Every year at this time there is hope.
Hope one of our local teams is running. Hope until March there is a team that can get hot and play until late in the month. Hope there is a program that everyone can stand behind.
This year we have more than hope. We have realistic dreams. There is a team that may or may not be lucky enough to win a tournament game or receive the right draw to reach Sweet 16.
Seton Hall looks like a legitimate Final Four contender – the first team in this field to have had such high expectations for 21 years. This team, led by Ron Artest, Erick Barkley and Lavor Postell, came within three points of the Final Four that Ohio State had supplanted in the Elite Eight. It was a triple.
No local team has been set so high since then. Only the 1999-2000 Seton Hall team reached the second weekend, and this group was a ten seed that lost in the regional semi-finals. It was a long drought.
These 12th pirates are different. They are experienced and deep, well trained and versatile. You can play big or small. They have one of the best players in the country, Senior Myles Powell, and aspiring goalscorers like Quincy McKnight, Jared Rhoden and Sandro Mamukelashvili. Center Romaro Gill is one of the best shot blockers in the country – he refused 3.6 shots per game, the third highest in the country – a key to keeping the pirates on the defensive in ninth place. They have nine home wins and six quadrant 1 wins on the road, most of them in the country. Her 13 wins in Quadrant 1 and 2 are the second most common in the nation, after only 15 in Kansas. They have four wins over teams that are in the top 24 of the NET, the assessment tools upon which the selection committee relies.
"I really think they are one of the best teams in the country," said Villanova coach Jay Wright on Saturday after losing to the pirates, comparing them to some of his best teams.
In the NCAA tournament series on Saturday, which took place five weeks and one day before the selection Sunday, Seton Hall was forecast as a three-seed in the South region. Villanova No. 10 was then placed on the street. A two or three seed in the east with which they would play in the garden on the second weekend of the tournament is within reach.
Everything is fine for Seton Hall this year. Powell, a national player of the year, flirted with the NBA and returned. Several key players have improved. There are no great teams in college basketball, no one should be afraid of Seton Hall. The way to the Final Four could be local: Albany followed by the garden.
That is more than hope. Happiness is not needed. Seton Hall has all the pieces – and the resume – to give the area some real March memories. 21 years have passed since you can speak of any team here.
Accept it as queasy
With each defeat, St. John's fans seem to be more skeptical of coach Mike Anderson.
I get emails, text messages and tweets about it. My message: breathe. This would never be a quick fix, not after Justin Simon and Shamorie Ponds broke into the professional ranks early on.
This team, which now plays 2-9 in the Great East and 13:11 in total, was voted ninth in the Great East by the league coaches due to a lack of talent. Many of the players in this squad don't fit Anderson's urgent, quick style. It is his first year in the Great East and he is learning the league.
I often hear from St. John's fans that they are tired of losing. It's been 20 years since the Johnnies last won an NCAA tournament game. This is not Anderson's fault. He just got here.
Give him time, let him recruit. It's no coincidence that he's never had a season of defeat in the past 17 seasons as head coach, and I still don't think he'll have one this year either.
A knight to remember
Hate him or love him Bobby Knight deserves Saturday in the auditorium.
At 79, the former trainer deals with health problems. But it was a day he will appreciate, his long-awaited return to Indiana, where he trained for 29 seasons. He was back for the first time twenty years after his release and received a warm ovation surrounded by so many of his former players.
After being dispatched from Indiana to pack in 2000, Knight refused to return and missed the reunions of the championships and even his admission to the Indiana Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009. In July, he returned to the area and attended a baseball game in Indiana last spring, a sign of the flood.
Knight won a school record of 662 games, 11 Big Ten championships, reached five final fours and led the Hoosiers to three national titles. He could be rude and his methods were sometimes exaggerated. Still, he was Indiana basketball for almost three decades.
Game of the week
No. 8 Florida State at No. 7 Duke, Monday, 7:00 p.m.
It's a rarity when the ACC offers a must-watch game – the league has fallen so far this year – but it certainly qualifies. The loser will fall two games behind Louisville No. 5 on the ACC, while the winner will stay right on the cardinals' tail for the league crown. The state of Florida is scorching hot after winning 13 of its last 14 games – eight in the double digits. Duke has won five times in a row and will be a huge success after his exciting overtime victory over bitter rival North Carolina.
1: Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga, State of San Diego
2: Louisville, Duke, Seton Hall, Dayton
3: Maryland, State of Florida, Oregon, West Virginia
4: Auburn, Penn State, Villanova, Colorado
Above: Samir Doughty
It feels like life before. Doughty was a St. John's commit. It was actually five years ago. His career has been a whirlwind ever since. After the then national team coach Steve Lavin was released, he was responsible for a partial qualifier in his first season at VCU. After a solid year of promotion, he moved to one of the best teams in the country and, after serving as a quality player, was the top scorer in Auburn's run to the Final Four last year. The 6-foot-4-year-old from Philadelphia was one of the keys to the Tiger's surprising run after losing three starters and averaging career highs in points (15.5), rebounds (3.9), and assists (2.6) achieved.
On: Mark Turgeon
Whenever Maryland slips, you hear calls for his job. Now that the pond turtles are on the rise, it's only fair that Turgeon is credited. He has Maryland on the way to a fifth NCAA tournament in seven years, at the top of the Big Ten – the best conference in the country this year – after an impressive win at No. 20 in Illinois on Friday evening. Maryland in ninth place has three league wins – that's a lot in its conference – and an inside-out duo with Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan Jr. that can bewitch March. No one will ever confuse Turgeon with a brilliant tactician, but he's led Maryland to his best regular season since reaching Sweet 16 four years ago.
Below: North Carolina
The talent is not typical of North Carolina. Star newcomer Cole Anthony missed 11 games due to a knee injury. Roger that. The tar heels shouldn't be 10-13. They shouldn't have taken the lead against Duke by 4:40 points on Saturday, and they should certainly not have suffered a home defeat against Wofford, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Clemson. You can blame coach Roy Williams. You can blame the players. Both are fair. This season's stain, the worst in Chapel Hill in 18 years since North Carolina won just eight games under Matt Doherty, lies with everyone.
Indiana and Archie Miller have lost four games in a row and are in the bubble in their third season. Arizona and Sean Miller lost to mediocre UCLA at home on Saturday and are far from certain despite a strong NET 11 rating due to a pedestrian resume that includes only two Quadrant 1 wins. It was going to be a big year for both brothers after missing the tournament last year. Instead, February is here and neither team seems to play a role in March.