Tag:conference tournaments
Posted on: March 14, 2011 6:03 pm
Edited on: March 14, 2011 6:57 pm
 

Photo Journey, Vol. 2: Championship Week

Posted by Matt Norlander

It was a fulfilling (understatement!) week in New York City.

In between chatting and writing and interviewing and traveling and eating and sleeping, I attempted to get as many photos as possible. Some of them were moving.

The Flickr set got jumbled somehow, and I just don't have the time to redistribute the shots in chronological order. But maybe the scattershot set is better, anyway.



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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 10, 2011 9:16 am
Edited on: March 10, 2011 9:38 am
 

Welcome to The Dance, Long Island Blackbirds

NEW YORK — The Blackbirds are crowing.

Long Island University is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years, and the student body celebrated as though they’d waited that long — in a way, they did — after the top-seeded Blackbirds’ 85-82 overtime win against No. 3 Robert Morris Wednesday night. A tiny little Brooklyn-based campus that’s bracketed and clamped by constrictions — Brooklyn Hospital owning a lot of the late around the LIU campus prevents any sort of campus expansion — has gotten its chance to break through in basketball once again.

It took a bonus five minutes for LIU to kick out the two-time defending NEC champions, Robert Morris. But, wow, was it worth it. The students swarmed the team and court once RMU’s Russell Johnson missed what would’ve been a game-tying 3 with .8 left. The confetti machine was promptly rolled out and so began the first NCAA tournament celebration at Long Island University since 1997.

The game made Madison Square Garden look second rate, in terms of energy. It was the first NEC title game — the conference is now in its 30th year — to need an extra, five-minute session. What could be the most bland name of any Division I college basketball gym — the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center — had the crowd inside more than make up for its generic title.

That’s a Brooklyn crowd for you. The Blackbird Pep Squad chirped organized cheers from the stands every 10 minutes or so. The painted-up and half-naked students on both ends of the court — not as organized, but just as frenzied. On the national stage, LIU couldn’t have looked more passionate or worthy of the field of 68. An incredible energy inside the building.

“What a phenomenal basketball game,” LIU coach Jim Ferry said. “Talk about representing the Northeast Conference well. Both teams went out and just played with a lot of emotion. There were great plays by both teams. Our kids, like they have done all year, played together, played unselfishly and grinded it out. The entire season all the kids sacrificed for the big picture, and that’s what college athletics is all about. It was a great college basketball game.”

Jamal Olasewere picked a heck of a time to have a career night. Prior to Wednesday ‘s game, the LIU sophomore’s career high for points in a game: 21. How about 31 and 11 boards in the biggest game in the Blackbirds’ biggest game in more than a decade? Olasewere now has five double-doubles in five career tournament games at LIU and is certainly the most vital factor in the ‘Birds’ success.

“What can I say, it was a nutcracker,” Olasewere, the tournament MVP, said .” We just wanted to pull it out, and we did. … It’s all so surreal right now. For a team like this to take a conference championship? It’s just all so surreal right now.” It was in doubt late, to an extent, because LIU couldn’t close. Though Johnson missed the 3-point attempt in overtime, he did nail one with 18 seconds left to effectively push the game into the extra session.

“I told the guys ‘How about we get to play in this environment for five more minutes?’” Ferry said. “Not one kid had their head down. All I said was let’s have fun with it, and it was the kids who were talking about getting stops. It was all the kids.”

The endearing, and dangerous, thing about Long Island is how many pieces contribute. Ferry, per usual, had eight guys see at least 11 minutes last night. One of those big contributors off the bench was Jason Brickman, a first-year player with a massive heart who didn’t play as though he was intimidated by the ultimate nature of the moment.

“It’s exciting. I didn’t expect this in my freshman year,” Brickman said. “I thought I’d come here and learn a lot, get some experience. But to do this? This is great.”

A quick note on Robert Morris, which won’t be going to the tournament for a third straight year, and is a team many felt got robbed by the officials last season when it nearly defeated No. 2 Villanova.

“This is worse than Villanova last year,” RMU guard Velton Jones said. After the postgame press conference ended, he slowly peeled off his jersey in the hallway as he walked away from the room of reporters. The contrast of emotions was stark and clear.

But LIU gets its chance to rep the conference and earn its first NCAA tournament win. And the scary thing: If this team gets a 15 seed, it can certainly take an elite seed to the wire. The depth and speed are the most noticeable strengths of the Blackbirds, but the athleticism and power of the 6-5, 6-6 and 6-7 “big men” makes them worth their salt.

“They better watch out,” Olasewere said. “We’re taking this to a national stage.”

The team, its talents and, hopefully, the majority of that ridiculous crowd that stuck around 30 minutes and watched the team cut down the nets, hug friends and family members and take to the streets to celebrate. Put them on all the national stage once more.

Player to know: Julian Boyd. Despite Olasewere's great play as of late, Boyd's a 6-7 player with deer-like speed, bull-like strength and cat-like touch. He can move up and down the floor, handle the ball, and then stop and pop from 17-feet. Boyd had a bad night against RMU, which is a good sign for LIU's chances, so long as he stays out of foul trouble in the first round of the NCAAs.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 27-5, 19-2 NEC
  • Team colors: Black and yellow
  • We’re thinking: 15-seed
  • KenPom ranking: 120
  • RPI: 81
  • Best win: at Robert Morris
  • Worst loss: at St. Francis (PA)
  • Notable stat: The Blackbirds just don't foul you. If you want to beat them, it's going to happen anywhere but the charity stripe. Only Ohio State allows fewer trips by opponents to the foul line.
  • Most recent tournament history: 1997, lost 101-91 as a 13 seed to No. 4 Villanova.
Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 9, 2011 6:13 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2011 8:44 pm
 

Video: Postgame with Steve Lavin

Posted by Matt Norlander

Full disclosure: I wanted to get Mike Rice, naturally, but he's the midst of giving about 17 phone interviews. He is behind a big door and probably won't be coming out until Friday.

I did get the winning coach, though. Here's Steve Lavin discussing his team's success this year and, oh yeah, the ending to that game. Sort of crazy, yes? I do believe the people will be talking about this one through the night.


Posted on: March 8, 2011 1:23 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2011 1:45 pm
 

2011 Photo Journey, Vol. 1: MAAC tournament

Posted by Matt Norlander

Since all of us here at the blog are going to be bouncing around the country over the next four weeks, sharing stories of the greatest event in sports, I wanted use these digs for more than just the usual reporting, riffing and raving about the tournament.

Pictures and video can be just as engaging, if not more so, than direct text. So while you can expect more of what I got with St. Peter's last night, in terms of video, I'm also going completely underwhelm you with my amateur-photographers skillz, too.

The camera will be with me everywhere I go, and over the next month I'll consistently be uploading photos from games/cities I'm in. We're starting off with some test shots I took at the MAAC tournament. They're simple, but they're a guinea pig.

I'll check in with a heartier batch of shots from the Big East tournament tomorrow night.

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Posted on: March 8, 2011 12:28 am
Edited on: March 8, 2011 1:54 am
 

Welcome to the Dance, St. Peter's Peacocks

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — This team hated each other.

We're not talking a rip-a-group-apart hate, but a brotherly hate. The kind of hate that just sits and stews, one that eventually subsides, but not before words need to be had.

As healthy a hate as hate can be. That was St. Peter's in 2009 and 2010: a group determined to one-up each other in practice and try to beat each other before it worried about beating other teams. This behavior went beyond a healthy, competitive spirit. It was stagnating the growth of its team, but in particular, the 2011 class, made partly up of Ryan Bacon, Nick Leon, Wesley Jenkins and Jeron Belin.

Then they became seniors. Then they realized they'd get nowhere in the MAAC if they didn't listen and trust their coach.

Those four men were the ones sitting with head coach John Dunne at the postgame press conference after fourth-ranked St. Peter's upset No. 2 Iona to win the MAAC championship Monday night, 62-57.

"Every day we had an argument," Leon said. "We had to fight with each other, we hated each other, but at the end of the day, it grew a big bond within the whole team."

Belin described the situation as "horrible" for long stretches of time. They simply fought over everything, basketball-related or not. You could say it's a wonder the team wasn't a victim of more transfers, especially in this jettison-frenzied era of college basketball.

"Little stuff," said Leon of the inspiration for a lot of the arguments. "Everyone was trying to be a coach. Instead of letting [Dunne] coach, we tried to coach ourselves."

The players took the packed media room through their rise of the past few years. It was a stretch that included many multiple-game losing streaks. Even before the MAAC tournament began this year, few considered the Peacocks' slog-you-down style to last three rounds.

"It was tough for us," Leon said. "We was a program that was rebuilding. We just kept faith. After losing 18 games in a row, we kept faith. The master [Dunne], you know, he put the pieces together and we just put it together as a family, as a team."

Dunne had to convince the team they weren't as fast as they thought they were. He had to make them believe that winning games in the 50s was the best way to succeed. Eventually, they bought in, and the coach praised his group for doing that, when it would have been just as easy not to.

"Togetherness, that's what it was," Belin said. "Everybody playing their part. Whether you played 20 minutes, one minute, you came in and did what you had do to."

St. Peter's is making its third appearance in the NCAAs, and it has never won a game. But that doesn't much matter right now. This was the first 20-win season for the group since 20 years. It's most definitely house money. It's very possible nobody in that program believed an NCAA berth was coming back in November. Dunne admitted as much, postgame.

Despite beating Alabama on a neutral floor, the team wasn't coming together as one normally does with so many seniors seeing so many minutes. Jenkins was thought to be lost for the season twice with hyper-extended knee injuries, and after an "embarrassing" loss to Iona (Dunne's words), the team was 8-7. St. Peter's coach admitted he wasn't sure this team had the capability to win this conference. After beating Rider on Jan. 29 to improve to 13-9, that's when he started to beileve.

"Attitude won us this championship," Dunne said.

This is a team that's one of the staunchest defensive groups in the country. You can't get that without attitude.

Attitude is what made the Peacocks hold a team that averages 80 points a game to 57 in a conference title game, where its fans were outnumbered by Iona's to the tune of a four-to-one ratio. But attitude helped pushed the Peacocks past that. It's now a positive one. Now, when a player hits the deck — something that happens, oh, 20 times per game — for the Peacocks, everyone's in a rush to help their fallen teammate up.

No more arguments, no more fighting, no more hate.

"We're the new Butler," Belin said afterward, a huge grin on his face.

Player to Watch: Wesley Jenkins. It's tough to pick a player out of this group, but Jenkins is definitely exciting. He's a spark for this team, no doubt. Jenkins has a slight frame but is just as tough-minded as the rest of his teammates. Whoever gets the Peacocks in the first round is going to feel like it's playing through mud.

Team Vitals

Record: (20-13, 14-7)

Team Colors:  Blue and White

We’re Thinking: 15 seed

Kenpom Ranking: 123

RPI: 96

Best win: Neutral vs. 20-10 Alabama (50-49)

Worst loss: Home vs. 15-15 Loyola (65-63)

Most recent tournament history: 1995 (15 seed, lost to UMass, 68-51, in first round)

Finally, some one-on-one video from tonight. The first is my interview with Dunne, the second with Jenkins. The dance-off in the hotel hallway with Iona is brought up. With Jenkins, that is.





Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP


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Posted on: March 6, 2011 9:00 pm
 

It'll be Iona vs. St. Peter's for the MAAC title

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — “Ditto from yesterday?”

That was the question from first-year Iona coach Tim Cluess when he was asked to give an opening statement following his team’s 83-59 MAAC semifinal win over No. 3 Rider.

What else could Cluess say? His team had just beaten another opponent’s brains in. It’s been a ditto-minded run for the past nine games, as the No. 2 Gaels have won that many in a row and seem to be an overwhelming favorite against fourth-seeded St. Peter’s in Monday night’s title game. Only two of the nine wins have had a margin of less than 14 points by game’s end.

Iona kept Rider at arm’s length for the majority of Sunday night’s semis, then blew out the Broncs at the 10-minute mark, moving ever further from their inferior competition, proving they are the most lethal team in the conference, even if Fairfield won it.

The bittersweet tinge to this for the Gaels — Kyle Smyth injured his labrum in the first half against the Broncs. Cluess said he’d know more about the injury Monday morning, but the numbness had subsided. The injury wasn’t shocking; this is something Smyth has dealt with frequently in recent years.

Looking to Monday night’s MAAC championship game, there is some history to peek at. Iona and St. Peter’s (19-13) will meet for the fourth time in a MAAC title game. The Gaels have a 2-1 edge, having won the 1982 championship in overtime, 66-61, and the one five years ago, 80-61. The Peacocks defeated Iona in ’91, 64-58. Iona swept St. Peter's this season.

Iona (22-10) is definitely loose (more on that in a sec), and there a couple of themes and story lines with them heading into the title game. Chief among them: the culmination, the complete turnaround of a program that went 2-28 four years ago and was historically inept. That building process was led by Kevin Willard, who was hired by Seton Hall last spring. An NCAA bid within four years? That ship-steering isn’t easily done in mid-major basketball.

A second theme, if you will, is a familial one. St. Peter’s Wesley Jenkins and Iona’s Jermel Jenkins are brothers. They’ll battle each other and no doubt talk some trash in Bridgeport Monday night.

“It’s a family feud; it’s always a joy to go against each other,” Jermel Jenkins said. “I’m going to look at it as just another game, even though it’s not. It’ll be good to keep it (an NCAA tournament berth) in the family somehow.”

Jermel Jenkins also said this is the first time he and his brother have ever faced off on opposite teams in meaningful competition. Jermel lit up Rider for 20 off the bench Sunday night.

Iona and St. Peter’s couldn’t be much more different from each other, from styles to body language. The Gaels have the 11th-best effective field goal shooting percentage in the country. St. Peter’s pays its rent by making teams’ shoot terribly. In the postgame from their win of Fairfield, the Peacock players were direct and rigid. Happy, but definitely businesslike.

Iona was the opposite. Four players and Cluess packed on to the tiny platform in the media room at the Arena at Harbor Yard. Gaels senior Michael Glover brought his 2-year-old son up with him. The prescient moment of the press conference came when Jenkins was asked how he was able to score 20 off the bench.

“Luck of the draw when the shots went in,” Jenkins said with a smile and a chuckle.

Mike Glover Jr. let out a wistful youngster’s laugh, forcing the press corps to follow his lead.

The two teams are familiar with each other, and have been rooting for the other to make it to the MAAC finals. So it shall be.

“We’re friendly with a lot of them,” Iona’s Scott Machado said. “They’re on the same floor as us in the hotel. And when we came back from the win, they were all cheering for us.”

Machado thought he could get away with only that quote. Fortunately, his head coach interjected and offered up an incredible anecdote about the teams’ dynamic. You see, in the late hours at Bridgeport’s downtown Marriott, two ambitious teams had … a dance-off.

  “Can I finish that story? Because Scott left a part out,” Cluess said. “Last night, at one end of the hall was St. Peter’s, and one end was us. They were having a dance-off in the hallway.”

Iona’s players swear it won the dance-off. Either way, what an image.

And it's one more victory to go, then the last one standing gets the biggest dance of all.

Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP

Here is the my postgame interview with Cluess.



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Posted on: March 6, 2011 5:35 pm
 

On site: No. 1 Fairfield upset in MAAC semis

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Top seeds go down with regularity in small-conference tournaments. But how often do we see a team get clipped like Fairfield did … in the semifinals?

The No. 1 Stags lost on their home floor Sunday afternoon, falling to the fourth seed in the MAAC tournament, St. Peter’s, 62-48. The Peacocks possess the third-best effective field goal percentage defense in the country. So trying to come back from 25 down against them can feel like 40 against any other MAAC squad.

The deficit was too much for the Stags, who will be going to the NIT by virtue of winning the regular-season MAAC championship. St. Peter’s will get the chance to play for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1995 Monday night at 7 p.m. It’ll face the winner of Iona-Rider, which I’m settling in to watch now at the Arena at Harbor Yard. It’s the first conference title-game appearance for the Peacocks since 2006.

“What has hurt us the entire year — we talked about habits, we talked about habits the first team meeting this September when we came back to school — and I think our team habits really caught us in the end,” Fairfield coach Cooley said. “Our team habits: when we turn the ball over. … Our devil is turning the ball over.”

For the majority of the second half, the Stags surged. They didn’t allow the Peacocks to score their fourth point until 7:56 remained in the game.

“Not have a meltdown and let them just take over the second half,” Wes Jenkins said of the Peacocks’ hang-on-and-win strategy. “We need our first basket to get the rhythm going. (Jeron) Belin got it from us, and we went from there.”

Belin’s basket made it a 44-36 game. Holding such a large lead was unfamiliar territory for St. Peter’s, head coach John Dunne said.

“We haven’t been in that position where we’re playing a great team — and they are — and we’re up so big,” Dunne said. “Emotionally, maybe we had a little bit of a letdown, and we weren’t focused enough.”

Today was the first loss to St. Peter’s in Cooley’s tenure. He was measured, but unhappy, in the postgame presser.

“I’m not stunned. They are kids,” Cooley said of the 40-15 halftime deficit. “You can’t get down 25 in tournament play and expect to win. That’s for damn sure.”

Was Dunne surprised by the 40-15 lead?

“No question, absolutely,” he said.

Nearly the entire building was shocked. St. Peter’s was physical and went to the hoop at will. Not only did turnovers hamper the Stags, the Peacocks’ affection for plays in the paint kept Fairfield at a standstill.

“The first 20 minutes, we just weren’t ready to play,” Cooley said. “We were listless, we didn’t play with a lot of emotion. Really, we were out of character as a group.”

Fairfield’s a team that could’ve flirted with a 13 seed had it won. Sophomore point guard Derek Needham sat in the postgame press conference, arched over, practically furled into a quasi-fetal position. Whenever a question wasn’t addressed to him, his forehead was smack-flat on the table. No tears, just disbelief. His responses to questions were barely audible.

  “They were who they were. That’s how they play every single game,” Cooley said. “We weren’t who we were.”

As far as moving forward to the NIT, Cooley said he’s not even “a little bit” thinking about pride in regard to making the NIT.

“Going into the season that was clearly not our goal. That will never be our goal,” Cooley said. “We feel we built a championship team with our recruiting.”

With a MAAC and NCAA championship off the table, the fifth-year Fairfield coach will have to settle for chasing an NIT one.

Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP

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Posted on: March 4, 2011 12:00 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2011 12:03 pm
 

Conference tourney preview: MAAC

No conference has a better collection of monikers than the MAAC. Purple Eagles! Golden Griffins! Red Foxes! There's Peacocks and Greyhounds and Jaspers. And Broncs. Not Broncos — Broncs. If only the men were as mythical as the mascots.

Still, it's been a postseason tournament that's gotten a lot of good exposure in recent years due to its winning representative doing damage in the tournament. And that Monday, 7 p.m. time slot to kick of Championship Week on ESPN is also good real estate.

This year's MAAC tournament is going down in Bridgeport, Conn., as Fairfield, the league's best team, will host the festivities. It's been a sea change in the conference this season, as three-time defending champs Siena has taken an expected dip in the wake of losing its coach, Fran McCaffrey, to Iowa and a senior class to graduation.

But it still has the conference's best player, Ryan Rossiter (right), who formally took home that award last week. The Saints finished 12-17 this year with an 8-10 record. They aren't likely to make it to the dance for the fourth straight season.

But Fairfield is expected to make it to its fourth dance in school history. I hit upon Fairfield's season, its coach, its chances yesterday. The Stags will tussle at the top with Iona, a team that is just as capable. The Gaels finished 13-5, two games behind Fairfield.

No team is as deep as Fairfield, and the Stags have point guard Derek Needham to lead the way. Iona's a better-shooting team, and these conference tournaments can be about getting hot, of course. If the Gaels do that, they can knock off Fairfield in the title game without a tremendous amount of trouble.

Rider, the three, also finished 13-5, but lost out on tiebreakers for the bye. St. Peter's is the four seed, and beyond that, it's unlikely we'll have any other team capable of reaching the finals Monday night.

Everyone gets the invite to this one, but the top two teams get a rest and don't have to play tonight.

I'll be there Sunday and Monday, so look for coverage here on the site. Should be pretty interesting to see what kind of crowd Fairfield can bring, as it's harped on how much it needs that big home-court advantage to really get a push for its first tournament berth in 14 years.

****

Title game: Monday, March 7, 7 p.m., ESPN.

BEST PLAYERS  

  1. Ryan Rossiter,    Siena
  2. Michael Glover,  Iona
  3. Derek Needham, Fairfield

Conference RPI: 16

KenPom.com rating: 15

Sagarin rating: 16

NCAA tournament locks: None

Bubble teams:  None

Last NCAA tournament Appearance:

Canisius Golden Griffins: 1996, 13 seed, lost first-round game to Utah, 72-43.

Fairfield Stags: 1997, 16 seed, lost first-round game to North Carolina, 82-74.

Iona Gaels: 2006, 13 seed, lost first-round game to LSU, 80-64.

Loyola (MD) Greyhounds: 1994, 15 seed, lost first-round game to Arizona, 81-55.

Manhattan Jaspers: 2004, 12 seed, won first-round game over Florida, 75-60. Lost second-round game to Wake Forest, 84-80.

Marist Red Foxes: 1987, 14 seed, lost first-round game to Pittsburgh, 93-68.

Niagara Purple Eagles: 2007, 16 seed, won opening-round game over Florida A&M, 77-69. Lost first-round game to Kansas, 107-67.

Rider Broncs: 1994, 15 seed, lost first-round game to Connecticut, 64-46.

Siena Saints: 2010, 13 seed, lost first-round game to Purdue, 72-64.

St. Peter's Peacocks: 1995, 15 seed, lost first-round game to UMass, 68-51.

Photo: AP

Posted by Matt Norlander

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Category: NCAAB
 
 
 
 
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