They call it the World's Greatest Arena. In fact, I do this, all the time.
I do this knowing it's not the World's Greatest Arena in a lot of ways. It's cookie-cutter. It's a little dilapidated. The paint is chipped, you feel like you're in the late 80's, even with the fancy new scoreboards and whatnot.
But if you tell me there's a more basketball place in the universe, and you're lying. New York isn't basketball's birthplace, and its no longer the place where its best practicioners hail from. But if basketball had to pick a home, it would probably settle somewhere in these five boroughs. Each of these five will claim they run basketball, but, the truth is, the only place eight million people can turn their eyes to watch the same game is Madison Square Garden, and when we do, we do. A big game in Madison Square Garden feels different than one anywhere else. Maybe I'm just saying this because I was raised being brought to the mecca in midtown to see Patrick Ewing and the gang take on the East's best in the 90's in my little John Starks jersey, not understanding how much my dad paid for those tickets, but the truth is, no place else will you get 20,000 fans who don't just watch basketball, they love and live it. The sell-outs are infectious. For a few hours, you felt like you were at the center of the earth. And in basketball terms, I feel like maybe it was. There's no better place in the world to watch a professional basketball game: it was built for it, meant for it, and the crowd makes it worth it. They say miracles happen on 34th, but the only miracles I ever cared about happened on 32nd.
I look forward to seeing how empty it is for tonight's Northwestern vs. St. Francis matchup. Apparently, the Holiday Festival is a tournament that apparently doesn't care what other tournaments your team has never been invited to ever in the history of the sport.
Are they good?: Another winning team from the NEC - the Terriers (AWWWW THE TERRIERS) are 6-3, but haven't beaten a team with a winning record yet. And losses to Brown and South Florida aren't indicators of a great team, but they're not terrible. For a team NU is playing this non-conference schedule, the Terriers (AWWWWWW THE TERRIERS) are decidedly average.
Who they got?: The Terriers (AWWWWW TERRIERS ARE SO FRIGGIN CUTE GUYS) employ an attack rarely seen outside of 1970's Lagos rec leagues known as the "Double Akeem". It is called this because they have players named 6-foot-3 senior guard Akeem Bennett and 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Akeem Johnson. Bennett is the team's best player, leading them in scoring (16.3) rebounds (6.2) and shooting 42 percent from downtown. However, his strength is his defense, forcing a steal on about one in 20 opposing possessions (2.8 per game) making him 21st in the nation according to Kenpom. (Thanks to Bennett, the team is 18th in the nation, forcing turnovers on 26 percent of opposing possessions.) Johnson, however, is the team's beast in the paint, shooting 60 percent from the field. He's coming off a 22-point, 10 rebound performance against Dartmouth. Beware the Double Akeem. As a team, they like to shoot, scoring over 30 percent of their points from downtown, and most of that scoring from downtown comes from senior guard Ricky Cadell, who led the team in scoring last year and is shooting 41 percent from 3 this year.
Us and them: Only one meeting between NU and St. Francis, which came in 1998, with NU sneaking away with the 69-66 win. Surprising they've only met once considering the... obvious... link...
Difference between the amount of times they have been to the NCAA's and the amount of times NU has: ZERO!!!!! As you probably know, St. Francis is one of the five teams to have been in Division I basketball competition since the inception of the NCAA tournament in 1939 never to qualify for the Big Dance. In that time, they've even won four conference titles - most recently in 2001 - but never won a conference tournament. The most famous basketball person related to St. Francis is ageless NBA ref Dick Bavetta, who apparently once was alive before he reffed basketball games and during that time played for St. Francis.
Is it true that the "St." in "St. Francis" stands for Steve? No. I made this up when I began writing this post. Steve Francis University is an unlicensed for-profit educational institution that nobody has attended since 2003, but that Isiah Thomas once attempted to trade for. St. Francis University is a Roman-Catholic school based in Loretto, Pennsylvania, erroneously named after my co-author, whose sports teams, the Red Flash, also participate in the NEC. St. Francis College is the 2,000 undergrad Roman-Catholic school located in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn? Again?: Yes. This time in Brooklyn Heights, only a ten-minute walk or so past Borough Hall, or one stop on the 2/3, or two stops on the N/R, from NU's last Crooklyn-based opponent LIU. (Yeah, they're in Brooklyn Heights and Fort Greene and I have no right to call either of those areas Crooklyn because you can sip lattes in either, but I will.) Unbeknownst to me, there is a "rivalry" between these two schools that annually participate in a showdown called "the Battle of Brooklyn". Revolutionary War buffs will disagree with that title, as will, you know, ANY resident of Brooklyn at all familiar with the local hoops scene - uh, Lincoln vs. Boys and Girls? Lincoln vs. any school in Brooklyn for that matter? - anyway, the Wikipedia brags that this showdown has been going on annually since 1993! Wow! That's... that's not even as long as both teams have been in the same conference! Rivalry! (As always, I like to point out that their big rivalry should be with St. Francis (PA) - earlier this year the Terriers won the Battle for Assisi, which will be contested again later this year.)
Will the Terriers (AWWWWWW) have a home court advantage at MSG?: Nope. I'd never really heard of St. Francis as a college, and even after I had, wasn't sure they were in Brooklyn. St. Francis only has about 2,000 students, and all of those are commuters, so it's not a big student body. That said, props to the Terriers for a very NYC-centric team. Five players under roster from the city proper and two more in-state players. In fact, there's only one American player on their roster that isn't from the New York City area - they have five foreign players under roster. So props for that, St. Francis. NYC everything.
Good names?: There's Matt Milk, the creamy 6-foot-8 forward whose name you never want to hear at the end of the phrase "this cheese was made with", and noteworth assistant coach Danny Nigro, who is white.
Anything to look for?: I like to be analytical, but it's hard when NU is rolling so hard. Clicking on pretty much every facet of the game right about now. I'd like to see free throw shooting stay consistent so I can rest my mind on that front, and I'd like to see NU again hold a lesser opponent at bay without having to resort to the 1-3-1. On offense, the Cats seem to have everything in order - even though St. Francis forces turnovers at a great rate, they shouldn't bug the Cats much.
Should NU win?: Possibly a little less handily than against American and Long Island, but still, quite handily. St. Francis doesn't have much business troubling NU, even though they are an above .500 team.