Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NIT Notebook: Carolina Wants Duke to Lose; Baron Focusing on Rhode Island, not St. John’s; Allen to George Mason
NEW YORK — The North Carolina Tar Heels are the defending national champions until the night of April 5.
And when that Monday night comes around, the Heels hope somebody besides the Duke Blue Devils are raising the championship trophy.
“Ahhh, I want to see them lose because their Duke. I’d rather have West Virginia win,” freshman point guard Dexter Strickland of Rahway, N.J. told me Monday afternoon in Manhattan.
While Duke advanced to the NCAA Final Four to play West Virginia Saturday in Indianapolis, Carolina will play Rhode Island Tuesday night in the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden. Dayton meets Mississippi in the other NIT semi.
The West Virginia squad features a starting five made up entirely of players from New York and New Jersey, so Strickland is rooting for the Mountaineers over the Dukies.
“Da’Sean Butler is from New Jersey, so it’s nice to see him get a win. I’d rather them win than Duke win any day,” Strickland said referring to Butler, a senior wing from Newark who was instrumental in the Mountaineers winning their first Big East tournament title at the Garden.
Carolina coach Roy Williams was a little more political, saying it’s good for the Carolina-Duke rivalry when both teams succeed.
Duke is in its 11th Final Four under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, but its first since 2004. Coach K has led the Devils to three NCAA titles while Williams has won two at Carolina since 2005.
“I think Duke is the favorite,” Williams said. “They’ve proven that. They’re a No. 1 seed, they deserve a No. 1 seed.
“I think West Virginia’s next. They’re a 2 seed , they’re a 2 seed because of their play. Then I think Butler and Michigan State are 5 seeds. It’s weird because a 1’s playing a 2 and 5’s playing 5.”
Asked flat out if he was hoping for Duke to lose, Williams did a nifty little dance.
“You’re talking about probably the largest rivalry there is in college basketball is Duke and North Caorlina. Duke helps make us good. and I hope that we hope make Duke good,” Williams said.
“When we play each other, when both teams are really highly ranked, it gets so much attention. For me deep down inside that is the most important thing. As long as we stay very good and they stay very good, that helps both of us.”
BARON FOCUSING ON RHODE ISLANDWhile rumors swirl that Rhode Island coach Jim Baron could be in the mix for the St. John’s job, Baron says he’s strictly focused on his team and the NIT.
“I’m worried about my team,” said the Brooklyn native. “I always love coming back to New York because this is where I grew up. It’s great, my family’s here. I’m just worried about my team getting ready to play in the NIT, and that’s the most important thing for me right now.
“Once that’s over, then we’ll deal with the next issue. But right now I want the focus to be on North Carolina Tar Heels.”
Baron said he’s received calls from the media about the issue while he was visiting his brother in the hospital in Rochester. His brother just had open-heart surgery.
“I just said I wanted to focus on my brother and my team as far as getting ready for this NIT,” he said. “Let me tell you something. You can’t worry about anything else but North Carolina when you’re playing against North Carolina.”
St. John’s is set to meet with ESPN analyst Steve Lavin Monday in the New York area and if the meeting goes well, he could become the next St. John’s coach.
Norm Roberts was fired two weeks ago after six years on the job.
There has been speculation that former Virginia coach Dave Leitao could be an assistant to Lavin, but two sources said the men hadn’t spoken in over a year.
Besides, Leitao is said to be in the mix for head coaching vacancies at both Hofstra and UNC-Charlotte.
“He’s involved in about two or three jobs,” said an industry source. “The thing with him to St. John’s may not materialize.”
BRYON ALLEN TO GEORGE MASONBryon Allen, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound point guard from Oakdale (Conn.) St. Thomas More, verbally committed to George Mason Monday, choosing them over Siena and SMU.
“I felt it was the best program for me,” Allen said. “I felt real comfortable there.”
Allen initially committed to West Virginia, but lost his scholarship when Joe Mazzulla was granted a redshirt season.
An Upper Marlboro, Md. native, Allen said the George Mason campus in Fairfax, Va., was about 45 minutes from his home so “my friends and family can see me play.”
Allen knows several George Mason players from the high school and AAU ranks, including Isaiah Tate, Paris Bennett and Rashad Whack.
“I know some of the guys from high school and AAU, he said.
Fran McCaffery’s decision to leave Siena for Iowa on Sunday triggered Allen’s decision.
“I was really considering Siena, but once I found out coach was leaving I went with George Mason,” he said.
Allen said he hopes to come in and battle for time at point guard.
“Coach [Jim Larranaga] said it’s up to me. I have to give it my all and show my leadership and skills and show what I can do,” he said.
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.