Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Promised you a Rout....

Written for your enjoyment by: Raff



And the Orange delivered.

Syracuse turned in another all-around performance and thumped Villanova 95-77 at the Dome on Saturday night. The win locks up at least a share of the Big East regular season title. With losses by Kansas and Kentucky earlier in the day - the Orange may end up atop the polls on Monday night. But that doesn't really matter. Still, they looked it on Saturday night. But the win does make me feel confident that they will be a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, barring some unforseen situation over the next few weeks. That could lead to the Fan Blog opener - if the Mount and the Cuse meet in Round one.

The Orange got great contributions for all seven in the rotation tonight - and wore down this 'Nova squad. Villanova started shooting well - but it was Syracuse that lasted the entire game and after a run near the end of the first half gave them a double-digit halftime lead they were never really challenged in the second half. Nevertheless, they never stopped playing hard - and they shared the basketball as well as they have all season.

They didn't even shoot it as well as they are capable, but they did plenty enough to knock off the Cats - who have now dropped four of seven.

I'm emotionally spent - and I'm glad that the game at the Dome tonight didn't cause too much concern after the heart thumper at Knott Arena this afternoon.

Picking a player of the game tonight for the Orange would be a tall task. I might go with Scoop Jardine who was so important to the play in the first half. Kris Joseph might have ended up as the high scorer - of course that might have been Rick Jackson - who had another fine night inside. At one point, the Orange had at least five players in double figures. Andy Rautins would also draw some consideration for his all-around play. The guy who was supposed to be just a shooter - had seven+ assists on the evening.

St. John's and Louisville remain on the Big East schedule. And then of course the Big East Tournament the following week and weekend. Let's hope the Orange stays sharp in those games and stays focused on the task at hand. Right now, they are playing as well as anyone and they deserve everything that has come their way.

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Villanova-Syracuse: running diary as Cuse makes their case for No. 1

Written for your enjoyment by: Ray Curren

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What do you get when 35,000 people survive the snow and show up at the Carrier Dome? What do you get when the No. 4 and No. 8 teams in the USA Today poll meet? What do you get with No. 1 in the nation on the line (possibly)? What do you get when I ask so many questions?

A running diary, of course. Syracuse-Villanova, next on ESPN.

Pregame - Erin Andrews interviews both coaches. Boeheim reminds her that he's coached 68 games with crowds of 30,000 or more in the Dome. Jay Wright looks calm, says he'll stay calm. We'll see how long that lasts.

Hubert picks Villanova, Digger goes with Syracuse. No stupid hat for Hubert, so the crowd pays him little mind.

9:00 - Dan Shulman (Canadian), Bob Knight (Curmudgeon), and Jay Bilas (Dukee) on the call. At least we have a Canadian in there.

9:01 - "Wesley Johnson getting healthier" according to Shulman. I hope we see it tonight.

9:02 - Erin Andrews waving an orange towel in the "worst seat in the house". Might need that pic if someone has it.

9:03 - Stupid ESPN montages that people spent hours on, but last 30 seconds. Did I mention that ESPN rules the world? So I should probably shut up.

9:05 - Oh my God, that's the "Dome Ranger's" music. Pulling out all the stops tonight.

9:06 - Villanova goes with a little more size, but that could be a big problem for them tonight if SU can stay out of foul trouble and deal with Villanova's pressure.

9:07 - Cuse goes inside, and Arinze is fouled 10 seconds in.

9:08 - Shaky start for both teams, Rautins steal and turnover, back-to-back turnovers for Villanova, where no one wanted to shoot. 2-0 Cuse early.

9:13 - Nova leads 11-9 at the first official TO. Choatic start, as you'd expect with 35,000 people in the house. For some reason, Scottie Reynolds passed up a bunch of shots on the first two possessions, then drained back-to-back 3s. He should really shoot every possession if he's open. That's their best chance. Oh, that and stealing the ball and getting layups. Jackson can do what he wants inside, but they have to get him the ball. Right now, Triche and Rautins can't dribble the ball without turning it over. Can someone else (looking at you Mr. Jardine)? We shall see.

9:21 - Dominick Cheek, ladies and gentlemen. A one-handed jam on a putback. Villanova leads 18-12, time out Syracuse. They look completely lost on the offensive end, and it looks like Nova is not going to help much (good strategy, IMO). 12:31 to go first half. They must get Arinze and Jackson involved. And maybe Kris Joseph. Out of the time out, Corey Fisher steals and gets fouled going to the basket.

9:26 - Stokes and Jardine trade 3s. Big 3 for the Cuse from Jardine who was down 9 at the time. He rushed a 3 on the next possession, but I like the tempo change. They need to push. Frenetic, says Shulman, but I think the Cuse - at home - needs that right now. Jardine coast-to-coast to cut the lead to 4. Time out, Villanova, 23-19, 10:16 to go first half. I'm worried about Stokes and Reynolds shooting. But I'm always worried about shooters for the Cuse. Bilas and Knight say Cuse needs to get it inside more. Well, duh, they're trying, they just can't hold on to the ball long enough.

9:27 - Joseph flies through the air and gets fouled hard. Replays show it wasn't that bad, although Joseph fell hard. Official TO, still 23-19 Nova. 9:51 to go in the half.

9:32 - Arinze gets called for a bogus block and this time Joseph turns it over. 8th turnover for the Cuse in 11 minutes. 25-20 Nova.

9:33 - Derrick Coleman in a suit, Pearl Washington in sweats. Probably would have said other way around 20 years ago, no?

9:34 - Knight wants patience, Bilas says the zone is out too far. Have these guys actually watched Syracuse play this season?

9:35 - Cuse missing free throws. Must be the alumni effect.

9:36 - Official TO, Nova leads 25-22, 7:12 left in the half, Nova at the line. Cuse had a few good looks including a wide-open 3 from Rautins that was short. Nova also cold at the other end, but they are getting back on defense well thus far and not being hurt in transition. They're also being remarkably patient on offense for them. Good strategy? I'm torn right now, but it is throwing Cuse off so far.

9:40 - Cuse finally gets in inside for Arinze to make a layup and he airballs the and-1. Nova has done a good job finding Rautins and he's getting frustrated.

9:42 - Unlucky possession for Cuse on defense, who stripped Fisher but it bounced to Pena who was fouled by Arinze, his second. 28-24 Nova.

9:44 - Jardine hits an impossible 3 to bring the Cuse within 1. Hey, Wesley Johnson is still on our team, right? Haven't even seen him in about 15 minutes.

9:45 - Reynolds rushes a shot, and Cuse finally gets a runout. Jardine draws the defense, dishes to Joseph who dunks it home. Cuse leads 31-30, timeout Nova, 4:34 to go in the half.

9:47 - Back-to-back calls go against Cuse. First, Triche pushed out of bounds. Then, Johnson is horsecollared as he is about to dunk. He doesn't fall, but no flagrant on that? Oh, wait, it's old-man Jim Burr. Really embarassing he's still doing high-profile games, it really is. Johnson headed to the line, 31-30 Cuse, 3:34 to go in the half.

9:50 - More free throw misses from Cuse. Johnson is not healthy, folks, he's not. Sorry.

9:52 - Finally, a call for the Cuse, Johnson is fouled on an offensive rebound. Nova is 1 for their last 16 from the field. Still think the zone is out too high, Knight? Bilas says Cuse is underrated in transition. Really? That's all they do, isn't it. 36-30 Cuse, 2:40 to go first half. Big period coming up.

9:53 - King hits a 3 for Nova, but Cuse is getting it back inside, Jackson with a layup. Another runout, but Rautins misses the layup. Luckily, he was fouled. He hasn't had a good first half. 40-33 Cuse, 1:58 to go in the half.

9:55- Reynolds from the parking lot with a huge 3 takes the air out of the building momentarily. That's a big shot. Good luck guarding that guy at the end of a close game in the NCAA Tournament. Cuse making their last few free throws, Jardine hits 2, 42-36 Cuse.

9:56 - Jardine with a big pull-up. Nova holds for one shot. Reynolds with a long, contested 3. Johnson skies to get the rebound and gets run over with 4.9 seconds to go in the half. Wright not happy. Johnson hits both, Fisher misses a shot at the buzzer, and Cuse closes to half with a 20-6 run to lead 46-36 at the half. Pretty impressive stretch at the end of the half.

9:58 - Wright bemoans the fact that his team isn't making any shots. But the zone is out too high, right? Jardine has 12 to lead the Cuse. Really haven't played great, but lead by 10, although Nova is obviously still dangerous.

10:14 - Second half time. Rautins and Johnson are both 1-for-4 from the field, by the way. Johnson has 8 points, Rautins 4. Villanova has not pressed of yet, which is somewhat surprising to me, we don't exactly make great decisions with our passes. I think we'll see more of that in the second half. Nova ball to start the second half.

10:15 - A putback from Pena on the first possession. Bad sign. Rautins answers with a 3. Good sign.

10:17 - Nova goes inside on 3 straight possessions for layups. Shows what I know, they're within 6, but Johnson hits a 3. Thank God, we're going to need him to do that if we're going anywhere in the tournaments. 52-43 Cuse, 18:00 to go, straight up.

10:21 - Rautins drains a 3 off a Joseph offensive rebound. 59-48 Cuse, timeout Nova, 15:41 to go. You know, the Big East has a reputation as a physical conference and all, but here are the two best teams in the Big East, and this is pretty basketball to watch. Lots of great offense, good teamwork, etc. I think that day might have passed for the Big East. Well, there's still West Virginia. And Cincinnati. And Pittsburgh. Aw, forget it.

10:23 - Cuse just needs to stop second chances and take care of the ball, and I think they'll be OK.

10:24 - Reason #206 why Cuse should only need 7 or 8 players: 10 seconds are played, Rautins commits a foul away from the ball, and it's the official timeout. Bleah.

10:29 - Joseph hits 2 free throws. They've been good there since I made that comment. 61-50 Cuse, 14:54 to go.

10:32 - Knight can't add, 63-52 is somehow a 13-point lead. Well, now it is, Arinze with his second straight putback for the Cuse. Ball goes out of bounds, Nova looks rattled, 65-52 Cuse with 11:42 to go. Official timeout. Nova is down, but are they out? We've seen some big comebacks in the Big East this year already.

10:37 - Villanova goes with the trap for the first time tonight, and it gets them the ball off a quick shot, but a charge at the other end makes up for it.

10:38 - Mouphatou Yarou from Benin is keeping Nova in the game. That's right, Mouphatou Yarou. He blocked Jardine when it looked like a sure layup.

10:39 - Chance #4 is put home from Arinze and the lead is 15, 67-52 with 10:20 to go. Rautins takes the defense away and finds Jackson for a dunk. Good stuff. 69-54. Cuse has 17 offensive rebounds in the game.

10:41 - Reynolds scores. Don't let him get hot, 69-56.

10:42 - At the other end, Arinze gets offensive rebound #18 and scores as he's falling to the ground. Impressive and a highlight certainly. Maybe he should try that on the free throw, he was fouled, too. Made that, too. 72-56 with 8:54 to go.

10:43 - Rautins to Arinze again for a dunk. How is he that open? That's for Jay Wright to figure out. Can he make this free throw? Yes. 75-58 with 8:19 left.

10:44 - Official timeout. 75-58, but Nova headed to the line. If there's one problem for the Cuse, it's on the defensive glass. They're going to need to figure that out. Still a long way to go, but it's a big lead.

10:47 - Finally, Nova goes zone press. Took long enough.

10:48 - Cuse taking bad shots, but it doesn't matter because they're getting every offensive rebound. Three in that series, 21 for the game. Ridiculous. Johnson hits both free throws, 77-59 with 7:16 to go.

10:49 - Taylor King has range, long 3 there. Joseph answers with a 3. If he hits those consistently, you can book a place in the Final Four for the Cuse. Really.

10:51 - Jackson misses the dunk, but gets fouled. Methinks this might not be a fun film session tomorrow or Monday for Villanova. Wright will be using some interesting language there. Jackson makes 1 of 2.

10:52 - Everyone is celebrating, but this game isn't over yet. Easy layup from Yarou inside to cut it to 15, still a long way to go here people.

10:53 - Then a Rautins steal and Jardine is ahead of the pack. Dagger, as Bill Raftery would say. Timeout Nova, 83-66 with 5:03 to go. One timeout left for Nova.

10:55 - A Jardine layup off a scramble followed by Rautins talking trash. Love it. Nova does get a dunk to cut it to 85-68 with 3:06 left, but the only question left may be: Do they or do they not rush the court?

10:59 - Coleman taking video on his cell phone. He can't afford a better camera? Someone give him one.

11:00 - Joseph to the goal for an and-1. Villanova has really had no answer for anything Syracuse has done offensively tonight, none. And Johnson really hasn't done much tonight at all (2-of-11 from the field).

11:01 - One more dunk from Jackson. Why not? Nova calls its final timeout. Cuse leads by 21, 89-68.

11:03 - "Dome Ranger" has a throwback jersey. That's pretty cool.

11:04 - Villanova pulls its starters, probably wise. Jackson gets a layup.

11:05 - OK, we have a 20-point lead with 1:14 to go, we can let some other people play, Jimmy B. Don't want to see anyone get hurt here.

11:06 - Rautins makes 2 free throws and gets a standing ovation as he comes out of the game, 93-71 Cuse. Maybe we can get the 100 that we failed to get against Providence if Villanova keeps fouling. There's absolutely no reason that Johnson should be in the game, by the way. Finally, he comes out with exactly a minute to go.

11:08 - Yarou gets another bucket. This game won't end.

11:09 - Nova still fouling down 94-74 with 29 seconds to go. Obviously they don't have anywhere to go.

11:11 - And, finally, it's over. 95-77 Cuse wins, and the students stay off the floor. Good job by them.

11:12 - Boeheim says they played good defense, which is partly true, but Villanova couldn't stop them. At all.

11:13 - It's a great night to be an Orange fan (or alumnus). They should rise to No. 1 in the land when the polls come out tomorrow and Monday. And you can't get any higher than that.

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At the Half - At the Dome

Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

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Fairly comfortable if you're an Orange fan. 'Nova made some shots early but even then I was pretty comfortable with the way things were going. I didn't think Villanova was going to continue of the pace to score 100 points - and that is just about where they were at the start of the game.

Actually I think some of those early makes may have led to some of the poor shot selection later in the half for the Cats. So I'll take it.

Big win for New Mexico to win at BYU today. Just had to throw that in there.

I expect that 'Nova is going to shoot more consistently the second half - not as hot as they started - but certainly not as cold as they were the last ten minutes of the half. But what I think separates these two teams is the Orange's ability to defend.

Great first halves from both of the Philadelphia kids for the Orange. Scoop Jardine once again comes off the bench to give SU some real quality minutes - and real quality when they were needed. Also, Rick Jackson is often never noticed - but he does a lot of real nice things in that big body. The catch he made on the pass from Rautins was superb. And unlike many big men - he isn't a black hole once he gets the ball. He passes very well.

The T-Shirt says "Just me and 34,616 of my closest friends". I get it - I like it. But I have to ask - if 34,616 is the attendance wouldn't it be just me and 34,615 of my closest friends.

The interview with Jay Wright made me think that those halftime interviews are really pointless. I mean other than to give Erin Andrews some face time. Seriously though, if Wright truly thinks all his team needs to do is make some shots - he's about to lose by 20+.  Granted making the shots would slow down the Orange running game. But Syracuse did ok in the halfcourt sets as well - and Villanova didn't really attack the zone - they just tried to shoot over top of it. They made a few bombs early - but if you're relying on 25-footers - it's going to get ugly quickly.

LGO!



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Winning Ugly; And Loving it

Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

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I know nothing that I write in this space is going to possibly come close to matching what went on at Knott Arena this afternoon.

That's because what went on is virtually indescribable. The Mount knocked off heated rival 63-61 on Shawn Atupem's dropstep layup with 7 seconds left. The win wrapped up the third seed in the upcoming NEC Tournament - and possibly dropped the hated Colonials from the #1 seed. A Quinnipiac win over FDU and the Bobcats are the 1 seed. (QU has a nine-point lead with just under seven left). By virtue of the other results, the Mount will face St. Francis of PA at the Knott Arena on Thursday evening.

The Mount missed 31 of its first 37 shots - held only one lead 3-2 until the end - but exorcised a lot of demons in the unbelievable come-from-behind win at the ARCC. Atupem's field goal was his eighth of the game - and the junior from Virginia Beach never missed. That means the rest of his teammates shot 8-of-42 from the floor. Some of that credit would have to goto the Colonials - and their coaching staff. They were prepared for what the Mount would bring offensively - everything that is except for Atupem.

The junior had 23 points - as his quickness and athleticism battered the brawny Colonials inside.

Equally important to the Mount's comeback play was the consistent second half of senior Kelly Beidler. One game after becoming the 41st player in Mount history to reach the 1000-point club, Beidler scored some key points late including one big three-pointer that helped spark the Mount rally.

Also important was the foul shooting for the Mount. The Mounties, and we've complained about their struggles at the line this season, were a sparkling 27-of-35 from the charity stripe. Jeremy Goode led that effort making 7-of-7 including one that came on the end of a conventional three-point play that drew the Mount within three late. The field goal was Goode's only bucket of the afternoon - he finished 1-of-11 and backcourt mate Jean Cajou was 0-of-7 and somehow the Mount won the game.

20 years from now we'll tell our friends and family about this game - how the Mount rallied from down 30 - truly it was 14 at its largest number - to steal a victory from the arch-enemy. But with 12 minutes left they were down 12 - and it looked bleak. Somehow the Mount had rallied to cut a first half deficit to 6 at the intermission, but everytime the Mount seemed to make a push in the second half, the Colonials had an answer.

Still as we've found out about this team over the last several weeks - don't count them out. They do not quit.

So the regular season story has been told. 15-14 overall - 12-6 in the league - including ten in a row to end the season. And truly none of that matters when you play in one of the small Division I conferences. All of that begins on Thursday - when the Red Flash comes back to the ARCC. The Mount must put this emotional win in its back pocket and get back to work and ready for the NEC tournament. Today was a great story - but let's hope it was just the prelude to what is to come.

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Tids and Bits

Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

Just a few of the things rifling through my head as tipoff nears in Emmitsburg.
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  1. Is Apollo Ohno really that great? I mean seriously - I know he is the "most decorated American Winter Olympian of all time". But it just always seems that the guys they are comparing him to were far better. I mean do you seriously think what Apollo Ohno has done over 3 games is better than what Eric Heiden did in Lake Placid? Or that he really is all that much better than Bode Miller or Lindsey Vonn? Or the Mahre Brothers - ok I just threw them in there. I agree what he has done over a length of time has been impressive - and he's a guy worth rooting for. But it just seems to me that there are a lot of Americans in the history of the Games that have been more superior.
  2. Congrats to Coach John Lewkowicz and his Lady Vikings of Union Pines High in North Carolina. Coach Lewk and his team won the Class 3-A sectional championships last night. I had the distinct pleasure of playing for Coach Lewk on both the soccer field and the basketball court - and am not surprised by his team's success. Best of luck as the quest for an NC State title begins.
  3. I think I'm going to see a blowout today. Just not sure if it's going to come at Knott Arena or the Carrier Dome. But I think with the intensity of both games - that the chances are pretty good that one of the games could be a rout. The Mount is finally the team that many of us expected to see - and that is the best team in the NEC. However, I still hear some rumblings about the nine-game winning streak coming against some inferior competition. While some of that holds merit, the Mounties did get a win over Quinnipiac and St. Francis PA at home (avenging earlier season losses) and goto Monmouth and FDU to beat teams that otherwise might still be ahead of them in the standings. Meanwhile, at the Carrier Dome, Villanova is an extremely talented offensive team, that seems to play to the level of its competition. I think that is because there defense just isn't quality enough to stop people at important times. That could be the difference tonight.


    Friday, February 26, 2010

    Bring on Bobby Mo

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff



    On the National level it will never get the attention. Heck even within the NEC they aren't paired as rivals.

    But make no mistake about - there is a heated rivalry between Mt. St. Mary's and Robert Morris. The two schools are the last two NEC tournament champions - and the representatives in the NCAA tournament. As far as that tournament goes - one team has eliminated the other in each of the last four seasons. So it is that familiarity that has led to the intensity between the two schools.

    And let's be honest, Robert Morris has owned the series of late. The Colonials won all three games last year - including the NEC championship game in Moon Township - and clipped the Mount at the Sewell Center earlier this season.

    The rivalry renews on Saturday afternoon at Knott Arena. The game will be broadcast on NEC-TV - and let's hope the Knott is rocking for the festivities. This will be the third straight year that the schools have met in the final game of the regular season. And yes, the Colonials have won both of those previous meetings. But Saturday's game has a lot at stake. The Colonials are still trying to wrap up a third straight NEC regular season championship. A loss and a Quinnipiac win and the Colonials will share the prize and hand the home court advantage in the postseason to Bobcats.

    The Mount, which has won nine straight games, will play for third place in the NEC. The Mount has assured itself of a first round home playoff game. But getting the third seed could help in the future rounds - and the Mount certainly would like to do everything it can to keep Robert Morris from winning that regular season crown.

    During this recent stretch, the Mount has found the form that many expected this talent laden team would exhibit all season. The recent play looks a lot like the NEC championship run from a few years, and possibly even better. The defense has been a little bit better than it was in that stretch and the inside scoring of Shawn Atupem and Raven Barber has been more consistent.

    Robert Morris owns a win over the Mount earlier this season. That win helped put them in the position they are in now - and the Colonials have evolved a lot since that December meeting. Karon Abraham a freshman guard is going to be a thorn in the Mount's side for many years - and his role has expanded since the early season. In addition, Rob Robinson who always seems to play well against the Mount isn't likely to miss most of the first 30 minutes of action as he did with foul trouble the first game.

    This is another challenge for the Mount. Another chance to show that they are the team that many expected to see at the start of the season. The play of the Mountaineers down the stretch has been the most impressive of any team in the league. It is that team that I expect to see on Saturday.

    It will be full of intensity. It will be a championship type atmosphere. It will be the Mount and Robert Morris. And as far as the NEC goes, it doesn't get any better.

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    Black Out

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    A week after Mt. St. Mary's promoted a whiteout in its home game versus Central Connecticut, the power went out at Knott Arena causing a black out just before the tipoff of a contest between two of the hottest teams in the NEC. The campus-wide power failure led to a 23-minute delay, but ultimately it was the Flash's 4-game win streak that was wiped out - as the Mount moved to 500 with its ninth straight win.



    It was another good win for the Mount. Certainly not of epic proportions - not like a top win in school history or anything - but a very good win against a team the Mount may see in NEC playoff action again on Thursday.

    Not only did the Mount win, but Long Island which entered Thursday's play in a third place tie with the Mount fell and the Mount grabbed sole possession of third place. The regular season finale against Robert Morris comes your way Saturday at 4 in the ARCC.

    A Mount win and a Quinnipiac win over Fairleigh Dickinson would give QU the #1 seed - put Robert Morris second and the Mount third. In that scenario either Fairleigh Dickinson or LIU would claim the last home playoff spot. And actually a Mount loss could push them into a three-way tie with FDU & Long Island. If that happens the NEC website says the Mount will finish fourth - and play FDU in the first round, Long Island would get the third seed.

    Central Connecticut and St. Francis NY play an elimination game in the Devils home gym on Saturday. Depending on the result of that and Monmouth and St. Francis -PA's result determines seeding 6, 7 & 8. All four of those teams. PA can still get to fifth but no higher which would push FDU down to sixth.

    So basically from a Mount perspective - what we know is this. The Mount is in. They will have a home game in Round 1. There are still two possible seeds (3rd or 4th) and there are still three possible opponents - St. Francis PA - Fairleigh Dickinson or Monmouth. Monmouth can only be the opponent if the Mount finishes third - but it's not guaranteed that a third place finish will guarantee the Hawks come to Emmitsburg, either FDU or PA could finish there. A fourth place finish means a game with either PA or FDU.

    Now onto my thoughts from the game.....


    • Good to see Kelly Beidler get his 1000th point. He's been a consistent player through the years - and he has somehow stayed in the shadows most of the time. But he plays hard at both ends (he did a nice job on Devin Sweetney last night when he got that assignment) and he has been the top rebounder for this team. He tried to get the 1000th in an emphatic way. But his patented left handed dunk attempt overtop Will Felder clanged away. He calmly sank both of the free throws.
    • How bout the play of Jacolby Wells? He is so springy. He really could have a huge impact over the next few years and down the stretch. He is not as polished as Barber offensively, but he finds a way to score inside.
    • Will Holland is absolutely playing the best basketball of his career. He is knocking down everything he sees - hustling as he always does - and ten rebounds last night gave him his first career double-double. 
    • Jeremy Goode didn't have a great game. But he did enough for the Mount and he was rock solid early knocking down a few jumpers when the offense didn't seem to be fully clicking.
    • The Mount defense has gotten better recently. And that is tough to do, because it was very good even when results weren't going its way. But there is more help defense and better rotations coming - and there are times when they appear almost unscorable at this level. 
    • That St. Francis program is headed in the right direction. They play hard and they have some young talent who they can mold into a real good NEC program.
    • Gettysburg grad Ron Johnson, a freshman at St Francis - did not make the trip - and the word is he is concentrating on academics. There was also some talk floating around the building that he was no longer part of the SFPA program. But he is still listed on their roster on the schools website. The 6-8 freshman has played sparingly this season scoring two points in 13 minutes of action over 6 games.


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    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    One Week Left


    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff
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    I'm always intrigued by the Google and web searches that bring folks to this blog. A lot have to do with Latvia and Andy Rautins, some are for FHM (another Latvian connection), and of late a lot of olympic stuff. Of course there is the normal stuff that focuses on the Mount and Syracuse - much as this blog does. But last night somebody came here after asking "Can Mount St. Mary's make the NCAA Tournament?" Oh boy. Am I ready for them.

    The simple answer is yes. All they have to do is win three straight games. None of those games involve the next two. Instead they need to win three in a row once the NEC Tournament gets away at campus sites as it will on Thursday March 4. Of course, the next two games will factor heavily into whether the Mount gets a home game - and who they might play in the Tournament.

    At the top, the NEC race is pretty simple. If Robert Morris wins its next two games it is the Conference champ. However, at Wagner and the Mount loom so nothing is guaranteed for the Colonials. If they falter - and lose once - Quinnipiac can win the #1 seed by winning its last two games.

    From there it gets a little more complicated. The Mount and LIU are tied for third. LIU holds the tiebreaker right now. However, to stay tied the Mount will likely have to beat Robert Morris and if that happens, its probably QU and Robert Morris will be tied at the top, which would give the Mount the tiebreaker advantage over LIU given its win at the ARCC over QU a few weeks back.

    Looming one game back are St. Francis PA and Fairleigh Dickinson. The Red Flash are one game back - and will be well motivated when coming to Emmitsburg on Thursday. A win would likely get them a home game in the first round - assuming they also win at Wagner on Saturday. FDU travels to Sacred Heart before returning home for a Saturday game with Quinnipiac.

    I'm giving a spot to Monmouth - although the Hawks could blow it - and finales against QU and Sacred Heart could lead to some problems. Leaving the final slot to either St. Francis NY or Central. Those two play Thursday night. A Central win would guarantee them a slot. A St. Francis win - and then another Terrier win on Saturday over hapless Bryant - would make it tough on the Devils to overcome them. It would be possible, depending on what happens at the top.

    Sacred Heart's chances of getting in are slim. A Monmouth win on Thursday or a Heart loss and they are done. But if they get two favorable results there, they would play the Hawks on Saturday in a game that could have playoff implications, but might not matter at all because of the way the tiebreakers will fall.

    It is rather confusing - and we'll have a little bit better idea after Thursday. At least at that point, we think we'll be able to narrow it down to specific possibilities. Unfortunately right now they are endless.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    Fighting Back

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    I don't know Scott Stone - had never read anything by him before today - but my good friend Derek Snow sent me this little bit of garbage this morning. He was undoubtedly trying to get me to respond. So I feel obliged.

    Truly, I'm not totally sure what Stone's deal is. It isn't like he's Doug Gottleib and he's holding the grudge of being bypassed by Jim Boeheim for an Orange scholarship. He did point to some sort of Big East bias coming from Bristol. Perhaps he was a PA who never made the cut. But even that was seemingly misled. If there is any bias in Bristol - at least in the college basketball world - it is clearly slanted towards the ACC.

    But Stone quite clearly states his ignorance to the game of basketball on so many levels in this piece.

    He talks of Syracuse shooting the ball very well as being a flaw of the team - that it hides a lot of weaknesses. I might agree that it hides some weaknesses. But shooting the ball well - and shooting it well consistently - shows the strengths of this Syracuse team. History will show that teams that shoot the ball well are some of the stronger offensive basketball teams. In this case, it shows that it isn't reliant on one aspect on the floor. Furthermore, take the fact that the Orange is 1st in the country in 2 point FG % - and 34th in 3pFG% - and my argument is solidified.

    Stone also wants to make the argument that Syracuse is playing a junk defense. And a defense that has only led Syracuse to one national championship through the years. He did prove to us that he can count to one. And he got the addition right. So credit him there. What he fails to mention is how it has taken the Orange to 3 National Championship games during that time. He fails to mention that when the point of his argument is that Syracuse won't make it out of the first weekend. But he obviously has no idea what a junk defense is. A 2-3 zone, with matchup and man-to-man principles doesn't qualify. He doesn't mention that the Orange ranks 8th in the country in defensive efficiency with that same junk defense. In fact, the defensive efficiency numbers are better than the offensive numbers. So it isn't like the strong shooting Orange are hiding a porous defense. Is it a different type of defense? Absolutely. Could it be susceptible in the NCAA tournament to one player getting extremely hot and having a career day and knocking the Orange out as a result? Certainly. But the defense has held up rather well over the season - against guys like Ryan Witman - who I can only assume Stone has heard of. And history has shown that that defense is much tougher on teams in the NCAA tournament. Much tougher because teams aren't used to it - and they don't have long periods of time to prepare for it. Those eight seeds - that Stone speaks of - will have only one practice between beating an equally capable 9 seed to prepare for something they aren't used to. Those of us who have been faithful Orange fans - we know it isn't the schematic design of the defense anyhow. We know it's the players, their athleticism and their length that makes it so impressive - and so difficult to score on.

    Stone also says that Georgetown is the Big East's best chance to reach the Final Four. Nonsense. Georgetown is a threat, but they are clearly the third or possibly fourth best team in the Big East. And it's quotes from guys like JTIII - and how good the Syracuse defense is - that make me so comfortable in the Orange. Of course he does refer to the Big East as watered down - and makes mention of the same Hoyas when he's calling it watered down.

    He also says that one of the reasons Syracuse won't make a serious run - is because they don't have one of those impact freshmen. But in the next sentence he's talking about how those types of freshmen are falling on their faces in North Carolina. And wouldn't a guy like Wesley Johnson - in his first year at Syracuse - be providing the type of charge or lift that Stone might be referring to.

    He knocks the Syracuse veterans - go figure. Nobody else would want an Andy Rautins or an Arinze Onuaku playing for them?

    So really all Stone did with his arguments was make the case that Syracuse is a real contender even stronger. He made arguments but failed to look at the facts that surround those arguments.

    Obviously, I can't sit here and say that the Orange will win the national championship. I can't guarantee you that they won't lose to the Mount in Round One. But what I can tell you - and I'm a big believer in this - is that this Orange team is the one that is most equipped and most prepared to win the NCAA tournament. It has the most balance, the most weapons, and the most ways to bail them out of a tough spot. This is a complete Syracuse basketball team - that looks ready to charge deep into March - no matter what Stone has to say.

    Saturday, February 20, 2010

    Still Rolling

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    Mt. St. Mary's did what it had to do and downed an overconfident Bryant bunch 74-45 at the Knott Arena on Saturday night.

    The performance was solid but it wasn't quite as sharp as it has been in recent weeks - still the Mounties had no trouble with the Bulldogs who entered off their only win of the season.

    Jeremy Goode had another fine performance and Shawn Atupem had a big night inside as the Mount cruised to the victory. The Mount jumped out to a 13-3 lead, and led 25-9 later in the first half as it put the game away early. From there, they played a lot of players and got a little sluggish, but finished things off with a flurry after the Bulldogs had pulled within 12 in the second half.

    Quinnipiac downed Robert Morris in Moon Township - so the Mount can do no better than 3rd in the conference standings. The Mount is currently tied with Long Island for 3rd in the NEC race. Quinnipiac's win in Pittsburgh means that if the Bobcats win twice next week, and the Mount beats Robert Morris in the regular season finale at the Mount next weekend, QU would be the NEC champ. It also helps the Mount in its quest to get a third place spot in the NEC playoffs - as a QU and RMU tie would be beneficial in the tiebreakers for the Mount. LIU travels to Bryant and Central Connecticut to finish its season. If QU and RMU tie at the top and the Mount and LIU tie for third - the Mount would earn the third slot - based on my calculations.

    Atupem had career highs of 18 points and 8 rebounds, while Goode finished with a team-high 19. Kelly Beidler had 9, while Raven Barber and Will Holland each had 8.



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    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Tids and Bits

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    Expect Great Things at Kohls.com

    As fans we are always quick to point blame at the coaching staffs when things go poorly. Yet, we rarely recognize them when things go well. The frustration that came with the Mount's struggles at the beginning of the season led to some fans making comments about them here and elsewhere on the internet - and led to a lot of whispers in and around Knott Arena. (Ok some were louder than whispers). As a fan and the owner of this blog - I tried to keep from letting my frustration put down either the players or the coaches. But I'm sure some of my frustration leaked out in the words I was writing. Therefore, when things are going well I find it appropriate to commend the coaching staff for the job it is doing. In recent years similar teams have failed down the stretch in the same type of situations both in the NEC and beyond. Something kept this team moving forward - and if we pinpoint the coaches when things don't go well - we have to salute them when the victories come. And let's be honest, the coaches always look better when open jump shots go in. But a big kudos to Milan and his staff for keeping this team focused on the task at hand and making for a very enjoyable February (and hopefully March).

    A lot has been said here about next year - and frankly I'd like to focus on this year - but there is no doubt that this Mount team will lose three of its key components next year. Jeremy Goode has had the ball in his hands 90% of the time the last four years - so just losing that we'll make for a big adjustment - and Goode is so more than that. However, the biggest loss maybe the ability of Kelly Beidler to rebound. We've talked about the Mount's troubles in that area all season. Scary to imagine what it might be without #4.

    But I think that this group that is coming in is the most talked about group since Goode, Beidler, Holland, Cajou and Jackson all came to campus in one big recruiting class. For me my philosphy has always been, recruits are just recruits until they get to campus - then they become players and we find out how good they are now. But I like what I've seen and heard about all these guys. Donte Morales is the type of player that could be special at this level. Justin Burrell has had a fabulous senior season and seems to be a winner. Jeff James is talented and could develop very nicely. As Richard (so elegantly I might add) put it - comparing anyone to Chris Mac before he plays a college game is laughable. It's also unfair. But I think the potential to reload a little bit instead of having to totally rebuild is there.

    I got an email from a friend yesterday telling me Shaun White is the Lebron of Snowboarding. Still trying to figure out if that is a good or bad thing.

    If you're a soccer fan - note that the US will play its final game on home turf before the Cup this summer at Lincoln Financial Field against Turkey. The second game of the send-off series (the first is with the Czech Republic) is an afternoon game on Saturday May 29th.

    The red-hot Bryant Bears come to town on Saturday night. The Mount still has a chance to capture 2nd place in the NEC, but its a small one. If the Mount wins its next three and Quinnipiac loses its next three - the Mount would earn the second seed. Having split the season series - the tiebreaker would come down to record against Robert Morris. The Mount would win that one and the second place nod. Ultimately, we don't think it's going to happen.

    The Colonials can rack up their third straight NEC regular season championship with a win over the Braves on Saturday.

    I think Syracuse moved back into a 1 seed with the win last night in DC. I think they'll hold onto it by winning three of four down the stretch and making it to at least the Big East semifinals. However, one of those three has to be over 'Nova. A loss to 'Nova and I'll have to re-evaluate. But this is a team that is set up to go deep into the tournament.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Two for Two

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    If you're a Fan Blog reader - chances are you're either a Mount fan or a Syracuse fan. As you know, I'm a fan of both. So Thursday night was a good night. A real good night. Any night you beat Georgetown is a good night.

    The Mount and Syracuse each moved a step closer to the first round NCAA matchup that I'm looking for. The Orange versus the Mountaineers in Buffalo. I became pretty sure it would happen the other week, when I accepted an engagement on the 18th of March. After watching the two teams play tonight - and most of my viewing was with the Mount, I can really see it happening.

    The win over Georgetown leaves the Orange in strong shape to claim to a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. As much as the Louisville loss really didn't bother me, it really made it possible that the team could miss out on a top seed. And by no means is this team guaranteed of anything as far as the seeds are concerned. But if they run the table the rest of the regular season, they'll be tough to ignore by the committee for a top slot come Selection Sunday.

    One thing to note - about the rest of this season and the future of Orange basketball that was huge from tonight's win. On Sunday when they needed a bucket late, I was calling for them to go to Kris Joseph. That didn't happen over the weekend, but it did happen tonight - and the sophomore delivered. Maybe it was the matchup tonight, but there was no way Joseph was going to be stopped at the end of the game. Very encouraging to see for the near and ongoing future of Syracuse hoops.

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    Just Asking

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

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    Tell me the truth - Do you want to play this Mt. St. Mary's team right now?

    Win #7 in a row came in the most profound way at Knott Arena on NEC-TV on Thursday. The Mount pounded Central Connecticut State 85-58 and is now three wins away from a home playoff game in the NEC Tournament.

    This Mountaineer team finally has the engine revving on all cylinders. The Offense is efficient and confident and the defense - as has been the case all season - has been suffocating.

    Jeremy Goode led the way on Thursday with 26 points - and he got others involved as well. The post players shot it well inside led by Shawn Atupem who scored the first bucket of the game - and had his way inside most of the night. Atupem scored 14 on the night. Raven Barber continued to impress as the freshman is growing up as the season wears on.

    The defense did allow Central to shoot 67% or something ridiculous in the first half (and they made some tough shots) but forced 13 turnovers in that opening frame and led 40-35 at the half. Shemik Thompson scored 20 for the Devils in the first half, but Jean Cajou locked him up in the second. In fact, the Mount's defense was absolutely outstanding out of the locker room. CCSU scored five points in the first 13 minutes of the second half. That's 5 for our CCSU readers.

    Kelly Beidler, who continues to be a consistent performer, followed up his 22-point Teaneck effort with a solid 14 - and Will Holland again shot it well from the outside - and is closing out his career on a great note.

    Also, let's not forget about Pierre Brown. I've been tough on him at times - but in recent weeks I've failed to mention how well he has shot the ball. He doesn't get a lot of minutes - he doesn't get a lot of shots - but he has been making the ones he's getting.

    To me, this team looks as good as it has since the tournament run of two years ago. The offense is clicking, the shots are falling, there is a lot of confidence and Jeremy Goode is showing that he is one of the best players to ever wear the blue and white.

    The next three weeks are going to be fast and furious. And I have a feeling they are going to be fun as well.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Big Thursday

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff



    The Mount starts its final homestand of the season. As of right now, it's a four-game homestand. But with four wins the Mounties are guaranteed a first round NEC playoff game, so this could be the start of a five-game homestand for the Mount - or with some help - maybe more.

    Meanwhile down the road in the nation's capital, Syracuse looks to bounce back from Sunday's loss in a rivalry game with Georgetown. You'll recall the Orange embarrassed the Hoyas in the Dome a few weeks ago.

    Expect the Mount to be pushed by a boisterous home crowd. It's one of the things I never understand. The crowds always turn out - and are at their loudest - for games on TV. The Mount has called for a WhiteOut - Everybody wants to be a Winnipeg Jet anymore - and they are looking to build on the current six-game winning streak.

    An efficient offense during that six-game stretch that has been keyed by the fine shooting of Will Holland has been the difference. Central Connecticut always brings a good defense and an offense that likes to operate in the halfcourt set. The Mount defense which continues to play at a high level should keep the Devils down and the Mount should pull away to a controlling victory. I'll say 68-54.

    Down in DC - I expect the Orange to shoot the ball much better than they did on Sunday. But I also expect Georgetown to play a lot better than it did the last time these two got together. Andy Rautins may be the key for the Orange - if Wes Johnson isn't 100% - and maybe he isn't right now somebody has to step up. The other real option is Kris Joseph - who has played a larger role as the season has progressed.

    Ultimately, I think Syracuse reeling from the loss on Sunday will come out focused and play a good solid 40 minutes. If that happens it will be too much for the Hoyas and the Orange will complete the season sweep with a 74-68 victory at the Phone Booth.

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    All is well - Well, all is OK

    Written for your enjoyment by: Ray Curren

    No one is happy to lose. In fact, I may be the worst loser in world history (for those who believe in such things, I think that's why God sent me to coach girls).

    But, while extremely disappointing, there were signs that pointed to something like Syracuse's loss to Louisville happening today, like:

    1) It's a bad matchup - Louisville likes to shoot 3s (30 of their 56 shots today were 3s) and more importantly, likes to put pressure on people. Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine (and Andy Rautins, for that matter) have not shown they can deal with pressure, and it showed today. The boxscore on ESPN shows only 12, but I thought during the game they had close to 20. The way to deal with that kind of pressure is to get to the rim, and Syracuse was unable to do that today, only 11 free throw attempts, 5 coming from Kris Joseph.

    2) Every team hits a rut at some point in the season - The energy we're used to seeing on defense just hasn't been there the last couple of games. Today, only four steals and only one from a guard, meaning that those 8-10 cheap points that push us on runs wasn't there. Unfortunately, the rut may last a while longer, but you hope that by March, when we really need to be hot, it will have passed.

    3) Wes Johnson may be hurt - Johnson hasn't been the same since his injury, and it's most obvious in the fact that he's not getting to the rim (see #1). He is 10-for-35 from the field in his last three games, and was forced to the lack of confidence that others have to take a season-high 20 points today. They need someone else to take the pressure of him, but who?

    4) They are playing desperate teams - If you're ranked #3 in the nation, you're going to see everyone's best. And when you're playing in front of 30,000 people, you're going to see everyone's best. Oh, and when you're UConn and Louisville, and you need something to point to on your tournament resume, you are going to most certainly give your best. Probably the worst thing to happen to Syracuse was Louisville just not showing up against St. John's on Thursday. Rick Pitino is a good coach, and you know they would be ready today. Louisville has a lot of talent, I have no idea what they've done in some of their games this season, but they have talent. And we still have to go down there.

    5) Over-rated? - We may be a little high for the talent we actually have. Am I overjoyed that we're 24-2 and don't have to sweat out a bubble for once? Absolutely. But to put us in the class of a Kansas, or even a Villanova at this point? I don't know.

    One final point: Syracuse always does better against people that don't see them often. So a lot of what the Orange will do may depend on matchups. Do they still have the chance to go to the Final Four? Absolutely. And if they do, this loss may have been the best thing that's happened to them.

    Syracuse Louisville Live Game Thread

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff



    Feel free to post your comments during the game as the Orange takes on the defending Big East Champs, Louisville Cardinals from the Carrier Dome this afternoon.

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    Like the look at the start from the Orange. They have gotten the ball inside and had some open jumpers. Defensively they look active - the offensive rebounds for Louisville have been off long rebounds. Triche has struggled a bit early on - and we'll see if Coach Boeheim goes to Scoop early. Would be nice to get Wesley a touch or two offensively. The zone from Louisville might call for some minutes from Mookie. L-ville is really struggling yet it is only 4-2 Orange when the Cards scored their first bucket nearly four minutes in. We'll see if that catches up at all. But it is 6-2 @ the first break.

    Share the basketball. This Orange team does it as well as any I've seen. Two big passes - extra ones from Johnson and Triche have made it 10-2 in favor of the Orange and forced a TO from Pitino.

    It's Wesley JaMarr Johnson - in case you were wondering. My daughter was - so we checked it out. Two syllables in all as she has pointed out. Minus Johnson's one three - the Orange hasn't shot it well from deep early. It feels like we should be up about 10 - and instead it is a five-point lead. Mookie has entered the game - and quickly missed a jumper. Couple of runouts for Scoop - and all of a sudden the lead is 11. Defense has been the big key. I hope that Ohio State is not in Syracuse's draw when the brackets are released. The Buckeyes are really playing well - and might very well be the Big Ten's best team. Louisville seems to be doing what it can to make this game as ugly as possible - and they make a three every now and again to keep contact with the Orange.

    Louisville isn't going away - and the Orange offense is settling for jumpers. They had been getting inside early and it seemed to be the way to attack the Card defense. Obviously, the Cards have tried to take that away - but it looks to me like Syracuse is doing more to itself to keep the ball on the perimeter than the L-ville defense is doing.

    Some shots that normally fall for the Orange, not going today. It seems to be bothering them a bit as well. Leading to a few poor decisions and they look out of sync offensively. It is going to take a much better effort in the second half to get the job done. 'Ville is not great, but they aren't going to go away. And make some free throws already.

    It was 22-11 Orange and now its 28-27 Louisville as the Cards are getting some jumpers to fall - and continue to play a tough defense.

    Need something to provide some energy - Scoop now has 6 off the bench. But a poor offensive effort in the first half from Syarcuse. They'lll have to make some adjustments at the half to combat what the Cardinals are doing.

    An extremely disappointing second half. Credit to Louisville for earning the victory - but I thought this was more about Syracuse having a bad day. The loss to Pittsburgh helped to refocus this team - just as the exhibition loss to LeMoyne did. You could see the last few games that this team wasn't at its best. It wasn't fully sharp. Hopefully, this loss sharpens them up and does some good for the long haul. Ultimately, the loss today does nothing to hurt them in the long run. But its the combination of sluggish performances lately that bothers me.

    Questions from the Games

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff



    If you've read this blog for any period of time....you know that I have a fascination with the Olympics. Even though most of the sports are ones that I don't usually watch, I'll spend the next two weeks (or more, thank you TIVO) watching events with people I really only hear their names every four years. But there is just something special about it and I love the competition and the spirit of it. But as I've watched the early hours of coverage, I've got a few questions and thoughts.

    1) On the ski jumping, it looks like there are little trees coming up out of the ground. Is that what they are? And if so, why are they there? And how does it appear the jumpers miss them all the time?

    2) Isn't Al Trautwig the greatest on cross country skiing/biathalon? His voice seems to add the right quality to the sport - and makes what would seem to be a slow paced sport all the more exciting?

    3) Figure Skating is clearly the marquee sport of the games - but we went the first day of competition without it. NBC's coverage of the Games seemed unsure of itself - almost like, what are we supposed to show without there being Skating?

    4) Why do skiing events get delayed because of snow?

    5) Can anyone really tell the difference in the Moguls competition? I'm amazed that the competitors go so fast over the Moguls - but I can't see any real difference in the competition. Shouldn't it just be a speed competition?

    6) Do you think Apollo Ohno likes hearing people call him Chunky?

    7) Why is Holland so dominant in Speed Skating - but virtually non-existent in Short Track?

    8) Is anybody else disappointed that Al Michaels has taken over for Jim Lampley?

    Four to go

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff



    That is all that remains in the regular season for the Mt. St. Mary's basketball team. All four games are at home after a 77-67 win at Fairleigh-Dickinson last night extended the Mount's winning streak to six and moved the Mount into a third place tie in the conference with LIU and the Knights. By my count - the Mount would own that tiebreaker courtesy of a 2-1 record over the three teams. FDU and LIU will meet on Thursday for the first time this season.

    The Mount finishes the regular season with home games against Central Connecticut, winless Bryant, St. Francis PA and Robert Morris. The Mount has not played either Central or Bryant and was swept by the PA schools in a December trip to PA.

    The Mount trailed early last night but got the offense rolling and handled the surprising Knight squad. Kelly Beidler led the way with 22 points and Will Holland again contributed with some big shooting off the bench. Freshman Raven Barber also had a fine inside effort, while Jeremy Goode had 10 points and 9 assists.

    The winning streak has come about as the offensive efficiency has increased greatly. The Mount has scored better than a point a possession throughout most of the streak and came through with 77 points (and five players in double figures) last night. Couple that with the always stifling defense and it's easy to see why the wins have been coming their way.

    The Mount should be considered favorites in all four of the home games - and four victories now assures the Mount of a 1st round playoff home game. Likely they will accomplish that feat with three wins, but four makes it a definite.

    The top two spots in the conference seem out of reach - without some sort of meltdown from Quinnipiac.
    Robert Morris has wrapped up a spot in the top two and will play in Moon Township at least during the first two rounds of the playoffs.

    The Mount continues to play well and continues to be getting key contributions from folks who weren't available early in the season. Right now they are becoming the team we expected them to become. They are truly a threat during the playoffs, but can't let anything distract them at the moment.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Starting to Believe - Again

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    I've got to admit, I started to doubt this Mt. St. Mary's team -- and I'm not sure I'm totally back.

    This season started with such promise and I thought it could possibly end up as the greatest season in the history of the sport at Mt. St. Mary's. But the start of the season was so difficult - and nothing seemed to go the Mount's way. From the eligibility issue with the NCAA for freshman Raven Barber to the early season injury of senior Will Holland - everything went the wrong way.

    And the losses piled up - and even though we expected them to get better when the NEC season started. It didn't happen. Or at least the results didn't come as we expected.

    And a few weeks ago, the wins started to become more frequent. And even though I wanted to believe that all the issues, the problems, the factors that led to the losses were gone I couldn't. It still seemed as if there was something missing among this team. Or at least I wasn't getting my hopes up again.

    But now there is something different. Maybe it is just the fact that I want to believe. But I think its more than that. I think its the combination of the stellar defensive play - that really hasn't wavered all season - and the recent efficiency of the offense that has really been spurred on by the shooting of the aforementioned Will Holland.

    All of a sudden this team has the look that we expected. All of sudden they are piling up the wins as expected - and doing it with the flair we expected.

    The Race to Dayton is heating up in the Northeast Conference - and the Mount is clearly a major part of it.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    UCONN at the Half

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    Another day where I was stuck in the house all day. No idea if the Mount tried to make it Jersey today or not. Remember the other year they spent hours stuck on the PA Turnpike, which had another backup today. The weather in these parts is not good. So I've been waiting all day for this game to start. And for my wife to put the chocolate chip cookies in the oven.

    I haven't seen this much snow since I was in Syracuse.

    But onto the game. I don't think I've ever been this comfortable before a UCONN game. I really gave the Huskies no chance coming in. The Orange hasn't played very well. Way too many turnovers (Ray told you this would happen) and too many dunks allowed. Yet here we sit at halftime with a seven point lead. Is UCONN really that bad? Isn't it great?

    The Huskies made a little bit of a push near the end of the half and it's semi-interesting as a result. But this really doesn't have the feel of a game that could go either way.

    I'd like to see the tempo increase a bit - and score a bit more in transition - and I'd like to finish them off early in the second half. Letting them linger at the end of the first half had to give them some belief in themselves. Of course maybe whatever that was from Scoop at the end of the half ended all of those good thoughts for the Huskies. I hope so.

    I sense a big half coming from Wes - And a win going away. The Orange needs to do a little better in transition - both offensively and defensively - and it should end up as a positive result.

    As far as the knew threads are concerned....there aren't that many differences from the old ones. I'm just trying to figure out when Silver became a school color.

    Sunday, February 07, 2010

    Another one in the books

    Written for your enjoyment by: RAFF

    With 11 minutes left in the game Cincinnati had 15 second chance points. For further proof that that was what was keeping them in the game - consider they didn't have one in the final 11 minutes. Syracuse ran away at that point - and finished off their 23rd win of the season at Ed Jucker Court 71-54.

    A good win on the road for the Orange.

    Syracuse did it all without Wesley Johnson. Or vitually all. Yes the transfer played. The injury that took him out of the game against Providence earlier in the week, didn't keep him from playing against UC. But foul trouble put him on the bench - and rendered him virtually ineffective. But JB knows his players and never went back to Wesley and the Orange kept increasing the lead. Cincy actually led 49-48 with a little more than 10 to play. So you've got to be pretty concerned as the opposition down one with 10 left on the road in a conference game and your star on the bench with four fouls. But Boeheim and the Orange never looked better. They closed the game on the 23-5 run and won with relative ease.

    Andy Rautins took a couple of questionable shots early in the second half, but the marksman did finish with 20 points. Kris Joseph was a true force off the bench and Scoop Jardine gave the Orange some quality minutes off the bench to help the Orange to the victory.

    Connecticut is up next on Wednesday - and despite the Huskies recent struggles - you can expect the emotions to be high. We'll see who the hero is Wednesday.

    First Half Thoughts

    Written for your enjoyment by: RAFF

    The magic of this Syracuse team was clearly on display in the first half at Cincinnati. Certainly it wasn't the best of halves for the Orange. Not as far as this season has gone. But in the end, they end up ahead 32-30 at the break courtesy of an 11-2 run to complete things.

    Here are the things I liked:

    1) Scoop Jardine, after not scoring until the closing moments earlier in the week against Providence, was a first half key. He scored nine off the bench as Brandon Triche was ineffective early.

    2) Kris Joseph just creates incredible nightmare matchups for the opposition, especially when he and Wes Johnson are both in the game. He has shown enough of an outside game to warrant contention from the defense on the perimeter, but his athletic ability and his handle gets him past those bigger defenders on the dribble.

    3) Andy Rautins shot it extremely well for the Orange. In fact, the Orange as a team shot it well from distance. Again there was balance both inside and outside.

    Concerns:

    1) Wes Johnson picked up two early fouls, but the Orange kept him in the game. JB nearly got away with it, but Wesley picked up his third near the end of the half. A fourth foul early in the second half is a major concern.

    2) UC has gotten on the offensive glass several times to get second chance points. If the Orange takes those away in the second stanza, it should open up the lead. But as we've seen all season, Syracuse has been vulnerable to the second chance point against teams like UC.

    3) I was concerned going in that the Orange could be looking ahead to Wednesday's rivalry showdown with Connecticut. The first half wasn't as bad as it could have been, but UC is still in the game. And if the Bearcats get hot in the second half, it could go there way.

    Breaking down the NEC Race

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    In most conferences all you have to do is pay your dues to get in the conference tournament and have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. The NEC isn't most conferences. Instead, the NEC limits the conference tourney field to the top eight finishers from the regular season.

    So with three weeks left in the regular season, six games for all, it is becoming more and more apparent how the whole Race To Dayton might shape up.

    AT THE TOP: Based on current record and performance, I'm willing to concede the top slot to either Robert Morris or Quinnipiac. The Colonials are trying to win their third straight regular season crown and have to be the favorite from here on out. With a one game lead it only makes sense. But Quinnipiac will have the opportunity to tie it on their own - they visit Pittsburgh in two weeks. In addition, Robert Morris finishes its regular season at preseason pick Mt. St. Mary's which has won four in a row.

    PROBABLY SAFE, FIGHTING FOR A HOME GAME: The conference standings show three teams at 7-5, so those are the most logical three as far as this group goes. But I'm going to agree with Ken Pomeroy's projections and say that the middle three is really Long Island, St. Francis (NY) and Mt. St. Mary's. The Mount has won four in a row, and has four of six down the stretch at home. A record of 11-7 likely might be good enough to get the third seed. The Mount may end up there as they are likely to be considered favorites in everything the rest of the way. But an upcoming NJ road trip will be extremely telling. LIU and St. Francis have both struggled a little bit of late and must play four of six on the road. As travel partners in the conference they'll play 3 in Connecticut and 1 at Bryant - as well as two home games against the Jersey schools. LIU has lost five of seven. NY 3 of 4.

    LEAVES 3 SPOTS FOR 4 TEAMS:  If you believe Pomeroy's projections - and I think they are relatively accurate 9-9 will not be enough for one conference team to get in the tourney. FDU put itself in a position nobody expected earlier with a 7-5 start, two wins over Monmouth over the weekend has really helped the cause. After starting the season 1-12, the Knights have won 7 of 11. The two Jersey schools along with Sacred Heart - play three at home and three on the road. Sacred Heart finishes with a road game at Monmouth - that could be a deciding factor. Central has played its way back into contention with a four game win streak - and also has four at home the rest of the way. They can't let the game with PA this week get away.

    LOOKING TO NEXT YEAR - Truth is, St. Francis PA and its youth will have to earn its spot in the field and still has the opportunity to do that. But with four games on the road and a trip into Loretto from the Connecticut teams it seems too much to overcome. Of course, if the Flash steals one on the road from CCSU, everything could change. Wagner and Bryant are all but eliminated. Bryant is still looking for win number one. Wagner has a possible chance with four of six at home - but if we've drawn the line at 9-9 - Wagner can't go 6-0 and get there.

    Saturday, February 06, 2010

    Second Half Run The Key

    Written for your enjoyment by: RAFF

    Another game where the Mount looked like two different teams in each half. Thankfully for the Mount they only needed 20 minutes of quality basketball to dispatch of Wagner for the second time in 48 hours, 66-50 at the Spiro Center in Staten Island.

    The Mount trailed 27-19 at the half, but Jeremy Goode took over in the second half scoring 14 of his 16 after the break and keying the run for the Mount. The win leaves the Mount in a three-way sixth place tie with Central Connecticut State and Monmouth for the final three playoff spots in the NEC. And if my quick figuring is right the Mount is now only one game out of third place as well.

    Raven Barber had another strong performance for the Mount inside. The freshman post player continues to show an ability to score around the basket and we catch more and more of his offensive game as he becomes more and more a part of things after becoming eligible at midseason.

    In addition, Will Holland and Pierre Brown  gave the Mount key minutes off the bench. Holland has shot the ball well off the bench most of the season - and his knee injury forced him to miss much of that nine game losing streak.

    Once again, the Mount played solid defense. And I like that very much. But it wasn't the defense that won the game -- and it hasn't been the defense that has lost any of the games this year. It was an offense that got a few things in tranisition (ironically the Mount tied the game on a Goode steal and layin of Czesky), a couple more jumpers going down, and Goode getting into the lane creating things for himself and his teammates.

    The Mount plays a pair on the road next week at Monmouth and Fairleigh Dickinson, both of which are ahead of the Mount in the conference race, before returning to Knott Arena for its final four games.

    Despite the atrocious stretch in the first half this team is playing better. It needs to keep improving down the stretch - but playing your best basketball late in the season is always the best way in this league.

    AP Story

    Mount/Wagner Game Thread

    Written for your enjoyment by: RAFF

    15:51 to play in the first half. The Mount leads 5-2 over Wagner. 3-of-12 shooting combined by the two teams. Not a very clean start to the game.

    Big solid move by Barber but he missed the dunk.

    I've had some internet connectivity issues. The feed keeps cutting out. I think it is on my end. But not really sure. It was a brutal first half. The Mount trails 27-19. You can't win consistently if you try to outdefend people. At some point you've got to score points. It's the same old thing over and over again. Very disappointing. I'd like to tell you they are going to play well and win the game in the second half, but I have little confidence of that happening.

    Why?

    Let's see

    4-12 from the foul line

    4 points combined from Cajou, Goode and Beidler.

    no offensive movement.

    No hint of a fast break

    And what looks like a lack of desire.

    Snow Bound

    Written for your enjoyment by: RAFF

    I'm not going anywhere today. I think that has been decided. The normal Saturday work days this time of year has been called off because of the snow. It is quite impressive here. The weather a rough combination of snow and wind has dropped nearly 20 inches (maybe more) in this area -- and the blowing winds have closed some roads as the plows can't keep them open.

    I came home a little early last night. There really wasn't much to watch. Would have liked to see Cliff Warren's Jacksonville Dolphins take on Belmont in the A-Sun but that was blacked out here. I watched a little NBA - but it wasn't all that exciting. Never seems to be for me anymore.

    Been up early this morning and have the Federation Cup on most of the morning. I'm a big fan of international sporting events. Love the Olympics, love the World Cup, love the Ryder Cup and when pros play for their nation it is pretty special. Disappointed that Venus and Serena opted not to play. But the US has managed ok thus far without them. With a 1-0 lead, Melanie Oudin is up a set and on serve in the second against France's Pauline Parmienter. Oudin did give back a break here in the second as Parmienter has started to play a little better on the Red Clay indoors in France. I really like watching Oudin play. She certainly has some limitations in her game, but it is fun to watch her play. She just rallied back from 3 break points to keep things on serve. And all of a sudden has a break point in the next.

    She ended up winning that game and will now serve for the match and a 2-0 US lead in the tie.

    One quick correction from my post on Thursday night. It is a four-way tie that the Mount is embattled in for seventh place. Also part of the logjam is Central Connecticut. The Mount, St. Francis PA and Sacred Heart are the other three. I think the tiebreaker would still put PA 7th and the Mount 8th. Of course, that will all change after tonight.

    Thursday, February 04, 2010

    All Mount

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    I think that is the team we were expecting to see this season.

    Mt. St. Mary's cruised to a 69-44 win at Knott Arena on Thursday Night, moving into three-way tie for seventh place and the all important eighth place spot and the final playoff berth with St. Francis PA and Sacred Heart. (Without checking the tiebreakers - I'm pretty sure the Red Flash would be seventh and the Mount 8th - based on records against the teams in the tie).

    The Mount jumped to an early  6-0 lead and never really looked back. They fought off a little hiccup at the start of the second half, when Wagner which trailed 35-19 at the break was able to close within single digits. But the Mount regained its composure and Will Holland hit a key three-pointer right around the 11-minute mark which seemingly put the Mount back in control.

    The Mount made 12 (of 23) three-pointers on the night as both Holland and Jean Cajou shot the ball well from distance. Cajou seems to have his feet underneath his jumper and that high-arching shot looks good leaving his hands. He was 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.

    Granted Wagner - which lost for the 20th time - is not a very good basketball team. In fact, TJ Czeski might very well be the worst point guard to ever play at the Division I level. I can't think of anyone as bad. The Mount abused him with pressure all night, just as it did last year in both of the Seahawks trips to the ARCC. He is bad.

    Michael Orock can be a force inside but was saddled with some early foul trouble - and Doug Elwell can shoot it a little bit, but this is not a good team. The Mount makes the return trip to Staten Island for a game over the weekend. So it was good that they didn't give Wagner any hope heading into that game. All the efforts are important in this conference battle down the stretch as the teams Race To Dayton.

    The Mount also got some solid interior play from Shawn Atupem, Raven Barber and Tayvon Jackson off the bench. Jeremy Goode stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, 4 assists, 3 steals and a couple of rebounds. Kelly Beidler struggled at the offensive end, but played hard, and his going to the floor near the end of the first half kept a loose ball alive and led to an eventual Cajou trifecta at the other end. Beidler seemed to get every rebound early and I thought he was going to end up with a Rodman-like line of 1 point - double digit rebounds - 3 steals and a pair of blocks, and two cheerleaders run over. But the boxscore I saw afterwards only had him with 8 boards.

    This team has life down the stretch - and even though it has frustrated us for two and a half months - a wise man - or maybe it was I - once said - Tis better to be hot in February than December.

    Will the Tale be Told tonight?

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    If you are a Mount fan and you have any idea what you are going to get tonight - you are by far a better fan than I. I know what we should get. That would be a double-digit win from the Mount. Things have been better for the Mount the last several weeks. And a two-game home winning streak should have helped their confidence. It didn't move them any closer to an NEC tournament bid (they are still a game out in ninth), but it did move them a lot closer to third place (just two games behind the threesome of Monmouth, Long Island and St Francis NY) in the jumble that is NEC race.

    So in this race to Dayton, the Mount must win tonight. There is no other way to say it. Wagner is 4-19 on the season. Two of those wins in the NEC - including a one-point win over Sacred Heart on their way back to Connecticut last week.

    Still with an experienced team this is a team the Mount should jump on early - and never let back into the game. In a perfect world, we'd feel good at the intermission - and be checking other NEC scores in the second.

    But this isn't a perfect world, and just when you think you have this Mount team nabbed, something different happens. Plus anytime Corey Hart comes to town, strange things seem to happen.

    Hopefully, I'm reading into this a little bit more than I need to. And hopefully this team has found itself. But they've fooled me before. So I'm just waiting til I show up tonight to see what Mount team we get.

    But I'll make a prediction that its the good one. And say 70-55 Mounties.

    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    My buddy Tom Fahey

    Written for your enjoyment by: Ray Curren

    The phenomenon of home-town announcers is always interesting depending on your perspective. For instance, John Sterling, the Yankees' announcer. Biggest homer ever. But Yankees' fans love him. So I meant no disrespect to anyone, just trying to keep things interesting.

    Anyway, for kicks, check out statsheet.com which keeps track of NCAA officials. Tom Fahey has officiated the Mount four times this season, and they are 2-2 in those games. The last time he did a Mount game before that was Feb. 7, 2008 - a loss to Wagner. Before that was Mar. 4, 2007 - which was a loss to Central Conn. in the semifinals of the NEC Tournament. He really doesn't ref too many D-I games, which is interesting.

    Raff and I talk about our Syracuse nemesis Jim Burr all the time, and thanks to this website, you can compare the two. By the way, Jim Burr has reffed 78 Syracuse games in his career. 78, the most of any team. They are 4-0 this year with Burr officiating, but he did 4 losses last season, including two to Louisville. So if I see him on an SU-Louisville game (and there are two left), it's time to worry.

    Rest assured, other than Quinnipiac (and maybe Sacred Heart), I want the Mount to succeed. One of my lasting memories from college was a young Mike Tirico yelling, "Let the celebration begin in Emmitsburg, the Mount is going to the dance." with Raff jumping up and down in the apartment (and you really couldn't jump too high in our apartment).

    One last thing, granted high school is different, but I wrote this column for the local paper here in Connecticut two months ago. Refs are people, too, I think. Although I've never really asked.

    Tuesday, February 02, 2010

    Pitt to the Big Ten

    Written for your enjoyment by: Raff

    Internet rumors have been flying around the last several days that Pitt to the Big Ten is a done deal. It very well might be. The original source said that Pitt was telling recruits this weekend they were going to the Big Ten - and that a press conference would be held this week - no later than Thursday.

    Now this morning, media sources in Pittsburgh have confirmed to THE FAN BLOG - that the Panthers will announce a press conference later today. It is uncertain whether that press conference will announce the move or just put an end to the rumors. My instinct tells me you don't hold a press conference to dispel the rumors.

    Monday, February 01, 2010

    They're called "Free," right?

    Ask any Syracuse basketball fan what part of most games gets them the most riled up, and many will tell you, "free throws." Over the years, the Orange have never been a prolific team at the charity stripe. Sometimes it doesn't matter, while others (does 1987 ring a bell?) do.

    I'm at a loss for why it's difficult for certain players and teams to make an uncontested basket, while they can make things look effortless when three guys are running towards them. So I decided to do a little research. First, I headed to my local rec center. Now, I realize it's impossible to replicate a big time basketball game. The crowd, the pressure, the fatigue. But I did my best. I made sure to work out lifting weights (very, very heavy weights, ah hem), then did some running (quite fast, ah hem) to get as tired as possible, which for me, doesn't take much. I then immediately headed to the courts for my experiment.

    I did this on three separate occasions. The first time, I elected to shoot ten and see what happened. Started out two for four, and then made my last six for an 80 percent clip. Not too shabby for a guy that doesn't get to play much ball anymore. The second time I decided to do ten again. And once again, I left at 80 percent. So the third time I figured would be much of the same. How wrong I was. I hit the first two, the first four, the first six, the first eight, and yes, the first ten. I kept going, stopping after missing my first shot on the 19th attempt. Again, I'm a 35-year-old has been. I also understand that if you had me do this at the Carrier Dome or Rupp Arena, these numbers might change. But the fact is, numbers don't lie.

    My next bit of research took me online. I entered thinking free throw shooting has gotten much worse over the years, but to my surprise, this wasn't true. This year's leader is Duke at 77.4%. The previous eight years saw the leaders between 78.4% and 79.8%. Those leaders were rarely atop the top-25: Southern Utah, Utah State, UTEP, NC State, Manhattan, and Morehead State. Villanova and St. Joe's are the only two that jump out. The only school in the past 13 years to average over 80 percent was Siena in the '97-'98 season, and they actually were atop the list again the following year.

    Furthermore, the number of teams averaging over 75 percent (which is what I consider a decent number from the line) have been fairly consistent. At this point this season, only 14 are. But here are the numbers in the previous eight: 21, 19, 20, 20, 12, 11, 21, 20. Only a couple of hiccups in there. If you go back to the '96-'97 season, only four teams averaged at least 75%. Of course, I realize more teams are playing at the Division I level, but more teams doth-not guarantee better numbers.

    If you look at the numbers between the '90's and this past decade, you'll see a remarkable increase in the number of teams shooting well from the line. So what does all this mean? My theory, and it's only a theory, is that with more parody in the game, more games are being determined down the stretch. All that pressure leads to a few more misses, and with more games being decided by just a couple of points, we tend to focus on those misses. But if you look at the big pictures, more teams have improved from the line in recent history.

    So the next time Arinze bricks one off the shot clock, take a deep breath. The national champ usually doesn't rank very high in FT percentage. Or send him my way. I can teach him everything I know. Just don't make me lift weights with him beforehand.