Sunday, March 31, 2013

Marshall Belongs, And His Time Is Now

Gregg Marshall raises West Regional championship trophy as Wichita State becomes first Missouri Valley representative in Final Four since Indiana State in 1979.  (Photo courtesy of the Wichita Eagle)

It began on November 16th, 1998, on a Monday evening far removed from the national spotlight that he was belatedly thrust into around 9:40 p.m. Eastern time last night.

On that night some fourteen and a half years ago, the career of a then-35-year-old rookie head coach took flight in the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina, a town tucked just inside the northern boundaries of the Palmetto State. Forty minutes after the opening tip, Gregg Marshall won his debut game at Winthrop University after a thirteen-year apprenticeship as an assistant at four different institutions, with his Eagles defeating Mercer University by the final of 79-63 to give Marshall his first of many victories on a path of quiet success in the coaching ranks, a yellow brick road of sorts that; although somewhat delayed, has finally reached the Emerald City in the wake of the 333rd victory of his long career.

For the first nine of his fifteen seasons in the collegiate coaching fraternity, Gregg Marshall turned Winthrop into the Gonzaga of the South, a low-major program with only three winning seasons in its first twelve years at the Division I level before Marshall was tabbed to take the reins from previous coach Dan Kenney. From there, all he did was guide the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons and seven times overall in his nine-year tenure, not letting up until he had racked up a 194-83 record in Rock Hill, with his worst showing being a 16-12 campaign in the 2003-04 season. By the time Marshall was through, Winthrop had reached heights that programs of its small stature spend eternities dreaming of: A Top 25 ranking, a regular-season win over a BCS conference; and most importantly, an NCAA Tournament win, which the Eagles picked up as a No. 11 seed in 2007 over a Notre Dame team that featured the likes of Russell Carter and Colin Falls starting for Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish that season, with future stars such as Luke Harangody, Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson just beginning their own careers in South Bend. After turning down offers from Tennessee and North Carolina State, not to mention his change of heart at College of Charleston, Marshall arrived at his second; and only other, destination to date in the aftermath of Winthrop's run to the final 32, succeeding current Maryland boss Mark Turgeon at Wichita State after the former Jayhawk point guard departed the largest city in Kansas to take over a Texas A&M program that Billy Gillispie left for a failed stint at Kentucky.

Despite an 11-20 inaugural run at Wichita State in a 2007-08 season where in-state rival Kansas won its first national championship in two decades, Marshall built the Shockers the same way he turned Winthrop into a Southern powerhouse, recruiting diamonds in the rough and working the junior college transfer room as well as anyone to bring an NIT championship to the Plains in 2011, a Missouri Valley regular season crown the year after, and delivering Wichita State's first Final Four appearance since 1965; when Marshall was just two years old, upon narrowly escaping Ohio State by the final of 70-66 in a game the Shockers led for most of the night.

Marshall's approach, one that has both kept his teams in every game they have played (in 485 career games, Marshall's teams have lost by double digits just 58 times, or 12 percent of the time) and made him among the best in the world at what he does; even if he is content to conduct business in the shadows, has just now been brought to the national forefront by virtue of Wichita State's unexpected road to the national semifinals. Coming into the year, Marshall had to replace each of his top five scorers on the heels of a crushing one-and-done NCAA Tournament loss to Shaka Smart and Virginia Commonwealth last season. What followed was a retooling job that would make certain other coaches in much more prestigious conferences blush. Joe Ragland, Toure' Murry, David Kyles, Ben Smith and Garrett Stutz are gone, replaced by Malcolm Armstead, Tekele Cotton, Fred Van Vleet, Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early, with three more wins to show for it than the Shockers' 27-6 efforts of one year ago thanks to this year's group heeding a two-word call to action:


The mantra served as Marshall's final words of encouragement during last night's West Regional final against Ohio State, a team looking to advance to its third Final Four in seven seasons for coach Thad Matta. Yet Marshall's skill at building and executing a well-rounded and carefully constructed game plan won out over the Buckeyes' determination, giving Wichita State a decided edge in a matchup they led by 20 points midway through the second half before Ohio State found a way to make it interesting with a 23-6 run that brought them within three points before the Shockers ultimately closed the game out and gave the Missouri Valley its first Final Four participant since that magical Indiana State team Larry Bird took into the national championship game against Magic Johnson and Michigan State in 1979.

Wichita State is on their way to the Final Four, and the spotlight is finally on Gregg Marshall, but more so for whether or not he will leave the Shockers to fill the vacancies at either Southern California or Minnesota, as opposed to being recognized for his status as one of the nation's premier tacticians is getting overlooked during his team's march toward destiny. It may not be the most desirable means to introduce him to the masses, but it is Marshall's reluctance to leave for the bigger payday, and reverence to the job he is currently entrusted with, that makes him perhaps an even bigger star than any amount of wins and losses can let on. Now, Gregg Marshall's star has never shone brighter, and it guides him and his team to Atlanta, where awaiting Wichita State will be either Louisville or Duke, depending on the outcome of today's Midwest Regional final.

At halftime of the West Regional final, Marshall imparted one last set of words of encouragement to his team before Wichita State emerged from the locker room and capped off one of the bigger upsets of this year's NCAA Tournament:

"If we believe more, and we belong, THEN THIS IS OUR TIME.  IT'S GOING TO HAPPEN."

The same statement can now be used to justify Gregg Marshall's career. He already belongs, it is clearly his time; in fact, it has been since he made a name for himself at Winthrop, and it is already happening. 

Now the rest of the nation needs to catch up and start believing in him. You don't always need a surname synonymous with greatness and rich history, like a Krzyzewski, Smith, Pitino, Calhoun, Boeheim, Knight, Izzo, or Calipari; and over the course of time, a Stevens or Smart. There are some instances in life where the boy or girl next door is more attractive than the prom king or queen.  Maybe what we were looking for in a successful coach has been here the whole time, with most of the nation too oblivious to open its eyes.

Give Gregg Marshall forty minutes, and his skill set and teams will show you that he, too, belongs in the same room with the aforementioned greats rather than being the man who opens the door for them, even if his success comes at a mid-major.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Jeff Short To Transfer From Fordham

Fordham's crowded backcourt adds an incoming freshman, but loses an experienced upperclassman after Jeff Short announced intention to transfer from Rose Hill.  (Photo courtesy of Fordham University)

Following a 7-24 season, Fordham's backcourt has undergone addition by subtraction.

Less than a week after the Rams received a verbal commitment from 6-1 Antwoine Anderson, a 6-1 combo guard from Bishop Kearney High School in the same upstate New York region that lured Mandell Thomas to Rose Hill last season, Fordham was dealt a minor blow when shooting guard Jeff Short decided to transfer, according to a tweet from SNY's Adam Zagoria earlier tonight.

A redshirt freshman coming off of two knee surgeries going into this past season, Short played in all but four of Fordham's 31 games, averaging 5.6 points per game and shooting 32 percent from three-point range.  Short's high-energy style and willingness to carry the team when Branden Frazier battled slumps and foul trouble made him an integral part of the backcourt for Tom Pecora, however, his shot selection and tendency to do too much at once took away from his potential at times.

A Daly Dose Of Hoops will have more information on this subject as it becomes available, along with other news and notes from Fordham this offseason.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tony Bozzella Will Bring Seton Hall Back

Flanked by Seton Hall president Dr. Gabriel Esteban to his right and athletic director Pat Lyons on his left, Tony Bozzella made confident and impactful splash upon returning to his alma mater following successful 11-year run at Iona.  (Photo courtesy of Seton Hall University)

Seton Hall University hired just its fourth women's basketball coach in the history of the program earlier this morning, going with a man who has not only won wherever else he has been, but left a reputation for winning and cultivating skill sets in his players that were previously untapped.

The Pirates did not just get it right by hiring Tony Bozzella, they hit a grand slam.

This hire by Seton Hall athletic director Pat Lyons, Bozzella's former boss at Iona before the two officially reunited about five hours ago, is not about nepotism or getting the band back together as some may suggest by the fact that fellow Gaels expatriate Kevin Willard is in charge of the men's program in South Orange.  Rather, it is about truly finding the right fit for a program in desperate need of fresh blood, a new leader who can breathe a unique fire into a team that has gone six seasons without a postseason appearance.  In the 47-year-old Bozzella, a proud family man above all else, the Seton Hall community gets a native son in some regards; one who is a Class of 1988 alumnus, even meeting his eventual wife, Maria, while a student nearly three decades ago, and now someone who will raise the players he inherits just as well as he has raised his own two children.

Despite only once reaching the NCAA Tournament in his thirteen years at the Division I level, Bozzella's record speaks for itself.  He leaves Iona College after a strong eleven-year tenure in which he became the Gaels' winningest mentor this past season, and also departs with the satisfaction of leaving his former program in good hands, as all five starters from a MAAC runner-up squad that ended a 20-13 campaign with wins in ten of its final thirteen games return next year.  He also, arguably, leaves for a better opportunity in a suddenly more competitive Big East, one free of the perennial crowding of the top spots by Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville.  If anything, Bozzella's experience in battling Brian Giorgis and Marist for MAAC supremacy over the last decade will only enhance his credibility as he enters the high-major world for the first time.

If you had the opportunity to listen to Bozzella's introductory press conference this morning, it was easy to pick up on the fact that he wants to be at Seton Hall, even relishes the opportunity of being able to return to his alma mater a conquering hero.  When a coach's passion pours out so strongly that it instantly resonates with a fan base that is just as eager to embrace a winner as the coach himself is, it creates a certain brand of magic; one that is unstoppable when firing on all cylinders, as evidenced by Steve Lavin's first season at St. John's two years ago.

For those who have followed Bozzella's career, no explanation is necessary.  You will know how he coached his teams at Iona, leaving nothing on the court, how he brought unheralded recruits into New Rochelle and developed them into greater successes than half the coaches in the nation have been able to turn out.  How he built a foundation with players the likes of Martina Weber and Suzi Fregosi among others, eventually laying one brick at a time and carefully placing it atop the other until he had talent the likes of Damika Martinez, Joy Adams and Aleesha Powell, the first two of whom are the reigning MAAC Player and Rookie of the Year, respectively.

Bozzella's new team at Seton Hall may be losing two starters, but he is not walking into a house without a door or a roof.  Dynamic combo guard Ka-Deidre Simmons will be back for her junior season, and will likely anchor the Pirate offense yet again, giving her new coach a player who is equal parts scorer and facilitator.  As far as the rest of the roster, expect increased productivity across the board from a coach and staff who will stop at nothing to get the most out of their players, starting with Bozzella and going down to associate head coach and former UMBC boss Phil Stern, even further down to assistant Lauren DeFalco, who herself played for Bozzella once upon a time at Iona.

Winning the press conference truly does take you only so far in college basketball, but Tony Bozzella is a winner where it matters.  Not only is he a winner on the court, he is a winner in life, a man who the parents of a 17-year-old daughter about to make the jump from high school to college can trust to guide their child down the right road in life and be there for a beacon of everlasting support.  He is a fighter, someone who jumped into coaching at the age of 21, taking a job coaching the girls' basketball team at St. Mary's High School in South Amboy, and slowly landing jab after jab until he finally scored the right cross that is the Seton Hall job he just filled today.  He is a confident man, one who will not willingly concede defeat.  When Bozzella emphatically declared that he and his staff were "going to make this work," you didn't have to be a lip reader or psychologist to know he meant every word he said.  This man will embody the concept of a hard-working man who wants the best not just for himself, but more importantly for those around him; his players, his fans, his alumni supporters, and most of all, his family.  Bozzella stressed the family environment fostered within the Seton Hall community several times, each increasingly stronger than the last.  It is extremely hard to generate appreciation from apathy no matter what field you represent, but Tony Bozzella is well on his way to producing something from what several have described as nothing.

"I can assure you," the coach said as he culminated his inaugural address, "that Seton Hall basketball, men and women, will be extremely successful."  I can assure you that Tony Bozzella will make this happen sooner rather than later.  His infectious spirit and passion are simply too strong to suggest otherwise.  Not only will he better his own program, but his positive nature and desire to get the job done will breed winning across the board in South Orange, inspiring his other colleagues to unleash their own passion to succeed.

After being mired in a slump that has gone on longer than most would like to admit, Seton Hall, and the world around it, finally has its savior.  Now he gets to introduce himself to a new legion of fans, who will give him the same warm embrace he has received everywhere else.  The embrace of a winner.

Monday, March 25, 2013

NCAA Women's Tournament: A Photo Gallery

With the NCAA Women's Tournament coming to our home base of Carnesecca Arena, we were once again treated to a photo essay from Ray Floriani, this one encompassing both first-round games between Kentucky and Navy, and the Dayton/St. John's game that followed:

Queens, NY -      On Sunday afternoon in round one of the Women’s NCAA tournament, we were treated to a true classic. St. John’s-Dayton, two overtimes. The interesting thing about classics is they evolve. Some matchups hint you might get a game of classic variety.  But there is no definitive guarantee.
          Years ago in the men’s NCAA, I headed out to Nassau Coliseum for Northeastern-Villanova. On paper, it was an intriguing game given one Jim Calhoun on the Northeastern sideline with his counterpart, Rollie Massimino. That afternoon we got a true classic in every sense, with Villanova outlasting the Huskies in three overtimes.
          On Sunday following Kentucky’s 61-41 win in game one over Navy, Dayton led by ten with just over four minutes left. Not especially outstanding material. In the stretch St. John’s pressured, rallied and eventually tied the score forcing overtime.
          Dayton was battling the Carnesecca Arena crowd, the loss of momentum and desire of St. John’s seniors as Nadirah McKenith who did not want this to all end. In overtime Dayton played even and we had a second extra session.
          The Flyers then drew first blood in overtime number two, regained that momentum and advanced with a 96-90 decision and  a meeting with Kentucky.
Just a classic game given to us by the women. Another reason these games seem to frequently happen in post season is the stakes. The realization a loss means end of a season and/or career.
          Coaches today with their inherent pressures seem to lose the chance to savor a special win. Not Jim Jabir of Dayton. He was headed back to start looking at Kentucky tapes but added, “I will enjoy this one tonight.” He had every right to. 

A'Dia Mathies of Kentucky inbounding the ball:
Down one at halftime, Kentucky heads out for the second half:
The Navy alma mater being played, with Kentucky players and coaches there as well in a show of honor and respect:
St. John's guard Aliyyah Handford off the dribble:
Navy players relaxed and took in the second game, savoring their NCAA experience:
Dayton head coach Jim Jabir, with an excited St. John's fan in the background:
The Dayton cheer squad celebrates after the Flyers' double overtime victory:

George Mason To Atlantic 10

Led by Michael "Doc Nix" Nickens, George Mason and their "Green Machine" band will have new home, leaving CAA for Atlantic 10 as of July 1st.  (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

The Atlantic 10 is once again acting quickly to replace the four schools that have left.

With Butler and Xavier leaving for the Big East, Temple for what is left of the Big East, and Charlotte returning to Conference USA, the A-10 officially adds its thirteenth member on July 1st, as George Mason will be mirroring Virginia Commonwealth and Richmond in leaving the Colonial Athletic Association in favor of the A-10.

"This move, as you can imagine, creates a lot of exciting opportunities for our students," George Mason president Dr. Angel Cabrera explained.  "We're confident that our membership with the Atlantic 10 will help build our future and take the story of George Mason around the world."

Athletic director Tom O'Connor emphasized the reunion with two of the Patriots' former rivals, as VCU and Richmond will once again face off with Mason on a regular basis.  "Part of the decision process was to make sure we weren't just in the Atlantic 10, but that we were successful in the Atlantic 10.  That was a difficult phone call to make, (to CAA commissioner Tom Yeager) there was a lot of sentiment involved."

The move to the Atlantic 10 will only cost George Mason $2.65 million, including a $1 million CAA exit fee.  In addition, the Patriots' seven spring sports teams will be ineligible for CAA championship competition as per league bylaws.

The CAA now becomes a nine-team league, as Old Dominion and Georgia State have left for Conference USA and the Sun Belt, respectively, while College of Charleston comes over from the Southern Conference.  The A-10 will more than likely look to even its ranks, perhaps exploring the possibility of adding Siena while Dayton and Saint Louis may also be leaving for the Big East.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dayton 96, St. John's 90: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Nadirah McKenith closes stellar four-year career by finishing just one rebound short of a triple-double in St. John's 96-90 NCAA Tournament loss to Dayton in double overtime.  (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

St. John's head coach Joe Tartamella's opening statement:
"Our seniors have done so much for us, and they can leave here with their heads held high.  I couldn't be happier with this group, I'm really proud of them."

Senior guards Shenneika Smith and Nadirah McKenith on the realization that their careers have come to an end:
Smith: "It's not a great feeling.  Obviously, we wanted to get the 'W.'  It's terrible right now.  We did some great things for the program, and that's what we came here for.  I don't think we have any regrets."
McKenith: "I'm at a loss for words, but I'm just so proud of the way my team fought."

Smith and McKenith on Ashley Perez (17 points) and her breakout game:
Smith: "She hit a lot of huge threes.  Being a freshman, you wouldn't think she'd have that kind of confidence."
McKenith: "I knew she was going to have a breakout game soon, and this was a big game for her to do it in."

Perez on her performance:
"It was exciting.  Coach said I would hit some big shots, and it was nice to see that everyone believed in me."

Joe Tartamella on today's game:
"I think the energy we felt in the building today was what we expected, and I was pleased to see it.  I never thought that we weren't going to come back, because that's what we've done.  We let them (Dayton) do what they were good at early, they made threes.  Those players gave everything they had for us today, and we'll be back."

On Nadirah McKenith:
"She's a special player.  You can't replace a kid like that.  When she made the shot, (at the end of regulation) it reminded me of Creighton last year. (in the NCAA Tournament) She's our leader, our general."

Nuggets of Note:
- St. John's erased a ten-point deficit in the final 4:19 of regulation by uncorking a 16-6 run that included a 10-2 spurt over the final 95 seconds of the second half.  Led by Nadirah McKenith, (more on her later) the Red Storm took away Dayton's momentum and brought the home crowd to life until McKenith fouled out in the first overtime on a call that ultimately crippled the Lady Johnnies in the second extra session.

- Remember this name for the future: Ashley Perez.  The freshman guard, who had averaged just 1.2 points per game before today, erupted for a career-high 17 on 6-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-5 from three-point range.  The Connecticut native, who backs up her striking good looks with a shot that is just as attractive, played with a confidence and swagger that belied her young age, showing some of the form that earned her the title of all-time leading scorer at her old high school in the Nutmeg State.

- In addition to Perez, four other St. John's players scored in double figures, led by McKenith and Shenneika Smith with 22 and 18, respectively.  In addition, freshman guard Aliyyah Handford chipped in with 15 points while Amber Thompson contributed 13.

- After fighting all season to emerge from the shadow of former coach Kim Barnes Arico, who won her NCAA Tournament opener earlier today as Michigan defeated Villanova, head coach Joe Tartamella made the most of his rookie season at the helm, finishing strong with the Red Storm, winning six of his final nine games as his team fought harder with each passing day.  Despite losing two-thirds of his backcourt, Tartamella will still bring several valuable pieces back to Queens next season, when the Red Storm will no doubt be among the favorites to win the soon-to-be restructured Big East championship.

- Finally, what more can you ask from Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith after four years of going above and beyond both on and off the court?  Both guards leave the corner of Union and Utopia with an NCAA Tournament appearance in every year, including the Sweet 16 appearance last season, and both made indelible lasting impressions in front of their hometown fans today.  Smith gave a typical warrior's effort, playing all 50 minutes while scoring 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting along with five rebounds and two steals, while McKenith may have had her finest game in a Red Storm uniform, putting the finishing touches on a great career with 22 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, including a driving layup at the end of regulation to send the game into the first of two overtimes.  Both perennial all-Big East selections will be greatly missed, and deserve any and all recognition for a job well done.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jamie Dixon Signs New Contract At Pitt

Jamie Dixon puts end to speculation concerning his future, as Pitt coach signs 10-year contract to stay in Steel City through 2022-23 season.  (Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The Pittsburgh Panthers may have a new home in terms of their conference affiliation, but their head coach is not going anywhere.

Jamie Dixon, who had been the subject of several rumors following Pitt's NCAA Tournament elimination at the hands of Wichita State Thursday afternoon, silenced the chatter moments ago when it was announced that he had signed a ten-year contract to remain at the helm of the Panthers through the 2022-23 season.  The contract signing, which was broken by ESPN's Andy Katz, puts to rest the speculation that Dixon would return to his Southern California home to potentially take over as the new coach at USC, who fired Kevin O'Neill in January and are not expected to retain interim coach Bob Cantu.

"Pitt and Pittsburgh are home," said Dixon, who will join the Panthers in the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.  "My family and I feel blessed to be part of such a great institution and a wonderful city."

Elevated to the head coach position in 2003 after Ben Howland, under whom Dixon had served as associate head coach before he was hired at UCLA, the 47-year-old Dixon is 262-86 in his ten seasons at the helm in the Steel City.  His .753 winning percentage is the highest in program history despite never advancing to a Final Four, as the 2009 Elite Eight appearance remains the most successful NCAA Tournament run under Dixon's watch, with a Scottie Reynolds runner sending Villanova to the national semifinals at the Panthers' expense.

With Dixon now out of the picture for the USC opening, the Trojans will now set their sights on other candidates, with Memphis coach Josh Pastner and perhaps even St. John's coach Steve Lavin among the names at the top of Southern Cal athletic director Pat Haden's list.  Should Lavin decide to leave Queens, Iona coach Tim Cluess; who has already been linked to the vacancy at Hofstra, could be in play for the Red Storm.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cassara Out After Three Seasons At Hofstra

After three seasons and circumstances beyond his control, Mo Cassara is regrettably out at Hofstra despite clearly deserving a shot to turn team around.  (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

Another head coaching vacancy now exists, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Mo Cassara, who spent the last three seasons at Hofstra with teams not picked to go very far, yet turned them into some of the hardest-working and competing groups in New York college basketball, was unceremoniously fired this morning in a decision that comes to those who know him as more than just a surprise.

Assistant coach Patrick Sellers has been named interim head coach, but this is not about that.  Rather, this is about someone who was dealt as rough a hand as you can get when four of his players were arrested for theft in November, yet managed to keep a team of seven players in contention for almost every game the rest of the way, getting a raw deal.

Following Hofstra's final home game, a 57-56 loss to Delaware that I attended, all indications were that Cassara would be back next season.  With a seven-man recruiting class that would help offset the loss of David Imes and Steve Mejia coming to Hempstead, the future seemed bright on the Turnpike, just as it did when Cassara inherited a team loaded with Tom Pecora's recruits in 2010 and took it to a 20-win season.  The latest arrest, this one of UConn transfer Jamal Coombs-McDaniel for possession of marijuana, may have proved to be the final straw for Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz, no fan of negative publicity, even if his decision to pull the plug on Hofstra football provided some more of that.

Cassara will certainly find a job right away, as his youth, (he turns just 38 this year) infectious personality, positive demeanor and social media savvy (that last part helped differentiate him from most other coaches around these parts) will be gold mines for his future employer(s) to tap into.  He just shouldn't have gone on the market so soon.  The coach deserved better, and deserved the opportunity to lead Hofstra out of the abyss it entered when Tim Welsh, originally tapped to replace Pecora before his drunk driving arrest, sent the program into a tailspin three years ago from which it has yet to recover.

Hofstra had something very good going for them with the charismatic and engaging Cassara.  It just seemed fitting that he would get one more chance at redemption with a program hard-starved for it, but it was not to be.  The Pride will almost certainly be able to attract a big name to Long Island, as Hofstra is one of the better jobs in the area, but whomever they bring in as Cassara's successor has a tall task ahead of him in terms of matching the enthusiasm and fervor with which his predecessor roamed the sideline for three years.  I truly believe that Hofstra will not realize just how good a man they had leading their basketball program until the new season opens in November, regardless of who is introduced in the coming weeks.

However, life is not about how many times you get hit, but rather how well you can sustain each blow and get back up.  Mo Cassara will recover soon enough, even though the only recovery he should be making is finally putting a 7-25 season behind him and looking ahead to next year.  He can still do that, but unfortunately not at Hofstra.

Another man dismissed for the wrong reasons.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NCAA Tournament Roundtable

While most brackets have Indiana or Louisville winning it all, there are some who feel Jim Larranaga can take what he did in 2006 with George Mason one step further by winning it all in Atlanta with Miami.  (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

With the NCAA Tournament now in full swing, I wanted to get some thoughts from some friends of the website and piece them together.  Following an exchange of e-mails between Selection Sunday and tonight, coupled with the help of Norman Rose from Rumble in the Garden and past contributor to the site Gary Moore of The College Hardwood, (whom you may remember for his scouting reports on College of Charleston, South Carolina and Charlotte) we have our meeting of the minds as the field of 68 (now 65 at press time) gets narrowed down to one on the night of April 8th.  Here are some helpful hints, picks and primers from the three of us, without any further ado:

Norman Rose (Rumble in the Garden)

So many good, experienced Final Four coaches, but I pick Louisville - they seem to be peaking at the right time. 

Players to watch: Montrezl Harrell on Louisville has become so energetic for the Cardinals. Oregon's Arsalan Kazemi is fun to watch.

Upsets: St. Mary's over Memphis is popular and I see why. I almost have St. Mary's knocking off Michigan State as well... hmm... that COULD happen... or Memphis could go to the Elite Eight. 

Matchups: Will Creighton's passive defense and hot shooting beat Cincy? Duke/ Louisville in the Elite Eight will be a thrill. SO many coaching scowls, so much foul language!

I'm flipping a coin between Gonzaga and New Mexico. And Pittsburgh. I carry strange coins in my pocket. I am going outside of the box (ok, or not) and going with New Mexico. I don't think of Steve Alford as a "Final Four" coach, but I do see a Gonzaga team that I'm not so sure is ready to get past Pittsburgh. 

Also - Pittsburgh/ Wichita State vs Gonzaga is going to be so physical and fundamental, it'll be a good watch. 

Players to watch: Is this the tournament where Arizona's Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom become stars? Tony Snell of New Mexico is a baller when he's on. 

Upsets: That Ole Miss/ Wisconsin game is tantalizing, but I don't think Ole Miss is all that good. Iowa State may not be that great, but Notre Dame can lose to anyone. Belmont has the kind of creative players that could give lackluster Arizona a jolt.

Matchups: New Mexico/ Ohio State might be boring but it will be gritty and fundamental as heck. 

I'm big on Indiana busting through to get to the Final Four here. They have solid experience, played in the Sweet Sixteen last year, and their draw is filled with uninspiring teams until they get the regional final. 

Players to watch: Mike Muscala at Bucknell - he's big and capable. Brandon Paul of Illinois could carry the Illini; Colorado's Andre Roberson is very solid.

Upsets: I could see California pulling off the 12 over 5; I definitely see Bucknell knocking off an iffy Butler team (which means that won't happen. Brad Stevens knows when his team is picked to lose, and when its not; he is the Santa Claus of strategy). 

Matchups: I'm waiting to see when Syracuse's shooting magic wears off. Miami's run will be entertaining and if they get to match up against Indiana I'll be thrilled to watch.

Florida gets lots of love, as does Kansas, but I am thinking Georgetown cuts down the regional nets.

GEORGETOWN IS AWESOME. I write that only so that phrase appears on Daly Dose once.

Players to watch: Can Shabazz Muhammad pull UCLA out of the muck and help secure Ben Howland's continued employment? Florida Gulf Coast has a smart coach who schemes well and can hang with a major conference opponent. Michigan has Trey Burke vs Havoc, which should be sweet. 

Upsets: Georgetown COULD lose to FGCU... I see a lot of chalk until the Sweet Sixteen. There, I see all four teams as vulnerable.

Matchups: Michigan South Dakota State is going to be a white knuckler. So is VCU/ Michigan.

Gary Moore (The College Hardwood)

1) Pick Seven to Eight Double Digit Seeds to win in Round of 64 - Since 2006, with the exception of 2007 when only two double digit seeds made it past the Round 64,  double digit seeds on average have won seven games in the Round of 64 (2012 - 9, 2011-6, 2010-8, 2009-8, 2008-6, 2006-8).

To go even further, since 2006, #12 seeds have won eleven Round of 64 games.  #11 seeds have won thirteen Round of 64 games. #10 seeds have won twelve Round of 64 games. Since 2006, with the exception of 2007, A #13 seed has won at least one Round of 64 game. 

Based on the odds, figure at least two #10 seeds, two #11 seeds, two #12 seeds and one #13 seed are going to win their Round of 64 games.

2) Don't Pick Double Digit Seeds in the Second Round - Since 2006, no more than three double digit seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16 (2012 -3, 2011-3, 2010-3,2009-1,2008-3,2007-none, 2006-2).   So even if you think any team can win this year, temper your enthusiasm when it comes to double digit seeds in the second round.  Pick maybe one or two exceptions and go with chalk.  See #4 for more details.

3) #2 Seeds Often Die Before the Elite Eight - I saw a CBS statistic last night that only 42.5% of #2 seeds make it to the Elite Eight.  That's less than half folks.  If you are picking more than two #2 seeds to make it to the Elite Eight, check again.  If you want to do well in your office pool, pick two #2 seeds to either  lose in the Round of 32 or certainly in the Sweet Sixteen.

4) Know Where Certain Teams Are Playing - The Committee is often very generous in giving teams basically home games in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  This year is no exception - Michigan, Michigan State, California, Louisville and Ohio State are playing in their home state for the first two rounds.  Kansas and Kansas State are playing in the familiar territory of Kansas City, Missouri, which hosted the Big 12 Tournament last week.  

If you think for example VCU has a great chance of upsetting Michigan on what's basically a home court, you may want to rethink.  Likewise, temper your enthusiasm for Iowa State/Notre Dame vs. Ohio State.

However, from #2, if you think a double digit seed is going to make it to the Sweet 16, look for a double digit seed playing on a neutral site.  Minnesota, my #11 pick to go to the Sweet 16 is playing in Austin, Texas.  Florida has no home court advantage there.  Throw in some good guards and I think the Gophers make the Sweet 16.

5) When Picking Teams in a Certain Round, Check To See if Strengths Are Neutralized...Or Not -  It pays to know your teams.  If you are a Ken Pomeroy insider, you might know that Middle Tennessee is 30th in the country in three point percentage offense and St Mary's is #300th in three point field goal percentage defense.  Likewise, Belmont is #33 in the country in three point field goal percentage offense and Arizona is #276 in the country in three point field goal percentage defense.  Needless to say, I like Middle Tennessee and Belmont in those matchups.

Even more stats for you.  VCU is #1 in the country in turnover percentage defnse at 28.7 percent.  But Michigan is #1 in the country in turnover percentage on offense at only 14.3 percent. The Wolverines are #11 in the country in 2 pt field goal percentage offense.  That doesn't bode well for the Rams who are 258th in the country in 2 pt field goal percentage defense.   

I heard Jay Bilas basically say that the committee gave VCU a golden opportunity of getting the Rams to the Elite Eight.  I disagree. By putting VCU in a potential second round matchup in Auburn Hills against a Michigan team that doesn't turn the ball over, I say the committee didn't do the Rams any favors at all.

Further down the road, many experts have picked Louisville to win it all.  And as many people know, Louisville's strength is their press, as they are second to VCU in the country in turnover defensive percentage at 27.6 percent.  However, they may likely face St Louis in the Sweet Sixteen.  As the Rams have twice found out, the Billikens are strong with the ball.  St Louis is #46 in the country in turnover percentage offense at 17.6 percent and #23 in the country in turnover percentage defense.  I like the Billikens to knock off the Cardinals.   

I stopped doing brackets years ago because it's more fun to watch the games play out.  That being said, on request, I am contributing to a friend's site this year with some picks.  Here's who I like;

At Large Play In Games - As I noted, I like Middle Tennessee to beat St Mary's.  Middle Tennessee played a good non conference schedule, better than people think. Plus one of their strengths, shooting the three is a major weakness for the Gaels. 

Boise State-LaSalle is a toss up to me.  So I will pick the Broncos to win a close one.  I think either team is capable of beating Kansas State.  So I have Boise as a double digit seed winner in Round of 64

Round of 64 Upsets - Middle Tennessee continues their run knocking off a Memphis team whose best non conference win was Tennessee.  Blue Raiders prove they're the second best team in Tennessee (Belmont is first).

Belmont's three point shooting prowess knocks off Arizona.    Oregon is playing really well.  I don't like Oklahoma State's non conference.  Like the Ducks to win a #5-#12 game. 

This is a slight upset with a #9 over a #8.  Wichita State likes physical play and had a strong non conference schedule .  They will beat Pittsburgh.  

I have #9 Nova beating #8 North Carolina as well another #9, Missouri beating #8 Colorado State,  So why not make it a canasta and say Temple, another #9, beats mercurial #8 NC State. 

As I noted, Boise takes out Kansas State for the sixth straight season a #13 beats a #4. 

Fred Hoiberg's #10 Iowa State beats #7 Notre Dame in a shootout.

#11 Minnesota beats a depleted #6 UCLA team without Jordan Adams. 

Everyone thinks #11 Bucknell can beat #6 Butler in Lexington.  But that's not going to be the upset in that bracket.  I like #14 Davidson, a veteran team that's terrific on offense to beat #3 Marquette. Something tells me that the Golden Eagles will be looking ahead at a potential return match up with Butler.  The Wildcats will stun them.  

Finally #10 Colorado will mercifully end #7 Illinois' wacky season. 

Everything else is chalk. Sorry my Iona friends. The Gaels will give the Buckeyes a good run. But in the end, Iona doesn't have enough defense to beat Ohio State.

Round of 32 -  Based on tournament history, two #2 seeds will be gone before the Elite Eight.  So why not get rid of one of them in the Round of 32.  Creighton, who is more than just Doug McDermott, knocks off Duke. 

I love VCU.  And if they weren't playing Michigan, let alone playing Michigan in Auburn Hills, I could see them beating most other teams left in the Round of 32.  But the Wolverines are a bad match up for the Rams, especially on what amounts to a home court. Michigan advances.

As I noted, love Minnesota's guards.  They handle the Florida press and we at least have one double digit seed go to the Sweet 16.  

A slight upset will be #5 UNLV over #4 Syracuse.  Love Moser and Bennett on the Rebels.

Believe it or not I have chalk with all the other teams - Louisville, who pounds undisciplined Missouri again, St Louis, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Ohio State (only because they are playing in Dayton), Kansas, Georgetown, Indiana, Butler and Miami.

Sweet 16 -  I really believe St Louis knocks off Louisville.  Love their guard play with Jett and Mitchell.  Michigan State and the Fighting Izzos knock off Creighton.

Wisconsin has been playing really well.  I think they take out Gonzaga.  New Mexico is such a terrific defensive team and they have played such a strong schedule overall.  Snell is the difference in beating Ohio State.

Michigan is a much better match up than VCU for Kansas.  McElmore, Withey, Johnson etc beat the Wolverines.  Meanwhile Georgetown's Otto Porter guns down Minnesota.

Indiana outlasts UNLV in a shootout.  Miami's length, especially at guard with Larkin and Scott will be too much for Clarke and Butler.

Elite Eight - Something tells me Michigan State beats St Louis.  I never bet against Izzo with a Final Four on the line. 

New Mexico knocks off another Big Ten team in Wisconsin. Defense wins the day here.

I say there has to be one #1 seed in the Final Four.  Kansas makes Jaden Daly happy and ends Georgetown's run. 

Hate to say it for all those Larranaga haters out there, but he's got a really good team.  Again Scott and Durand are too much for Indiana.  

Final Four - Michigan State ends New Mexico's run.  Meanwhile, Miami beats Kansas in a dandy.  

Final - I have been impressed with Miami all season.  Scott and Larkin take home the title and beat Michigan State. 

A tribute to Jim Larranaga during his tenure at George Mason.  (Photo courtesy of Mike Greiner)

Jaden Daly (A Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Player to Watch: Dwayne Evans of Saint Louis.  A first-team all-Atlantic 10 selection that easily could have been the conference player of the year, Evans took his game to another level during last weekend's A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn, averaging over 20 points per game over three days as the Billikens won their first A-10 championship and continued their emotional run through a season marked by the tragic passing of former head coach Rick Majerus.

Coach to Watch: Evans' mentor, Jim Crews.  No coach has had to deal with the circumstances that Crews has dealt with at Saint Louis this season, taking a program that hit an emotional low with Majerus' death in December and turning it into a championship winner in both the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament.

Local Angle: Take your pick.  Louisville coach Rick Pitino was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island, his star guard Russ Smith is a Molloy product and Queens native, Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick is a White Plains native, and Albany comes into their matchup with Duke off an America East championship that saw the Great Danes knock off regular season conference champion Stony Brook to get to the title game.

Upset Special: (12) Oregon over (5) Oklahoma State.  The Ducks may be the most criminally underseeded team this year, and get a favorable matchup with Travis Ford's Cowboys in a battle of the freshman guards, as Dominic Artis goes up against Marcus Smart.

Best Potential Matchup: (4) Saint Louis vs. (1) Louisville.  If all goes well, you'll see two suffocating defenses in the Midwest semifinals, with Crews and the Billikens taking on Rick Pitino's pressing Cardinals on the same night that Michigan State may very well take on Duke.

Survivor: Michigan State.  I'm firmly convinced that Saint Louis will pull off the upset against Louisville, while Tom Izzo is near impossible to bet against on this stage.  The Spartans once again edge out Saint Louis this year, this time with greater stakes on the line.

Player to Watch: A bit of a stretch, but I'm going with Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga.  The sophomore point guard is arguably among the most underrated players in the nation, and can change any game if he gets on a hot streak from beyond the arc.  Don't count out his teammate Kelly Olynyk, or New Mexico's Tony Snell for that matter.

Coach to Watch: Gregg Marshall of Wichita State.  Among the best coaches in the country even if he's at a mid-major, Marshall knows how to win in March, especially against big-name programs, and should have the Shockers ready for their opening round matchup with Pittsburgh.

Local Angle: Aside from the obvious one with Tim Cluess and Iona, Iowa State assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih actually took a class with me once upon a time at St. John's.  (Stadium and arena management back in the fall of 2005, when I was a sophomore)

Upset Special: (10) Iowa State over (7) Notre Dame.  The Fighting Irish aren't historically long for the NCAA Tournament, and Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones have one of the more exciting backcourts in the Big 12 in Tyrus McGee and Korie Lucious, who knows the March terrain from his prior experience at Michigan State.

Best Potential Matchup: (1) Gonzaga vs. (9) Wichita State.  The Shockers would have to defeat Pittsburgh to get to the Zags, but it could be one of the better games of the year as Olynyk and Elias Harris will no doubt have their hands full against the Wichita State front line of Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early.

Survivor: New Mexico.  If Gonzaga does have to go through Wichita State, they may have to endure a battle against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.  Steve Alford's Lobos get a rather favorable draw, potentially facing Arizona in the round of 32 before squaring off against possibly Ohio State.  New Mexico's Mountain West Tournament performance places them on the precipice of a breakthrough, and with all five starters coming back next year, the run to success gets started early.

Player to Watch: This is another oddball choice, but it's Anthony Marshall of UNLV for me. The Rebels' senior point guard has seen his scoring take a slight hit, but his outside shooting and assist numbers have improved one year after another to the point where the Las Vegas product comes in shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc and averaging six assists per game, numbers that will help UNLV if they get past California and wind up in a round of 32 matchup against Syracuse.

Coach to Watch: Buzz Williams of Marquette.  Wrongfully and tragically robbed of the Big East Coach of the Year award, Buzz gets his players ready like no other coach in the nation, and will have his Golden Eagles team in excellent shape heading into their tournament opener against Davidson.

Local Angle: Miami head coach Jim Larranaga is of course a one-time player at Molloy under the late Jack Curran, Davidson's Bob McKillop is a Hofstra alum who coached both Long Island Lutheran and Holy Trinity to perennial success on Long Island, and James Madison head man Matt Brady led Marist to a regular season MAAC championship in 2007.

Upset Special: (10) Colorado over (7) Illinois.  As much as the Butler/Bucknell and Marquette/Davidson matchups have upset potential, the Buffs have the most realistic chance, especially in a battle of the scorers between their own Andre Roberson and Illinois guard Brandon Paul.

Best Potential Matchup: (5) UNLV vs. (4) Syracuse.  Butler and Marquette would be an intriguing rematch from the Rotnei Clarke buzzer-beater in the Maui Invitational, but the Rebels' offense against Syracuse's world-famous 2-3 zone will be appointment viewing for the college hoops fanatic.  It will also introduce people to just how good the Mountain West can be on any given night.

Survivor: Indiana.  The top-seeded Hoosiers are the most complete team going into the regional, and will forge their way to Atlanta after hard-fought battles against UNLV and Miami.

Player to Watch: Give me VCU's Briante Weber.  The sophomore point guard comes in off the bench and immediately changes games with his high energy level and suffocating defense, and if the Rams get past Akron in the first round, he will have the task of forcing Michigan's Trey Burke, a Wooden Award contender with a steady hand, into an off night.  If anyone can handle that, the Virginia product is one of the few.

Coach to Watch: The man that Weber and VCU may have to go up against at some point, Michigan's John Beilein.  Beilein's teams always get better the longer he is there, and this year's Wolverines squad is no exception.  The biggest issue with Michigan, though, is that they need to find a third scorer behind Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., especially against VCU's patented "Havoc" defense should that matchup become a reality.

Local Angle: Florida's Mike Rosario played at St. Anthony's in Jersey City, and oh yeah, he was a Rutgers transfer.  (My apologies to friend of the site Dave White, who covers the Scarlet Knights for On The Banks) In addition, UCLA's Kyle Anderson is also a St. Anthony's product, while Villanova forward JayVaughn Pinkston played his high school ball at Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn.

Upset Special: (9) Villanova over (8) North Carolina.  Once those who know me well get past the shock of me filling out a bracket that does not feature my beloved Tar Heels advancing at all, (this is the first time ever, by the way) you can see that the Wildcats have a decided edge in the frontcourt that will make the biggest difference in the game, as Pinkston and Mouphtaou Yarou will prove to be too much for an undersized James Michael McAdoo.

Best Potential Matchup: (5) VCU vs. (3) Florida.  It wouldn't happen unless both teams got to the Elite Eight, but it has the potential to be an epic duel in the Lone Star State.  Weber and Darius Theus defending the backcourt of Rosario and Kenny Boynton will provide more juice than the battle between Shaka Smart and his former mentor Billy Donovan.

Survivor: Florida.  As good as VCU is, and as much as Ram Nation impacts games, the Gators have more than enough weapons to outlast the Rams, but it won't come easy.  Donovan's experience and two national titles also give Florida a psychological edge, no disrespect to Shaka.

Final Four: Michigan State, New Mexico, Indiana, Florida
National Championship: Indiana wins an all-Big Ten title game, narrowly escaping Michigan State by the final of 85-81, with Cody Zeller earning Most Outstanding Player honors.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Weekend With Ram Nation

VCU fans provided largest contingent in last weekend's Atlantic 10 Tournament, and brought "big game" atmosphere to each of Rams' three contests.  (Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection)

I have covered or called a grand total of 114 games this season, starting at Iona on November 9th and resuming with No. 115 tomorrow night at Saint Joseph's.  In the first 114, I have seen sellouts, and I have seen intimate gatherings with a handful of people in attendance.  Through blizzards and buzzsaws, the Big East and the America East, sadly, none of the first 109 contests that I had a courtside seat to felt like a big game.  The matchups were strong on paper, but the crowds had not lived up to the hype of the competitors.

Then God tossed me a black and gold life preserver.

Virginia Commonwealth University made its share of national fans dating back to the Eric Maynor-engineered upset of Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, but the Richmond school became a household name through its storybook run to the 2011 Final Four, disposing of two former national champions along the way in Georgetown and Kansas.  Since taking the website to Twitter, I had learned of the reputation that "Ram Nation" had earned over the years through their raucous nature and homecourt advantage at the Siegel Center, but had yet to see it firsthand.  The Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center, just 25 minutes away from Daly Dose headquarters, afforded me the opportunity to see just how much college basketball's version of the Pittsburgh Steelers (in more ways than one) could justify their reputation.

Well, the fact of the matter is that the "Rowdy Rams" were indeed all that, and then some.  Despite crowds of less than 10,000 all weekend in Brooklyn, the three VCU contests during the Atlantic 10 Tournament had the feel of a Final Four game, thanks to a few different characters.  The cast includes Ralph Theus, the father of VCU's senior point guard Darius, who makes himself clearly visible with his ever-present "#10 is my son" sign.  Then there is superfan Chris Crowley, known simply as "Pav" in honor of his Luciano Pavarotti-esque voice that can be heard singing the national anthem at VCU home games.
VCU superfan Chris "Pav" Crowley surveys Barclays Center landscape before Rams face off against Saint Louis for Atlantic 10 championship.  (Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection)

Returning to the fans themselves, Ram Nation erupts in the middle of every run, and literally takes over "Rock & Roll Part 2" like no other program, chanting "V-C-U" and "Let's Go VCU" as opposed to the traditional "Hey!" in the chorus, making it seemingly impossible to hear the song the same way again after first experiencing it.

Finally, there is one more group of people that need to be commended for turning a mid-major gathering into a national championship-like atmosphere.  Those of you who follow this site's Twitter feed are no doubt aware of my penchant for mentioning the pep bands of each school we cover.  As some of you may well know, VCU has a pretty notorious band, also known as "The Peppas," who several of my CAA fan friends told me would "never make me look at a band the same way again."  No statement could be closer to the truth, because it was game, set, match once they walked into the arena.
VCU's band, also known as "The Peppas," setting up shop at Barclays Center.  (Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection)

What makes the VCU band so good is not just their repertoire, but also their cadence.  Through six years in the college basketball media, no band I have seen is as coordinated or as uniform in their routine as the VCU contingent.  Judge for yourself here:

The Peppas' rendition of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" is equally brilliant, as are these pieces of the VCU catalog:

To everyone involved with Ram Nation, I thank you for a great weekend, even from a media perspective.  Hopefully all of you make the trip to the Bronx next season when VCU comes back up to these parts to play Fordham.  I know I will.

Atlantic 10 Tournament: A Photo Gallery

While covering the Atlantic 10 Tournament this weekend, it was a chance to finally meet some of our media colleagues we had seen or spoken to countless times in the past, but never got to make formal introductions to; such as the Philadelphia Inquirer's Joe Juliano, (who does an excellent job covering Villanova, and in this case, La Salle as well) Saint Louis play-by-play man Bob Ramsey, VCU color commentator Mike Litos, (who had this exceptional piece this morning on VCU point guard Darius Theus) and Josh Verlin, who is to Philadelphia basketball what this website tries to be to New York hoops, covering the Philly scene for City of Basketball Love and covering more games than we do despite his saying the opposite when we were finally in the same place at the same time Friday after going back and forth on Twitter all season.

In addition to finally placing some faces behind names for the first time, we were reacquainted with some of the regulars, such as college basketball Renaissance man Ray Floriani.  For those who don't get to read our content as much, Ray has been gracious enough to enclose photo essays from whatever games he has joined our website at, highlighting his stellar photographic skills.  Saturday's festivities at the Barclays Center provided the same, so here is Ray's latest piece without any further ado:

Brooklyn, NY - Taking the subway to Barclays Center, I met two recent UMass alums. Allison and Beth are making the trip to support their Minutemen in the Atlantic Ten semifinals. They talk about the talent of Chaz Williams and how it would be nice to keep playing in his native Brooklyn. Hearing that I have been in this quite some time, they ask me about the John Calipari days as the exits fly by. We must be impartial, but saying goodbye, I wished their team luck.
          The fans add to the drama and color of the college game. As a long time official, it is offending to hear them scream criticism on a play the officials got right, but the fans do not know the rule. That is all part of being a fan, short for fanatic.
          On Saturday the Saint Louis and VCU fans left happy and in anticipation of the championship game. In the 7 P.M. game, Fordham and St. Joseph’s contested the women’s championship. The crowd for that contest was 4,400. It sounded like 14,400. Such was the passion, enthusiasm and excitement generated by two fan bases witnessing a classic title game. In the end, the “Hawk will never die” followers celebrated a title. Fordham faithful found the sting of being so close yet maintained satisfaction in all this team has done this season.
          Exiting Barclays, you can see the difference in emotion of the respective followers. And why not? To the fans, they are very much involved in the game.

UMass alum Allison, whom Ray met on the way to the Barclays Center, was first up the stairs to photograph the snowy scene outside the arena:
Saint Louis coach Jim Crews makes a point after his Billikens defeated Butler:
Ray amid the Fordham women's team high-five line:
Saint Joseph's women's basketball players appropriately celebrate with their fans after winning the Atlantic 10 Championship:
Saint Joseph's University, Atlantic 10 Champions:
A fitting message in the media room:

Here's Ray's story on the women's championship game between Fordham and Saint Joseph's that he wrote for Swish Appeal: