Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The New King Of Queens

Steve Lavin is officially introduced as new head coach at St. John's University in press conference this afternoon. From left to right: Former St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca, university president Rev. Donald Harrington, Lavin's wife Mary, Coach Lavin, and athletic director Chris Monasch. (Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection)

A new era has begun at St. John's University, and the man presiding over leading the Johnnies back to glory is openly embracing the opportunity and challenge.

In a press conference this afternoon, Steve Lavin was officially introduced as the 19th head coach of the Red Storm and successor to Norm Roberts, who roamed the sidelines in Queens for the last six years. As soon as he started his opening statement, Lavin connected with the scores of media members on hand; instantly giving the vibe that he wants to be at St. John's and is passionate about the program, something that the Johnnies' vast fan base is eager to witness.

"I think it's important that you're authentic and you're real," gushed the new head man when asked how his passion and desire to come to St. John's will resonate with the Red Storm fans, players, alumni and media. Lavin also hoped that his prospective assistant coaches had "that same level of passion" he possesses about the program. The former UCLA coach had nothing but great things to say about St. John's and its tradition; even comparing legendary coach Lou Carnesecca, who was on hand at today's gathering, to the character of Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid," and waxed poetic about being able to share life experiences with the affable coach known to St. John's aficionados simply as "Looie."

In seven years at the helm of UCLA, the 45-year-old Lavin led the Bruins to a 145-78 record and six NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the Sweet 16 five times in that span before being dismissed at the end of the 2002-03 season in which he posted a 10-19 record. He then joined ESPN as a studio analyst and color commentator for the network's college basketball coverage, a job he held until signing a six-year contract worth approximately $9 million to be the man charged with resurrecting the seventh-winningest college basketball program in history.

"I think because I've been observing and watching the game, I've been very close to it," said Lavin of his seven-year hiatus; which he referred to as more of a "sabbatical" than absence, going so far as to call it an advantage because he was able to study some of the nation's best programs and styles of play from a courtside seat. "It's enhanced the basketball acumen that I can bring forward to me now in this job at St. John's."

For everyone involved with St. John's basketball, today has brought something that has not been seen around Queens for quite some time; and that is the hope and optimism for success sooner than later, under the direction of a coach that wanted the job and wants to expand the already-rich tradition of a national powerhouse. "I really do feel instinctively that this is a natural fit," said Lavin of his marriage to St. John's. "And with this reception, you can't help but feel that you do belong."

So far, it appears to be a match made in heaven.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pirates To Welcome New Captain To Ship

Seton Hall reaches into the MAAC to hire a coach for the third consecutive time, going with Iona's Kevin Willard to succeed Bobby Gonzalez. (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)

Seton Hall has found their next head coach, and he comes to the Pirates from the same conference in which they imported both of their last two coaches.

Kevin Willard, who spent the last three seasons at Iona College, was hired over the weekend to replace Bobby Gonzalez at Seton Hall, edging out Siena's Fran McCaffery, the Pirates' supposed top choice that instead opted to take the job at Iowa. Willard will be introduced at a press conference on the campus of Seton Hall at Walsh Gym tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m., just before St. John's will hold an introductory press conference of their own to welcome Steve Lavin as their new head coach.

Willard, who will turn 35 next week, started out as an assistant under Rick Pitino both with the Boston Celtics and the University of Louisville; and follows Louis Orr (Siena) and Bobby Gonzalez (Manhattan) as the third straight Seton Hall coach to make the jump from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. His father, Ralph Willard, is currently the associate head coach at Louisville behind Pitino, and has previous Big East experience as a head coach at Pittsburgh. In an interview with Brandon Tierney of 1050 ESPN Radio in New York, the new coach stated that his first goal would be to get to know his new team, which will be led by shooting guard Jeremy Hazell, who will enter his senior season next year. Forwards Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson have declared for the NBA draft; but neither have signed with an agent, thus leaving the door open for each player to return to New Jersey.

Lavin To Johnnies Now Official

Shown here alongside Brent Musburger, Steve Lavin will now be hanging up the headset to return to the sidelines after reaching a deal to replace Norm Roberts at St. John's. (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times)

For fans, alumni and media affiliated with St. John's University, (I can proudly call myself a member of each group) today marks the dawning of a new era; not to mention the return of one of the most successful programs in college basketball history to national prominence, as Steve Lavin was officially named as the new head coach of the Red Storm, finalizing a six-year deal worth an estimated $9 to $9.5 million, as reported by Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News.

Lavin replaces Norm Roberts, who was dismissed on March 19th after six seasons at the helm of the Johnnies, going 81-101 over that period, one that saw St. John's regain the integrity it lost during the infamous scandal in Pittsburgh that cost Mike Jarvis his job in the 2003-04 season. The move comes after St. John's was unsuccessful in attempts to lure Billy Donovan from Florida and Paul Hewitt from Georgia Tech. Lavin has already met with St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch and former coach Lou Carnesecca, and was reportedly on campus this morning to get a firsthand look at the Red Storm practice facilities.

Lavin will be introduced at a press conference tomorrow, with the time to be determined.

Johnnies Hoping Steve Means Savior

St. John's appears to be close to a deal with former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, and could name him as Norm Roberts' successor as early as this afternoon. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

After almost two weeks of debate and indecision coupled with being left at the altar on two separate occasions, it appears as though St. John's has finally found their successor to Norm Roberts.

In a story that had more twists and turns than a roller coaster at nearby Six Flags Great Adventure, the New York Post's Lenn Robbins reported via Twitter shortly after midnight that the Johnnies will be reaching an agreement sometime today with Steve Lavin, best known for his former role as the head coach at UCLA, as well as his current line of work as a studio analyst and color commentator on ESPN's coverage of college basketball.

The anticipated hire of Lavin comes just days after Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt and Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg both declined offers to take over the Red Storm. Lavin and athletic director Chris Monasch met in lower Manhattan last night, and the former Bruins coach will be eating lunch with former Johnnies coach and icon Lou Carnesecca later today. In addition, Lavin was reportedly on campus at St. John's earlier, perhaps looking at Taffner Field House, which serves as St. John's practice venue.

The 45-year-old Lavin, who succeeded Jim Harrick at UCLA in 1996 just one year after winning a national championship, guided the Bruins to a 145-78 record in his seven-year tenure, reaching the Sweet 16 in five of those seven seasons. He has not coached since then, but reports seem to indicate that he is in favor of hiring a staff with ties to the New York area. Rumored candidates to be named assistant coaches include Dave Leitao, the former DePaul and Virginia head man who served as Jim Calhoun's assistant at Connecticut during the Huskies' first national championship run in 1999, as well as Barry Rohrssen, the current Manhattan head coach who was an assistant to Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh before replacing Bobby Gonzalez at the helm of the Jaspers in 2006.

Lavin commented on the situation he may inherit in Queens, stating that it would take "a unique situation for me to put the armor on one more time," calling the job to coach the Johnnies a "tremendous opportunity." Any contract would have to be approved by St. John's president Rev. Donald Harrington, and Lavin has expressed an interest to fly his family from California for his introductory press conference, which could occur as early as tomorrow if a deal is made official at some point today. All indications are that Lavin is openly embracing the St. John's program, as he also spoke at length about the tradition at St. John's, one that started with Joe Lapchick and continued under the reign of the aforementioned Lou Carnesecca.

"It's humbling to be considered a part of that tradition," said Lavin of St. John's, whom he also praised as "one of those storied programs."

Further updates on this developing situation will be posted once they are available.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hewitt Turns Down Johnnies; Where To Now?

After Paul Hewitt surprisingly declined an offer to coach St. John's, the Red Storm could be pursuing Siena's Fran McCaffery to replace Norm Roberts. McCaffery is also under consideration at Seton Hall. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

If you're following the situation involving St. John's University, you may find yourself wondering why the Johnnies are finding it difficult to replace Norm Roberts, who was dismissed last week after a six-year tenure in Queens. Nonetheless, university president Rev. Donald Harrington and athletic director Chris Monasch are once again headed back to the drawing board to find a prospective candidate after Paul Hewitt, who was also pursued by St. John's in 2004 before Roberts was hired, turned the Red Storm down again to remain at Georgia Tech.

The leading candidate now appears to be Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, but the Long Island product has already told players and recruits that he intends to stay with the Hokies next season. Should Greenberg do that, other names that have been thrown around include Siena's Fran McCaffery, also in the mix at Seton Hall; as well as Cornell coach Steve Donahue, who could emerge as the favorite if the Big Red are able to upset Kentucky in their East regional semifinal matchup tonight in the NCAA Tournament.

Hewitt, who led Georgia Tech to the national championship game in 2004, attributed his declining of the St. John's offer to what he called a "family decision."

Fordham Hoping Tom Is Still Terrific

A target of both St. John's and Seton Hall, Tom Pecora has moved to another New York-area school, as the former Hofstra coach was introduced as the new head man at Fordham earlier today. (Photo courtesy of Hofstra University)

He has been regarded as a great recruiter and an even better man in general, a former Jay Wright assistant who inherited a solid program and maintained Hofstra's status as one of the more successful programs in the New York metropolitan area. After nine years, the job he performed so well on Long Island is going to be replicated, this time in the Bronx.

Tom Pecora was introduced this afternoon as the new head coach at Fordham University, replacing 29-year-old Jared Grasso, who served as the Rams' interim coach after Dereck Whittenburg was fired five games into this past season. Pecora edged out Robert Morris coach and Fordham graduate Mike Rice for the position, and comes to the Rams by way of Hofstra, where he spent nine years as coach of the Pride after Jay Wright, under whom Pecora served as an assistant, left for Villanova in 2001.

While many feel that the task of rebuilding a Fordham team that went 2-26 to conclude the 2009-10 campaign is a challenge, Pecora is optimistic about the road that lies ahead of him. "I believe this is a sleeping giant," said Pecora of Fordham's program. "It's kind of similar to the way Hofstra was when Jay and I took over. I've been down this road before."

Pecora will inherit a roster that includes Chris Gaston, who enters his sophomore season with the Rams after being named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year after averaging 18 points and just over 11 rebounds per game in his freshman year.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is Paul The Answer For Johnnies?

While Seton Hall is being patient in its search for a new head coach, St. John's has already moved fast, receiving permission to speak with Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt. (Photo courtesy of Atlantic Coast Conference)

With Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan staying at Louisville and Florida, respectively, the heat is on St. John's once again to find yet another name to add to its list of candidates to replace former head man Norm Roberts, and the Johnnies appear to be locked in on Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt.

Hewitt, like Pitino and Donovan, is a local product for the Red Storm, having grown up on Long Island in the town of Westbury, and still has ties to several AAU coaches in the New York area. Hewitt led the Yellow Jackets to the national championship game in 2004, where Georgia Tech was defeated by a Connecticut team led by Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, and the coach met with St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch last night in Atlanta.

No offer was extended to Hewitt during his meeting with Monasch, and a source close to the situation told SNY's Adam Zagoria that it was uncertain as to whether or not Monasch and Hewitt would meet again. Hewitt would be obligated to pay Georgia Tech a $3.4 million buyout should he take the job at St. John's, and a fallback candidate for the Johnnies should Hewitt stay at Georgia Tech would be Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, who has reportedly told his returning starters and prospective recruits that he will remain in Blacksburg as the leader of the Hokies.

Meanwhile, Seton Hall continues to be deliberate in its search for a successor to Bobby Gonzalez. The Bergen Record has already listed Siena's Fran McCaffery as the top candidate for the Pirates' head coaching vacancy, although other names such as Robert Morris coach Mike Rice, Richmond's Chris Mooney and Cornell's Steve Donahue have been linked to the job. The Newark Star-Ledger has also reported that Seton Hall athletic director Joe Quinlan will interview Vermont head coach Mike Lonergan today, just days after Lonergan led the Catamounts into the NCAA Tournament, where they were defeated by Syracuse.

Big East Postseason Recap

While many experts predicted Da'Sean Butler and West Virginia would advance into Sweet 16, hardly anyone thought only one other Big East school (Syracuse) would be joining them there. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

The beast is still alive, but clinging to life support when you take into consideration that only two of its thirteen programs invited to postseason tournaments are still playing.

Not surprisingly, the two schools still alive are the Big East regular season champion, (Syracuse) and postseason champion, (West Virginia) which won the Big East tournament two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden. The Mountaineers and Orange are both in action tomorrow as the NCAA Tournament resumes, with West Virginia taking on Washington in an East regional semifinal, while Syracuse faces Butler in the West. The Mountaineers will be without the services of starting point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant, who is out for the remainder of the season with a broken foot. He will be replaced in Bob Huggins' starting lineup by backup Joe Mazzulla. For Syracuse, it is still unknown as to whether or not Arinze Onuaku will make his return to the Orange lineup after injuring his quadriceps muscle in the Orange's Big East tournament game against Georgetown on March 11th.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Where Do Johnnies Go From Here?

St. John's now has a myriad of options since firing Norm Roberts, including Florida's Billy Donovan, whose Long Island pedigree and two national championships make him appealing to fans and alums alike. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

In a press conference yesterday, St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch said that the team would be prepared to spend whatever it takes to lure a marquee name to the head coaching position in Queens. With Rick Pitino intimating that he will most likely remain at Louisville after being rumored to return to his New York roots, fans of the Johnnies are now clamoring for one of his former players, who also served as his assistant coach for a time.

Like his mentor Pitino, for whom he played at Providence and with the New York Knicks before spending time on his staff at Kentucky, Billy Donovan is a local kid, hailing from Rockville Centre, located in the middle of Nassau County on Long Island. Donovan would bring a wealth of success to the position should St. John's back up their word and spend the sum of close to $4 million it would take to lure him from his current perch at the University of Florida, having led the Gators to consecutive national championships in 2006 and 2007, not to mention a proven track record of being able to recruit New York-area high school players, something former head man Norm Roberts was frequently criticized about during his six-year tenure. Like Roberts, Donovan is also just 44 years old, which gives the Red Storm another young leader, albeit with a higher standing in the national landscape than where the program stood with Roberts.

In an interview with WFAN's Mike Francesa yesterday, Roberts remained the class act that I and many others had come to respect, praising the program and his head coaching job as being "better than when I got here in all aspects." Roberts also commented on the perceived difficulty of his position in the interview. "I don't think anyone knows how the job is until they're officially in it," said the outgoing coach, who will have no problem finding work given his integrity and demeanor.

Other candidates to succeed Roberts include Paul Hewitt of Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, both of whom are Long Island products like Donovan. Siena's Fran McCaffery and Hofstra's Tom Pecora are also logical choices, but if Monasch and university president Rev. Donald Harrington are looking for the big name that will draw recruits, fans and revenue to the program; while simultaneously restoring its status as one of the nation's elite, then there is only one man they can turn to should Pitino opt to stay in Louisville.

Billy Donovan can be that guy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Knights Continue Climb Up Hill; Gonzo/Hall Update

On a day where Bobby Gonzalez was surprisingly fired at Seton Hall, Fred Hill will be returning to Rutgers next year after wide speculation that he would also be dismissed. (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)

So much for the chances of all three New York-area Big East programs starting next season with new coaches.

After Bobby Gonzalez's shocking dismissal from Seton Hall, and Norm Roberts' future at St. John's still in limbo, Rutgers will be ushering in some continuity next season, as head coach Fred Hill will return to the Scarlet Knights for a fifth campaign on the sidelines in Piscataway. Hill met with Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti earlier this afternoon, and both share a commitment to continuing to build a program that has shown signs of improvement under guard Mike Rosario, who will enter his junior season next year, as well as 2009-10 standouts Jonathan Mitchell and Dane Miller.

While Rutgers will no longer have to look for a new coach, the same cannot be said for their Garden State counterparts, as Seton Hall fired Gonzalez after four seasons that saw just one postseason appearance for the Pirates, an NIT loss to Texas Tech last night by the score of 87-69 in a game that was essentially over before it even started. In a conference call earlier today, Gonzalez's official reason for termination was due to behavior not reflective of the university, a sentiment echoed by Seton Hall president Msgr. Robert Sheeran. Gonzalez's replacement has already been rumored to be selected from a list that includes Siena's Fran McCaffery, Iona's Kevin Willard and Hofstra's Tom Pecora. All three are also on the short list of successors to Norm Roberts should the St. John's head man not be retained. Another possibility, though highly unlikely, is that Bobby Knight, the NCAA's all-time wins leader among coaches, will return to the court after working as a color commentator with ESPN.

Gonzalez's tenure at Seton Hall was brought down by other factors than last night's loss, such as guard Keon Lawrence causing an accident driving the wrong way on the Garden State Parkway with a suspended license this past November, not to mention the off-court transgressions of junior forward Robert "Stix" Mitchell, unceremoniously thrown off the team by Gonzalez shortly before the Pirates learned of their invite to the NIT.

Mitchell was arrested last night in Newark for kidnapping, robbery, burglary and possession of a weapon after breaking into a South Orange, New Jersey home and stealing cash and other personal items from eight people, binding them with duct tape in the process. This incident comes just days after Mitchell voiced his discontent to the Bergen Record, where he bashed Gonzalez as "inconsistent," blaming him for a lack of consistency in his game as well.

Gonzalez was 66-59 in four seasons at the Hall, and had just signed a contract extension that would keep him on the sidelines for the Pirates through the 2014-15 season. His recruiting class for next season is now uncertain, although his prized commit, Paterson Catholic's Fuquan Edwin, is leaning toward maintaining his commitment to Seton Hall.

Gonzo's Era Just A Bobby Pin In Hall History

Bobby Gonzalez could be pointing in the direction of a new head coaching gig after being dismissed just minutes ago as the head man at Seton Hall. (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)

If you had either Norm Roberts or Fred Hill as the first Big East head coach fired in your office pools, your bubble has just burst.

In an absolutely stunning turn of events, Bobby Gonzalez is no longer the head coach at Seton Hall, who, according to Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger, was dismissed by the university this morning after four years at the helm of the Pirates, who he guided into the NIT this year. Seton Hall was soundly defeated by Texas Tech at the Prudential Center in its NIT opener last night by the final of 87-69 in a game that featured Seton Hall forward Herb Pope's ejection after literally dealing a low blow to a Texas Tech player during the first half, not to mention Gonzalez receiving his seventh technical foul of the season later in the game.

Gonzalez's dismissal will be further explained by Seton Hall athletic director Joe Quinlan in a 2:00 conference call later this afternoon, and I will update this breaking story as quickly as possible. Gonzalez had just signed a contract extension in September of last year.

On a side note, Robert "Stix" Mitchell, who was kicked off the team before Seton Hall's invitation to the NIT, may have been involved in an altercation last night while the Pirates were in action. This will also be updated as more information becomes available.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Stix And Stones May Break Your Bones...

After being overlooked by NCAA selection committee, Seton Hall plays tonight's first-round NIT game with Texas Tech without junior forward Robert Mitchell, who was dismissed from the team earlier in the week. (Photo courtesy of New York Post)

After being left at the altar by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, the show goes on for Bobby Gonzalez and Seton Hall tonight at the Prudential Center, the opening act being a first-round NIT matchup against Texas Tech that tips off in less than an hour.

One of the normal players will be missing, however, as the Pirates will be without the services of junior forward Robert "Stix" Mitchell, a starter last year who was dismissed from the team by head coach Bobby Gonzalez shortly before the fields for both postseason tournaments were revealed.

Mitchell had seen his playing time decrease due to the emergence of transfers Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson, both of whom are regulars in Gonzalez's starting five, and was so disgruntled about that to the point where he called Gonzalez out in the Bergen Record following the Pirates' elimination from the Big East tournament at the hands of Notre Dame, saying that it was "hard to stay consistent as a player when the coach isn't consistent." Gonzalez addressed this incident on a conference call Sunday, stating that one would not want any "malcontent or cancerous-type stuff. It just wasn't based on this latest thing."

Mitchell's departure opens another scholarship for Gonzalez next season, and the Pirates already have a solid recruiting class coming to New Jersey for the 2010-11 season, led by Paterson Catholic's Fuquan Edwin.

NCAA Tournament: South Regional Preview

Scottie Reynolds is back for more after sending Villanova to the Final Four with a last-second shot a year ago. Wildcats are seeded second in the South Regional. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

The last of our NCAA Tournament previews takes us to the South, where Duke is the top seed in the most wide-open of the four regionals in this year's tournament.

Teams & Seeds: (1) Duke, (2) Villanova, (3) Baylor, (4) Purdue, (5) Texas A&M, (6) Notre Dame, (7) Richmond, (8) California, (9) Louisville, (10) St. Mary's, (11) Old Dominion, (12) Utah State, (13) Siena, (14) Sam Houston State, (15) Robert Morris, (16) Play-in game winner (Arkansas-Pine Bluff or Winthrop)

Players to Watch: Jon Scheyer, (Duke) Kyle Singler, (Duke) Scottie Reynolds, (Villanova) Corey Fisher, (Villanova) LaceDarius Dunn, (Baylor) E'Twaun Moore, (Purdue) Luke Harangody (Notre Dame)

Highlight Matchup: Villanova vs. Baylor if both teams make the Sweet 16, as Baylor is the sleeper of many experts in this year's tournament.

Upset Special: Siena over Purdue. The Boilermakers are not the same team without Robbie Hummel, and the Saints, led by seniors Ronald Moore and Alex Franklin, have made the second round in each of the last two years.

Marquee Coaches: Mike Krzyzewski, (Duke) Jay Wright, (Villanova) Rick Pitino (Louisville)

Winner: Villanova. Despite Duke's easy road and the Baylor hype, Jay's kids go back to the Final Four against all odds.

NCAA Tournament: East Regional Preview

The enigma that is John Wall makes his NCAA Tournament debut as No. 1 seed in the East regional Kentucky prepares for its first tournament game against East Tennessee State. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Memo to all of the other fifteen teams in the East regional: Get ready to see the John Wall dance. The freshman leads top seed Kentucky into the NCAA Tournament against East Tennessee State, and here's a preview of the regional.

Teams & Seeds: (1) Kentucky, (2) West Virginia, (3) New Mexico, (4) Wisconsin, (5) Temple, (6) Marquette, (7) Clemson, (8) Texas, (9) Wake Forest, (10) Missouri, (11) Washington, (12) Cornell, (13) Wofford, (14) Montana, (15) Morgan State, (16) East Tennessee State

Players to Watch: John Wall, (Kentucky) DeMarcus Cousins, (Kentucky) Patrick Patterson, (Kentucky) Da'Sean Butler, (West Virginia) Lazar Hayward, (Marquette)

Highlight Matchup: The potential Elite Eight meeting between Kentucky and West Virginia if both teams advance that far, where it will be Wall and Butler doing battle in crunch time.

Upset Special: Cornell over Temple. This game will be a long-distance shootout between Juan Fernandez of Temple and Cornell's Ryan Wittman in a game that the Big Red can not only win, but win convincingly.

Marquee Coaches: John Calipari, (Kentucky) Bob Huggins, (West Virginia) Bo Ryan, (Wisconsin) and Rick Barnes (Texas)

Winner: Kentucky. This is probably the easiest road for a 1 seed to the Final Four despite other beliefs, as the only team standing between the Wildcats and Indianapolis is really West Virginia.

NCAA Tournament: West Regional Preview

Wesley Johnson has taken it to the rack many times for Syracuse since transferring from Iowa State, and has also propelled the Orange to the top seed in the West regional, the same regional they came out of in 2003 to win the national championship. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Continuing on with our preview of the NCAA Tournament, let's take a look at the West regional.

Teams & Seeds: (1) Syracuse, (2) Kansas State, (3) Pittsburgh, (4) Vanderbilt, (5) Butler, (6) Xavier, (7) BYU, (8) Gonzaga, (9) Florida State, (10) Florida, (11) Minnesota, (12) UTEP, (13) Murray State, (14) Oakland, (15) North Texas, (16) Vermont

Players to Watch: Wes Johnson, (Syracuse) Andy Rautins, (Syracuse) Jacob Pullen, (Kansas State) A.J. Ogilvy, (Vanderbilt) Matt Howard, (Butler) Matt Bouldin (Gonzaga)

Highlight Matchup: The first-round clash between Xavier and Minnesota. Tubby Smith has always had his teams ready to pounce in the big dance since his days at Georgia, and the Golden Gophers come in off an inspiring showing at the Big Ten tournament, which was in Indianapolis, site of the Final Four.

Upset Special: Minnesota over Xavier. Even though the A-10 was a pleasant surprise this year, something tells me Minnesota will get over the hump against the Musketeers.

Marquee Coaches: Jim Boeheim, (Syracuse) Billy Donovan (Florida) and Smith. (Minnesota) Don't forget about Jamie Dixon, (Pitt) Brad Stevens, (Butler) or Mark Few (Gonzaga) either.

Winner: Syracuse. Even if the Orange do not have big man Arinze Onuaku for the opening weekend of the tournament, their 2-3 zone should stifle any opponent in what is an easy regional to play in.

NCAA Tournament: Midwest Regional Preview

Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner leads No. 2 seed Ohio State into action in the Midwest regional, starting against Cal-Santa Barbara. (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)

As we ready ourselves for the 2010 edition of the NCAA Tournament, I'll be profiling each regional, as well as the highlight matchups and players to watch. We'll start with the Midwest, where overall No. 1 seed Kansas is the odds-on favorite to represent the regional in Indianapolis for the Final Four.

Teams & Seeds: (1) Kansas, (2) Ohio State, (3) Georgetown, (4) Maryland, (5) Michigan State, (6) Tennessee, (7) Oklahoma State (8) UNLV, (9) Northern Iowa, (10) Georgia Tech, (11) San Diego State, (12) New Mexico State, (13) Houston, (14) Ohio, (15) Cal-Santa Barbara, (16) Lehigh

Players to Watch: Sherron Collins, (Kansas) Cole Aldrich, (Kansas) Evan Turner, (Ohio State) Greg Monroe, (Georgetown) Greivis Vasquez, (Maryland) Kalin Lucas (Michigan State)

Highlight Matchup: The potential second-round clash between Maryland and Michigan State, which will feature the aforementioned Vasquez and Lucas in an intriguing battle of the point guards that will be fun to watch.

Upset Special: Georgia Tech over Oklahoma State. The Yellow Jackets have won several big games this season, and freshman Derrick Favors is has one of the best inside games in the nation.

Marquee Coach: Take your pick from Bill Self, (Kansas) Gary Williams, (Maryland) and Tom Izzo, (Michigan State) all of whom have won national championships. Steve Fisher (San Diego State) has also won a national title, while Thad Matta (Ohio State) and Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech) have been to the national championship game in the past.

Winner: Ohio State. Kansas may be the most talented team, but the Elite Eight matchup out of this regional will come down to a last-second possession, and in that scenario, no one is better than Player of the Year frontrunner Evan Turner, who will lead the Buckeyes into Indy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

'Hawks Rock Their Way To No. 1 Overall Seed

Led by Sherron Collins, Kansas enters NCAA Tournament as the #1 overall seed in the field of 65, and will play its first game against Lehigh in the Midwest Regional. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Two years removed from their first national championship since 1988, Kansas is once again the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets on the first Monday in April, as the Jayhawks were installed as the top overall seed in this year's NCAA Tournament. Kansas was revealed as the first team in just over an hour ago on this "Selection Sunday," and will kick off the tournament against Patriot League champion Lehigh in their first-round matchup out of the Midwest regional. Kentucky, (East) Syracuse, (West) and Duke (South) are the other three top seeds, the Blue Devils receiving the last vote over Big East tournament champion West Virginia, the No. 2 seed in the East. The Mountaineers are one of eight Big East teams in the field of 65, once again the most of any conference participating in the tournament.

As usual, the selection committee threw quite a few curves in this year's edition of the "Big Dance," namely making Villanova a 2 seed in the South regional despite the Wildcats losing six of their last ten games after starting 9-0 in Big East play. Also, the Big Ten has a legitimate gripe this year, with Purdue (ranked fifth in the country going into today) being relegated to a 4 seed in the South, and Michigan State (ranked 11th) a 5 in the star-studded Midwest. The Spartans face a potential second-round matchup with Maryland, not to mention Kansas and either Georgetown or Ohio State in the regionals should Tom Izzo's team advance that far.

The selection was also filled with surprise entries, namely former two-time national champion Florida, back in the field for the first time since repeating as champions in 2007. The Gators join Wake Forest as unlikely participants in the tournament, bursting the bubbles of teams such as Illinois and Mississippi State after those two teams made valiant efforts in their conference tournaments, the Bulldogs almost defeating Kentucky in this afternoon's SEC championship game. Virginia Tech is also on the outside looking in despite having a better record than fellow ACC schools Wake Forest and Clemson, both of whom are among the six ACC programs in the tournament.

Check back for detailed previews of each regional between now and tipoff of Tuesday night's play-in game between Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop, with the winner of that contest advancing to face Duke in the South regional.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Departure From The Norm

After a heartbreaking loss to Marquette in yesterday's second round Big East tournament matchup, Norm Roberts may be addressing the media one last time as the head coach at St. John's, as he is widely expected to be replaced in the offseason. (Photo courtesy of

Nice guys really do finish last, and in this instance, it is extremely unfortunate when you consider the story of a man who returned to his home area to restore a program that had been decimated by a scandal from which many believe it has yet to emerge. For six years, Norm Roberts had taken St. John's from what he personally described as "rock bottom playing in the best league in America," and rebuilt a scarred program that was once among the nation's elite.

Now, seven may not be lucky for Roberts, who is reported by the New York Post's Lenn Robbins as being out at St. John's, effectively ending a six-year tenure that saw Roberts guide the Johnnies to an 81-100 record, but simultaneously restoring dignity and a positive image to the once-mighty basketball power in Queens. Robbins also wrote that Roberts is expected to take a buyout of at least $700,000, as the 44-year-old coach still has three years left on his revolving five-year deal. Although the Red Storm (17-15) are eligible for the NIT, sources close to the program are not expecting the Johnnies to be part of that field, as there are four Big East teams that finished ahead of them, namely NCAA bubble teams South Florida and Seton Hall, as well as Cincinnati, who plays West Virginia tonight at Madison Square Garden in a Big East tournament quarterfinal game. Connecticut, who was soundly defeated by St. John's in the conference tournament on Tuesday, is also in the running for an NIT bid, but coach Jim Calhoun has said that the decision to accept would be made by athletic director Jeff Hathaway.

After St. John's came back from down 20 to beat DePaul on the road in triple overtime, followed by a dominating win over UConn, the Johnnies nearly stole one from Marquette after being down 14 in the first half. St. John's had one last chance to win at the buzzer yesterday, but were double-teamed in the backcourt. Once they recovered, Malik Boothe could only manage an air ball from half court, enabling Marquette to hold on by the final of 57-55. These last three games should be enough for Roberts to return, but St. John's president Rev. Donald Harrington and athletic director Chris Monasch may have other ideas, considering that St. John's will have nine seniors (barring any transfers) next season; and should Roberts return and not be successful, the case to dismiss him will only be exponentially magnified, and a new coach would have to fill nine scholarships just weeks after being introduced as the head man.

Roberts does not deserve this fate. As the play-by-play announcer for St. John's basketball from 2007-2009 on WSJU Radio, the student radio station at St. John's, I had gotten to know Roberts quite well, and can tell you from personal experience that he is truly one of the nice guys of the industry, a class act that knows how to conduct himself on and off the court. Roberts also never hid from the truth during his time in Queens, and always put the other team over in postgame press conferences regardless of the end result. Many a time I would be at the St. John's media room waiting for Roberts to walk in, and his first words would usually be "Give (insert team name here) a lot of credit."

One would no doubt expect Roberts to say the same regarding his successor, who could be Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, a native of Long Island and two-time ACC coach of the year that is atop the Johnnies' hypothetical wish list. Hofstra's Tom Pecora is also an intriguing possibility, as is Siena's Fran McCaffery. Ask the St. John's players, however, and almost all will tell you unequivocally that they want none other than Roberts leading them out of the locker room in the 2010-11 season. "Once you've got a family going like this, it would be kind of dumb to break the family up," said junior forward D.J. Kennedy, the Johnnies' leading scorer, who feels that Roberts should return, "especially with all these veterans coming back."

No matter what happens, or who is at the helm of the Red Storm next season, only one thing can be said for what has transpired in Queens over the last six years, and how far the program has come since that infamous night in Pittsburgh during the 2003-04 season that cost then-coach Mike Jarvis his job.

Give Norm Roberts a lot of credit.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gonzo, Pirates Look For Buried Treasure At Garden

After fellow New York metro area programs Rutgers and St. John's were eliminated in Big East tournament, it's up to Bobby Gonzalez and Seton Hall to give the Big Apple something to pump their fists over as the Pirates face Notre Dame in what amounts to a play-in game for Seton Hall's NCAA Tournament chances. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Say what you want about Bobby Gonzalez's disposition and on-court antics, but don't discredit the Seton Hall head man's talent or the players that have now made it into the second round of the Big East tournament.

After nearly blowing a 29-point lead at Madison Square Garden against Providence last night only to survive the Friars by the final of 109-106, Seton Hall now faces Notre Dame in tonight's second round in just a matter of minutes in a game that will, for better or worse, dictate the Pirates' immediate future. Some believe that Seton Hall (19-12, 9-9 in the Big East) has already done enough to lock up an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, with big wins over Pittsburgh, Louisville and the Irish team that they square off against at the "World's Most Famous Arena" tonight, but many experts and fans alike feel that the Pirates need one more victory to cement their status as a participant in this year's edition of the "Big Dance."

"We have 19 wins and we have no bad losses," said Gonzalez during last night's postgame press conference when asked to surmise his team's chances to be one of the 65 that contends for the national championship. "We beat Notre Dame at our place (February 11th at the Prudential Center by the final of 90-87) and a lot of people say they are in."

The Pirates are usually a bubble team, but not by choice, as they have just so happened to have faced the top teams in the Big East during the early portion of the conference season in each of the last two seasons. However, Seton Hall has held it together thanks in large part to the play of junior guard Jeremy Hazell, the conference's second-leading scorer; as well as transfers Jeff Robinson and Herb Pope, the latter posting 27 points and 11 rebounds in last night's victory over Providence before fouling out late in the second half.

With Rutgers being eliminated last night by Cincinnati, coupled with St. John's heartbreaking loss earlier today against Marquette, the Pirates are the last New York-area team remaining in the Big East tournament, something that is sure to bring a smile to Gonzalez's face, as he has taken great pride in being the top program in the New York metropolitan area. In fact, his team went 3-0 against the Scarlet Knights and Red Storm during the regular season.

However, Gonzalez, who took Manhattan into the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2004, has intentions of expanding his success, and a victory against Notre Dame tonight will go a long way in determining just how far Seton Hall has come since the 46-year-old took over the reins of the Pirates from Louis Orr in 2006.