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For Penn State and Utah, the NIT was bigger than a consolation prize

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NEW YORK – Before stepping foot in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak had never made the final four of a tournament. Since he started as an assistant in Montana in 1998, he has always been on the outside looking in on teams playing on the last few days of the college basketball season.

So you can spare him the talk about the NIT being a consolation prize.

“It’s the time of my life, actually,” Krystkowiak said, despite his Utes losing 82-66 to Penn State in the NIT title game on Thursday. “People on the outside writing articles [about the NIT], have comments, opinions about what’s going on. They have no idea how cool this was for us.”

It was, even for the casual observer, a “cool” night at the Garden. The attendance broke 11,000, the largest since 2005, as Penn State supporters packed the stands. In previous years, there might be just three or four sections filled with fans. Thursday night, even some sections in the upper deck were full.

There was a constant stream of “We are Penn State” chants. There was a back-and-forth “Utah” and “Penn State” cheer between supporters of both sides. It sounded like a championship game. It felt like both teams genuinely wanted it.

In the end, Penn State outplayed Utah. Lamar Stevens couldn’t miss in the second half, as the Utes never responded to the Nittany Lions’ surge. After the final buzzer sounded, Penn State players did what only champions get to do: cut down the nets. And not just anywhere – at MSG, the mecca of basketball.

“Now we have something that we can always go to … to say we won something,” said Penn State guard Shep Garner. “We’re champions.”

Think this tournament didn’t matter? Ask Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, who choked up in his postgame remarks talking about how special this win was.

“The losses never leave us and the wins are just not gratifying enough,” he said. “But this one, this one’s going to be gratifying.”

Just two teams get to call themselves “champions” at the end of the college basketball season. It is true that both Penn State and Utah only participated in the NIT because they weren’t chosen to play in the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t diminish the seasons they put together.

“You want to win the game, but losing it doesn’t take away from anything,” said Utah guard Justin Bibbins, who played the final college game of his career on Thursday. “You get to come to New York with your boys.”

Krystkowiak said that he talked to a coach who had gone to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament, but had also won the NIT.

“[He] said of all of his experiences, the NIT was the best experience,” Krystkowiak said.

Both Krystkowiak and Chambers said before the game that they would rather win the NIT than lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. There is more experience for young players who need it, more exposure on national television and, at the end of the day, the deeper you play, the better it is — no matter the tournament.

“It’s a springboard for us,” Chambers said. “To cut down some nets, that means winning. You’re winning, you’re finding success, and that helps everything out. That helps ticket sales. That helps recruiting.”

When Penn State practiced these past few weeks, Chambers told his players that they were still competing for a championship. In the huddle, he would say, “New York.” When he sensed that his players were getting a little sluggish, he reminded them: “New York.”

“That was coach,” Garner said. “Coach told us, ‘We’re here. We’ve got to get to New York. We’ve got to win a championship in New York.’ To see that we achieved the goal we set out to get, great.”

Penn State guard Tim Frazier out for year with torn Achilles tendon

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Penn State star guard Tim Frazier will miss the remainder of the 2012-13 season with a torn left Achilles tendon, Penn State associate director of communications Brian Siegrist announced via Twitter Tuesday afternoon.

Frazier went down with the injury early in the first half of Penn State’s loss to Akron Sunday in Puerto Rico.

Frazier, a 6-1 senior, is arguably a Top-15 point guard in the country who was averaging 16.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game so far this season. He was a First Team All-Big Ten selection in the preseason.

Alongside fellow guard D.J. Newbill, the Nittany Lions had one of the conference’s stronger backcourt tandems and were off to a 2-2 start.

If there is a silver lining for Frazier, though, it is early enough in the season for him to apply for a medical redshirt, which would preserve his year of eligibility and allow him to possibly return for the 2013-14 season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Former Georgetown coach John Thompson ‘feel[s] bad’ for Joe Paterno, calls him a ‘damn good man’


Sometimes the best thing to say in a situation that doesn’t directly affect oneself is “no comment.”

John Thompson, the legendary former coach of the Georgetown Hoyas, was the latest to weigh in on the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky situation at Penn State, and he might have done himself more harm than good.

It’s a customary exercise for radio shows to feature prominent sports figures to talk about stories that they could somehow, analogously, give a perspective on. In this case, it was ESPN 980 in Washington D.C. and Thompson on Wednesday.

Taken out of context, Thompson calling Paterno a “damn good man,” and saying that Paterno “made a mistake” and Thompson “feels bad” for him makes Thompson seem like a Paterno defender, something few want to be in the face of all the evidence of Paterno’s role in the events that took place at Penn State.

Taken with some context, the situation isn’t made a whole lot better, but it now becomes clearer that, through the radio medium, as Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com points out, the point Thompson was trying to make was lost.

Here is the bulk of the text:

“So when you’ve got a good man who’s done a hell of a lot of good, and he does something that he maybe would be sorry about, I can’t begin to define him as being a bad person, because he made a mistake or he misjudged what he should have done. Just as I won’t say that the bad person is good because he does a good thing.

“We create false gods in our lives. Joe is not a god. John [Wooden] is not a god, [Coach] K is not a god, [Vince] Lombardi is not a god. He’s a human being that has human frailties, and they make mistakes, OK? But we need gods in our lives, and we tend to attribute that only — only — to sport …

“I feel bad for Joe, because I think he was a damn good man. I think he made a mistake. Probably he would say a terrible mistake. But if Jesse James robbed a hundred thousand banks and gave a little bit of money to the poor, I’m not gonna say he’s a good man. Nor in hell am I gonna say that Joe is the worst person that ever lived because he made a mistake.

“He’s not a god. We put people in god-like positions, and then they become incarcerated by their reputations. And then when they become incarcerated by their reputations, we exploit that. We exploit that. Because we need to say that if you win so many games, if you won so many championships, you’re better than everybody else.

When talking about such an important subject with these types of wide-ranging implications that go beyond sports to teach us about public image, chains of command, and the core of human ethical behavior, if a commentary is to be made, it needs to be made precisely and in a way that does not allow for other interpretations.

That means radio may not have been the place to do it and, if the situation called for it, to use that “no comment” card if necessary.

The tide of public opinion has turned and the case for defending the actions of the administration at Penn State not to protect children affected by Jerry Sandusky is nearly impossible to make. To say you “feel bad” for a man who played a role in not stopping the events that took place at Penn State disregards the emotions of those truly hurt and deserving of comfort in this: Sandusky’s victims.

At its very root, it feels like Thompson is trying to make a point about the ills of such worship of idols as we saw at Penn State, but small clips that hint at an attempt to defend him will ultimately be what is remembered from his interview.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

In wake of Sandusky verdict, Coach K weighs in on Penn State situation

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Few coaches are able to become such icons at a university, so engrained in the very fiber of an athletic program’s identity, as coach Mike Krzyzewski is at Duke.

Considering his admittance into that rarified realm of collegiate sports, many have looked to Krzyzewski for comment on a situation that concerns another person in that class: Joe Paterno and Penn State.

Paterno was fired in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and passed away in January.

On CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, Krzyzewski was asked about the Paterno firing.

“It was horrible, and I’ve respected Coach Paterno my entire life and had a chance to get to know him really well in the last year of his life,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought it was really not well done in handling the situation that – it’s a difficult situation to encounter.”

Krzyzewski, who has been at Duke for more than three decades, still pales in comparison to the more than five decades Paterno spent at Penn State.

“You had somebody who’s given six decades of service to the university and done such an incredible job. Somehow, you have to let – something has to play out and respect the fact that you’ve gone through all these experiences for six decades,” he insists. “It doesn’t just go out the window right at the end. I thought it was a real mistake by Penn State’s leadership.”

Krzyzewski leads the Blue Devils into 2012-13 with a two-man recruiting class that looks to improve upon a 27-7 record from this past season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

What Big Ten divisions might look like

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Like the Pac-10, the Big Ten is weighing several issues by expanding to 12 teams. Yes, a new name is one. More pressing are scheduling and division alignments.

The conference athletic directors meet in about six weeks, which means we could have six weeks of chatter and arguments regarding divisions. And that’s a scary thought.

Or we could settle it right now. How about some Big Ten divisions? This FanHouse story from Bruce Ciskie offers four options, two for East-West divisions and two for North-South.

My favorite is North-South option 2 (sounds like an audible).

North                 South
Iowa                   Illinois
Michigan           Indiana
Michigan St.     Northwestern
Minnesota        Ohio State
Nebraska         Penn State
Wisconsin        Purdue

Perhaps the geography’s a bit off, but I like the balance, both in basketball and football. It pairs Indiana and Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State, and while the North may be a little weaker in basketball for now, once John Beilein has Michigan up to snuff, it’ll even out.

Then again, maybe it’s best to take some advice from The Only Colors, and keep it simple: East-West divisional alignments.

That means Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin in the West; Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue in the East.

This maintains natural rivalries and keeps competitive balance – but sucks for basketball. Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa in the same conference? Yeesh.

Maybe you just scrap the divisions for hoops.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter, usually talkin’ hoops.