Sunday, November 30, 2014

Seton Hall Thanksgiving Classic: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ­ - Maui, the Garden, the various islands of tropical lure and pleasant temperatures are all part of the Thanksgiving holiday tradition. On the campus of Seton Hall at ‘historic’ Walsh Gymnasium is another tradition, time tested and popular. The Seton Hall Women’s Thanksgiving Tournament. The field this year saw the Hall host in-state rival Saint Peter’s as well as Saint Joseph’s and St. Francis Brooklyn, an interesting ‘smorgasbord’ of school from four different conferences.

Besides seeing competition from different leagues, an attraction of these early season get-togethers is the opportunity to test yourself against good competition. The scores:

Seton Hall 75, Saint Peter's 45
Saint Joseph's 64, St. Francis Brooklyn 42

Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella wanted to play good solid man-to-man. Forget the zones and presses. He also wanted a full effort, not like the one that made a recent win over Kennesaw State too close for comfort. Mission accomplished.

Cindy Griffin of Saint Joseph’s wanted to break a two-game losing streak in a ‘big’ way. Simply utilize a considerable size advantage. Success!

For Saint Peter’s and St.Francis, it was an opportunity to go out of conference against strong competition. Give your players the chance to ‘test the waters’ against a higher level. An opportunity to learn about themselves as well as their game. A chance to get ready for your own conference season.

Yes, these ‘classics’ can be attractive to fans and followers. Also, very useful to the coaches and teams.

Seton Hall led handily, yet coach Tony Bozzella was animated and feverishly encouraging his team:
Saint Peter's coach Pat Coyle checks her notes:
Double duty for the Seton Hall cheerleaders. They cheered the women's game at noon before coach Jean Marie Romanella gave them pizza and got them on a bus to the Prudential Center. By 4:00, they were cheering the men on to a big win over George Washington:
The trainer tends to a Saint Joseph's player just before tipoff:
Katie Fox of St. Francis in a classic defensive stance:
Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Saint Joseph's looks for an opening:
St. Francis Brooklyn substitutes waiting to check in against Saint Joseph's:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Seton Hall improves to 5-0 with 58-54 win over George Washington

Angel Delgado's first career double-double helped Seton Hall to first 5-0 start since 2009-10 after Pirates bested George Washington 58-54 at Prudential Center. (Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media)

Coming off a Paradise Jam championship, Seton Hall expected a fight in their first game back stateside. They got one, and then some.

In the first of two consecutive games against reigning NCAA Tournament participants, the Pirates needed 39 minutes and 59.3 seconds to emerge from a battle with George Washington victorious, as Sterling Gibbs' two free throws that resulted from an offensive foul against the Colonials' Kethan Savage iced a 58-54 Seton Hall victory before a crowd of 7,774 at the Prudential Center.

"We just told our guys 'you're just going to have to battle as hard as you can possibly battle,'" head coach Kevin Willard recounted after earning his first 5-0 start in South Orange, the first such beginning for Seton Hall since 2009-10, the final season of the Bobby Gonzalez era. "They're a good defensive team. I thought they did a good job making us work and get back in transition. That's as good of a win as I've had in a long time."

The Pirates almost let their tenacious start slip away, as George Washington, who had been suffocated by the Seton Hall defense throughout the first half, came out of the intermission on a 13-5 run to take a 36-30 lead with 12:11 remaining in a matchup where neither side trailed by more than six points at any juncture. Seton Hall would then respond with a 12-2 run capped off by six consecutive points from Brandon Mobley, who was one of four Pirates in double figures with 14 points, to take a 42-38 advantage with 8:55 to go in the second half.

The next several minutes brought on a seesaw battle, with the Colonials tying the score on five separate occasions, but never once taking the lead. Seton Hall's vaunted freshman class took over down the stretch, first with the score tied at 52 and 1:55 on the clock when Isaiah Whitehead's missed jumper was scooped up and put back by fellow rookie Desi Rodriguez to give the Pirates a two-point cushion. The two teams then traded free throws before a potentially controversial offensive foul called against Sterling Gibbs gave the ball back to George Washington with 23 seconds left.

The Colonials had two final chances to win, trailing 56-53 with 16 seconds left after Rodriguez made only one of two free throw attempts, but a three-pointer from Savage that would have tied the score fell off the mark. Freshman Yuta Watanabe picked up the loose ball and drew a foul on Whitehead, making the first shot. His second rimmed out and into the hands of Angel Delgado, who registered his first double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. However, the Dominican import missed both foul shots after ripping down the carom, leaving George Washington with one more opportunity.

Racing up the left baseline, Savage tried to beat the buzzer, but was called for a charge with seven-tenths of a second remaining. Gibbs calmly drained his ensuing free throws to seal the win.

"I was just trying to get a three up there," George Washington coach Mike Lonergan said of the final possession. "I just wanted to get out of there. I didn't want overtime with the way the game was being called. That was a good win for Seton Hall, and those officials are good officials, and that had nothing to do with the loss."

Seton Hall resumes their three-game homestand Tuesday night, when defending Northeast Conference champion Mount St. Mary's comes to Newark, a game Willard cautiously warned his players not to overlook after tonight's hard-fought victory.

"We can't start looking at the fact that we're 5-0 and this is great," he advised. "We have to look at the fact that we're 5-0 and we have Mount St. Mary's next."

"We're one game above where I thought we'd be right now," Willard continued. "What surprised me is how much this group focused on the defensive end. I didn't think we'd get to that point yet. They're growing up quick, and they're doing a whole lot of great things. They're picking all the little things up and understanding the importance of them."

Jon Severe to take leave of absence from Fordham

Jon Severe becomes second straight Fordham player to take in-season leave of absence. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

The cloud surrounding Fordham in the wake of a crushing defeat to UMass Lowell this past Sunday appears to have mushroomed into something much bigger than just a shocking loss.

It was announced this morning that sophomore guard Jon Severe, who had been long rumored to be departing the program, would take a leave of absence from the Rams, citing personal reasons as the reasoning behind his sabbatical.

There is no timetable for a possible return for Severe, the 2013 Mr. Basketball in New York, Fordham's second-leading scorer last season. As a sophomore, the Brooklyn native has struggled, scoring just five points in only 39 minutes this year, spread out across three games, with a 17-minute run against UMass Lowell on Sunday being his season high.

"We will continue to support Jon as he addresses some personal issues off the court," Fordham head coach Tom Pecora said in a release issued this morning. "We wish him and his family all the best during this process, and hope that everyone will respect their privacy."

This is the second straight season in which the Rams have had a player leave during the year to tend to personal matters, with Ryan Canty taking a similar break last year, also after just three games.The 6-9 forward returned nearly a month later.

More information on Jon Severe will be posted as it becomes available.

Friday, November 28, 2014

NIT Final: St. John's falls short against Gonzaga

Phil Greene IV shooting a three early in their loss to Gonzaga. Photo by Jason Schott.

By Jason Schott - Reporter / Assignment Editor and Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor - @JESchott19

The St. John's Red Storm lost to Gonzaga 73-66 in the Preseason NIT Championship Game on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. They fell behind by as many as 15, pulled to within three, but ultimately fell short.

St. John's fell behind by 15, at 56-41 on a Domantas Sabonis layup with 9:00 left in the game. St. John's responded with an 11-2 run to pull within six, at 58-52, on a D'Angelo Harrison jumper. It stayed around there until there was 2:03 left when Phil Greene IV hit a three to cut Gonzaga's lead to 67-63. After a Byron Wesley lay-up, Greene hit another three to pull St. John's within three at 69-66.

It stayed there, but St. John's wilted under the pressure in the final minute, as Rysheed Jordan and Harrison, who took an offensive foul, committed turnovers. Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos made two free throws with 10 seconds left to make it 71-66 Gonzaga and seal the win.

Pangos had 11 points, 9 assists, and 3 rebounds, and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NIT. He said of the award, "It was an honor, but the entire team, you could kind of pick anyone. It's a well-rounded team. First game, Wiltjer played great. This game Domantas (Sabonis), Gary (Bell, Jr.), everyone made great plays. It's an honor but anyone on our team I feel like could have been most valuable."

Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos receiving his NIT MVP trophy. Photo by Jason Schott.
From St. John's, there was talk after the game about how coming so close against a Top 10 team was an achievement, but in actuality, was it really?

St. John's head coach Steve Lavin said of this after the game, "I know we did some good things, and so I was pleased with their fight back, their opportunistic smaller group that allowed us to come from 15 down at the 10:27 mark, and we had two chances to tie it or cut it to one either from the foul line or convert with a two-point field goal. So I think that was the positive, coming from 15 down, 10 minutes and change with a degree of foul trouble that we had going against a Top 10 team in the country. But we expect to win, and so the disappointment is that we didn't finish it off and ultimately win a championship here tonight."

Greene, who led St. John's with 20 points on 8-for-16 from the field including 4-for-9 on threes, said of the game, "We're proud that we fought back, how we competed in the second half. But we shouldn't have dug ourselves in that big a hole. Basically on the defensive end -- front penetration and getting big stops at the right time. So we just got to come out and not dig ourselves a hole."

Harrison had 15 points, 6 rebounds, and an assist for St. John's, and he said of the game,"I'm just mad that we lost. We went small and the bigs didn't hurt us in the end. We thought they was going to hurt us and that's not the case. I think (Byron) Wesley got two layups and that was two big plays of the game. So you credit them but we know that and we know we have to get better at that. So we'll go back to work."

Manhattan/George Mason Preview

Paul Hewitt and George Mason take on Manhattan hoping to right ship after 1-4 start. (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

At 1-3 on the young season, Manhattan's record may not be as gaudy as some expected, but in the Jaspers' defense, three of their first four contests have been played against reigning postseason participants, which only underscores the high ceiling that Steve Masiello projects his team to achieve as the season progresses.

Next up for Manhattan is a 1-4 George Mason team that is hoping to atone for a last-place showing in last week's Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where the Patriots lost each of their three games, the last of which a one-point setback to College of Charleston. In the absence of Bryon Allen and Mount Vernon native Sherrod Wright, junior sharpshooter Patrick Holloway has picked up the offensive slack for Paul Hewitt, who seems to have tapped into an interior gold mine with junior college transfer Shevon Thompson, a 6-11 junior center that has amassed 58 points and just as many rebounds in George Mason's five contests to date.

Sophomores Jalen Jenkins and Marquise Moore, the latter a former Hofstra commit, offer promise and potential for the beleaguered Hewitt, who has entered his fourth season in Fairfax on the hot seat. Jenkins and Moore, as well as Hewitt's future, were two of the things we asked Alan Kelly of in the latest of our pregame question and answer sessions:

Jaden Daly: With Bryon Allen and Sherrod Wright gone, who are the Patriots turning to in the backcourt, and how far along is the replacement process?

Alan Kelly: For those who don’t know, the Patriots lost 31 points per game from the graduation of those two senior guards. Junior Patrick Holloway has been the lone bright spot in the backcourt thus far, averaging 15.6 points. However, with no other consistent threats on the perimeter, teams have already adjusted, and Holloway is double-teamed even before he touches the ball. Some games this limits his scoring attempts, and other games, like against New Mexico, he rushes his shots and ends up shooting 3-17 and 1-11 from long range. 

Senior Vaughn Gray got a lot of the available minutes in the first three games, but still hasn’t recaptured the promise he showed in his freshman year. He only played four minutes total in the final two games in Puerto Rico, which is disappointing. On paper, he seems like the guy best suited to be the second perimeter scoring option alongside Holloway.

Junior Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal was supposed to offer a scoring touch, but he’s shown exactly as much rust as you might expect for a guy who barely played two years ago for the Yellow Jackets, sat out last season after transferring to Mason, and missed significant time this preseason with a finger injury.

That leaves the freshman class, and relying on freshman for scoring isn’t a good place to be, no matter how good those freshmen are. Isaiah Jackson and Eric Lockett look like good pieces for the future, but neither is a major scoring contributor at this point. The 6’6” Jackson’s main task is to provide a taller option at point guard, and Lockett, coming off knee surgery, has looked like he needs more time to adjust to the speed of the college game. Mason’s top incoming freshman, Therence Mayimba, was expected to step in and provide another scoring option right away, but the native of Gabon has yet to receive initial eligibility clearance from the NCAA.

Defensively, Marquise Moore and Corey Edwards have been major contributors on the perimeter, and Paul Hewitt has even used the two together on the floor, or as a 2 guard with Isaiah Jackson running the point. This boosts the team’s defensive intensity and ball security and control, but it hasn’t helped an already woeful offense. 

The plan from the beginning of the year for Hewitt and his staff has been to rely much more heavily on the forwards to score the ball in the paint, and to put two guys in the box instead of just one, but that hasn’t worked very well either, because the defense does not fear Mason’s perimeter shooters, and everyone collapses as soon as the ball is passed into the post.

JD: Erik Copes has been an enigma more often than not, and Paul Hewitt has been vocal about him living up to the hype as a senior. Is this the year he finally breaks through?

AK: At this point, I would have to say no, until proven otherwise. Copes played just 13 minutes in the opener against Cornell, scoring 1 point, before suffering a left shoulder injury, and he has missed Mason’s last four games with the injury. This has to be a huge disappointment to the coaching staff and to Copes himself. By all accounts, he was finally healthy for the first time in three years and had done all the offseason work that could be expected of him, dropping as much as 45 pounds and then adding muscle to his leaner frame. He’d also managed to stay out of trouble off the court, and avoided a season-beginning suspension for the first time in three years. But all of that hard work won’t mean anything if he can’t stay healthy. The school has not provided any specifics on Copes’ injury or how long he is expected to be out.

In his absence, newcomers Shevon Thompson (a 6’11” JUCO transfer) and Trey Porter (a 6’10” freshman) have filled in admirably. Thompson is averaging 11.6 points and 11.6 rebounds for the season and set a Puerto Rico Tip-Off single game record with 21 points and 19 rebounds in the loss to New Mexico. Even if Copes comes back now, Thompson has to be the starter. Meanwhile, Porter has averaged 7 points and 3 rebounds in 15 minutes, has played solid post defense, and leads the team in blocks with 5.

JD: Last year, George Mason's biggest keys were defensive rotations and shooting percentages. Have the emphasis on either or both of those changed?

AK: I actually don’t see the defense as one of the big issues right now. The defense has been passable (holding their opponent under 70 points in all but one game), while the offense has been a trainwreck, both in getting shots, and in making them. Even free throw shooting is an issue right now. As a team, the Patriots are shooting 59.3% from the charity stripe. Moore, Holloway, Edwards, and freshman center Trey Porter are a combined 41-58 while the rest of the team is shooting just 29-60.

The big key for Mason is to get good scoring chances. They need to limit turnovers, and then to take and make smart shots. They need to play an inside-out game and utilize their frontcourt depth in a way that last year’s team often didn’t have to do. They need made baskets. I know that sounds overly simplistic, but it’s been a struggle so far. The Patriots’ offense is 290th in the country at 61.2 points per game.

JD: Jalen Jenkins and Marquise Moore had impressive freshman seasons, and are now integral pieces to the Patriot puzzle. Does the offensive effort begin and end with them now as a result?

AK: The sophomores are off to disappointing starts to the season, although they’ve only played five games so it would be very unfair to draw any long term conclusions. It’s been very easy to forget how young they are, and it’s possible they don’t yet fully realize their own importance to the team’s success.

Jenkins has found himself in frequent foul trouble, which has limited his minutes per game to 22. Some of that is due to the team’s offensive struggles, and his very physical attempts to split double-teams and force his way to the rim, resulting in a number of offensive fouls. Moore had minor surgery on his knee in the offseason, and it’s not clear whether he’s 100% or not. He’s been very disruptive on defense, and he opened the season with an 8-point, 7-assist, 6-rebound performance against Cornell, but he’s had 7 assists and 14 turnovers since, with a pair of 1-point games. If Mason is to sustain any credibility on offense this season, both sophomores need to step up and provide some help for Holloway and Thompson.

JD: Here's the obligatory Paul Hewitt job security question: How hot is his seat in Fairfax, and what does he need to do to avoid losing his job?

AK: Let’s start with the facts: George Mason is 8-24 in Paul Hewitt’s last 32 games as head coach, and his roster is now entirely composed of players that he himself recruited. Your readers can fill in their own favorite temperature metaphor here. On paper, the team has a lot of individual talent, but they look disorganized and directionless when they take the court together. Hewitt can certainly recruit, but everything that happens leading up to and on gameday, from scouting and preparation to substitutions and play calling, has to be in question. 

To be fair, he’s trying to replace some very good seniors, he has six newcomers on his roster, and some of his upperclassmen were recruited for the CAA. Fitting all those pieces together obviously takes time. But there has to be forward progress evident at some point this season. This is year four, and his team is still making some of the same fundamental mistakes that they were making in years one, two, and three. There isn’t any time for more excuses. With his contract up after next season, this coming offseason will be when Mason either extends him, or moves in a new direction.

I don’t know if wins and losses are even important at this point. The real test is whether there is some sign of a cohesive strategy being implemented and producing measurable results with the younger players. But if we are going to put a minimum win total out there, the number I circled preseason was 18 wins. Given the 1-4 start, that will be a very tall order. I personally can’t see a situation in which Hewitt is back next season, unless something big changes in the next 25 games. I hope I’m proven wrong, because Paul Hewitt is absolutely a class act, but it’s just not working out so far.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Preseason NIT, Day 1: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY­ - Thanksgiving eve, a tradition. Penn Station is inundated with travelers awaiting departure, patiently as one can be, studying schedules. In the college basketball circles, it is also a tradition, the Pre-­Season NIT semifinals.

On this chilly, snowy evening which hit us even before winter’s arrival, St. John’s is facing Minnesota, with Gonzaga and Georgia in the nightcap.

The opener again reinforces the importance of playing two halves. The game is 40 minutes. St. John’s did a number of things needing attention, not closing on shooters defensively and being impatient to the tune of zero-for-nine three point shooting offensively. The second half saw a different St. John’s team; not so much an X or O, but simply coming out with a purpose and battling.

St. John’s was a gritty, battling team tonight,” praised Richard Pitino, the coach of defending postseason NIT champion Minnesota. “They outhustled us.” The result for the Red Storm was a 70­-61 victory and championship game appearance.

Gonzaga punched their ticket with an 88-­76 victory over Georgia. They basically ran a clinic offensively and were a joy for a basketball purist to watch. Screen and rolls, kickouts to the perimeter, motion offensively...all part of the Gonzaga package. Georgia battled gamely and stayed within striking distance until the stretch.

Forget the ‘retail detail’ of Black Friday. Put away the ‘fantastic plastic.’ The day after Thanksgiving will see St. John’s facing Gonzaga. On paper, you could point to Gonzaga. Trite, but the saying is ‘the game is decided on the floor.’

Tradition indeed, all part of our ‘Feast Week.’

Minnesota takes the floor for the second half:
The St. John's dance team celebrates a big win:
Red Storm coach Steve Lavin ponders a postgame question:
Still on the job, Minnesota assistants scout opposition for the third place game during the nightcap:
Head coach Mark Fox and his Georgia Bulldogs in the huddle against Gonzaga:
Intense backcourt defense between Georgia and Gonzaga:
Gonzaga coach Mark Few watches the action intently:
On the second game was longtime veteran Ed "The C" Corbett, the C standing for the initial of his last name and the C (corner) position in officiating. Ed worked with Mike Nance and Jeff Clark:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Legends Classic: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

BROOKLYN, NY - New Jersey Transit is a mode of transportation I am familiar with. On the subway, I am still a rookie even entering a third year traveling to the Barclays Center. Getting on the No. 3 train at Penn Station, there is a young lady in an Oregon sweatshirt. I was sure she was a student going to Barclays to cheer on the Ducks, who were facing VCU in the consolation game of the Legends Classic. “I don't go to Oregon,” she replied. “I applied but didn't get in.” At least she assured me the No. 3 train would stop at Barclays.

The Oregon-clad lady was right and the third place game was in order. Roughly 24 hours earlier, VCU had a tough time with Villanova. The Rams led early in the second half, only to see Villanova go on a game sealing 16-0 run.

Quite simply, the way VCU responded told us a lot about Shaka Smart's team. In a game of spurts, the Rams gained the proverbial separation the final ten minutes en route to a 77-63 victory. Coming back after that disheartening loss, getting prepared and coming out with intensity was not only impressive, but something VCU can build on as the season progresses and they aim for an Atlantic Ten title a few months away on this same floor.

Oregon finished 0-2. Coach Dana Altman saw positives for his young team and a number of things that need correcting. But that is the beauty of these early season affairs. Test yourself against top flight competition and address what needs fixing before the conference season is underway. A win or two in the process, all the better.

Outside Barclays Center on Atlantic Avenue:
Only in Brooklyn: The concession stand at Barclays Center has a full bar...
...right across from a candy store:
VCU coaches, under the direction of Shaka Smart, huddle at halftime outside the locker room:
The VCU style of play, what they want to create, is spelled out:
The veritable Ronnie Weintraub busy crunching numbers at halftime:
Brandon Cruz, a fellow officiating camp attendee and good officiating friend I have had the pleasure of working with. Brandon worked VCU vs. Oregon with Robert Riley and Jim Bruno:

Could Pecora's long road at Fordham be nearing its end?

Tom Pecora was at a loss for words following Fordham's loss to UMass Lowell, a sign that Rams' fifth-year coach may have reached end of his rope at Rose Hill. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Eighty-seven times before, Tom Pecora had done his best to explain a Fordham loss, an occurrence that happened frequently even before his arrival from Hofstra nearly five years ago. Usually, these setbacks were defended with a number of rebuttals, ranging from the youth of the Ram roster to what he cited as "residue of losing" following a late-season loss to VCU last year.

The Rams' most recent defeat, an empty-handed 64-57 decision against a UMass Lowell program just two years removed from making the jump to Division I that served as the 88th notation of the letter "L" on the Fordham ledger in the coach's four-plus-year regime, may have been his most devastating.

"Well, guys, that was embarrassing," Pecora disgustedly offered upon his entrance into the Rose Hill Gym media room. "This is not a good one, I'm not going to lie to you."

One thing Pecora has almost always been in nearly five years of covering him, aside from being more accessible than other coaches at programs of equal or greater prestige in the area, is up front to those who cover him. When asked a hard question, he will give an honest answer whenever he can, something that has always been appreciated.

When it comes to realizing whether he may have bitten off more than he could chew upon coming to Fordham, however, Pecora has been hard-pressed to find an explanation as he searches; not yet in vain, but sometimes desperately, to turn the fortunes of a program that has been seemingly moribund for decades in a positive direction once and for all. The Rams have gone through the wringer in almost every way possible, from back-to-back 44-point losses in Pecora's second season; which also included a 34-point thrashing against a Manhattan team in its first season under Steve Masiello, to the inexplicable bloodletting on the road against Dayton and La Salle the following year, to the 46-point massacre at Madison Square Garden against St. John's last December. This does not include the numerous close losses against teams such as Butler, Saint Joseph's, Richmond, and George Washington. Nor does it take into consideration last November's letdown, ironically one year to the day of the UMass Lowell deflation, against a Sacred Heart team that entered winless and was not expected to do much under a rookie head coach in Anthony Latina.

While the talent level at Rose Hill has progressively risen with the signings of players such as Chris Gaston and Branden Frazier, who helped shepherd Pecora's transition from the chaos that was rampant following the firing of Dereck Whittenburg, to more recent coups in Jon Severe and Eric Paschall; not to mention diamonds in the rough the likes of Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes, the anticipated improvement in Fordham's bottom line has not. Some may credit the stagnant win-loss record to the coach specifically, but in Pecora's defense, that is only part of the issue. A confluence of factors stemming from an Atlantic 10 that has been stronger than ever before and the perceived criticism of Fordham's facilities, something the coach has openly admitted works against him in recruiting on multiple occasions, even back in 2012 when the Rams played at Barclays Center for the first time, are just as much contributing factors as what some view as a stubborn unwillingness on the part of Pecora to adapt his three-guard system predicated on moving ball screens to better suit his talent, as Gary Moore chronicled in this piece for The College Hardwood last season.

Fordham's most rabid supporters have been vocal and critical of Pecora for years now, and in the aftermath of the Rams' latest near-miss Sunday night, flooded the basketball message board with calls for his head, with the majority of fans calling for none other than Mike Rice. Yes, THAT Mike Rice, the same Mike Rice who threw basketballs at his players at Rutgers while at the same time verbally abusing them, to be the interim replacement. Rice has not yet earned the right to return to the coaching ranks, and an institution such as Fordham would probably consider several other candidates before him despite Rice's standing as an alumnus, but the fact that there is a group out there vocally clamoring for him to save the Rams' season should be a haunting indicator of Pecora's future.

Watching Pecora closely on Sunday, it seemed as though he was resigned to his fate a little more than he may have been in past games and past seasons. Through most of the second half of Sunday's loss, he remained stationary at the edge of the Fordham bench, with his body language suggesting he was powerless to stop what was proceeding in front of him. In addition, sophomore guard Jon Severe's start to the season has been enough to land the Rams' second-leading scorer from last season on the proverbial milk carton, only scoring five points in 39 minutes through three games after being suspended for the season opener against Division II foe NYIT.

Over the past two seasons of covering Fordham basketball and watching the cries to the Fordham administration for a change of direction, Pecora could be let off the hook after a while for most of the losses that caused his approval rating among fans and boosters to slide to the George W. Bush-esque lows that were seen in the waning moments of the former President's second term in the White House. This past Sunday looks to be the straw that broke the camel's back. While Fordham will most likely wait until the end of the season to make a decision on the course of leadership for its men's basketball program, the fair and right thing to do seeing as how a midseason coaching change would only torpedo the standing of the program in the eyes of recruits, media and competitors alike. However, their most recent impression may just be the beginning of the end for Tom Pecora, who is running out of chances to get the turnaround he was hired to skipper.

Villanova holds off Michigan to win Legends; VCU third

The scene during Villanova-Michigan. Photo by Jason Schott.
By Jason Schott of - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor - @JESchott19

The Villanova Wildcats, ranked 14th in the nation, won the Progressive Legends Classic on Tuesday night at Barclays Center with a 60-55 win over #19 Michigan 60-55. VCU beat Oregon 77-63 in the Consolation Game.


This was a tight game from the start, and Michigan had a 20-18 lead on a Caris LeVert three-pointer with 7:17 left in the first half. Villanova shut them out the rest of the way and took a 27-20 lead into halftime.

They then opened the second half on a 6-0 run, capped by a JayVaughn Pinkston dunk with 17:52 left in the second half. Michigan got their first basket of the second half on a Zak Irvin jumper at the 17:23 mark. That broke an extended scoreless streak by Michigan of 9 minutes and 54 seconds.

That started a big run by Michigan to take a 43-38 lead on a Kameron Chatman jumper with 9:02 left. Michigan expanded that lead to eight, at 51-43, on a Derrick Walton, Jr., jumper with 5:59 left. Villanova responded with a 9-0 run, with threes from Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis and capped by a Josh Hart free throw with 2:03 left that made it 52-51 Villanova. LeVert made back-to-back jumpers to give them a 55-54 lead with 58 seconds left.

The final minute belonged to Pinkston, who is a Brooklyn native. He hit a jumper with 16 seconds left to give them a 56-55 lead and then blocked an Irvin layup with 4 seconds left. Arcidiacono hit four free throws after that to give Villanova the 60-55 win.

Villanova was led by Dylan Ennis, who had 15 points on 6-for-10 from the field and 3-for-6 on three-pointers.Daniel Ochefu had 10 points and 4 rebounds. Pinkston had 8 points and 9 rebounds, falling just short of a double-double.

Michigan was led by LeVert, who had 16 points and 6 rebounds.Irvin had 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. Walton had 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.


VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart looks on as they set up their offense. Photo by Jason Schott

VCU's HAVOC defense was in full force from the beginning of this one, as they held Oregon scoreless for the first 4 minutes and 27 seconds. VCU jumped out to a 12-0 lead in that time, but Oregon battled back and pulled within two, at 27-25, on a three from Dillon Brooks at the 4:10 mark of the first half.

VCU responded with an 8-0 run capped by a layup from Mo Alie-Cox with 17 seconds left. Oregon's Jalil Abdul-Bassit hit a jumper with 4 seconds left cut VCU's lead to 35-27 at halftime.

Oregon came out firing in the second half, starting out with an 11-4 run that cut VCU's lead to 39-38 at the 14:14 mark of the second half. Briante Weber got a three-point play to start a 6-0 VCU run to make it 45-38 at the 11:43 mark. VCU was in control from then on, and went up 11, at 59-48, on a Treveon Graham layup with 6:54 left. Oregon got as close as six points, at 67-61, with 3:36 left, but VCU responded with an 8-0 run capped by an Alie-Cox layup with 40 seconds left that made it 75-61 VCU. All five of VCU's starters scored in double figures.

Melvin Johnson led the way with 19 points on 7-for-13 from the field and 3-for-6 on three-pointers, with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Graham had 13 points on 5-for-7 from the field and 1-2 on threes, with 4 rebounds. Jordan Burgess had 12 points and 7 rebounds. Weber had a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists, and notched 4 rebounds. Alie-Cox had 10 points and 5 rebounds.

VCU head coach Shaka Smart said of having five starters in double figures, "It depends on the game, but we certainly have a lot of guys who are capable of getting double figures, not just our starting lineup. It's good to have balance because we can't just focus on one guy. I thought last night Villanova put a lot of emphasis on Mel and on Tre, and that's what a lot of teams are going to do because they are probably our two best scorers. But I thought that Jordan, Mo, and Briante - those guys stepped up and JeQuan (Lewis) played much better. But as Melvin said, it starts on defense. We need to continue to get better on defense. I thought overall, we played with great effort, but tonight, we are still not at the level that we want. I think that our guys, on the quick turnaround, did a really good job locking in on what we needed to do."

Smart said of the game, "Our guys did a great job following the plan that we put in place. Obviously it was a quick turnaround coming off of last night's game. We talked about Oregon this morning, and what we would need to do against them. At the end of the day, these two guys (Burgess and Johnson) along with the other guys that played big minutes, made a lot of 'toughness' plays and that made the difference for us."

VCU shot 50 percent from the field, or 28 of 56 shot attempts. They held Oregon to just 37.5 percent, or 21-for-56, from the field.

The super band from VCU conducted by Superman. Photo by Jason Schott.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Villanova, Michigan winners to open Legends Classic

VCU hoists up a three. Photo by Jason Schott.
By Jason Schott  of - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor - @JESchott19

Villanova beat VCU with a strong second half performance and Michigan outlasted Oregon on Monday night in the opening of the Progressive Legends Classic at Barclays Center. On Tuesday night, VCU will meet Oregon at 7:30 in the Consolation Game, followed by Villanova and Michigan in the Championship Game at 10:00 pm.

The first half was a very intense, tight affair, and Villanova took a 32-30 lead into halftime. VCU scored the first six points of the second half to take a 36-32 lead at the 18:41 mark. Villanova responded with a mammoth 16-0 run, with Darrun Hilliard scoring 5 points in the span and it was capped by a Josh Hart three-point play at the 16:18 mark that made it 48-36.

Villanova kept it up and took a 16-point lead when Kris Jenkins, who was fouled on a three-point attempt, made three free throws to make it 57-41 at the 13:18 mark. They expanded that lead to 20, at 69-49, on a Hilliard three with 6:25 left, and a Hilliard lay-up gave them their biggest lead, 24, at 77-53 with 2:03 left, and that would be the final score.

JayVaughn Pinkston led the way for Villanova with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Hilliard had 14 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Kris Jenkins had 13 points off the bench and Josh Hart had 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.

VCU was led by Melvin Johnson and Briante Weber, who had 13 points each, while Mo Alie-Cox had 10 points and 4 rebounds.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of the win, "Great game for us. We've had a few games that we didn't quite do everything right, tonight we made good shots. They are a very, very good team. It was a privilege for us to get that test this early against a team like that. The way the play just tests all your concepts, it tests your will, your stamina, and conditioning. We saw that on our schedule and we thought great - we'll know where we are. We all know this could have been 20 points the other way. I really admire the way Shaka runs the team and his program."

On team goals, Wright said, "We have been very fortunate to have this group of guys. The seniors demand focus of everyone around them. It is a joy to coach them. Now they're 21 and 22 years old, and that can change instantly, so we have to stay committed, we have to stay hungry. We have to keep working."

Pinkston, a Brooklyn native, said of playing in his home borough, "Coach and I talked about me coming up to play in New York, and play in front of my family. Remember to focus on defense and that's what I did the first couple of plays."

"We came out aggressive on defense," he continued. We were getting shots, keeping the ball moving ahead to the forwards, and making plays. We just have to continue and get better every day."

VCU head coach Shaka Smart said of the game, "Congrats to Villanova. I thought they played really hard and it showed a lot of poise all game long. In the second half, they really got it going. They made some great plays off the dribble and made some timely three's to extend the lead. I thought our energy was really good coming out of halftime, but after that initial six point run we had, we didn't get stops. You can't win games against anyone, particularly against a quality team like Villanova, if you can't stop them. Over one stretch, they scored five or six times in a row and then eight or so times out of ten. It's unacceptable. It's a painful reminder that we need to get better on defense."

On Villanova breaking the VCU press, Smart said, "They have sound ball handlers, they passed the ball well. I think it's a combination of the talent they have in terms of those things. They pass it well and they don't make unforced turnovers. We were not ourselves in terms of pressuring the ball, closing down traps, getting our hands on the basketball, flying around the way we need to fly around. You combine those things and that's why they had single digit turnovers."

The VCU band is always a highlight wherever they play. Photo by Jason Schott.
Michigan had a dominant first half, and took a 33-27 lead into halftime. In the second half, Oregon tied it at 40 on a three-point play by Elgin Cook with 13:45 left. Michigan responded with an 8-0 run, which included four points from Zak Irvin and was capped by a layup by Derrick Walton, Jr. Oregon pulled back to within a point, at 56-55, on a Dillon Brooks dunk with 4:09 remaining. Michigan never gave up the lead down the stretch, and an Irvin three-pointer with 1:25 left made it 64-59 Michigan, and that sealed the win.

Michigan's Caris LeVert bringing the ball up. Photo by Jason Schott.
Michigan was led by Irvin, who had 19 points and 5 rebounds, and Caris LeVert had 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Ricky Doyle had 10 points and 3 rebounds off the bench.
Oregon was led by Joseph Young, who had 20 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds. Brooks had 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. Cook had 13 points and 6 rebounds. Dwayne Benjamin had 8 points and 11 rebounds.

Michigan head coach John Beilein said of the game, "I have to applaud Oregon. They played so hard, they did a great job. Few times you will see someone give up 18 offensive rebounds and still get a 'W.' We did enough things to win the game. Low turnovers, got to the foul line, made some really big plays down the stretch and we shot the ball better in the second half from the perimeter. Ricky stepped forward tonight, Caris got a lot of things dialed up to him down the stretch and we did enough to get the 'W.'"

Oregon head coach Dana Altman said of his team's performance, "I thought we went to the boards pretty hard. We showed some aggressiveness, but we had a lot of wasted possessions offensively and did not execute what we wanted to. A lot of that was Michigan, but it also was our lack of organization. So, I was disappointed with the way our offense ran."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rutgers/Saint Peter's matchup a reunion of sorts for Dalip Bhatia

For Dalip Bhatia, Tuesday's matchup with Saint Peter's pits Rutgers' director of basketball operations against his mentor, John Dunne. (Photo courtesy of the Newark Star-Ledger)

For the second straight season, Rutgers and Saint Peter's will feature more than just one common thread when the two programs face off in Piscataway Tuesday night.

Aside from their status as Garden State rivals, the Scarlet Knights and Peacocks share a familiar name on the bench in the form of Dalip Bhatia, Rutgers' director of basketball operations who cut his teeth in the Division I ranks for five years as an assistant to John Dunne at Saint Peter's before returning to his alma mater shortly after Eddie Jordan was hired to replace Mike Rice.

"When the opportunity arose, it was definitely something I was interested in," Bhatia said with regard of joining the Rutgers staff in May of 2013. "I'm excited for what's going on at Rutgers under Coach Jordan's leadership, and I'm just grateful that he's allowing me to be a part of his program and helping him build the program through class, integrity and character, with dedicated student-athletes."

"I'm just grateful that I've been able to learn, both from Coach Dunne and from Coach Jordan, how to build a program," Bhatia recalled when comparing his tenure at Saint Peter's to his current atmosphere at Rutgers, "but the one clear similarity between both of them is doing it with integrity and character and finding dedicated student-athletes who want to succeed in the classroom, want to build a championship-caliber program, and want to be good citizens in the community and on campus."

Yet in an industry where some up-and-coming coaches sometimes forget their roots as they ascend the ladder, Bhatia is an exception, a humble upstart who proudly reminds everyone of who gave him his first shot.

"One of the things I always had in my back pocket is that I always had Coach Dunne's support to pursue that opportunity," Bhatia proclaimed of his mentor, who will lead Saint Peter's into battle against Rutgers, where his former assistant is now firmly entrenched in his latest stop on a road to stardom. "He obviously gave me a very strong recommendation, and I'm very grateful for him helping me through that process."

"I'm grateful to Coach Dunne for giving me the opportunity to be a Division I assistant, teaching me the business and really preparing me for the opportunity at Rutgers. He gave me a lot of responsibility, pushed me to be a good Division I assistant. He had me well prepared to move on to the next step in my coaching career."

In five years in Jersey City, Dunne not only guided Bhatia through his formative years as an assistant coach, but more importantly, instilled a sense of knowing just how involved of a process winning can be at the Division I level, as Saint Peter's gradually went from the cellar of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to a contender, with the highwater mark of Bhatia's tenure on the Peacocks' bench being a MAAC championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011.

While on Dunne's staff, Bhatia helped recruit the Peacocks' current core, led by seniors Desi Washington, Marvin Dominique and Jamel Fields, all of whom he remains close to as the trio attempt to return Saint Peter's to the MAAC's elite, along with reigning league powerhouses Iona and Manhattan.

"My last year there was Desi's first year playing after sitting out, and Marvin and Jamel redshirted," Bhatia stated, "and I'm just very lucky that I got to work out with those guys and really help them individually with extra skill development. I'm just happy to see those guys have success going into their senior year, I know they won seven of ten to close out last season, and they've got a very talented group with a couple of really good players in Marvin and Desi, who I'm very close with, so I'm happy to see the success they're going to have as individuals and as a team as the year progresses."

All familiarity aside, though, Bhatia recognizes the job that must still be done Tuesday night, offering a realistic summary of his family reunion, so to speak.

"To be honest, it's just another game," he advised. "I think in the coaching profession, you're always facing friends, obviously Coach Dunne is a very good friend of mine, a mentor that I rely on for guidance, and I'm still very close with a lot of the guys on the team there; I helped recruit them, coach them, and obviously, I want them to succeed, but to me, it's just another game. All of us will shake hands and give hugs to each other before the game and after the game, but when the ball tips, I'm sure all the players, all the players and both coaching staffs, want to win."

"I'm sure Coach Dunne is going to have his guys prepared, and I know Coach Jordan is going to have our guys prepared. I think they'll come out, it'll be a war right from the tip, and as a Rutgers Scarlet Knight, I'm looking forward to a win for the Scarlet Knights, and hope that everyone has a safe and healthy game."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hofstra routs Wagner behind Green's double-double

Juan'ya Green's 24 rebounds and 11 assists were key for Hofstra in 93-71 thrashing of Wagner. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)


Anyone who has watched a Joe Mihalich coached team knows that he likes his sides to run and to run fast. Hofstra was able to do just that as a pesky defense created 17 Wagner turnovers, allowing Juan’ya Green and company to run the floor at will in a 93-71 victory over Wagner on Sunday night.

The win is Hofstra’s second in three nights after a last-second victory over Long Island rival Stony Brook on Friday night.

“We did what we had to do,” Mihalich said. “You worry a little bit about the quick turnaround, we only had one day to prepare for these guys and a little bit of a hangover, because we had such a great, exciting win…our guys really answered the bell.”

Green led the way with a double-double of 24 points on nine shots and 11 assists, providing the quintessential display of a ‘run and gun’ mentality. The junior guard had a hand in over half of his team’s points.

“I’m just trying to be consistent and efficient,” Green said. “Just making sure I take the right shots while making plays for my teammates.”

Starting his second season at Hofstra (3-1), Mihalich revels in the presence of Green, who transferred over from Niagara with the Pride’s coach, to help institute his system.

“You sleep a lot better at night with someone like Juan’ya on your team,” Mihalich said. “He’s efficient. I mean, look at the stats, he took just nine shots…I’m a lucky guy to be his coach and I think his teammates love playing with him.”

Mihalich’s other Niagara transfer, junior guard Ameen Tanksley kept up just nicely with Green and showing off his skill from three-point range, recording 17 points with all five of his field goals coming from beyond the arc.

Wagner (1-3) has now lost three of its first four games this season as they have yet to beat a Division I opponent. Aaren Edmead led the way for the Seahawks with 15 points for a side that just could not break down Hofstra’s defensive strategy.

“We just have young guys and we want to play fast,” Wagner head coach Bashir Mason said. “These guys get caught up in playing fast versus playing smart.”

While Wagner tried to play a physical brand to compliment the speed to try and slow Hofstra down a bit, the Pride’s pace was too much.

“Yeah [we like to get out and run],” Green said. “But I also try to calm my teammates down when we make a lot of mistakes.”

Freshman forward Rokas Gustys paced Hofstra at the start with all six of his points in the game’s first four minutes as he was finding success down low with relative ease. He saw a lot of the bench after his hot start established a comfortable lead.

“One of the best things about tonight was that we were able to rest Rokas tonight,” Mihalich said. “He has a bit of a sore leg so we were able to give him very few minutes.”

Good looks were plentiful as Hofstra was taking advantage of quick ball movement, hitting six of their first nine shots. While the three-pointer was not quite right on Friday against Stony Brook, two straight from Nesmith and Tanksley sparked a Hofstra 13-2 run, capped off by a three-point (lay-up and one) play on the fast break by Green.

Green put on a show in the first half with 14 first quarter points hitting all five shots from the field.

The play quickly shifted from down low to outside as the three-pointer was continuing to work for Hofstra, shooting 5-7 in the first half from deep, they shot 72.7 percent (16-22) from the field to overshadow a 50 percent effort from Wagner.

Hofstra really put the pedal to the medal in the last four minutes of the half, causing four consecutive Wagner turnovers when they shifted to a full court press, opening up a 47-30 lead at halftime.

“We were really aggressive defensively,” Mihalich said. “We had a couple lulls in the second half, they were in that frantic mode…we could have handled it a little better, but we’re moving on.”

Wagner answered a second half start in which it shot 2-12 by hitting 5-7 to make sure their deficit did not worsen, but Hofstra remained aggressive, maintaining its pace despite a spell of sloppy play. 

“To be honest, the guys who made [shots] weren’t making them in other games,” Mason said. “We wanted to limit their penetrations and make them beat us with jump shots…they [Hofstra] were just on fire.”

Sophomore forward Jamall Robinson added 13 points in the win while freshman forward Andre Walker led all players with 10 rebounds.