Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. It’s an off day for the NCAA tournaments, but there’s still plenty of college basketball news.
In today’s SI:AM:
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Big moves in the Big East
Two of the Big East’s most historically significant men’s basketball programs made coaching hires yesterday that they hope will lead them back to relevance.
It’s been a while since St. John’s and Georgetown were worth paying attention to, but with St. John’s hiring Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino and Georgetown landing Ed Cooley after 12 successful seasons at Providence, that could soon change.
St. John’s has made just three NCAA tournament appearances in the last 21 years and hasn’t made the tournament in back-to-back years since it went dancing three seasons in a row from 1998 to 2000. Pitino has had success everywhere he’s gone, though, and Kevin Sweeney believes he’ll be able to turn things around in Queens.
The writing had been on the wall for months that Pitino was gearing up to leave Iona. Despite reportedly discussing a lifetime contract with the MAAC school in early February, Pitino, who said when he was hired at Iona that it would be his last coaching job, left the door open for a departure. He said in late February that it would take a “really special” program to lure him away from New Rochelle.
When Pitino’s name was floated in connection with the coaching vacancy at Indiana in 2021, he shot down that speculation with a quote that’s very interesting to look back on.
“I came home to coach and end my career at a small Catholic school,” he said. Pitino, who grew up on Long Island, cited Iona’s location in the New York metro area as the biggest draw for him.
But there’s another small Catholic school in the area with a bigger basketball program: St. John’s. Pitino, who bought a house adjacent to the prestigious Winged Foot golf club (where he’s a member) just a few miles from the Iona campus, probably won’t even have to move when he starts his new job across the Throgs Neck Bridge in Queens. And now, instead of coaching games in the 2,600-seat Hynes Athletic Center, he’ll patrol the sidelines of Madison Square Garden like he did with the Knicks in the ’80s. It’s easy to see why the job appeals to him.
It’s also easy to see why St. John’s would want to hire him and is willing to put up with all of his baggage. Pat Forde lays it all out very clearly. Pitino needed the job at Iona to stay relevant after being forced out of Louisville amid two embarrassing scandals (a sex scandal and the FBI investigation into payments to recruits), and now with those issues behind him he was able to move to a bigger job to close out his career. “Pitino used Iona,” Forde writes.
It’s a much different situation for Cooley and Georgetown. Cooley brings no reputation with him to D.C. except for that of being an excellent coach. Rebuilding the Hoyas program will be a serious challenge after the frankly disastrous tenure of Patrick Ewing. The team won only seven games this season and six the year before, with a combined two conference wins over those two seasons. But if Cooley could find consistent success at Providence, historically not a Big East powerhouse, he should have no trouble making it work at a school with the resources and reputation of Georgetown.
This current non-football iteration of the Big East has already proved itself to be one of the premier men’s basketball conferences in the nation. It had five of its 11 teams in this year’s NCAA tournament, three of which are in the Sweet 16. With two previously dormant programs making major coaching moves, it’s about to get a whole lot tougher.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- For today’s Daily Cover, Jon Wertheim examines the decline of the local sportscaster.
- Tom Verducci writes that the World Baseball Classic has brought out a side of Shohei Ohtani that we haven’t gotten to see with the Angels.
- Kevin Sweeney took another shot at predicting the rest of the men’s NCAA tournament, but he’s still picking the same national champion he had before it started.
- If Aaron Rodgers does end up getting traded to the Jets, Albert Breer has a date in mind for when we can expect to see him on the field with his new teammates for the first time.
- The Miami women put a bow on a wild first two rounds of NCAA tournament action by beating No. 1 seed Indiana to advance to the Sweet 16, Emma Baccellieri writes.
- Flyers interim GM Danny Briere’s son, Carson, a college hockey player, faces misdemeanor charges after pushing an unoccupied wheelchair down a flight of stairs.
- Magic Johnson is reportedly part of a group bidding to buy the Commanders.
The top five...
… highlights from Japan’s wild win over Mexico in the World Baseball Classic semifinal:
5. Masataka Yoshida’s game-tying home run in the seventh on a difficult inside changeup.
4. 21-year-old pitching phenom Rōki Sasaki’s 102-mph tailing fastball to strike out Randy Arozarena.
3. Ukyo Shuto’s blazing speed to score from first on Munetaka Murakami’s walk-off hit.
2. Arozarena’s home run robbery—and hilarious staredown—in the bottom of the fifth.
1. The Japanese broadcast of the walk-off.
On this day in 1978, which MLB team became the second to fire its manager during spring training when it dismissed Alvin Dark just weeks before Opening Day?
Yesterday’s SIQ: On March 20, 1934, famed all-around athlete Babe Didrikson became the first woman to pitch in an MLB exhibition game when she threw a scoreless inning for which team?
- Red Sox
Answer: A’s. After winning three medals at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles (gold in the 80-meter hurdles, gold in the javelin and silver in the high jump), Didrikson sought to find other ways to capitalize on her athletic fame. She played basketball and performed in vaudeville shows.
In March 1934, she traveled to Florida to pitch in some spring training games. Her first appearance, pitching for the A’s on March 20, ended when the Dodgers hit into a triple play with her on the mound. Two days later, pitching for the Cardinals against the Red Sox, she was tagged for three runs in one inning on the mound. On the 25th, she pitched for Cleveland against the club’s Double A team, going two scoreless innings and making solid contact at the plate. A Cleveland reporter wrote in the Plain Dealer that Didrikson “looked as if she had been playing baseball in fast company all her life.”
Well-paying athletic opportunities for women were few and far between at the time, so Didrikson began focusing on golf. She was among 13 founders of the LPGA in 1950 and won 48 professional events before dying of colon cancer at 45 in ’56. For more on Didrikson and her incredible achievements, check out this 1975 Sports Illustrated article by William Oscar Johnson and Nancy Williamson.