Sunday, March 30, 2014

UConn 60, Michigan State 54: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY- The Elite Eight. Reaching that pinnacle is an exemplary achievement. On the other side, after it is played out, it leaves the team on the short end with an unfair feeling of dejection. At stake is a trip to college basketballs last weekend. The Final Four. The ultimate.
Sunday saw an Elite Eight matchup at Madison Square Garden. Not just a matchup, but as it turned out, one they will discuss and remember for quite some time.

The NCAA tournament was missing from the worlds most famous arena for over half a century. The regionals returned this weekend, and what a show it was.

The final call, so to speak, was a classic between UCONN and Michigan State, a contest that electrified the Garden crowd and a national television audience. As it turned out, this was a forty-minute battle, flowing with drama, heroics, and simply, a game that was meant for this hallowed shrine of basketball.

In the end, UCONN advanced by virtue of their 60-54 victory. Michigan State went home. Throughout this tournament, there have been numerous games where it was unfair to label the team on the short end the loser.’ This was certainly one of them.

Someone had to advance and the other call it a season. Maybe thats what they meant when they called March the cruelest month.’ On this New York afternoon, both teams received the well-deserved admiration for putting it all out there in a game worthy of being contested on the Garden floor.

Even Knick fans would not be interested on this day:
Michigan State exits the floor after pregame warmups:
The NCAA mandate is visible for all:
UConn cheerleaders celebrate a regional championship and trip to the Final Four:
Yours truly and the UConn Husky:
Kevin Ollie finishes the net-cutting celebration:
Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun makes a point in a postgame interview:

UConn Returns To Final Four With 60-54 Win Over Michigan State

In just second season, Kevin Ollie cuts down East Regional net after his UConn team defeats Michigan State 60-54 at Madison Square Garden, advancing to program's third Final Four since 2009. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

Their nickname is the Huskies, but given what the University of Connecticut men's basketball program has endured in recent years, it may as well be changed to the Phoenix.

Such a meteoric ascent could not be more evident than at Madison Square Garden this afternoon, where before a crowd of 19,499 whose majority supported the team that Jim Calhoun turned from a regional nobody to a national power, UConn (30-8) emerged from the ashes of the substandard APR score that precluded them from participating in last year's NCAA Tournament with an emphatic 60-54 victory over longtime March kingpins Michigan State (29-9) to reach the program's fifth Final Four, and third in the last six seasons.

"It's kind of unfair," point guard Shabazz Napier said after his latest masterpiece, a 25-point, 6-rebound effort that furthered the comparisons between the senior and his predecessor, Kemba Walker, who led the Huskies to a national championship in 2011. "As we always say, it's like our third home."

UConn fed off their massive crowd presence early and often, jumping out of the gates with a 12-2 run in which DeAndre Daniels (12 points, 8 rebounds) and Ryan Boatright (11 points) scored the first eight points of the game, catching a Michigan State team who lived and died by the three-pointer; taking 29 of its 46 shots from beyond the arc, off guard to open the festivities. However, as Tom Izzo's teams usually do, the Spartans did not go quietly into the New York night, responding with a 23-9 spurt that gave them a 25-21 lead going into halftime.

A 7-2 Michigan State run out of the intermission gave the Spartans a 32-23 cushion with 16:33 remaining in regulation, but back came the Huskies with a 12-0 outburst that gave UConn the lead for good after Daniels' conventional three-point play broke a 32-all tie. Michigan State then pulled within one after Gary Harris and Branden Dawson alternated free throws with Napier, only for UConn to rip off a 12-3 surge punctuated by a Boatright three-pointer with 6:27 to go, making the score 49-39 and whipping a Garden crowd that harkened back to past UConn glory into a frenzy.

However, as former NFL coach Steve Mariucci; Izzo's former college roommate and best man who was in attendance at the "World's Most Famous Arena" to support his close friend, would say, we were not done yet.

The Spartans fought back over the next four minutes on the grace of a 10-2 run, as Keith Appling's layup; the only bucket of the game for Michigan State's senior point guard, cut the UConn lead to 51-49 with 2:38 left. After a turnover by Dawson spoiled chances of a tie game, Napier, as only he could, drained a dagger of a jumper with 99 seconds remaining to put UConn up by four, but Michigan State had one last chance after a pair of Adreian Payne foul shots made the score 53-51 with less than a minute to go.

The new lease on life was short-lived, as Appling committed a fifth foul he will no doubt come to regret for a long time, making contact with Napier behind the three-point line and sending the East Regional's Most Outstanding Player to the charity stripe, where the Huskies missed only one of their 22 attempts. Napier calmly buried all three shots to put UConn up five, and after Travis Trice came up empty on a desperation three-pointer, Daniels scooped up the loose ball and fed Phillip Nolan for a breakaway dunk to put the icing on the cake for just the second No. 7 seed to reach the national semifinals, joining Terry Holland's Virginia team from 1984 that featured Miami's Jim Larranaga as a young assistant coach on his staff.

The significance of this run was not lost on its architect, a young coach who reaches his sport's greatest stage in just his second season and must now prepare to face a top-ranked Florida team that his Huskies have already beaten once this season, in fact, the last loss that Billy Donovan and the Gators have tasted.

"You can't take it for granted," a humble Kevin Ollie remarked moments after he led the team he once played point guard for two decades ago to what is arguably the biggest victory of his career. "I knew what I had. I had faith in my players, a great coaching staff, and my belief in God. I knew God was going to give me a way out of no way, and I thank Him for this opportunity."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

UConn, Michigan State earn spots in Elite Eight

By Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor Jason Schott of @JESchott19
The UConn Huskies and Michigan State Spartans were the winners in the Sweet 16 on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. They will meet in the Elite Eight on Sunday at 2:20 p.m. with a spot in the Final Four on the line.
UConn 81, Iowa State 76
UConn is in their first Elite Eight since 2011 when they won the national title, and the seventh time they have made it this far since 1999. The Huskies avenged a loss to Iowa State in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
UConn dominated this one early, maintaining a ten-point lead in the late stages of the first half and holding a 36-26 lead at halftime. They kept it up in the second half, and took a 17-point lead at 49-32 on a DeAndre Daniels three with 14:19 left before Iowa State made a late run and got as close as four in the final minutes.
UConn Head Coach Kevin Ollie said of the win, "First I just want to thank all the fans that came out and supported us. We can really hear them cheering for us, but then we could also feed off them. We can also draw off their energy. They just did a wonderful job. My student-athletes played together, they played hard, and at the end of the game, we played 40 (minutes) to get this win."
DeAndre Daniels had a big night for UConn, leading the way with 27 points on 10-for-15  from the field with 10 rebounds. Daniels got off to a slow start and then picked it up, and he said of that, "Well, I just wanted to stay aggressive and just start of the second half just keep staying aggressive. My teammates were talking to me, and it would never have been possible if it wasn't for my teammates looking for me, and coaching staff getting me the ball in the right positions. And I was able to knock down my shots tonight. And this postseason, just giving it my all, just for my teammates and UConn, and UConn Nation."
Shabazz Napier, who was on the Huskies' 2011 national championship team, had 19 points on 5-for-11 from the field and 4-6 from behind the arc, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Napier took over sole possession of second place in school history for career three-pointers, with his four 3-pointers giving him 250. Napier said of getting to the Elite Eight, "With every game you win, you realize the closer you are, but I said this since the beginning, since my freshman year, I'm the type of person that don't look towards the future too much. I don't want to miss out what's going on in front of me. I just want to take it game by game, day by day and that's what got us here so far."
Ryan Boatright had 16 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. Terrence Samuel had 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Perhaps the performance of the night was by Iowa State's Dustin Hogue, who had 34 points on 15-for-19 from the field and 6 rebounds. Hogue said of the experience, "It was definitely a beautiful experience for me. To go down the way we did, we still fought and having a chance to play in The Garden and the Sweet 16. I've come a long way in my basketball career to have this opportunity. And it's still special to me, even though it didn't end the way I wanted it to. I'm just happy to have the opportunity to play here."
Iowa State Head Coach Fred Hoiberg said, "Well, first of all, congratulations to Connecticut. They played a heck of a game tonight, and really came out and shot the ball well out of the gate. Had a very good  game plan I thought defensively. They got us standing around a bit. Second half, I thought we were very aggressive and figured some things out. Got much better movement and went down swinging and that's exactly what I would expect out of this team."
 Michigan State 61, Virginia 59
This game was a thriller that went right down to the wire. Michigan State held a four point lead at halftime, 31-27, and did not make a field goal in the first 6:41 of the second half. Virginia took advantage of this, and grabbed a 40-36 lead on a London Perrantes layup with 11:41 remaining. Michigan State responded with a 13-2 run to take a 49-42 lead with 6:15 left.
Virginia was not done, however, and Justin Anderson hit a three-pointer with 1:49 left to tie the game at 51.
Michigan State responded with a three from Adreian Payne and a dunk from Branden Dawson to make it 56-51. Those turned out to be the decisive points of the game as they never trailed the rest of the way.
Dawson led Michigan State with 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting and 10 rebounds. Payne had 16 points (5-12 FG, 2-5 on 3-pt) and 5 rebounds.
Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon each had 17 points to lead Virginia, but both had disappointing nights shooting, with Harris making just 6 of 14 attempts and Brogdon shot 4-for-14. Overall, Virginia was held to just 35.1 percent from the field, or 20-for-57.
Michigan State advanced to their first Elite Eight since 2010 and its 8th Elite Eight appearance since 1985. Head Coach Tom Izzo improved his record to 42-15 in the NCAA Tournament.
UConn leads the head-to-head matchup with the Spartans 3-2, and have won the last two meetings. They met in the 2009 National Semifinals, and Michigan State won that one, 82-73 before falling to North Carolina in the national championship game at Detroit's Ford Field two days later.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Closer Look At UConn

Shabazz Napier, a freshman on 2011 national championship team, returns to Madison Square Garden to further progress toward bookending his UConn career with another trophy. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

With the start of the East regional now less than 24 hours away, one team remains to be profiled after our initial looks at Virginia, Iowa State and Michigan State, and it is one who is familiar with their surroundings going into their next challenge under a young coach who has already made quick work silencing whatever doubters he had left after replacing a Hall of Fame mentor at the helm of a national powerhouse.

Connecticut Huskies (28-8, No. 7 seed)
Last Sweet 16 Appearance: 2011 (won national championship)
How They Got Here: Defeated No. 10 seed Saint Joseph's 89-81 in overtime on March 20, defeated No. 2 seed Villanova 77-65 on March 22 (both games in Buffalo, NY)
What They Bring To The Table: A typical UConn team, relying on its backcourt to carry them through a terrain the Huskies know all too well from their many deep runs through March under the legendary Jim Calhoun. Senior point guard Shabazz Napier, a freshman understudy to Kemba Walker three years ago when UConn shocked the world and won five games in as many days to capture the Big East tournament as a No. 9 seed before winning another six straight to deliver a third national championship to Storrs, makes the motor run and makes no bones about it with his 18-point, 6-rebound, 5-assist per game averages; and more often than not, as he goes, so too do the Huskies. However, junior Ryan Boatright has emerged as the Napier to Shabazz's own Walker through this season, as the Chicagoan averages 12 points per game and is equally as adept at knocking down a three-ball, connecting at a 38 percent rate from behind the line.

The difference between UConn three years ago and UConn this year, you ask? The emergence of a third scoring option on the wing, as DeAndre Daniels has blossomed into a long and underrated force of a swingman, coming from out of seemingly nowhere to average 12 points per game and shooting a torrid 45 percent from beyond the arc. If that's not enough, German import Niels Giffey is even more efficient, shooting 52 percent from long range to supplement a 57 percent clip from the field.

Where They Have An Advantage: Not just in the backcourt, where Napier and Boatright should be able to neutralize DeAndre Kane against Iowa State before worrying about a potential regional final showdown with either Virginia or Michigan State, but also with their backdrop for the weekend. UConn is basically playing a de facto home game with the Madison Square Garden draw, having competed in the 2K Sports Classic in November, a tournament which the Huskies won, and is intimately acquainted with the "World's Most Famous Arena" by virtue of its epic battles of Big East tournaments past. The expected crowd advantage will also play heavily into UConn's favor, a factor that few teams are able to successfully parlay into a victory.

Where They May Struggle: In the paint, especially if seven-foot freshman Amida Brimah is hacked into foul trouble, forcing Phillip Nolan and seldom-used Tyler Olander to step in for a team that has not been able to lean on the depth that was a long-standing Calhoun trademark as much under Kevin Ollie, as only eight Huskies average double-figure minutes, five of which seeing 20 or more minutes per game. Against Iowa State, this may not be as much of an issue given the Cyclones will be playing without Georges Niang, but could be problematic against either Virginia or Michigan State, whose rotations are much more methodical in wearing opposing teams down.

Keys To Victory Against Iowa State: Number one: Stop DeAndre Kane. Kevin Ollie's first piece of game film should be the final four minutes of Iowa State's comeback win over North Carolina this past Sunday, a stretch that served as Kane's introduction to the masses as the Cyclones rallied from an eight-point deficit to join the party in the Big Apple. Second, Brimah needs to establish himself, an easier order in the absence of Niang for Fred Hoiberg's Big 12 champions. Expect to see more of Melvin Ejim inside, and even though Brimah holds a six-inch size advantage, he does not have to do it all himself. All the Ghanaian needs to do is get in front of him in the post, and if trapped at any moment, kick it out to Daniels or Giffey. Should UConn do that, we could be in line for another magic moment from a longtime producer of New York-tinged postseason drama.

Supporting Masiello Is Best Decision Manhattan Can Make

Despite claiming Kentucky degree he never actually earned, Steve Masiello deserves opportunity to return to Manhattan, and not just because of his coaching talent. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

No one ever wants to cover a story like this one. It is even worse when the subject is someone you know fairly well, even going so far as considering a friend in an industry where that word may not always get thrown around as often as the microphones and recorders that are thrust into the faces of coaches and players.

That explains the difficulty for yours truly in reporting the circumstances surrounding Steve Masiello, whom I have been privileged to get to know over his three years as the head coach at Manhattan College, most notably through 22 of the Jaspers' games this season, a campaign that saw Manhattan bring a MAAC championship and NCAA Tournament berth to Riverdale for the first time in a decade. Every experience with Masiello was always a pleasant one, and almost always concluded with a postgame handshake from the coach, who always made it a point to thank me; and everyone else for that matter, for coming out, indicating how much he appreciated the interest and support.

That last word is more operative than ever before after the events of the past 72 hours, a time period in which Masiello expedited what everyone who covered the Jaspers knew to be inevitable: His impending departure, which would call the University of South Florida its destination for the next five years, with a $6.2 million financial backing.

And then, in the words of King Louis XV of France: "Apres moi, le deluge."

In the span of roughly 12 hours, Masiello went from crown prince set to cash in on his breakout to the masses, a near-masterpiece that saw his Manhattan team battle a Louisville team coached by his mentor Rick Pitino; the same Louisville team that cut down the nets a year ago to celebrate its first national championship since 1986, before falling seven points short, to USF rescinding the contract due to an "undetected discrepancy" in Masiello's background check, which turned out to be the absence of a University of Kentucky degree the coach claimed he had. The rest, as anyone who has been following this story knows, is history.

Masiello's tenure at Manhattan may be much the same, with multiple sources reporting that the school officials who hold the fate of a 36-year-old man, one who just happens to be a really good basketball coach and model representative of its program, in its hands, are expected to determine their judgment sometime today. You can argue both sides of this issue until everyone is blue in the face, and each argument is justified.

On one end, Manhattan can fire Masiello for cause, using the embellishment on his resume as a basis for arguing that he defrauded his employer and therefore is not a man the school can trust to lead its men's basketball program. Across the court, so to speak, Manhattan can welcome him back with open arms, showing much-needed compassion to a man whose transgression; one that must not be overlooked considering its magnitude, is ultimately one in which the price of employment is a far too expensive cost to bear.

When you look at Steve Masiello, take everything into concern, not just his 60-39 record in three seasons at Manhattan, a school that had won only six games the year before he arrived in Riverdale, returning to a program he had assisted Bobby Gonzalez in building up to be the closest competition to Gonzaga among East Coast mid-majors and injecting a combination of youth, fresh air, and unbridled intensity into a team that desperately needed a jolt to erase five years of mediocrity after Barry Rohrssen could not maintain the success Gonzalez built before leaving for Seton Hall.

When you look at Masiello, also look past the incident that most of the world will unfortunately associate him with. Notice the little things that most people take for granted, like the strong bond with his players, sort of like the bond between an older and younger brother, or even a father to his young son. Everyone who put on a Manhattan uniform under Masiello has had nothing but positive things to say about him, a man who inspires by his actions just as much as his emotional pregame addresses. Look at his interactions with the fans, media, opposing teams and Manhattan community, embracing a fan base who embraced him just as strong, creating a group united in the same mission and sharing the same spirit.

Of course, there will still be a fair share of those who insist that Manhattan should cut its losses and sever ties with Masiello just for the sheer fact that he was ready to take the next flight to Tampa if the chain of events that happened did not, claiming that the coach was a fraud not for academic reasons, but for praising the school and saying "New York is where I want to be," then leaving for a larger paycheck. If you know anything about mid-major college basketball, you will know that such an argument does not hold up, because it is always a question of when; not if, a coach is ready to move on to a bigger challenge. It just so happened that Masiello was tossed a rope much sooner than some envisioned. You cannot fault a man for wanting to better himself and his family.

I digress. Back to the issue at hand here, if I may: Masiello is not the only one to have something like this stand in his way. Many have compared the fallout from the USF background check to the case of Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan last year, who was found to not have his degree either when he replaced Mike Rice in Piscataway. Jordan is working toward finishing his coursework at the present moment, and Masiello, who has no previous offenses of any kind, should be afforded the same opportunity. 

Bruce Pearl has rebounded from a show-cause penalty to resurface at Auburn. Kelvin Sampson has recovered from his text message scandal at Indiana to land a job on the Houston Rockets' staff and appears to be the top candidate to take over at the University of Houston. Larry Eustachy apologized for his actions at a fraternity party, yet turned the page with successful tenures at Southern Mississippi and Colorado State. Even in college football, George O'Leary; who Masiello's situation draws the closest parallel to, got a second chance after lying on his resume in his attempt to leave Georgia Tech for Notre Dame, and is coaching at Central Florida. 

The moral of the story here? All got second chances. 

Steve Masiello should too.

Just because Masiello deserves his shot at redemption does not mean his actions are being condoned, because they are not. What he did was wrong, and given how well I know Masiello, there is no doubt in my mind he would be the first to tell someone that. Why he did not do this sooner is something that only he can explain, but this entire experience is something he can learn from while at the same time setting an example for student-athletes and those connected with Manhattan basketball to follow. If the school considers it necessary to teach him a lesson in why one should not be careless when it comes to matters such as this, so be it. If worst comes to worst, suspend him a few games to enforce your message.

Before this week, no one would ever suspect Steve Masiello of such conduct. There is no need to throw the book at someone for a first offense, and when you have acted the way he has, you deserve the benefit of the doubt. Return the favor that he has done for your basketball program, your athletic department, your college; not just this year, but the previous two that he was entrusted as its caretaker, and also the four he spent as a supporting cast member.

Think back to the excitement of Selection Sunday and the extravaganza held on campus that evening, one that saw the Jaspers mingling with media, fans and insiders alike, one in which Masiello entered to a standing ovation, accompanied by hugs and kisses to nearly everyone who came within his field of vision; and not just fleeting embraces either, these were interactions that lasted several seconds. Would someone respect a man who did not exude such an image? Probably not.

Take EVERYTHING Stephen Masiello has done for your program, both inside and outside the boundaries of Manhattan College. Everything he has embodied, everything he continues to represent. Actions speak louder than words, whether they are spoken words, or words printed on a sheet of paper.

Masiello acted like more than a coach. He acted as a teacher, a parent, an inspiration; and most importantly, a beacon of support for a group of people that desperately needed one.

Now it is time for Manhattan College to turn around and do the same for him. Again, the consequences can, and most likely will be severe, but the point remains the same.

Pay it forward for a man who gave every last drop of blood, sweat and tears to raise the profiles and standing of everyone he came into contact with. 

Everyone deserves a second chance.

Steve Masiello, as far-fetched as it may sound after the last three days, does as well.

Hopefully Manhattan College feels the same way.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Izzo dismisses talk of player pay after union ruling

By Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor Jason Schott of  - @JESchott19
There was a major ruling on Wednesday that could change college sports as we know it, and a lot of people would say for the better. A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players can form a union and that would give them the right to collective bargaining.
Peter Ohr is the regional NLRB director that made the decision in a landmark 24-page ruling. According to The New York Times, Ohr "ruled that Northwestern's scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union based on a number of factors, including the time they devote to football, (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which Orr deemed a contract for compensation."
At East Regional practice day at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, that was a topic of discussion at the press conferences. Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg and UConn's Kevin Ollie basically declined to comment, but the other two coaches here, Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Virginia's Tony Bennett, had differing opinions on the matter.
Longtime Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo, who makes $3 million per season, was contemptuous of the idea, and dismissed it by saying, "I do get a little bit amazed on - I think sometimes we take rights to a whole new level. And as I said to my media, I just hope my 13-year old right now isn't negotiating his phone and his bedtime. So when I get back I'm going to have the union boss sitting there telling me what to do."
Izzo backtracked a little bit when he continued, "Maybe that's the way it's headed. I don't mean to make fun of it, because I don't know either way. I don't know enough about it. It is way too complicated for me. But I will say this: I'm for safety. I'm for student - I'm not as much for student rights as I'm for student welfare. I think there's a process in rights. And you earn that. We always want to speed the process up, as I said to my guys, there's a reason you got to be 36 to be president, you know, and that's the way I look at that.
"So I wish I could give you a good answer. If you call me at the end of the year when I read up on it, study up on it, probably spend morning, noon, and night thinking about it, I will, but that doggone Virginia team has occupied all my time, to be honest," said Izzo.
The thing that stands out in Izzo's comments is that while he attempted to plead ignorance, he said the standard line from the higher-ups in college athletics, that it's "complicated." To the general public, it is hypocrisy of the highest order that Izzo and other big-time coaches, plus the athletic directors, rake in millions from the TV contracts for football and basketball games, but they are unwilling to think of a way to compensate the players. Form a blue-ribbon panel and try something. If the original model doesn't work, it can always be changed. If the players get anything to start, it is more than they are making now.
Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett said on the matter, "So look, the NCAA as a player it's been great to me. I know there's a lot of things going. I can remember doing a speech in front of my class as a freshman when I was a college student, explaining why I think college athletes should get a stipend to the class. I remember the class looking at me at the time like, you're crazy, what are you talking about? And I tried to explain. But it's a wonderful game. The players do a lot for the game. Hopefully there's going to be some good things coming, but as far as the specifics on that, I really truly would be the wrong guy to ask. I would need to study it a little better and give you a more sound answer to that."

UConn's Ollie, Iowa State's Hoiberg reunite in Sweet 16

By Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor Jason Schott of  - @JESchott19
UConn Head Coach Kevin Ollie and his counterpart at Iowa State, Fred Hoiberg, have a long history together, and will face off in the Sweet 16 on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
Ollie and Hoiberg met at Ames High School, were teammates on the Chicago Bulls in 2001, and continued on the same path to coaching. Ollie played for 13 years in the NBA, from 1997 to 2010 before retiring to join Jim Calhoun's staff at UConn. Hoiberg played in the NBA from 1995 to 2005 for the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Minnesota Timberwolves. In 2005, Hoiberg became the first player to lead the NBA in three-point shooting and not be invited to the three-point shooting competition at the All-Star Game. He became the Assistant Vice President for Basketball Operations with the Minnesota Timberwolves after he retired and became the Head Coach of Iowa State in 2010 when Greg McDermott left to take the job at Creighton.
Kevin Ollie

Ollie said of Hoiberg at a press conference on Thursday, "First of all Fred is a great friend of mine. We met in high school. As a matter of fact, we were on the same recruiting visit to Arizona. Both of us didn't decide to go to Arizona, and he went to Iowa State and I went to Connecticut and I think it worked out for both of us."
On their time in the NBA, Ollie said, "I had an opportunity to play with him at the Chicago Bulls and just one of the greatest teammates I have ever been around. Personable, would do anything for his teammates and he retired a little earlier than I did, and then he became the assistant general manager at Minnesota. And I was at the end of my career, and he took a chance on a 37-year old point guard. And he signed me for one year, and I thank him for that, also. He's just been a great friend of mine, and he's doing a wonderful job at his program. And just with our NBA experience I think we coach the same. We try to manipulate the defense. We try to go to different matchups. I look at him, and when he took the job at Iowa State and just filled in those shoes and just took it to another level. He's just a great person and he's doing a great job with his student-athletes. I'm a big fan of Fred's."
Hoiberg said of Ollie, "Yeah, any time you get to share this experience with somebody you're very close with, I think it makes it special. Kevin is as good a person as there is in this business. I think everybody that knows him, you're not going to find one person say anything bad about him.
Fred Hoiberg
"We went to Tucson together. Lute Olson had one scholarship and I think he told both of us, the first one who accepts gets it. Obviously neither of us took it. And to be able to play with Kevin a year in Chicago, we needed a mentor-type guy when I moved on after my surgery into the front office, and the first guy to call was Kevin, because I knew the impact he would have on our young players. He owes me because I resurrected his damn career (laughing).
"So you know, but and then he goes on to Oklahoma City and had the same affect on those guys. I saw an article the other day with (Kevin) Durant and (Russell) Westbrook and James Harden, just the remarks that they had about Kevin, and how good he is as a mentor-type guy. And listen, Kevin and I weren't very good players, but to stick around, me for 10, hom for 13 years, you have to have some of those qualities to stick, a work ethic, good teammate, and that's what Kevin was. And that's what allowed him to play as long as he did. And he probably could have played a few more years, but I think he was in his mind ready to move on to the next step." 

A Closer Look At Michigan State

March legend Tom Izzo returns to college basketball legend Madison Square Garden with trip to seventh Final Four squarely in sight. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

Two more team-by-team previews remain before Madison Square Garden welcomes the East regional semifinals and final this weekend, and after getting to know both Virginia and Iowa State a little better over the past two days, we shift focus to a team who is intimately acquainted with the terrain in March, one of the many household names still remaining in this year's Sweet 16.

Michigan State Spartans (28-8, No. 4 seed)
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2013 (third straight Sweet 16 and sixth since 2008)
How They Got Here: Defeated No. 13 seed Delaware 93-78 on March 20, defeated No. 12 seed Harvard 80-73 on March 22 (both games in Spokane, Wash.)
What They Bring To The Table: Aside from UCLA and Kentucky, (and maybe Florida) the richest NCAA Tournament history of any other team still dancing. One simply cannot mention Tom Izzo without first recalling his March success, as he is the Reggie Jackson of sorts among college basketball coaches. Izzo, a college roommate of former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci, does not do it on his own, either, getting the most out of his roster year in and year out. What makes this group even more impressive is that the 2013-14 Spartans, despite being led by a pair of seniors in point guard Keith Appling and 6-10 center Adreian Payne, are essentially a young team after that, with a handful of sophomores and juniors playing beyond their age boundaries to form a vintage Izzo unit that crashes the boards on every possession to the tune of 37 rebounds per game.

Sparty is also playing for a chance to add to their history. Since Izzo replaced longtime coach Jud Heathcote in 1995, every single player that he has recruited and stayed all four years has played in a Final Four before he graduated. This year's senior class of Appling, Payne and walk-on Dan Chapman have yet to reach a national semifinal, having lost in the Round of 64 as freshmen before consecutive Sweet 16 losses to Louisville and Duke, respectively.

Michigan State is a traditional team in terms of the rotation Izzo employs, a throwback of sorts with mainly a six-man committee, not counting the combined 28 minutes per game from seventh and eighth men Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski. Four of the Spartans' starters average 11 or more points per game, the only exception being Denzel Valentine, who makes up for his eight points per contest with six rebounds and nearly four assists per night. In addition, sixth man Travis Trice is a lethal weapon from beyond the arc, shooting a blistering 45 percent behind the line.

Where They Have An Advantage: In the efficiency department. Michigan State is disciplined enough to where they will never take anything less than a smart shot, as evidenced by their 48 percent clip from the field as a team. Breaking that down even further, half of the eight Spartans to see significant playing time shoot better than 50 percent from the floor, including an eye-popping 62 percent mark from junior swingman Branden Dawson, who has quietly overcome injuries to blossom into an underrated double-double threat who controls the game while everyone else forces the issue. Sparty is also adept at ball handling, with only Payne having a negative assist to turnover ratio, a statistic that will be vital to Michigan State's success Friday night against a Virginia team whose defense is among the best in the nation. Having also played at the Garden, which they did against Georgetown last month, albeit in a losing effort, can only help Izzo in game preparation.

Where They May Struggle: Potentially meeting their match on the glass. This should not be a problem Friday night considering Virginia only averages 29 rebounds per game, but should the Spartans advance into the Elite 8 for the first time since their 2010 Final Four run behind Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan, they will need to overcome the presence of either Melvin Ejim or Amida Brimah in the paint, while also dealing with the all-around ability of one of the best point guards in the nation, be it Shabazz Napier or DeAndre Kane. If Michigan State finds themselves unable to establish an interior presence to dictate the game from the inside out, the uncharacteristically long Final Four drought in East Lansing could extend to a fourth year.

Keys To Victory Against Virginia: In a nutshell, rebounding, ball control and scoring. Friday night's regional semifinal against Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers will be nothing short of a war, with the Spartans' combat mentality on the boards matching wits with a Virginia defense that squeezes the life out of its opponents with an Andre the Giant-esque bear hug pressure that is near impossible to escape when executed perfectly. Michigan State also needs to avoid turnovers while neutralizing freshman point guard London Perrantes, who will seek to involve Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon; as well as the Cavaliers' interior duo of Mike Tobey and Akil Mitchell, early and often to punch Sparty in the mouth as quickly as possible. If the Spartans can get their first few shots to fall to put themselves in position to equal their season average of 77 points per game, it should be more than enough to survive a Virginia team that allows only 56 points on average to their opponents.

Columbia Comeback Falls Short Against Yale In CIT Quarters

By Patrick McCormack

The Yale Bulldogs used a big second half from junior Javier Duren, who had 26 of his 33 points in the frame, to come back  and defeat their Ivy League brethren Columbia Lions 72-69 in the quarterfinals In the Tournament at Levien Gymnasium, on the campus of Columbia University.

Bulldogs head coach James Jones challenged the team at the half, and Duren; who hit seven foul shots down the stretch to seal the game, accepted the challenge to lead his team when they needed him.

“Coach challenged us," Duren said. "We weren’t playing to the best of our abilities. I took that to heart, I thought I played pretty hard but there is always more that you can do. I wanted to help the team the best way I can. I started being aggressive and made the right decisions and then my shots started falling.”

Yale allowed themselves to get back in the game when they sharpened their defense and opened the second half on a 12-0 run to take a 37-34 advantage. The Bulldogs then regained a 68-63 lead with 22 seconds left in regulation, but Maodo Lo; who had 22 points, and Steve Frankoski were able to hit big threes for Columbia to keep the Bulldogs' lead at one possession, but Duren was able to advance his team to the semifinals by icing the game at the foul line.

Jones made the correct adjustments in the locker room, and it allowed his team to take control of the game after a first half in which he saw things getting away from the team.

(In the first half) I felt it slipping through our hands," the coach said. "There were a couple times, I called timeout for us to move the basketball and two passes later the next guy was talking a shot. That’s not my understanding of moving the basketball. So I told the team I need to be a better coach. To be able to get them to understand, without having to yell at them, that this is the way basketball needs to be played. When we do that we can actually be pretty good.”

After a slow offensive start to the game, the Lions went on an 8-0 rally, led by two three-pointers from Alex Rosenberg, who had 18 points, to go up 12-4. Yale was later able to go on an 8-0 spurt of their own to tie the game at 18. The Lions, who made eight threes and shot 53.3 percent from beyond the arc, used their outside marksmanship to outscore Yale 15-6 and take a 34-25 lead into the intermission.

Jones saw an adjustment in his team’s effort in the second half that helped them win.

“I think that there were a lot of shots that were uncontested," he said. "It is one of those things we were hoping they miss instead of making them miss. In the second half, they made a bunch late that I thought were well contested. As a coach, you look at what they shot in the first half, which I thought was 50 percent. They can’t shoot that way in the second half. For us to be able to win a game and have them make 15 threes and shoot 54 percent that just shows how good we think we could be.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Barclays Center To Host ACC Tournament In 2017 And 2018

By Jason Schott of - @JESchott19
The Barclays Center will be the new home for the ACC Tournament, which marks a major victory for the arena, as they can now claim to host arguably the best college basketball conference in the country.
Barclays Center will host the ACC Tournament in 2017 and 2018, and continue to host the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament in 2015 and 2016, and after the two years of the ACC, the A-10 will return a few years later, holding it in Brooklyn from 2019 through 2021.
The ACC and A-10 also showed their commitment to Barclays Center by announcing that they will play inter-conference doubleheaders in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The A-10 also has secured a spot for one of its teams to take part in the annual Brooklyn Hoops events at Barclays Center.

Masiello Placed On Leave By Manhattan

Steve Masiello, shown here amid much calmer times with Michael Alvarado and George Beamon, has been placed on leave by Manhattan in wake of fallout surrounding false resume that cost him the job at South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

Manhattan College has broken its silence in the matter of Steve Masiello, placing the 36-year-old head coach on leave while he reviews his coursework at the University of Kentucky, where Masiello played as a walk-on from 1996-2000 and won a national championship in 1998.

Masiello made headlines after it was discovered that he did not graduate from Kentucky despite indicating such on his resume, a discrepancy that cost him the head coaching job at the University of South Florida that he appeared to have all but secured just 24 hours ago.

A statement issued moments ago via Manhattan sports information director Pete McHugh summarizes the situation as follows:

"As a result of a background check commissioned by the University of South Florida, Manhattan College has learned there is a question of the validity of head men’s basketball coach Steve Masiello’s undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky. 

Masiello is currently in the process of reviewing his degree status with the University of Kentucky. Manhattan College has placed Masiello on leave while he completes this process with the University.

Masiello was named Manhattan College’s head men’s basketball coach in April 2011. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach at the University of Louisville from 2005-11. Masiello was an assistant coach at Manhattan College from 2001-05 and began his coaching career at Tulane University in 2000-01. He played four years of basketball at Kentucky from 1996-2000.

We ask all parties to respect the privacy of our student athletes until this matter is resolved.

Manhattan College will issue further comment as soon as this expedited process is complete."

In three years at the helm of the Jaspers, Masiello is 60-39, and is only five days removed from his first NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach, one in which Manhattan battled Louisville and Masiello's mentor Rick Pitino before ultimately suffering a 71-64 setback.

A Daly Dose Of Hoops will continue to monitor all facets of this situation, and will report further details as they emerge.

Steve Masiello Update

Just two weeks after winning MAAC championship, Steve Masiello finds future in limbo after South Florida deal fell through and status at Manhattan uncertain. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

At the present moment, Steve Masiello is still the head men's basketball coach at Manhattan College after his five-year contract to take the same position at the University of South Florida fell through due to an "undetected discrepancy" in the background check conducted by the search committee hired by USF administrators to find a new coach.

This morning, the aforementioned discrepancy was revealed by ESPN's Brett McMurphy, who broke the news that Masiello; a former player at the University of Kentucky before beginning his coaching career as an assistant under Bobby Gonzalez and Rick Pitino, did not complete the coursework to earn his degree from the Lexington school, yet falsely claimed so on his resume when applying for the job. When reached for comment, both Pitino and Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich voiced their surprise, with the Hall of Fame coach indicating he was "shocked" by the startling discovery.

Masiello, who did not resign his post at Manhattan before signing the contract that USF pulled off the table, remains the coach of the Jaspers, whom he guided to their first NCAA Tournament in a decade before narrowly losing to Pitino and Louisville. However, sources close to the situation indicate that the Manhattan College administration is split as to whether or not to retain the 36-year-old Masiello, who is 60-39 in three years since replacing Barry Rohrssen in 2011. Other close sources have stated that Manhattan will release a statement later in the afternoon concerning Masiello's future.

A Daly Dose Of Hoops will continue to monitor this situation as further details emerge.

Deal Is Off Between Masiello And USF

Steve Masiello remains at Manhattan for time being after reported deal with South Florida fell through. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

Steve Masiello is still the head coach at Manhattan College.

Masiello, the Rick Pitino protege who guided the Jaspers to their first NCAA Tournament since 2004, and nearly defeated his mentor once inside the field of 68, had reportedly signed a five-year contract earlier this morning to accept the head coaching vacancy at South Florida, setting off a chain reaction of conflicting stories that revealed that the offer had ultimately not been finalized.

The latest update in the ongoing saga comes from the Tampa Tribune, who just moments ago revealed that the deal was off after an undetected discrepancy was found in Masiello's background check, conducted by a search committee South Florida financed to hire a replacement for Stan Heath, who was dismissed two weeks ago after seven seasons at the helm of the Bulls.

Masiello, who at only 36 years old is considered a hot commodity in the coaching industry, especially after his near-upset of Louisville last Thursday, just completed his third year at the helm of the Jaspers, going 25-8 and winning the MAAC championship behind a senior class of George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado. He is 60-39 for his career since replacing Barry Rohrssen in 2011.

A Daly Dose Of Hoops will have additional information as it becomes available.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Closer Look At Iowa State

Fred Hoiberg is one of two former NBA players leading teams into East regional semifinals this weekend, as he brings Iowa State into Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

Our team-by-team previews of this weekend's East regional semifinals and final at Madison Square Garden continue on today, After taking a closer look at No. 1 seed Virginia yesterday, we move on to profile the team that could very well be the most complete of the quartet invading the Big Apple, one who needed last-second heroics to take down one of the most recognizable programs in the nation.

Iowa State Cyclones (28-7, No. 3 seed)
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2000 (advanced to Elite 8)
How They Got Here: Defeated No. 14 seed North Carolina Central 93-75 on March 21, defeated No. 6 seed North Carolina 85-83 on March 23 (both games in San Antonio, Tex.)
What They Bring To The Table: A smashmouth style on both ends of the ball that is unmatched by any of the three remaining teams in the regional, relying on transition offense and a hard-nosed approach to rebounding led by three players that average seven or more boards per game. The calm demeanor of head coach Fred Hoiberg, a former Iowa State player who also spent a decade in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves, also goes a long way in shaping the Cyclones, who are unfazed by big stages and bigger teams. Iowa State averages 83 points per game offensively, with four players in double figures, even though one of them (Georges Niang) is inactive.

The Iowa State offense begins and ends with two people, but more so DeAndre Kane than anyone else. The Pittsburgh native, who used his final year of eligibility this offseason to transfer into Ames after making a name for himself at Marshall, is probably the most dynamic scorer and all-around threat that most people in the nation have not heard of. For those who do not know Kane, you will love his game almost immediately...unless of course, you are a rabid North Carolina fan who is still bitter about his flair for the dramatic this past Sunday:

Besides Kane, who averages nearly seven rebounds and six assists per game to go with his 17 points per contest, the Cyclones also have the interior presence of Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim, the team's leading scorer (18.1 points per game) and second-leading rebounder, narrowly behind junior swingman and Yonkers native Dustin Hogue. Sixth man Naz Long is Hoiberg's most prolific marksman, shooting 41 percent from three-point range, while Monte Morris provides a stable and efficient hand in the backcourt alongside Kane, bringing a 5:1 assist to turnover ratio onto the hardwood. In addition to Hogue, Iowa State has another local angle on their bench in assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih, who graduated from St. John's University seven years ago, and took a course in stadium and arena management with yours truly once upon a time before either of us entered our respective industries.

Where They Have An Advantage: Ball movement. Simply put, Iowa State's offensive sets are second to none. On the season, the Cyclones average nearly 19 assists per game compared to just over 10 turnovers, with both starting guards in Kane and Morris posting triple-digit assist totals for the season. In addition, if pressured into a shootout from behind the three-point line, Iowa State has the second and third options to withstand a flurry of shots beyond the arc, with Hogue (35 percent) and Long (41) supplementing Kane and Ejim, who shoot 39 and 34 from three, respectively. This truly is one team that you do not want to take for granted, particuarly on the offensive end. When left open, as North Carolina made the mistake of doing against Long and Morris in the final minutes, not only can the Cyclones burn you, they will.

Where They May Struggle: On the boards and in the paint, even more so without Georges Niang. Iowa State had difficulty handling Kennedy Meeks against North Carolina on Sunday, and will not have it easy in their first draw of the weekend, taking on a UConn team that will throw both Tyler Olander and Amida Brimah at the Cyclone front line. Should they emerge victorious, Iowa State's reward for surviving that battle will be having to contain either Virginia's two-headed interior monster of 6-11 Mike Tobey and 6-8 Akil Mitchell, or 6-10 mountain of a man Adreian Payne if Michigan State advances to the Elite Eight.

Keys To Victory Against UConn: Much like their emphatic blowout of the Huskies in 2012, a game that turned out to be the final game Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun coached before his medically-induced retirement, Iowa State needs to unleash their X-factor early and often. Two years ago, it was Royce White. On Friday, it will be Ejim, whose muscular frame gives him a size advantage on the wing against DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey of UConn, who is a backcourt-oriented team behind Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. If Kane can turn the Huskies over and start the Cyclones' push-button transition offense, that will be half the battle for a team that is emerging as a dark horse pick to reach the Final Four.

Nothing Official Between Steve Masiello And USF

Steve Masiello, shown here celebrating MAAC championship win, can now celebrate a well-deserved step up after leaving Jaspers for South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

When Steve Masiello orchestrated a 15-win improvement in his first season as head coach at Manhattan, taking a Jasper team that went 6-25 the year before under Barry Rohrssen and finishing 21-13 with a Tournament appearance, it no longer became a question of when or if he would depart for a bigger and better opportunity, but rather, one of how soon it would be for one of the fastest rising stars in the industry.

The answer to that question appeared to have come today, bringing with it more twists and turns than an episode of "Lost" before ultimately resting on a cliffhanger of sorts just 24 hours after the college basketball world was similarly rattled with a false report of Shaka Smart leaving VCU to fill the vacancy at Marquette, which was created on Friday when Buzz Williams departed for a seven-year contract at Virginia Tech.

Masiello's next challenge, should he choose to accept it, would be as the next coach at South Florida, who parted ways with Stan Heath after a 12-20 campaign that wrapped up Heath's seventh season at the helm of the Bulls. USF has reportedly offered the 36-year-old coach a five-year contract with a significantly higher financial compensation than what he received at Manhattan, according to CBS' Gary Parrish, the first to break the news of Masiello's candidacy when word came out over the weekend that USF booster Chris Sullivan had pushed for Masiello to take the job. 

The whirlwind courtship comes just five days after Masiello and Manhattan took reigning national champion Louisville to the limit in the Jaspers' first NCAA Tournament game since 2004. The coach reportedly interviewed yesterday with incoming athletic director Mark Harlan, who; if able to lure Masiello to Tampa, would instantly be getting a man that would waste little time rebuilding a program that is only two years removed from a Round of 32 appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Should the offer be accepted, a formal announcement will likely be made later in the week according to sources close to the situation.

In three years with the Jaspers, Masiello has compiled a 60-39 record, culminating with a 25-8 season that brought the Riverdale school its first MAAC championship and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004. Once in the field of 68, Manhattan did more than hold their own against Louisville, taking a two-point lead into the final two minutes of regulation before the Cardinals closed the game on a 13-4 run to narrowly escape Orlando with a 71-64 victory in a matchup that saw Masiello arguably outcoach Rick Pitino, for whom he served six years as an assistant at Louisville, the latest chapter in a relationship that dates back to Masiello being a ball boy while Pitino coached the New York Knicks in the late 1980s.

Manhattan's student newspaper, the Quadrangle, reported this morning that Masiello met with his team; which loses its three-pronged senior class of George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado next season, and informed them of his decision to accept the offer at USF. Manhattan College officials have yet to issue a release indicative of Masiello's departure, but multiple credible sources, including college basketball insider Jon Rothstein, have picked up on Parrish's report. However, Howie Kussoy, who covers the Jaspers for the New York Post, tweeted this afternoon that reports of Masiello meeting with the team were premature, but that he would eventually address the matter soon. The latest update in the ongoing saga, tweeted approximately two hours ago by Joey Knight, who covers USF for the Tampa Bay Times, says that although a breakthrough may be imminent, nothing is official at the moment: 

Click here for Joey Knight's coverage of the Masiello situation from the USF perspective: