“Where’s my hat?” It was the only question on the mind of University of Pittsburgh point guard, Levance Fields, as his teammates celebrated their Big East basketball title all around him. Fields was referring to the “Conference Champs” caps that had been handed to each member of the Pitt contingent after they had avenged their loss to Georgetown in last year’s conference finals. The Brooklyn born Fields missed the distribution of the championship apparel, as he had a little business to attend to behind the Panthers’ basket where his family and friends had sat all week cheering for their hometown hero. Another city kid, Ronald Ramon of the Bronx, led the boys from steel town in the scoring column against the Hoyas and seemed to make every important play for Pitt all week long. They had both achieved All-City status as High School players, Fields at Xaverian and Ramon at All Hallows, and now, they had come home to lead their school to a title in their own backyard.
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The Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden remains one of the biggest events on the New York sports calendar. Since 1983, all of the big names and big teams have congregated at The World’s Most Famous Arena to give us a glimpse as to why this conference is the best and most competitive in the country. Which is why it is so frustrating for New York college hoop fans that, even though the tourney takes place on its home court, the Red Storm of St. John’s has spent three of the last four years on the outside looking in. Adding to the fans’ angst is the fact that so many teams come to the Big Apple led by players who grew up here. In looking at the history of the basketball program at St. John’s you would be hard pressed to find one of their all time great players who wasn’t from the five boroughs. Longtime coach, Lou Carnesecca, used to joke that his recruiting budget consisted of a roll of subway tokens. So, what happened? Former coach, Mike Jarvis, completely shunned the two city High School leagues and guided the program into its most embarrassing era off the court, leaving current mentor, Norm Roberts, a huge mess to clean up as he started his career in Queens. But, it’s been four year with Roberts at the helm and the prep players keep leaving the city. This year alone, two McDonald’s All Americans, Kemba Walker of Rice and Sylvan Landesberg of Holy Cross fled to UConn and Virginia, respectively. If the Johnnies can’t start to convince some of these kids to play in Carnesecca Arena, Roberts fifth year could be his last.
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Lost in all the talk of March Madness is the incredible run of Tiger Woods. In the last seven months he has played in ten tournaments, winning nine and finishing in a second place tie in the tenth.
In 2008, he has won all five of his starts. Last Sunday, with Bart Bryant sitting in the scorer’s tent hoping for a playoff that would never come, Woods snaked a winding 25 foot birdie putt into the cup on the 18th hole for a one stroke win. Bryant, upon hearing the roar, just turned his head and laughed, as if to say,
“This isn’t a fair fight.” At 32, Tiger has recorded 64 Tour victories, just 18 shy of the all time record. Good luck to the rest of the field at Augusta next month.
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Today at noon, the NCAA basketball tournament tips off, sending even the most casual fans into a frenzy of bracket watching and office pools. Thankfully, it also signifies the end of the annual four day whining festival carried on by the coaches and fans of those teams who felt they should have been invited to the dance but weren’t. They make absurd points about quality losses, (is there such a thing?), strength of schedule and who might be hot going into March. Here’s an idea. Win! Don’t give us excuses as to why
your squad is 17-11 in a tough conference. Spare us the details of how tough your out of conference opponents were if you couldn’t beat them. Look, instead, at the Georgia Bulldogs who came into the SEC tourney as the lowest seed, having won only one conference game in the last month. Throw in a doubleheader they were forced to win because of a tornado that damaged the Georgia Dome and the deck was certainly stacked against them. Yet, they ran the table and got a bid. You want in? Win your games.
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I guess Bobby Knight is finding out that this media gig is a little tougher than he always thought. On ESPN’s Selection Special, Knight, when asked his opinion of those bubble teams who may have been unjustly left out of the tourney, went on a two minute rant about how the field should be expanded to 128 teams. Huh? It is interesting, however, to see the contrast of the sweater-clad General seated next to Digger Phelps, a man so dapper that he switches his highlighter pen to match the color of his tie. Memo to Knight: Wearing the sweater instead of a suit does not in any way diminish your hypocrisy. You have spent your career railing at the media but now, when a network is willing to throw some cash in your direction, it’s all of a sudden not such a bad deal? While on the subject of ESPN analysts, is it possible that Len Elmore knows more about the Notre Dame basketball program than the fact that Kyle McAlarney was suspended last year because of marijuana possession? We get the point, Len. You don’t have to make it during every game. Or, if you do, maybe you could compare his situation to that of your colleague, Doug Gottlieb, who fled South Bend after his freshman year amidst allegations of credit card fraud and seemingly didn’t have the guts McAlarney had to return and face the music.
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Finally, for those of you filling out your brackets and looking to eliminate teams who won’t make the Final Four, here are my picks. North Carolina, Georgetown, Stanford and UCLA with UCLA besting UNC for the title.