Saint John’s fans usually don’t have a lot to be thankful for but this year is different: we can be thankful for Elliot Eliason, the Minnesota forward whose atrocious performance – he threw an outlet pass to Dom Pointer, who subsequently posterized him, and one; committed a stupid foul and got T’d up for it; and fouled Harrison on a three late – provided the margin of victory that will afford SJU the opportunity to be humiliated by Gonzaga Friday night in the NIT championship game. I had this game down as a loss – to be fair I had not seen Minnesota and so did not know how awful they are – with a win in the consolation game and so coming out of this weekend we are about right where I figured: on the road to the NIT. The players spent much of the week talking about how they had to treat this as an NCAA tournament game – not that they’d recognize one – so it was nice to see that they didn’t come out as flat as usual. And in fact it was Minnesota that started slowly, throwing the ball out of bounds and bouncing the ball off their feet and missing everything insight, at least until freshman Nate Mason replaced starting point guard Andre Hollins, after which things quickly turned to shit for Saint John’s on the way to a 10 point half time deficit. Now, fluids have run down Rick Pitino’s leg that know more about basketball than Steve Lavin, so one would think that a fertilized zygote like Rick Junior would be at a huge theoretical advantage, but that was not the case in the second half Wednesday: in a Lavinesque move MiniPitini sat Mason for most of the second half, allowing Saint John’s to hang around until a humiliating and protracted scoring drought – MU scored only 10 points in the last 12 minutes – ended it. Some of the credit for that drought probably goes to the Saint John’s defense, but not as much as certain delusional Saint John’s fans think … The stats were per usual: Saint John’s was mediocre from the field (40 %) and once again awful from 3 – they’re now shooting 22 percent for the year. They missed 15 free throws, managed 9 assists on only 23 made baskets, and turned the ball over 18 times. Fortunately Minnesota out-sucked them, shooting 35 percent from the floor turning the ball over 21 times. What was somewhat surprising was that SJ outrebounded MU 51 – 39. I say surprising because MU is huge across the front line, but their biggest player Mo Walker (an Adonis clone at 6’10 250) is the softest Midwest big man since Bob’s Big Boy: he made Kyle Cuffe look like Maurice Lucas … For his part Lavin did not do anything terribly stupid (other than once again wearing a sport coat over a sweat suit – it’s a shame that John Wooden, who probably put on a tie to go take a shit, failed to impart his fashion sense to his alleged protégé) and for the most part confined himself to jumping up and down on the sidelines pumping his fist. Sure, he burned some pointless time outs late – once after a Harrison field goal capped an 11-0 SJU run and once with 30 seconds to go up 8, immediately after which Chris Obekpa committed a foul to stop the clock and give MU one last gasp – but for Lavin reining in his stupid is as important a strategic device as backdoor screens were to Pete Carill so all in all this was a successful outing … I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the referees, who were atrocious. They called the first 35 minutes like a rugby scrum and the last 5 minutes like a badminton match, 40 personal fouls in all; the primary beneficiary was once again SJU, who were awarded 37 free throws to Minnesota’s 16. Despite SJU appalling foul shooting – they missed as many FTs as Minnesota took – the free throw differential once again accounted for the margin of victory. That’s the fourth time this season out of four for those of you scoring at home
PLAYERS: Harrison – who Lavin threw under the bus during his halftime interview – had 19 point and 9 rebounds and is averaging a double double for the year. Colormoron Dan Dakich noted that if Harrison “played with Chris Obekpa’s passion he could play in the NBA.” Dakich also claimed that “if everyone had Obekpa’s desire this team could compete for a national championship.” Dakich also spent an inordinate amount of time focused on the Obekpants ®, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Dakich’s mancrush finished with near a double double but was nowhere near the force that he’d been against Division 2 opponents: most of his points came from the FT line and he managed only three blocks … Rysheed Jordan is 18 points and 7 rebounds closer to playing professional basketball … Dumb Pointer – I can’t believe it took me three years to think of that – had 11 rebounds, 5 steals, and 8 points … Phil Greene had his usual 9 points on his usual sub 500 from the floor game. He did though credit where due hit a couple of big shots in the second half. Had a remarkable zero assists in 35 minutes and remains oh for 2014 from three … Jamal Branch played 12 pointless minutes. In the first half he threw a behind the back pass into traffic that was so stupid that even an imbecile like Dan Dakich was able to recognize it as “idiotic” and in the second did a spin move into the lane on a one on five fast break only to bounce off two Minnesota players who were standing motionless under the basket. He’s awful … Another fine game by Chris “Addition by Subtraction” Jones, who had two points and 1 rebound in 9 minutes. On the bright side he still remains the only Johnnie to attempt to take a charge this year. Jakarr who? … Of the rest only Balalou played and only 3 minutes. Note that five players played 88 percent of the available minutes. On the one hand it’s refreshing that Lavin has figured out who his best five players are – last year it took him until March to work that out – but on the other the new Wonder Five are but a sprained ankle away from disaster. Evidently Lavin realizes that after 4 years of failure and ineptitude he risks being exposed as a fraud should he fail to make the tournament this year and so is going to ride his best horses and if they drop beneath him on his way to glory so be it
NOTES: Sideline reporter John Goodman noted that MU guard Daquein McNeil was suspended after an incident in which he’d “allegedly had it with his 28 year old girlfriend.” I don’t think that’s what he meant to say – I listened to it three times to make sure – but that’s what he said, a Freudian slip which leads me to suggest to Mrs. Goodman that she makes sure John’s dinner is on the table tonight when he gets home, and hot if she knows what’s good for her … Minnesota is coached by little Ricky Pitino, who as far as I have been able to determine through cursory internet research was not spawned as the result of his repulsive father’s congress with a stranger in a crowded restaurant in front of members of his coaching staff but through normal marital relations with Mrs. Pitino. Former Gopher coaches include Bill Fitch, Bill Musselman, Clem Haskins and Tubby Smith. Musselman’s tenure was marked by a near fatal on court brawl in which NYC’s own Ron Behagen nearly beat an Ohio State player to death and Haskins by an academic scandal that vacated a run to the Final Four. Former gophers include HOFers Lou Hudson and Kevin McHale, Dave Winfield, Jim Brewer, Mychal Thompson, Flip Saunders, Voshon Lenard, former Knicks Trent Tucker and Ray Williams, and the great Archie Clark, inventor of the cross-over dribble …. As for Minnesota itself, it’s pretty messed up, much of this probably due to its close proximity to Canada, the worst country in the world. The state motto is (predictably) French and their politicians comprise a motley conga line of professional wrestlers, failed comedians, career criminals and communist sympathizers. Minnesota is the site of the largest execution in US history – 38 likely innocent Sioux were hung in the aftermath of the Dakota War of 1862 – and its most important cultural artifact is either a shopping center – the Mall of America – or a cartoon – Rocky and Bullwinkle, which spawned Cracked Fairy Tales, Dudley Do-Right, Peabody’s Improbable History and the World of Commander McBragg … Rocky and Bullwinkle was narrated by William Conrad, of Cannon and Jake and the Fat Man fame. Oddly, Conrad was great friends with polymath Anthony Burgess, who died 10 years ago this week at his home in Saint John’s Wood, London. For the illiterates in the audience, and let’s face it that would be most of you, Burgess is probably best known for having written A Clockwork Orange, which is not his worst book, but is close to it … Today is of course Thanksgiving, the day on which Americans commemorate the transfer of smallpox infected blankets to the Native American race traitor Sasquatch, a member of the Wambaugh tribe who helped the Pilgrims survive their first winter in Plymouth in exchange for 40 pieces of silver and a mule. Although we think of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday involving turkey and crappy Detroit Lions football it is in fact a harvest festival celebrated in various countries around the world, including Canada, although in the great white north it is instead of Thanksgiving Day called “Thanksgiving, Eh?” and commemorates the fact that being Canadian they really having nothing to be grateful for.