by Jonathan Zeller, 11/09/2009
As baseball comes to a happy end in New York, college basketball begins. In NYC, the NCAA season is a whirlwind of dramatic matchups, most of them at Madison Square Garden, the sport's most historic venue. Over the years, such hoops heroes as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Reggie Miller and many more starred in college games there before achieving NBA fame and fortune.
We caught up with two of college basketball's most respected coaches, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, to ask them about NYC's college basketball tradition and the season to come. Boeheim's season-opening 800th career win made him one of just three active coaches to reach the milestone, behind Krzyzewski himself and Connecticut's Jim Calhoun. Boeheim and Coach K have enjoyed their fair share of success at the Garden and will return there this season, so they're both well qualified to discuss the City's legendary arena.
We've also highlighted seven of the best MSG tilts taking place this season. (Check madisonsquaregarden.com for a full schedule and tickets.)
What should fans know about college basketball at Madison Square Garden?
MK: MSG was home to the NIT when it was the premier postseason tournament, and now the NIT Tip-Off and Coaches vs. Cancer events are considered among the top preseason tournaments. Personally, I loved competing at the Garden as a player [with Army] and still do as a coach. We are fortunate at Duke to be able to play at the Garden quite a bit, and given our strong alumni base in the area, we consider it a home away from home, so to speak.
As someone who has coached in college for so long—despite offers to go to the NBA—what will NYC fans see in the college game that they won't see in the pros?
MK: What fans will enjoy from a college game are the tradition and rivalries that make the sport what it is. Because the players change so often, our game is about a Duke-vs.-North Carolina or Louisville-vs.-Kentucky rivalry; it's not about two superstars playing head-to-head. While the individual player and coaching matchups can certainly be part of the attraction of these games, at its core, the college game is about two great institutions competing against one another. The schools are bigger than any player or coach, and it will always be that way.
What do you like to do in New York City when you're not coaching?
MK: Generally, when we come to play a game in New York, our time is limited to preparing for the game. I actually get a chance to enjoy the City more when we aren't playing. My wife and I have been to several Broadway shows together and we try to find the best restaurants each time we're there.
Duke will play at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Season Tip-Off on November 25 and 27 (if they advance to the semifinal round), and against Gonzaga in the Aeropostale Classic on December 19.
Do you have any favorite Madison Square Garden moments?
JB: Being involved in the Big East tournament, there have been so many great moments—some that didn't turn out well [for Syracuse], some that did. Certainly Gerry McNamara's  run in the Big East tournament for four games was memorable. We were the first team to win the tournament that had to play four nights, and his role in all four games really stands out. And, of course, last year, the six-overtime game [a 127-117 victory against the University of Connecticut (UConn)—the longest game in Big East tournament history] probably was the one-game memory that will last forever.
You're bringing your team to the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, and [along with Coach K] you're a member of the Coaches vs. Cancer Council. Do you want to talk a little about the organization?
JB: I've lost really close friends and my parents to cancer, and I think everyone has been touched by cancer. That's why we're all involved in this. The tournament is beneficial financially for Coaches vs. Cancer, and it's also a chance to raise awareness.
Are there any favorite attractions you like to visit when you're in NYC?
JB: Our family comes down every year. We always go to a Yankees game, which is a great experience for three young kids. We've taken the Circle Line cruise. The kids' favorite restaurant is a steak house, Ben & Jack's—of course, there are so many great restaurants, it's hard to focus in on one or two. Tremendous city. We love to go to Il Mulino, JoJo and Campagnola. It's always fun to come to NYC; there's no place quite like it.
Syracuse will appear at Madison Square Garden in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, November 19–20, and in the Big East tournament, March 9–13.
2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer—Syracuse, North Carolina, California and Ohio State compete to help raise money for cancer research.
November 25 and 27
Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off—The 16 squads competing to reach the "First Four" (a tagline mirroring the tourney's late-season equivalent, the Final Four) include Arizona State, Duke, LSU (Louisiana State University) and UConn. Since the tournament takes place during Thanksgiving weekend, ticket demand is manageable, giving fans a chance to get choice seats to some exciting games.
Big Apple Classic—Aside from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities hoops matchups (Virginia State vs. Virginia Union and Hampton vs. Howard), the dazzling pre-game drumline competition alone is worth the price of admission.
Jimmy V Classic—Butler faces Georgetown and Indiana squares off against Pitt in a doubleheader honoring the late NC State coach Jim Valvano and his namesake charity, which supports cancer research.
DirecTV SEC/Big East Invitational—Big East representatives St. John's and UConn battle SEC (Southeastern Conference) squads Georgia and Kentucky, respectively, for conference bragging rights.
Maggie Dixon Classic (women's)—Even novices know not to miss Tennessee vs. Rutgers in women's college basketball. But keep an eye on this doubleheader's second game, too, when Boston College takes on Baylor and 6'8" dynamo Brittney Griner. If you haven't heard of Griner, just search YouTube for footage of her dunks.
January 23, 2010
St. John's vs. Villanova (men's), St. John's vs. South Florida (women's), and Immaculata vs. Cabrini (women's)—Immaculata isn't a household name (the school now competes in non-scholarship Division III), but the MSG return of its women's team is historic. The Mighty Macs played in the first-ever women's game at Madison Square Garden back in 1975 and won the sport's first three national titles, making this triple-header worth a watch.
March 9–13, 2010
Big East tournament—All 16 Big East men's teams vie for the conference title and a bid to the NCAA tournament. Only time will tell if this year's games can match last season's thrillers—including Syracuse's six-overtime win against UConn—but it's always impressive.