The Week That Was: Big East Poetic Justice

      The St. John’s University Red Storm knew that it would be an uphill climb to win last weekend’s Big East Tournament as they’d have to play all four days of the tournament and have to beat some of the nation’s best teams as the Villanova Wildcats and the Xavier Musketeers in the process to earn a berth into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The conventional wisdom was that the other eight Big East teams were basically fillers and that Saturday night’s championship game would certainly pit Xavier against Villanova.      

       St. John’s was able to survive the Wednesday night opener as they defeated Georgetown for the first time this season, 86-77.  That was the easy part for SJU head coach Chris Mullin and his guys. They would have to traipse back to Madison Square Garden early the next morning for a noon game with Xavier.

      To their immense credit, the Red Storm stayed within striking distance of the vastly superior Musketeers until about eight minutes remained in the game when the deficit quickly grew to an unmanageable 21 points.

     With matters safely in hand one would expect Xavier to run down the clock on each possession and get off the court as quickly as possible. Instead the opposite occurred. Musketeer guards started hoisting three-point shots and making errant passes without any thought of playing for time. Xavier alums who were sitting near me started screaming at coach Chris Mack to remove his showboating players.

     A few St. John’s players weren’t happy either with what they thought was Xavier trying to run up the score on them in the hopes of getting a higher seed for the NCAA Tournament. The play in the final moments of the game got more physical than it should have and a few of the Red Storm players exited the court as soon as the game ended instead of getting in the traditional handshake line with the victorious Xavier players.

      After the game I asked Chris Mack about my perception of his team’s indifference to using time efficiently when victory seemed to be in the bag. The look on Mack’s face said that he knew that I was right but he instead blurted out a wimpy answer about “not wanting to tame his team’s aggressiveness.”

      Chris Mullin took the high road after the game as he said that he did not think that Xavier was trying to run up the score at his team’s expense. He also added that he had no problems with his team having to play back-to-back games in such a short period of time. “That’s what you get for coming in ninth place in the Big East!” he stated forthrightly.

    A funny thing happened to Xavier the next night on what seemed to their inexorable march to a Saturday showdown with Villanova. They lost to the Providence Friars in overtime, 75-72. I call that karma.

      The Friars gave Villanova a big scare the following night as they took the Wildcats to overtime in Saturday’s championship’s game before succumbing 86-76. 

      Baby boomer Mets fans who followed the team in the late 1970s probably wish that the Mets had a guy like Skip Lockwood in the bullpen today. Skip was the Mets’ closer on some awful 1970s Mets teams but he did his job very well.

     Lockwood has penned a retrospective on his playing career titled “Insight Pitch” (Sports Publishing). He makes no bones about the fact that in spite of some very good years with the Mets he was regarded as a journeyman for most of his fifteen-year big league career. Skip also played at a time when baseball players did not make a lot of money.

    He details a salary negotiation in 1972 with Milwaukee Brewers general manger Frank Lane who was adamant at keeping Lockwood’s salary at a penurious $12,000. Lockwood said that his wife couldn’t afford to go to Brewers games because of the steep $5 parking fee. An impressed Lane agreed to put free family parking into his contract and Skip immediately signed his $12,000 contract.

     “Insight Pitch” is a fun read but I wish that Lockwood had spent more time on his tenure with the Mets. He is also one of the brightest guys to ever play the game as he has an MBA degree from MIT and was working towards a PhD from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business Administration.

    Mark Littell was a terrific closer with both the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals although he is most remembered by baseball fans for surrendering a walk-off home run to Chris Chambliss in the deciding game of the 1976 American League Championship Series. Littell’s career overlapped some of Skip Lockwood’s.

     Mark, who grew up in rural southeastern Missouri, has long been one of baseball’s best raconteurs and so it was only natural that his teammates over the years gave him the nickname, “Country.”

     Littell’s latest book, “Country Boy Conveniently Wild,” doesn’t deal at all with his Major League career but rather it’s a reminiscence of his childhood. He jokes that the Baptists were the best singers in his hometown of Gideon, Missouri, but the Pentecost knew how to truly shake a church building on a Sunday morning. Just to show that Gideon wasn’t a hick town, he writes that the most popular physician in town was Dr. Arthur Gubin who happened to be Jewish which meant that he got to attend a lot of bar mitzvah celebrations. On a more serious note, Littell devotes a chapter to his family’s German shepherd, Fritz, Anyone who has ever had a pet will immediately relate.

     The Jets released longtime linebacker Muhammad “Mo” Wilkerson last week and it was a classic case of being the best thing that could happen to both parties.

     Wilkerson hasn’t been the same player ever since he broke his leg in the last game of the 2015 season when the Jets needed to beat the Bills in Buffalo to earn a playoff berth. Bad things always seem to happen to Gang Green in western New York State and that day was no exception as they lost to the Bills with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing three interceptions.

      The Jets tried to do the right thing as they signed Mo to a five-year, $85 million contract. Unfortunately Wilkerson either understandably lost a step or lost interest playing for a team that was clearly an also-ran in both 2016 and 2017. He became habitually late for meetings and was a frequent game-day scratch last season by Jets head coach Todd Bowles who to his credit never threw Wilkerson under the bus to the media.

      You probably could hear the cheering of CBS and NBC Sports executives after Tiger Woods tied for second place at the Valspar Championship. It was the closest that Woods has come to winning a PGA Tour event since 2013. No other golfer since Arnold Palmer was in his prime delivers viewers to televised golf events as Tiger does. If Woods can regain anywhere near the form he showed a decade ago, interest in professional golf should markedly increase.  

      Major League Soccer, whose commissioner is Bayside High School alum Don Garber, has the longest season of any sport. The 2018 season began last week and won’t finish until early December for the teams that are playing for the MLS championship. Our local team, the New York City Football Club, is now in its third year and has performed well for an expansion team.

     Interest in cricket has been incrementally growing  in the United States. A couple of weeks ago stars from India’s Premier League came to Brooklyn’s Matchpoint NYC for Cricfest at which they gave pointers to those interested in playing the sport as well as trying to explain its intricate rules to spectators. Hopefully next year the promoters of Cricfest will come to Queens as I have seen cricket being played in our neighborhood schoolyards. After all, we are the world’s borough!

     The 2018 International Restaurant and Foodservice Show took place last week at the Javits Center.

     As per custom, the longest lines for samples were at the Honey Smoked Fish Company whose salmon salad was a big hit particularly around lunchtime. Other popular exhibitors were Red Jacket Orchards whose healthy apple juices are big sellers at local farmers markets and Hershey Ice Cream who surprisingly have no corporate relationship with the Hershey Chocolate Company.

     Post-It Notes introduced its water-resistant oversized sticky paper memos called Post-It Extreme which are ideal for labeling which foods are yours in a shared employee refrigerator as well as for making expiration dates clear. And yes, they help label recipe ingredients and quantities to be used as well.  

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