New York City tourism has long benefited from the men’s college basketball tournaments that kick off what has become commonly known around the country as March Madness. The Big East Tournament just celebrated its 35th anniversary at Madison Square Garden while Barclays Center had hosted the second-tier Atlantic-10 Conference since its opening five years ago.
This year however Barclays Center got a taste of the big time as it hosted the Atlantic Coast Conference, Tournament better known to sports fans as simply “The ACC.” Unlike the Big East which likes to stay put in MSG the ACC has decided to rotate the site of its championship tournament. It will take place in Brooklyn again next year. The A-10 will return to Barclays in 2019.
Syracuse men’s basketball head coach Jim Boeheim used to own Madison Square Garden whenever his Orangemen played there which was quite often when Syracuse was part of the Big East Conference. The trips to New York became rarer for him after Syracuse decided to switch to the higher profile ACC a few years ago.
Even though Syracuse was bounced out of the tournament by the University of Miami last Wednesday afternoon, Boeheim was thrilled to be playing in front of over 15,000 fans again in New York. He also managed to tick off ACC executives by saying that playing in Greensboro, NC, where the conference makes its headquarters, added no value to his program.
Of course the highlight of this year’s tournament was Friday night’s Duke-University of North Carolina showdown in the semi-finals. The rivalry between Duke and UNC ranks right up there with Alabama-Auburn, UCLA-USC, and Harvard and Yale as college sports’ fiercest.
While I enjoyed the 2009 HBO Sports documentary “The Battle for Tobacco Road” it is impossible to understand the intensity of this rivalry unless you see a men’s basketball game between these two neighboring fine institutions of higher education. It seemed as if the entire Hickory State made its way to Flatbush & Atlantic Avenues to witness the latest one.
Duke was down by as many as 13 points in the second half before its two stars, Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard, stepped up their game and led a comeback for which UNC had no answer as the Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels going away, 93-83.
The noise and excitement of the Duke-UNC game was a far cry from I have experienced covering Brooklyn Nets games where fans seem to get more excited when in-game host Ally Love announces a t-shirt launch into the stands than by what is occurring in the game itself. Nonetheless it sends a message to Nets brass that if the team can become competitive and develop a fan base (these two things do go together) then a game at Barclays Center can be a happening.
CBS and Turner Sports held their annual media seminar with the talent who will be handling the broadcasts for the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament.
There is little doubt that working in the New York market has its advantages as Nets broadcasters Jim Spanarkel and Forest Hills High School alum Ian Eagle will be handling play-by-play work while Wally Szczerbiak, who is an analyst on the MSG Knicks pre and postgame shows, will be doing similar duty duties for the CBS/Turner team.
Eagle spoke highly of Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson whose over-matched team plays hard all the time and to their immense credit they rarely gets blown out even though rarely win. He must be doing a good job because team morale is quite high in spite of the Nets’ pitiful record which is the worst in the NBA.
Wally Szczerbiak feels that the big story the rest of the season for the Knicks will be the development of point guard Chasson Randle. “It’s not just enough that he plays well, the Knicks have to win with him,” he said straightforwardly.
Clark Kellogg enjoyed a good college basketball and NBA career but he is best known for being CBS’ lead analyst on its college broadcasts. President Obama even joked that he wanted his job when he left the White House during a 2014 telecast.
Kellogg told me that he hasn’t heard from the former president in awhile and that he doesn’t have a problem with President Trump’s decision not to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps in filling out a bracket. “He’s not a sports fan so it wouldn’t be genuine on his part.”
Former St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin has always had one foot in the coaching world and the other in broadcasting. He has worked Big East telecasts for Fox Sports 1 the last couple of years and will be making his debut for CBS this month.
Lavin admitted that he still has the coaching itch but it would have to be a big name school in a big market to get him back to the sidelines. “I liked being undefeated!’ he joked.
What I liked most about Steve Lavin when he was the head coach of the Red Storm was that he was always available to the media and enjoyed answering every question. He concurred with my observation that too many sports public relations directors these days are trying to emulate what they see coming from the White House and are trying to obfuscate the press every chance that they can to prevent them from doing their jobs.
Sports documentary producer Ross Greenburg’s latest work, which debuted last Friday night on Showtime, was “Perfect in ‘76″ which looked at the undefeated 1976 season of the Indiana University Hoosiers who were led by Bobby Wilkerson, Scott May, and Quinn Buckner and were coached by arguably the most controversial college basketball figure in history, Bobby Knight.
As he has done in past documentaries, Greenburg has all of the major participants speak candidly about their remembrances to accompany the old school footage which is surprisingly well-preserved.
Bobby Knight was known for being a martinet but it’s clear that he cared about both his players’ health and studies. One player talked about how Knight threatened to cut him because he wasn’t studying as hard as he could have even though he wasn’t failing. Quinn Buckner joked about how Knight was concerned that living off campus would lead to poor nutrition habits and he was right.
Speaking of documentaries, “Mike & The Mad Dog,” a cinematic look at the careers of radio giants Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo, and will eventually be broadcast by ESPN as part of its “30 for 30″ film series, will have its debut next month at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Bill Webb, who won numerous Emmys for his direction of baseball games on television and spent a good chunk of his career working on Mets games, lost his battle with cancer last week. He was 65.
What was most memorable about Webb’s work is that he made sure that his cameramen captured the expressions of both fans and players after a dramatic event occurred in a game rather than just follow the action on the field per se. That was a key reason why he was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame last December.
The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced that recently retired sportscaster Brent Musburger will receive its Lifetime Achievement Awards during the 2017 Sports Emmy Awards ceremony slated to take place on May 9.
The annual International Restaurant & Foodservice Show held at the Javits Center always showcases the latest in culinary products and trends. With olive oil prices soaring, sunflower oil should increase in popularity. Unlike the vast majority of olive oils which are imported, sunflower oil, which is rich in Omega-9, Vitamin E, and is both free of gluten and trans fats, is produced domestically. Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils, located just north of us, is a major player in the production of sunflower oil.
Salmon is popular because of its health benefits, but if you are looking for a chance try Australis Barramundi is a good alternative. Barramundi is a seabass that his native to Australia and is rich in omega oils and proteins.
Upstate’s Red Jacket Orchards, which makes delicious juices and has a presence at many urban farmers markets including the one held outside the Forest Hills post office every Sunday, introduced its Joe’s Clean Half & Half which is a combo of apple juice and lemonade.
Queens had a strong presence at the show particularly in the area of baked goods. Among the bakeries who had booths were Long Island City’s Tom Cat, Woodside’s Davidovich, and Ridgewood’s Grimaldi.
Long Island City’s Rollhaus Seating Products which sells furniture to the restaurant industry had one of the largest exhibits at the Javits last week. Company CEO Michael Rollhaus also told me that film and television production companies come to him for their needs.
Michael is also a professional stair climber. Just as there are competitive eating leagues and video sports leagues, there are competitive stair-climbing organizations. ESPN should look into this!
On Tuesday, March 14 the Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery will be offering a free hand pie in honor of National Pi Day (3.14 as anyone who ever took geometry will remember) for every $10 spent. In a more traditional promotion, on March 21, Rita’s, which is celebrating its silver anniversary, will be dispensing free Italian ices to all at its more than 600 retail establishments coast to coast.
It’s hard to believe that a TV series that looks back at the tempestuous relationship between actresses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis would be one of cable television’s biggest hits this year, but that is the case with FX’s “Feud” that stars Jessica Lange as Joan and Susan Sarandon as Bette. The show airs in the very competitive Sunday 10 PM slot.