St John’s defeated Iona 69-59 Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in a moribund renewal of what for some reason is still called the Holiday Festival. Brian Custer referred to the two schools as rivals, an odd choice of word considering that they haven’t played since 1995, the last game being one of the losses that precipitated Brian Mahoney being run out of town on a rail. And it’s not only the temporal dislocation that belies that characterization; these teams are not rivals because the disparity in talent between the Big East and the MAAC is just so vast, even between the bottom of the Big East and the top of the MAAC. I mean sure, every once in a while a MAAC team is going to jump up and beat somebody and maybe every once in a while there’s going to be MAAC team that has a surprising year, but that’s the exception. I live upstate in close proximity to Siena College, one of the better MAAC programs; they’re ubiquitous in the local news and the games are televised and even I go to one every once in a while. And the thing is, when two MAAC teams play there’s a parity in their awfulness that disguises how bad the basketball really is. It’s only when you see them play an actual D1 school that the shoddiness of their effort becomes apparent. And that might be especially true this year: MAAC teams are a combined 44-67; only one team, the mighty Rider Broncs, has a winning record. Which means bottom line that even though the game was tied at halftime the outcome was never really in doubt. Play the game 100 times and St John’s wins 99, because Iona is awful.
As the picture shows, St John’s won and pretty easily and this despite the fact that they played down to their opposition. Neither team shot the ball well (34 vs 37 percent); St John’s missed all 12 of its threes (you’d think that was impossible) but Iona, incredibly, ended up being worse: they made only 10 of 32, which accounted for more than half their points. That’s about how many threes dook takes a game and Dook has a system designed for that and the players to execute it. I haven’t seen much of Iona but they seem to have neither. The good news for St John’s is that once again won the game on the defensive end: they held another opponent under 61 points (that’s eight of ten for those of you scoring at home), forced 16 turnovers (although forced might be generous, at least a couple were Iona gifts) and blocked 10 shots. If St John’s was on the short end of a similar free throw disparity (they took 27 to Iona’s ten) I might have whined about it, but considering where and how Iona shot the ball it’s not worth mentioning, and especially since Iona shot only 50 percent from the free throw line … St John’s sits at 9-2, their two losses coming to ASU and MU, who’ve lost two games between them. With an RPI of 20 it’s conceivable that they receive some votes in the AP poll this week, which would be a remarkable thing, considering where they started a couple of short years ago. I don’t think they’re a top 25 team by any stretch, but they might be in the top 50 and some idiots have been voting for Georgetown so anything’s possible. I’d credit the staff but having been assured that Mullin and Mitch Richmond don’t know too much about basketball it must just be luck. It’s a shame Mike Rice or some similar basketball Tesla isn’t on the bench to help them out, this sleeping giant of a program might go places.
PLAYERS: Everyone’s favorite whipping boy Bashir Ahmed doubled doubled and had zero turnovers, leading one fan board genius to lament that he “shudders every time Ahmed touches the ball.” I suggest that poster get himself checked for Parkinson’s, because Ahmed played pretty well, especially at the beginning of the game, before Mullin sat him for a long stretch in the first half for some reason: I think it might have been so that Justin Simon could pick up a three fouls. In one remarkable sequence Ahmed had five straight offensive rebounds – albeit they were all of his own misses – and has 30 rebounds over his past three games. I know fans like to bitch about his turnovers and general blockheadedness but what I worry about is his FT shooting, which I guarantee will come back to bite St John’s in the ass at some point this year. You can’t play his game and shoot 50 percent from the line, but he does. You’d think a player who’s as interested as he is in scoring would want to pick up the free ones … Owens had 12 points, six blocks, and six rebounds and made six of six free throws. Sooner or later he’s going to triple double. Hopefully sooner … Justin Simon had 15 points, seven rebounds and four steals before fouling out. He was for some reason trending on twitter (usually when I see someone trending on Twitter I assume they’re dead or that they’ve raped Rose McGowan), this despite the enormous fucking the Steelers got from the referees in the late NFL. Simon was trending above even Tom Brady in the rankings. I’m not a Steeler fan by any stretch – I don’t follow professional football, I’m a Detroit Lions fan – but come on, that was a ridiculous call … Ponds had 16 points, five rebounds, and four steals. He did however miss a bunch more threes: he’s shooting 20 percent for the year – that’s Phil Greene territory – and is 5 of his last 29. On the bright side imagine what sort of numbers he’s going to put up when he stops playing with his head up his ass … Clark a quiet 12 and five, Yakwe played only 15 minutes, Trimble once again serviceable in ML’s absence and Alibegowitz remains a bad Steve Lavin joke
NOTES: Speaking of Brian Mahoney and rivalries it occurred to me the other day what a deleterious effect another Bronx school – Manhattan College – has had on St John’s basketball: Mahoney coached there and later Fran Fraschilla and Barry Rohrssen. You’d be hard to name someone not named Harrington who’s done more damage to the program than those three guys … I’m often amazed when I sit down to write these things where the day takes me. In my notes I have scrawled something about colormoron Sarah Kustok: she said 45 seconds into the game that something was happening “so far,” which is like saying during the opening credits that you really enjoyed the movie. So I looked up this Sarah person and it turns out her father murdered her mother a couple of years ago. Evidently he shot his sleeping wife in the head with the gun he bought her as an anniversary present (better I suppose that a vacuum cleaner) and then claimed she committed suicide. Much like his daughter does with game commentary however he botched the job – he waited several hours to call the police during which time he cleaned the scene and fired the remaining bullets into the chiffarobe – he said he didn’t trust himself not to join his wife, not being able to live without her, but obviously as a way to explain the powder residue on his hands – and so now sits in the penitentiary … For a prestigious roman catholic university founded in 1940 by the Congregation of Christian Brothers, Iona College (acceptance rate: 87 percent) has a pretty shitty on-line presence. Their wikipedia page is a scant 18 inches long, a full half of that taken up by descriptions of their various residence halls: they must have some nice bathrooms. That might have something to do with the paucity of achievement by Iona alums, the most notable of whom are hall of fame basketball player Richie Guerin; the actor Bud Cort, famous for rogering Ruth Gordon in “Harold and Maude”
(Gordon wasn’t much to look at when she was younger: along with her husband Garson Kanin she was half of one of the more hideous couples in Hollywood history
I can’t imagine banging the desiccated version); American Pie composer Don McLean, who on and off attended nearly every university on the east coast of the US, including night school at Iona; and John Gilchrist, AKA Mikey in the get Mikey to eat it he’ll eat anything commercials for Life cereal that were ubiquitous when fun was watching cartoons on Saturday morning. I mean off the top of my head I can name three men named Gail, all of whom are more well known than those Gaels: Gail Goodrich, Gale Sayers, and Gayle Gordon, all three of whom, oddly, (note the proper use of the comma) spell their names differently. The Gaels basketball wiki is no better: it fails to mention Jim “Big C” Valvano, who coached there for five years in the 70s before fleeing to North Carolina State, or Jeff Ruland, who attended Iona under Valvano and later coached there after a 13-year NBA career. (Other coaches include habitual drunkard Tim Welsh, rat faced Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, and Pat Kennedy, the one who wasn’t married to Peter Lawford.) Iona’s current coach is Tim Cluess, one of four Cluess brothers to have played basketball at St John’s under Lou Carnesecca. After a remarkable career as a LI high school coach Cluess moved on to the college ranks, where he’s amassed a 265-105 record, including 11 straight years of more than 20 wins. Why he’s still at Iona is anyone’s guess, considering that any number arguably less successful MAAC coaches – Paul Hewitt, Louis Orr, Fran McCaffery, Steve Lappas, Fran Fraschilla, Bobby Gonzalez, Kennedy, Welsh, Willard, Kevin Bannon, and Ed Cooley’s diseased head – have moved on to greater D1 things. Cluess’s name comes up whenever there’s an opening at SJU, and frankly we could do worse and have … Iona’s sports team are called the
Gails Gaels, Gael being a reference to fierce medieval blue faced Scottish warriors of the sort portrayed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart, which in this case have morphed into belligerent Hibernians spoiling for a drunken St Patrick’s Day fight.
The great Gaels of Ireland
the men that God made mad
all their wars are merry
all their songs are sad
which is almost a Dennis Leary song but not quite (it’s GK Chesterton), if for no other reason that it’s not stolen from Bill Hicks. In these politically correct times it’s a perverse sort of white privilege that allows for pejorative references to primitive Caucasian savages – Fighting Irish, Gaels, Vikings, Hilltoppers, Cornhuskers – to pass unremarked upon, whereas references to primitive non white savages requires cultural flagellation and government intrusion. I suppose they’ll come a day when all men are judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, when put upon micks and sheep shaggers and frogs and wogs and lint heads are accorded the same respect as are Warriors, Braves, Indians, and Blackhawks. Until then remember: white lives matter.