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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bronx Sports Column: A Borough-Centric Tournament Breakdown

Bronx boy Kemba Walker has UConn dancing.
Today marks the beginning of the best four-day stretch in all of sports: the opening two rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Nothing compares to the drama of the Big Dance. Every game -- there are 16 today, 16 more tomorrow and another 16 over the weekend -- is a dogfight. Every game contains potential for heroism and heartbreak. It's 18- to 22-year-old kids playing the biggest games of their lives. The quality isn't as high as you'll see in the NBA, but the desire and hustle and passion is immeasurably greater.

Let the Madness begin!

(For the record, I'll be rooting hard for my hometown Washington Huskies, a 7th seed, who face Georgia Friday night with a matchup against 2-seed North Carolina looming. I've also become an increasingly fanatic St. John's supporter. The Johnnies, led by Bronx-bred point guard Dwight Hardy, play a tough Gonzaga team in Denver tonight without senior DJ Kennedy, who blew out his knee during last week's Big East tournament. Final Four Picks: Ohio St., Pittsburgh, Purdue, Duke. Champion: Ohio St.)

Because this is a borough-centric blog, I'm going to highlight all the Bronxites playing in the tournament and break down their teams' prospects for advancement.

But first, we'd be remiss if we failed to mention the one Bronx college team already dancing: the Monroe College Mustangs and Lady Mustangs. The Monroe men's team won it's first junior college national tournament game on Tuesday night in Kansas, while the women's team advanced to the junior college Final Four with a win last night. The men play again tonight at 7:30 p.m. against Coffeyville, a Kansas team playing in its home state. You can watch the game live on psblive.com. The women play Friday night in Illinois for a shot at the title.

Below is a list of five Bronxites playing in this year's tournament, ranked in order of best-to-worst chances for making a deep tourney run.

1) Kemba Walker, junior guard, University of Connecticut
Notes: Walker is a former McDonald's All-American who attended the Bronx's IS 174 before matriculating at Manhattan hoops powerhouse Rice High School. Known as a defensive specialist coming into this season, Walker has blossomed into one of the most dynamic scoring guards in the country, leading Connecticut to a Big East tournament title and a three seed in the Big Dance.
When/Where to Watch: UConn takes on Bucknell tonight at 7:20 on TNT.
Prediction: Walker shines and takes UConn to the Sweet 16, where they will lose to San Diego St. 

2) Kevin Parrom, sophomore guard/forward, University of Arizona
Notes: The 6-foot-6 Parrom is a versatile wing who played for three years at the Bronx's St. Raymond High School before transferring to college hoops incubator South Kent High School in Connecticut for his senior year. In his second season with the fifth-seeded Wildcats, Parrom has emerged as a key component for the Pac-10 regular season champs, averaging 7.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
When/Where to Watch: Arizona plays in the nationally-televised CBS game Friday at 2:45 p.m.
Prediction: Parrom makes a couple of huge shots and does a little bit of everything as 'Zona advances to the Sweet 16, where they will lose to Duke.

3) Dwight Hardy, senior point guard, St. John's University
Notes: We've documented Hardy's remarkable rise to national prominence here before, but here's a little refresher. After averaging 39 points a game for Kennedy his senior year, Hardy's hoops oddyssey took him to North Carolina and Iowa before he made it back to Queens last year. This season, new coach Steve Lavin gave him a chance to start and Hardy took advantage, leading the team in scoring and injecting the Johnnies with a Bronx-born swagger that has them back in the tournament for the first time in nine years.
When/Where to Watch: St. John's plays Gonzaga in the nationally-televised CBS game tonight at 9:45 p.m.
Prediction: Hardy's hot shooting leads St. John's over Gonzaga, but the Red Storm will fall to BYU in round 2.

4) Corey Fisher, senior point guard, Villanova University
Notes: Like Walker, Fisher went to the Bronx's IS 174 before leaving the borough, and the city, to play ball at St. Patrick's High School in New Jersey. As a sophomore, Fisher played a key role in Villanova's Final Four run in the tournament. Big things were expected from Fisher this year after he exploded for 105 points in a summer league game. He's played well this year, averaging more than 15 points and nearly five assists per game. But Villanova has struggled down the stretch. They barely made the tournament.
When/Where to Watch: 'Nova takes on George Mason on Friday on TNT at 2:10 p.m.
Prediction: Fisher wills Villanova to a first-round win before they fall valiantly to eventual-champion Ohio St.

5) John Holland, senior guard, Boston University
Notes: Holland is another versatile guard/forward wing player who starred in high school at the Bronx's Fordham Prep before spending a year at New Jersey's St. Benedict's Preparatory School. Holland's been a standout at Boston U. for the past four seasons. This year, he averaged more than 19 points a game, earning player of the year in the America East conference. The Daily News' Dick Weiss calls Holland, "an erratic gunner who shot just 39% from the field, but he never stops shooting."
When/Where to Watch: BU, a lowly 16th seed, plays Kansas on TBS, Friday, at 6:50 p.m.
Prediction: Holland goes down shooting, putting up 30 in a loss to Kansas.

(UPDATE: Failed to mention two former Monroe College Mustangs that play for 16th-seeded Hampton College: Mike Tuitt and Charles Funches. Hampton plays top-seeded Duke on Friday at 3:10 p.m. on truTV.)


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