Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MAAC Daddy More Than Just Token Mid-Major

Iona's Mike Glover holds his 2-year-old son during postgame interview following 28-point, 14-rebound performance in win over LIU Monday night. (Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection)

Ever since Gonzaga burst onto the scene with a regional final appearance in the 1999 NCAA Tournament, the world has clamored for mid-major success. One after another, several programs have taken their shot to join the Zags as a group fortunate enough to break through to the high-major label. Schools the likes of Southern Illinois, George Mason, Davidson, Butler; and most recently Virginia Commonwealth have made deep runs in March only to come up short. Next up in the brigade could be a team with high-major talent that could even be a top five Big East program if given the opportunity, a true sleeping giant just a mere thirty minutes outside the hotbed of college basketball that is New York City.

New York's college team may be Syracuse to those living in the northern part of the Empire State; and St. John's for those inside the five boroughs that make up the largest city in the United States, but the most promising basketball team (and most successful to this point in the season) in Division I lies in between Queens and Syracuse, located just a three-pointer from Central Park in New Rochelle, tucked away in the southern part of Westchester County.

In just his second season at the helm following the departure of Kevin Willard to Seton Hall, Tim Cluess has quietly built Iona College into an overlooked powerhouse not seen since the Gaels' past glory days under the late great Jim Valvano; and most recently under former Valvano player turned coach Jeff Ruland.

With four wins in their first five games; the most recent of which a decisive 100-84 victory over reigning Northeast Conference champion Long Island University after the Gaels led by as many as 32 midway through the second half, Iona has positioned themselves as the class of the metropolitan area with a star-studded roster featuring a former Big East recruit in senior forward Mike Glover, a former Elite Eight participant in Arizona transfer Lamont (Momo) Jones, and quite possibly the best point guard in the nation in Queens product Scott Machado.

Immediately following the final buzzer Monday night, Jim Ferry, who guided the Blackbirds squad Iona faced that night to an NCAA Tournament appearance against North Carolina last season, had this to say: "I think that is one of the most dynamic offensive teams I've seen in ten years. All their pieces really fit." Ferry later told SNY's Adam Zagoria that he feels the Gaels are "5-seed caliber" in regard to where they would end up in the brackets should they win the MAAC in March.

For a team as talented as Iona, they are certainly no strangers to championship competition. Last year, the Gaels were upset by Saint Peter's in the MAAC championship, only to fall to Santa Clara in the finals of the College Insider tournament. "We lost two championships last year," said Scott Machado when asked if this season served as motivation for his squad. "We know how it feels, and we don't like it." His co-star on a team that has averaged an eye-popping 95 points per game through their first five contests has been even more complimentary, as Mike Glover calls Machado "the best thing that's ever happened to me" as a player.

Glover is his own special story. The Bronx native known as "Optimus Prime" and younger brother of former St. John's standout Anthony Glover went through a seemingly perpetual odyssey to wind up in New Rochelle. After being recruited by Bobby Gonzalez at Seton Hall only to have to pay his own way through his first year in school, to playing at the immortal College Of Southern Utah, then signing with St. Francis College only to back out following the departure of former coach Brian Nash. That was when Glover ended his journey at Iona, becoming the first Gaels player to average a double-double for a season since the aforementioned Jeff Ruland, who coincidentally went to Iona along with my mother back in the late 1970s. A few months, a MAAC Preseason Player of the Year selection, and a 28-point, 14-rebound performance against Long Island University later, Glover showed the crowd his other side; that of a family man, as he held his two-year-old son while being interviewed by Iona color commentator Vin Parise after the game. When asked about his son in Iona's postgame press conference, Glover offered this nugget: "He doesn't know much. He just knows when Daddy wins."

Before he left New Rochelle for the North Carolina State program he eventually won a national championship with, Jim Valvano made a name for himself as the charismatic young head man who inspired his teams to defy the odds. "Dare to dream," said Valvano, a saying that is etched on his plaque located on the Iona Hall of Fame wall just inside the main entrance of the Hynes Center.

Three decades later, Valvano would be proud of the program he once led for not only daring to dream; but dream big, as Iona looks to once again make its mark among the giants they contend with geographically.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Big Ten/ACC Challenge: An Insider's Guide

Jordan Taylor gets to introduce himself to the nation one more time when Wisconsin meets North Carolina in Big Ten/ACC Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

To the college basketball fan, it's the most primitive (and competitive) form of interleague play. For the thirteenth consecutive season, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge graces the college hoops ledger.

After coming up short in each of the first ten installments of this nonconference rivalry, the Big Ten is now looking for its third straight win in the series. The ACC still leads the all-time series 72-47, and it resumes again Tuesday night. However, we'll give you a little preview of what to expect in each contest first. The first six games take place Tuesday, while the final six will be on the menu to close out November on Wednesday night.

Game #1: Miami at Purdue - Jim Larranaga has a signature nonconference win against Rutgers to go with the long-range proficiency of former Villanova marksman Malcolm Grant and the solid passing skills of former Rice guard Durand Scott, but the Hurricanes come into this one off a surprising overtime loss against Ole Miss. On the other side of the court, Purdue has started much better than expected after losing JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Robbie Hummel has returned to the brilliance displayed before his two knee injuries; and sharpshooter Ryne Smith, who shoots 52 percent from beyond the arc coming into this contest, has emerged as Matt Painter's second option. Pay close attention to Lewis Jackson as well, as the Boilermaker point guard averages close to five assists per game.

Game #2: Northwestern at Georgia Tech - These two teams share a common opponent in LSU, (Northwestern beat them, while Georgia Tech lost to the Tigers in the Charleston Classic) but that's about it. The Wildcats will use their 1-3-1 zone to stifle the Yellow Jacket attack led by Kammeon Holsey and Mfon Udofia, while Glen Rice Jr. looks to continue his streak of productive performances off the bench. For Northwestern, John Shurna and Drew Crawford will look to put on a shooting clinic early and often in Atlanta. The highlight matchup will come inside, however, as Luka Mirkovic goes up against Georgia Tech big man Daniel Miller, who averages three blocks per game.

Game #3: Illinois at Maryland - Bruce Weber and the Illini are still looking for a signature nonconference win after close calls against Richmond and Illinois State, but the general consensus in Champaign has to be a positive one, especially given the breakout start to the year that big man Meyers Leonard has enjoyed. While Brandon Paul hasn't been able to get on the roll many had hoped he would, Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco is more than living up to the high expectations set out for him when he replaced Demetri McCamey in the lineup. Maryland comes in off a 3-2 start to Mark Turgeon's first campaign in College Park, one marked by the loss of Pe'Shon Howard to a broken foot and blowout losses to Alabama and Iona in the Puerto Rico Tipoff. Terrell Stoglin has really broken out to average 21 points per game, while Sean Mosley and freshman guard Nick Faust have held the fort as solid supporting cast members through the first five games for the Terps. This really could be one of the more entertaining games in this competition.

Game #4: No. 15 Michigan at Virginia - John Beilein hits the road one more time after an impressive showing this past week at the Maui Invitational, where the Wolverines defeated Memphis and UCLA and nearly beat Duke as well. While the Cavaliers are getting a double-double per night average from Mike Scott, the rest of Tony Bennett's team hasn't been able to match his stats through Virginia's 5-1 start. For Michigan, the combo guard play of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. (averaging 28 points and eight assists per game combined) will complement the lethal outside shooting of Zack Novak in what could be a deceptive rout for the maize and blue.

Game #5: Clemson at Iowa - Clemson has shown no sign of falling off following their NCAA Tournament appearance last season; but despite the stellar guard play of Andre Young and Tanner Smith, losses to College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina are major question marks early in the season for the Tigers. Iowa is no different, as Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes were soundly and shockingly defeated by low-major Campbell at home by the final of 77-61. Iowa will need their outside shooting (they shoot 39 percent as a team from three) to bury a Clemson team that has only managed an average of 67 points per game while shooting just 61 percent from the free throw line.

Game #6: No. 6 Duke at No. 3 Ohio State - Both of these teams will ultimately move up in the polls now that North Carolina has been upset by UNLV, but this would still be the marquee matchup of the series this year. Mike Krzyzewski's bunch has been nothing short of dominant with their big wins over the likes of Belmont, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan and Kansas; and comes in off a stellar Maui Invitational run. The Blue Devils will engage in an outside shootout by using Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton against William Buford of Ohio State. The Buckeyes will look to get Aaron Craft involved early and often in attempts to find Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas inside so the two bigs can establish themselves against Duke's combination of the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly. There's nothing like a potential Final four preview this early in the season, and this game does more than just live up to the hype.

Game #7: Indiana at North Carolina State - Tom Crean heads into Raleigh 6-0 after the Hoosiers convincingly defeated the media's golden boy and program (Brad Stevens and Butler) earlier tonight. Cody Zeller and reserve swingman Will Sheehey will be the keys to victory for the cream and crimson against a Wolfpack unit led impressively by point guard Lorenzo Brown, who has averaged six assists and three steals per game to go with thirteen points per game and a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. This is a matchup where the loser has as much to gain as the winner; and if the early performances of both schools are any indication, both will be on the right side of the bubble come March.

Game #8: Penn State at Boston College - The Nittany Lions started out a surprising 3-0 under new coach Patrick Chambers, defeating a more talented team in LIU along the way; but have fallen off since then with blowout losses to Kentucky and St. Joseph's. After Tim Frazier, Penn State really does not have a proven second option; but against a BC team that suffered an inexplicable 36-point home loss to UMass, it may not be necessary. Steve Donahue's young team is still trying to find themselves, as their 2-4 record suggests; and the signs of improvement are still a long way away in Beantown.

Game #9: No. 22 Florida State at Michigan State - After fighting Harvard in a defensive stalemate and almost shocking UConn in the Battle for Atlantis, Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles get a true road game when they travel to the Breslin Center. Michael Snaer is making the motor run for FSU, but the last two games have shown just how much Chris Singleton and Derwin Kitchen meant to this team. Tom Izzo takes on his third ACC opponent of the year after starting the season on board the USS Carl Vinson against North Carolina in the Carrier Classic and being the team Mike Krzyzewski got his 903rd win against in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. The Spartans have been cold from the three-point line to start the year, but the versatility of Draymond Green and continued maturation of underclassmen Keith Appling and Branden Dawson should be enough to propel Sparty to a victory here.

Game #10: Virginia Tech at Minnesota - The Hokies caught a break today when Trevor Mbakwe was injured in the consolation game of the Old Spice Classic for the Golden Gophers. Erick Green has been the perfect complement for senior Dorenzo Hudson in Seth Greenberg's system; and the two guards will team with Dorian Finney-Smith to take on Andre and Austin Hollins, who now have more of a role for Tubby Smith in Mbakwe's absence.

Game #11: Wake Forest at Nebraska - Jeff Bzdelik has the Demon Deacons on the rise after a 4-2 start marked by a strong showing in the Old Spice Classic behind the sharp outside shooting of C.J. Harris and Travis McKie. On the other side of the court, Nebraska is starting to turn the corner on their non-league schedule in their first season as a Big Ten institution. While it is Jorge Brian Diaz that picks up most of the attention for the Huskers, their X-factor is sharpshooter Brandon Richardson. In four games, the senior guard has made seven of the twelve trifectas he has attempted thus far. If Richardson can match the duo of Harris and McKie, Nebraska will be competitive much longer than people envision.

Game #12: No. 11 Wisconsin at No. 1 North Carolina - Heaven for fans who love good point guards, as Kendall Marshall will battle the best point man in the Big Ten when he matches up against Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor. The Tar Heels will have the edge on the boards with John Henson and Tyler Zeller; but if Wisconsin can get them into foul trouble the way UNLV did last night when the Rebels upset UNC, it becomes a totally different ballgame. Harrison Barnes will also be a factor. The sophomore sensation appeared to be injured last night after leaving the game on crutches, but should be ready to go Wednesday night. Pay attention to the marksmen on the bench. When Ben Brust (Wisconsin) and P.J. Hairston (North Carolina) get into the game, it could be bombs away for both sides. Reggie Bullock has also been hitting outside shots better this season while Leslie McDonald has been on the shelf. If all goes well, this game could be way better than Duke/Ohio State the night before.

The Way I See It: Predictions
Purdue defeats Miami
Northwestern defeats Georgia Tech
Illinois defeats Maryland
Michigan defeats Virginia
Clemson defeats Iowa
Duke defeats Ohio State
NC State defeats Indiana
Penn State defeats Boston College
Michigan State defeats Florida State
Virginia Tech defeats Minnesota
Wake Forest defeats Nebraska
North Carolina defeats Wisconsin
Day 1: Big Ten wins 4-2
Day 2: ACC wins 4-2
Overall: Tied 6-6

Friday, November 25, 2011

Abromaitis Out For Season, Maybe Career

Notre Dame suffers huge blow as leading scorer Tim Abromaitis suffered season-ending torn ACL in practice this morning. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

It seems as though a good college basketball program has always fallen victim to its star player tearing his ACL at some point in recent seasons. Purdue suffered such a misfortune two years ago when Robbie Hummel went down with the aforementioned knee injury shortly before the NCAA Tournament, while the Boilermakers were still considered a legitimate national championship contender; and just a year ago, St. John's saw their miracle season come to a halt when D.J. Kennedy tore his ACL in the Red Storm's Big East tournament quarterfinal loss to Syracuse, causing Steve Lavin's Johnnies to play their NCAA Tournament game against Gonzaga without the services of "The Hitman."

Less than a calendar year (eight months to be exact) removed from the Kennedy injury, the torn ACL has stricken another solid program, one in the same conference as the boys from the corner of Union and Utopia.

This morning, the long-term hopes of the University of Notre Dame were thrown into serious limbo as senior forward Tim Abromaitis, the top returning scorer for the Fighting Irish following the graduation of Ben Hansbrough, tore his ACL in practice this morning. Abromaitis will miss the remainder of the season; and being that he has already completed graduate school in South Bend, the injury could very well be career-ending.

Notre Dame could technically apply for a sixth year of eligibility for Abromaitis, clearing the way for him to return to the team next year; but head coach Mike Brey said he would leave it up to his star player to decide. The coach praised Abromaitis upon hearing of the injury, calling him "one of the great stories in college athletics," and an "unbelievable representative of Notre Dame both on and off the basketball court."

Abromaitis served a four-game suspension to start the year after it was revealed that he played in two exhibition games prior to the 2008-09 season before redshirting and sitting out that regular season, an NCAA violation. The 6-8 Connecticut native did play in two games before the injury, scoring 22 points in his return against Missouri; and tallied six points against Georgia (both losing efforts) while the Irish participated in the CBE Classic in Kansas City. His injury now paves the way for shooting guard Scott Martin to become the primary scoring option, while sophomore point guard Eric Atkins and redshirt freshman Jerian Grant now have an increased responsibility in the offense.

Notre Dame next takes the court at home on Sunday, when they welcome Bryant University into the Joyce Center before traveling to Spokane to meet Gonzaga Wednesday night.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Maui Invitational: An Insider's Guide

Tyshawn Taylor and Kansas take part in a star-studded Maui Invitational starting tomorrow in Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Early in-season tournaments are a dream come true for the die-hard college basketball fan. On one hand, you have potential Final Four matchups just two weeks into the year; and on the other, you have upstart teams that come out of seemingly nowhere to establish themselves among the nation's elite. In just about 18 hours, the tournament regarded by most to be the premier early-season gathering in the nation tips off from the Aloha State, and we'll get you caught up with what lies ahead in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Game #1: Michigan vs. Memphis - John Beilein's Wolverines overcame a scare against Western Illinois, and next up for the maize and blue is a tough matchup against a Tigers squad that put up 97 points in their season opener against Belmont. Michigan will make this game more about defense, and the matchup between Joe Jackson and Tim Hardaway Jr. will be fun to watch in the backcourt. Wesley Witherspoon and Will Barton will be key for Memphis against a Michigan frontcourt featuring Jordan Morgan, who has made ten of his first twelve shots to start the season.

Game #2: Tennessee vs. Duke - Cuonzo Martin brings the Vols into their first major test of the season before they take on reigning national champion UConn later this year, but Tennessee is still a work in progress. Point guard Trae Golden has been nothing but impressive to open the season, averaging 23 points and 10 assists over the first two games; and will draw rookie sensation Austin Rivers in defensive matchups against the Blue Devils and all-time wins leader Mike Krzyzewski. Tennessee's biggest test will come inside, however, as a rather inexperienced frontcourt goes up against the three Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly.

Game #3: UCLA vs. Chaminade - The hometown team gets an 0-2 Bruins squad for its first game in the tournament they host; and Chaminade will be looking to do what Wichita State attempted to pull off against UConn last year, and that's knock off a reputed Division I powerhouse. The Bruins did reinstate Reeves Nelson recently after he was suspended for the first two contests, and his return boosts a UCLA inside game desperately lacking a leader due to the struggles of the Wear twins. Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson are still one of the better backcourts in the country, and should have a coming-out party sooner rather than later.

Game #4: Georgetown vs. Kansas - After Kansas struggled against Kentucky at Madison Square Garden, some began to wonder if the Jayhawks were as good as advertised to open the season. Bill Self's team may still be adjusting to life without Josh Selby and the Morris twins, but Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson are still among the more underrated players in the nation. Georgetown is also trying to recover from the graduations of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, and the Hoyas possess the long range talents of sharpshooter Jason Clark, who can change games in mere seconds with his efficiency from three.

The Way I See It: Predictions
Quarterfinals: Memphis defeats Michigan, Duke defeats Tennessee, UCLA defeats Chaminade, Kansas defeats Georgetown
Semifinal Consolation: Michigan defeats Tennessee, Georgetown defeats Chaminade
Semifinals: Memphis defeats Duke, Kansas defeats UCLA
7th Place Game: Tennessee defeats Chaminade
5th Place Game: Michigan defeats Georgetown
3rd Place Game: Duke defeats UCLA
Championship: In a rematch of the 2008 national championship game, Memphis gets their revenge and defeats Kansas

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

903 Brought To You By The Letter K

Mike Krzyzewski embraces his former coach and mentor Bobby Knight shortly after Coach K broke Knight's all-time wins record with 903rd victory last night at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Certain people just automatically trigger certain images, through no fault of their own. When you see Barack Obama, you automatically envision the White House. When you see Mariano Rivera, the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium comes to mind. When you see Eli Manning, Super Bowl XLII and the pass to David Tyree pops up right away. When you see Mike Krzyzewski, you can now add the title of all-time wins leader to the image of his iconic status at Duke University after the coach surpassed Bob Knight last night in the Blue Devils' 74-69 victory over Michigan State for Krzyzewski's 903rd career win, more than any other Division I men's basketball coach.

Yet for a long time, my first image of Michael William Krzyzewski was far from a positive one.

As a North Carolina fan for practically all of my 25 years, the shallow-minded fan in me never thought enough to associate Krzyzewski with the qualities he has come to be known for. For most of my life, all I thought of Krzyzewski was that he was the architect of the "Evil Empire" that had always managed to give Dean Smith and the Tar Heels fits; and the fact that he had a surname that was, for a long time, the leader in the clubhouse in last names that were a mouthful to say and pronounce. (In my younger days, I had admittedly pronounced it CRUSH-ev-skee instead of SHA-shev-skee) Even in my first two years as a media guy, I still had not come around and admired the man known to legions of fans across the universe simply as "Coach K."

That all changed on February 19th, 2009.

Duke came into Madison Square Garden and defeated St. John's 76-69 in a game that was remembered more for both St. John's hanging in there against a more talented team; and David Berov, who had the call for WSJU that night, frequently confusing Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer. Nonetheless, listening to Krzyzewski during his postgame press conference changed my mind and caused me to do a total 180 while abandoning my fandom. In just fifteen minutes, Krzyzewski had taught me more about the game of basketball simply by speaking about what his team had done in the forty minutes prior; and earned not just my respect, but my appreciation for what he had accomplished in building Duke's program from the ground up. Along with Jim Calhoun and Rick Pitino, Krzyzewski is the only other coach who can make that claim and back it up.

In much the same way that I had anticipated Bobby Knight would eventually pass Dean Smith's wins record, (879 at the time) I expected Krzyzewski to ultimately eclipse Knight at some point. Whereas I applauded Knight for passing Smith, I actually found myself rooting for Krzyzewski in a way. Last night provided a fitting stage for the coach to get No. 903. Madison Square Garden, against an elite opponent in Michigan State, with Knight; who had coached Krzyzewski at Army and basically became a father figure to him, on the call alongside Dan Shulman. The moment the two shared after the game (pictured above) made a truly special night even more so. One of the all-time greats finally now has a record to call his own; and quite frankly, I hope he picks up No. 1,000. Maybe even 1,100 before he rides off into the sunset on a career that includes four national championships, an Olympic gold medal, and too many other honors that I cannot list in their entirety in the interest of space.

In closing, I'd like to paraphrase Vin Scully's classic call of Sandy Koufax's perfect game, if I may, because a coach this good deserves to have his moment etched in the annals of time in much the same dramatic and poignant way:

"And Mike Krzyzewski; whose name will always remind you of winning and all the right qualities a coach should possess, did it with a flourish. He defeated a team that has been to six Final Fours in the last thirteen years. So when he wrote his name in the record books, that 'K' stands out more than the R-Z-Y-Z-E-W-S-K-I."

Congratulations, Coach K. You deserve it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Opening Tips: Florida vs. Ohio State

Erving Walker leads Florida into marquee nonconference showdown tomorrow night in Columbus against Ohio State. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

The college basketball world may be buzzing over ESPN's 24-hour coverage, (which starts tonight when Gonzaga hosts Washington State from the McCartney Center in Spokane) but one of the highlight matchups comes later in the day in what could be a Final Four rematch four months from now.

Billy Donovan's Florida Gators return mostly everyone from last year's squad that advanced to the Elite Eight before being defeated by Butler, and welcomes former Rutgers standout Mike Rosario to the program as well. Their opponents are an Ohio State team that loses three starters from last year's top-ranked squad that was upset by Kentucky in the Sweet 16, but brings back arguably the best player in the nation to team with a lethal outside shooter and one of the best defenders in the country. The Gators. The Buckeyes. The preview on The Dose is next.

No. 8 Florida Gators (1-0)
Head Coach: Billy Donovan (16th season at UF, 361-147; 396-167 overall)

Projected Starting Lineup:
G Erving Walker (5-8 Sr., 10.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 67% FG, 50% 3pt, 50% FT, 4.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
G Kenny Boynton (6-2 Jr., 19.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 54% FG, 57% 3pt, 50% FT, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
G Bradley Beal (6-3 Fr., 14.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 50% FG, 75% FT, 3.0 APG, 1.0 BPG, 1.0 SPG)
F Erik Murphy (6-10 Jr., 6.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 22% FG, 50% FT, 2.0 APG, 3.0 BPG)
C Patric Young (6-9 So., 12.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 75% FG, 3.0 APG, 2.0 BPG, 3.0 SPG)

Key Reserves:
G Mike Rosario
(6-3 Jr., 19.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 58% FG, 63% 3pt, 2.0 APG, 2.0 SPG)
F Will Yeguete (6-7 So., 7.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 75% FG, 33% FT, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
G Scottie Wilbekin (6-2 So., 5.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 50% FG, 50% 3pt, 2.0 APG, 2.0 SPG)

Keys To Victory:
  • Torch the nets.
As Steve Lavin once said last season when describing the hot shooting of former St. John's legend Dwight Hardy. In the Gators' 40-point thrashing of Jackson State, Florida relied on a 13-for-30 performance from beyond the arc to separate themselves early. Nine of the trifectas were drained by shooting guard Kenny Boynton and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, who has turned into a valuable X-factor as Billy Donovan's sixth man after serving as the face of the team for the Scarlet Knights in each of his first two seasons in Piscataway. Considering Ohio State was only able to hit five triples in their opener against Wright State; and given Florida has more options that can put it up, it would be best for the Gators to turn this contest into a shootout as fast as possible.
  • Press inside.
Ohio State committed 14 turnovers in their season-opening victory, and seven of them were charged to Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, who anchor the paint for the Buckeyes. Patric Young will likely draw Sullinger as a defensive matchup, with Will Yeguete likely seeing a lot of time off the bench to match up against the 6-7 Thomas, who is more an undersized power forward than he is a swingman. Florida could even use Erik Murphy early on to establish a frontcourt advantage against Sullinger.
  • Establish a transition game.
In their season debut against Jackson State, Florida controlled the tempo with a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, (20 to 10) plus-14 turnover margin, (causing 24 while only committing 10) and 12 steals. A large part of this is attributed to Billy Donovan's ability to play four guards at times, with Mike Rosario or Scottie Wilbekin coming off the bench to join Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and freshman Bradley Beal in the backcourt. Since Ohio State is a more physical team; and because their reserve guards are less experienced than those of Florida, the pressure for Florida to turn this into a halfcourt affair grows even more, and it could determine the outcome.

Now, to profile what the Gators take the court against...

No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (1-0)
Head Coach: Thad Matta (8th season at OSU, 191-57; 293-88 overall)

Projected Starting Lineup:
G Aaron Craft (6-2 So., 10.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 33% FG, 100% 3pt, 88% FT, 3.0 APG, 3.0 SPG)
G Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6-4 So., 8.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 50% FG, 67% 3pt, 1.0 APG, 2.0 SPG)
G William Buford (6-6 Sr., 13.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 50% FG, 33% 3pt, 100% FT, 4.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
F Deshaun Thomas (6-7 So., 9.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 43% FG, 60% FT, 1.0 SPG)
F Jared Sullinger (6-9 So., 19.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 57% FG, 50% 3pt, 83% FT, 1.0 APG, 3.0 BPG, 1.0 SPG)

Key Reserves:
F Evan Ravenel (6-8 Jr., 2.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 100% FG)

Keys To Victory:
  • To be the man... "gotta beat the man," as legendary wrestler Ric Flair so often said in numerous interviews. Florida will be trying to beat "the man" inside the paint when they go up against this writer's choice for best player in the nation, 6-9 sophomore Jared Sullinger. Sullinger had an off night by his standards, with 19 points and nine rebounds against Wright State; and he will have his hands full with both Patric Young and Erik Murphy for the first few minutes until Billy Donovan brings his reserve guards into the game to play smaller and force the physically imposing Buckeyes into a halfcourt offense. Sullinger can still be effective in that premise, as he has been a surprisingly gifted outside shooter for his size. In order for Ohio State to fully take advantage of Florida's attempt to turn the game in their favor, Sullinger needs to draw fouls on the smaller Gator lineup, something he has had no problem doing in the past.
  • Ensure the supporting cast steps up.
After Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State's inside game is still inexperienced for the most part now that Dallas Lauderdale has graduated. After Boston College transfer Evan Ravenel, freshmen Amir Williams and Trey McDonald are the next options. Rookie swingman Sam Thompson could also get involved, especially if Will Yeguete sees significant minutes at the wing for Florida. However, if Sullinger is double-teamed and fouls the Gators early, the Buckeyes could be digging themselves into an insurmountable hole. Throw in Florida's backcourt proficiency, and what looks like an evenly matched contest on paper could quickly turn into a runaway.
  • Combo guards.
William Buford and Aaron Craft are more important now than ever for the Buckeyes with Jon Diebler and David Lighty no longer around. At 6-6, Buford has the height to get inside and wreak havoc while simultaneously changing the game with his deadly three-point shooting, while the 6-2 Craft has made a living as one of the better pure passers in the nation. Craft's proficiency as a facilitator does not necessarily diminish his ability to score, however, as he went for ten points in the opener against Wright State. A good majority of those came at the free throw line, though, so Craft will need to assert himself just a little more while running the show for Thad Matta.

So, Who Wins?
Even though both teams return most of the players who were on the court for Ohio State's 93-75 victory over the Gators in Gainesville last season, both squads are considerably different. This game was the coming-out party for Jared Sullinger a year ago, as he posted 26 points and 10 rebounds in just his second collegiate game on 13-of-17 shooting. William Buford was good for 16 points and eight assists, while Kenny Boynton drilled five three-pointers en route to a 21-point outing that led the Gators. This year, Ohio State is not as deep as they were twelve months prior; while the Gators have a stronger backcourt and a considerably stronger interior presence. This game is a prototypical "as one man goes, so too does the team" matchup, as Ohio State will go as far as Sullinger is willing to carry them. Buford and Craft are solid big game players; but their talent is overmatched by that of the Florida backcourt, and even their inside depth with Young, Murphy and Yeguete. It will be a battle throughout the night, but the edge goes to the Gators based solely on their extra pieces that Ohio State doesn't have.

Your Final: Florida 84, Ohio State 77

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Opening Tips: Michigan State vs. North Carolina

Harrison Barnes passed on NBA draft last year, and now leads top-ranked North Carolina into season opener against Michigan State on board USS Carl Vinson. (Photo courtesy of The Hoops Report's Ryan Feldman)

For the fifth time in as many years; and 14th time overall, two of the most prestigious college basketball programs in the nation meet, this time on Veterans' Day aboard the USS Carl Vinson outside San Diego.

North Carolina and Michigan State, who played for the 2009 national championship and reprised their Ford Field encounter inside the Smith Center during the 2009 Big Ten/ACC Challenge, face one another for the first time since that aforementioned contest in Chapel Hill; one in which the Tar Heels defended their title behind 22 points from Ed Davis en route to an 89-82 win over the Spartans. This time, it's Michigan State who comes in as the young team trying to prove they are still among the nation's elite, while North Carolina enters the new season as the favorites to win the program's seventh championship, and third in the last eight years. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Quicken Loans Carrier Classic.

Michigan State Spartans (2010-11 Record: 19-15, 9-9 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Tom Izzo (17th season, 383-161)

Projected Starting Lineup: (Stats reflect 2010-11 season)
G Brandon Wood (6-2 Sr., 16.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 46% FG, 36% 3pt, 66% FT, 3.1 APG, 1.7 SPG at Valparaiso)
G Keith Appling (6-1 So., 6.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 44% FG, 41% 3pt, 90% FT, 1.3 APG)
G Branden Dawson (6-6 Fr., 28.7 PPG, 18.6 RPG, 5.6 APG at Wallace High School in Gary, Indiana)
F Draymond Green (6-7 Sr., 12.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 43% FG, 37% 3pt, 68% FT, 4.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.8 SPG)
C Adreian Payne (6-10 So., 2.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 47% FG, 49% FT)

Key Reserves:
C Derrick Nix (6-9 Jr., 2.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 60% FG, 53% FT)
G Austin Thornton (6-5 Sr., 2.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 34% FG, 93% FT)

Keys To Victory:
  • Dominate inside.
The Spartans will make no secret of the fact that Draymond Green is their best player, but no one man can do it all. With a Carolina frontcourt that helped the Tar Heels average over 42 rebounds and five blocked shots per game a year ago, the onus will be placed on sophomore Adreian Payne and junior Derrick Nix to give Green the help he needs up front against the likes of 6-11 John Henson and seven-footer Tyler Zeller.
  • Perimeter offense.
Michigan State's three-guard set is back again for the second consecutive season with Tom Izzo's smaller lineup. The Spartans, who shot 36 percent from three-point range as a team last season and averaged 15 assists per game, will be reliant upon point guard Keith Appling to anchor the backcourt as he makes the move from playing off the ball. Draymond Green has established himself as Sparty's Mr. Versatility, and should get some open looks early on if Michigan State can work around the mismatches in size that favor the bigger North Carolina lineup.
  • Get the new guys involved.
Michigan State welcomes senior Brandon Wood after he graduated a year early and transferred from Valparaiso. Similar to how Greg Paulus still had a year of eligibility left when he transferred from Duke to play football at Syracuse, Wood has one more year left as well; and should make an immediate impact at the two, where he will replace Durrell Summers. Freshman Branden Dawson, who put up 25 points and 14 rebounds in the two exhibition games the Spartans played in preparation for this matchup, will also start in the backcourt right away. Dawson has an NBA-type body already according to recruiting experts, who are hyping the Indiana native as Tom Izzo's most talented recruit since Shannon Brown. Dawson will be welcomed to the college game in one of the grandest ways possible, as he will draw none other than All-American Harrison Barnes as a defensive matchup, regarded by many to be the best player in the nation. If Wood and Dawson can hold their own against Barnes and Dexter Strickland, this game will be a lot closer than some envision.

Now, for a look at what Sparty matches up against...

No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (2010-11 Record: 29-8, 14-2 ACC)
Head Coach: Roy Williams (9th season at UNC, 225-62; 643-163 overall)

Projected Starting Lineup: (Stats reflect 2010-11 season)
G Kendall Marshall (6-4 So., 6.2 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 42% FG, 38% 3pt, 69% FT, 6.2 APG, 1.1 SPG)
G Dexter Strickland (6-3 Jr., 7.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 46% FG, 69% FT, 2.2 APG, 1.2 SPG)
F Harrison Barnes (6-8 So., 15.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 42% FG, 34% 3pt, 75% FT, 1.4 APG)
F John Henson (6-11 Jr., 11.7 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 50% FG, 48% FT, 3.2 BPG)
C Tyler Zeller (7-0 Sr., 15.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 55% FG, 76% FT, 1.2 BPG)

Key Reserves:
G Leslie McDonald (6-5 Jr., 7.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 39% FG, 38% 3pt, 74% FT)
G Reggie Bullock (6-7 So., 6.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 37% FG, 57% FT)
F James Michael McAdoo (6-9 Fr., 21.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG at Norfolk Christian High School in Norfolk, Virginia)

Keys To Victory:
  • Prepare for a shootout.
Even though Michigan State has shot just 18 percent (7-for-38) from long range in their two exhibition games, the Spartans are still a qualified three-point threat. Their smaller lineup and proven sharpshooters in Keith Appling and Draymond Green should entice Tom Izzo to go for the long ball early and often. This poses two intriguing options for Roy Williams, who can either employ a zone defense to attack the lines; or he could respond with his own trifecta specialists in Leslie McDonald and even point guard Kendall Marshall, both of whom shot 38 percent each from beyond the arc last season. Harrison Barnes (34 percent) could also be counted on to make a clutch shot from behind the line.
  • Pound it inside.
John Henson and Tyler Zeller should be able to beat their Michigan State matchups inside with their size and reach advantages, while Harrison Barnes will be able to make things happen both in the paint and from the wing against a young and smaller Michigan State backcourt. Now in his first full season as a starter since replacing Larry Drew halfway through last year, sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall could turn tomorrow night's game into his own personal exhibition. The 6-4 Marshall is considered to be the best passer in the nation, and has an average of over six assists per game during his rookie campaign a year ago to back it up.
  • Bench scoring.
Aside from Derrick Nix and Austin Thornton, Michigan State's bench is now inexperienced following the graduation of Mike Kebler and departure of Korie Lucious midway through last season. This is where the Tar Heels can really take control of the game. Sophomore swingman Reggie Bullock and junior sharpshooter Leslie McDonald, who singlehandedly put Rutgers into a deep hole with one triple after another at Madison Square Garden a year ago, are talented enough to be starters on just about any other team in the country. Roy Williams can also count on freshmen P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo to make a huge impact, the latter in much the same way former UNC sixth man Marvin Williams did when he helped the coach win his first of two national championships back in 2005.

So, Who Wins?
This is not the David vs. Goliath matchup that some are hyping it up to be. Even though North Carolina is far more talented than Michigan State, the Spartans should never be counted out; and return enough significant pieces from a group that nearly came back from a 23-point deficit against UCLA in last year's NCAA Tournament. Green will keep Michigan State in this game early; but as the leader of this younger than usual Spartan unit, he will need to remind his teammates that if North Carolina comes out of the box firing like they did in each of their last two meetings with Tom Izzo's team, it could be over quickly for a team that gets another strong early-season test when they take on Duke at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. The margin for error is razor-thin for this team, as just a handful of mistakes could lead to an 0-2 start. For Carolina, this game marks the start of a two-day, coast-to-coast trip, as they hit the road against reigning Big South champion UNC Asheville on Sunday. It will be one of the more entertaining games (the backdrop alone will provide a reason to watch) of the season, but the greater talent and experience will win out. Carolina takes this one, but not before getting taken as close to the limit as possible in the season opener.

Your Final: North Carolina 86, Michigan State 81

North Carolina and Michigan State in a pregame shootaround aboard the USS Carl Vinson, where they will play tomorrow's Quicken Loans Carrier Classic in first-ever college basketball game on board an aircraft carrier. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports' Seth Davis)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Opening Tips: William & Mary vs. St. John's

Freshman Moe Harkless leads St. John's into the fire tomorrow night, opening season at home against William & Mary. (Photo courtesy of

After nearly eight months, the honeymoon comes to an end tomorrow night.

That's because St. John's University opens the curtain for its 104th season of men's basketball with the youngest team in program history less than one year removed from one of the most memorable campaigns to hit the corner of Union and Utopia in recent years, thanks in large part to head coach Steve Lavin and his ten-man senior class captivating the fan base en route to taking down one Top 25 opponent after another on the way to the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years. Fans have had the opportunity to get to know this year's Red Storm unit through two exhibition games that have undoubtedly prepared this young bunch for what lies ahead, but many questions still remain unanswered as we enter the time of the year where the games now count in the standings; and the progress levels of each player will be evaluated under even more of a microscope than in weeks and months past. William and Mary will be the first official opponent for all but one of the Johnnies at the Division I level, and you'll find out a little more about them here as well. Ladies and gentlemen, at long last, it is finally here.

St. John's Red Storm (2010-11 Record: 21-12, 12-6 Big East)
Head Coach: Steve Lavin (2nd season, 21-12; 166-90 overall)

Projected Starting Lineup: (Stats reflect two preseason games against C.W. Post and St. Mary's [Md.])
G Nurideen Lindsey (6-3 So., 15.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 52% FG, 22% FT, 5.5 APG, 2.5 SPG)
G Malik Stith (5-11 Jr., 4.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 38% FG, 50% FT, 4.0 APG, 1.5 SPG)
G D'Angelo Harrison (6-3 Fr., 16.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 41% FG, 83% FT, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
F God'sgift Achiuwa (6-8 Jr., 18.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 77% FG, 22% FT, 1.5 BPG, 1.0 SPG)
F Moe Harkless (6-8 Fr., 17.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 63% FG, 83% FT, 2.0 APG, 1.5 SPG)

Key Reserves:
F Sir'Dominic Pointer (6-5 Fr., 10.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 69% FG, 38% FT, 1.5 APG, 2.5 SPG)
G Phil Greene (6-2 Fr., 12.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 56% FG, 50% 3pt, 50% FT, 1.5 APG, 2.5 SPG)

Keys To Victory:
  • Play smart.
Being that this is the first official game for nearly everyone on this team, the potential for St. John's to get caught up in the moment is higher than ever before. Even though most of this team seems mature and emotionally grounded going into tomorrow night's matchup, the atmosphere at Carnesecca Arena 24 hours from now will be something that this team has, by and large, never experienced. Therefore, don't be surprised to see assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who will fill in for a still recovering Steve Lavin, to make that a critical part of his preparation for William & Mary.

  • Dictate the pace.
In the Red Storm's 110-80 exhibition win over C.W. Post, the team was able to set the tone early on with their athleticism and run-and-gun offense, turning a contest with the Division II Pioneers into a track meet just minutes into the first half. If St. John's can be the aggressors on offense against a William & Mary team that averaged just 64 points per game last season, they will force the Tribe, who had just two double-digit scorers last season, to come from behind early and often.

  • Guard the lines.
William & Mary shot 36 percent from three-point range as a team last season, led by the 46 percent clip from senior swingman Quinn McDowell, who is ready to go after missing the preseason. Sophomore point guard Brandon Britt may not be as productive from long range as McDowell; but if you leave him open at any position on the court, he can (and will) burn you. Junior forward Kyle Gaillard (35 percent from downtown in 2010-11) should also not be forgotten.

And, their opponents across the court...

William & Mary Tribe (2010-11 Record: 10-22, 4-14 CAA)
Head Coach: Tony Shaver (9th season, 97-146; 455-267 overall)

Projected Starting Lineup: (Stats reflect 2010-11 season)
G Brandon Britt (6-1 So., 10.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 38% FG, 72% FT, 2.2 APG)
G Julian Boatner (6-2 So., 6.8 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 40% FG, 40% 3pt, 83% FT)
G Kendrix Brown (6-3 Sr., 3.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 39% FG, 62% FT, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG)
F Quinn McDowell (6-6 Sr., 15.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 48% FG, 46% 3pt, 87% FT, 2.1 APG)
F JohnMark Ludwick (6-8 Sr., 3.8 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 39% FG, 38% 3pt, 60% FT)

Key Reserves:
F Kyle Gaillard (6-8 Jr., 5.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 48% FG, 35% 3pt, 46% FT, 1.4 APG)
F Tim Rusthoven (6-9 So., 5.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 57% FG, 84% FT)
G Matt Rum (6-4 Jr., 5.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 35% FG, 80% FT, 2.1 APG)

Keys To Victory:
  • Win with Quinn.
As Quinn McDowell goes, so too does the team. The leading scorer, three-point shooter, foul shooter and top returning rebounder from last year's team, McDowell is obviously an integral part of the Tribe roster. At 6-6, McDowell is the second-tallest of the William & Mary starters; and will most likely draw Moe Harkless as a defensive assignment, which makes his ability to knock down shots even more of a factor given Harkless' two double-doubles in as many preseason games for the Red Storm.

  • Bombs away.
For every reason why St. John's needs to guard the three-point line, William & Mary should come out firing. After a year in which the Tribe shot a collective 36 percent from beyond the arc, coach Tony Shaver would be smart to force St. John's into showing off their length and athleticism against a group that has experienced options outside. St. John's would also need to have their shooters get on a hot streak to keep up with the Tribe if the game becomes a shootout.

  • Use the big men.
Not only does William & Mary have a deeper bench than St. John's, their roster as a whole is also bigger, with five members of the regular rotation measuring equal to or taller than the biggest St. John's players (Harkless and Achiuwa) at 6-8. If they can stay out of foul trouble, William & Mary's bigs, which give them a decided size advantage in the generally small CAA, will create a mismatch inside the paint that will play to their favor.

So, Who Wins?

In one corner you have a team many critics are lauding as a sleeper just two years removed from a 22-win season and NIT appearance that is trying to return to the upper echelon of one of the strongest mid-major leagues in the nation. In the other lies the reigning national media darling, now starting over while simultaneously keeping the national attention on their side. This will be a telling game for both sides. For the Johnnies, it will be a matchup in which the team gets some much-needed experience that will prepare them for bigger opponents the likes of Arizona and Kentucky; while for William & Mary, it's a chance to prove that they are just as much a part of the mix for a CAA title as conference brethren George Mason and VCU. The Tribe will also get the benefit of having a BCS opponent, something that will serve them well for future matchups against Missouri and Iona among others. Although this game will be close, don't count on it to be the trap that some analysts are suspecting it may be. The Tribe may have the experience, but the Johnnies have the superior talent that will get them over the hump in this one.

Your Final: St. John's 82, William & Mary 71

Friday, November 4, 2011

New York's Other Team: St. John's Women's Basketball

Ten years ago, St. John's women's basketball barely had a pulse; but Lady Johnnies are now relevant with six postseason appearances in last seven seasons under coach Kim Barnes Arico. (Photo courtesy of

Depending on who you speak to, you'll get a varying answer as to who truly is "New York's college team." To those in upstate New York, the choice is Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orange. Closer to New York City, the consensus leans toward St. John's University. Steve Lavin may have led the Red Storm to their first NCAA Tournament since 2002 with last year's magical run started by ten seniors on a mission to prove that they belonged among the elite; but over the last decade, it has been the lesser regarded basketball program in Queens that has been the most successful, with six postseason appearances in the last seven seasons and three trips to the second round of the NCAA Tournament under a coach that could conceivably take over the reins of a low or mid-major Division I men's basketball program and lead it to the same level of greatness.

Now entering her tenth year at the helm of the Lady Johnnies, Kim Barnes Arico leads a nationally ranked team into action once again despite losing two key pieces from last year's team in seniors Sky Lindsay and Coco Hart. "We've had some significant losses," said Barnes Arico this morning when she met the media for the first time at St. John's annual team media day. "It will be interesting to see how we adjust."

In addition to Lindsay and Hart graduating, the Red Storm were dealt yet another blow several weeks ago when it was announced that star forward Da'Shena Stevens, who enters her senior season as a potential All-American, would be out 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. Stevens is recovering; but will be out for most, if not all of, St. John's nonconference schedule. In her absence, Barnes Arico will count on two transfers that are now eligible to play for the Johnnies after sitting out last year. Mary Nwachukwu, who comes to St. John's from Boston College, will be a prime candidate to fill minutes while Stevens is out; and has been "growing as a player" according to Stevens. In addition, Delaware transfer Tesia Harris, the older sister of Milwaukee Bucks forward Tobias and NC State freshman Tyler, is a shooter that can play both guard and forward when necessary. The Red Storm can also employ 6-3 junior center Jennifer Blanding to be a commanding post presence against bigger lineups. Blanding also looks to be in the best shape of her career, as she has lost some weight and put on additional muscle. Stevens may be out, but the second star player for St. John's is healthy and ready to continue making an impact after being among the team's leading scorers in each of her first two seasons. Junior guard Shenneika Smith returns to anchor the backcourt, and is confident that the team will return to their winning ways by the end of the season.

With her star player out for the first half of the season, Barnes Arico intimated that the Red Storm could use four-guard sets to combat size advantages that favor their opponents, and leading the charge in the backcourt alongside Smith will be juniors Nadirah McKenith and Eugeneia McPherson, the last remaining members of Barnes Arico's notorious "Mac Attack," a group that also included forward Joy McCorvey and guard Monique McLean and Kelly McManmon once upon a time. McPherson, a Long Island product that has been the sixth man for St. John's in each of her first two seasons, now becomes a full-time starter; and Barnes Arico insists she will have a breakout year after doing a "tremendous job" in practice leading up to the season opener. McKenith, a combo guard like her backcourt partner McPherson, is back as well after battling injuries through her sophomore campaign last year. Since shooter Amanda Burakoski transferred in the offseason, the three-point threat St. John's has had with Burakoski and Kelly McManmon in years past is gone; but Barnes Arico believes McKenith can fill the void. "Nadirah is probably our best outside shooter,"said the coach, but "you wouldn't know that because she never takes them." Sophomores Briana Brown and Keylantra Langley have made great strides as well, and each could see considerable minutes when the Lady Johnnies do indeed play four guards. "Briana and Tesia Harris will need to knock shots down for us," said Barnes Arico. "They'll be the ones we run things for."

The Red Storm open their season a week from tomorrow at Carnesecca Arena against St. Bonaventure; but Barnes Arico's season starts earlier than that, as the coach will be running in Sunday's New York City Marathon. Although this is her first marathon, the coach has been training throughout the summer; and will have both her team and family on the course to support her. After the St. Bonaventure game, the Lady Johnnies host La Salle on November 16th before making the trip to Long Island to face Hofstra at the Mack Center in Hempstead two days later, with Wagner College coming over the Verrazano Bridge to face the Red Storm in Queens two days before Thanksgiving.

St. John's heads out to the Bahamas immediately following the holiday for a tournament in which they will match up with Iowa before facing either Temple or reigning national champion Texas A&M in the championship game. Barnes Arico will then prepare her team for nonconference home games against Howard and Hartford before their Big East opener in Chicago on December 7th against DePaul. Top-ranked Baylor will face St. John's four days later in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden in a Sunday morning matchup that will feature the Lady Johnnies trying to stop Baylor superstar Brittney Griner, regarded by many to be the best player in the nation.

The Red Storm return to their home arena to host the fourth annual Chartwells Holiday Classic, first taking on Prairie View A&M before facing either Louisiana Tech or Memphis in the championship on December 18th. A road trip to Harvard serves as the last contest St. John's plays before Christmas, and Barnes Arico's team will get their final nonconference test at home against Boston University on New Year's Eve before opening 2012 on January 4th against Providence at Carnesecca Arena.

A home game with Louisville precedes a January 12th trip to the Carrier Dome to take on rising powerhouse Syracuse, with the Johnnies' second trip to Madison Square Garden coming three days later against Marquette in the second half of a doubleheader featuring the men's team in action against Georgetown. The Red Storm will play the first half of a home-and-home series against Rutgers and legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer on January 17th at Carnesecca before hitting the road to face Cincinnati four days later.

January 28th will be a big day for St. John's basketball. Not only do the boys meet Duke inside Cameron Indoor Stadium looking to end Duke's 11-year nonconference home winning streak, but the women entertain Notre Dame at Carnesecca Arena in what will undoubtedly be the biggest home game of the season for them. The Fighting Irish enter the season as the class of the Big East; but have been upset by St. John's in both of their last two trips to Queens, each with a Top 10 ranking to their credit before contesting the opening tip.

Road games against Pittsburgh and Seton Hall take the Red Storm through January and into February, with St. John's hosting USF on February 8th before making the trip down Interstate 95 four days later to wrap up a home-and-home series with Rutgers at the RAC in Piscataway, with another game away from home against Geno Auriemma and UConn at Gampel Pavilion. The Lady Johnnies play their final two home games against West Virginia and Villanova before traveling to Georgetown to conclude the regular season on February 27th.