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Kevin Grevey loves the Bills

One of the biggest Bills fan in First Niagara Center this week has been doing the color commentary for the Westwood One radio network. Kevin Grevey, who played in the NBA for the Washington Bullets, has a good reason to root for the Bills: It's good for business.

You see, Grevey owns the top Bills bar in the Washington, D.C. area. "Grevey's Restaurant and Sports Bar," which is located in the northern Virginia suburb of Fairfax, has been a meeting spot for transplanted Bills fans on NFL Sundays for about a quarter of a century.

Grevey said he got the idea to feature the Bills from his restaurant manager, Roger Clark, a native of Dunkirk.

"I opened my restaurant in '87 and was trying to become a sports bar," Grevey said Saturday before the start of the Syracuse-Dayton game. "There weren't a lot of sports bars back then. We had a big dish satellite. Our first go was the Cincinnati Bengals and it flopped. Then Roger said, 'All right, it's my turn. I'm going to do the Bills.'

"He said 'I can get 50 peeople here from upstate New York, no problem. We'll do beef on wecks, bring in Buffalo lager and the Sunday morning newspaper'. And we did. We made people feel like they were in Buffalo those four hours watching the game. And it caught fire.

"The Bills went to four Super Bowls in a row and we became known as a Bills bar in our area," Grevey said. "That was the first recognition I got in the restaurant business."

Grevey, who was in the legendary Adolph Rupp's last freshman class at Kentucky, played 10 years in the NBA for the Bullets and Bucks. He was a starting guard on the Bullets' 1978 NBA championship team. Veteran Buffalo hoop fans will remember him playing against the Braves back in the old Aud. He does, too.

"It was a wonderful rivalry," he said. "I remember Elvin Hayes and Bob McAdoo fighting it out for the scoring championship. I remember Cotton Fitzsimmons when I was a rookie, he took us out
to dinner in town. We had good times here in Buffalo.  It was a lot of fun, it really was."

Wright remembers his first NCAA game

Villanova coach Jay Wright has coached in 23 NCAA Tournament games in his 20-year career as a Division I head coach. Unlike Jim Boeheim, he has a vivid memory of his first one. It was in the same place where he'll be coaching in Saturday night's third-round game -- Buffalo.

Back in 2000, the first year Buffalo hosted an NCAA subregional, Wright brought Hofstra to the tourney as a 14th seed. The Flying Dutchmen played Oklahoma State in the opening game. They lost, 86-66.

"My wife and I were riding over on the bus yesterday," Wright recalled Friday, "and it was the exact same snowy, lake-effect day. It was St. Patrick's Day. We got hammered in this building by Oklahoma State: Eddie Sutton, Big Country, Doug Gottlieb of all people! I heard Doug Gottlieb talking on TV yesterday about somebody's shooting. He couldn't make a foul shot in that game."

Actually, Big Country Reeves wasn't on that Cowboys squad, but what the heck, Wright was on a roll.

"We had Speedy Claxton at Hofstra," Wright said. "He was a great guard. They were big and physical. They had a two-guard (Desmond Mason) who went to the NBA. Speedy came off a ball screen early and ran over to me at the bench and his finger was like that (Wright bent his little finger on a 90-degree angle). I was like, 'Oh, we're dead now.' They re-set it, but they hammered us.

"I think Bobby Knight played his last game with Indiana here, too, that same night. it was amazing."

True. Indiana lost to a Pepperdine team coach by Jan van breda Kolff, which is another story.

"We got hammered, but it was a little different then," Wright said. "We were still happy. We got hammered, we were happy to be here. We got hammered, and we got hammered after the game. We were so happy to be here."

Boeheim's Senior Moment

Syracuse's Jim Boeheim is coaching in his 31st NCAA Tournament this week, a record for Division I head coaches. During Wednesday afternoon's press conference at First Niagara Center, I asked Boeheim what he remembered about his first one.

"My first as a coach?" Boeheim said. "I haven't been thinking about this, so I probably won't even remember. You''ll have to give me a clue. Let's see, first tournament. Is that when we beat Tennessee? I don't know. I swear to God. I wish I could remember. I think it was.

"We thought we had an easy tournament, and then we had Charlotte, and they had a guy named Cornbread Maxwell.  It didn't turn out so easy. I think that was it. I'm not 100 percent."

Pete Moore, the basketball sports information man for SU, confirmed that it was indeed the 1977 NCAA tourney. Syracuse upset Tennessee in the first game of the Mideast Region, 93-88 in overtime. The Orangemen lost to NC-Charlotte in the Mideast semifinal, 81-59. There were 32 teams in the field in those days.

"We had to go to LSU and play Tennessee and play Ernie (Grunfeld) and Bernie (Bernard King)," Boeheim said. "We had an unbelievable game."

"Overtime," Moore said from the side of the interview table.

St. Bonaventure fans will surely recall that '77 season, which was Jim Baron's senior year. The Bonnies were the only team to beat Syracuse between Jan. 1 and the NCAAs that year. Syracuse got them back in the ECAC playoffs. SU went to the NCAA tourney. Bona went to the N.I.T. -- and won it.

 

A Mike Rice story

 "You want to hear a good Mike Rice story?"

I'm sure that sentence has been uttered a few times over the last week or so. I heard it from a former Niagara University athletic employee, who was working on Monteagle Ridge when Rice served one year as an assistant coach under Jack Armstrong in 1997-98.

Rice, as you might have heard (and how funny was the Melissa McCarthy skit on SNL), was fired as Rutgers head men's basketball coach after ESPN aired footage of him verbally and physically abusing players during practice. The athletic director, who had seen the video months before, also lost his job.

Continue reading "A Mike Rice story " ยป

Live blog: Niagara vs. Marist women's basketball

NCAA Chat on Monday

A quick reminder that I'll be doing a live chat with our college basketball writers at 10 a.m. tomorrow on our Campus Watch blog. We'll discuss the NCAA Tournament field, the Buffalo subregional, who was snubbed and which teams are ripe for upsets on the opening weekend. Check it out. You might even find a nugget or two that helps you fill our your tournament brackets.

My reaction to Sunday's bracket announcement was more muted that normal. There were a lot of teams that seemed fairly equal and I can't think of any mid-major that had a strong case for at an-large bid and was left out. I was a little surprised that Florida got a No. 10 seed. I didn't think they had that impressive a resume. Clemson seems a little overseeded to me at 7 in the Buffalo subregional. I can definitely see Missouri (OK, so it is my alma mater) knocking off Clemson in a first-round battle of Tigers.

It would not surprise me to see one of the secondary Big 12 teams make a run in the tournament. The Big 12 was very strong this year. It might turn out to be even stronger than the Big East. We'll see.

Buffalo got a top-heavy subregional, as expected, with Syracuse coming as a No. 1 seed in the West and West Virginia as a No. 2 in the East. That means no first-round games involving 3-6 seeds, where most of the memorable upsets tend to occur. If we're going to see a memorable upset in HSBC Arena, it'll likely be on Sunday.

Syracuse could be in trouble if Arinze Onuaku is hobbled. According to a report tonight on Syracuse.com, the Orange still aren't certain whether Onuaku will be ready for Friday's game against Vermont. The Orange isn't very deep and could have its hands full with Florida State or Gonzaga. The Zags are in their 12th straight NCAA tourney. They'll be a tough out under Mark Few.

SU in Buffalo Subregional?

Jerry Palm's latest RPI bracket projections have Syracuse coming to Buffalo for the first and second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament as a No. 1 seed in the South Region. The Orange can't be placed in the East because the regional final will be played in the Carrier Dome, but the NCAA committee now has a "pod" system that attempts to place the better teams close to home even when they're seeded in other regions.

Palm's projections have a distinct Big East-Atlantic 10 flavor. In the other South Region game, he has Missouri playing Xavier of the A-10 in an 8-9 matchup. The other two games would be in a Midwest Region pod. West Virginia, seeded No. 2, would play Morgan State (15). The other matchup would feature Rhode Island of the A-10 as a No. 7 seed against Virginia Tech, a No. 10.

Of course, this is all speculative and a lot can change over the next month as teams jockey for position and conferences play their tournaments. But barring any unforeseen events, Buffalo fans can probably bank on getting a couple of teams from both the A-10 and Big East. The current RPIs project six teams from each conference making the field. It would be the first time the A-10 got six bids.

The Buffalo subregional will be played Friday, March 19 and Sunday, March 21.  

Not One Vote for the 'Cuse?

Georgetown Syracuse Basketball_002
 
I've been known to stand up for my fellow sports writers now and then. But they sometimes disappoint and exasperate me, just like coaches, athletes, executives and owners. It's amazing to me how common it is for the writers to act in lockstep when they vote for major awards or college rankings. Take the latest AP men's college basketball rankings, which came out this morning.

Kentucky is ranked No. 1 in the country by all 65 voters. John Calipari's team, which is 19-0 and the only unbeaten team in the nation, got every vote. Not one voter was willing to step out from the pack and suggest another team might be No. 1.  Not one person in 65 felt Syracuse, which is 20-1, might  actually be the top team. No one went with Villanova or Kansas, which are both 19-1.

I'm not saying Kentucky isn't worthy of being No. 1. But the voters act as if it's automatic just because they haven't lost. There's nothing wrong with watching the games and determining that a team with more losses is superior. This is a subjective vote, not a single-elimination tournament. It's college basketball, where teams lose games and win the national title every year. This is pure laziness on the part of some writers, who take the easy way out.

Does anyone take strength of schedule into account? Kentucky has the 85th-toughest schedule in the country, based on the latest RPIs. The Wildcats have only five wins against teams currently rated among the top 100 in the nation. Syracuse has TWELVE wins against top 100 teams. The Orange have played the fifth-toughest schedule so far. They have three wins against teams in the Top 25 of the power ratings. They play in the Big East, which is ranked the best conference in the nation. Villanova and Kansas each have eight wins over teams ranked in the top 100.

Given those facts, don't you suppose a few of the voters would make the modest leap and go with Syracuse? Is it so hard to think for yourself once in awhile, and not simply zip off your vote without giving it any serious thought? OK, so it really doesn't matter which team is ranked where right now. It's not like college football, where the rankings actually help determine the national champion.

But come on, people. You can do better than this. There should be some diversity of opinion in a subjective process. If not one out of 65 voters thinks Syracuse is the best team in the country, some of them aren't taking the vote seriously enough.

Photo of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim by the Associated Press

Live Blogging from Bona-St. Joe's

End of Game: Bonnies lose, 62-51. Worst offensive effort I've seen since, well, a number of those Bills performances in the second half of the season. But Nicholson is for real. They're going to be very good in the coming years if they can get a couple more top prospects to go with him. A real point guard would help.

1:35 left in the game: Just saw Bona's Chris Mathews make a halfhearted effort to challenge a jumper inside the foul line. A sign of a defeated player. The Bonnies have really been outclassed tonight by a seasoned St. Joe's team that seems to be hitting mid-season stride. This is a step back for Bona, which has lost two straight at home after its promising start. They won't beat anybody on the road playing this way, and they'll struggle at home. Fundamentally, there's not much to like. Schmidt is clearly a step up from the previous coach, especially as a recruiter. But his offense leaves a lot to be desired. They need to be honest with themselves and make Nicholson more of a focal point. I don't care if he's a freshman. He's their most polished offensive player in the post. Oh, the Bonnies are 4-for-7 from the foul line. You don't win games if you don't assert yourself inside, draw fouls and get some points the easy way. I've always felt that inferior offensive players don't get many calls.

3:10 left in the game: Nivins scores inside after a botched fastbreak by the Bonnies. An observation: Running a fastbreak is one of the lost arts of college basketball.  I don't think a Bona player has made the right pass once all night on the move. Too often, today's players hold on to the ball too long and wind up making some forced shot at the hoop. Whatever happened to giving the ball up quickly, to force the defense to react to the basketball? Maybe I'm getting old.

5:27 left in the game: This thing is beginning to look over. The Hawks are up 58-40 and the Bonnies are showing very little life on offense. Maurice Thomas scores inside on a rare successful setup from one of the guards. It's 58-42 with 4:27 to play.  Hard to see Bona making a run the way they've been playing offense.

7:55 left in the second half: Nivins scored in transition and was hacked after a turnover by Hall, who has had a terrible night, to make it 53-40. Biggest lead of the night and Nivins has one foul shot. Hawks coach Phil Martelli has been pretty quiet tonight. He hasn't called anyone a moron, as  he did on a memorable night in '04. It's 54-40. Nicholson is 6-for-11 shooting and the rest of the Bonnies are 11-38.

10:12 left in the second half: A quick 5-0 run by the Hawks pushes the lead back to 11 at 47-36. Mark Schmidt calls a timeout to gather his troops, who are not playing very intelligently at either end. St. Joe's is running its offense and getting good perimeter shots and making them. Nicholson hasn't attempted a shot this half. Curious. Get him the ball.

11:59 left in the second half: Media timeout. Bonnies are being outrebounded by 14, 37-23. Nicholson is back in the game. Good idea, Coach.

3:06 left in the second half: The Bonnies get back-to-back three-point shots from Blackburn and Chris Mathews, their top three-point shooter, to get back within four, 38-34. I like the three-point line being pushed back this year. It makes the shot seem like more of an achievement. On his next trip down, Blackburn shoots a fallaway airball from 20 feet. As Bob DiCesare wrote in his feature this morning, you have to learn to accept Blackburn's lesser moments.

16:31 left in second half: The Bonnies struggled early in the second half and fell behind, 35-26. Schmidt went to his bench for three subs, including Ray Blackburn, but the Hawks got a jumper from Idris Hilliard to take a 37-26 lead, forcing Schmidt to call a timeout. That matches St. Joe's biggest lead, which came at 21-10. The Bonnies worked hard to get the deficit down to five by halftime, but have fallen right back into the funk they were in at the game's outset. Nicholson is on the bench, but I don't expect that to last long.

Halftime: St. Joseph's leads, 27-22, after a ragged first half. Andrew Nicholson leads the hosts with 10 points and has been the Bonnies' best player. Bona is fortunate to be down only five after such a poor shooting half. That shows you the value of having a dynamic defensive presence in the low post. Ahmad Nivins, the Hawks' 6-9 senior, has nine points but hasn't dominated by any means.

1:00 left in the first half: The Bonnies finally made a run, with Nicholson leading the way. The 6-9 freshman hit a 15-foot shot and then dunked after getting behind the Joe's defense after setting a high pick. Hall hit a couple of free throws and suddenly, it's 25-22, Hawks. The Bonnies are shooting a miserable 28.1 percent (9-32) from the field. But St. Joseph's isn't doing much better at 31 percent (9-29). It sure helps to have a shot-blocking presence on the back line. And to think, Nicholson is also a good student. He's a chemistry major.

4:45 left in the half: The Bonnies simply cannot buy a hoop. They're 6-for-25 and have missed a couple of point-blank layups. But they are attacking and getting good shots, so if they start to connect, they'll get back in it. Sure enough, Hall scores in side to cut it to 23-16. Nicholson, who already has the fifth-highest one-season block total in school history, is guarding Nivins in the post and doing a nice job of helping out on defense. The kid is pretty polished and fundamental for a freshman. He's hit a couple of hook shots and looked good putting the ball on the floor. They say he's an NBA prospect and I have to agree. In a couple of years, he could be the best player in the A-10. From what I've seen, he's already the best player on St. Bonaventure.

8:23 left in the first half: Bona is 4-for-19 from the field and trailing, 21-10. They've gotten open looks, but can't get shots to fall. Finally, Ray Blackburn hits a jumper that rolls around and in. Maybe they'll get on a roll. St. Joe's turns it over, but Blackburn gets called for a charge on a drive to the hole. An uninspiring effort by the Bonnies thus far.

10:23 left in the first half: Mark Schmidt went to his bench early. At one point, he has five reserves on the floor. Clearly, the Bonnies coach is looking for a spark. Ray Blackburn, the Lackawanna and ECC grad, made a nice feed to the post and forced a turnover. Bona cut the deficit to 16-10, but St. Joe's answered with a three-pointer to make it 19-10  halfway through the opening half.

12:30 left in the first half: Jonathan Hall, Bona's leading scorer, is off to a rough start. Hall failed to convert on a feed from Nicholson early, then missed a dunk. He just threw a ball out of bounds in the half-court set. The Bonnies are being outclassed early. Their students are still out of session, which isn't helping. The crowd is out of the game early. St. Joe's senior center Ahmad Nivins, the pre-season player of the year in the Atlantic 10, has five points early. He beat Nicholson, the second-leading shot blocker in the league, on a power move in the low post. Nicholson is one of the best athletes to come into the Big Four in many years. But as he told me in a phone interview Tuesday, he needs to get stronger. But boy, does he have skills -- and a 7-foot, 6-inch wing span to boot.

15:00 left in the first  half: St. Joe's has an 9-4 lead over the Bonnies. The Hawks have been looking to push the ball and have beaten Bona down the floor a couple of times early. Andrew Nicholson, the Bonnies' star freshman, scored twice early, once on a tip-in and then on a smooth right-handed hook shot in the lane.

Final Pick

SAN ANTONIO -- I like Memphis. I need Memphis. I picked the wrong team in both of Saturday's national semifinals, so I need to avoid the reverse hat trick. Memphis is the better team. Kansas put on an inspired show in the semfinal, but Memphis' interior defense will be a little tougher than the Tar Heels' sorry  excuse for D. It's hard to see the Memphis backcourt of Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts falling short at this stage after their remarkable run through the tournament.

Who do you like in the final, Kansas or Memphis?

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