23rd all-time head coach. He replaces Kyle Smith, who accepted the vacant head coaching position at the University of San Francisco on Wednesday, just hours after Columbia won the CIT for the program's first-ever postseason championship.

Engles, 47, is no stranger to Morningside Heights, having spent five seasons as an assistant to current Boston University head coach Joe Jones before taking over at NJIT, where he won 100 games over the past six years after arriving in just the school's third campaign at the Division I level.

"I am humbled and beyond excited to become the next head basketball coach at Columbia," he said in a release issued by the university. "My first experience here was tremendous. I look forward to reconnecting with some of my former colleagues that are still here, and I cannot wait to get to work with this special group of student-athletes."

Ironically, Engles has the advantage of having coached against Columbia twice this season, falling to the Lions both in December and in last Sunday's CIT semifinals, both at Levien Gymnasium. He inherits a roster in somewhat of a transition, as both all-Ivy League guard Maodo Lo and forward Alex Rosenberg graduate, with senior guard Grant Mullins expected to use his final year of eligibility elsewhere in the 2016-17 season. A press conference to introduce Engles has not been officially announced, but SNY's Adam Zagoria reports such a ceremony will take place on Thursday.

A Staten Island native, Engles has a wealth of experience around the New York area, having also served as an assistant coach at Wagner and Rider, helping the Seahawks rise to power in the Northeast Conference and was on staff as the Broncs began their tenure in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. At NJIT, his list of accolades grew to include Great West Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2012-13, and Peter A. Carlesimo Co-Coach of the Year; along with St. Francis Brooklyn's Glenn Braica, from the Metropolitan Basketball Writers' Association, in the 2014-15 season.

Box Score Breakdown: Villanova 95, Oklahoma 51

Josh Hart's 23 points led all scorers in Villanova's thrashing of Oklahoma in Final Four. (Photo courtesy of the Dallas Morning News)

BY RAY FLORIANI

You might have to go back to Carter vs. Reagan to find a bigger landslide.

Villanova dominated Oklahoma, 95-51, in their Final Four matchup in Houston. Yes, Sooners fans reiterated, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ indeed.

The numbers:

Possessions: Oklahoma 63, Villanova 62 - Kind of conservative, considering Oklahoma needed more possessions given a 14-point halftime deficit.

Offensive efficiency: Villanova 153, Oklahoma 81

Jay Wright’s Wildcats scorched the nets with an 83 percent eFG mark, that figure coming courtesy of shooting 24-of-31 (.774) inside the arc and 11-of-18 (.611) when dialing long distance.

Who to guard? ‘Nova put six players in double digits, varying the attack and eliminating any thought of a double team or keying on one individual.
Don’t forget the defense. We are blinded by the numbers and shooting reminiscent of that evening 31 years ago in Rupp Arena. A big story, though, was the Villanova defense. They held Oklahoma to 37 percent eFG shooting while forcing a 27 percent turnover rate. Further proof was in allowing just 18 percent (11 attempts) in the free throw rate. A basic tenet of solid defense is not fouling. Oklahoma grabbed only 10 defensive boards, not a surprise. When the opposition rarely misses from the field, there are less rebounds available.

Individually, Josh Hart of Villanova led all scorers with 23 points. Hart’s effectiveness factor was 37. A turnover-less 30 minute outing gave Hart an outstanding EF per minute of 1.23.
Buddy Hield of Oklahoma scored nine points, with an EF of 16. Over his 37 minutes, that figured to .432 per minute. On the Linton (creator of EF) scale, that is labeled ‘average.’ Even that may have been generous given the job the Villanova defense did on the Sooner standout.

Other Villanova double digit scorers:
Kris Jenkins  18 points, EF 26.
Ryan Arcidiacono 15 points, EF 18.
Mikal Bridges 11 points, EF 13.
Daniel Ochefu 10 points, EF 18 (six rebounds, zero turnovers)
Phil Booth 10 points, EF 16 (one turnover, five steals).

Oklahoma’s leading, and only double-figure scorer was junior guard Jordan Woodard, who posted 12 points and an EF of 17.