Justin Brownlee


A hobbled DJ Kennedy (above, middle), of St. John’s.

St. John’s, who was probably headed for a four seed on Sunday when the NCAA announces its tournament dance card, can expect to receive a lesser seed and a much rougher travel scenario because of the torn ACL suffered by well rounded guard/forward DJ Kennedy, who is at worst the 2nd or 3rd best player on the Johnnies.  Kennedy suffered the tear on Thursday in the quarter-finals of the Big East Tournament against Syracuse, in a game St. John’s ultimately lost, 79-73.

The Johnnies weathered the loss of Kennedy early on, taking a 37-32 lead into the half, but were significantly outplayed in the 2nd half by the Orange, despite taking a point lead with about 3 minutes to play.  In light of the injury to Kennedy, Steve Lavin went to a bigger lineup, playing Evans, Burrell, and Brownlee in the forecourt.  But without Kennedy, the team looked disorganized on defense on crucial possesions late, giving up easy dunks in the paint and an offensive rebound that resulted in a layup for Syracuse which essentially sealed the game.

The selection committe has been known to drop teams’ seeding when they lose key players late in the season.  Losing to Syracuse alone, a higher ranked squad, would probably not have led to a worse seed.  But losing Kennedy from an already thin team will.  The injury also concerns us because it could serve to deflate a group that had been playing with a lot of confidence.

Dwayne Polee II, who had little success after a strong start to the season, should be looked upon by the coaches as someone who will need to step up in the place of Kennedy.  Though we will admit to being disheartened by the loss of Kennedy, we would expect no less from this coaching staff than to see this team come out fully ready to play next week in St. John’s first trip to the tournament in 10 years.

And we hate to put sour grapes out there, but truth is, we just don’t see the importance of The Big East Tournament, which is more grueling than the NCAA tournament, for example, with a team like UCONN playing 5 games in 5 days, and the possibility of injury one week before the NCAA championship tournament.  Sure, small conference tournys are fine where you are playing for a bid.  But let’s face it.  Unless there’s a fluke, a good team that’s already going to the dance is going to win the Big East Tournament.  And a Providence or a Seton Hall, should they pull off a miracle, still should not get the luxury of wiping away a season of bad results by capturing lightning in a bottle for a few days in New York.

Crack (http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, www.crackbillionair.com)

Home team calls?  How about call.  We wouldn’t necessarily agree with Fran Fraschilla’s assertion that 4 or 5 non calls down the stretch aided St. John’s and hurt Rutgers University a little while ago on the floor of Madison Square Garden in the 2nd round of the Big East Tournament.  Fraschilla has a bit of Lavin/St. John’s envy.  That’s understandable.  After all, the guy was Lavin once upon a time, the hot new St. John’s coach who restored the program to glory and recruited with gusto, until he allegedly pulled his pants down in front of the team in the locker room, during a speech about how the team needed to show more balls.  We kid you not.

Fraschilla is a local guy from Marine Park, and he did a fine job, until the Reverend Harrington found out about the inappropriate tirade and dismissed him.  Fraschilla is a classless version of Lavin, obviously, and while he was awarding calls to Rutgers down the stretch left and right, while feeling sorry for himself.  Was Frashcilla correct that the refs put their whistles away and stopped officiating the game?  Yes he was.  But the only clearly one sided non call was the one on Brownlee who clearly went out of bounds with 1.7 seconds left.  In a perfect world, the refs spot that straight away, re-set the clock to 1.7 and let Rutgers inbound the ball and attempt to run a play.

Guess what?  The world’s not perfect.  People are crying about the great injustice of this, when it happens almost monthly in the NFL, and at best, the unlucky loser gets an acknowledgement from the league that a call was blown a few days after the incident.  Well, Rutgers got something a little better than that then.  NCAA Head of Officials John Adams called the end of game sequence “unacceptable” a mere hour after the game was finished.  So there you go, Scarlet Knights’ fans.  Enjoy the fruits of that bounty.

Obviously, St. John’s was lucky to win this game.  The Johnnies blew a 10 point lead down the stretch, fell behind a point with about a minute to go, got huge free throw makes from Dwight Hardy and Sean Evans, along with a costly Hardy turnover which gave Rutgers a chance to take the lead in the final seconds.  St. John’s got a stop and a rebound, got a make and a miss at the line from Brownlee, and then Rutgers threw the ball in from under their rim to around half court, where Fraschilla wanted a ridiculous over the back call on Hardy.  Right.  Like Rutgers had established position on 50′ pass that was essentially a jump ball.  Fraschilla called for 4 or 5 over the back fouls on St. John’s in the final 17 seconds alone.  No way.  And Hardy, on his final shot from the field had drawn clear contact, but got no whistle.  The officials wanted to let the kids play it out, which we clearly get.  That worked for and against St. John’s until the final 2 seconds, when it clearly worked for St. John’s. 

We’ll take it.  Did Lavin do the greatest job on earth down the stretch?  No.  He did a poor job.  Though he ran a play that got Hardy to the free throw line out of a timeout for the final lead, Lavin took a very curious posture when he sent Rutgers to the line to shoot rather than giving them an opportunity to tie the game.  He had a 3 point lead, and with a defensive club, a persona predicated on defense, you let your defense close out the game.  What if Rutgers makes the 1st, gets an offensive board, which they got at will all 2nd half, and then cans a 3?  They get out with the win.  Also, it’s the job of Lavin and staff to prep the team for the final seconds.  With 5.5 to go, they are in a timeout, and they have to be coached up on playing through the final buzzer.  What Brownlee did, going out of bounds with no court or clock awareness, and then flinging the ball up to the rafters, was disgusting.

You know we love Lavin, but like he says, responsibility rests with him.  If that was a Herb Brooks team, they’d be skating right now.  But there’s a silver lining.  The team will be on its best behavior for tomorrow’s Garden rematch with Syracuse, and they’ll need to be sharp.  Today’s slopfest should ensure that St. John’s has the right mindset tomorrow at 2 PM.     

Sorry if we aren’t going to cry for Rutgers.  We like their coach, Mike Rice.  He prepares his team.  We were lucky to beat them at Carneseca and lucky again today.  We rooted hard for Seton Hall yesterday because to us, that represented the much easier game.  Rice’s kids play defense, and the guy has a good attitude.  Minutes after the game in interviews, he wasn’t crying or badmouthing the officials.  He said he refused to cry over things he had no control over, like officiating.  Rice knows in the big picture, that Rutgers hasn’t done anything yet to warrant any special treatment, like the ridiculous notion that they should put 2 ticks on the clock and bring the teams back out to finish the game.

The Big East already acknowledged that there were 2 separate blown calls at the end of that game.  And that since play wasn’t initially stopped, the play was not “reviewable” or “correctable.”  Only if the officials had stopped Brownlee and St. John’s from running off the court could they have gone to the video review.  Ho hum.  No tears for Rutgers.  Bad calls happen all the time.  Officials who make enough bad calls could get pulled from the tournament officiating rotation.  That’s the most that will happen here, if that.

We respect Rutgers’ efforts and class today.  But it was doubtful they’d have gotten it done with 1.7 to play anyway.  We’re more concerned with avenging the Syracuse loss and shutting up that moron Scoop Jardine.  So we’ll give Lavin, Hardy, and Brownlee a pass for their parts in today’s chaos, as long as they do better tomorrow.

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Now let’s go Redmen!

Crack (http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, www.crackbillionair.com)

St. John’s “big man” Justin Burrell.

So St. John’s, after 5 stirring victories in a row, went to South Bend last Saturday.  A vteran Notre Dame team crushed them, content to move the ball quickly and to exploit mismatches, the Irish kept scoring, and never allowed St. John’s to establish their defensive stronghold, and then to get out in transition.  Then this week, in front of a 14,440 Garden faithful–an excellent crowd considering New York City’s inclement weather–things only got tougher for Lavin’s crew.  St. John’s, now having dropped 5 straight to Syracuse, got out well in the game.  Up 17-8 early, St. John’s produced hardly a noteworthy moment from that time forward.  The Orange went on an 11-0 run to tie, and then the Johnnies inability to score in the half court was again glaring.  At 25-18 down, St. John’s canned two straight threes to pull to 25-24.  From there they were outscored 51-35, for a 76-59 loss which was not as close as the scoreboard indicated.  At 25-24, Syracuse ran off 4 straight buckets in what semed like a blink.  At that point it was 33-24, and essentially, the game was over.

The loss made two straight in the Big East for St. John’s, which for the moment, dropped them to 3-2 in conference play, and 10-5 overall.  It seemed no help was on the horizon, with a Garden rematch looming versus Notre Dame looming yesterday afternoon.  But knowing Lavin, we had a good feeling about yesterday’s game, if once again, we couldn’t tell you why.  Probably has a little something to do with the fact that St. John’s has a newly restored element in their midst this year called pride. 

The Johnnies upped their record to 11-5 (4-2 conf) by protecting the home court yesterday in New York.  They did it according to the Lavin/Keady blueprint: stops and run outs.  St. John’s held a 26-19 lead at the half which they parlayed into an impressive 72-54 win over the formerly 11th ranked Irish, who turned up 16th in this week’s latest poll.  The win was the 2nd in 2 weeks over ranked opponents for the Johnnies who are building quite a case for an NCAA bid, now about half way through their season.  St. John’s was led by D.J. Kennedy, who had 14 pts and 8 boards, Dwight Hardy, who had 12 pts on 4-6 shooting, with 4 rebounds and 4 assists to go with it, and Justin Brownlee, who added 11 points and 5 rebounds.  In what was a shocker to us, Malik Boothe, who we have absolutely trashed for his lack of ability, brought 14 pts to the table in 24 minutes. 

http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/st-johns-stuns-13-georgetown-61-58-madison-square-garden/

But we’d like to go back to Syracuse.  Not actually, but for the sake of trashing them in this space.  God, we hate them.  From the way ESPN’s crew fetes them–touting how they feel the Garden is their home away from home–to the way their players run their mouths.

“We just know where we stand with New York and where New York stands with us.  St. John’s is having a great year.  We’re not taking anything away from them…but we’re New York’s team right now.” — Scoop Jardine

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/college/2011/01/12/2011-01-12_syracuse_invades_madison_square_garden_outclasses_st_johns_7659_in_big_east_new_.html

They talk because they are worried.  St. John’s is in play on all viable city kids, cutting into Syracuse’s recruiting base considerably.  And Lavin’s California pipeline and pull out in the Golden State can not be matched by Syracuse, who has now watched California pull what looks like two consecutive Mr. Basketball’s from Cali, Dwayne Polee, and next year’s gem, big man Norvel Pelle.  We hear Remi Barry is still beaming about his visit to campus as well.  Wearing ‘NY’s Team’ shirts in the Garden and chirping about it, as well as a tacky guerilla marketing campaign in which they rented out the tops of New York City yellow taxis and installed orange plackards was at once desperate and sad.

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Look, what kid in his right mind would want to play for Syracuse over St. John’s?  Who is going to pick the sticks over the city?  Syracuse is so far from everywhere that their sticks have sticks.  There are no basketball players in Syracuse to recruit, so they have to try to snag our kids.  In fact, there’s nothing in Syracuse.  It makes “cultural hubs” like Texas and Indiana seem like Milan.  Syracuse is 5-6 hours outside the city on a good day, but we wouldn’t call it God’s country.  My friend and I traveled their not too long ago to visit a friend, and since I went to college upstate, I had occasion to visit in my younger days as well.  No redeeming elements whatsover. 

In our recent visit, we left Manhattan at midnight, were on the West Side Highway immediately, and were on the Thruway and rolling with in a blink, at 75 MPH, for a good 2 hours.  We felt good about life.  And then we saw a sign that said, “Syracuse: 280 Miles.”  That was the worst sign I have ever read in my life.  It was worse than the drug disclaimers you read when going through customs in Bermuda.  I much prefer the drive to Florida.  It may be 20 something hours, but when you get there, at least you’re in Florida, not Syracuse.

They have a great team again and have put some fine players in the pros of late, like Johnny Flynn and Wes Johnson, who we’d take on the Knicks in a heart beat.  But they’re Syracuse.  I’d rather go to Fordham.  As for St. John’s, they face Louisville Wednesday night in Louisville in Lavin’s first trip there since resurrecting the program.

http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/memo-to-fordham-curb-your-enthusiasm/

Crack (http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, www.crackbillionair.com)

St. John’s star Dwight Hardy (above).

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As St. John’s opened the season at St.Mary’s in Northern California, alum and New York basketball demigod Chris Mullin looked on.  Sure Mullin is also connected through the Warriors to the Northern California basketball scene, but we thought that it was a good pull for Lavin in his debut.  We’ve watched, and been critical of this current team, while placing every possible faith in new coach Steve Lavin, who has quickly genereated a buzz.  In our critical mind, the losses to Fordham and St. Bonaventures, were ominous signs for the current squad, and made us temper our enthusiasm for the Lavin buzz, because as great as the recruiting has been, a season is going on, and the team right now is the team you have on the floor.

We watched as St. John’s slithered through the Holiday Festival, and went on record as saying we thought they’d take Northwestern, even if we couldn’t tell you why.  We watched as St. John’s scored a miraculous upset at West Virginia over a coach we respect in Bob Huggins, and then followed it up with the nice win at Providence.  But tonight, now that was some shit.  The Garden had a buzz about it.  Lou Carnesecca was seated in his perch in row 4–the Godfather.  Dejauan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs, in town to play the Knicks, was on hand to watch Pittsburgh buddy Dwight Hardy.  And the ever stylish Allan Houston of the New York Knicks front office–a good basketball man, was also there to see New York City’s finest college basketball go down.

Dwight Hardy didn’t disappoint his big name friend in attendance, scoring several clutch baskets down the stretch after St. John’s blew the lead in the final 5 minutes, and for the guy that Lavin called perhaps the best shooter he has ever coached, including UCLA stock such as Trace Murray and Jason Kapono, it was Hardy off the dribble that really killed Georgetown.  Hardy made 5-10 from the field and 10/1o at the line, and broke Georgetown down at will with a lightning first step.  St. John’s received impressive play–standout–from Justin Brownlee, who in addition to scoring 15 pts, added a very well rounded 7 rebounds and 6 assists in 40 minutes, and from the guy who Lavin called his “Bruce Bowen”, and who we had no idea had it in him–Paris Horne.  Horne, in one succession, had an immense defensive play in which he drew a charge, then grabbed an offensive board and in watching, we had to admit that the guy was everywhere.  And it was Brownlee, who, trailing 58-57 crashed the boards on an impressive run to the hoop that Hardy couldn’t finish, and converted the put back to take the lead once and for all. 

Lavin has said things all along that we attributed to him as having to say in order to get the most out of this basketball team.  Like after the upset at West Virginia, he said that the team is coming together and that their best basketball was ahead.  And after bad losses to the Bonnies and Fordham, Lavin said that he could feel the team improving and coming together.  Though we didn’t necessarily buy it, and chalked it up to coach speak, he wasn’t lying.  Lavin is showing himself as not just the king of networking–the guy who has been able to access and accentuate every aspect of St. John’s heritage, NYC, and the Garden as a home court to bring 6 top 70 basketball recruits here in next year’s class–but also as a supremely gifted coach with the talent he was given.  College basketball–the game in its purest form–is simple really when one breaks it down to the game’s common denominator, which is defense.  This team plays defense, and when you are in a 1 point game with a few minutes left, you have a chance, despite the names on the back of the jerseys.  Then there was the deft coaching move of shelfing both of the team’s horrible point guards, Malik Boothe and Malik Stith, who did not see a minute between them last night, instead opting to ride Kennedy, Hardy, and Brownlee for 40 minutes each.  Horne and Kennedy, taking the lion’s share of minutes in the backcourt–two guys who give you scoring (Hardy) and intangibles (both), have seen the Johnnies settle into this admirable identity, and have grown as a team.

With consecutive wins over Davidson, Northwestern, at West Virgina, at Providence, and at home versus #13 Georgetown, the team has already made a case for inclusion into the tournament, which would be its first such appearance in 10 years, if they could squeeze say another 10 wins out of the schedule, which they have navigated to an impressive 10-3 so far and a 3-0 count in the Big East.

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We couldn’t be happier with Lavin’s hiring and we’re sharpening our cutlery for the next time, say, a team like Fordham pops up on the schedule.  Tom Pecora?  You catch that game last night, troop?  Even though we didn’t want you, buddy, we hope you’re watching to see how a real coach does it.

Crack (http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

Andrew Nicholson (above) of St. Bonaventure.

Steve Lavin–New York City basketball savior, master recruiter, and fortune teller?  Prior to St. John’s awful 67-66 to a supposedly down Bonnies program at home, St. John’s coach Steve Lavin called dynamic St. Bonaventure big man Andrew Nicholson out of Toronto a “legitimate pro prospect” who was on “many NBA draft boards.”  Then St. John’s gets out to an early 17-4 lead, blows 10 point second half cushion, and the prescient Steve Lavin watches Nicholson drain a 19 footer with 5.2 seconds remaining over Justin Brownlee for the win.

Lavin was upbeat afterward and doggedly refused to address the elephant in the room–that the Jhonnies had suffered a very bad loss.  At home, and in front of a non existent crowd–another sign the always positive Lavin refused to take as an omen.  Lavin insisted that all of the team’s mistakes vs. the Bonnies were correctable, and that is what he told the team.  Last week, an interview with Mike Francesa and special guest, Governor David Paterson–not surprisingly, very well suited to talk radio–Lavin, when asked about attendance issues, refused to declare the program sound.  He said the University has seen a “slight uptick” in attendance, but was fairly resolute about the fact that New York is a smart town and that it will turn out in full force for a winner.

When watching the current squad, even with the vast improvement from last year’s staff to Lavin’s, it’s obvious that St. John’s is no winner yet.  Even with the addition of California’s 2009 Mr. Basketball, Dwayne Polee Jr., foundering of late in our opinion due to the overwhelming lack of talent.  By the way, we have to mention how disappointed we were in St. John’s alum Mike Francesa for his failure to say one word about Polee, St. John’s highest profile recruit in 10 years, throughout the course of the 22 minute interview.

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/audio-on-demand/mike-francesa-1/#

This team may be loaded with seniors, but it is a rag tag crew–an undersized bunch lacking in talent and without a true big man to match up with a big like Nicholson, and without a true playmaker who can push the ball and get it to Polee in the right spots on the floor.  A lot of the time Lavin is using 2 point guards simultaneously (Malik Boothe and Malik Stith) to make for the fact that neither can adequately do the job.  Seeing Boothe and Stith play with Polee is like watching 2 versions of Chris Childs next to a young James Worthy.  It’s painful.

In no way is it Lavin’s fault.  Polee, the only promising player on the team, is only here as a testament to Lavin’s recruiting wizardry.  Speaking of wizards, Lavin’s insistence on up tempo basketball and full court defense–adapted in part from his UCLA days and the influence of the great John Wooden–are the best strategies for covering the warts at the point guard position and for creating opportunities for Polee.  But as Lavin intimated to Francesa and Governor P, this team probably won’t win consistently or big for 2-3 years, likening the progress he will make to Jay Wright’s at Villanova’s, where it took four years to really get deep into an NCAA tournament.  Lavin’s stellar recruiting class in 2011 will probably need at least 1-2 years to develop, despite the best laid plans for the University by the best coaching staff to ever stalk the sideline over on Utopia Parkway.  Don’t be surprised if St. John’s has a really tough time today as well, against Tom Pecora’s Fordham Rams.  Fordham is fresh off an impressive blowout of Manhattan College.

That’s right, America.  You better beat St. John’s before it’s up and rolling.  Even mid to low majors may have a couple years still on St. John’s.  As Lavin said on the radio, quoting special advisor Gene Keady, “Inch by inch it’s a sinch.  Yard by yard it’s hard.”  We know Lavin is set to take the program miles into the future, and that the future will be well worth these growing pains.

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Crack (http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, www.crackbillionair.com)

St. John’s backup point guard Malik Stith (above).

St. John’s parlayed a first round overtime victory over Ball St. 78-73 into an impressive start to finish, 82-39 thumping of Drake in the semi-finals, and then stormed Arizona St. in the final 6 minutes of the Shootout final, for a rousing 67-58 win.  Down 51-45 with 6 minutes left, St. John’s guard Paris Horne got to the line where he made 1 of 2 free throws.  The diminutive Malik Boothe drew an over the back foul on the miss, and then Boothe went to the line and made 1 of 2 to cut the lead to 4.  Horne grabbed the offensive board on Boothe’s miss and converted an easy put back, cutting the lead down to 51-49.  Off the inbounds play, Stith stole the pass and converted a layup which drew St. John’s even, and then the Jhonnies applied full court pressure which led to another Stith steal, who set up Justin Brownlee for an easy dunk.

Brownlee had 20 points on the night and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.  St. John’s small lineup that consisted of 2 point guards (Stith and Boothe), guard Paris Horne, guard Dwight Hardy, and Brownlee put Arizona St. on lock in the last 6 minutes, limiting the Aztecs to 7 points the rest of the way.  Stith converted an improbable 3-pointer to stretch St. John’s lead to 58-53 with 2:00 minutes to play.  In addition to Brownlee, seniors Dwight Kennedy and D.J. Hardy also made the 2010 All Great Alaska Shoutout Team. 

Heralded freshman Dwayne Polee had a modest tournament and has been replaced for the moment in the starting lineup, though it was obviously the smaller lineup on the floor at the end of Sunday morning’s game that has proven most effective for St. John’s.  You have to like the intensity that St. John’s brought to Alaska, especially in the closing minutes against Ball St. and overtime, and dowwn the stretch versus ASU.  While the offense has looked dodgy at best and the free throw shooting has been woeful, it is clear that Lavin’s bunch is ready to compete defensively.

St. John’s (4-1) plays Wagner Wednesday night at Carnesecca.

Crack (http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, www.crackbillionair.com)

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