Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lundbelivable Linsanity Is SHU Cray

Valentine's Day 2012. No, it wasn't the first time the Knicks, Rangers and Seton Hall Pirates won on the same day, but it was the first time that you can say that it was reasonable to be hopeful for good things to come from all three at the same time (at least since I decided to commit to Seton Hall as the school of my choice, which is when I officially became of Pirates fan).

Consider that Seton Hall had lost six in a row, yet they still hadn't officially knocked themselves out of the NCAA Tournament list. A fact like that in it of itself is surprising as a six game losing streak is more or less typical for a Seton Hall team that always seems to have the deck stacked against them. One tourney appearance in the last seven years and they were the first team eliminated that year against Wichita State (perhaps I was lucky I had a test that day and couldn't just skip class to watch it). That lose in fact started the Gonzo Era, which if you're a SHU alum, student or fan, you wish you can forget existed. It was a time when our school became a laughingstock, punctuated by the time Bobby Gonzalez was arrested for shoplifting a manpurse.

However, out of the rubble from those teams is Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope, both men seniors, both have had terrific years that allowed the Pirates to dominate non-conference play, against a pretty tough schedule. Going 11-1 with wins over St. Joes, VCU on neutral sites and Dayton on the road gave the Hall some breathing room. That breathing room expanded when they beat West Virginia and UConn, starting Big East play 4-1. Then, a missed FT by Theodore in the closing seconds against South Florida started that six-game tailspin. However, when they needed a win against Rutgers, Theodore wouldn't allow them to lose. He did everything possible to win that game, one that would allow him to finish with a perfect 4-0 record at the RAC. Add a comeback win against Pitt and a completely dominant performance over St. John's and now the Pirates are right in the hunt for tourney bid.

While Seton Hall was running St. John's off the gym, I was more concerned with the NY Rangers, who were battling the defending Cup champion Bruins in a game that may have told us who the best team in the East is. Instead of allowing the Bruins to maintain momentum early, the Rangers struck first with a power play goal by Ryan Callahan, then Ryan McDonagh scored on a shot from the boards that tipped in off Zdeno Chara. When the Bruins came out flying in the second period, the Rangers defense gave them so little room to make great chances, and when they did, Henrik Lundqvist was there for the challenge.

The post-lockout Rangers always had a chance to win because of Hank. That's the kind of goalie he is. However, we are witnessing the greatest season for a goaltender in Rangers history. Hank will win the Vezina when it's all said and done and the Hart trophy is also a possibility. His improved play (from regular excellence to unreal greatness) is why the Rangers are tops in the East and why it will be hard to knock them off that perch come playoff time.

When the Rangers had taken control over the Bruins, it was time to flip the Knicks on. They were in Toronto and I knew they were losing for most of the night. Yet, somehow, they came back again and now Jeremy Lin had the ball with seconds left. Instead of finding an open man, he took the shot, swished it and stole a game from the Raptors. It made the fact I had tickets to yesterday's game against the Kings even more anticipated.

Knicks fans for 9 years had nothing to cheer about. No luck in the draft, no competence in the front office in regards to Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas and a horrible roster of players. Until Lin showed up, we were about to rule out the Melo-Stat Era as more of the same. Now? The promise of this team is now wide open. One might think this is just a few games, but what NBA just dominates out of nowhere after a few games? If a player is drafted in the first round, he has pedigree and a level of expectation that won't allow him to sneak up on anyone. While a second round pick generally doesn't have same expectation, it gets nullified if he went to a major college and we remember him (like Gilbert Arenas at Arizona and Carlos Boozer at Duke). Jeremy Lin went to Harvard, was undrafted and bounced around a couple teams and was the 12th man on their bench before he started against the Nets. It's mind-blowing how he can be this good this quick and just fell through the cracks.

I really look forward to Carmelo Anthony returning. Either he will thrive with Lin or he won't, but Lin is here to stay and Melo better understand that. If he doesn't, we'll see what the team looks like as a result. If he does, then the Knicks are about to become interesting.

So here we are, three teams, three examples of the inspiration of hope. The hope of breaking through into the world of relevant for Seton Hall; the hope of becoming contenders for the Knicks and the hope of becoming champions for the Rangers. One things for sure, and with the afterglow of the Giants Super Bowl still there; New York (and New Jersey) can continue to be optimistic. Isn't it a funny feeling?

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