Wednesday, November 26, 2008

There but for the grace of Jim...

This used to be the Gaels' playground...

The news flew under the radar last week, but Iona disbanded its football program, effective immediately. It was a predictable demise precipitated by age-old—or at least decade-old—factors.

Iona doesn’t award football scholarships, which made it as relevant on the Division I-AA landscape as the newspaper in the dotcom world. Even more damaging to the Gaels was the collapse of MAAC football, which had 10 teams at its peak but which saw most of its member schools drop football earlier this decade. The MAAC was down to four teams last year, but Duquense left for the Northeast Conference, Marist bolted for the Pioneer Football League, which is the only non-scholarship I-AA conference in the land, and LaSalle disbanded its program.

Iona declined an invite to the PFL and found it nearly impossible to fill out a schedule or compete as an independent. The Gaels went 3-8, but recorded all three victories against Division II or Division III foes by a grand total of 13 points and were 0-7 against Division I-AA opponents.

A loss to Division III Wesley began a season-ending six-game losing streak in which the Gaels lost by more than 30 points three times lost by more than 40 points twice—including a 68-9 thrashing at the hands of Stony Brook. (So, if Stony Brook was 59 points better than Iona, then Hofstra would have beaten the Gaels 99-0) Iona’s closest game against an I-AA opponent was its last, a 23-7 loss to I-AA rookie Bryant.

Decisions like this make me glad I’m not a college president or athletic director. From a bottom line perspective, it’s tough to argue with the decision to dump the program. Even at the non-scholarship level, it was surely hemorrhaging money, and to make football relevant again, even in the Pioneer, Iona would have had to follow in the footsteps of Georgetown and infuse cash into upgrading the program and facilities. Iona’s Mazzella Field, which had the lowest seating capacity of any Division I or I-AA stadium, looked like a high school field.

And all that expense for…what, exactly? As we’ve all learned over the past 15 years, even an I-AA program that consistently wins is little more than a curiosity to the general public. If you’re not competing for a BCS berth, nobody cares except a tiny fraction of the alums. And the last game at Iona drew 483 fans. That’s not a misprint.

But that tiny fraction is passionate about the sport. This was the 31st season of football at Iona, which began as a Division III program in 1978 and made an NCAA-mandated move to I-AA in 1991. That’s thousands of alums who donned the shoulder pads and are now quite sore at the alma mater. And there are surely hundreds, if not thousands, of fans who took pride in rooting for a football team at a basketball school and continued to follow the team well beyond graduation. They’re surely not happy today.

The demise of Iona football got me thinking about Flying Dutchmen football and what could have been had Hofstra not upgraded the program at the behest of a passionate and rather powerful alum—school president and former football player James Shuart.

Like Iona, Hofstra jumped from D-III to I-AA in 1991. But unlike Iona, which had a natural home for all its sports in the MAAC, Hofstra had to make the move to I-AA during a turbulent time for the athletic department. The East Coast Conference was in its final season and down to just seven teams in 1991-92, and all four football-playing schools (Buffalo, Central Connecticut and Towson State were the others) were independents making the same transition as Hofstra.

Fortunately for Hofstra, being an independent in the early ‘90s wasn’t the scarlet letter it is today. According to the 1994 football media guide, 17 of the 116 I-AA teams were independents. (Thanks to Jim Sheehan for including the list, no doubt realizing how handy it would be for me 14 years later) This year, it was six out of 125.

The scheduling challenges remained, though, and played a huge role in Hofstra missing the playoffs following a breakout 8-1-1 season in 1994. “Maybe it would be easier if we were in the Yankee [Conference],” Joe Gardi told Newsday in a story published Nov. 29, 1994.

Shuart traveled to the NCAA Convention in January 1995 to personally pitch Hofstra’s candidacy to the Yankee Conference. But despite Shuart’s enthusiasm, the seemingly natural fit, Hofstra’s continued success—the Dutchmen proved to be no fluke by going 10-2 and earning a playoff berth in 1995, the first of four postseason appearances it would make in a six-year span—and the addition of scholarships, getting into the Yankee took so long that it was called the Atlantic 10 when it finally accepted Hofstra for the 2001 season.

And by that time, being in a conference was a necessity, not a luxury. The 17 independents from 1994 had either upgraded to Division I, landed in a I-AA conference or disbanded the program by the start of the 2001 season. (Thanks to this site was an invaluable resource in figuring out where everyone went between 1994 and now)

So what would have happened if Shuart wasn’t the program’s biggest booster? Would Hofstra football have beaten Iona to the where-are-they-now file?

Probably not. Even back at the beginning of the I-AA days, Hofstra football appeared too big to fail (you know, like America’s banks). Hofstra Stadium was one of the better facilities in I-AA and the multi-million dollar Margiotta Hall opened in 1992. And football at Hofstra began in 1937, which makes it almost as old as the school itself.

Even without Shuart’s encouragement, Hofstra probably would have ended up moving into the Atlantic 10 for football, since the A-10 housed all the football-playing CAA schools.

There’s no doubt, though, that Hofstra made the move into the upper echelon of I-AA programs at the right time, because it’d never happen today. Shuart, who retired in 2001, is merely a big fan of the program and the school is now run by a president and athletic director whose passion for the sport is directly tied to the bottom line…which is ugly and getting worse.

Even if the program is a giant money loser, there’s too much invested in and around Shuart Stadium to pull the plug. It doesn’t make much sense for the stadium to merely host graduations, Hofstra lacrosse games and the Long Island high school football championships.

It will be interesting, though, to see what happens when the fledgling programs at Old Dominion and Georgia State complete their transition periods and join the CAA in 2011 and 2012, respectively. A 14-team conference is just about unmanageable. Will Hofstra take one for the CAA by volunteering to downgrade the program to the partial or non-scholarship level? Getting rid of scholarships and competing in the Pioneer would surely save the school huge chunks of change, even accounting for the travel expenses in the coast-to-coast league.

Such a decision would be a disappointing one, but it would sure beat the alternative. Just ask fans of Iona football.

(PS: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!)

Email Jerry at
defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Me 1, Sully Rays 0 (Oh and Hofstra 68, Old Westbury 50)

Sully Ray's anguish sustains me!

“Ahh, the first night of basketball season—when anything seems possible,” my wife the quote machine said as we waited for the first tip last night at Hofstra Arena.

Looking around the Arena during the Flying Dutchmen’s 68-50 victory over Old Westbury provided memories of what once was, and perhaps of what will be. The surprisingly decent-sized crowd of 2,508 for a game against a Division III foe—only 2,184 showed up to Hempstead for last year’s Hofstra-Stony Brook battle; can it be, is the optimism spreading?—inspired recollections of the sellouts against Mason in February ’06 and Old Dominion in the NIT quarterfinals three weeks later and stoked hopes of full houses for pivotal late-season CAA games.

Charles Jenkins flinging his body around with reckless abandon and filling up the box score was reminiscent of Loren Stokes, but with the reminder that he’s better built for such punishment. Jenkins had 24 points and was 6-of-8 from inside the 3-point arc (1-of-5 beyond it) as well as 9-of-11 from the free throw line.

Cornelius Vines evoked memories of Antoine Agudio by firing at will from outside (3-of-10 from 3-point land, 13 points overall), punctuating his 3-pointers with an Agudio-like fist pump (not nearly as annoying as this guy’s fist pump) and sporting the Agudio-circa-his-real-freshman-year long hair. (That, by the way, is a great test of someone’s Hofstra hoops fandom: Mention Agudio’s long hair. If he/she stares at you like you just suggested having Thanksgiving dinner at Dutch Treats? Not a real fan, or at least not as hardcore as you.)

Then there was Tom Pecora, who needed about 10 minutes to round into midseason form: Stalking the sidelines, filling the ears of the referees jogging by with friendly suggestions and producing his classic passive-aggressive “What? I’m not completely beyond The Line” pose by taking one knee near the scorer’s table and extending the other foot just beyond the coach’s box.

Greg Johnson played 26 minutes and effectively ran the point. Arminas Urbutis unveiled a new closely shorn hairdo that made him look, from a distance, like a dead ringer for Aurimas Kieza. He played like one, too: Eight points, six boards and three steals in 22 minutes.

Anything was possible…even beating out Sully Ray and his father for a T-shirt. That’s right. It’s 1-0, boys. Never mind that it’s a medium and I haven’t worn a medium T-shirt since like 1987, or that if I were to wear this just to taunt Sully Ray I’d look something like the guy on the left:

In which I gratuitously take advantage of any opportunity to reference Needs More Cowbell.

And never mind that there are 11 more home games for the Sullivans to remind me of their inherent advantages. For instance, Sully is a tri-athlete. I tried to be an athlete in high school, when I ran track because it was the only sport that didn’t cut anyone, and tried running at the beginning of my diet in January but quit after two days because I felt so pathetic and out-of-shape.

And his dad is 70 years old but with the agility, instincts and killer instinct of a man five decades younger. You’ve got to see this guy go for T-shirts. He’s a bad man. And I mean that in the most complementary way possible.

Where was I? Oh yes.

Of course, it was still the fourth Monday of November, so there were plenty of reminders it’s a long season and there’s still plenty of work to be done on the court (if not in the stands). This was the ultimate no-win game for the Flying Dutchmen—as in, no matter how much they won by, it wouldn’t be enough because Division I teams are supposed to trounce Division III teams—but Pecora didn’t have to get creative in finding ways to criticize his team’s performance.

It was a game with little flow or consistency on either end. Despite a clear size advantage, the Dutchmen only pulled down three more rebounds than Old Westbury (34-31).

And if Old Westbury shot just a little better—the Panthers shot just 35 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from the free throw line—then things might have gotten really hairy down the stretch. As it was, Old Westbury hung around long enough—down four with just over 12 minutes left, one of the Panthers players started extorting the crowd—that the wife mentioned it was beginning to feel a lot like Hofstra-UCLA, except Hofstra was the UCLA.

I’ll chalk some of the inconsistency up to the experimental nature of the game. As decent as Greg Johnson looked, let’s remember he was headed for the side of a milk carton after back-to-back DNPs in Charleston. The odds of him recording more minutes than Tony Dennison again, barring an injury to one of the three starting guards, are slim.

Darren Townes didn’t start, but played 29 minutes—more than either Urbutis (22 minutes) or Dane Johnson (13 minutes)—despite drawing four fouls as Pecora continued to mix and match with the big guys. Miklos Szabo had a quiet 15 minutes with no points and five boards.

And Nathaniel Lester (three minutes) and Zygis Sestakos (five minutes) continued to slide down the depth chart. Lester was yanked after a turnover late in the first half and Sestakos nailed his first 3-point attempt but missed his next two before both remained on the bench for the entire second half. Ditto for Mike Davis-Saab, who scored a point in two minutes in the first half. Walk-on David Vallins played the final 66 seconds while Greg Washington did not play and spent the game in sweats on the sidelines.

Now that the unofficial pre-season portion of the non-conference schedule is out of the way, we’ll start to get a better idea of what’s really possible—and what kind of work the Flying Dutchmen really have ahead of them—beginning Saturday, when the Dutch visit Manhattan. In the Bronx, of course, because that makes sense. I may start Bay Shore Community College but open it in Copiague.

(Sorry for the delayed posting tonight, should have just capped last night’s all-nighter by finishing this. Come back later Wednesday for a football-related post)

Email Jerry at
defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Come back later for Old Westbury recap

Had some deadline work to complete last night, so please come back later today for a post about the Flying Dutchmen's 68-50 win over Old Westbury. In the meantime, check out the Q&A with Old Westbury coach—and former Hofstra star—Bernard Tomlin that was conducted and posted late Monday afternoon. See you in a bit.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Bernard Tomlin

Old Westbury coach and former Flying Dutchmen star Bernard Tomlin. (Photo courtesy Old Westbury)

Those of us who went to Hofstra in the early 1990s remember the East Coast Conference as more of a curiosity than an actual conference and correlate it with the Flying Dutchmen’s days on the remote fringes of Division I. But Bernard Tomlin remembers the ECC as something far more legitimate and associates it with Hofstra’s first foray on to the national stage.

Tomlin was a senior starter on the 1975-76 Flying Dutchmen, who won the ECC to earn Hofstra’s first trip to the Division I tournament. The Dutchmen opened a 13-point lead on UConn in the first round of the 32-team tourney but lost, 80-78, in overtime.

Tomlin, who has been the men’s basketball coach and assistant athletic director at Old Westbury since 2001, comes back to Hofstra Arena tonight when the Panthers face the Dutchmen in the first meeting between the schools. We talked to Tomlin earlier this afternoon about his time at Hofstra, that memorable NCAA Tournament game, his position at Old Westbury and how close he came to being named Flying Dutchmen head coach in 1994. Thanks to Tomlin for taking the time to speak to us on game day as well as Old Westbury SID Harris Rappel for facilitating the interview.


What do you remember about your final game at Hofstra, the 80-78 overtime loss to UConn in the NCAA Tournament?

The one thing that I do remember is it was a very, very competitive game and we led pretty much all afternoon. And they made a nice run towards the end, tied it and we lost it in overtime. It was just a great experience. Back then,, there were only 32 teams in the tournament. So if you’re in the NCAAs, everybody was home watching. It was a lot of fun for Hofstra, that period of time.

The NCAA Tournament wasn’t quite the event back then it is today. What kind of publicity and attention did Hofstra get?

I think mainly because we were New York—towards the end of our season, we had every major newspaper, we had the TV stations and so on. The NCAA, locally, was St. John’s, maybe Manhattan but never really Hofstra. So the idea of having athletes that had the talent to play at that level, that was quite unique.

Do you ever think what if about the game against UConn—what if a shot had fallen in for Hofstra or fallen out for UConn?

You replay those things. I had a shot at the end that I turned into a jump pass. Never thought I should have shot it, because one of our bigger guys, Pat Kammerer, was wide open underneath. I had an athlete closing out at me—can’t remember [his name]—he got a little hand on the pass and [the ball] went up. But we gave it our best. It was one of those games where we left it all on the floor.

Along those lines: Given how UConn has become a perennial national power, do you ever think about what might have been for Hofstra as a program if the Flying Dutchmen won that game and went deep into the tournament?

All of those elite programs, they really kind of make the commitment across the board in terms of what they’re doing [with the program]. And you’re right—certainly, a Final Four run changes the face of a college. And we’ve see that happen with the mid-major programs. But it was a nice time. And then the following year, a large part of our group remained and we made another run [to the NCAAs, where Hofstra lost to Notre Dame 90-83]. So it was a nice two-year period. And I was actually out with my coach, Roger Gaeckler, this summer and we just were really happy to have the experience. Not many athletes or coaches get a chance to experience that.

What kind of profile did the basketball team have on campus?

Because we were a young program, I think people knew that we had good talent. My senior year, we went to the national tournament. But I think everybody looked at us and said ‘Well, they have some talent, but will they ever be able to meld as a team?’ So we didn’t have the big crowds. The biggest crowd we got was the reception we got [after returning] from Philadelphia after we had won the ECC championship.

Thirty-odd years later, it’s still a challenge to get people on to the Hofstra bandwagon. Why do you think that’s the case?

The problem you have in the metropolitan area is you have the pro franchises and you just have so much entertainment to compete with. So until a team really gets hot and people start reading about them, it’s hard to generate a following. I know locally, even with my own family, I’m competing against the Nets and all the other teams that are playing during the same time.

You were among the finalists for the Flying Dutchmen head coaching job in 1994. What do you remember about that process and how close do you think you were to getting the position?

All through the process, I was told that—and I was unfamiliar with this terminology—I was in the “catbird seat.” I said ‘What does that mean?’ [laughs] But, you know, it’s a gray area when you’re competing. And obviously, so many people were involved in the process. And I think they’ve all made good choices. And I’ve been really happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish as a small college coach. It was a real honor to even be considered.

In addition to coaching the men’s basketball team, you’re also the assistant athletic director at Old Westbury. What goes into that job and how did you move into athletic administration?

I work very closely with all the teams. We’re involved in the budget process right now. We’re trying to upgrade our programs. Just added two new sports, we have women’s soccer for the first time. We also have men’s and women’s golf. It’s pretty much more of the traditional role of a small college assistant athletic director or administrator.

I had always been pretty much a coach, and when I worked at Stony Brook, I was a full-time coach. Obviously, Division II and I, there’s a lot more responsibility as far as recruiting nationally, fundraising, those kinds of things. Small-college coaches that work full-time usually have numerous responsibilities and they wear one or two hats.

What are your thoughts upon returning to Hofstra? Do you remember the last time you coached there?

Wow. Memory lane. [laughs] I’m not sure what year, but when I was at Stony Brook, we played there. I think this was Speedy’s junior year [note: Hofstra hosted Stony Brook in 1996 and 1997, Claxton’s freshman and sophomore years]. You could see that team was just about to take off. They had so many good athletes and Jay was doing a great job. You’re always anxious because you know that you’re going against a good staff and you know these guys do a great job recruiting and a really good [job of] coaching.

Lastly, what do you plan to say to your guys before playing Hofstra tonight?

Just go out and compete. A lot of times, what happens in these games is the same guys you play against in the summer league games now are on the other side in a Division I jersey. So you kind of have to work through that. Obviously, they have some physical advantages with the size and the athleticism. But a lot of times, our athletes are a lot more comfortable than the coaches because they know what it’s like playing against these players. It’s not in a strict environment, but they’ve had that experience before.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

In which I pine for the days of SportsChannel telecasts and count down the seconds until 7 pm tonight

Bring back this guy!

When it comes to recommended ways to spend a Saturday, I’m pretty sure sitting home with a damp washcloth applied to a jaw still throbbing from a root canal ranks somewhere below, well, a whole lot of things. Not that I wasn’t planning to watch the Flying Dutchmen football finale against UMass on YES, but I was hoping to do so later in the evening (what did we do without TIVO, anyway?) and without feeling like a construction crew was administering a jackhammer to the left side of my mouth.

But there I was in the recliner Saturday, the Novocain wearing off as I watched the Dutchmen fall to UMass 28-14 (in front of a crowd of 5,108 that apparently sat out of view of the television cameras) and picked nits with the CN8 broadcast crew.

(Read the coverage from The Springfield Republican...and The Worcester Telegram...and The Boston Globe. That’s right: Three papers covered the game. Maybe that’s a byproduct of UMass winning the I-AA title in 1998 and making four subsequent appearances in the tournament, but I’m not sure Hofstra would get three papers out to Hempstead if it advanced to and hosted the I-AA championship game.)

Aside from screaming at Chris Berman to come up with new, non self-referential material, I’m not a big fan of criticizing broadcasts and broadcasters. Going live without a net without the ability to highlight and delete anything is an art form I admire, and plus, I enjoy public speaking even less than I enjoy a root canal. In addition, I hate to be That Guy who expects broadcasters to have encyclopediac knowledge of a team whose game is likely to draw less than one-tenth of one percent of the viewing audience.

But geez, even if my teeth—and my fame—were impressive enough to earn me mention on this list, it would have been difficult to not long for the days when Hofstra paid SportsChannel to broadcast the games and Carl Reuter, Marty Lyons and Barry Landers were weekly presences at Pizza With Joe.

The following gripes all occurred within the first minute—that’s right, the first 60 seconds—of the CN8 telecast.

Entering Saturday, the Flying Dutchmen had played 11 games with their new helmet. Which, of course, replaced this helmet, which was all of one year old, but that’s neither here nor there. So why was the first Hofstra image in the pre-game package a picture of the old helmet? Cripes. If you’re going to go old school, go all the way.

The narrator of the brief pre-game package referred to “…the powerful offense of coach Dave Cohen” that has produced the program’s “…best rushing numbers in seven years.” Sure, the Dutchmen exceeded 40 points in a game four times this season for the first time since 2004. But they were also shutout twice and scored 16 points or less six times in 12 games.

The accolades about the rushing game are true: Hofstra finished the year with an average of 167.4 rushing yards per game, the best performance since the 2001 team averaged 190.6 yards per game. Alas, the Dutchmen had to run the ball because quarterback was a revolving door and they struggled to do anything in the air: The average of 176.1 passing yards per game was the lowest total since 1996 and the second-lowest average since the program began moving to I-AA in 1991. The 343.5 yards of total offense per game is the fourth-lowest in the I-AA era.

I guess the broadcast got better from there, even if Hofstra provided the familiar mix of encouragement and frustration. UMass looked as if it was going to put a James Madison-type beating on the Dutchmen when it scored 21 points in the first quarter, but the Dutchmen didn’t allow another score until five minutes into the fourth quarter and ended up outgaining the Minutemen 355-315. It was a legitimate advantage, too: Hofstra ran just nine more plays from scrimmage than UMass.

The Dutchmen coaching staff, blasted all season for its conservative play-calling, pulled an unexpected trick out of the bag when it called for a fake punt inside the Hofstra five-yard-line early in the fourth quarter.

The kids were more than all right on both sides of the ball. Freshman quarterback Steve Probst and sophomore Everette Benjamin combined for 150 yards and two touchdowns on just 27 carries while redshirt freshmen Chris Edmond and Greg Melendez combined for 23 tackles.

But the Dutchmen also could have done a lot more than hang with a perennial powerhouse. That fake punt led to the longest drive of the season—an 18-play, 87-yard march that put Hofstra on the doorstep of the game-tying score—but it ended with Benjamin losing a fumble inside the 15-yard-line. Benjamin ended the next drive by fumbling out of the end zone as he tried to extend for a score that would have pulled the Dutchmen within seven with just over four minutes left. Appropriately, that turned out to be the final offensive snap of the season for the Dutchmen.

Overall, the Dutchmen committed five turnovers and scored on just two of their five trips inside the red zone. The defense surrendered 236 yards rushing and gave up an average of 192.8 yards rushing per game, the highest total since 2002 and the fourth-highest figure sine the move to I-AA.

Next season surely begins today for Dave Cohen, who knows the Dutchmen need a winter, spring and summer in the weight room in order to compete in the CAA—which, for the second straight year, sent five teams to the 16-team I-AA tournament. And next season will likely define Cohen’s tenure. Hofstra is 13-21 under Cohen, including 5-12 since a 6-0 start last year.

The growing pains of this season are worth it if the Dutchmen get back into playoff contention. If not? Might be time to start over again in 2010.

Speaking of next season: It finally arrives tonight, at least at the Hofstra Arena, when the Flying Dutchmen return home for the first time in 267 days and host Old Westbury. Yeah, we probably won’t be able to glean much from will hopefully be a glorified scrimmage against a Division III foe, but glory of glories, basketball is back.

Check back tomorrow for a recap of the game. And if you’re going, see you there. I’ll be the guy yelling for Jeff Fox to get some PT.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Just a little patience, yeah...

Axl Rose, so tired of waiting for the next Hofstra men's basketball game, finally decides to finish Chinese Democracy.

Our apologies (geez, that’s my second apology of the week, I’m already infinitely better than Vince Coleman) for being a bit sporadic with the posts this week. The eye of the storm has lulled us into a bit of a siesta. The eight days in between games for the Flying Dutchmen is the longest gap of the season...until, of course, they win the CAA’s automatic berth on March 9 and open the NCAA Tournament March 19 or 20. Oh yeah. I went there.

And I probably should have saved my watching-friends-rip-open-their-presents-on-Christmas-Eve analogy for this week, since everyone else in the CAA plays except Hofstra. In fact, there are more teams playing three times (James Madison, UNC-Wilmington, George Mason and Delaware) than teams only playing once (Northeastern, Towson and Old Dominion). So while fans of The Other Eleven get revved up about a spate of meaningful contests against nationally renowned opponents and Michael Litos makes a case for this as a season-defining weekend for the CAA, we get to pine for Monday and a game against a Division III foe and wonder why we can’t get a schedule like that.

But I’m not complaining. After watching Hofstra get hammered for the better part of two months last season, I’m willing to buy into the theory that going 8-3 or 9-2 and building confidence against a less-than-stellar non-conference slate is better than the Dutchmen absorbing multiple double-digit defeats against RPI-friendly competition. Plus, you know, we all learned in 2006 that it doesn’t really matter who you play out of conference. They’ll find a way to screw you anyway.

That said, next Saturday—and the first of five games in a 14-day span—can’t get here fast enough. I mean, for crying out loud, Guns n’ Roses will have released an album by the next time Hofstra plays.

Some other bits and bytes before the weekend:

—Prep for the Old Westbury game with Jeremy Kniffin’s excellent pre-game notes package.

—Forwards Paul Bilbo and David Imes and guards Yves Jules and Chaz Williams have long been discussed on the CAAZone message boards, and the quartet officially signed letters of intent Thursday to attend Hofstra next fall and play for the Flying Dutchmen. I’m not nearly tuned in enough to the high school scene around here to project how they’ll fare and I try to view recruiting classes with caution since can’t-miss recruiting classes almost always have multiple misses. Not a knock on the recruits, of course, just a fact of life in an unpredictable sport.

That said, congrats to the foursome. And whatever you guys do, don’t eat the Sbarro.

—Here’s an interesting story on Williams’ often-difficult path to Hofstra.

—The Flying Dutchwomen volleyball team pursues the seventh NCAA Tournament bid in program history when it participates in the CAA tourney this weekend at Northeastern. The Dutchwomen open with William & Mary, whom they defeated at Hofstra last Saturday, and would advance with a win to face top-seeded Northeastern in the semis Sunday. The championship match is Monday. The Dutchwomen won the CAA in 2006 and lost to Delaware in the final last year.

—Belated kudos, part I: With 19 freshmen or sophomores on the 25-man roster, even the most optimistic Hofstra wrestling fan had to foresee a rebuilding year and the likely end to the Flying Dutchmen’s streak of seven straight conference titles and 57 straight victories in conference play. Maybe not. The Dutchmen shocked seventh-ranked Penn State last Sunday, 18-15, and have moved into the national top 20 at 16. The wrestlers get another big test this weekend, when they face fifth-ranked Missouri Saturday before participating in the Missouri Open Sunday.

—Belated kudos, part II: The Flying Dutchmen football team finally told Seth Meyers where to cram it last Saturday with a thorough 42-14 win over Northeastern in front of friends, family and Sully Ray at Shuart Stadium. In fact, I think the presence of Sully Ray—who made his first appearance of the season but did not catch a T-shirt; too bad, there was no one within eight rows of us—was just what the Dutchmen needed to end that worst season ever talk. Nice of you to show up when it was needed, Sully. Sheesh.

It’s clear the season-ending back injury Bryan Savage suffered moments before kickoff at UConn nearly three months ago was a sign of things to come for the Dutchmen, who lost 11 players to season-ending injuries and never built any momentum on or off the field. Perfect weather and impressive crowds greeted the Dutchmen for games against Albany and Rhode Island in September, but any playoff hopes were extinguished during the four-game presidential debate road trip and three straight home games in monsoon-like conditions didn’t do much to lure anyone but the hardiest of the diehards. The combined attendance against Delaware, Richmond and Northeastern was 7,004—not much more than the Dutchmen drew against Rhode Island (6,111).

The Dutchmen close out the season Saturday against UMass, which was ranked in the top 15 as recently as two weeks ago but whose playoff aspirations disappeared with consecutive losses to Maine and New Hampshire. Not much to be gained on either side except experience, but 5-7 sure looks better than 4-8 and a win against UMass would allow Hofstra to finish third in the CAA North. Not much, but it’s something—and third place is where the Dutchmen were predicted to finish in August.

So let’s say Hofstra 26, UMass 20 in overtime. The game will be carried on YES at 2 p.m. No idea, though, if it’s followed by Dutchography: Carlos Garay.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If everyone else picked Delaware 5th, would you?

I've got a fever and the only cure is more predictions!

Getting ready to post these predictions reminded me of a couple interesting theories about blogging and writing I’ve read while absorbing pre-season information the last few weeks.

CAA Blog Daddy Michael Litos quoted a gentlemen by the name of Jeff Jarvis Nov. 5 when he declared that he’s following Jarvis’ advice this year by doing what he does best and linking to the rest. One of those links is the UNC-Wilmington page at the Wilmington Star News, whose UNCW beat writer, Brian Mull, wrote Nov. 12 that he didn’t forget to preview the CAA, he just thought his own preview would be “…redundant and unnecessary” given the previews that were already written by people such as Litos.

It’s obviously imperative to follow and recognize the rest of the CAA, but there’s no way I can approximate the coverage Litos and the beat writers provide the other 11 schools. Their institutional knowledge of those, well, institutions make them an invaluable resource who can tell you what’s going on at there far better than I ever could. I’ll be far better off if I mostly stick to prattling on about Hofstra.

Yet I also admire Mull’s restraint, because quite frankly, I love making predictions. As I noted earlier this fall, dog-eared copies of season preview annuals were my best friends every summer and winter as a kid. And my favorite part of the year as a magazine writer and editor was (and hopefully will be again) putting together baseball previews.

In fact, Loyal Reader Rob and I like predictions so much that it’s not enough just to make them once per football season. We have to do it some variation of it every single week by trading power rankings (which is, as Mike Florio of the always-entertaining Pro Football Talk noted earlier today, a cliché of the highest order…but also too much fun to resist).

So consider these predictions, then, a simultaneous nod to the philosophies of Litos and Mull and a scratching of a familiar itch. I don’t have any in-depth analysis of the Other 11, I leave that to Litos, whose previews are linked with each team. And clip and save—err, I mean, bookmark—so we can see how well (or, more likely, how poorly) I fared come March, when Hofstra finishes off a perfect CAA season. Muahahaha.

Also note these predictions were made last week and have not been influenced at all by the opening week of games.

1.) VCU (first preview): The whole season boils down to winning two more tourney games than last year. Not very fair, of course, but with the reigning CAA player of the year, the hottest mid-major coach in the land (Loyal Reader Jill thinks that’s the case, literally) and the sting of last year’s shocking semifinal loss in the tourney and subsequent screw job by the Selection Committee surely driving Anthony Grant’s team, the regular season won’t be a problem for the Rams. Is 17-1—a mark no team has ever enjoyed in regular season play—within reach?

2.) Northeastern: Five starters back and only one is a senior. For the first time since before Hofstra joined the NAC, Northeastern may be on its way to becoming a perennial power in its conference.

3.) Old Dominion (second preview): Experienced, well-coached and talented, like every year. Plus, you can set your clock to it: Five straight top-four finishes and first-round byes for the Monarchs.

4.) Hofstra: See this post for our preview from last Friday.

5.) Delaware: Monte Ross continues to lift the Blue Hens out of the David Henderson mess—which is fine by me. The season is more fun when DD-era rival Delaware is good.

6.) George Mason: Undeniable talent among the newcomers and if I had to pick a favorite for 2010-11, I’d pick the Patriots. But it’s 2008-09 and I have a hunch chemistry will be a disaster for at least a few weeks.

7.) William & Mary: There’ll be plenty of hunger here too among the returnees from last year’s near-miss club. If Litos says he’s underestimated the Tribe, well, that’s good enough for me to bump them up a couple spots.

8.) Georgia State: See George Mason, including the whole favorite for 2010-11 thing with this guy choosing the Panthers over a bundle of BCS powerhouses. A couple transfers this year is fine. But four?

9.) Drexel: As undermanned as the Dragons seem, I just can’t see a Bruiser Flint-coached team finishing last two years in a row. They’ll be tough and they’ll be scrappy and they’ll win a few 53-50 games.

10.) James Madison: Transitional years under the new guy are rarely pretty, but Matt Brady will have JMU in the upper half of the league sooner than later.

11.) UNC-Wilmington: Chad Tomko is fun to watch, but the cupboard is otherwise bare.

12.) Towson: Can’t shake the feeling that three suspensions before the opening tip is a bad, bad sign of things to come. And the last time a Pat Kennedy-coached team had a winning season? DePaul in 1999-2000—eight years and three stops ago.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

A few thoughts, including "Whoops"

Mixing up ETSU and SIUE: A Homer Simpson, head-slapping moment for sure.

First of all, I really screwed up late Monday when I wrote the Flying Dutchmen beat Southern Illinois-Edwardsville Sunday. That, of course, is not true, they beat East Tennessee State. No idea at all what I was thinking there, maybe I saw the four-letter acronym and just assumed it was SIU-Edwardsville and wanted to break out my cute acronym. Or I had Western Michigan, which lost to Hofstra Saturday and SIU-Edwardsville Sunday, on the mind.

Regardless, it was an embarrassing mistake, and while I’ve made the corrections in the blog, I’d be disingenuous to pretend it never happened. I humbly apologize and promise to be more vigilant in the future.

And now for a few carefully researched and proofread thoughts about last weekend—and a request to check back later today for my CAA predictions, which I made last week but haven’t had a chance to post yet.

—Michael Litos sees a lot of Loren Stokes in Charles Jenkins, who displayed a Stokes-like ability to take over the game late in the 76-75 win over ETSU Sunday. I’ll go one step further and add that Jenkins exhibited a lot of Stokes’ trademark toughness during his star-making turn at the Charleston Classic. If you were like me, you briefly looked ahead to 2009-10 when Jenkins went down writhing in pain in the second half against Clemson—and fretted about an 0-3 weekend when Jenkins limped throughout the rest of the 29-point loss to the Tigers. The Flying Dutchmen are deeper and better than a year ago, but any hopes for playing beyond the first weekend in March begin and end with Jenkins.

Hofstra men’s basketball SID Jeremy Kniffin noted before the season that Jenkins had the same number of points through 29 career games (436) as all-time scoring leader Antoine Agudio. Well, with 71 points at the Charleston Classic, Jenkins is now 30 points ahead of Agudio at the 32-game mark.

Another just-for-fun stat for Jenkins inspired equally by Kniffin and Litos: Stokes is the only player in Hofstra history to rank among the top 15 all-time in points, assists, steals and rebounding. Through 32 games, Jenkins is ahead of the pace set by Stokes in every category except assists. In Stokes’ defense, he only started 24 of his first 32 games while Jenkins has started every game thus far.

Charles Jenkins through 32 games: 507 points/149 rebounds/71 assists/51 steals
Loren Stokes through 32 games: 429 points/146 rebounds/93 assists/41 steals

—The Flying Dutchmen were as deep as advertised in Charleston, particularly in the front court. Arminas Urbutis pulled down 16 rebounds in 33 minutes Saturday against Western Michigan. A day later, Miklos Szabo returned from his NCAA suspension, played 30 minutes off the bench and grabbed 11 rebounds as Urbutis (who started) was limited to 10 minutes and two rebounds.

In addition, the Dutchmen picked up 96 rebounds in those two games even though Darren Townes, the leading rebounder from a year ago (6.7 boards per game), was limited to a total of 33 minutes and 10 rebounds off the bench.

Overall in the three games, Hofstra averaged 47.3 rebounds, 10 boards more than a year ago. The last time the Dutchmen averaged that many rebounds per game over a full season: 1970-71, when they grabbed 51.5 rebounds per game.

And counting Szabo, the Dutchmen had seven players average at least 18 minutes per game over the weekend. Hofstra hasn’t had seven players averaging 18 minutes or more since the 2004-05 season.

—Dane Johnson was the only returning big man to start all three games. Greg Washington picked up seven fouls and just two blocks in 24 minutes over the three games while Mike Davis-Saab seems to be the last man in the rotation after averaging four minutes in two contests and recording a DNP against ETSU.

—One really encouraging thing about the win over Western Michigan: The Dutchmen escaped despite a brutal shooting performance from transfer guards Tony Dennison and Cornelius Vines, who combined to make just seven of 36 shots in the overtime victory. They weren’t much better Friday, when the duo was a combined 6-for-22. (In Vines’ defense, he was likely hampered by a sprained thumb suffered last week)

Vines, in particular, displayed the unconsciousness of Antoine Agudio by taking all but one of his attempts from 3-point land Friday (4-for-11) and missing all eight of his 3-point attempts during a 2-for-18 effort Saturday.

The positive (and quite possibly accurate) spin on Dennison and Vines: You’ve got to be pretty good to take that many shots. And the two were markedly better on Sunday, when they combined to make 10 of 22 shots.

—Identifying Nathaniel Lester as someone who could quickly get lost in the mix at guard looked astute after Lester played decently Friday (six points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal and two turnovers in 10 minutes) yet played just 15 minutes total in the next two games. But perhaps we should have identified Greg Johnson as someone who could find himself on the endangered list as well.

Johnson didn’t play at all Saturday and Sunday—the first DNPs of his career—after a rough Friday in which he had two assists, three rebounds, four turnovers, two fouls and missed all four shots from the field and both free throw attempts in 16 minutes. Pecora will almost surely have less patience with Johnson, a senior whose game is pretty well-established, than the sophomore Lester.

—The same goes for Zygis Sestokas, who had a weird weekend. The famously hot-and-cold outside shooter seemed to find his form Friday, when he shot 4-of-9 from the new 3-point line and finished second on the Dutchmen with 14 points. Yet he attempted just one shot in 24 minutes Saturday and got the dreaded “0-plus” (i.e. less than one minute of playing time) treatment Sunday.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Monday, November 17, 2008

This guy was right!

Words I know I'll never have to warble to my wife: "I want you...I need you...but there ain't no way I'm ever going to love you if you continue to call Hofstra the Pride."

Back in the day as a pup reporter, I admit it: I was That Guy, the one who asked a manager or a coach if he thought a pivotal, dramatic regular season victory was going to be a turning point for his team.

Looking back, it makes me cringe, and I’m sure it made the grizzled vets around me laugh and made the manager or coach cringe, too. (Especially this guy). I mean, unless it’s Game Seven of the World Series, how can you recognize a turning point in the moment? Momentum is a fluky thing, on both the winning and losing side.

For every example of the 1994 Jets, who responded to the Fake Spike by losing their final four games of the season as well as 28 of the next 32 after that (for a good laugh, read the linked story and absorb how confident the Jets were of their ability to bounce back), there’s the 2001 Yankees, who looked like mortal locks to win their fourth straight World Series after consecutive stunning extra-inning victories over the Diamondbacks in Games Four and Five…yet ended up falling in Games Six and Seven in Arizona.

With all that said, old habits are sometimes tough to shake. So I’ve wondered over the last day or so if the Flying Dutchmen defined their season at the Charleston Classic by following a lopsided 98-69 defeat at the hands of Clemson with a 71-68 overtime win over Western Michigan (here’s the Newsday recap) and a dramatic 76-75 victory over East Tennessee State.

Sure, it’s early and sure, it doesn’t appear very likely that wins over Western Michigan (which finished last in the eight-team tourney) or ETSU will provide much of a boost to the RPI. And sure, Tom Pecora called this weekend a separate season for his still developing club—three games that counted in the standings, but a trio of contests that would not necessarily be a reflection of what to expect from the Flying Dutchmen.

But maybe these games did exactly that. In terms of its pacing and competition, the rest of the non-conference schedule will provide the Dutchmen plenty of opportunity to gel without suffering too much damage. But they may not make as many strides over the eight non-conference games before New Year’s as they did in three games in Charleston.

In addition, last weekend was almost certainly the best chance this season for Pecora to learn about his team’s character and intestinal fortitude—how it responds to getting knocked down and how it can handle multiple games on consecutive days.

The Dutchmen won’t play games on consecutive days again until the CAA tournament (if, of course, they get beyond their first game). And Hofstra will play two games in a three-day span just once the rest of the regular season—Jan. 3-5, when it hosts Drexel and visits Northeastern.

So if Hofstra gets throttled in every aspect of the game again, just as it did when the entire Clemson roster contributed to a 98-69 rout late Friday, it’ll have multiple days to recover and adjust. This weekend, it had 17 hours before it took on Western Michigan. And after the Flying Dutchmen got 67 points from their starters in beating WMU, they had a whole 19 hours before coming back to beat ETSU.

Does that mean the Dutchmen would be irreparably soft and lacking resilience had they gotten swept in South Carolina? Not at all. But it also means that Pecora may not have to worry about spending time this season figuring out if his team can summon that extra something in the waning minutes of a game.

Again, it’s early, but to see the Dutchmen win a game with what amounted to a seven-man rotation and then come back to beat ETSU by scoring the final five points of the game—all by Charles Jenkins, the CAA player of the week, I think it’s pretty safe to say it won’t be the last one he wins this year—to win a game in which they had trailed for the previous 18 minutes reminds me of the days when a lean rotation and a late deficit wasn’t cause for concern but a reason to believe.

Remember when the Dutchmen scored the final 12 points to stun Vermont, 74-69, in 2001? Or when Carlos Rivera scored the final six points in overtime as Hofstra shocked Drexel, 76-75, in Philadelphia in 2006?

Obviously, those were conference games, and a little more vital to the team's long-term hopes. But still: Those wins occurred during Hofstra’s two best seasons since it moved to Division I.

Here’s something else to chew over regarding the importance of these three games: Last year, after a lopsided loss to Holy Cross in the opener, the Flying Dutchmen played five straight games that were determined in the final possession (or went into overtime). They were 1-4 on their way to 12-18. The year before, Hofstra lost to Manhattan by two points (79-77) and Hawaii (80-79) in its second and third games of an oddly flat 22-10 season.

Now this admittedly small sample size of not always indicative of how a team will fare. For instance, in Pecora’s first season in 2001, the Flying Dutchmen (back when they actually were the Flying Dutchmen) beat Florida Atlantic and Kent State by nearly identical scores (67-64 and 67-65, respectively) to open the season and edged Illinois State 82-80 in overtime in the fourth game—and finished 12-20. And while 2006-07 was disappointing on the heels of the great screw job and subsequent appearance in the NIT quarterfinals the previous season, the Dutchmen did make the NIT again and won eight games by three or fewer points.

But if the Dutchmen play deep into the first weekend of March, I think we may look back at the first weekend of the season as their defining moment. More on that first weekend tomorrow.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It’s here! It’s here! It’s here!

Oh yeah. How's this for old-school? You have no idea how giddy I was when I found this. Actually, you probably do.

Thirty-six weeks ago today, on a cold and rainy and mostly crappy afternoon, the Flying Dutchmen ended their season with a thud in an 81-66 loss to the Tigers that was not nearly as close or as competitive as it sounded.

It’s going to be cold and rainy again today and these Tigers (Clemson) may very well win by a comfortable margin just like those Tigers (Towson), but even if that happens, it will not be crappy, because basketball is back. Giddy. Freaking. Up.

We’ve spent thousands of words over the last few weeks anticipating the season, so let’s dispense with the build-up and get right to forecasting how the Flying Dutchmen will fare.

First, the CAA predictions:

1.) Hofstra
2.) Hofstra
3.) Hofstra
4.) Hofstra
5.) Hofstra
6.) Hofstra
7.) Hofstra
8.) Hofstra
9.) Hofstra
10.) Hofstra
11.) Hofstra
12.) Hofstra

Coach of the Year: Tom Pecora
All-CAA first team: Tony Dennison, Charles Jenkins, Darren Townes, Miklos Szabo, Dane Johnson
All-CAA second team: Greg Johnson, Cornelius Vines, Nathaniel Lester, Greg Washington, Arminas Urbutis
All-CAA third team: Mike Davis-Saab, Zygis Sestokas, David Vallins, two walk-ons Hofstra brings aboard out of sympathy for the rest of the overmatched CAA

NCAA Tournament: Hofstra, relegated to a no. 4 seed despite its unbeaten record when this guy once again finds a way to put the screws to the Flying Dutchmen, wins its first four tourney games by an average margin of 42 points before it destroys UConn, 118-48, in the national semis. The Dutchmen then throttle North Carolina, 121-56, in the title game to complete their 39-0 season. The world’s craziest booster, Boone Pickens, will offer Pecora $36 million to coach Oklahoma State, but Pecora agrees to stay at Hofstra with a small raise after the school agrees to officially change its nickname back to Flying Dutchmen.

OK fine maybe that’s a bit over-the-top. The Dutchmen will lose at least twice and the school would never agree to change its nickname.

In all seriousness, I see the Dutchmen finishing fourth in the CAA. Only one prognosticator has picked Hofstra higher than sixth thus far, so I welcome your “Homer!” chants. That’s fine. My blog, my bias.

Of course, if I was basing my pick solely out of sheer fandom, I would have really picked them first. But I won’t be surprised at all if this team earns a first-round bye and is a legitimate threat to win the automatic NCAA Tournament bid come the first weekend of March.

This is the deepest and biggest team Tom Pecora has ever coached. Remember when you’d sit at the Arena and worry what would happen if Adrian Uter or Greg Springfield drew two fouls before the second TV timeout of the first half? Not as—pardon the pun—big a worry this year with six players 6-foot-7 or taller. Pecora’s got enough bodies to withstand foul trouble, though he clearly wants Darren Townes, Dane Johnson and Greg Washington to establish themselves as the big three down low.

The guard play may not be on par with Stokes-Rivera-Agudio, but it’ll be a strength with Charles Jenkins primed to enjoy an All-CAA-caliber season and junior college transfers Tony Dennison and Cornelius Vines ready to make an immediate impact. There’s depth there, too, and maybe Greg Johnson, Nathaniel Lester and Zygis Sestokas can be more consistent in limited roles (though I wonder if Sestokas can ever rediscover his shooting touch if he’s not getting starter minutes).

There are questions to be answered and growing pains to be endured, but the non-conference schedule should allow the Flying Dutchmen to work out the kinks without incurring too many scars and have the team primed to peak in February.

Mostly, there’s a hunger generated by last season’s disappointment that is impossible to ignore yet also difficult to perceive from a distance. It reminds me of covering the Red Sox at the end of the 2006 season, when Josh Beckett was being labeled an overpriced disappointment after he posted 16 wins but an ERA north of 5.00 in his first season with Boston. But by the end of September, it was clear that the disappointment was already driving Beckett and that he was too proud and too talented to have another season like that.

Most people pegged Beckett as no better than the second- or third-best pitcher on the Sox staff entering 2007, but he won 20 games and was historically filthy during the playoffs as the Sox won the World Series. (Alas, I figured the Icepick would let him go in our fantasy league and I’d swoop in, draft Beckett and cruise to the pennant, but the jerk kept Beckett and I finished second by half a point. Let’s move on.)

Of course, I didn’t go to Josh Beckett University, so it’s entirely possible I’ve overestimated Hofstra’s potential this season. But I don’t think that’s the case, and I think this team is determined to prove last year was an aberration and that it's being underestimated by the rest of the league. And I think the Flying Dutchmen have 20 wins by the CAA Tournament and play beyond Richmond.

And if not? We’ll have fun anyway. Let’s get going. Christmas Day is here. Time to open our presents.

***

Some quick individual predictions:

Most Valuable Player: Charles Jenkins. A no-brainer.

Rookie of the Year: Lots of choices, obviously, but I think Miklos Szabo is going to have a monster year. In fact, I think I have the nickname that Michael Litos is seeking for Szabo, but I’m going to hold off on unveiling it until I see him in a game.

Breakout player of the year: Darren Townes. Eight points and nearly seven boards a game last year. Don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to envision 13 and nine this year.

Player in danger of being buried: Nathaniel Lester. Unquestionable talent, but his confidence seemed shot by the end of last year and he needs a quick start to avoid getting lost in the six-deep guard rotation.

***

As for this weekend, I’ll say this: It’ll be really good news if the Flying Dutchmen win two—or, gasp, three—games this weekend. Pecora is still easing the newcomers into the game plan and views the Charleston Classic as an extension of the pre-season. (One quote that didn’t make it into the Q&A Thursday: “We’re going to go play this weekend and it’s just too early. It’s too early for any team to be playing games, but especially for a team that’s going to have three new starters.”)

Playing two games without Szabo provides an additional challenge. And the schedule doesn’t do the Flying Dutchmen any favors: After opening against Clemson—a hometown favorite picked to finish fifth in the ACC—they’ll take on either Western Michigan, the pre-season favorite to win the MAC West, or TCU, which is picked last in the Mountain West. (The opponent in game three Sunday will be either Temple, East Tennessee State, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville or host College of Charleston. Click on the schools for season preview information obtained from their official websites.)

So to go 1-2 or 0-3 won’t be cause for worry. But to go 2-1, even if those wins are in the consolation bracket, will be quite encouraging. And 3-0? We might change the name of the blog to Deliriously Dutch.

***

I’ve rambled on (shocking), so my real CAA predications will have to wait until at least Monday. Come back then for a recap of the weekend…and stop by tonight, too, if you’re listening to and/or tracking the Dutchmen online. I might live blog it, though I imagine most of my audience will be next to me (my wife), sleeping (Loyal Readers Sully Ray and Rob) or playing poker (Loyal Reader John). I also imagine live blogging a radio telecast would be difficult. But who knows? We’ll see if the mood strikes.

Oh, and for the sake of consistency: Northeastern 21, Hofstra 14.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Tom Pecora

Below you’ll find the centerpiece of our Flying Dutchmen basketball preview: A Q&A with head coach Tom Pecora, who was kind enough to sit down after practice Wednesday and provide his take on the season that begins Friday against Clemson at the Charleston Classic.

Among the topics Pecora discusses are the emergence of Charles Jenkins, the promise of the trio of transfers, the new-found front court depth, how he thinks the Dutchmen can replace the leading scorer in school history and why he’s still driven 15 years after he and Jay Wright began to rebuild a once-dormant program.


Hopefully this further whets your appetite for the opening tip (which is a little less than 41 hours from now, but who’s counting?). Thanks to Tom for taking the time to speak with me and to men’s basketball publicist Jeremy Kniffin for setting up the interview.

What is it about Charles Jenkins that’s made him the first sophomore to emerge as the face of the program since Speedy Claxton?

He’s a junior academically, he redshirted that first year because he came in as a 16-year-old freshman. So I think that gave him a great starting point last season, because he had that year under his belt where he was able to really learn the program and the system and all of those things. But he’s a natural leader. His teammates love him. He’s a great teammate and that’s important. And at the same time, he’s not afraid to get in guys’ faces, motivate and get guys moving where they need to be. I think it’s a fine combination and it speaks volumes that he was voted captain as a sophomore. That’s really a strong statement, I think.

And yeah, the torch has been passed along to him, I guess you would say, in this whole process that we’ve had with guards. But that’s one of the reasons why we brought in Cornelius Vines and Troy Dennison, the two junior college guards, to play next to him. [They’re] experienced, have a little bit more experience, [are] a little bit older. So hopefully he can play off them. It’s going to be a transitional period, just like there was with Antoine without Carlos and Loren. And so it goes.

What’s the reason for the renewed sense of optimism entering this season as compared to last year?

Last year, we weren’t young, but we were inexperienced. There were a lot of juniors that hadn’t played a lot of minutes. That was one of our biggest problems. The other thing is we became a one-dimensional team because Antoine was so good. Too often, they would defer to him during the course of games and [when] there was a time to make a big play and all those kinds of things. So I’m much more comfortable with a balanced team. Antoine was a great player and you’re not going to get one guy to replace him. And I would prefer one guy doesn’t. I would prefer we have multiple guys scoring in double figures and we get back to having a real balanced attack.

You’re known as a coach who builds his team around excellent guard play, yet this team has more front court depth than you’ve ever had. How did the transformation come about?

I think we’ll see. Time will tell on that. We are deeper than we’ve ever been and we have guys who were starting for us who will probably come off the bench. So we’ll be deep and experienced in that sense. I think Miklos has an opportunity to be a special player for us at the forward spot as the year goes on and he gets used to the transition from junior college and the pace of the game and all those things that take place.

But we expect big things from seniors. You have Dane Johnson, you have Darren Townes, you have Arminas Urbutis, you have Mike Davis-Saab. You’re looking at senior front court players—we need them to have big years. You’re only as good as your seniors most years and last year we only had one. We had Antoine and that showed. So hopefully this year, the seniors can really step up and make a difference.

How valuable is front court depth at the mid-major level?

On any level, I think. I always compare front court play to offensive line play in football. You have to control the line of scrimmage. Well, in college basketball, you’ve got to [control] the front court, too. And we know we can get good guards. The key is getting forwards to develop into good players, because rarely are you going to get one who comes in good. Because if they were that good and that big, they’d be in a BCS conference.

How do you hasten the adaption process for all the transfers that are coming in?

I try to simplify—I really try to simplify offense and defense for them, especially going into this one weekend. I’m really looking at this weekend as almost a separate season. And then after that we have a good stretch of a week and then another week before we play a game, so I can really put some more things in over the two weeks that follow this tournament.

Which newcomer and which returnee do you see as guys who can really emerge this season?

With the returnees, I think one of the forwards—Darren Townes, Dane Johnson or Greg Washington—we need them to step up. I think one of them’s got to have an all-conference level type of season. And then with the newcomers, once again, you have three to pick from. I think Miklos could be the one, but Cornelius Vines has been playing very well until he hurt his thumb [Tuesday]. Tony Dennison, it’ll take a little bit of time for him to acclimate to the speed of the game, the physical-ness of the game, but he’s very talented as well.

I know it was only a scrimmage, but Miklos looked really good two weeks ago. What is it about him that has you believing he can be a difference-maker?

He’s been inconsistent, up and down, but that’s natural during the practice process this time of the year. There’s bigger bodies on the floor, everybody’s practicing harder and he’s trying to absorb a new system. But his skill level—he can pass the ball, he can shoot the ball, he rebounds it, he can score inside and out. And that’s the kind of skills forwards need to play the way we play. He’s like a bigger Aurimas Kieza.

Is the CAA as deep as it looks from the outside?

Yeah. I think everyone picked VCU and then they threw the rest of the teams in the hat and just started pulling them out. And that’s kind of how it looks like it’s going to play out. So I think it’s going to be interesting as always. It’s going to be a tough league and a league that’s just so tough to win on the road. You’ve got to try to steal a few on the road and hold serve at home.

The pre-season polls have Hofstra ranked around seventh. What do you say to those who may not be expecting much out of your team this season?

I don’t know. I know in the coaches’ poll we were seven. I didn’t look at a whole lot of the other ones. I think if you look at polls over the course of the year, rarely are they right, you know? So I don’t put a whole lot of credence in them. I use them to motivate my team. And they know they’re not a seventh-place team. So it’s good to put on a billboard there—on the corkboard—in the locker room.

You said after last season you didn’t want a 12-17 record to be your legacy. How do the memories of last year drive you and the 10 returnees?

I told them this is their senior season and it’s important for them to realize you are what your record says you are. So be the guys who turned this around and people will think even that much more of you and they’ll know how special you are.

Lastly, this is the beginning of your 15th year here. Do you ever marvel at how far the program has come since you arrived?

I’m honored to have said I was part of building this thing in the beginning with Jay and Brent [Gunning] and Joe Jones. And that’s why I’m passionate about it. But there’s so much more for us to do and our work isn’t done yet. So at the same time, I’m still very motivated about helping this program go to the next level. And that’s our focus everyday. Everything we do, from the time we walk in in the morning [until] we lay our heads down to bed at night, is about how can we make this program better? How do we get this team better? How do we represent Hofstra better?

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Are we there yet? No. Are we there yet? No. Are we there yet? No.

Keep it up and I'll turn this car around and take you right back to the beginning of football season!

The road to 143-0 began Tuesday as Northeastern knocked off IUPUI (I’ll take colleges that sound like they were founded by Beavis and Butthead for $100, Alex) in the opening round of the Coaches vs. Classic tournament in Michigan. (If the tourney sponsor wants me to mention its name, it can send me a check)

It’s very cool that a CAA school has tipped off, and Michael Litos does a great job of summarizing the giddiness that accompanies opening day. Mike and I will have to agree to disagree again, though, about the banality of baseball, since I only capitalize Opening Day when it refers to baseball and I’ll certainly be one of those guys counting down the days to pitchers and catchers come February. Or now: Ninety-four days and counting.

All that said, though, seeing Northeastern open the season three days before the Flying Dutchmen play Clemson is a lot like going to a friend’s house Christmas Eve and watching he and his family rip open their presents. It’s nice to see everyone so euphoric and you’re happy for your friend, but it’s also strangely frustrating because you’ve still got to wait to open your presents.

Well, we’ve only got to wait two more days…and most of a third, but who’s counting? To pass the time, check out the typically exhaustive and informative game notes put together by Hofstra men’s basketball contact Jeremy Kniffin. And make sure to check back here tomorrow and Friday as I’m trying to lineup some pretty cool and exclusive content.

Some other bits and bytes:

—Promising transfer Miklos Szabo will miss the first two games of the season as punishment for playing one game for a professional team in his native Hungary. Litos reminds us this is no big deal and that it happens a lot, but still, I can’t help but think of the protracted and eventually fruitless appeals process for Greg Washington two years ago nor resist the urge to riff off the classic Jerry Tarkanian line about the NCAA’s selective sense of justice: “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it suspended a transfer from Hofstra for two games.”

—Hofstra issued a press release Tuesday revealing the 2009 inductees into its Hall of Fame. Twelve athletes and one team will be enshrined Feb. 6. Four of the individuals are from the Defiantly Dutch era: Softball pitcher Erin Phillips, three-sport star Diane Hobin and lacrosse player Stephanie Clarke as well as Harry Royle, who was a lacrosse and football player as a student in the ‘60s and the men’s lacrosse coach from 1971-1985 before he became an assistant athletic director and, eventually, the athletic director from 1997-2004. Congrats to Phillips, Hobin, Clarke, Royle and the rest of the honorees.

Newsday produced a 12-page college basketball preview Sunday. Counting the cover feature on star-crossed UConn guard A.J. Price (an Amityville native who was joined by Antoine Agudio on Newsday’s all-Long Island team in 2003), there was more content on local teams and players than on the national scene, which is nice to see. Of course, that should be the case now that Newsday’s staff is threadbare and the paper’s national beats a shadow of their former selves, but, to borrow a phrase from my friend the Icepick, I digress.

Here’s a hybrid feature/preview centered around the emergence of Charles Jenkins as well as a thumbnail look at the Flying Dutchmen.

—The website Collegeinsider.com has released its preseason mid-major top 25. VCU (sixth) and Old Dominion (15th) represent the CAA while George Mason and Northeastern were among those receiving votes. As an aside: I remember when that site was known mostly for determining the best-dressed coach in college basketball (and inevitably concluding it was Jay Wright, good times!). Now it’s got a bunch of big-time coaches penning pieces for the site. Very cool to see an independent thrive.

USA Today has a capsule look at the CAA and predicts two NCAA bids for the conference.

—Lastly, you never know what will elicit feedback. I never thought I’d hear from anyone about my riff last week on The Hardy Boys and the prolific work of “Franklin W. Dixon,” but James Keeline, who is writing a biography of Hardy Boys creator Edward Stratemeyer, wrote to tell me he’s never heard of the information I passed along that the “W” in the pseudonym stands for “win.” Given the impressive amount of time James has spent researching Stratemeyer, I’m going to assume I read an urban legend 25 years ago—or that the memory of what I’ve read has grown fuzzy with time—and humbly retract my statement. I highly recommend James’ site if you grew up reading The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Point/Counterpoint

Next time, Michael Litos and I will argue whether or not Bag O' Glass is a perfectly safe Christmas gift for the kiddies.

Lots of preview material to wade through today, but let’s begin by looking back. CAA blogger extraordinaire Michael Litos invited me to his site to debate Antoine Agudio—specifically whether or not his one-dimensional play was a help or a hindrance to the Flying Dutchmen last year as well as whether or not his presence will be missed this year.

Click here to see how heated it got and to see which one of us resorted to Dan Aykroyd-esque name-calling. Actually, it didn’t get heated at all, and I think we agree that the Dutchmen will be a lot better and a lot more versatile this year. We just have different opinions on how that reflects upon Agudio.

I won’t rehash here my defense of Agudio’s performance last year, but I don’t think he should be punished, for lack of a better word, for who he is and for being the centerpiece of a rebuilding team. With four new starters taking the court on a nearly nightly basis, the Flying Dutchmen weren’t going to be very good last year, unless Agudio managed to become a regular double-double threat, a la Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera. Would that have been nice? Sure. But you can’t expect Agudio to suddenly transform into somebody else in his senior season.

It’s the flipside of the 2000-01 team, which lost Speedy Claxton yet improved from 24-7 to 26-5, enjoyed the nation’s longest winning streak and was far more competitive against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament than the Claxton-led team was against Oklahoma State in the big dance a year earlier. Hofstra wasn’t better because Claxton was gone. It was better because the starting lineup still featured four experienced and tournament-tested seniors (Jason Hernandez, Greg Springfield, Roberto Gittens and Norman Richardson)—pretty much the exact opposite of what the Flying Dutchmen had to deal with last season.

Anyway, feel free to chime in on Agudio by commenting here or sending me an email (defiantlydutch@yahoo.com). Big thanks to Mike for the invite as well as for linking the post that got us debating in the first place. And if you found your way here via Mike’s site, welcome...and make yourself comfortable. We’re having some fun here.

***

Found three more previews over the weekend. And I’ll begin with The Sports Network, which, when it comes to predicting college basketball, is pretty good at producing a Division I-AA football poll.

I don’t want to sound like That Guy, the one who parses every word written about his favorite team and figures you must hate me if you don’t expect much out of said squad. I’d have a lot of enemies if that was the case, since Hofstra is picked above sixth in only one of the 10 polls I’ve seen thus far.

But I honestly have no idea what Mike Castiglione was thinking picking Hofstra dead friggin’ last. I don’t expect those who think a Dutch Treat is a casual date and not the home of hideously marked up six-packs of soda to be as optimistic or as obsessive as me. And the CAA is so deep that it’s tough to differentiate between four and 12, as I’m learning as I ponder the predictions I’ll post Friday (blatant plug).

But still…12th? I might chalk it up to the aforementioned balance of the CAA—hey, somebody has to be picked last—if Castiglione didn’t begin the Hofstra blub by stating “Without question, the Pride are entering head first into a rebuilding year.” Uhh, that was last year. When the Flying Dutchmen had four new starters.

Four sentences later, Castiglione mentions the “…plenty of question marks” Hofstra has, “…despite the return of four starters.” Well, what is it? It can’t be a rebuilding year with four returning starters, unless you’re New Jersey Tech. (Along those lines, one of these is not like the other, not like the other)

Anyway, that’s my rant about The Sports Network. I also found CAA predictions from the websites Collegehoops.net and Hoopville.net, the latter of which provides a particularly exhaustive take on the conference. Which poll was the one to end VCU’s quest for the unanimous no. 1 spot?

Below are the updated overall rankings, followed by the three newest polls.

1.) VCU (9) 12
2.) Northeastern (1) 31
2.) Old Dominion 31
4.) George Mason 41
5.) Delaware 53
6.) Georgia State 59
7.) Hofstra 75
8.) James Madison 87
9.) UNC-Wilmington 88
10.) William & Mary 91
11.) Towson 101
12.) Drexel 108
First-place votes in parenthesis
Polls compiled thus far: CAA, Blue Ribbon, Sporting News, Lindy’s, Athlon, The Sports Xchange, CBSSports.com, The Sports Network, Collegehoops.net, Hoopville

The Sports Network

1.) VCU
2.) Old Dominion
3.) Northeastern
4.) George Mason
5.) Delaware
6.) William & Mary
7.) UNC-Wilmington
8.) Georgia State
9.) James Madison
10.) Drexel
11.) Towson
12.) Hofstra

Collegehoops.net

1.) VCU
2.) Northeastern
3.) Old Dominion
4.) George Mason
5.) Georgia State
6.) Hofstra
7.) Delaware
8.) UNC-Wilmington
9.) William & Mary
10.) Drexel
11.) James Madison
12.) Towson

Hoopville.net

1.) Northeastern
2.) Old Dominion
3.) VCU
4.) Georgia State
5.) Delaware
6.) Towson
7.) George Mason
8.) UNC-Wilmington
9.) Hofstra
10.) James Madison
11.) William & Mary
12.) Drexel

Some quick notes about how the new additions (not New Edition, that would just be weird) affected the overall rankings:

—Hofstra was at Georgia State’s heels for sixth after seven polls, but the Flying Dutchmen are entrenched in seventh after being picked 12th, sixth and ninth. The count so far is three seventh-place votes, two sixth-place votes, two ninth-place votes, one fourth-place vote, one eighth-place vote and one 12th-place vote.

—Northeastern moves up for the second straight period after becoming the first team other than VCU to garner a first-place vote, though it should be noted that the author of the Hoopville preview, Jay Pearlman, is a former radio analyst for Northeastern. The Huskies received a first-, second- and third-place vote to move into a tie for second with Old Dominion, the latter of which has been picked below third just once.

—The only other change in the overall poll: UNC-Wilmington broke its tie for ninth with William & Mary, which is now 10th.

—Mason received its lowest vote yet in the Hoopville poll while Towson received its highest vote.

—VCU has been picked first in nine polls, Delaware has been picked fifth in eight polls, Mason has been picked fourth in six polls and James Madison has been picked ninth in six polls.

That’s all for today. Three days until hoops season starts. Make sure to check back between now and then as I’ve got a couple pretty cool things in the pipeline.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Worst...Season...Ever?

What would Comic Book Guy think, if he was a Hofstra grad?

“This is the worst ten dollars I’ve ever spent,” my wife said sometime in the second quarter Saturday as we huddled underneath an umbrella that was too small to shield us both and too wet to be of much help anyway. Someday someone is going to invent an umbrella that either absorbs all the water it collects without becoming too heavy or dispenses it so that it makes everyone else around you wet instead of dripping on your legs and making you even colder. Sure it might annoy my neighbors, but hey, more room for me.

Where was I? Oh yes. I think her words were an example of this, because I know she spent 10 dollars in far worse ways on campus in the mid-90s. I’m sure she consumed rock-hard Hofstra burgers older than the Bits and Bytes cats. And I remember ordering one truly awful meal from Campus Pizza that turned us off that otherwise sensational restaurant.

But in the context of the moment, I really couldn’t blame her. It was cold, it was wet—thanks again, local weathermen, for your super awesome accurate forecast; I guess when you said “50% chance of rain” you left off the second zero, or meant a 50% chance that we wouldn’t be able to get home without an ark, keep up the good work!—and the Flying Dutchmen football team was just getting hammered by Richmond. I mean, there-should-be-a-mercy-rule hammered. I mean, Tex Cobb-by-Larry Holmes hammered.

At halftime, Richmond running back Josh Vaughan—who played last season behind new Cardinals starting running back Tim Hightower—had 166 yards rushing. Hofstra had 71 yards. Total.

It got a little better in the second half, when Hofstra scored a pair of touchdowns without us in attendance to turn a potentially historic bludgeoning into a mere 34-14 rout. (The link is from Newsday, here’s the recap from the Richmond Times-Dispatch) But it was still the fourth straight loss for the Flying Dutchmen, the third straight by at least 17 points and the latest bit of evidence that this is shaping up as one of the worst seasons in the 68-year history of the program.

The current skid is only the third time the Flying Dutchmen have lost at least three consecutive games by 17 or more points. The 1974 team lost four in a row by at least that margin on its way to a 1-9-1 finish, a mere 25 years after the 1949 club lost three in a row by at least 17 points during a 1-5-1 season.

Of course, upgrades to the program and the caliber of competition make it impossible to compare 2008 to 1974 or 1949 or even 1981, when the Dutchmen lost four in a row by at least 14 points. Nor can we hold this team to the standard of the peak Gardi-era teams, because those years are gone and may never return.

But we can compare this team to some recent editions—like the 2003 team, which went 2-10 but lost four games by a touchdown or less. The Dutchmen lost 23 games between 2004 and 2007, but only five by 17 or more. The 2006 team went 2-9 and lost its last seven games—but none by more than 11 points and only two by more than seven points.

Is this year’s lack of competitiveness a result of a perfect storm of inexperience and injury? If so, maybe Saturday was rock bottom. Newsday reports Dave Cohen will return next season, much to the chagrin of the angry fans who want Hofstra to fire him, and Cohen sounded embarrassed by how Richmond dwarfed the Dutchmen in all facets of the game.

But what if the 4-11 record since a 6-0 start last year the sign of something worse—symbolic of the continued decline of a program that was never a moneymaker even during its prime years but one whose standing within the athletic department never waned with a school president and athletic director who played for the program?

We won’t begin to find out until next year. In the meantime, take solace in two things: Four days until basketball starts. And no matter how bad the football team is faring, it’s still better off than Iona!

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.