Friday, November 21, 2014

Hofstra vs. Stony Brook: It's about time

Hofstra, left. Stony Brook, right. (Sorry I'm totally stealing Jaden Daly's schtick, but it's funny and it's an hour before tip)


The Hofstra-Stony Brook matchup we all want to see won’t be taking place tonight at the Arena, or any night anywhere in the world at any point in the next one million years.

Which is too bad. Because placing a pair of podiums at the Arena, hiring a massive security force to lock the place down and having a debate (we’ve had those there before, right?) between Stuart Rabinowitz and Jim Fiore to determine who was to blame for the Cold War between Long Island’s only Division I athletic programs would have been a far more entertaining—and, one supposes, embittered—verbal tussle than the ones Barack Obama had with John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Alas, Fiore is no longer at Stony Brook after an ugly departure a year ago this week. And Rabinowitz is as likely to invite me to his house to watch the Super Bowl as he is to ever explain himself for anything.

So we can only go on what we know, particularly as Hofstra fans and alums, and what we know is this: The Cold War did more damage to Hofstra than Stony Brook.

The descent of the Flying Dutchmen basketball program during the Cold War coincided with the rise of Stony Brook’s. So the perception was Hofstra was ducking Stony Brook.

I don’t think that was true: The Dutchmen continued to play the Seawolves even when there was nothing to be gained by doing so in the early 2000s, when Hofstra was trying to establish itself in the better-regarded CAA while Stony Brook took Hofstra’s spot in the America East. Stony Brook even beat Hofstra in consecutive seasons in 2002-03 and 2003-04 (and again in 2007-08), and the world kept spinning.

But still, perceptions can be overwhelming, especially when—sorry—your school drops football while the local rival is trying to upgrade all of its sports.

And Stony Brook, to its credit, has been aggressive in promoting itself as Long Island’s team, and has been successful in convincing the local media of it.

Of the 18 Stony Brook games Newsday covered last year, including two conference tournament games in Albany, 14 were covered by staff writers. Of the 17 Hofstra games Newsday covered, 10 were staffed by stringers.

Perhaps Hofstra would have received more beat-like coverage if the Dutchmen fared better the previous three seasons. On the other hand, Newsday hasn’t staffed the CAA Tournament since 2007.

Playing each other once a year in various sports wouldn’t have undone the damage made by the football decision. But perhaps Newsday would have known how to get to Hofstra.

The Cold War also made Hofstra look petty and vindictive, when Hofstra was not that far removed from advancing its athletic program and benefiting greatly because other schools put aside egos and differences for the betterment of an entire league.

It has long been believed Hofstra didn’t want Stony Brook to join the CAA. We finally got some concrete evidence last year thanks to the William & Mary blog Shades of 48, which employed the Freedom of Information Act to get some delicious emails detailing the CAA’s expansion plans and Rabinowitz’s opposition to Stony Brook being invited as an all-sports member.

To be fair, there are plenty of people at Hofstra with whom I am in lockstep on almost everything who are resolute in that Stony Brook shouldn’t be in the CAA. So there may be more to this than just an alpha male battle at the highest levels of two schools.

But still: Embracing a rivalry with Stony Brook, as infuriating as it might have been, would have been a nice acknowledgement of how far Hofstra athletics have come in the last two decades.

Sure, at the very least, Fiore was loud, didn’t pay proper reverence to established programs and demanded his burgeoning department be taken as seriously as everyone else.

You know who else did all of that two decades ago? Joe Gardi. Who coached—you got it—Jim Fiore.

And despite Gardi pissing off everyone in his way and then some, Hofstra managed to get into a football conference in 2001, seven years after the rest of the athletic program was stabilized when the North Atlantic Conference invited Hofstra to join the league in April 1994.

To get into the NAC, Hofstra—an independent left out in the cold when the East Coast Conference basically ceased to exist following the 1991-92 season—had to not only win over the established membership of a long-running conference but also Delaware and Drexel, who exited the ECC before irrelevance set in.

I can’t imagine any of them were all that enamored with the impact Hofstra would have on their basketball aspirations, yet enough of them saw the benefits of enhancing a regional-based league to add the Dutch.

How much better would the Long Island sports scene be if Hofstra and Stony Brook could find a way to co-exist in the same league, or at the very least continue to play each other annually?

Hofstra fans and observers older than me (yes, they exist) swear there was never anything better than the Division III football days, when Hofstra Stadium would be packed for games against nearby schools.

Of the 36 football games to draw more than 6,000 fans to Hofstra/Shuart Stadium, 10 were against the Island-based C.W. Post or Merchant Marine Academy. In addition, there were four other Division III-era games against Iona, Wagner and Post drew at least 5,600.

A common refrain/lament, even when Hofstra was building a I-AA powerhouse in the mid-90s, was that no national power coming to Hempstead would interest Long Island nearly as much as the Dutchmen hosting a school from just down the road. The numbers seemed to support such a theory: Even while playing a schedule filled with big-time I-AA schools, Hofstra drew crowds of 6,000 or more just 19 times following the stadium’s expansion prior to the 1996 season.

We don’t know if the Arena would see a similar surge in attendance over the long haul. But we know how much fun it has been sparring with Stony Brook fans online, and how tonight’s game just feels different than games against other semi-local rivals.

We know the stakes, and how good it will feel if (sorry, when) we win, and can imagine the forced smile and congratulatory message we’d utter through gritted teeth if Stony Brook channeled the 1980 U.S. hockey team and won.

Either way, it’s about time we felt this way. Regardless of who or why we had to wait so long and of who wins tonight, let’s do this again soon, shall we?

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tale of the tape: Hofstra vs. Stony Brook


Stony Brook, left. Hofstra, right (What? Mike Tyson spoke there a couple years ago. Advantage: Hofstra)

You will read a lot over the next two days about the long-awaited men’s basketball matchup between our beloved Hofstra and those dastardly, pesky, jaywalking, won’t-give-up-their-train-seat-to-an-elderely-woman-on-the-long-commute-from-Manhattan-into-Stony Brook upstarts from Stony Brook.

Players will be evaluated and coaches will be scrutinized as we try to figure out who will win the first game between the Long Island rivals since before a certain president’s fury over a certain athletic director’s aggressiveness left the two schools glaring at each other over the giant 40-mile wall that was erected to keep the peace.

I’m here to tell you that all that analysis is hogwash. You can find out exactly who is going to win by reading my arduously compiled tale of the tape between Hofstra and Stony Brook. Not only is this a foolproof way of figuring out who will win Friday night, but it is as fair and independent examination as you would read on a team- or league-run site, or see on Fox News. Without further ado!

HISTORY: Hofstra was born in 1935 as a satellite campus for New York University, one of the finest colleges in the entire world. The first building on campus, Hofstra Hall, remains intact at the center of campus. Stony Brook was founded in 1957 in Oyster Bay as the State University of Long Island. Not to say there’s nothing exclusive about being part of the SUNY system, but it reproduces campus at a Duggar-like rate. There’s so many SUNYs, in fact, that I’m pretty sure there’s one in my backyard. (Actually I live in Farmingdale, so there is) Plus, five years after its formation, the campus moved to Stony Brook, which means if there’s a Stony Brook Hall, it’s actually called Oyster Bay Hall, and probably houses Billy Joel’s motorcycles.

Advantage: Hofstra. It’s about time America honor its elders, as well as rewards exclusivity in an everybody-gets-a-medal-or-a-SUNY-campus society.

GEOGRAPHICAL ENROLLMENT DIVERSITY: According to Hofstra’s official website, which would never alter statistics in order to make the school look better, 47 percent of the student body comes from outside New York state. I was among the out-of-state population back in my day, and some of my best friends were from far-flung locales such as Oregon, California and Connecticut.

Per Wikipedia, which is the most reliable source in the entire world for anybody looking for an easy way to confirm his or her biases, only seven percent of the Stony Brook student body comes from outside New York state. So you know that jerk you hated in high school? If you go to Stony Brook, you’ll probably see him or her in your freshman lit class.

Advantage: Hofstra. Where you just might meet the love of your life, who grew up 15 minutes away from campus.

CULTURAL CONTRIBUTIONS: Tired simply of offering conferences that analyzed previous presidential administrations, Hofstra moved on to helping to decide the leader of the free world by hosting debates in 2008 and 2012. Hofstra also dominates pop culture, with pivotal episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond (created by a Hofstra grad) centered around the titular character’s alma mater. Entertainment titans such as Francis Ford Coppola, the Academy Award-winning director of The Godfather films, and Christopher Walken, who had the greatest monologue in movie history 20 years ago this fall, studied at Hofstra.

So he hid the watch the only place he could for seven years, or one year less than it took for Hofstra to play Stony Brook in men's basketball again.

Who went to Stony Brook? According to ever-reliable Wikipedia, a whole bunch of people you’ve never heard of. The band Blue Oyster Cult got its start at Stony Brook, but all anybody remembers about them is the Saturday Night Live skit starring…CHRISTOPHER WALKEN.


Advantage: Hofstra. Sure, John L. Hennessy is the president of Stanford University. But you’ve never seen his face on a bubble gum card, have you?


OLD NICKNAMES: The Flying Dutch used to be called the Flying Dutch. The Seawolves used to be called the Patriots.

Advantage: Hofstra. Hey Crain, should we check and make sure Stony Brook isn’t illegally videotaping Hofstra practices this week?

ON-CAMPUS ARENAS: Hofstra’s Physical Fitness Center exhausted its usefulness as a Division I arena long before the 20th century expired. Fortunately, Hofstra rung in the 21st century by opening Hofstra Arena on Jan. 2, 2000, about 15 months after construction began. The first game was a conference tilt between Hofstra and Boston University and the first basket was scored by future NBA star Speedy Claxton.

It took even less time to turn the new practice facility—located in the PFC—from dream into reality. Plans for the practice facility were revealed at Hofstra’s basketball media day in October 2013, and opened to the public for Hofstra’s basketball media day in October 2014.

After decades in Pritchard Gymnasium, which made the PFC look hip and happening. Stony Brook’s new arena opened with a Harlem Globetrotters game on Oct. 4. Not saying the Globetrotters will play anywhere, but they’ll be at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 28. TWICE. The new arena, by the way, was immediately christened Island Federal Credit Union Arena (say that five times fast, or slow, or however long it takes before you fall asleep). Construction of Island Federal Credit zzzzzzzz was slowed by the poor state and national economy. I believe plans for the arena were originally drawn up around the time Tyrannosaurus Rex began worrying about his long-term viability. As for a practice facility, I am of the understanding that Stony Brook players use Nerf hoops in their dorm rooms. Hey, is a Nerf hoop in a dorm room an impermissible benefit?

Advantage: Hofstra. The benefits of being a private school. I imagine being a state school is beneficial too, since the accompanying checks and balances would make it impossible for a school president to single-handedly get rid of a football program. But that would never happen.

FOOTBALL: Hofstra has sent 22 players to the NFL and currently has four active alums in the world’s most popular sports league. Hofstra grad Wayne Chrebet, who played for the Jets from 1995 through 2005, will be inducted into the Jets’ Ring of Honor on Dec. 1.

Stony Brook has yet to have a single alum play a single down in the NFL. In addition, Hofstra is 13-0 all-time against Stony Brook, which has refused to play the Flying Dutchmen since the 2009 season, even going so far as to avoid scheduling Hofstra even though the two schools are now in the CAA for football. I mean, it’s not like we dropped football or anything asinine like that.

Advantage: Hofstra. Seriously, why would a school with such a rich football tradition cease playing the sport? Absurd. Would never happen.

MEN’S BASKETBALL: Hofstra has sent seven players to the NBA, including the aforementioned Claxton. The Flying Dutchmen have also reached four NCAA Tournaments as a Division I program, including back-to-back appearances in 1976-77—during the school’s fourth and fifth seasons at Division I—and in 2000-01, when the Dutchmen had to win “neutral site” America East tournament games at second-place Delaware before beating Delaware in the title game at home.

As in football, Stony Brook has yet to send any basketball players to the highest professional level. And Stony Brook, which would still be in New Jersey Tech-esque purgatory if not for Hofstra leaving the sinking America East ship and opening a spot in the league for a Long Island-based school, has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament, despite winning the regular season title in three of the last five seasons. Per their alums and/or plentiful excuse-making friends in the media, the reason Stony Brook hasn’t won the America East is because it’s impossible for a favorite to win semifinal games over the home team at a “neutral site” in imposing places such as Hartford and Albany. The America East acquiesced to the wishes of Stony Brook and their many excuse-making friends in the media by deciding to play all tournament games at the site of the higher seed beginning this season. Of course, Stony Brook has lost the last two title games in which it has played, despite being the host team both times.

Advantage: Hofstra. Though Stony Brook only playing in the CBI once nearly tilted this in their direction.

MEDIA COVERAGE: Stony Brook has the local state-run media in its back pocket. Good for the Seawolves. Hofstra gets most of its coverage from a middle-aged blogger who rarely blogs and instead spends most of his time ranting about other stuff on Twitter.

Advantage: Hofstra. Hey you have to support independent media.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Hofstra is 5-1 all-time against Stony Brook, including a 92-65 win in the 2006 WNIT. To be fair, that game WAS at Hofstra. While the Flying Dutchwomen went to the NIT final eight in 2007, Stony Brook didn’t make it back to the NIT again until last season, when it lost at Michigan, 86-48. Big 10? Big deal says Hofstra, which beat 17th-ranked Michigan State in Lansing during the 2006-07 season.

Advantage: Hofstra. But at least neither school has ever played in the WBI, which isn’t related to the CBI but still gives me the shakes.

SPRING SPORTS: Stony Brook has three baseball players in the majors, including Joe Nathan, the active leader in saves, as well as Marlins rotation staple Tom Koehler and promising prospect Nick Tropeano. The Seawolves also made the 2012 College World Series. In addition, the Stony Brook-Hofstra rivalry resumed with a 3-2 walk-off win by the Seawolves in a softball game on Apr. 10.

However, Hofstra is 16-16 all-time against Stony Brook in baseball—not bad for a program that hasn’t sent a player to the majors yet—and 12-3 against the Seawolves in softball. In addition, the Mets hosted both the Hofstra softball team (which had just come within a base hit of the College World Series) and the Stony Brook baseball team on consecutive nights in June 2012. But while the Dutchwomen saw R.A. Dickey throw a one-hit shutout, the Seawolves merely got to see a combined shutout started by Johan Santana.

Advantage: Hofstra. And we didn’t even mention how the bad juju at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium cost Hofstra men’s lacrosse a trip to the Final Four in 2006.

FINAL SCORE: Hofstra 10, Stony Brook 0. It is abundantly clear Hofstra will run Stony Brook out of the gym tomorrow night. Because carefully crafted statistics never lie, and God help me if they do.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hofstra 94, Jacksonville 61 (Or: The One That Was Worth The Wait)


A jumper by Flying Dutchwomen guard Krystal Luciano rimmed out at the buzzer, which meant the Dutchwomen and Central Connecticut State (yay parents’ alma mater!) were headed for overtime in the opening game of Friday night’s season-opening doubleheader. Which meant antsy Flying Dutchmen coach Joe Mihalich, who was busting out of his skin by noontime, had another five minutes of basketball to fidget through before he could begin fidgeting through the half-hour between the games.

But he’d only waited 250 days to coach a game that counted. Three of his four new starters—Niagara transfers Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley and SMU transfer Brian Bernardi—hadn’t played since March 2013. I don’t need to tell you how long ago that was.

The women’s game ended (boo parents’ alma mater) and warmups were barely underway when Green ditched his pullover, as if he couldn’t possibly handle another second of non-game action. Later, as the Dutchmen walked to the bench for pre-game introductions, Green began veering towards the spot near the paint where the starters would stand once their names were called.

FINALLY, the game started, and the three newcomers who waited the longest to play for the Flying Dutchmen wasted no time in beginning to provide ample evidence of just why this year might be different than all the rest.

Bernardi, Green and Tanksley combined for 52 points, 14 assists, four steals and two turnovers as the Dutchmen authored one of the most resounding season-opening wins in program history by walloping Jacksonville, 94-61, in front of an energized crowd of 2,208.

“We’re just glad the game finally came,” Mihalich said afterward. “It was a long wait for a lot of people. These two guys I’m sitting besides [Green and Bernardi]—I don’t even know what it was. Seemed like 18 months. Eighteen years.

“Long wait. It was well worth it. As you could see, these guys couldn’t wait to get back out on the court and play.”

The trio had a hand in each of the Dutchmen’s first 14 points – three points and three assists for Green, six points and an assist for Bernardi and the season’s first nostalgic three-point play for Tanksley—as Hofstra buried Jacksonville by the first media timeout.

For the record, it was 16-7 at that point, and the Dolphins never got closer than seven the rest of the way. Or within 10 in the final 31 minutes. Or within 20 in the final 19 minutes. Or within 30 in the final 11 minutes.

The Dutchmen averaged 1.27 points per possession and shot 55.2 percent (37-of-67), including 36 percent (9-of-25) from 3-point land. They made 11 of 15 free throws. They had 24 assists, eight turnovers and 10 blocks.

Ten players scored for Hofstra. Do you know how many times the Dutchmen played 10 players in a game last season? THREE!!!!

“Went pretty good,” Mihalich said. “Couldn’t ask for much more than that. Not just the final score, the fact so many people played well.”

Bernardi led five double-digit scorers for with Dutchmen with a game-high 22 points. Of his eight field goals, six were 3-pointers, one shy of the school record. For fun late in the second half, he dove after a loose ball with the Dutchmen up more than 30 points.

Oh and he also stole my wife during the first half.




“I always go into the game thinking I’m going to make every shot,” Bernardi said. “Once that first one goes in, I feel like I’m not going to miss after that one.”

“To expect that out of somebody isn’t fair to him.” Mihalich said. “But I tell you what, I’ll say this: You’re surprised when Brian Bernardi misses.”

Green, a first-team all-MAAC player in his final season at Niagara and a first-team all-CAA preseason pick this year, had 14 points, nine assists, five rebounds, two steals and no turnovers. That was Stokes-esque. Loren, not the other guy.

“A lot of people would say ‘Well, what’s Juan’ya Green like?’” Mihalich said. “Well, this is what he’s like. Fourteen points, nine assists, five rebounds, no turnovers. So you want to know what Juan’ya Green’s like? That’s what he’s like right there.”

Tanksley scored 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, yet—spoiler alert—he didn’t even factor into the Three Stars. (yup, that’s back too). JUCO transfer Malik Nichols had 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and added three assists and a block. Freshman Andre Walker, whom Mihalich said was struggling in practice until this week, had 11 rebounds and six blocks. Another freshman big, Rokas Gustys, had 10 rebounds in 10 minutes.

“Nobody has to be ‘the guy,’” Mihalich said. “Juan’ya doesn’t have to be the guy. He can just play basketball and find Brian Bernardi when he’s open and shoot when he’s open and dump it to Malik Nichols when he cuts to the basket.”

As good as the box score looked, witnessing it live was even more impressive. Mihalich played with his new-found depth like a child at Christmas. It was like watching hockey shifts, except the first line looked as good as the fourth line.

The Dutchmen displayed ball movement skills we’ve quite honestly never seen before. Green had at least two behind-the-back passes for assists that were worthy of their very own highlight video.

“Thought the team was unselfish,” Mihalich said. “We had a couple San Antonio Spurs-like possessions where we moved the ball around pretty good. It’s fun to watch.”

Nor have we seen a team that has five players that can run the entire floor. In the second half, Nichols grabbed a rebound and raced up the court with the ball like he was Adrian Uter on a grainy YouTube video.

“They’re all guards, aren’t they?” Mihalich said.

We know we shouldn’t get too excited about this. It’s just one game, and all the clich├ęs and caveats apply about how it doesn’t guarantee anything. In the season opener three years ago, the Dutchmen recorded a raucous 89-71 win over Long Island, which ended up winning the Northeast Conference championship while Hofstra went 10-22.

But last night was beautiful for a fan base that is still quick to think the worst and which needed to see immediate proof that our unusual optimism was warranted.

For me, old habits were already cropping up just minutes after finishing my preview post, when I drove home from my mother-in-law’s and began analyzing the songs on the radio for a sign that the upcoming season would be better than everyone else thought.

I heard Cinderella’s “Shelter Me,” which comes from the same album as “Heartbreak Station,” which was the annual elimination song here way back when the CAA played its tournament in Richmond. It reminded me that I heard “Heartbreak Station” on the way to a home opener a few years ago. (No, I’m not weird, why do you ask)

So I figured this was a good sign, even if I was trying to avoid needing good signs. But to be safe, I changed the channel an hour or so later during our trip to the Arena, just in case Hair Nation and its absurdly limited playlist aired another Cinderella song.

Hours later, we got the best signs we could have envisioned. After the game, I saw Bernardi surrounded by kids who wanted his autograph. And Mihalich was besieged by adults who wanted to shake his hand, including a friend of mine who wrote me after the disastrous and heartbreaking 2012-13 season cost Mo Cassara his job and said he was done supporting the program.

He was vocalizing what a lot of us were thinking. But like a lot of us there Friday night, he found out it was easier said than done. As often as Hofstra tests our love affair with the school, the Arena in the winter remains our shelter. May it rock and roll this season like never before.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Jacksonville, 11/14)
3: Brian Bernardi
2: Juan’ya Green
1: Andre Walker

SEASON STANDINGS
3: Brian Bernardi
2: Juan’ya Green
1: Andre Walker

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Friday, November 14, 2014

So you’re telling me there’s a chance! (Actually there is)



This has happened before. The Flying Dutchmen basketball team has been projected to contend for the CAA title before. I know it has.

In fact, I’m looking at visual proof of it, right here in a document titled “CAAPredictionsThru2013.” It contains, as you can probably surmise, the official CAA predictions every year since 2001, when Hofstra jumped from the America East in order to find a permanent home for its football program. No really. I swear.

Anyway, it takes a little scrolling down, but there it is in my favorite font (14-point Cambria, whatever that is):

2006-07
PREDICTED
1. Hofstra           

The 2006-07 season—i.e. the one after The Great Screw Job—was the first one in which Hofstra was picked to finish higher than fourth in the CAA. We entered November not only bursting with giddy anticipation, but also possessing vivid daydreams of the heartbreak from the previous March yielding the ultimate payback, hopefully at the expense of those bastards from Fairfax.

Except, of course, it didn’t, thanks to a season that was as heartbreaking, in its own way, as its predecessor. Mostly because the championship dream ended with a loss to those bastards from Fairfax in which Greg Johnson drove the lane down three as time expired, at which point we all forever turned into Charlie Brown following the 1962 World Series.


WHY COULDN'T JOHNSON HAVE DISHED THE BALL BACK TO THE WIDE-OPEN AGUDIO AT THE THREE-POINT LINE?

Over the subsequent seven seasons, Hofstra was never picked higher than fifth in the preseason poll – though, of course, we managed, every year, to find ways to delude ourselves into thinking the Dutchmen’s championship hopes were better than projected. For example:

2007-08: Sure, VCU has Maynor and the bastards from Fairfax are the bastards from Fairfax and Old Dominion is Old Dominion, but we’ve got Agudio, and this freshmen Jenkins might be really good.

2008-09: Sure, VCU has Maynor and the bastards from Fairfax are the bastards from Fairfax and Old Dominion is Old Dominion, but Jenkins is really good.

2009-10: Sure, the bastards from Fairfax are the bastards from Fairfax, and Old Dominion is Old Dominion, and Northeastern is a lot better, but Maynor graduated and Jenkins is really, really good.

2010-11: Sure, the bastards from Fairfax are the bastards from Fairfax and Old Dominion is Old Dominion and this Shaka guy from VCU seems like he might be a decent coach and all our good players left except Jenkins, but Jenkins is really, Really, REALLY GOOD.

2011-12: Sure, Jenkins graduated and VCU just made the Final Four and Old Dominion is Old Dominion and Drexel looks REALLY good, but the head bastard amongst the bastards from Fairfax left and we’ve got strength in numbers.

2012-13: Sure, VCU is building on the Final Four run, unlike the bastards from Fairfax, and Drexel just made the NIT quarterfinals and Old Dominion is Old Dominion, but we’ve got nine really promising new players and they’re all going to be good, unless two-thirds of them get arrested, but what are the odds of that happening?

2013-14: Screw it.


Fortunately, it didn’t take long to care again. A season of no expectations and little initial engagement reignited our passion for Hofstra basketball. For the first time in the CAA era, the Flying Dutchmen were the preseason pick to finish last. But they finished eighth, and it was the most glorious eighth-place finish ever.

Victories felt like they did in the winter of 1993-94, when each win was euphoric because it meant the Dutchmen were another win removed from being included in the discussion of the worst team in the land.

It was a pleasure to see newcomers such as graduate transfers Zeke Upshaw and Dion Nesmith, plus CAA Rookie of the Year runner-up Jamall Robinson, come in and not only begin to lay the foundation for the future but also maximize their opportunities, unlike the knuckleheads who immediately preceded them.

And it was a pleasure to watch Joe Mihalich, thrust into the seemingly unwinnable task of winning over fans who were deeply scarred by the events of the previous season and loyal to Mo Cassara, manage to win everybody over by just being himself and embracing Hofstra as Cassara, Tom Pecora, Jay Wright and Butch van Breda Kolff did before him.

The season ended March 8 with another narrow loss to eventual champion Delaware in the CAA quarterfinals. Mihalich unwittingly summarized the unusual affection we all had for the 2013-14 Dutchmen afterward, when he broke down at the press conference.

“There’s only one way to be for me—I don’t want to get corny on you here—and that’s to be totally invested,” Mihalich said this summer. “We were so close [in] so many games. Hey, only one team smiles, and every team wants one more. So it would have been great to get that one there and get in the semis.

“But it was a sad ending. It really was. There was so much emotion with what we did.”

The final buzzer was still echoing at Baltimore Arena when Mihalich and the rest of us realized the emotions and expectations would be different this season. With Niagara transfers Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley and SMU transfer Brian Bernardi—i.e. the three guys we didn’t even want to think about last season—all eligible, the rebuilding plan was expected to take a sizable second step forward.

But that was before Mihalich landed Rokas Gustys, whose size (6-foot-9) and pedigree (he prepped at the legendary Oak Hill Academy) makes him perhaps the most promising big man Hofstra has ever recruited.

The preview magazines began hitting the newsstands in the summer, and they all had one thing in common: Hofstra in the CAA’s top three. And none were written by me!

CAA coaches and reporters covering the league agreed with the consensus and picked the Dutchmen third in the preseason poll—behind Northeastern and William & Mary—released at media day on Oct. 21.


Some knowledgeable prognosticators--such as the folks at SI.com as well as the great Zach Braziller of the New York Post--even picked the Dutchmen to win it all. Braziller went so far as to declare Hofstra was becoming New York City's team. (I should note I would think highly of Braziller, even if he hadn't beem telling me for more than a year that my pessimism about Hofstra hoops would soon be unfounded)

“Feels a lot different than last year—same level of excitement, but a different kind of excitement,” Mihalich said five days earlier at Hofstra’s basketball media day. “Last year we knew we had to coach every pass just to have a chance to win. If we play hard and get these guys to play together, who knows? Maybe we can be one of the teams in the league that come March can be playing the best basketball of anybody and do something special and climb up a ladder and cut down some nets.”

He said this 29 days ago, and my response now is the same as it was then:

AHHHHH THIS IS FREAKING ME OUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO REACT TO THIS WHAT IS GOING ON??

Sure, we began every year but last year with visions of an NCAA Tournament bid dancing in our heads. But we also knew our hopes were of the long-shot variety, that the Dutchmen would need the type of breaks that only the other guys ever seem to get.

So when seasons ended before the Dutchmen could even get to the CAA championship game, there was disappointment, sure, but not the agony we felt in 2007. And there was something oddly comforting about that routine.

But hitting November and believing we’re about to watch a Dutchman team that is a legitimate title contender is as fantastic as it is frightening. Do we want to open ourselves up to walking the emotional tightrope again?

Yes, we do. This just feels different, and worth going all-in on. And “this” feels like it is encompassing more than just the men’s basketball program.

It reminds me of 20 years ago this fall, when the resounding performances of the football, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer teams – the quartet went a combined 61-19-5 – only enhanced the excitement surrounding Jay Wright’s first Flying Dutchmen basketball team and fostered the notion that Hofstra, on the verge of Division I extinction earlier in the decade, was primed for a rebirth.

The circumstances are different this time. Now, Hofstra is trying to bounce back from the self-inflicted wound sustained by the demolition of football (did you really think I was going to go a whole piece without mentioning that?).

But the success this fall of the volleyball team (the likely CAA regular season champ), the men’s and women’s soccer teams (both of whom finished third in the CAA) and the field hockey team (which entered the final weekend of the season tied for second before missing the four-team tourney) has engendered the same feeling of anticipation heading into a new era of men’s basketball.

Now, like then, everybody who cares about Hofstra athletics feels united in optimism, instead of pessimism. One of my favorite Tweets of the year—and if you know me at all, you know I see A LOT OF TWEETS—came last Friday from Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway, who snapped a picture of the volleyball team cheering on the women’s soccer team at Northeastern.


(Plus, the sequel to the greatest and most quotable movie of my generation, Dumb and Dumber, opens today, one month shy of the 20th anniversary of the original. And I look forward to seeing Dumb and Dumber To at the campus movie theatre next spring, over and over again, with my wife and ex-roommate, just like we saw the original over and over again in the spring of 1995!)

Buying into the optimism doesn’t mean being blinded by it. Of the 11 players suiting up tonight, we’ve never seen eight of them in a Hofstra uniform. We know enough about them to know we should be excited, but we also know how dangerous it is to invest in the completely unknown.

That well-earned wariness—imagine lapsing in Catholicism yet becoming a Hofstra fan and you have my existence—makes it impossible to avoid worrying about the unexpected disaster that we are certain is on the horizon. For instance, even if players stay healthy and out of trouble, the Sharknado could always hit Hofstra Arena.

Joe Mihalich, right, tries to save humanity and Hofstra Arena by sawing thru a shark in this future file photo.

And as Mihalich says, only one team is left smiling. But hey. For the first time in a long, long time, we don’t have to delude ourselves into thinking we could be the ones smiling on the second Monday in March.

“The exciting thing is we know we can win the league,” Mihalich said Oct. 16. “We know we can finish eighth, too. But we know we can win the league. You just want to have a chance. You just want to have a chance.

“And I feel like we do.”

Us too. Finally.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The CAA Tournament (Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love symbolic gambling on Hofstra)

At least I haven't forgotten to make Molly's Florida costume yet.


When it comes to gambling, my Dad is better than anyone I’ve ever met—not at slots or roulette or poker or blackjack but at getting up and leaving the table at the peak of his winnings.

The rest of us who are fortunate enough to collect a tall stack of chips will not even consider leaving. Instead, our minds are racing with the thoughts of continuing to ride the hot streak and what we’ll do with all that money once we return home.

Of course, casinos are built on red-hot streaks that turn ice-cold, and most of us are familiar with the feeling of impending dread that comes with playing well beyond our peak and digging into the wallet to try and regain the magic as well as our profits.

But not Dad. He hasn’t been to a casino since well before my Mom died, but when he did gamble, the former stockbroker and perpetually cautious investor always knew exactly how much he had spent and how much he had profited, and once he’d decided he’d made a nice return on his initial ante, he’d cash out, go home and put his winnings into a section of his bedroom drawer reserved solely for gambling money.

I thought of my Dad and his gambling skills last night, when the eighth-seeded Flying Dutchmen advanced in the CAA Tournament by scoring the final nine points of the game to beat ninth-seeded UNCW Wilmington, 78-70, in front of what sure appeared to be a sparse crowd at Baltimore Arena.

If sports fandom is gambling—and really, aren’t we all sitting here hoping to someday hold the royal flush in our hands?—then we should by all means follow my Dad’s lead and step away from the table right now, before the Dutchmen take on top-seeded Delaware this afternoon.

The Dutchmen’s first CAA Tournament win in 1,097 days (but who’s counting?) provided profits, both obvious and symbolic, that should be stashed in a drawer and saved for next year. In providing us the anticipation of knowing another game awaited on the other side of slumber, the Dutchmen also reached double figures in wins for the first time in three seasons. There will be no banners or certificates printed up to commemorate a 10-win season, but a “10” under the win column looks and feels a whole lot better than a “9.”

In addition, the tournament win provides the tangible happy ending for the players whose career ends with the Dutchmen’s next loss as well as the beginning of a base for those who will return with hopefully higher expectations next season.

For the 22nd time in 32 games, graduate senior Zeke Upshaw (23 points) led the Dutchmen in scoring. Senior Stephen Nwaukoni, the only member of the Dutchmen who was on the court the last time Hofstra won a CAA Tournament game, produced the 10th double-double of his career with 10 points—including a slam dunk for the game’s final points with 13 seconds left—and 14 rebounds.

As for the underclassmen, junior Moussa Kone had 11 points and nine rebounds, graduate senior Dion Nesmith had 15 points and three assists (speaking of quitting while we’re ahead—Nesmith got a favorable ruling from the NCAA and will play a second graduate season next year, what were the odds of the NCAA ever tossing Hofstra a bone?) and freshman Jamall Robinson began the game-winning rally and gave the Dutchmen the lead for good by wading into a sea of aqua and putting back his own miss to begin a nostalgic 3-point play with 1:58 left.

By any reasonable standard, the Dutchmen have exceeded expectations and profited on this trip to the conference tournament. That’s far more than we got the previous two seasons, both of which began with similarly long odds—Ken Pomeroy gave Hofstra a 0.6 percent chance of winning this year’s tournament, the same percentage he offered last year, while in 2012 our friend John Templon had Hofstra winning the automatic bid a whopping 16 times in 10,001 simulations—yet ended with disappointment in the form of yet another narrow loss to Delaware last year and the most lopsided defeat in CAA Tournament history to Georgia State in 2012.

So we should push ourselves away from the table, cash out and invest nothing in today, right? It’s too much to ask us to not watch the game, but regardless of result—and let’s face it, CAA top seeds are 26-1 all-time against the no. 8 or no. 9 seed, so the result will probably be a loss—we should be content with our winnings from last night.

Except…except sports fandom is far more seductive than any winning streak at the poker table. We certainly know the likelihood of Delaware winning today, but I’m sure I speak for the other 17 Hofstra fans when I say we spent all of last night and this morning finding optimism in the two close losses to the Blue Hens during the regular season, concocting upset scenarios in our heads and envisioning the Dutchmen doubling their stack of chips and playing Sunday for a berth in the CAA title game Monday.

Such daydreaming only increases the possibility of heartbreak, of course, and all but ensures that if the Dutchmen lose today, our first thoughts will be of regret and what could have been instead of appreciating what we had.

But still. How can we not hope to parlay last night’s winnings into even more? It’s that time of year when you the outcome—exiting the table empty-handed—is all but inevitable. But we’ll keep on daydreaming and doubling down and playing for that royal flush, right until the last of our chips ends up atop someone else’s stack.

“There’s going to be some conference [winner] we’re going to be reading about in a week or two weeks,” Mihalich said earlier this week. “Somebody’s going to do it. And if you’re Hofstra, you hope it’s you.”

For one more game, at least, we’ve still got that. What more could we ask for?

(A win today.)

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Just The Facts: The no. 8/no. 9 seed vs. the no. 1 seed in the conference quarterfinals

I'm back today, ahead of this franchise's reboot (GOOGLE IT LITOS).


Hey! Two Just The Facts this season! Everything’s coming up Milhouse!

With their 78-70 win over UNC Wilmington last night, the eighth-seeded Flying Dutchmen advanced to a CAA Tournament quarterfinal match this afternoon against top-seeded Delaware—and sent me scurrying to the record books to find out how the top seed fared in quarterfinal conference tournament games against the eighth or ninth seed,

Perhaps I should have resisted the urge.

Today marks the 28th time the CAA’s no. 8 or no. 9 seed will face the no. 1 seed in the quarterfinals (there were less than eight seeds in 1983, 1984, 2001 and 2013). The no. 8 or no. 9 seed is a gulp-inducing 1-26 against the no. 1 seed with an average margin of defeat of 15.5 points per game.

The only no. 8 or no. 9 seed to pull the upset was Navy, which, as the eighth seed in 1991, stunned James Madison 85-82 in overtime. Not saying that was a long time ago, but I was a senior in high school in 1991 and Navy is now in the Patriot League.

Only three other no. 8 or no. 9 seeds have lost by less than 10 points (no. 9 Georgia State to VCU in 2009, no. 9 Towson to VCU in 2004 and no. 9 VCU to UNC Wilmington in 1998). The closest loss in that bunch: VCU’s 69-63 loss.

The news gets no better when examining the fate of the no. 8 or no. 9 seed against the top seed way back when the Dutchmen were in the America East/NAC or the ECC. In fact, the no. 8 or no. 9 seed is 0-25 with an average margin of defeat of 16.8 ppg when it faces the top seed in a conference tournament in which Hofstra participated. Only three of those losses were by less than 10 points (Towson lost to top-seeded Bucknell, 79-77, in overtime in the 1985 ECC Tournament).

As for Hofstra, this will be the fourth time an eighth- or ninth-seeded Dutchmen squad faces the top seed in the quarterfinals. The total margin of defeat in the first three games: Eighty-three points including two losses by at least 30 points, including the 108-75 loss to Malik Rose and Drexel that I saw at the DAC in March 1995. Gulp.

I should shut up before I end up removing all the enjoyment from today’s festivities. Without further ado: The raw data of the no. 1 seed vs. the no. 8 or no. 9 seed in the CAA, followed by the results of 1-8/9 games when Hofstra was in the America East/NAC and ECC. (Note: The ECC records only go back to 1983-84, the first season of the single division format. The previous two-division format made figuring out postseason seedings nearly impossible)

CAA
2013: n/a
2012: Drexel 59, no. 9 UNCW 47
2011: GMU 68, no. 9 GSU 45
2010: ODU 86, no. 8 Towson 56
2009: VCU 61, no. 8 GSU 52
2008: VCU 57, no. 9 Towson 46
2007: VCU 73, no. 9 GSU 60
2006: UNCW 69, no. 9 UDee 56
2005: ODU 64, no. 9 W&M 51
2004: VCU 67, no. 9 Towson 60
2003: UNCW 76, no. 9 Hofstra 56
2002: UNCW 78, no. 8 JMU 62
2001: n/a
2000: GMU 75, no. 8 American 58
1999: GMU 73, no. 9 American 48
1998: UNCW 69, no. 9 VCU 63
1997: ODU 69, no. 8 Richmond 56
1996: VCU 89, no. 9 Richmond 55
1995: ODU 110, no. 8 GMU 94
1994: ODU 83, no. 8 W&M 58
1993: JMU 60, no. 8 GMU 49
1992: Richmond 74, no. 8 GMU 59
1991: No. 8 Navy 85, JMU 82
1990: JMU 93, no. 8 W&M 83
1989: Richmond 96, no. 8 Navy 86
1988: Richmond 67, no. 8 ECU 41
1987: Navy 63, no. 8 W&M 52
1986: Navy 81, no. 8 JMU 67
1985: Navy 94, no. 8 ECU 73
1984: n/a
1983: n/a

AMERICA EAST/NAC
2001: Hofstra 68, no. 8 Vermont 55
2000: Hofstra 80, no. 8 Boston U. 62
1999: Delaware 83, no. 9 Towson 63
1998: Delaware 80, no. 8 Towson 60
1997: Boston U. 67, no. 9 Maine 49
1996: Drexel 83, no. 9 Hartford 71
1995: Drexel 108, no. 9 Hofstra 75

ECC
1994: n/a
1992: n/a
1991: n/a
1990: Towson 74, no. 8 Rider 63
1989: Bucknell 106, no. 8 Rider 80
1988: Lafayette 84, no. 8 Hofstra 54
1987: Bucknell 81, no. 8 Delaware 71
1986: Drexel 99, no. 8 Delaware 81
1985: Bucknell 79, no. 8 Towson 77 (OT)
1984: Bucknell 64, no. 8 Towson 42

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Will the CAA’s parity party spill over into Baltimore?


Hey Roger Goodell, if you want to see parity, come to Baltimore this weekend.

Conference tournament time is upon us, and with it comes the dozens of low-seeded schools—especially in traditionally one-bid leagues—that are infused by the belief that they can become the Cinderella that slays the giants and earns the golden ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

The truth is that the prospective Cinderellas are usually home long before midnight—especially in the CAA, where they usually get back on to the carriage moments after they exit.

The CAA’s 32nd postseason tournament begins tonight, when the eighth-seeded Flying Dutchmen will wear the home uniforms against ninth-seeded UNC Wilmington against some hardy and/or lost souls at the Baltimore Arena. And history suggests the Dutchmen and the Seahawks—as well as everyone except top-seeded Delaware and second-seeded Towson—are facing almost impossible odds in their quest to cut down the nets Monday night.

A team seeded lower than second has won the CAA tournament just six times. And only one of those champions was seeded lower than fourth: In 1993, seventh-seeded East Carolina became the CAA’s one and so far only Cinderella champ by knocking off the no. 2, no. 6 and no. 1 seeds in a three-day span.

Not only have the underdogs rarely won the tournament, they’ve rarely even survived into the semifinal round. Only three teams seeded sixth or lower—East Carolina as well as sixth seeds James Madison in 1997 and George Mason in 2007—have advanced to the finals.

In addition, just 17 percent of the CAA Tournament’s semifinal combatants (21 of 124) have gotten there as the fifth seed or lower. Thirteen of those reached the semis as the fifth seed, which means it had to win a virtual toss-up with the fourth seed in the quarterfinals.

The road has been incrementally less difficult for teams seeded in the lower two-thirds since the CAA expanded to 12 teams in 2001-02. Since then, 21 percent (10 of 48) of the semifinal teams have been seeded fifth or lower. But six of those teams were the fifth seed.

Recent history has been even more unforgiving: The top seeds have reached the CAA Tournament semifinals in each of the last three years.

So to listen to the CAA coaches speak of the wide-open nature of the tournament during the final conference call of the season Tuesday was to hear delusion at its finest…right?

“We’re a lower-seeded team,” Flying Dutchmen coach Joe Mihalich said. “Somebody [from] some conference—seventh seed, eighth seed, ninth seed—is going to all of a sudden turn around and be the champs.”

“Everybody’s going down there believing they have a chance to earn the NCAA bid,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said.

Except this time, everybody has legitimate reason to hope.

By various measures—equal parts eye test and statistical—the just-concluded CAA season may have been the most competitive in its history and certainly in the so-called modern era (i.e. since the America East four joined in 2001-02).

Of the 72 CAA regular season games, just more than half—37—were decided by seven points or less or in overtime.

“All you’ve got to do is look at the scores in the league to see it’s pretty wide-open,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said.

A closer look at the scores indicates just how wide-open the league really is. Top-seeded Delaware needed a last-minute comeback to beat UNC Wilmington, 66-65, at home and trailed Hofstra by double digits in the first half both at home and on Long Island.

UNC Wilmington, meanwhile, went 1-3 against Delaware and Towson—with a net point differential of negative-8. And Hofstra lost to Delaware, Towson and third-seeded William & Mary in an eight-day span last month by a total of 15 points.

“That 8/9 game is going to be a heckuva game,” Delaware coach Monte Ross said. “It’s not your typical 8/9 game in your league just because those guys have played so well against everybody else in the league. A lot of times in the league, you get an 8/9 game, you have some teams that were blown out and not really competitive.”

The CAA is far more competitive from top to bottom and between the haves and have-nots—and drastically so—than it has been at any point in the last 13 seasons.

Delaware went 8-0 against the bottom four teams in the league (College of Charleston, James Madison, Hofstra and UNC Wilmington) but had a net point differential of plus-51, the second-smallest figure for the no. 1 seed against the bottom four teams since 2001-02.

In addition, while bottom four teams went just 3-21 against the top three teams, their average margin of defeat was just 4.6 points per game. That is by far the smallest average margin of defeat for the bottom four against the top third since 2001-02.

“I think it says a lot about the bottom of our league, or the teams that finished towards the bottom, [that] they are very strong and have played everybody very, very tough,” Ross said.

The gap actually began closing last season—which was, not coincidentally, the first for the CAA without emerging national power VCU as well as the last season in the league for former conference heavyweights George Mason and Old Dominion, neither of whom had anything resembling a vintage season.

Last year, top-seeded Northeastern actually had a far hairier time against the bottom four teams than Delaware did this year. The Huskies went 6-2—only the second time since 2001-02 that the no. 1 seed has lost two games to the bottom four teams—with a net-point differential of just plus-14, an average of 1.8 points per game.

Meanwhile, the bottom four teams (William & Mary, UNC Wilmington, Hofstra and Old Dominion) went 2-27 against the top four (Delaware. Towson and James Madison finished two through four) but suffered an average margin of defeat of just 6.9 points per game.

That was less than half the average margin of defeat for the bottom four against the top four in 2011-12, when the top four went 29-0 against the bottom four while winning by an average of 14.4 points per game. That figure is elevated by the presence of 1-17 Towson, which was outscored by 180 points in its eight losses to the top four. But even disregarding Towson’s figures, the nine through 11 seeds lost 22 games by an average of 11.3 points per game.

In the 11 seasons between 2001-02 and 2011-12, the no. 1 seed outscored the bottom four teams by an average of at least 10 points per game. And in those 11 seasons, the top four teams in the CAA outscored the bottom four by an average of 10 points or more eight times—including in 2006, the first best year in CAA history, when the top four went 29-0 against the bottom four with an average margin of victory of 16.7 points per game.

Is the recent parity the new normal in the CAA? More importantly, and urgently, will this season’s parity finally translate into chaos in the tournament?

With a clear top two teams in Delaware and Towson, as well as a fourth seed in Drexel that is, like Delaware and Towson, playing within two hours of its campus, nobody should be surprised if the chalk has held once again come Sunday’s semifinals.

But the unprecedented balance within the CAA means nobody should be surprised, either, if a lower seed—or multiple lower seeds—sneaks into the semifinals or beyond. And it means everybody, from the outbracket contestants all the way up to the top seed, is taking on the March mantra of the underdog.

“We finished at the bottom, and I feel like any given night—heck, our game at Delaware, we ha a chance to win and ended up losing by one,” UNC Wilmington coach Buzz Peterson said. “Any given night, some crazy things can happen and have happened. It’s pretty even.”

“We have the same mindset, that anybody can win it,” Ross said. “Why not us?”

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.