Friday, September 28, 2018

Asante Gist receives waiver, eligible for full season at Iona

Asante Gist, who transferred to Iona in January, will be eligible for full season as Gaels look for fourth straight MAAC championship. (Photo by ZagsBlog)

The Iona backcourt, which experienced greater transition this offseason than in recent years, just received a shot in the arm six weeks from the opening tip of the season.

Asante Gist, who transferred into the Gaels' program this past January and was expected to suit up for the first time in December after being ineligible for the fall semester, received a waiver from the NCAA early Friday evening and will be able to play the full season as Iona prepares for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship. News of the waiver, initially reported by college basketball insider Jon Rothstein, ZagsBlog's Adam Zagoria, and Josh Thomson; the Journal News' Iona basketball beat writer, was quickly confirmed by an Iona spokesman.

Gist, a 5-foot-11 guard who committed to Eastern Kentucky after a stellar high school career that culminated by playing Bob Hurley at St. Anthony after winning a Tournament of Champions at Roselle Catholic, will have three years of eligibility remaining, beginning with the coming season. In 37 games for the Colonels, the East Orange native averaged 14.6 points and 3.6 assists per contest in head coach Dan McHale's uptempo attack. As a freshman, he averaged nearly 16 points per game and scored 20 or more points on twelve occasions, reaching double figures on the scoreboard in all but six games. In just six contests last season before transferring, Gist scored 48 points, but shot nearly 39 percent from three-point range, a figure that should see many chances to improve in Iona's high-octane offense.

Gist joins Isaiah Still, who sat out this past year after transferring from Robert Morris, as new pieces to an Iona arsenal that returns point guard Rickey McGill for his senior year along with junior E.J. Crawford and senior forward Roland Griffin, the latter of whom is expected to have a breakout season.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mike Cragg to become next St. John's athletic director

Mike Cragg, longtime deputy athletic director at Duke, appears to be next athletic director at St. John's. (Photo by Duke University Athletics)

St. John's is on the verge of hiring its next athletic director, and if his basketball pedigree is any indication, the new sheriff on the corner of Union and Utopia is considered to be a big get for a program whose flagship sport has been mired in a decade-and-a-half of stop-and-go traffic.

Mike Cragg, the current deputy athletic director for operations at Duke University, has agreed in principle to become the next director of athletics at St. John's, a development first reported by college basketball insider Jon Rothstein. Once the hire is officially consummated, he will replace Anton Goff, who resigned unexpectedly this past June after nearly two years in the position, citing family reasons.

Cragg, 53, has spent the past 31 years as an administrator at Duke, beginning when he was hired as an assistant sports information director in 1987. During his time in Durham, he quickly ascended up the ranks, moving from the sports information office into an associate athletic director role in 2004 and a senior associate capacity four years later. Among his many duties include serving as the senior administrator for the nationally renowned men's basketball program, which has won five national championships under Hall of Fame head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest men's basketball coach in Division I history. Three of those five titles have occurred under Cragg's watchful eye, as he spearheaded all operations and fundraising efforts for Duke men's basketball. Among his greatest accomplishments with the Blue Devils include the establishment and formation of the Duke Basketball Legacy Fund, which has brought over $115 million into the program. He is also the leader of Duke's athletic facilities team, which has facilitated $300 million worth of new or planned construction for the facilities at the Atlantic Coast Conference institution.

To corroborate the Rothstein report, Zach Braziller -- who covers St. John's basketball for the New York Post -- stated that Cragg will have full autonomy over all of St. John's athletic programs, including men's basketball. Braziller further states that Cragg will have more power over men's basketball than his predecessor, Goff, did.

An official announcement on Cragg's impending hire is expected within the coming days.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Big East all-conference predictions

While Shamorie Ponds will likely receive preseason accolades, Villanova's Eric Paschall is primed to shoot his way into all-Big East honors in senior season. (Photo by The Journal News)

College basketball season appears closer than ever before as we transition into the start of practice for each Division I team, and in a Big East Conference where many teams are retooling in the wake of Villanova's second national championship in three seasons, the speculation surrounding preseason all-conference honors is as widespread as the predictions of where each of the league's ten teams will finish.

Yes, there are certainties abound just as much as there are the ever-present question marks and intrigue just over one month removed from media day at Madison Square Garden. Selecting 15 players to fill three teams is always a tall order going into any year, but nonetheless, we will make the attempt to offer a mild prognostication before the Big East descends upon the Big Apple in October:

First Team
Preseason Player of the Year: Shamorie Ponds, St. John's (21.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.3 SPG, 42% FG, 86% FT in 2017-18)
Kamar Baldwin, Butler (15.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, 44% FG, 78% FT, 33% 3-pt FG)
Jessie Govan, Georgetown (17.9 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.1 BPG, 51% FG, 76% FT, 35% 3-pt FG)
Markus Howard, Marquette (20.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 46% FG, 94% FT, 40% 3-pt FG)
Eric Paschall, Villanova (10.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 53% FG, 81% FT, 36% 3-pt FG)

Analysis: Ponds, the reigning Haggerty Award winner who easily could have challenged Jalen Brunson for Player of the Year honors last season had St. John's not started Big East play 0-11, is the consensus choice entering his junior season, and rightfully so. The Brooklyn native followed up his rookie campaign with a multifaceted and well-rounded sophomore season, stuffing the stat sheets on a nightly basis and captivating the rabid Red Storm fan base with a commanding month of February that transcended the league and included a 44-point outburst against Marquette to set a Carnesecca Arena scoring record. Not to be outdone, Baldwin continues to be an emerging star for Butler, and the most unbelievable part of the explosive guard's game is that he is only a junior. A perennial mainstay on these lists in just a short amount of time, Baldwin will lead the Bulldogs to greater heights in year two under LaVall Jordan, who has exhibited the calm demeanor under which Brad Stevens led the former mid-major darling to two national championship games, and continues to grow each time he leads his alma mater onto the floor. With Angel Delgado having graduated, Govan now takes over the title of dominant big man in the Big East, and should have no problem replicating his double-double per game numbers from his junior season. Howard is Ponds' primary challenger for the conference scoring title this season, and with Andrew Rowsey having graduated, the stage should grow wider in Milwaukee for the 19-year-old junior to take his already dynamic game to yet another level. The wild card here is Paschall. It speaks to just how strong Villanova is that the Wildcats could conceivably lack a first-team all-conference selection going into a national championship defense, but Paschall has drawn rave reviews from nearly every major basketball aficionado this offseason as he steps into the role of team leader with each of Jay Wright's top four scorers having turned pro early -- something not usually seen on the Main Line -- while immersing himself further into the fabric of a contender.

Second Team
Alpha Diallo, Providence (13.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 47% FG, 73% FT)
Sam Hauser, Marquette (14.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 50% FG, 84% FT, 49% 3-pt FG)
Myles Powell, Seton Hall (15.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 43% FG, 79% FT, 38% 3-pt FG)
Justin Simon, St. John's (12.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 5.0 APG, 2.5 SPG, 47% FG, 66% FT, 42% 3-pt FG)
Max Strus, DePaul (16.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 41% FG, 80% FT, 33% 3-pt FG)

Analysis: Diallo had arguably the quietest and most underrated productive season in the Big East a year ago, helping lead the Friars to an unprecedented fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament. Much like head coach Ed Cooley, the burgeoning big man gets nowhere near the amount of credit he deserves for helping maintain the status quo in the Ocean State, but that notion should undoubtedly change this season. Hauser will likely be a first-team player by season's end, but his recovery from offseason hip surgery may hinder his progress in the early going. Either way, when the marksman is back at 100 percent, he and the aforementioned Markus Howard will have the Golden Eagles firing on all cylinders. The Most Improved Player in the Big East last season, Powell is now the unquestioned leader for Kevin Willard in South Orange, and will have more than his share of opportunities to score and facilitate in equal parts for the Pirates, who have a deceptively strong core to back him up. Simon reprises his role as Shamorie Ponds' wing man in Queens for St. John's, and the redshirt junior could average a double-double if his breakout last year is any indication. Simon has been a big part of the Red Storm's transition defense game since becoming eligible, and projects to do exactly that once again for Chris Mullin. Finally, Strus returns to DePaul for his senior season to give the Blue Demons their most formidable scoring presence since the days of Cleveland Melvin (remember him?), something Dave Leitao will need more often than not if he is to navigate out of the cellar.

Third Team
Eli Cain, DePaul (11.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 35% FG, 66% FT, 31% 3-pt FG)
Marvin Clark II, St. John's (12.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 46% FG, 85% FT, 41% 3-pt FG)
Emmitt Holt, Providence (12.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 52% FG, 68% FT, 34% 3-pt FG in 2016-17)
Paul Jorgensen, Butler (10.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 42% FG, 84% FT, 35% 3-pt FG)
Martin Krampelj, Creighton (11.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.3 APG, 67% FG, 62% FT)

Analysis: This may finally be the year that Cain, now just a senior even if it feels as though he has been at DePaul for a decade, finally gets his due. The Blue Demons should be much improved from last season, but unfortunately for those around Chicago, the rest of the conference has gotten better as well. Either way, the steady hand of the New Jersey product at point guard will help ease the pain in spurts throughout the year. Clark, the third piece of St. John's troika of scorers, could average a double-double provided he is able to stay out of foul trouble, no easy feat considering the Red Storm will have to break in yet another big man alongside him now that Bashir Ahmed has graduated and Tariq Owens has transferred to Texas Tech. Holt makes his return to the Providence lineup after abdominal surgery sacrificed what would have been his senior season, and he appears to be back in his old form as the Friars gear up for a sixth-straight NCAA Tournament run. Jorgensen possesses the two-way ability to make Kamar Baldwin a factor off the ball, which will only aid Butler in its progression this year. Last, but certainly not least, is Krampelj, who is still recovering from a torn ACL. Before his injury last season, head coach Greg McDermott proclaimed on a Big East coaches' conference call that "if there's a more improved player in our league from last year to this year, I'd like to see him." The same holds true this season with the Bluejays' Slovenian import, one who is eager to make up for lost time and return Creighton to the postseason in what would be both a feel-good story and a well-deserved piece of redemption.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hofstra releases non-conference schedule

Reigning CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman heads into senior season as driving force behind a contending Hofstra team. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Hoping to rebound from three seasons of what-if and even further March agony to a program suffering from nearly two decades of such heartbreak, Hofstra took the first step toward rewriting the narrative Thursday afternoon, as the Pride released its non-conference schedule, a 13-game ledger in which head coach Joe Mihalich and senior guard Justin Wright-Foreman -- the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year -- look to bring championship hardware to Hempstead for the first time since 2001, when the program was still a member of the America East Conference.

The journey begins on November 9, when Mount St. Mary's and new head coach Dan Engelstad is the first opponent to enter the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, and continues two days later with a trip to Marshall. All told, those two games are the first of four contests in eight days for Hofstra, who will soldier on by welcoming North Carolina A&T to Long Island on November 14 before visiting the University of Maryland two days after that. A slight break ensues before Cal State Fullerton comes to Hempstead on November 21, the Pride's final home game before the Thanksgiving holiday, which is followed by a trek to Richmond and former CAA rival VCU on November 24.

Hofstra renews its series with Siena this season, and the Saints are the first of four Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opponents on the docket, with new head coach Jamion Christian leading the former mid-major power into battle on November 28. A return game at Kennesaw State opens December, doing so on the first day of the month before a trio of MAAC opponents await the Pride.

Monmouth (December 5) and Rider (December 8) both make the drive across the Hudson River before Manhattan welcomes Hofstra to Draddy Gymnasium on December 10 in a meeting where the Pride will be looking to defeat Jaspers head coach Steve Masiello for the first time as the former Bobby Gonzalez and Rick Pitino assistant enters his eighth campaign on the sidelines in Riverdale. Hofstra's non-conference schedule concludes with a December 19 visit to Long Island rival Stony Brook, the penultimate tuneup for CAA play and precursor to a December 22 tilt against Division III Rosemont College.

Hofstra Non-Conference Schedule
Friday, November 9: vs. Mount St. Mary's, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, November 11: at Marshall, 2 p.m.

Wednesday, November 14: vs. North Carolina A&T, 7 p.m.

Friday, November 16: at Maryland, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, November 21: vs. Cal State Fullerton, 7 p.m.

Saturday, November 24: at VCU, TBA
Wednesday, November 28: vs. Siena, 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 1: at Kennesaw State, 2 p.m.

Wednesday, December 5: vs. Monmouth, 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 8: vs. Rider, 4 p.m.

Monday, December 10: at Manhattan, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, December 19: at Stony Brook, 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 22: vs. Rosemont, 4 p.m.

Seton Hall's Big East schedule: 5 Thoughts

With Seton Hall's senior class having graduated, Myles Powell has green light to shoot Pirates back to NCAA Tournament for a fourth consecutive year. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Kevin Willard has always stressed his notoriously difficult non-conference schedules when preparing his Seton Hall teams for the rigors of the Big East season that follows, emphasizing that the early-season tests the Pirates are subject to will end up being beneficial at the end of the year.

Such has been the case in each of the past three seasons, where Seton Hall -- the Big East tournament champion in 2016 -- has emerged from its non-conference season with battle scars that have forged resilient wins to lead it to back-to-back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, and is repeated again this year after Willard's latest gambit serves as a prelude to a conference slate where four of the Pirates' first six games take place away from the Prudential Center, the end result of Disney On Ice and the New Jersey Devils having already booked Newark.

While the bulk of the early league games will be in hostile environments, the Big East comes back around to Seton Hall down the stretch, particularly in the form of two marquee home games to close out the season. That is one of the many takeaways when analyzing what lies ahead for the Pirates, a summary of which can be found in our five thoughts below:

1) Two tough trips out of the way early.
Immediately following Seton Hall's Big East opener -- a December 29 showdown at the Prudential Center with St. John's -- is a flight to Cincinnati for the traditionally difficult journey to Xavier, which serves as the second league game of the season on January 2. Ten days later, Marquette -- a road foe who dominated Seton Hall in Milwaukee last season -- opens up the new Fiserv Forum to the Pirates for the first time in what is sure to be a pivotal game as it relates to positioning in the standings through the first third of the schedule.

2) A blessing in disguise?
Willard has, at times, cited the schedule and the way it falls as a contributor -- sometimes positive, sometimes not so much -- in Seton Hall's ebb-and-flow performance during the Big East portions of the past few seasons, and with five games in fourteen days, there is no doubt that the attrition can play a factor in the start the Pirates get off to. Beginning with Xavier on January 2, and ending at Providence on January 15, The Hall runs the gauntlet early and often for a stretch that will baptize the younger players and push veterans like Myles Powell and Michael Nzei to the limit, but it will be more a boon than a bane come March.

3) Will it be sunny in Philadelphia?
Seton Hall takes on Villanova inside the Wells Fargo Center on January 27, marking the second straight season that the Pirates and Wildcats will face off in the home of the Philadelphia 76ers. Last year, Seton Hall matched the eventual national champions shot for shot through the first half, but foul trouble for Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez gave way to a game-changing 17-3 run that allowed Villanova to pull away. However, the odds are much kinder to the Pirates on paper than they would be if the game were at The Pavilion, Villanova's on-campus venue that has been a house of horrors for Seton Hall for the past quarter-century. A strong showing by the visitors could set the tone for a potentially productive February.

4) Three of four at home, plus a repeat opponent eight days later.
Seton Hall's make-or-break stretch in February begins with home games against Creighton (February 9) and Georgetown (February 13) before visiting the Bluejays in Omaha eight days after the initial encounter between the two teams. Together with Xavier, who invades the Prudential Center on February 20, the Pirates have a portion of the schedule where a 3-1 record in that span should be more the expectation than the goal leading into a February 23 quasi-home game against St. John's at Madison Square Garden, Seton Hall's second home of sorts over the past four years.

5) Saving the best for last.
Most of the early speculation regarding Big East rankings has centered on Villanova and Marquette presumably being predicted to be the top two teams in the conference, and as fate decrees, both will appear in Newark during the regular season's final week. Much like Villanova and Butler last year, the Golden Eagles and Wildcats will represent juicy showdowns for the Pirates to -- hopefully -- raise NCAA Tournament prospects on March 6 and 9, respectively.

St. John's Big East schedule: 5 Thoughts

Chris Mullin and St. John's will need to play hard from start in Big East season, as Red Storm's league slate begins with marquee games against Seton Hall and Marquette. (Photo by Rumble in the Garden)

St. John's learned its Big East Conference fate Thursday afternoon, and for a team whose non-conference schedule eschewed early-season tests in favor of stacking the opening part of the season with mounds of winnable games, the maturity curve for the Red Storm will grow steep right out of the gate.

The tremendous upside Chris Mullin leads into battle entering his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater will be put through the gamut immediately in conference play, with three of St. John's first four games coming on the road, and doing so against the heavyweights of the Big East in the process.

The slate does grow favorable for the Red Storm toward the middle of the 18-game schedule, but by and large, the corner of Union and Utopia could soon grow restless if success does not brew itself in a season where a double-digit win total in the Big East is seemingly a requisite for the NCAA Tournament berth that the rabid St. John's fan base is viewing as the barometer by which 2018-19 is to be judged, especially if Mustapha Heron is able to receive a hardship waiver to play in a rotation centered by Big East Preseason Player of the Year favorite Shamorie Ponds.

Before the ball is tipped, and before the non-conference season gets underway, we offer some insight on what the future may ultimately hold for Mullin and the Red Storm, beginning with the arduous journey that awaits in the opening stages of league play:

1) High stakes in the opening hand.
For the third time in five seasons, the Red Storm and local rival Seton Hall will square off in December, doing so this year in an 8:30 p.m. soiree at the Prudential Center in the December 29 conference opener. Last season, St. John's put forth a gallant effort without the services of both Ponds and Marcus LoVett, yet fell five points short to a Pirate outfit that later went on to win an NCAA Tournament game and nearly reach the Sweet Sixteen. Seton Hall will not be as experienced as they have been in recent meetings, but nonetheless, the prospect of Ponds and Myles Powell engaging in a shootout represents a pivotal battle to commence Big East play for a team whose road gets tougher from there, hosting Marquette at Carnesecca Arena on January 1 before hitting the road again for clashes with Georgetown and reigning national champion Villanova, the latter coming on campus at The Pavilion, a nearly impossible environment in which to prevail as a visitor, unlike St. John's captivating victory over the then-top-ranked Wildcats at Wells Fargo Center this past February.

2) The early bird catches the worm.
Of the nine conference home games, only two will tip off after 7 p.m., allowing fans to come out in full force to support the Red Storm, who will have five of its league tilts on campus at Carnesecca Arena (more on that later) during the second half of the season. The two late-night windows do not come until February, with Butler visiting for an 8:30 start on February 12, followed by Seton Hall returning the home-and-home series with a Saturday night special, facing St. John's in an 8 p.m. skirmish from Madison Square Garden, which welcomes the Pirates for a fifth time in seven years.

3) Welcome to my house.
Carnesecca Arena has slowly returned to its intimidating form in recent seasons, chief among these instances being a sellout crowd exhorting the Red Storm to victory over Butler in December 2016, and the old bandbox will once again be home to a majority of conference contests for the Red Storm in 2018-19. An appetizing New Year's Day meeting with Marquette is first up for Mullin & Co., who also welcome the likes of Butler, Creighton, DePaul, and Xavier back to the Queens campus in a similar layout to last year's schedule. In fact, only Providence -- against whom St. John's opened the league season last year -- is changing venues, going from Carnesecca to Madison Square Garden this time around, taking on the Red Storm in a noon matinee on Saturday, February 9.

4) Midwest swing with a side of non-conference.
The highly anticipated rematch with Duke -- which comes in Durham on February 2 -- sandwiches what is traditionally the toughest road trip of the season, the trek to Omaha and Milwaukee to face Creighton and Marquette. All in all, St. John's gets three of its marquee games on the road, going from the 18,000-seat CHI Health Center to Cameron Indoor Stadium, then to the new Fiserv Forum to face a Golden Eagles team predicted to be the strongest threat to usurping Villanova's crown.

5) The season-defining stretch?
Five of six games at home in February will ultimately make or break St. John's, beginning with Providence on February 9 at Madison Square Garden. The opener of a three-game homestand that welcomes Butler to Carnesecca and then Villanova to the Garden on February 17, the Friars are forwardly placed on paper in the preseason rankings, and should bring a raucous fan base that is sure to create a great college basketball atmosphere when meshed with the Red Storm faithful. Following a trip to Rhode Island to take on the same Ed Cooley-coached program, Seton Hall and Xavier visit the Big Apple on February 23 and 28, respectively -- Xavier doing so at Carnesecca in what could be a monumental opportunity for the Red Storm -- to wrap up a spate that can bring a positive return if navigated properly.