As faithful readers know, I’m something of a connoisseur of schadenfreude. Which is to say that there are few things in the world that make me happier than when bad things happen to other people. Which is why Saint John’s 78-70 defeat of the Seton Hall Pirates at Madison Square Garden was so much sweeter than the usual run of the mill win. Because for Seton Hall, on Selection Sunday, Saint John’s is going to be a bad loss. And if Seton Hall doesn’t make the tournament – as I fervently hope they do not, because fuck Seton Hall – then today will be a major reason why. To put my glee in perspective, I had a fin on a $60 horse today in the seventh at Aqueduct, a Finger Lakes shipper called Hey Jabber Jaw – lone speed baby! – and the thrill of that cha-ching pales in comparison to the joy I feel at the thought of Kevin Willard’s rat guts roiling on the long bus ride back to Jersey … As games go, this was not a particularly compelling one. Things were close for about the first ten minutes, at which point SJU went on a 20-6 run to lead by 10 points at half time and things would have been much closer had SJU not missed half a dozen lay ups. Things did not get much closer after that: I can’t be arsed to check but I think the lead in the second half was never less than seven, and that’s taking into account a 9-2 SH run about midway through the half. What was compelling was how Saint John’s won: they didn’t win as usual by shooting the lights out from three – they were 3-11. They won by playing defense, by controlling the tempo, by absorbing a punch, in short by doing all the little things that good teams do routinely when they win. I noted a bit ago and will note again: despite their youth this team is starting to gel. You can see them getting better and you can feel them getting better; and you can see and feel Mullin becoming a head coach. To the extent that Saint John’s basketball is thrilling – which is easily as thrilling as a 14 thousand dollar claimer at Aqueduct in February – this is it. I don’t mean that it doesn’t get any better than this – because next year will be better than this – but at this point in time and at this point in the process, we are you and I a couple of glorious seconds short of ejaculation. It’s like Hannibal Smith used to say: I love it when a plan comes together …
Some points high and low from the box score: both teams shot about 40 percent from the floor; SH shot 40 percent from three, versus 25 percent for SJU; Seton Hall turned the ball over 19 times, versus 8 for SJU; Seton Hall shot 65 percent from the free throw line – nine misses in an eight point game, haha – as opposed to 19-21 for Saint John’s, those two misses by Lovett and Missini, who are usually money; it wasn’t evident to me watching the game but SH was plus 12 rebounding, didn’t matter, don’t care … Other than his decision to inexplicably take the air out of the ball late in the second half when he should have put his foot on Kevin Willard’s throat and torn his jugular out with his teeth, another well-coached game by Mullin. As goofy as he may have looked sitting on the scorer’s table last year at this time, that’s the opposite of how good he looks this year on the sidelines: in control of his team and himself. Speaking of schadenfreude, its a bit too soon to call all the Mullin haterz to the carpet, but that time is coming: in short order there will be a shit ton of crow for Mullin doubters to eat and I will personally shove each and every black fucking bird down each and every throat. Because seeing Mullin finding himself on the sidelines is marvelous … I’ve expended many words this year shitting on the officiating but today the officiating did not suck. I don’t mean that the officials could see or were not stupid or understood the rules of basketball. Heaven forfend, because they missed a shit ton of calls. But today they did not interfere with the game: they did not destroy its rhythm or integrity by calling too many fouls; they did not play favorites by penalizing one team at the expense of the other; in other words, other than that they were there, you could not tell they were there, which is how it should be. It did not even bother me that Angel Delgado was permitted to stand in the lane long enough to grow roots: I tortured Missus Fun by continually rewinding the game and counting how many three second violations ADG committed, which was half a dozen, with four of them comprising five seconds each time – with that sort of advantage no wonder he leads the conference in rebounding … SJU Is now sixth in the conference – not in something, actually sixth place in the conference, in Mullin’s second year. They have six wins, as many as Marquette and more than Seton Hall and Georgetown and Providence. They’ve won four out of their last seven. Other than two losing streaks where they lost nine of nine they’re 12 and 5. I find this wonderful and hilarious. If you don’t you should find another team to root for.
PLAYERS: Marcus Lovett once again did not start but my did he finish: 19 points, six assists, and five rebounds … Tariq Owens double doubled: ten points and 12 rebounds to go along with 4 blocks. I don’t recall an SJU player ever having a triple double but he’s a candidate. On one remarkable sequence he blocked a shot at one end and followed up a missed shot with a dunk on the other. If it doesn’t make ESPN’s top ten then something is amiss at ESPN … Ahmed pressed a bit but had 11 points and eight rebounds, disappointing fans who think he stinks. Had a marvelous no look pass on break that led to a Missini lay in … Ponds had 17, a bunch of it acrobatically in traffic. Made a spin move in traffic in the first half that should be in a museum … Yakwe had eight points and three assists, but also three blocks and drew three charges. To the extent hat Delgado was not a factor he was not a factor because of Yawke … Amar Aligegowish emerged from the primordial muck to have a not shitty game: he made a couple of lay ups – one on a spectacular no look from Lovett – and hit a big three that swished right as I was yelling at him for taking it … Missini made a couple of plays but was mostly ineffectual. In one sequence he missed a three, flubbed a rebound on the other end and allowed his man a three, which was about a nine point turn around .. Ellison committed three fouls in five minutes and was pulled after throwing one of his patented lazy half court passes that led to a SH fast break. Mullin said he injured his thumb, but I hope he didn’t play in the second half because he sucks, which he does … Darien Williams did not play because he has a walking boot on his shoulder and Fruedenbrgh didn’t play because he stinks.
NOTES: Last week I ragged on the CBS coverage to no end. Today it did not suck. In fact, other than he first appearance of Wally Scerbiaks’ terrifying eyebrows I quite enjoyed the it. Doug Gottlieb – who as a radio host makes those morons on Mike and Mike look like Bertrand Russel and Alfred North Whitehead – was eloquent and well informed. About the rest of them the less said the better … As I mentioned last week I received an email, the gist of which was that I’d softened my stance on Fedrerico Mussini in the face of his (the reader’s) and other’s criticism that I was prejudiced against Italians – can you imagine in this day and age, a jew broad, prejudiced against italians – noting that I had even taken to spelling Mussini correctly, as opposed to my preferred Missini. That of course is twaddle. In the first place I don’t hate Italians – I mean sure I hate some Italians, my family for instance, but not all of them, how can you hate a
race nationality that turned out Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale for god sake – and in the second it should be evident by now that I don’t give a shit what you people think. But as pari-mutuel fans of the ALL button know the most important place is the third: in his last several games Missini- not today but in general – has played limited minutes adequately, which is about all you can expect from a short skinny less than talented dago. (Interestingly although dago is often employed as a slur against Italians its etymology suggests that it’s a variation on the Portuguese surname Diego.) It did get me to thinking though about how few Italians have made their mark in basketball. There are any number of great Italian baseball players, inter alia Steve Balboni, Rocco Baldelli, Kurt Bevacqua (of whom self hating Italian Tommy Lasorda said “he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a fucking boat”), Buddy Biancalana, John Boccabella, Jim Fregosi, Pete Incaviglia, Cookie Lavagetto, Lee Mazzilli, Tiger great Don Mossi, and Mike Pagliarulo. Just kidding, those guys stunk. But Sal Bando, Yogi Berra, Craig Biggio, Ralph Branca, Roy Campanella, Tony Conigliaro, Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Sal Maglie, Rico Petrocelli, Mike Piazza, and Phil Rizzuto, they didn’t stink. So it’s not that eye-ties are terrible athletes. And in fact some were great athletes: Willie Mosconi was Italian; so was Charles Atlas; so was Rocky Marciano; so was Brian Boitano. They’re a little thin in football, but Marc Bavaro, Daryl Lamonica, Mike Lucci, Dan Marino, Dan Pastorini, Tony Siragusa, and Adam Vinatieri are nothing to sneeze at. So it strikes me as a bit odd that there are so few great Italain basketball players, the best of which was arguably Diana Taurasi and if not him her then probably former NBA rookie of the year Ernie DiGregorio, who stil holds the single game NBA assist mark at 25. After him things drop off precipitously: you’ve got Saint John’s own mix breed Jayson Williams, Villanova alum Bill Melchionni – Melchionni played on two of the most talented basketball teams ever assembled: in 1967 he played with Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, and Chet Walker on the 76ers and in 1974 he won an ABA championship with Julius Erving, Larry Kenon, John Williamson, and Billy Paultz – and beyond them the Vinny Del Nigros and John Gianellis of the world. I mean, the French are the worst nationality on the planet and they produced Bob Cousy and Tony Parker. Look at for example the list of the top Irish American basketball players and you can leave aside the Al and Frank McGuire and the brothers Mcyntyre and even Bobby Kelley and still have this starting six: John Stockton, black Irish Jason Kidd, Chris Mullin, Rick Barry, Kevin McHale, and Bill Walton, and after that you can bring former Saint Johhn’s coach Matt Doherty off the bench. That’s a pretty good basketball team and although they wouldn’t beat Magic, Michael, Julius, LeBron and Wilt, it’d be a pretty entertaining game, and maybe even competetive. Where Italians have made their basketball mark is as coaches: Geno Auriemma, John Calipari, P.J Carlesimo, Louie, Mike D’Antoni, Tom Izzo, Rollie Massimino, Thad Matta, Dick Motta, Rick Pitino and Jim Valvano were all wops. What does this all mean, other than that since basketball is a game Irish excel at evidently you can play it shit faced? I’m not sure, but I only have 2000 words to write, and that was a thousand and morals are extra.