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One day on the tournament trail- Barclays to MSG

March 9, 2017 Columns No Comments

BROOKLYN and NEW YORK – Once again the day-long odyssey. In the past, it was splitting time between the Atlantic 10 and Big east. This season, Barclays Center to Madison Square Garden will merge the ACC and Big East Tournaments. It’s a full day of excitement with sights and sounds of New York as the backdrop.

It is 10:40 on Wednesday morning. On the two train to Barclays, a woman in front of me has a purse with the saying “A lot of shit I can’t live without”. Have to love New York. I expected a few traces of orange on this trip, as Syracuse plays Miami at noon. It is early, though, and Syracuse fans commuting to the game are probably taking a later train. The excitement literally builds as the stops en route to Brooklyn pass by.

The first stop on the day in Brooklyn (Ray Floriani photo)

Inside the arena I run into my college coach, Jim Satalin, from my student/manager days at St. Bonaventure. Satalin is doing Syracuse radio and notes the Orange have yet to win an ACC Tournament game. Satalin also remarks with sadness how unfairly Mark Gottfried was treated at NC State.

If you like Xs and Os, Syracuse-Miami is a good matchup: Miami working against the patented 2-3 zone of Syracuse. On the other end, the Orange of Jim Boeheim using a lot of patience against the Miami man-to-man.

In a game that epitomizes March Madness, Miami held off a late charge by Syracuse to post a 62-57 victory. Rebounding and defense were the key for Jim Larranaga’s ‘Canes. In their early January loss at the Carrier Dome, Larranaga felt his team was deficient in those areas. Today they took care of business, limiting Syracuse to four offensive rebounds. They came up with the big plays in the stretch.

Duke faced Clemson in the second game. The Blue Devils got out to an early 7-1 lead and threatened to run away with it. Resilient Clemson regrouped, was able to impose more of a half court tempo and at the half it was 33-all.

Duke pushed the pace to open the second half, building a nine-point lead in the early minutes. In a half court set Mike Krzyzewski’s group starts running some very efficient sets. Multiple passes, movement and isolating against a defender on the baseline.

Clemson’s middle name is resilience. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski did not feel his team played a subpar defensive game. Regardless of that, the Tigers were able to trim a double-digit deficit midway through the second half to one possession with under three minutes to go. The Tigers were never able to get a lead or tie. Luke Kennard hit a succession of clutch shots and the Blue Devils sealed it from the charity stripe 79-72.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell cited Duke’s presence of multiple scorers (three hit twenty points today) as a defensive problem. Brownell, whose team is 17-15, ruled out an NCAA bid. Unlike many coaches who do not qualify for the Big Dance, Brownell looks forward to an NIT bid and “the chance to do as well as we can.”

Between game media meal time is spent with a group including former Seton Hall and Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez. ACC officiating supervisor Brian Kersey also drops by to chat. By 6 p.m. Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are on the floor stretching, shooting and getting ready for their second round game at 7 p.m.

I then talk with two Florida State assistants who are advance scouting. Their last trip here was the Pre-season NIT in November. There, they blew a 19-point lead in the semis against eventual champion Temple, they then went down in the consolation. Back at Barclays they are hoping to have a better experience. Both assistants coached in high school. We spent time comparing tournament structures in my native New Jersey and their former states, Indiana and Kentucky.

Wake Forest and Virginia Tech are contrasts in the early going. Wake looked to run and shoot the three, while Virginia Tech was not afraid of the three but more apt to try to get in the lane or utilize ball screens in their sets. After a fast Wake start, it soon turns into a one-possession game in the first half.

At the end of the half Virginia Tech is down four with 1.5 seconds left. They inbound from their own baseline. A long pass is errant and picked up by Wake’s Greg McClinton, who throws and buries a 75-foot bomb. Tech is now down seven.

The last shot of the half did not affect Tech. They came out strong the second half and built on the momentum of the strong start. They are leading by a possession with about 12 minutes to go.

It is time for yours truly to exit. The two train to The Garden calls and a 9:30 date with Xavier vs. DePaul. For the first two stops the train is empty. No problem as the laptop is out and I am busy writing this account. St. John’s faced Georgetown at seven at MSG. Figure the nightcap will tip off around 9:30 so everything seems to be right on schedule.

The second stop of the day was Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament (Ray Floriani photo)

I get in MSG about 9:15. The St. John’s game is just finishing and the Red Storm survive two late misses by Georgetown to win by one. The television in the media room replays a near confrontation between respective coaches Chris Mullin of St. John’s and John Thompson III of Georgetown. The rivalry still runs deep.

The night cap of Xavier and DePaul tips off about 9:50. I check on kenpom.com to see Virginia Tech has defeated Wake Forest 99-90. I had to get on the road but lament missing a Buzz Willams presser. The Virginia Tech mentor is always entertaining and insightful. I left an offensive display at Barclays, and with Xavier and DePaul there is a marked contrast. Especially in the early going, scoring is tough to come by. After four minutes the score is tied at two. Both offenses are struggling to get something going.

Early in the second half Xavier comes out strong and their good start carries over. Around midway through the half DePaul is down nine. The way points are coming that nine feels like 19. Xavier is a different team the last twenty minutes. Not only finding the range but running their offense a lot better.

At about 11:40 with a train connection to New Jersey awaiting, it is time to exit MSG. I get back to New Jersey and walking to my car it feels like Syracuse-Miami was two days, not twelve hours ago. I get home to get the box score on Xavier’s win over DePaul and feel a bit sad for DePaul’s Billy Garrett Jr. closing out his career. Garrett is a nice player who in his four years played in a struggling situation.

Thursday, the Big East quarterfinals are on tap at the Garden. Villanova-St. John’s tips it off at noon – in my case a little less than twelve hours. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, from a coaching standpoint, noted how conference tournaments are challenging because there is one day preparation. Even the NCAAs you get a little more prep time. There is also little down time for us on the writing/analyzing end. No complaints. March is the best time of the year.

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