Who’s Lavin Now?


 (Ed note: I wrote a beautiful and frenzied 3000 word essay post press conference Wednesday afternoon which disappeared from my computer when I hit with my elbow by mistake some key on my keyboard. Poof it went. I’ve been writing for 30 years and have never had that happen ever and still don’t know how it could have. Not even an auto-save version remained. It goes without saying that I smashed the keyboard into little bits and then jumped up and down on its remains to make sure that it was dead and when Michael Dell dies I’ll go piss on his grave. I have a new cordless Logitech now, upon which I have typed this poor recreation of that essay, for which I apologize in advance.)

In 2001 I won a national handicapping competition sponsored by the Daily Racing Form. I won by picking the winner of the last race of the contest, the Breeder’s Cup Classic held that year at Belmont Park: Tiznow defeated the Eurotrash champion Sahkee by a nose, and I still cannot 15 years later watch that race without tearing up. “Tiznow wins it for America” Tom Durkin said, six weeks after the towers came down. It was the greatest day of my life and unless I build a machine capable of transporting me back in time to 1950 so I can bang Lana Turner I don’t expect to top it.

I once told the long suffering Missus Fun – no slouch herself – that December 7th  (our anniversary, a day that will live in infamy geddit?) was the second greatest day of my life. It’s the sort of thing you say, right? When Lavin was hired I told her she was bumped down to number three. That’s how excited I was by the prospect of my beloved sad sack Saint John’s Redmen returning to college basketball prominence. Or relevance. Or at least not sucking. Three years ago, after watching Steve Lavin coach basketball for two years I told her Missus Fun that she was back to number two. Because Steve Lavin sucks.

In many ways Lavin’s tenure was more disappointing than the one that preceded it. It was pretty clear from the outset that Norm was never going to get it done. Besides being only vaguely qualified for the job he was coaching in the best basketball conference in history against the greatest collection of college basketball minds ever assembled. He had no chance. Whereas not only had Lavin previously had success at the highest levels of college basketball, but he was recruiting at a level not seen at Saint John’s since the 1990s and was surrounded by a top notch and expensive staff of assistants; and perhaps most importantly the team had dropped in class to a basketball only conference, in which almost any nincompoop could have been competitive. He was competing against Oliver Purnell and Kevin Willard for Christ sake, not Jim Calhoun. But as I am wont to say, if you have no expectations you are never disappointed. And that was the problem with Lavin and why I grew to despise him. He could have succeeded. And he might have, if he wasn’t so dumb and lazy.

But dumb he was, and as it turns out, complacent. As to the former, that’s congenital. He is just not very smart. That’s genetics and there’s nothing to be done about it. The latter though is something else entirely. Steve Lavin did not have fire in his belly: he was happy to be good enough and by being so achieved his goal: he did not fail miserably. Maybe it’s because he was the youngest child; the literature’s there, read it. Maybe it’s because he suffers – as I’ve demonstrated over the course of two years – from histrionic personality disorder. Maybe it had to do with being handed things his entire life: the UCLA gig and ESPN and all the money and broads and accolades that celebrity brings. Or maybe it came later – maybe it was his cancer and Cap dying and the sort of existential angst that the thought of mortality engenders amongst the vapid when they reach middle age, when they have not yet before considered the road to nowhere. But for whatever the reason, Lavin just didn’t care anymore. Consider:

Steve Lavin stated publicly that as a college basketball coach whose only job it was to win college basketball games that he felt no pressure to win college basketball games. Imagine. Imagine that you manage a salesforce and one of your salesmen says he is under no pressure to make sales. Or that you are a principal and one of your teachers said that he was under no pressure to have his students learn. The mind boggles. Imagine further that your salesman or teacher showed up for work in a sweat suit. A fucking sweat suit. Steve Lavin’s alleged mentor John Wooden put on suit and ironed his tie before he took a shit. Whereas Steve Lavin showed up for interviews on national TV wearing gym clothes. Mark my words: if he’d been extended he would have next year coached in a bathrobe and flip flops.

Now that I’ve finished a discussion of Lavin’s virtues, let me tell you what I didn’t like about him, because I’ve come to bury Lavin, not to praise him: the worst thing about Steve Lavin was that Steve Lavin could talk.

Which means that the single best thing about Steve Lavin not coaching SJU anymore is that never again will I have to listen to him babble while watching his ginormous head balance precariously atop his rapidly expanding pasta belly. I will never have to listen to him spout left coast psychobabble about his team’s journey or ride up the mountain or hill. There will be nothing about unicorns, Energizer bunnies, Tasmanian devils or other arcane forms of life. Nothing about salt and pepper and sharing the sugar or other condiments. Nothing about arduous journeys, magic carpet rides, or baby steps. No more hammers will be hitting rocks. Nothing about Mister Myagi. No more John Wooden or Pete Newell. No more about his fucking prostate. No more February (for the rubes in the audience Steve Lavin was 10-25 at Saint John’s in meaningful season ending games in his SJU career). In short: no more bullshit, no more lies and especially – especially – no more fucking excuses. Quote the Lavin, nevermore.

Steve Lavin has many problems, but they all boil down to one thing: he’s from California. He’s not one of us, he’s one of them. He came from a state that’s in the main peopled by mellow extroverted assholes in Bermuda shorts all of whom are right now as we speak either taking a meeting or getting a pedicure. And rather than adapting to NY and adopting the greatest city in the world as his home Lavin wanted to transplant his vacuous west coast lifestyle here. You could see it in the big things – the pop psychology psycho twaddle , the star fucking, the insouciance – and in the little things – giving preference to west coast walk-ons as opposed to local talent and scheduling pre-season cupcakes from Northern California rather than the menu of local delicacies that Louie feasted on for lo those many years. The bottom line is that not only was Lavin not one of us but that he did not care to be one of us. He did not even like us. He was a tourist who looked down on the local peasants while all the while frequenting the local whorehouse. Well, fuck Steve Lavin. Good bye and good riddance.


I broke the bad news to Missus Fun the other day: she’s back to number three. And maybe even number four. Because Saint John’s has hired Chris Mullin as its new head basketball coach. Obviously Mullin is to all of us Saint John’s fans an iconic figure: the greatest player bar none in school history, a NBA all-star, an Olympian, a member of the basketball hall of fame. And he was to fans of a certain age even more special because he was like us a local kid and he was, like us, slow, un-athletic, and probably most importantly, white. But to me there is something more. I am now an unpleasant curmudgeon who views the world with despair and disgust and on my good days, indifference. I do not expect anything to turn out right at all ever and in the main the only satisfaction I feel is when bad things happen to other people. But I was not always this way – not that I was ever a ray of sunshine – but there were times when I had, I don’t know, hope I guess. And one of the things I had hope about was Saint John’s and one of the things that gave me hope was Chris Mullin. It sounds stupid when you say it out loud, but fuck it, sports is stupid. I’m a Detroit Lion fan. I bet maiden claiming races at Aqueduct in February. Truth be told I filled out a Yahoo bracket that had Saint John’s beating Kentucky for the national championship. You know what they say: inside every cynic is a dead romantic. Chris Mullin means something and what he means is almost mythic or archetypal. There isn’t a god, but if there was and he played basketball, he’d wear number 20.

There was much to admire watching Chris Mullin conduct himself at Wednesday’s press conference. Leave aside the basketball – that he’s going to study and learn, that his team’s will be prepared and in shape, that he will relentlessly recruit in a city that despite all the nonsense from the naysayers still regularly produces some of the best college basketball players in the country; and that his players will represent the university with the dignity befitting its mission in the community. I have no doubt that Chris Mullin is going to succeed at the basketball end of it: he has never failed at basketball before. What was most striking was that there was evident in Mullin a love for his hometown; a reverence for the university and its traditions and the program and Lou; and a sense of personal honor and rectitude. But the single most telling thing was when Mullin said that he felt an obligation to take the job, that he owed a duty to those who had come before him and to those who would come after. Chris Mullin believes it is a privilege to coach at Saint John’s – in contrast to Steve Lavin, who thought Saint John’s lucky to have him as its coach. It might even have been that when Mullin spoke those words I teared up. Okay, I did. And that’s coming from someone who didn’t cry when his parents died. Although that might not be a fair comparison, because I don’t hate Chris Mullin. But you get the point.

So where does that leave us? Well, I guess I’m all in: I’m wearing rose-colored glasses and drinking Koolaid from a glass half-full. I asked randomly the other day: how the fuck am I going to make fun of Chris Mullin. And the answer is, I’m not. Evidently I’m going to have to find some new material.

In the pink colors:




March Sadness


And thus finishes the unfinished business: Saint John’s lost to San Diego State 76-64 Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament – that makes 12 of 24 first round losses for SJU since 1970 for those of you scoring at home. The loss marks the end of the careers of Lavin’s highly touted first recruiting class – a class that never won a BE conference tournament game, had only one post season victory, and until last night had never appeared in an NCAA tournament. In they came like lions and out they went like lambs … I find upon rising this morning that I took pretty copious notes the first half of the game, which is surprising: surprising because I started drinking martinis about noon yesterday so it seems unlikely that by 10 PM I’d be able to find a pen, much less hold one. But held one I must have. I’m not however much in the mood this morning to rehash it all and I suspect that visitors are not much in the mood to read it. So this bit will be brief … Things started off poorly when Rysheed Jordan got two quick fouls, about which more later. From there the first half was a game of runs: SJU was down 13 -6 at the 15 minute mark, then up 21-20 at the 9 minute mark, and then down 9 with 3 minutes left in the half – this last SDSU run led to nearly the first logical Steve Lavin TO of the year – and closed to 6 at the half. Much of SDSU’s offense came from SJU transfer Dwayne Polee, who banked in a couple of threes and had a four point play on another one. SDSU spurted away at the beginning of the second half – the lead was 12 after two minutes – and SJU never really got back within striking range. Every time they got close someone made a boneheaded play – either Jamal Branch threw a behind the back pass into the stands on a 3 on 1 break or Phil Greene dribbled the ball off his foot or somebody missed a layup. Saint John’s started fouling with about two minutes left and SDSU, which shot 60 percent from the FT line for the year, made them: their last 10 points came from the FT line, where they were 10 for 14, having gone 7 for 16 the previous 38 minutes. And that was that … The numbers that jump out are SJU’s three point shooting – they were 3 for 17 – and the rebound differential – 40 to 32 SDSU. It didn’t help that SDSU shot 40 percent from 3 – versus 30 percent from the year – and as usual SJU’s defense turned some big white doofus into Reggie Miller: the great Matt Shrigley had 12 points on 4 for 5 shooting from three, only the fourth time this year he’s scored in double figures … Lavin seemed genuinely upset – he seemed almost human – during the postgame presser but not so upset that he refrained from trotting out his usual litany of excuses: he mentioned his prostrate; he mentioned Cap. But he also came up with some new ones, saying at one point that things might have turned out differently had Maurice Harkless and Jakarr Sampson not opted for the NBA. He even mentioned Amir Garett several times. I mean, why not Nurideen Lindsey or Max Hooper? Oddly the one name he didn’t mention was Polee, who drove a stake through his heart. Lavin referred to this season as both a “special ride,” which I don’t see what was so special about losing your last three games by a combined 66 points, and called his team a “tenacious group who would not be denied,” which is odd, since they just had been denied with extreme prejudice.

PLAYERS: Dom Pointer was magnificent for the first ten minutes, at which point he fell down and didn’t get up. He finished his amazing senior year with yet another double double: 21 points and 10 rebounds. It’s a shame he can’t shoot, because with his motor he could be an NBA player… As he has for four years Harrison left it all on the floor. He cried when he fouled out and I might have misted up as well – I don’t remember though, as I said I was pretty faced by then. He was remarkably poised in the postgame press conference, gracious, and eloquent even. Despite the difficulties he labored under (his family situation and being coached by a numbskull) he had a remarkable career and I, we, were lucky to have seen him have it … Jordan collected 2 fouls in the first minute and a half and sat for the next 18 and a half minutes. Which was really quite astounding considering the circumstances. Lavin as much as blamed the loss on Jordan, calling his second foul “the turning point in the game,” which became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if Lavin had put him back in at some point in the first half he wouldn’t have been not playing. It’s hard to believe that a different coach – a coach who was trying to win instead of trying not to lose – would have sat his most talented player for half the game. Lavin said in the postgame press conference that he “might have” put Jordan back in had SDSU’s lead gone to “double digits, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen” but that he was worried that RJ would get “a third or a fourth and end up fouling out when we needed him down the stretch.” Which is typical numbskullery. So instead he saved him and had him at the end when the game was already lost. You have to think that last night was the last time we’ll see Jordan in a SJU uniform. Too bad. … On the biggest day of his basketball life and the biggest stage of his career, Phil “Big Shot” Greene came up small: 9 points on 4 of 11 shooting and 1 for 4 from three. In the last three games of his college BB career – Nova, the BE tournament, and the NCAA tournament – Greene was 12 for 30 from the floor with 3 assists, 8 rebounds. He had a great three minutes the first week in December. Whoop de fucking do. Good luck in China Phil. Now get out … I’d say that Jamal Branch should also not let the door hit him on the way out, but if it did he’d probably suffer a compound fracture and I’m not that vindictive … Collectively the bench played 23 minutes: they scored no points, collected one rebound, had no assists, and blocked no shots. Get used to that stat line, because those guys are next year’s starting five … Steve Lavin said of Chris Obekpa: “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he doesn’t return to Saint John’s.” That’s not too optimistic for a guy whose favorite pastime is putting lipstick on pigs

NOTES: I wrote a bit in the tournament preview about siting oddities and in regards to that no team got buggered harder than Providence, a six seed, which got play-in winner Dayton 80 miles from the latter’s home floor in Ohio. (Dayton was doubly blessed: their play-in game was in Dayton.) Predictably things did not go well, and you don’t have to look farther than the free throw differential – Dayton shot 30 free throws to PU’s seven – to see the effect that a home court advantage can have. The only other team that got screwed as badly by the committee was Georgetown. Say, what do Ed Cooley and JT3 have in common? That’s weird, huh? … After the first round the BE ended up 4-2, and most of those were laughers, except Texas put a bit of a scare into Butler, despite being coached by Rick Barnes. The teams I figured might lose won and the ones I figured to win lost, which seems about right … Basketball Mecca New York was oh and three the first round, although the two SUNY schools had tough draws and acquitted themselves reasonably well: their two losses were by a combined 15 points, versus SJU’s margin of 12 … So that’s that. One more basketball season closer to death and now the great sports desert looms. Sports-wise there’s essentially two and a half minutes on the first Saturday in May that I care about and then nothing until November when this sad sack program rolls out the balls again. The worst thing about going out in the first round is that I can’t even watch college basketball anymore. Last night after the game I ended up watching curling. Sweep! … This may or may not be the last thing I write this year. I don’t give much of a shit about recruiting and don’t see Lavin getting fired – Norm was given more of a chance to fail – so there’s nothing much to say. Perhaps I’ll crank out a season autopsy, who knows. Thanks to those of you who read and especially those readers who took the time to email helpful suggestions, such as that I should be funnier, and more interesting, and not use so many big words. Rest assured I’m going to work on that stuff during the off season.







Chronic Fatigue


Many of you have emailed asking for help in filling out your brackets and my prediction for Friday night’s game specifically. In the old days I’d have figured out a way that Saint John’s would be playing for the national championship and filled out my bracket accordingly. That system was abandoned in 1992, when Saint John’s lost to Tulane in the first round. I thereafter developed a second system, called System Number Two, which involved Saint John’s going out in the first weekend. Although there’s been only a small test sample, this second theory has shown an 80 percent success rate. Astute fans will take that to the bank.

Regarding this year’s first round game, I’m sort of at a loss, having not seen San Diego State play this year. Or perhaps ever. I have however over the years developed a system I use to evaluate tournament games which involves scientifically analyzing important parameters, statistics, and intangibles, viz:


Statistically the teams are nearly identical.


Rebound                    35.4 / 35.2
Assists                        12.6 / 10.6
FG %                             .44 / .42
3 point                         .35 / .32
Blocks                         6.5 / 5.0
Steals                          7.5 / 6.9
FT                                  .69 / .62

The only significant difference is in points scored and allowed.

Pts scored             71.2 / 61.8
Pts allowed          67.6 / 53.1

SJU +4

Saint John’s is better offensively, SDSU defensively. On the one hand, defense wins championships. On the other, the best defense is a good offense.



SDSU is coached by Steve Fisher, who won a national championship as an interim coach at Michigan and followed that up by recruiting the Fab Five. He was 109-79 at MU all told, made the NCAA championship game three times and won the whole thing once; he also won an NIT championship. (Caveat: many of those wins were vacated.) At SDSU he’s 338-183 total and has made the tournament 6 out of the last 7 years, including the Sweet 16 twice. Whereas Saint John’s is coached by Steve Lavin, who’s a chowderhead.



SDSU’s mascot is the Aztec, so called after a group of fearsome Native American warriors whose empire dominated Mesoamerica until Cortez came along and infected them all with smallpox. Among their many eccentricities the Aztecs sacrificed humans to appease their god of war Huitzilopochtl (literally “left handed hummingbird”). This they did by cutting open the chest of their victim and removing the heart, which was burned; afterwards the body was eaten. Much like the Saint John’s late Redman the Aztec has been a figure of some controversy: as late as last fall a group of humorless numbskulls who call themselves the SDSU Queer People of Color Collective (SDSUQPCC) – something of a circumscribed fraternity for a group that argues for greater social inclusiveness – demanded that the Aztec be replaced by something less inappropriate. Probably a unicorn or a rainbow or something. On the other hand Saint John’s mascot is a horse named after a weather pattern. Which makes no sense at all. In any event, an Aztec could beat the shit out of a horse.



The game is in Charlotte, which means SDSU is travelling across the country and three times zones. On the other hand the game’s at 10 PM, which is 7 PM in California. Saint John’s is playing in its own time zone, but at the ungodly hour of 10 pm, when most of them would normally be baked. Saint John’s was 4-6 on the road this year and SDSU 6-5.



I haven’t seen SDSU play but I’ve suffered through a bunch of SJU games and Saint John’s has issues. They have no size, they have no depth, and the players they do have are dinged up. Plus, one of them is Jamal Branch. They don’t rebound. They play down to their opponents and have phoned it in in big spots in the past. They’re prone to droughts offensively. They have no tournament experience and might just be happy to be there. On the plus side they’re seniors, which is good, and the seniors are guards, even better, and in Harrison they have a player capable of carrying them. SDSU on the other hand is big across the front, they’re deep, they have tournament experience, and a bunch of upperclassmen.


Tournament History



Coolest alumni

SDSU: Gregory Peck. Played Captain Ahab and banged Ingrid Bergman and Sophia Loren.

SJU: Bill Casey. Worked for Wild Bill Donovan to defeat the Nazis, ran the CIA, and lent a hand in destroying the Soviet Union before dying a timely death of a mysterious brain tumor while under congressional subpoena for allegedly masterminding the funding of the Contras.


Chemical Enhancements

SDSU: San Diego is right across the border from Tijuana. ‘Nuff said.

SJU: Saint John’s has one of the top pharmacy schools in the country. It stands to reason they have access to high grade pharmaceuticals.


Dwayne Polee

In his last year at SJU, Polee averaged 4.4 points 2.5 rebounds .6 assists

In his last year at SDSU, Polee averaged 7.6 points 2.5 rebounds .9 assists


Chris Obekpa

Lavin described losing Obekpa as “less than ideal” but also said that playing small will be to Saint John’s advantage. Which of course he’d say, because he’s an imbecile.


Outcome: Expect a low scoring ugly basketball game. Based upon Saint John’s abysmal performance coming into the tournament over the past several weeks and their well-publicized off the court problems I would not be at all surprised to see them win. But because they’re Saint John’s, I would not be at all surprised to see them lose. My heart says Saint John’s but my system says SDSU, five advantages to two and three ties. I don’t particularly like the pick but you can’t argue with science. On the bright side this is the classic anti-woof pick and also a hedge: if they win I’m happy because We Are Saint John’s and if they lose I get the satisfaction of being having been right. Win win. Neither of these teams will get past DoOk – once again playing in their own backyard, surprise – so it’s a moot point anyway.

NOTES: This is only Saint John’s third appearance in the tournament this century. They are oh and two, having lost to Gonzaga and Wisconsin. Saint John’s last victory in the tournament was as a two seed: they defeated Northern Arizona (the game was in Tuscon, 2 hours from the UNA campus and 2400 miles from Jamaica) 61-56, led by Bootsy Thornton’s 20 points, before losing in the second round 82-76 to Gonzaga; first game hero Bootsy Thornton shot 3 for 13 from the floor and 1 for 8 from 3 … Going back to 1970, Saint John’s tournament record:

Lost first Round
Lost first Round
Lost Second Round
Lost Regional Final
Lost first Round
Lost Second Round
Lost first Round
Lost Regional Final
Lost Second Round
Lost first Round
Lost Second Round
Lost Second Round
Lost National Semi
Lost first Round
Lost Regional Final
Lost Second Round
Lost Second Round
Lost Regional Final
Lost first Round
Lost first Round
Lost first Round
Lost first Round
Lost first Round

That’s 11 first round defeats in 23 attempts, which is perhaps Louie’s most impressive accomplishment … As noted above, DeWk has once again been awarded a first round home game.  Because why shouldn’t they have every advantage: they are, after all, white. Here’s this year’s seeds, sitings, and travel distance:

(1) Kentucky – Louisville (78 miles)
(1) Duke – Charlotte (141 miles)
Kansas – Omaha (189 miles)
Virginia – Charlotte (270 miles)
Gonzaga – Seattle (281 miles)
(1) Villanova – Pittsburgh (305 miles)
(1) Wisconsin – Omaha (429 miles)
Arizona – Portland (1449 miles)

Kentucky, a number one seed is playing an hour away from their home court. Fair enough. But Wisconsin, also a one seed, is playing twice as far away from their home floor as is Kansas, a two. Arizona, a two, is playing as far away from their home floor as would be Virginia, also a two, if Virginia was playing in Montreal. This may seem a small thing but in 1970 Saint John’s own Al McGuire, then at Marquette, turned down an NCAA tournament bid after being sent to Texas rather than to the Midwest regional. He went to and won the NIT instead, beating in the final, wait for it, Saint John’s, despite 15 points and 17 rebounds from Billy Paultz … Speaking of Kentucky, there have been seven undefeated D-I basketball champions in NCAA history: San Francisco (1956), North Carolina (1957), UCLA (1964, 1967, 1972, 1973), and Indiana (1976)  … And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. My guesses:

Big East: You can’t go wrong drawing a line through Georgetown when filling out your NCAA bracket. This year they’re playing Eastern Washington University, in Portland. (This is in in the south regional incidentally. A team from DC playing a team from Washington State in Oregon. Because why not.) JT3 has done less with more than anyone since Jayne Mansfield … Xavier. Not impressed and would not be surprised to see them bounced by Ole Miss, if they can find a way to neutralize Stainbrook. I recommend Twinkies  … Butler. Ditto, they’re midgets. On the bright side they’re facing Rick Barnes, who sucks … Providence I could see playing in week two and maybe after that, because Kris Dunn is the best player in the country.

Sleeper pick: SMU. Larry Brown. NIT champions. A bunch of seniors and an aircraft carrier in the middle.

Final Four: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Villanova and because I am congenitally unable to have DoOk advance too far, Utah.

Final final: Kentucky 82 – Villanova 73

Why even play the games.




RECAP: Defending champion Providence University took the first incremental or baby step up the mountain or incline towards defending their BET title by humiliating or mortifying Saint John’s 74-57 on Saint John’s home court Thursday afternoon. The bad news is that Saint John’s has had the shit kicked out them two games in a row. The good news is that said kicking of shit doesn’t really matter much: they’re still getting their name called selection Sunday and they’re still a middling seed. All that matters now is the draw and it couldn’t have changed all that much despite how badly they were beaten. How poorly they played may well be another matter, but fortunately they have master motivator Steve Lavin on the sidelines to sort all of that out .. Saint John’s was ahead 7-0 and cruising towards a blow out when the floor caved in. Or the roof. Or when the sky fell. Choose your own metaphor, it’s fun. At about the 16 minute mark Providence stopped dribbling the ball off their own feet and throwing the ball out of bounds and started playing basketball and Saint John’s obliged them by stopping. Instead Saint John’s started missing their shots, all of them, and not by a little either, by an enormous amount: by rough count a third of their shots over the next 10 minutes were air balls, which resulted in a 30-6 PU run and a 13 point halftime lead. And if it hadn’t been for the referees it might have been much worse. (Many of those calls were by Pat Driscoll, who if he isn’t already on the SJU payroll, might be looking for a paycheck. He’s awful. Nice hair though.) After a rousing halftime speech by Steve Lavin a newly energized Jamal Branch kicked the ball out of bounds on SJU’s first possession and it was downhill from there. Saint John’s made a couple of mini-runs to get it within 9 or so but invariably they made some boneheaded play that allowed PU to spurt away again. In the long run this loss – despite its proportions – might have been the best thing that could have happened: at least now they can rest up and get their heads right. The rumor is that they play their best basketball with their back to the wall. As tenor baritone soprano bass alto sax player Charlie Parker once said, now’s the time … Steve hammer-to-rock play-your-best-basketball-in March Lavin is now 1-4 in the BET at SJU, 1-2 in the NIT and 0-1 in the NCAA, for a grand total of 2-7 in the post season. To that extent he is a worthy heir to Louie and is rapidly becoming part of the great SJU coaching tradition … So what does this all mean looking ahead? Who knows. Ever the contrarian I’d rather go into the NCAA tournament having lost two games by a combined total of 52 points, as has Saint John’s, than having won two games by 72, as has Villanova, or being undefeated, as is Kentucky. For me the prognosis remains unchanged. Saint John’s is not a team I’d want to play in the tournament and they’re just as likely to get bounced in the first round as they are to make the round of sixteen. As a lifelong SJU fan if I had to bet I’d bet on the first round bounce, but on the bright side if you have no expectations you’re never disappointed.

PLAYERS: Jordan gets the game ball by default – besides Joey De La Rosa he was about the only player who showed up. To the extent that they were ever in it he kept them there: 18 points, most of those from the free throw line. And to the extent that the game was entertaining it was entertaining to the extent of watching he and Kris Dunn – who’s already too good to be playing college basketball, good grief – trading punches briefly in the second half. I’ve been saying for a while now that this team is only going to go as far as Jordan takes them. If I’m right – and let’s face it I usually am – they’re not going to go very far … Joey De La Rosa got a couple of rebounds and a couple of points and even a block. It’s just a shame he’s not a freshman, he might be a player in two or three years … Oh dear, the rest of them … Harrison was off early and you could see that it got in his head. He’s 9 for 32 over the past two years in the BET. Hopefully he gets straight and goes out on a good note. On the bright side he was named to the all BE first team again this week, joining only Marcus Hatten, Malik Sealy, Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson as repeat SJU honorees … Phil Greene hit his first shot and then commenced a relentless attempt to shatter the backboard with a variety of thunderous misses, several of which avoided the rim entirely. Never fear though he got his mojo back in garbage time by nailing two threes to cut PU’s lead to 18 with 4 minutes left. No doubt he and his girlfriend flashed backed to his heroics in Syracuse several months ago, at least until a resounding CLANK awoke them from their twin reveries. Finished 3 for 9 and 2 for 7 from three. In a game where 40 personal fouls were called Greene managed none, which seems remarkable until you remember that he doesn’t bother to play defense .. Jamal Branch started. By the 14 minute mark he’d displayed his entire skill set: he’d thrown several pointless no look passes, committed several fouls near the midcourt line and dribbled the ball off his foot … Obekpa fouled out and grinned inappropriately when it happened … Pointer fouled out but kept his amusement to himself … The box score says that Albivivocvic had zero fouls, which must be a misprint. He commits three in the run way before the game … Balamou curiously absent

NOTES: It’s late in the season and there’s not a lot to say without repeating myself. Donnie Marshall was his usual awful self. The other guy was worse. Tarik Turner was described in a Fox graphic as having “led Saint John’s to 1998 NCAA tournament,” which is like saying that Phillipe Petain led France to a victory in World War II (H/T Desco) … I’ve got nothing else except a note about the late Jimmy Walker, who Ladonte Henton passed this afternoon on the PU all-time scoring list this. Walker – who fathered and then deserted his bastard son Jalen Rose – scored his 2045 points in three seasons and that without the 3 point shot. As a senior in 1967 he led the nation in scoring, averaging more than 30 points a game. He was the number one draft pick in the NBA draft, ahead of Earl Monroe (2), Saint John’s own Sonny Dove (4), Walt Frazier (5), Pat Riley (7), the amazing Mel Daniels (9) and even Phil Jackson (17). (Interestingly three of those players – Frazier, Monroe and Jackson played in Division II). I’m a great believer in statistics as a measure of player performance but here’s one where they lie: Henton is not worthy to carry Jimmy Walker’s jockstrap … Don’t be sad Saint John’s fans, do the Hucklebuck:




No Means Nova


RECAP: I retired to my library with a glass full of spirits and a La Flor Dominicana DL 700 after Saint John’s was trounced by Villanova 105-68 Saturday afternoon and when I emerged 40 minutes later to refill my tumbler the long-suffering Missus Fun asked how it was going. “They lost by forty,” I said, “it’s writing itself.” Which it was. So yes, Saint John’s got their asses kicked Saturday afternoon – a “vicious beating” for those of you scoring at home. On the one hand no harm done: Nova is ranked 4th in the country and to the extent that I watch college basketball probably legitimately so and their seniors were playing their last home game and Saint John’s was banged up and on the road where they don’t perform at their best or even well. On the other, it was quite a beating and especially considering that SJU took an early 16-5 lead: they were outscored by about 50 over the rest of the game, which has to say something. Still, whatever it says it probably doesn’t mean anything, assuming they shrug their shoulders and shake it off. The BE tournament looms and that’s on their home floor and even that doesn’t matter: even if they lose on Thursday they’re in the tournament and all that matters is the draw … Saint John’s was up 14-5 when then game was joined in progress. Unfortunately for the optimists in the audience it was downhill from there. Nova caught up and was up four at halftime and when Saint John’s came out a little flat to start the second half they spurted away and all of a sudden Nova was up 10 and then 20 and when Lavin called his last time out after a made basket with 8 minutes left – was it to rest his players? to set up his defense? Lulz – it was long over. Villanova ended up scoring 105 points, which is more points off the top of my head than I can remember anyone scoring – the most this year was 90, also Villanova and before that 98 also Villanova and before that Baylor scored 97 and anyway that’s more than anyone has scored this century, which was about as far back as I could be arsed to look and that includes the Norm years.

(Update: 100 point losses

Mar 7, 2015 (Lavin)
Villanova 105
SJU 68

Nov 27, 2004 (Roberts)
Niagara 102
SJU 81

Feb 29, 2004 (Clark)
Providence 103
SJU 78

Dec 23, 1992 (Mahoney)
Indiana 105
SJU 80)

PLAYERS: Jordan had 21 points and 8 assists, including a Sports Center top 10 posterization of some poor bastard in the first half. He seemed to be pressing a bit playing in front of a hometown crowd, which is understandable in an impressionable youth. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it may be that that was the last time Jordan plays a regular season game in a Saint John’s uniform. He does not seem to have a lot left to prove and if he returns it could only be to improve his draft position, because obviously he’s an NBA player … Harrison had 15 before fouling out – two of those fouls on three point attempts … I know I spend a lot of time ragging on Phil Greene, but it’s only because he’s not very good. Moreover, he’s not very smart and in fact sometimes it’s hard to know what he’s thinking or whether he is at all. Case in point. Midway through the first half SJU is up 5. Greene takes a contested three with 31 seconds left on the shot clock, it goes in, SJU up 8. Yay Phil. Two Nova free throws later SJU up 6. Greene takes a contested three with 25 seconds left on the shot clock. Clank. A Nova three cuts it to a three point lead. Greene takes a contested long two with 31 seconds left on the shot clock. Clank. Nova three, game tied. Net result: 14 seconds of offensive possession, three contested Phil Greene jumpers, 3 SJU points, Nova net plus 5, SJU goes from up 8 to a tie game. I just don’t get it. He should be happy being the fourth scoring option, but you get the impression he envisions himself something else entirely. Which he may be, next year, in China … This was the first game in a while where Pointer was essentially a nonfactor. Despite which he had a robust scoring line: 8 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds. He even took a three, which to no one’s surprise didn’t go in: he’s 2 for 21 (.095) for the year and 22 for 106 (.22) for his career, and that despite shooting .33 percent as a sophomore … With Chris “Warrior” Obekpa sidelined with a sore ankle and Jamal “Tissue Paper” Branch out with a savaged groin, Lavin had to resort to his bench, and resort he did, shuffling Balamou, De La Rosa, Amirovickovich and even poor Christian Jones in and out willy nilly and seemingly at random. It was almost as if he was scared to leave any of them in long enough for anyone to see how horrible they are. The problem is that collectively the bench resembles a single atrocious basketball player: Jones can’t cover anyone, Balamou can’t score, Amirovich is slightly less nimble than a pillar and Joey De La Rosa can’t shoot free throws. It’s as if a demented Doctor Frankenstein decided to make the worst basketball player ever and Lavin decided to give him a scholarship … Lavin threw in the towel at about the 6 minute mark and put in the rest of the walk-ons. At one point the lineup was Balamou, Lipscomb, Amirovich, Myles Stewart and Doughy De La Rosa, which gave Saint John’s fans a sneak preview of the sort of basketball they’re going to be watching next year, when this is approximately the starting five.

NOTES: I’ve been watching Kevin O’Neill in the studio for six months now and finally got off my lazy ass and googled him. In a stunning turn of events it turns out he’s a failed head coach. In 16 years at five schools – Marquette, Arizona, Tennessee, USC, and Northwestern – O’Neill was a combined 216–241 (.473). He had 8 winning seasons, 4 NCAA appearances, and two 20-win seasons, none between 1993 and his retirement in 2013. On the bright side he’s a dead ringer for Larry David, who’s a funny fucker


… Color man Jim Jackson noted re Saint John’s in the tournament that “it’s better to be a seven seed than a 9 or 10.” In the first place, of course it is, hence the numbers. In the second place, no it isn’t, since the 7 seed plays the 10 seed and both get the same draw … I wrote a bit of a gambol this week about Villanova grad Don Maclean, author of American Pie, but in light of a spate of email demanding that I refrain from posting insightful and interesting prose that informs and enlightens the reader and instead confine myself to basketball, a look back and then ahead: First, regular season grades:

Pointer – a case could be made that he’s the BE POTY, but probably he’s not. Clearly the team MVP though. GRADE: A

Harrison – I was going to ding him for his injuries but it turns out I’m a push over. GRADE: A

Jordan – certainly an above average sophomore, but gets downgraded for his attitude. GRADE: B minus (although he’s been an A minus since Butler)

Greene – does one thing not terribly well: GRADE: C plus

Obekpa – does one thing well and everything else terribly. His on court demeanor is appalling: GRADE: C plus

Joey DLR – contributed more than the nothing I expected: GRADE: C plus

Branch – this space intentionally left blank. GRADE C

Amirtoviviovth – reminds me of a less graceful Tomas Jasilionus. GRADE: C

Balamou – was given every chance to contribute and failed to. The plus is for the great job he did jumping center. GRADE: D plus

The field: contributed nothing: GRADE: F

Lavin – this was hard. On the one hand, he’s an awful game coach, he dresses like a homeless guy, and he’s a veritable fountain of twaddle. On the other, he won 20 games and made the tournament. But on the third hand if he couldn’t make the tournament with a senior class that comprised a top 5 recruiting class, when could he. There’s a dearth of evidence that he raised his team’s level of play and at least some that he retarded it. GRADE: C plus.

Second, what does the future hold.

On the plus side

* There’s a bunch of seniors, always good. And mostly they’re guards, even better.

* They have a tendency to play up to their opponent

*They play an usual tempo, which could confound their opponents

*They’re unconventionally sized, which can present potential match-up problems

* They allegedly play better when their backs are to the wall

* They defend the rim

On the minus

* They lack tournament experience and what they’ve had isn’t encouraging, viz Robert Morris

* They have a tendency to shoot free throws poorly

* They play poorly on the road

* They have a tendency to play down to their opponent

* They lack depth

* They lack size

* They don’t rebound

* Lavin is not going to win any games with his strategy

What does all that mean? I don’t know. I’m not in the business of making predictions. With the right seed they could make the round of sixteen. Eight is probably too much to ask. If today showed nothing else it’s that they’re clearly a rung or two below the best teams in the country. Meaning that with the wrong match up they’ll get bounced the first weekend. If so, they are Saint John’s.

Speaking of Don Maclean, here’s the worst best band you’ve never heard: Killdozer.











Marquette Zero


RECAP: Saint John’s beat Marquette 67-51 in Wisconsin Wednesday night. It was an ugly if workmanlike victory. As usually happens when Saint John’s plays lousy opponents, they played lousy. But to the extent that it wasn’t much of a game after the first 15 minutes that I suppose is a good sign. At least they put away an obviously inferior opponent and closed it out on the road and I mean, they probably have other things on their minds – there’s a vicious beating by Villanova on the horizon, and then the BE tournament on their home floor they’d like to not bollox up completely, and then the chance for the seniors to not only to play in their first NCAA tournament game but to be the first Saint John’s team to win an NCAA tournament game since the Jarvae’s team beat Northern Arizona in 2000. Whereas Marquette has only won 3 games since New Year’s Eve and had been for the most part been getting stomped while doing so and even with Wojo the floor slapping dope prowling the sidelines were probably pretty hard to take seriously … The numbers reflect the game: both teams were awful. Saint John’s shot 40 percent from the floor, 50 percent from the three (they’re close to 50 percent from three as a team since the Georgetown loss) and a terrifying 52 percent from the FT line, where they’re now 62-103 over their last four. This does not bode well moving forward and especially going into the tournament, where games are not called like rugby matches. Marquette shot worse: 34 percent from the floor, 28 percent from three and 38 percent from the FT line. That’s right, 38 percent, most of that the fault of big white doofus Luke Fischer. For some reason the announcers were drooling over him most of the game – I didn’t see the appeal. The rest of the numbers were nearly identical:

OR 13/13, DR 28/29, AST 15/12, ST 8/8, BLK 5/7, TO 13/14, PF 13/14

… If you subscribe like I do to the notion that where Lavin is concerned every decision is a mistake this sort of game was right up the great and powerful alley. All he had to do was pick 5 players, roll the balls out, and start clapping his hands and jumping up and down. There was none of that troubling thinking to be done, no logic to be applied, no problem solving skills needed. In that regard although 20 years old Baron Davis’s words ring prescient: We should have a banner up there: the only team to make the tournament without a coach. Only one thing troubled me last night and that was Lavin’s complexion. When I first notice it several games ago I thought maybe it was pancake make-up but now I’m thinking it’s some sort of spray on tan. The orange sheen is off putting and gives him the pallor of a space villain on Star Trek. Monasch was sitting behind the bench and he looked normal in comparison and he’s an oompah loompah.

PLAYERS: Jordan had 25 points on 11 shots (including 5 for 9 from three) all of them in rhythm and in the flow of the game. He, Dunn and Billy Garrett Jr. comprise a pretty nice trio of sophomore guards. In the old days you’d look forward to seeing them battle each other for four years. Nowadays you wonder in they’ll play another four years between the three of them in their college careers … The Unicorn had a near triple double: 11 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists. Had a very nice flop in the first half that drew an offensive foul, but if he’s looking to make Sportscenter again like the last time he threw himself to the ground he’s going to have to work harder than that …. Harrison was 2 for 9 in the first half and 5 for 7 in the second to finish with 21 points. The second was the first half in a while where he looked like himself … Phil Greene had 11 points on 13 shots and is 15 for 36 (40 %) from the floor over his past three games. It’s fair to note that Phil doesn’t play well west of the Mississippi, having taken a couple of donuts in Chicago versus DePaul as an underclassman, so there’s precedent for him choking in front of friends and family. Of course he doesn’t play that well east of the Mississippi either, so there’s that. (Astute fans will note that SJU is currently projected in the Midwest bracket, which does not bode well for Phil’s post season.) Greene did have 8 rebounds though, and 7 the game before that. So PG4 can rebound, who knew: evidently all this time it was just a lack of effort. I’m looking forward to seeing what other heretofore hidden skills Phil will display in the waning weeks of his career. Perhaps he can play defense or maybe he’s an excellent passer. It’s like peeling back the skin of an onion … Chris Obekpa had two points and 4 blocks and seems to be hobbled and seems to have aggravated his hobble late in the game. Like most things he does his injury is accompanied by histrionics – last night after seemingly tweaking an ankle he limped down the court grimacing and took himself out of the game, the latter for not the first time this year. Perhaps his injury is more severe than has been let on, but since his coach is not shy about exaggerating his players physical difficulties that’s hard to believe. Must be serious though because Harrison is about as banged up as a player can be and he never asks out of a game … Amir Amiroveckovich committed four fouls in eight minutes. Also, he dyed his hair, although whether from his natural color or to I have no way of knowing. Anyone who’s seen him in the locker room, let me know if the curtains match… Felix Balamou did not play, which is odd, because according to astute SJU fans he might as well have been recruited by Johnnie Calamari or Mike Kryszruski as Lavin. Evidently SJU has some of the most coveted walk ons and bench players in Division One.

NOTES: Not too many, which is good news for those who have been emailing to complain that these things are running long. Rest assured that I’ll take those complaints seriously, as a short attention span is a sure sign of high intelligence … The game was called by Brian Anderson and Tarik Turner. Anderson is part of the Milwaukee Brewers broadcasting team that was recently named the 8th best broadcasting unit in major league baseball. Unfortunately, last night he was calling a basketball game. Turner was his usual babbling idiot self. Of Dom Pointer Turner said “His versatility is special to watch,” an amalgam of illogic and garbled syntax worthy of Norm Crosby or Professor Irwin Corey. He also said that Saint John’s was running an “offensive clinic,” which is an interesting choice of words to describe a team that shot 39 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the FT line. Perhaps that was the sort of clinic Turner attended when he was a youth, which would explain his college career. For those of you who’ve forgotten it Turner’s teams at SJ were 14-14, 11-16, 13-14 and 22-10 – the last year outlier was when Fran brought in Colin Charles and sat Turner down most of the season. Despite being one-third of the most heralded recruiting class in Saint John’s history, Turner appeared in one NCAA tournament game, a loss to Detroit … Mark it zero. This is a league game Smokey









Hoy Vey


GAME: Saint John’s beat Georgetown 81-70 at MSG Saturday afternoon and beyond that I’ve been sitting here staring for a bit and I’ll admit that except for a half full glass of Tito’s I’ve got nothing. Probably if I hadn’t tasked myself with writing these things I’d have filled my glass and said fuck it and removed to the couch and taken the rest of the day off. SJU is in the tournament now and the rest of it I don’t care much about. Marquette on the road is a toss-up. Villanova, the way SJU is playing, about the same. The BE tournament, unless they lose a first round game to some patsy, I don’t care. So maybe that’s 22 wins and then comes selection Sunday and they’ll get some draw that 20 years ago I’d have deluded myself into thinking that they had a path to the Final Four but now I’m way too jaded for that and so I’ll instead maybe it’s safer to gird my loins for some atrocious first round loss, history having a tendency to repeat. The question for me now is do I buy in: do I on the one hand say well there’s a boat load of seniors playing well and anything can happen in a one and done or do I eeyore eeyore and say that this year is going to end in disappointment and next year is going to blow and the year after that is going to suck and the year after that too until there are some more seniors and then the hammer to rock incremental progress nonsense kicks in again so why bother. Which leaves me at: whatever … So today. Saint John’s went out to a 10 point lead by virtue of an early 16-3 run and the game was even after that. Essentially Georgetown played the game that will get then bounced out of the tournament the first weekend – if Pete Carill was dead he’d be spinning in his grave – and SJU the one that optimistic SJU fans hope will get them through to the second. Beyond Georgetown’s futility the only stats that jump out at me are SJU’s three point shooting – which was good, 50 percent – and it’s free throw shooting, which wasn’t, 65 percent. (Astute fans will notice that SJ scored 11 more points at the FT line in a game SJ won by 11.) At the line SJU is 53 of 86 over its last for games and 33 free points is a lot to leave out there, especially in the tournament … Nothing to say about Lavin, except to note an ostentatious TO he called up 15 with 2:51 remaining, after which GT hit 3s on three straight possession. I’m guessing he told them not to defend the three point shooters during the huddle, which worked out well, because they won. What a genyious.

PLAYERS: Dom Pointer had 24 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and remarkably no personal fouls. Had I been prescient I’d have tracked his stats in games in which his Buckwheat hairdo was on full display, but even I can’t think of everything. Other than David Cain and maybe Donald Emanuel I can’t think of a player who’s shown the sort improvement Pointer has in his senior year, especially after being so not good the first three. Kris Dunn is probably BE POTY but Pointer might be a close second … Phil Greene had a career high 25 points, including 6 of 7 from three. After the game Lavin called him the best 3-point shooter he’s coached since Marco Bourgault … Nomar Garciaparra to the white courtesy telephone: in a stunning turn of events Jamal Branch injured himself. It looked to be a groin and it looked serious and though I’m no expert on groins (except my own and those of several dancers out at Funbags, which is a gentleman’s club out near the airport) I wouldn’t be surprised to see him not return, ever. Off the top of my head he’s injured his wrist, his knee, his eye, and now his groin and also missed a couple of games after cutting his hand, which he probably did while attempting to apply a bandage to his other hand … Harrison committed two fouls in the first 25 second and sat the entire first half afterwards. He finished with 1 point and no field goals. This year against GT he was 0 for 9 from the floor with 6 points. For his career he’s 19 for 86 and has scored a total of 72 points. In 8 games. In three of those games he’s gone ofer from the floor. In two games he’s scored 48 total points and in the remaining six no more than 7. Working backwards he’s been 0-5, 0-4, 1-12, 7-15, 3-12, 0-9, 1-12, 7-17. Safe to say they’ve got his number … Jordan had 15 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, including 7 for 8 from the FT line. He’s been in double figure 11 of 15 times since missing the Butler game … Chris Obekpa fouled out in 19 minutes. He grinned infectiously after the fifth one was called and also after a scrum under the basket when he was called for a technical. After the latter incident he ran away from the pile up pointing to his head: evidently he thought the T was on the other guy, because he’s so smrat® … Balamou committed 4 fouls in 13 minutes, including a flagrant one. He also got away with a massive forearm shiver to the chest of a GT player late … No one else played, except Ndiaye got a minute. A shame Lavin couldn’t find a minute for Joey De La Rosa on senior day, he really deserved it

NOTES: The game was called by Marv Albert and Len Elmore. Elmore was a Power Memorial Grad and a Saint John’s commit until Lou went off to coach the Nets. Instead he went to Maryland, where he was an All American. Thanks Lou. In spite of which I won’t hear a bad word spoken about him. Marv Albert on the other hand has the distinction of being the first transvestite to be inducted into the basketball hall of fame, having preceded Denis Rodman. In 1997 Albert was indicted on sodomy charges after he assaulted one of his many lovers in a hotel room. YESSSS! He pleaded guilty to reduced charges after DNA evidence from a bite wound on the woman’s torso was matched to Albert’s saliva. AND IT COUNTS!! In his defense, the woman, Vanessa Perhach, had failed to procure a male “with a large penis” for an anticipated threesome … Speaking of violence, if SJU fans wonder why fans of other teams consider SJU players to be thugs, they need not look beyond today’s game. Contrary to popular opinion it’s not because many of the players come from the inner city and have tattoos and threatening hairdos. It’s because they’re dirty players. In today’s game for example Chris Obekpa – who just two games ago attempted to kill a guy – was involved in another near fight and Felix Balamou got a flagrant one for throwing a helpless player to the ground. Even assistant coach Rico Hines got into the act when he was T’d up for an altercation at halftime. (Perhaps Hines needs some time with John Lucas down in Texas this summer?) Amit Abilvejovich has all the finesse of a Repulicka Srpska war criminal. Dom Pointer – although he has been for the most part a model of rectitude this year – famously punched a ND player several years ago and not a game goes by when the amelioration of D’Angelo Harrison’s alleged anger management issue is every game trotted out as one of Steve Lavin’s great success stories. All that’s left is for Lavin to write a time called Skills for Life. And can anyone doubt that’s far behind? I don’t. But then I’m an optimist.




Saint John’s demolished Xavier Monday night at Madison Square Garden, completing a season sweep of the Musketeers and assuring SJU of a bid to the NCAA tournament. Although the box score says that we only won by one point, 58-57, that’s deceiving, because the outcome was never in doubt. There was no way a mid-major team like Xavier was going to come into our house with so much on the line and get out of there with a victory. Especially a team from a backwater like Ohio … The score illustrates a point that I’ve been saying all year and one that all knowledgeable sports fans know: statistics don’t tell the whole story and are in fact for all intents and purposes meaningless. What’s really important is the eye test. For example a newbie might look at our shooting line – 40 percent from the floor, 30 percent from three, and 40 percent from the free throw line – and say that we did not shoot well. But longtime fans know that we are shooting dramatically much better than we did when Norm Roberts was coaching and that our fundamentals such as ball screens and tertiary footwork have improved too. I mean sure, maybe last night the ball didn’t go in the basket as much as we’d like, but points are just more statistics and sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is that Saint John’s outplayed Xavier in every facet of the game, except maybe rebounding, where Xavier had a slight 47-27 advantage. That we were able to pull out the victory proves the point made by Lavs earlier in the season when he said that rebounding doesn’t matter … As for Lavs, he outcoached Chris Mack and once again demonstrated that we are lucky to have him as part of our Saint John’s family. His rotations, use of timeouts, Xs and Os and halftime adjustments were once again exemplary. With the victory we’re now ahead of five teams in the standing and behind only four – and three of those four we’re behind are ranked. Even a coach as skilled as Lavs cannot be expected to be ahead of teams that are ranked higher than his team is. I mean, he’s not a magician. With three games remaining we’re only 5 games behind front running Villanova (BOO!) – anything can happen. Who could have imagined that after only five years at the helm Lavs has us once again in the Big Dance. That he’s done all that while beating cancer and overcoming the devastating loss of a parent – which is the sort of tragedy few people in history have ever had to go through – is nothing short of astounding. … One thing Lavs doesn’t get enough credit for is how he handles the press. Last night he demonstrated his media savvy in the postgame interview when he deflected criticism about his team’s poor start (and you have to think that it’s no coincidence that that criticism came from a UConn graduate – jealous much Donny Marshall?) – by comparing the beginning of the game to a make out session where a nervous virgin starts to kiss a girl but instead of suavely thrusting his tongue into her hungry willing wet mouth he instead bangs his teeth against her teeth but then recovers and is able to pleasure her with his tumescent throbbing manhood, which is just the sort of graphic sexual analogy employed by other beloved NY sports figures such as Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra and even our own HOF coach Lou Carnesecca, who used to talk about his “feather duster,” which you don’t have to be Elmore James to figure that out. A coach with less ability might have discussed the intricacies of the game but Lavs is more than a mere coach: he is a philosopher and a visionary. It makes me proud to have the same first name as Coach Lavin and the even the same initials. Hopefully the university comes to its senses and extends him before some other program scoops him up …. I know that some Gloomy Gus SJU fans like to complain about the referees, and believe me I completely respect their opinions. I mean sure, usually when we lose games it’s because of the referees, but that’s sports, right? Tonight though I thought the refs did a great job of letting the kids play for the first 16 minutes, during which 16 minutes they did not call a single foul, and then after that did a great job of reining the players in by calling 30 fouls over the next 24 minutes. Typically Saint John’s got the short end of the stick, 17 FTs to 15. I’m just glad that this time differential did not come back to bite us in the ass … We now have a week off to get healthy for the home stretch and after that the BE tournament and hopefully another Cinderella run in the Big Dance. We are Saint John’s!

PLAYERS: In a timely article in Monday’s NY Post, Phil Greene was finally given the recognition he deserves as one of the best players in the Big East. In the article (written by Zach Braziller, who is a top notch journalist IMHO) Greene described himself as a “hero,” which IMHO is an understatement, because hero means “a man distinguished by courage and admired for his bravery and nobility” and Phil is so much more than that. IMHO it’s about time Phil was recognized alongside other NY champions such as Jackie Robinson, Bobby Thompson and Willis Reed. Greene also talked about how frustrating it was for him that his heroism does not receive the accolades it deserves, but noted that real fans of basketball appreciate everything he does, especially the little things. Most people have never accomplished anything near what Phil has in his illustrious career, so we can only imagine how tough it must be not having the sort of quiet heroism he displays night after night rewarded by cheers and adulation. It must be heartbreaking. Greene’s fortitude was on full display last night, when he bravely continued to shoot the ball despite his inability to get it to go into the basket. Greene courageously shot 2 for 7 and ended up with 5 heroic points, for which I am awarding him a long overdue game ball … I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a back-up PG who’s had a better career than Jamal Branch and the closest I can come is Mark Jackson when he backed up Mike Moses, but even that comparison doesn’t do Branch justice, because Jackson was a freshman, whereas Branch is a talented senior who would likely be all league if he played on another team in another league. He comes ready to play every night and you would be hard pressed to name another guard who throws a no look pass with the sort of accuracy as does Branch. Although he finished with no points or rebounds last night he contributed in many other ways, including through intangibles … Chris Obekpa once again played a good game and seems to have fully recovered from the injury he suffered when his elbow was head butted in the Butler game several weeks ago. It is IMHO a joy to watch Obekpa play: his infectious grin is representative of everything that should be celebrated about amateur athletics … A lot of sourpusses were down on Lavs last recruiting class but when all is said and done I think it will go down as one of the best in school history. The most impressive of the bunch has been Amar Alibegovic. He’s an imposing physical specimen, a good rebounder, and one of the best screen-setters I’ve ever seen in 35 years of watching SJU basketball. He‘s also a dead eye shooter, even if his percentages – .38 from the floor, .27 from three and .14 from the free throw line – don’t reflect it. Another example of stats being deceiving. Although Alibegovic did not score last night, look out, that’s just the beginning for him. Once he gets used to living in a foreign country and adjusts to playing in the best college basketball conference in the country look for those numbers to sky rocket … After a big win against Concordia in 2012 Lavs noted that Christian Jones was a “special” player; coach went on to praise Jones “poise and ability to see the game” and noted that Jones “can post up as well as any freshman I’ve ever had.” Considering the caliber of player that Lavs has coached in his illustrious career that is high praise, and well deserved IMHO. It is only a shame that this year’s team is so deep and talented that Jones cannot earn floor time to showcase his prodigious skills for NBA scouts. He is however by all accounts a great teammate and is often the first player off the bench to clap his hands and cheer his teammates on. Although he did not get a chance to play last night he has shown great strides over his career and I look forward to watching him play for years to come … … On any other team seven footer Joey De La Rosa would be getting major minutes, but because Saint John’s is so deep in the front line he’s been forced to come off the bench. When he does though, he changes the game because of his physicality, basketball IQ, and ability to set solid picks. It’s a shame he doesn’t have another year of eligibility because next year a front line of him, his brother Adonis, Alibegovic and Obekpa would make us an immediate contender for the national championship and maybe even the favorite. Although he did not play last night he has a bright future and I would not be surprised to see some NBA team take a flier on him in the second round of the draft. Because you can’t teach size … One player who’s made a substantial contribution to the success of this year’s team is Felix Balamou. Last year, when a less dedicated player might have red shirted after suffering a serious head injury, Felix instead applied himself in practice and by virtue of his unparalleled work ethic played his way into the starting line-up before suffering a relapse and not playing anymore. The same thing happened this year, although not the head injury, just the hard work and starting and not starting. He is such a great leaper that sometimes he jumps center and sometimes even wins the tap! You’d be hard pressed to find a SJU player who could match his leaping ability. David Russell or Michael Porter, maybe. When coach described him as one of the greatest leapers he has ever coached, well, let’s just say that was not an exaggeration. Balamou did not play last night, hopefully his concussion is not acting up, as we will need him down the stretch … Speaking of practice, no recap would be complete without mentioning the unsung work the walk ons and practice players do. Although they do not receive the sort of praise that the regular players do they are in many ways more important than the players who play. Because of our storied history we’re able to recruit walk ons such as David Lipscomb and Myles Stewart, who would probably be starters and scholarship players had they gone anywhere else. But they knew, as do we, that it’s better to sit on the bench in New York City than it is to see floor time in backwaters such as Kentucky or Kansas. Because if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.

NOTES: The game was broadcast on Fox, which did an excellent job IMHO. Not only was the picture crystal clear and the audio letter perfect, but the director did an exemplary job of showing the action – it can be quite difficult to manage several cameras at one and to cut from one to the other at just the right time, but I thought he did so. The game was called by Joe Davis and Donnie Marshall both of whom were good. As the play by play guy Davis did a good job of describing to the people who were watching what they were watching. Marshall was the color man and did a good job providing analysis and background information. His experience as an excellent college player was a real plus here, as he was able to supply nuanced and subtle info that the lay viewer might have otherwise missed. Such as for example when he said “that block doesn’t even matter, it really doesn’t, obviously it does,” that really added to my understanding of the game … It’s winter here in upstate New York. Winter is great IMHO, although I would not be able to pick a favorite season: spring has flowers and the Kentucky Derby; summer has hot dogs and the beach; fall has pretty leaves and the World Series and Lions football. They’re all so wonderful, it’d be too hard to pick just one. In winter – besides snow and ice, which are so picturesque – there are all sorts of fun things to do, such as skiing and snowboarding and especially figure skating, a sport for which I have a particular passion. Today being sunny and a balmy 6 degrees Fahrenheit I decided to bundle up and go for a long walk. Imagine my surprise when while snowshoeing across the back forty I saw the cutest little bunny frolicking across the snow with his family. They were so precious and I so moved that I hurried back to the house and wrote for you all a poem while I drank my warm cocoa and warmed my mukluks by the fire. I hope you don’t mind that I share it with you here.

The fluffy wuffy bunnies hip hop down Happy Street.
They skip and laugh and bow their ears to everyone they meet.
They’re never sad, they know no pain ‘neath cotton candy skies.
And no one ever stops to think, and no one ever dies.
The pretty witty kitties see them prance in Gleeful Glen.
They frolic ‘mongst the flowers, and sing and laugh and then,
they greet the fluffy bunnies; together they do play.
Then home to happy families, to laugh and sing and pray.
The king decreed the weather, and never did it rain.
He banished all diseases; he exiled death and pain.
They all left with the ogres, on Good Ship Lollipop,
It sailed across the ocean, and never did it stop.
The fluffy wuffy bunnies sing happy tappy tunes
They skip and laugh and decorate with baubles and balloons.
and no one is a mopey dope and nothing’s ever bad,
and no one ever stops to think and everyone is glad.



When Saint John’s lost to Seton Hall last New Year’s Eve Kevin Willard was looking like a genius and Seton Hall like a team that could contend for a conference championship. Now, a short six weeks later, the tables have turned. (Notice I don’t say the situation’s reversed, because for Steve Lavin to look like a genius he’d have to be participating in a spelling bee at the Special Olympics.) But turned the tables have. Seton Hall is in free fall and Willard’s locker room is in the sort of disarray they haven’t seen in Jersey since Bobby Gonzalez was coaching. Meanwhile Saint John’s has won 5 of their last 7 – including Saturday afternoon’s 85-72 win at Carnesecca Arena, I guess I should mention that – and barring a late season collapse seems to have played their way into the NCAA tournament. Oddly, despite all the winning they’ve been doing in the last 2 weeks – and believe me you could have knocked me over with a feather – they’re only 3 spots ahead of where they were 5 wins ago, having passed only Marquette, who stinks, and DePaul and Seton Hall, both of which have self-destructed. Still, assuming a worst case split over the last four games they’ll finish with 20 wins, and a reasonable SOS, RPI, ERA, whatever, I don’t pay attention to that stuff. But it’ll be nice to hear their name called all the same. For the record Lunardi currently has them as a 12 seed and in the east, which is weird: I don’t remember them being in the east bracket ever, or at least not since Lou was losing first round games at Nassau Coliseum. No doubt someone will correct me if I’m wrong … The game itself was nip and tuck until about 6 minutes left, when Saint John’s put SH away. You would have expected that, a team of seniors playing their last game on their home court against a team of boneheaded freshman. To the extent that they took care of business, that’s good. To the extent that this was SJU playing down to their opponent, that’s bad. And to the extent that it was – as Dom Pointer said – them playing well only when their backs are against the wall – that’s really bad. Because their backs have been against the wall since around 2012 … Saint John’s shot a tick under 50 percent for the game but 40 plus percent from three, SH having decided not to bother covering them out there. That was pretty much the difference, that and an ill timed Sterling Gibbs punch. And meanwhile SH shot poorly and turned the ball over 13 times. Isiah Whitehead was particularly atrocious: 8 for 25 from the floor and 2 for 12 from three. No doubt that gladdened the hearts of sour grapes SJU fans, but you can see that he’s a player. He just wasn’t much of one today … I was going to say that this was another game where Lavin stayed out of his own way, but it wasn’t really. It was more like the boneheaded things he did – odd time outs, suspect substitutions, you know, the usual – worked out in his favor, or at least didn’t hurt. At this point I don’t even find them worth mention. He’s just a mullethead and you have to put up with it. The last couple of minutes bear mentioning though. First he takes Harrison out, subs in Ndiaye: makes sense, it’s senior day, this gives the crowd a chance to show its appreciation. Except then he puts Harrison back in. Then he calls a time out and puts four seniors on the court. I mean, he can’t even do something simple like honoring his seniors without bolloxing it up with his well thought out strategery … You have to figure a win Monday versus Xavier and (barring a catastrophe, which no SJU fan should rule out) they’ve punched their ticket to, wait for it, the big dance. So this is a big game. Backs to the wall. Hammer to rock. Hashtag unfinished business.

PLAYERS: Donny Marshall described Pointer as a jack of all trades, master of none. The simple explanation is that Donny doesn’t know what that expression means, because that’s a pejorative, whereas Marshall spent the game raving about Pointer’s play, which well he should have: 22 points, 10 rebounds , 3 assists, 3 blocks. He even hit a three, his second of the year. Both of which, oddly, as time was expiring … Jordan had 18 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Has the look of a player who’s going to be playing professional basketball in six months … Phil Greene had 20 points and a nearly career high 4 assists. This was the seventh time in 26 games that he’s a shot higher than 50 percent from the floor … Harrison is better but still hurting. Not good … Obekpa had 9 rebounds in only 27 minutes … Albigockivich jumped center again, because who knows why, played 9 minutes, didn’t score, and wasn’t seen again. I don’t even think he played in the second half … Joey De La Rosa started the second half in his stead, which is the second time that’s happened. More strateregy no doubt … Jamal Branch is not good at basketball, but he plays it all the same. I admire his perseverance, if nothing else … Balamou played a couple of minutes and did little. I am about to jump off that bandwagon. The rest of them got scrub minutes

NOTES: Rectifying a long overdue oversight, Saint John’s inducted into its Hall of Fame one of the great athletes Saint John’s history. This player, Christian name Chris, was a native New Yorker and a wily left-hander who led Saint John’s to some of the greatest victories in its illustrious history; he was a first round draft pick coming out of college and went on to a long professional career. I’m talking of course about the great Christopher “CJ” Nitkowski, who at long last has taken his rightful place in the pantheon of Saint John’s sports legends. After his storied career at SJU CJ pitched 10 years in the majors, amassing an 18-32 record to go along with a 5.37 ERA for the Reds, Tigers, Astros, and Mets among others. Congratulations CJ …. I don’t attend a lot of games but I’m sorry I missed this one, as I’d have loved to get a Malik Sealy bobble head. Anyone who’s interested in selling theirs hit me up on My Space … The game was called by former Uconn star Donny Marshall, who talked and talked and talked, and said little, and a lot of which was quite stupid, which is inevitable when you jibber jabber for 2 hours. About the stupidest was when he said that he’d like to bring the SJ starting five to his basketball camp because they were “running a clinic” in the half-court offense. Which, no they weren’t. Much of the rest of it was meaningless drivel, my favorite being this gem: “Saint John’s, the ability to just play basketball, that’s all they’re doing.” Do basketball fans watching a basketball game really need to be told that the basketball players playing the basketball game the basketball fans are watching are playing the game of basketball? Evidently they do, if you’re listening to a game narrated by a proud graduate of the University of Connecticut … Finally, some numbers. Those who find them intimidating are excused. Here though the quiz comes first. Following are the season stats for 5 SJU guards of recent memory. Pick which one you’d like on your team, and one you wouldn’t. Answers at the bottom.

29 m / 10.4 pts / 3.7 reb / 1.1 ass / .36 GF / .71 FT / .33

31 m / 11.9 pts / 5.9 reb / 2.0 ass / .41 GF / .79 FT / .33

31 m / 10.5 pts / 2.5 reb / 2.6 ass / .38 FG / .74 FT / .36

28 m / 8.0 pts  / 5.3 reb / 2.7 ass / .43 FG / .60 FT / .39

34 m / 12.8 pts / 3.0 reb / 1.6 ass / .43 FG / .75 FT / .37

Number four looks pretty good to me. As usual, YMMV … A couple of games ago Saint John’s fans were whining as is their wont about referees. I had been paying attention early in the season to the FT situation and thought to revisit it. The numbers follow, not including the last two. Give it a plus or minus ten, as I did the math in my head and I might not have been sober when I did it.


SJU: 379 – 538 (.70)

Opp: 337 – 446 (.75)

(SJU + 92)


SJU 21 ppg

Opp 17 ppg


SJU 114-152 (.75) / SJU 14.2 ppg

Opp 138-187 (.73) / Opp 17.2 ppg


SJU 265-386 (.68) / SJU 15.6 ppg

Opp 198-259 (.76) / Opp 11.6 ppg

 OPP + FTs

(games in which opponents shot more FTs)

SH + 15 (L)

DooK +9 (L)

Fairleigh Dickinson +7

Creighton +6 (L)

Creighton +4

Gonzaga +2 (L)

Butler +1 (L)

Nova +2 (L)

Marq: +2

(all the rest were net positive)


Seton Hall 31 (L)

DePaul 29 (L)

Duke 27 (L)




Niagara 11

What does all this prove? Basically nothing, other than that I have too much time on my hands. It make sense that a team that attacks the basket and doesn’t take a lot of threes gets to the FT line their share of the time. On the other hand you’d expect a team that expends as much energy defending the rim as does SJU to get more than their share of fouls, which doesn’t seem to be the case. It does however debunk to some extent the argument that SJU gets the short end of the refereeing stick. At least this year. Historically they’ve been the victim of some truly horrendous calls, no argument there, Billy Singleton to the white courtesy telephone … Those players were in order: Avery Patterson (as a JR), Anthony Mason (SO), Elijah Ingram (FR), Andre Stanley (JR), Phil Greene (SR). That there’s not a lot separating my bete noire PG4 from a walk on makes something of a point. I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out what that point is.


Flat Tuesday


I get a lot of hate mail – shocking right? – but nothing I’ve written in recent memory generated more than the recap from last year’s away loss at Georgetown, aka the premonition game where Coach Kreskin started the walk-on. What was weird about that one was that the hate was generated not by something I wrote, but by something I didn’t, namely much of recap at all. I was so disgusted by Lavin’s antics and by the team’s performance that I wrote a couple of short shitty paragraphs and called it a morning. To the extent that it was meant as meta-commentary it fell flat and the vitriol came over the transom. Call it a lesson learned. Tuesday night’s 79-57 loss to Georgetown was eerily reminiscent of that game, down to the starting five, albeit this time the walk-on was more of a waddle-on. You might recall that Lavin credited last year’s game with turning the team’s fortune around – one thing he’s not shy about is taking credit when things go well – although he never quite explained why the lesson he allegedly taught the team on January 4th didn’t sink in until January 18th and why it took playing Dartmouth for them to learn it. If there’s anything to be learned from last night’s game I didn’t learn it and I suspect no one else did either. In the end this is one of those games where you shrug your shoulders and move on. They played poorly; nobody expected – or at least I didn’t – that they were going to go win one at Georgetown; and besides they were due a stinker, consistency not being their watchword. Assuming they shake it off it’s no big deal, except that the opportunities for a signature win are few and far between and this was one. Now there’s only Villanova. Because contrary to the belief of delusional SJ fans no one’s going to be impressed by home victories over Long Beach and Saint Mary’s on selection Sunday … Both teams came out flat and the first five minutes were as awful as we’ve seen all year. Georgetown eventually settled down and started to not stink. Saint John’s continued. Partly obviously that had to do with injuries – both Harrison and Obekpa are visibly hampered – which in turn means that Lavin has to manage his personnel, which anyone who’s seen Lavin coach knows that rotations aren’t his string suit, to the extent that he has a strong suit at all. He started shuffling players in and out randomly early and didn’t stop until he sent the walk-ons in with a minute left. I understand he needed to steal some minutes to rest the wounded, but in the first place most of the bench players bring nothing to the table – an early line change brought in Balamou, Branch, and Albawackovich in tandem, which good grief – and in the second the constant shuffling eliminates rhythm and cohesion. To the extent that this sort of experimenting is useful it should have taken place in November. To the extent that it represented strategy intended to win a basketball game it was laughable. I almost got the impression that Lavin conceded this one – that he was just going through the motions, discretion being the better part of valor. To the extent that this was that, it makes some sort of vague sense … So yeah where was I. The first 5 minutes GT was awful, then they weren’t. They closed the half out on an 18-4 run to take an 11 point halftime lead. They extended to 20 or so midway through the second and that was that. It was a pretty good beating and for a change SJU took it like men. That is, nobody punched anyone or elbowed anyone in the head or anything, so there’s that. As for GT they looked like the usual JT3 team, lots of talent and a gaudy record that will lead them to a high seed in the tournament from which they’ll likely get bounced the first weekend, as usual. As for SJU, it is a good thing Seton Hall is hurting as well.

PLAYERS: Pointer had 16 points and 8 rebounds and was about the only player who showed up. A lot of what he does he is able to do because he’s so much more athletic than the other players on the floor – as opposed to, you know, having skill at basketball – so GT is a bad match up for him … Just like in every other game in his cannot end soon enough career, Phil Greene demonstrated that he’s a volume scorer who’s lacking in both density and area. Eighteen points on 14 shots and once again brought nothing else to the table. Greene has now vaulted over Kyle Cuffe on the funlist of players whose graduation will most help the basketball program and is now nipping at Reggie Jessie’s heels … Harrison was oh for from the floor. Can’t remember when the last time that happened was and can’t be arsed to look. When he hurt his other calf it took him three or four games to get right. Hopefully it doesn’t take that long this time, because without him three or four games from now his teammates will have played themselves into the NIT … Obekpa spent a lot of time wincing on the court, but he’s such a drama queen that it’s impossible to know whether he’s really injured or whether that was to provide cover for the punking he got from Josh Smith. I am inclined to the uncharitable explanation … Jordan played only 26 minutes, which was weird considering how well he’s been playing. If he was being disciplined for a technical he took in the first half, that’s lame. If he was just sitting because Lavin thought running his bench out there gave him a better chance of winning, that’s even lamer … Speaking of lame, Jamal Branch played … Neither Joey DeLaRosa nor Albivickovich were able to stop GT inside and neither contributed much else. Balamou contributed nothing in 7 minutes. The rest of the scrubs and walk-ons got in, even David Lipscomb. They only one who didn’t was Henderson and it has to be that he’s a redshirt, because even Christian Jones got in and you can’t be buried farther down the bench than him.

NOTES: Not too many. Rafferty called the game, which is always entertaining. He did say though after one offensive possession that ended in a turnover that “Saint John’s wasn’t sure what they were running there,” which anyone who’s watched SJU for any appreciable length of time knows you could say about nearly every possession since 2012. Sidekick Gus Johnson noted that Georgetown players got a lot of trim at nearby Howard University, this evidently a tradition going back to John Thompson senior, who was the OG who first pimped them out. No wonder he out-recruited Louie, who had to rely on subway tokens and mustachioed Catholic girls … Yesterday was Shrovetide – Fat Tuesday to you heathens, aka Mardi Gras or Pancake Day if you’re Eurotrash – and today Ash Wednesday, the Imposition of the Ashes, which marks the beginning of Lent, the Christian period of atonement. Regular readers will no doubt here be expecting a digression about the origins of these rites – they are nearly all of them coopted pagan fertility rituals, as is most of the liturgical calendar – but I’m not really in the mood after last night’s debacle. Besides which I’d just end up needlessly insulting various people and their faith, which as a rule I don’t mind doing (unless they’re Muslims obviously, those people’ll will kill you) but it’d be bad form to do it today. Traditionally the Christian faithful mark the Lenten period by forgoing things they enjoy: by giving up luxuries, which is meant to emulate the deprivations suffered by the Baby Jesus during his 40 days sojourn in the desert. All of which is meant to cleanse the spirit leading up to the horrors of Good Friday afternoon and then the glory of Easter morning. This Ash Wednesday I’ll join the tradition by forgoing the having of sport at the expense of others, burlesque being the luxury of which I am fondest.