Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hofstra 62, New Hampshire 57 (Or: Lucky number seven)

That's right. she's back. A very excited Monica Geller lets us know how many consecutive shots New Hampshire missed with a chance to tie or take the lead Saturday.

Maybe it’s just my unbridled optimism and outrageous blog bias, but I didn’t believe the Flying Dutchmen were particularly lucky in winning four of their first eight games by five points or less. Good teams find ways to win close games and have players who define the cliché by raising their game when it matters most, such as Charles Jenkins did by scoring six points in the overtime period to lift the Dutchmen to a three-point overtime win over Western Michigan, by scoring the Dutchmen’s final eight points in the one-point win over East Tennessee State or by scoring the Dutchmen’s final six points in the four-point win over Manhattan.

And good teams capitalize on any little mistake an opponent makes in the final minutes of a tight contest, a la what the Dutchmen did in beating Manhattan, or they jump out to a big enough lead to be able to hold on despite a late surge, a la how Hofstra held on to edge Stony Brook by five.

But there is no spin I can come up with for the Dutchmen’s 62-57 win over New Hampshire Saturday. They were flat-out lucky.

Tom Pecora, on the other hand, was not lucky and spent most of the game sick in the locker room. Hope Pecora is feeling better, but if it’s any consolation (and it probably isn't), he didn’t miss anything he hasn’t already seen, particularly over the last three weeks. The Dutchmen struggled to put away an opponent after they opened a huge early lead, endured ice-cold stretches from the field, continued to be haunted by the lack of a true point guard and, despite opening the season with the lengthiest depth chart in years, continued to look as top-heavy as any team in the Pecora era.

On Saturday, the Dutchmen were lucky their flaws didn’t result in a loss in a game against a perennial bottom-feeder in the America East. UNH has enjoyed only two winning seasons in the last 25 years, the last of which occurred when it finished second in the NAC behind Scott Drapeau during Hofstra’s first season in the league in 1994-95—how’s that for a double dose of old-school?

And the Wildcats are the anti-Dutchmen—they’ve lost three in a row by five or less and four overall during a 3-7 startcould not seize the game, no matter how often Hofstra tried giving it away. The Dutchmen were up 17-1 seven minutes into the game yet fell behind by six points in the second half against a team that played just two upperclassmen.

That youth was on display after Greg Washington’s jumper gave the Dutchmen a 58-57 lead with 2:31 left. The Wildcats had six shots—SIX SHOTS!!—to take the lead over the next 135 seconds yet missed every one. Lucky.

Then, after Cornelius Vines hit two free throws with 12 seconds left—lucky too or just the law of averages evening out?—UNH had one more shot to tie the game, but Alvin Abreu missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left and Washington hit two free throws (no longer seems like luck, he’s 12-of-17 from the line this year) to seal it.

Seven shots to tie or take the lead in the last 2:31, seven misses. Greg Kihn was singing about the Dutchmen before any of the current players were born!



Will "Jeopardy" eventually summarize the Dutchmen's season?

In addition, trying to milk the clock with a late lead didn’t work for the second straight game: Hofstra took just two shots, both of which it missed, in the 2:19 between Washington’s go-ahead basket and Vines’ free throws. Against Iona last Tuesday, the Dutchmen were 1-for-5 after taking a three-point lead with 3:08 to play.

On the bright side, the victory Saturday would not have been possible if Jenkins hadn’t continued to prove the cliché correct and if “Gee Dubs”—who made his first start of the season—continued his rapid improvement. Jenkins battled early foul trouble and struggled for the fourth straight game, but chipped in just in time: He had nine of his 12 points during a four-minute stretch in which the Dutchmen turned a 45-42 deficit into a 51-49 lead.

Jenkins didn’t score again, but Washington scored six of his team-high 13 points over the remaining 4:57 as Hofstra held on. To have two sophomores—especially with such different games—developing into clutch go-to players is quite an enviable situation for Pecora and the Dutchmen.

But two players aren’t going to be enough for the next two months and two weeks. Who will have to emerge if the Dutchmen are to have the type of March we thought was possible earlier this month? We’ll try to figure that out tomorrow.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy birthday, Jay Wright! (Oh and my wife too)

That's right, The Man Who Saved Hofstra Basketball turns 47 today. If that depresses you and reminds you of misspent youth (and tuition dollars), welcome to my world. As my wife says: "By the time he was your age, he'd already been Hofstra's coach for three years."

Thanks honey. Happy birthday to you too, despite all the havoc you've wrecked over the last 24 hours. :)

Happy birthday, too, to Flying Dutchmen guard David Vallins, who turns 20 on Christmas Day. I hope nobody combines gifts for him. My wife always hates that.

And a happy holidays and a joyous Festivus to all of you from all of us here at DDHQ (even Butterfingers Sully Ray, who is still scurrying around for the T-shirt he let slip through his fingers last night). Thanks for stopping by this little corner of the Internet the last four months. Have a great holiday weekend and we'll see you Monday.

Iona 67, Hofstra 64 (Or: No, Hofstra, there is not a Santa Claus)

Yup. That pretty much sums it up.

Because if there was a Santa Claus then Cornelius Vines’ half-court shot as time expired would have finished circling around the rim and fallen in to send the game to overtime, where the Flying Dutchmen surely would have won…instead of rolling out to cap a gut-wrenching, this-wasn’t-the-way-anyone-on-the-Hofstra-bench-wanted-to-start-Christmas 67-64 loss.

I mean, isn’t Christmas the season of miracles? I’m not even asking for a real miracle, like world peace, or the repairing of America’s financial system, or my downstairs neighbors quitting smoking.

Isn’t Christmas the season of surprising joyous gifts? When I was 8 or 9, my best friend wanted an Atari. His mom said no, we’ll never have a video game system in this house, that stuff will rot your brain and ruin your attention span and eventually make you an adult who can’t concentrate on anything for more than four seconds at a time (OK, fine, it was 1981 or 1982, she didn’t say that).

Imagine his surprise when he ran to the tree Christmas morning and saw an Atari sitting there. His mom’s explanation? “The one time we lie in this family is Christmas Day.”

I’m sure, if I asked my mom to get me a game-tying, buzzer-beating half-court shot for Christmas, she’d say no, son, we don’t give out game-tying, buzzer-beating, half-court shots for Christmas. You’re going to get something you can use, like an easy out-of-conference schedule and another year without re-seating. And socks. Always socks.

But she would have gotten me that shot. All I wanted for Christmas was that shot to fall in. I mean, Iona got a 7-foot transfer from Louisville who pulled a Craig freakin' Hodges and drained a 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left to give the Gaels the lead. So don’t we, as Hofstra fans, deserve Vines’ half-courter at the buzzer? All we do is get screwed. Even Charlie Brown got a functioning tree, eventually.

CAN’T ANYONE TELL ME WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT?

(It’s either blame the absence of Santa Claus or blame my wife, who spent the previous 24 hours begging for good things to happen to her sports teams because her birthday is today. First she just wanted the Bears to keep their playoff hopes alive by beating the Packers Monday. Winning a game her team had no business winning wasn’t enough, so come Tuesday afternoon, she just wanted the rumors of Mark Teixeira signing with the Yankees to be true. Hope you’re happy honey!)

Of course, the rational way to look at Tuesday is that Hofstra was due for a close loss after four wins by five points or less—and that the Flying Dutchmen earned that loss with a largely mediocre performance and by frittering away chance after chance to put the game away in the final two minutes.

Charles Jenkins failed to increase the lead to five when he missed a free throw with 1:01 left (shades of Antoine Agudio against George Mason in January). The Dutchmen lobbed four air balls—FOUR AIR BALLS—with a chance to extend the lead to four or five points on consecutive possessions before the aforementioned 7-footer, Jonathan Huffman, hit the 3-pointer. Then the Dutchmen turned the ball over trying to push it up court and the Gaels’ Devon Clarke swished a pair of free throws to set up Vines’ near-miracle.

But I don’t want to be rational, because what’s the fun in that? Before two minutes of hell, this looked like one of those pivotal season-defining victories. The Dutchmen, who led by eight with just over 13 minutes to play in the first half and led by seven with just under eight minutes left, were outscored 34-21 over the subsequent 22 minutes. When Iona took its first lead at 22-21, Tom Pecora responded by pulling the Northeastern maneuver and yanking his two best players, Jenkins and Vines, and keeping them bolted to the bench for the final 3:25 of the half (and earning a withering look from Jenkins in the process). Iona outscored the Dutchmen 28-10 in the paint and its reserves outscored the Hofstra bench 34-20—even though the Gaels had just an eight-man rotation.

Hofstra finally woke up midway through the second half and outrebounded Iona 17-6 over the final 8:41. The Dutchmen were in the bonus by the 13-minute mark but hit 10 of 13 free throws the rest of the way, a pretty good rate for a team that makes every free throw an adventure. And Jenkins, who was just 6-of-16 from the field, got hot at the right time by scoring six straight points to turn a 60-58 deficit into a 64-60 lead.

Yet it somehow slipped away. And now? Now, what would have seemed like a pretty nice Christmas present two months ago—an 8-3 record—feels vaguely disappointing. And if you’re one of the folks leaping off the bandwagon today, well, Pecora can’t blame you.

“We’re the worst 8-3 team in America,” Pecora told Newsday afterward. “We need to get mentally and physically tougher.”

By benching Jenkins and Vines (I’m almost sure it was the first time this year both players were on the bench with the outcome of the game still in doubt), Pecora proved he was willing to chance losing the game to teach a lesson. Whether that lesson is absorbed over the next 10 days will determine the direction of the Dutchmen’s season.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas (Flying Dutch, please beat Iona at home)


Who sings Christmas better than Darlene Love?

Crazy days and nights here at Defiantly Dutch World HQ as we prepare to host Christmas Eve and travel Christmas Day, so a real quick post today (which, of course, is what a blog is supposed to be, but I was typing something long-winded and missed that memo).

First, I’ll follow in the footsteps of fellow Huey Lewis and the News fan Michael Litos as well as Kyle Whelliston at Mid-Majority by sort of establishing a posting pattern for the holidays. We’ll have a recap of tonight’s game tomorrow and then we’re off until Monday. The plan is to post the first three days of next week, but that may change too. I’ll be out of state at that time so we’ll see what happens.

On to tonight: I’m curious to see what kind of lineup Tom Pecora utilizes. Is tonight the night to see if Greg Washington can handle 30 minutes? Dane Johnson and, in particular, Darren Townes have not met expectations thus far. Not saying to bury those guys, but they’re seniors and Washington is looking like a game-changer as a sophomore. Pecora sees in the long- as well as the short-term. It might be time to start making Washington a centerpiece.

Pecora loves Mike Davis-Saab, who is one of those truly team-first guys. I won’t be surprised at all if he sees double digit minutes as Pecora tries to shake up Johnson and Townes. In fact, Davis-Saab is the pick to click (groan).

Tony Dennison has a bigger long-term role than Greg Johnson, but he’s been ice cold and it’s starting to affect Charles Jenkins. Plus, Johnson committed just one turnover in 17 injury-plagued minutes against Iona in February. I think you’ll see a lot of him tonight.

And don’t sleep on the Gaels just because they’re 4-7 and because the strength of their OOC schedule (224) is lower than the much-maligned slate played by Hofstra (189). Iona has played three teams ranked in the top 105 by Ken Pomeroy (the Flying Dutchmen have played just one, Clemson), lost to Wisconsin by two in overtime and to Southern Miss by one. Of course, the Gaels have also played six teams ranked 230 or lower and lost to Western Michigan (whom Hofstra beat in OT for its first win of the year) by 13, so there you go.

I’ll predict a Hofstra win, because that’s what I do, but I also won’t be surprised if Pecora is willing to absorb some painful lessons in this one.

Either way, if you do nothing else besides watch/listen to Hofstra tonight, make sure you watch Darlene Love on Letterman, because it’ll put you in the Christmas mood and get you right here, especially if you’ve been slow to get into the spirit thus far. That, and Love on Letterman is as much a part of Christmas as Charlie Brown. And games against Iona, apparently.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Monday, December 22, 2008

UMass 97, Hofstra 81 (Or: Lies, damn lies and statistics)

UMass prepares to end another fast break by hoisting and making yet another 3-pointer in a drubbing of Hofstra. In related news, was there any cooler voice in video games than the one that made "Double Dribble" into one word?

If all you saw of the Flying Dutchmen’s 97-81 loss to UMass Saturday was the box score, you might think Hofstra—which had its eight-game winning streak snapped—had one of those defeats in which it could find plenty of positives.

The 81 points were the second-most of the year for the Dutchmen, who played UMass even in the second half (49-49). Hofstra once again displayed its new-found front court depth by racking up an incredible 61 rebounds, six shy of the school record set during the 1954-55 season, and pulling down 36 offensive boards, the most in at least 20 years. Last year, the Dutch had 13 games in which they had 36 or fewer rebounds—offensive and defensive combined.

Miklos Szabo had a monster game with 10 points and 17 rebounds while Greg Washington (13 points, seven rebounds) continued his star-making emergence and Cornelius Vines (21 points, including five 3-pointers) continued to evoke memories of Antoine Agudio. And it would have been difficult for anyone to slow down the Minutemen on a day in which they shot a Double Dribble-like 15-of-26 from 3-point land.

The truth, unfortunately for the Dutchmen, was not in black and white. It was in color right there on the laptop—at least until there were six or so minutes left, when the UMass video feed went out, leading me to wonder if the broadcasters had invoked the mercy rule.

The Dutchmen collected 36 offensive boards because they shot 31-of-85 from the field, which is a statistical way of saying that had the game been played on a farm adrift at sea, they would have had a hard time hitting the broad side of the barn or the water. Each half featured a stretch in which Hofstra missed six straight shots.

Szabo’s double-double was not nearly as dominant as it might have looked: He collected his 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field, including 0-for-4 from 3-point land, and even air balled a free throw attempt in the first half.

UMass was so dominant offensively that it was already up 22 before Tony Gaffney, who entered the game as one of the nation’s top post players, finally hit his field goal with 16:19 left in the game. (Of course, it sure helped that 7-foot-1 Luke Bonner hit three 3-pointers and drew four charges in his first game in a month) The Minutemen led by double digits for the final 30 minutes and were up 28 (96-68) with 3:24 to play before allowing the Dutchmen to go on a 13-1 run that made the final score much closer than the reality.

Tom Pecora certainly wasn’t fooled by the margin of defeat, and he made it clear afterward the Dutchmen were headed for a couple intense days of practice before hosting Iona Tuesday. And while fans and followers of UMass wonder if a victory like this indicates the program is close to returning to its glory days of the ‘90s, the lopsided loss provided a reminder that the Dutchmen—while still better than just about anybody expected—still have a lot of questions and not a whole lot of time to answer them before conference play really begins.

(Yes, that’s right: For the second time in four weeks, three Massachusetts newspapers covered a UMass-Hofstra game. What a concept.)

Like this: Who are the Dutchmen, particularly on offense? The revamped front court has not yet manifested itself in consistent production. Szabo has shown bits and pieces of an all-around game and Washington—who continued to display a deft shooting touch both down low and from beyond 10 feet in going 6-of-9 from the field Saturday—appears to be the real deal with each passing day.

But where, exactly, are Dane Johnson and Darren Townes, who were expected to anchor the revamped front court? Johnson set a season-low by playing just seven minutes—only the fourth time in 40 games he’s played less than 10 minutes. At least he had six boards in limited action and the excuse of early foul trouble (he picked up all three fouls in the first 20 minutes).

The increasingly regular disappearance of Townes is far more worrisome. For the third time in the last four games, Townes (two rebounds, two fouls) played just eight minutes, including less than three minutes in the second half. He didn’t slip into single digits in the minutes column once last season, when he averaged eight points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He’s reached eight points just once and six boards just three times this season.

As good as Washington has looked lately, he’s not yet a 30-minute-a-game guy. If Johnson and Townes can’t provide the Dutchmen 20 minutes a game, who can?

The three-headed backcourt, meanwhile, is a two-man show thus far. I’m going to predict that Vines follows in the footsteps of the mysterious Demetrius Dudley and becomes only the second player in Hofstra history to score 1,000 points in two seasons.

But Charles Jenkins’ second straight subpar game—by his standards, anyway—further underlines the need for somebody to lessen his load. Jenkins has doubled as the point guard most of the season and has led the Dutchmen in assists eight times, but the dual responsibilities may be affecting the rest of his game: Jenkins has made just eight of his 29 shots the last two games and has been limited to 12 points or less in consecutive contests for the first time in his career.

Right now, it doesn’t look as if the ice-cold Tony Dennison—who was 2-of-11 shooting Saturday and is shooting just 32 percent (30-of-94) through 10 games—is ready to absorb those duties. He’s also got just eight assists in 10 games. Does Greg Johnson, who was limited to less than 10 minutes for the fourth time in the eight games he’s played, emerge at Dennison’s expense?

Defensively, meanwhile, the Dutchmen earned some well-deserved accolades for their performance during the eight-game winning streak, but the two best teams on the non-conference schedule racked up 195 points. Griping over the schedule is a pointless exercise, and given the questions that still persist about the Dutchmen, it’s tough to blame Pecora for hoping to build his team’s confidence instead of its RPI in December. Still, even though there’s no Clemson or UMass awaiting Hofstra in the CAA, it’s fair to wonder how the Dutch will fare against the upper echelon in the conference.

One encouraging sign: The last time Pecora and the Dutchmen were here, they went on to the best season in program history. Michael Litos had his prognostication shoes on last Tuesday, when he reminded readers of the 2005-06 Hofstra team, which had won four games by 10 points or more before it visited VCU and got waxed 87-64. The Dutchmen responded by winning 20 of their next 23 games before falling to UNC-Wilmington in the CAA final and getting screwed by the Selection Committee six days later.

Will these Dutchmen respond to this sobering defeat like those Dutchmen responded to the VCU loss? That’s the biggest question of all—and one Hofstra will begin answering Tuesday

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bits and Bytes: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Home of many a snow day dinner. I actually took this picture a few weeks ago after I could not find a photo of Hofstra USA for my post-Election Day post. So to aid other bloggers who are searching for Hofstra USA photos in the future, here you go: Hofstra USA Hofstra USA Hofstra USA Hofstra USA

That the first snowstorm of the 2008-09 academic year occurs on the very last day of the fall semester—and the day after graduation—is even more ironic (in that it’s not really ironic at all) than rain on your wedding day. Snow days as a kid were gifts from the weather gods. Snow days at Hofstra were unspeakably joyous occasions.

After all, as a kid, a snow day usually meant some shoveling of the driveway. No fun, that. And if you had a mother who freaked out at the sight of snow (hi Mom!), you needed a ride to go sledding. (Of course, no matter what, there was The Price Is Right at 11 a.m.)

But there was no shoveling at Hofstra (If I recall correctly, most shoveling and plowing of campus grounds was usually put off until the temperature hit 60 degrees…just like every apartment complex I’ve lived in since graduation). There was, however, hiking over to the field across the street from the Netherlands to play football. That’s no longer possible, as most—if not all—of that land has been turned into dorms. Damn you progress! Damn you!

After football, there was dinner at the only warm and open place on campus…Hofstra USA. Sure, the wait was epic and the food really not all that great, but what else were you going to do?

Most of all, there was the feeling you were getting away with something. I mean, my wonderful mom and dad were spending a lot of money to get me a great (snicker, snicker, snort) education. Yet here I was on a school day—not shoveling, playing football, feeding my face at a packed sports bar and not cracking open a single book—all WITH THE APPROVAL OF THE SCHOOL!

Anyway, with that odd bit of snow-covered nostalgia out of the way, here are some bits and bytes heading into the weekend:

—We’re deep into basketball season here, but we’ll be rooting tonight for Richmond against Montana in the I-AA National Championship Game. After all, it’ll be a pretty exclusive group of people who will get to say they saw the future national champs throttle Hofstra in the driving rain…even if we were only there for a half.

—Big game tomorrow at UMass, or, as Michael Litos prefers it to be called, Massachusetts. On the abbreviation for a moment: It’s a New England thing. We’re busy up there in the middle of nowhere, shoveling snow 13 months a year, so we don’t have time for elongated school names with more than three syllables. Connecticut is never referred to as Connecticut. It’s always UConn. Conversely, Central Connecticut State University is always just Central and not CCSU. Syllables are for people who aren’t multi-tasking 25 hours a day.

Where was I? Oh yes. UMass. With four losses by four points or less, the Minutemen are the anti-Dutchmen, who have won four games by five points or less. But UMass is fresh off a 61-60 win over defending national champ Kansas and Litos believes this will be a huge barometer game for a Hofstra squad that has won eight in a row against some less-than-stellar competition.

Today, Litos suggests Dane Johnson will be the key player as the Dutchmen try to neutralize a deep and big UMass lineup that features four players averaging at least 11 points per game and three players 6-foot-7 or taller averaging at least 14 minutes per game. (Litos also has the line of the year in preaching caution with Greg Washington, or, as we call him here, Gee Dubs: “…[H]e is still so skinny he doesn’t have a sideways.”)

In addition, the Minutemen will welcome back 7-foot-1 Luke Bonner, who has missed the last month with a knee injury. However, UMass fans say he is more likely to chuck 3-pointers than bang underneath the basket. Hey! That sounds familiar!

UMass is led by Boston University transfer Tony Gaffney, who ranks among the nation’s top three in both rebounding and blocks. His emergence from anonymity to stardom is the subject of a feature in today’s Boston Herald. Says teammate Ricky Harris: “A lot of people don’t know about him. He’s coming in and sneaking up on guys and guys are like ‘Whoa, who the hell is Tony Gaffney? Where’d he come from?’ That’s good for us.”

Hmm. Maybe the Minutemen aren’t the anti-Dutchmen after all.

—As for the most pivotal player Saturday, I’m going to guess it won’t be Johnson but Miklos Szabo, who is today’s pick to click (yes, that’s an oft-used phrase, but it sounds better than Guy Who Will Be A Big Contributor or something else awkward like that).

Szabo’s minutes the last five games have gone 31-30-28-15-8. That’s a trend inconsistent with his promise and one that obviously can’t continue much longer. Nor can this: Szabo had 28 rebounds off the bench in his first three games and only 17 in four games as a starter. At the Blue-White scrimmage in late October, I saw a Szabo who was a big and annoying pest down low. He’ll have to be that guy again and produce a double-double if the Dutchmen are going to win Saturday.

—Dick Weiss wishes the Flying Dutchmen were in the Holiday Festival instead of Massachusetts this weekend, especially since there won’t be much written about them once the conference season starts. Uhh, Hoops, you know you can help change that, right? Anyway, Weiss also thinks Hofstra’s long-term home should be the A-10, albeit after at least two of the 14 schools in the A-10 (I guess A-14 sounds like a youth basketball league or something) move elsewhere.

—I’m no good at predictions, but outside of getting blown out by 30 or suffering a key injury, there’s no real downside to this game for the Dutchmen. There would be some value in a competitive loss on the road against an A-10 school fresh off beating the national champ. And a win? That’d get a whole lot of people believing. If you’re like us and not heading up there, you can get information on watching a webcast here. Hopefully the quality is better than Towson’s snuff film.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What if…Kenny Adeleke plays his last year at Hofstra?

I have too much time on my hands, so I knew Tommy Shaw of Styx had a solo album called "What If" without even having to look it up.

A few weeks back, I mentioned to my wife a feature idea I had for the blog. (I’ve yet to debut it, so you’re going to have to remain in suspense at least a little while longer) Like she so often does, she came up with an even better idea: Asking “What if?” about pivotal moments in Hofstra basketball history.

Not the obvious ones—like what if the 2006 Selection Committee didn’t feature George Mason’s AD—but possibilities we haven’t already spent years pondering. The plan was to hold these off until after the hoops season, when there’s less to obsess over, but, well, it’s finals week at Hofstra and there’s not much to talk about, so away we go with a “What if” raised, appropriately enough, by my wife:

What if Kenny Adeleke plays his senior season at Hofstra?

As much bandwidth as I’ve spent waxing optimistic over how many solid big men the Flying Dutchmen have this year, the truth is the best one Tom Pecora ever had is Adeleke. Most of the post players who land at Hofstra are projects. Not Adeleke, who was 6-foot-9, 250 pounds and a legitimate top-of-the-line Division I talent. He was a member of a DePaul recruiting class ranked among the nation’s best in 2001 (DePaul’s coach back then was current Towson head honcho Pat Kennedy) yet asked out of his letter of intent during his senior year to attend Hofstra.

Adeleke arrived a stud and got a lot better. He racked up 35 double-doubles and averaged 14.4 points and 9.3 rebounds a game in three seasons. He led the CAA in rebounding in his final two years and earned All-CAA honors as a junior. He was on pace to become only the third Hofstra player with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds (that Q&A is conducted by Hofstra, WRHU alum Adam Shandler, who was also my press box neighbor at Shuart Stadium in ’94 and ‘95) and likely would have moved into the top 10 on the all-time scoring list with even an average senior year.

We forget how good he was (remarkably, this is the first time I've "tagged" him in a post) because he played on teams transitioning to the CAA—nobody’s getting nostalgic over the Dutchmen going 34-56 with Adeleke, though their record improved every season—and because of how quickly and mysteriously he left.

If you ever want to know how the weather is at Hofstra, ask someone In The Know the real deal with Adeleke. The school cited his “violation of university and team rules” and announced his dismissal from the team for with a terse one-sentence press release on a Friday afternoon in September 2004, an old-school move intended to bury the bad news during the quietest news cycle of the week.

The school also distanced itself from Adeleke in the 2004-05 media guide, the front cover of which featured a photo of the huddling Dutchmen and the words TEAM FIRST! Inside, Adeleke’s departure was mentioned, in the briefest terms, on page 12, under starters lost. The reason: “Dismissed.”

Adeleke transferred almost immediately to Hartford, whose head coach, Larry Harrison, was an assistant at DePaul during Adeleke’s initial recruitment. And more than four years later, his departure is still topic non grata in Hempstead. Something pretty serious had to happen for 1,296 points and 837 rebounds to get tossed to the curb—even at a school like Hofstra with a no-nonsense school president who suspended Wendell Gibson and Rick Apodaca half a season for smoking marijuana.

The Flying Dutchmen sure could have used Adeleke in 2004-05, when he was probably the missing piece and the difference between a first-round exit in the NIT and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Adeleke would have been a huge help that year, especially with Gibson limited to 18 games as he recovered from knee surgery. Can you imagine the inside-outside game with Loren Stokes, Carlos Rivera, Antoine Agudio, Adeleke, Gibson and junior transfer Adrian Uter?

Hofstra went 12-6 in CAA play and led Old Dominion by 10 points in the second half of the semifinal before falling to the eventual conference champs 72-58. How many more conference games would the Flying Dutchmen have won with Adeleke? How much higher would they have finished? How safe would a 10-point second half lead been with him patrolling the paint?

Some details about Adeleke’s tumultuous time at Hofstra trickled out after he landed at Harford, including chronic tardiness that got him yanked from the starting lineup during the final two games of the 2003-04 season and his arrest stemming from a fight in Staten Island the day before his dismissal (all charges were dropped). And his time at Hartford—which nearly came to an end before it ever began—was marred by more tardiness as well an incident in which he punched out a mirror in the locker room.

But he was predictably dominant once he hit the floor for the Hawks in 2005-06. Adeleke racked up 24 double-doubles (breaking by one Malik Rose’s single-season conference record), led the conference in scoring and rebounding and won the player of the week a record eight times (yet somehow did not win player of the year). But he got no closer to the NCAA Tournament in his lone year with Hartford, which fell to New Hampshire in the quarterfinals of the 2006 America East tournament than he did in his final year with Hofstra, which was knocked out in the quarterfinals of the 2004 CAA tourney by Old Dominion.

Hartford fans (I’m honestly not sure if they exist, my brother-in-law graduated from there and has never uttered word one about the hoops program) probably wonder what could have happened if he’d played there four years. We wonder what might have been if he’d played here one more.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In which I wish I had Winnie Cooper to explain to me why math and basketball could be an awesome mix

Yes it did. But then again, my tutor was never quite like this.

I always hated math class. Well, not always. I liked it in elementary school, when I was the master of 2+2 and the multiplication tables and division exercises. But then it got unbearably complicated and stupid in junior high school and beyond, when algebra and geometry (I still want to scream at the sight of a protractor) and the rest of that nonsensical garbage began to wreck me and my GPA and nearly derailed my childhood dream of attending Hofstra. (OK, that last part was a lie)

As far as I’m concerned, there is no real-life need for math outside of being able to add, subtract, multiply, divide and to know off the top of my head all the possible winning percentages in a 16-game NFL season (seriously, try me). When have you ever driven down the street, trying to figure out if you have enough money to hit the drive-thru without hitting the bank first, and cursed yourself for not paying more attention in Algebra II? “Damn you (x-3) (x+1)! Damn you!”

Where was I? Oh yeah. All that said, I must admit I occasionally wonder if I might not be an unemployed sportswriter if I only I’d taken to math a little bit better (or if I had Winnie Cooper as a tutor), because over the past decade or so, those who exist several planes higher than me on the IQ scale have figured out a way to turn complicated mathematics into new and useful ways to statistically examine sports.

The website Baseballprospectus.com is outstanding and its annual book is a vital tool in my fantasy baseball preparation (not exactly the most sterling of recommendations, given my lousy track record). The brains behind BP have since added football and basketball sites, the latter of which employs RPI maven Ken Pomeroy. Actually, he no longer compiles RPI rankings, but he continues to break down teams and conferences at his site.

One thing is clear in looking at his analysis of Hofstra and the CAA: Ken is firmly on the Flying Dutchmen bandwagon. He picks the Dutch to finish third in the CAA at 13-5 and 22-7 overall. Pomeroy has VCU and George Mason finishing tied for first at 15-3. That's great news for Mason, because as you know, earning a share of the regular season crown is as good as winning it outright (third question in the link).

You can see Pomeroy’s projections for every CAA team by clicking on the CAA link. You should know, though, that his projections don’t match the predictions that he lists on the right-hand side of the page: He’s predicting only three conference losses for Hofstra (on the road to VCU, Drexel and Mason) and an overall record of 24-5, which would be the Dutchmen’s best ever at the Division I level and the program’s best mark since the 1961-62 team went 24-4. (The Bracket Buster game in February is not included among his projections or predictions)

Even going 15-3 is still only good enough for third in the predictions: According to Pomeroy’s predictions, VCU and Mason will both go 17-1 in conference play. Hofstra is predicted to hand VCU its only loss when the two teams meet in Hempstead while Mason is pegged to fall to VCU.

Pomeroy explains that the difference between projected record and the predicted record “…accounts for the unexpected results that will inevitably happen during the season.” Aha! Another difference between the math geniuses and the rest of us: They build in a margin for error with predictions while we just blindly pick teams one through 12.

Pomeroy doesn’t expect or predict a banner season for the CAA: The top four teams are the only ones projected to finish above .500 and five are projected to lose at least 11 games, with UNC-Wilmington bringing up the rear at 2-16. Ouch. The predictions are even uglier, with a mind-boggling eight teams slotted to finish below .500 in conference play, “led” by UNC-Wilmington at 0-18. I’m not sure, but I think two-thirds of the league finishing under .500 in conference play would ruin any at-large chances.

Pomeroy’s projections/predictions are as follows:

1t.) VCU (15-3 projected, 17-1 predicted)
1t.) George Mason (15-3 projected, 17-1 predicted)
3.) Hofstra (13-5 projected, 15-3 predicted)
4.) Drexel (11-7 projected 14-4 predicted)
5t.) Old Dominion (9-9 projected, 8-10 predicted)
5t.) Georgia State (9-9 projected, 7-11 predicted)
5t.) Northeastern (9-9 projected, 7-11 predicted)
8t.) William & Mary (7-11 projected, 7-11 predicted)
8t.) Delaware (7-11 projected, 6-12 predicted)
8t.) Towson (7-11 projected, 5-13 predicted)
11.) James Madison (6-12 projected, 5-13 predicted)
12.) UNC-Wilmington (2-16 projected, 0-18 predicted)

Pomeroy predicts a lot of long cold winter nights for William & Mary (two four-game losing streaks), Georgia State (a four-game losing streak), James Madison (a four-game losing streak), Towson (a four-game losing streak and a six-game losing streak), Northeastern (a five-game losing streak) and Delaware (an eight-game losing streak).

The projections/predictions by Pomeroy are, uhh, a bit different than the consensus from mid-November:

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

What’s all this prove? Not much, not yet anyway. There’s still a whole lot of basketball to be played and more projections and predictions to be tested. But come March, maybe we’ll all be reminded we should have taken math a bit more seriously in high school.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We're no. 11! We're no. 11! (And other bits and bytes)

Vyvyan, Neil, Nigel and Mike are all on the bandwagon, even if we're playing popular American music instead of British punk.

Some bits and bytes, most looking back, one looking ahead:

—The bandwagon is getting more crowded. Two wins last week seemed to impress the coaches who vote in the mid-major poll at Collegeinsider.com. The Flying Dutchmen made the biggest leap in the rankings in moving from 19 to 11 in a poll released Monday. Only one CAA team—VCU at no. 9—ranks ahead of Hofstra.

Plenty of room here, but if you don’t hurry you might have to fight for seats in the middle and front of the bus. Because everyone knows the cool kids sit in the back, and the prime real estate—the very last seats on the bus—are already occupied by Sully Ray and my wife. They’re also in charge of the music, which means an eclectic mix of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and the New Kids on the Block performing the very worst Christmas song ever recorded.

Where was I? Oh yeah.

—My first attempt at pegging a surprise contributor (that game needs a much better name, BTW, so if you’ve got any ideas, email me at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com) went fairly well Saturday. Neither Tony Dennison nor Darren Townes had breakout games, but both produced something to build upon in the 68-52 win over St. Francis.

Dennison remained cold from outside (0-for-3 from 3-point land) but drove the lane for four layups and finished with nine points in 26 minutes, his most extensive playing time since Manhattan. Dennison is listed at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, right around the size of the recent superstar guards at Hofstra, but he looks broader than Loren Stokes, Carlos Rivera or Antoine Agudio and better built for slashing to the basket, particularly if he never finds his form from beyond the arc (11-for-40 thus far).

After playing just 27 minutes in the previous three games combined, Townes played 21 minutes against St. Francis and tied a season-high with seven rebounds. He also had six points and equaled his season total entering the game with two blocks, including one of his fellow no. 21, Nigel Byam (best name of the year, bar none).

—I hope someone else in the audience hears/sees the name Nigel and thinks of The Young Ones, the freaking hilarious British comedy that aired on Sunday nights on MTV in the mid-80s. It’s true: MTV used to show something other than music videos. I know that’s shocking to you, kids.

—I can’t decide if someone should assume point guard duties from Charles Jenkins or not. He seemed a bit out-of-sorts Saturday, when he tied his season low by scoring 11 points on a season-worst 4-for-16 shooting. He drained his only 3-pointer in six attempts immediately after Greg Johnson replaced him at the point following the second media timeout of the first half.

Yet on the other hand…why mess with what’s working when your best player is able to make multiple contributions even when his shots aren’t falling? He had 10 rebounds Saturday, tying his career high set against Iona in February. And the other time he had 11 points, he dished out a career-high nine assists against Manhattan.

He also added seven assists Saturday, putting him within flirting distance of the first triple-double in school history. When your best player has a down game by his standards yet still puts up a line that reads 11-10-7, you’ve got a pretty good best player.

Jenkins has earned plenty of comparisons to Stokes, but while Stokes had plenty of eye-popping double-doubles (like the 30 points and 15 boards he racked up against William & Mary Jan. 20, 2007), he never put up a line like the one Jenkins produced Saturday. Among recent players, Rivera came closest to Jenkins’ stat line, coincidentally enough against St. Francis on Dec. 20, 2005, when he had 11 points, 10 assists and four boards.

—Greg Johnson, meanwhile, had one of those “why can’t he do this all the time” games Saturday, when he scored five points (only the third time this season he’s gotten into the scoring column), tied a season high with three assists and recorded five steals, two more than he had all year coming into the game. He did have three turnovers in 17 minutes, so it wasn’t quite perfect. But as the lone pure point guard on the roster, I remain convinced he’s going to pull a Roberto Gittens in the second half of the season and get big minutes down the stretch.

—Shame on me for not pointing out Friday that a win Saturday would lift Tom Pecora out of a tie for fourth place on the all-time win list at Hofstra with his best friend and predecessor, Jay Wright. Well, congratulations to Pecora, who now has 123 wins in just over eight seasons. He’s 23 wins behind Frank Reilly and 29 wins behind Paul Lynner, so Pecora will become the second-winningest coach in Hofstra history when the Dutchmen cut the nets down in Detroit on the first Monday of April! Alas, Butch van Breda Kolff’s 215 wins are still multiple seasons away for Pecora.

I have no idea how rare it is, but I can’t imagine it’s all that common for a heir apparent to record more wins than his mentor. Either way, it’s pretty cool that two coaches have been able to craft such distinctive legacies over a 15-season span.

—Lastly, the game against UMass this weekend just got a lot more interesting after the Minutemen shocked Kansas, 61-60, Saturday. Sure, the Jayhawks were decimated by graduation and early departures for the NBA and the win was in Kansas City and not at Allen Fieldhouse, but still, a win over the defending national champs on their turf is pretty remarkable anytime.

The win provided further proof UMass is better than its 3-6 record: The Minutemen have lost three games by four points or fewer and dropped another by seven points. They also played Memphis, which fell to Kansas in the national championship game last year, so the schedule is RPI friendly.

Speaking of the RPI: I have zero faith Hofstra can get an at-large bid even if it goes 31-2 and falls in 12 overtimes in the CAA final, but regardless, this is the Dutchmen’s best chance to boost its standing in the RPI before conference play starts. More on the Minutemen later this week, but one look at the UMass roster and the year-to-date stats indicates this will be the biggest test—literally—of the Dutchmen’s new-found depth and inside presence. A win Saturday and the bandwagon might get really cramped.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hofstra 68, St. Francis 52 (Or: Gee Dubs arrives!)

Greg Washington + a breakout game against St. Francis = an excuse to post a photo from a criminally underrated early '90s gem.

The most pivotal moment of the Flying Dutchmen’s 68-52 victory over St. Francis Saturday barely showed up in the box score and really had no impact on a game that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated (to borrow from this guy, you know you’re a lot better than the other team when…you get 12 players on to the floor in the first half).

But with 5:45 left, Greg Washington blocked a shot by Justin Newton—and then smiled and briefly hammed it up for the cheering student section. It symbolized a revelatory game by Washington, who racked up a career-high 12 rebounds and added nine points in 22 minutes and was particularly interesting because it came from someone who usually plays with a poker face and a bit of self-consciousness.

Again, just like with my analysis of Nathaniel Lester Friday, this is purely amateur shrink territory. But Washington has struck me as someone who realized that everyone THOUGHT he should be a Grade-A stud, because he’s 6-foot-10, but also knew his game didn’t yet match the expectations. It’s hard enough to play the game as is, I can imagine how tough it is when someone feels he’s not living up to the hype he had nothing to do with generating.

Guys who stand 6-foot-10 don’t land at Hofstra unless they’re raw, and Washington’s rawness was evident in his reed-thin stature (I’ve never actually seen a reed, BTW). His listed weight of 210 pounds inspired this quote (scroll down to October 30) from Tom Pecora (and now that Chris Gadley is gone, I’ve got 30 spare pounds if Washington wants ‘em).

It didn’t help Washington when he, through no fault of his own, turned into a near-mythic figure before he ever suited up for the Flying Dutchmen. The thought of a 6-foot-10 guy landing on campus—the year after Adrian Uter’s graduation left a huge hole in the middle and the year after George Mason made the Final Four with a plodding wanna-be NFL tight end at center—left Hofstra fans salivating at the thought of a Big East-type talent lurking in the paint.

The legend grew even larger when the NCAA declared Washington ineligible as a freshman and Dutchmen subsequently struggled to make the NIT in a season in which they were supposed to win the CAA and make a Mason-type NCAA Tournament run. If we only had an inside presence, the fan base thought, leaving unsaid the thought that the inside presence was supposed to be Washington.

The savior talk was quieted last year, when Washington averaged three rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 12.2 minutes per game for a team that was clearly more than one player away from contention. And when he opened the season by playing 25 minutes in his first four appearances (he was in street clothes for the Old Westbury game), it seemed as if he might forever be more curiosity than building block, the 6-foot-10 guy who could accidentally rack up a few boards and blocks per game yet was more comfortable shooting 12-footers.

But he posted consecutive double-doubles against Fordham and Towson, and even in a quiet performance against Stony Brook, he contributed by swishing a pair of free throws to seal the game with less than 10 seconds left. That, too, represented progress for a guy who was 3-of-17 from the line all of last year.

Washington will never have the build of a Dane Johnson or even a Uter or Darren Townes, but there he was Saturday, before the Big Block, muscling with his back to the basket against two defenders and converting a lay-up. While the Big Block was a pivotal symbolic point in his development, the ability to score down low will come

Washington has played more than 20 minutes in four straight games, a mark he reached just five times last year. Now that said, he played 20 minutes or more in three straight games last December before falling deep into the bench and recording three consecutive DNPs at midseason. So chances are there will be some more hiccups along the way.

But for now, as a 6-foot-10 sophomore on a program bursting with potential, the optimism is endless. And as a result, I think he’s surged past Miklos Szabo and right into First Guy To Get A Nickname territory.

How’s Gee Dubs (an obvious homage to Litos) sound? And should we call his blocks GWBs? These are the things I ponder with a week between games. Get here soon, conference season.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bits and Bytes: 12/12

If this was the Moe's offering a student a year's worth of free food in exchange for a halfcourt shot, I'd re-enroll at Hofstra.

Some bits and bytes entering the weekend:

—At Stony Brook, the wife and I sat in the first row of bleachers across from the benches, right off the floor and right behind the super duper movers-and-shakers courtside seats. I say that with all sorts of snark and sarcasm because the mover-and-shaker seats are folding freaking chairs. Nothing says class like folding freaking chairs.

But at least Stony Brook’s got an excuse for the arrangement, since Pritchard Gymnasium is the program’s temporary home. I have a whole lot more contempt for the arrangement at Hofstra, because our administration yanked out press seats in order to place folding freaking chairs there. I realize about 97 percent of the country is giddy whenever the press is inconvenienced, but it hacks me off.

Plus, it’s damn dangerous. Let’s see how long that arrangement lasts after a 6-foot-5, 225-pound guy goes flying into someone in the mover-and-shaker seats.

Where in the hell was I? Oh yeah. So guess who takes a seat right in front of us at the end of the first half? Stony Brook president Shirley Strum-Kenny, wearing a Seawolves pullover with the America East logo stitched on the back. File under: Things you’ll never see at Hofstra, not in a million years.

—I also like Stony Brook’s student giveaways a whole lot more than Hofstra’s. At Hofstra, a student is selected at random to attempt a half-court shot. If he/she hits it, he/she gets free food at Moe’s for a year. No, not Moe’s Family Feedbag (pictured above), but Moe’s Southwest Grill. What a prize. Hit a miracle shot, get free gastrointestinal distress for a year. Sign me up!

At Stony Brook, meanwhile, the prize is a 42-inch plasma TV. Holy smokes. What kind of dorm rooms do they have at Stony Brook? I could barely fit a 13-inch rabbit-earred special into my room back in the day.

Alas, just like the kids at Hofstra, the guy at Stony Brook came up about 12 feet short on his shot. No TV for you.

—I’ll be rooting for Stony Brook to win the America East, because Pritchard Pit is a place that needs to host the championship game. What an environment. Though I can only imagine the logistical nightmare ESPN will present Stony Brook if the title game is there. I figure the capacity will be 37 after ESPN finishes setting up all its stuff.

—And finally, a few overdue links. SI.com had a highly entertaining piece on the man who saved Hofstra basketball, Jay Wright. There are plenty of anecdotes about Jay’s status as the nicest man in major college basketball, including this awesome quote from his first employer, Rochester coach Mike Neer: “Jay can sell sand to an Arab or red, white and blue to Bin Laden. You can’t say no.”

Jack Styczynski, who ran the Hofstra Hotsheet on Rivals.com back in the days when companies actually paid people to write on the Internet, revealed why Charles Jenkins’ favorite player is Pearl Washington, who starred for Syracuse before Jenkins was born. My goodness that sentence makes me feel old.

Former Newsday writer Jason Molinet has started a site covering Long Island hoops called, appropriately enough, HoopsLI.com. He profiles Jenkins here.

I’ll also be adding and updating the links on the right-hand side of the page to include the likes of this page from Proud Pride Fan of the Hofstra board at the CAAZone. He’s blogging about Jenkins and the Dutchmen this season for the Queens Ledger newspaper. Comprehensive stuff here, I like it.

Sean Brennan, the veteran and versatile New York Daily News sportswriter, has started a local hoops blog here. I like Dick “Hoops” Weiss, but his stuff is more national in scope. Kudos to the News and Brennan for thinking of the little guy, too.

And Newsday has also started a college hoops blog, though entries about the local squads are few and far between. Of course, on the list of things to be upset with Newsday about, that blog is way down the list and long after this news. More on that next week.

—And lastly, happy 12/12 day to this guy!

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

No longer the pits for Nat?

Megaburgers for all after Nat Lester leads the Flying Dutchmen to the CAA crown!

The Flying Dutchmen’s 61-56 win over Stony Brook Wednesday wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing one, but it was plenty interesting—particularly the sight of Nathaniel Lester on the floor at the end of the game.

Lester played the final 8:37 against the Seawolves and set a season high with 20 minutes, seven points and three rebounds. Before Wednesday, Lester had not played more than seven minutes in the second half in any of the Dutchmen’s first seven games. He didn’t get off the bench at all against Western Michigan or Old Westbury and played more than five minutes in the second half just twice—in the lopsided season-opening loss to Clemson and Saturday against Towson, when he played seven minutes.

That Lester has set a season high for second half minutes in consecutive games indicates he may be ready to emerge from the pack of guards on the Hofstra roster and establish himself as a consistent member of the eight- or nine-man rotation. His talent is unquestioned, and at 6-foot-5 he’s big enough to play forward or present matchup problems for the opposition at guard.

But from afar, Lester’s body language suggests he’s a sensitive kid whose confidence comes and goes. He scored 14 or more points four times in a seven-game span last December yet reached double figures just twice in the Dutchmen’s final 20 games.

Lester’s relationship with Tom Pecora—again, from afar—seems to be a work in progress as Pecora employs some tough love with the quick hooks. But Pecora knows it’s way too early to give up on someone like Lester, especially given that Lester is the only true sophomore on the squad. Charles Jenkins (who is exactly 10 months younger than Lester) and Greg Washington both redshirted in 2006-07.

Lester’s first shot Wednesday was one of those it’s-out-no-it’s-in-no-it’s-out-no-it’s-in specials that rattled around the rim for about an hour before falling through. I’m convinced he’s not nearly as busy the rest of the night if that shot bounces out instead of in. From my days as a terrible pick-up player at the local Y, I can tell you I knew if a day would be good by whether or not my first shot went down (it so often did not).

Who knows? Maybe a shooter’s roll was the turning point for Lester and Pecora.

—Speaking of turning points, sort of, I meant to start this Wednesday, but, well, I forgot. Something about new furniture and some guy coming in to fix the rug and it turning into a day-long process featuring my most profanity since Selection Sunday 2006. I don’t want to talk about it.

Where was I? Oh yeah. One of the few predictable things about the Dutchmen this season is the unpredictability of the Dutchmen rotation. Guys who are struggling or stapled to the bench one game will emerge as key contributors the next. So that gave me an idea: Try to identify the surprise contributor (or contributors) prior to every game.

My guess Wednesday was going to be Tony Dennison, who had been ice cold in his previous three games (7-for-24 from the field, including 2-for-12 from 3-point land). Dennison was better against Stony Brook (2-for-6 from the field, including 2-for-5 from beyond the arc), but he was also on the bench down the stretch in favor of Lester and has played just 40 minutes the past two games.

So I’ll stick with Dennison for Saturday against St. Francis and also add Darren Townes to the mix. (Yes, this increases my odds of being able to pat myself on the back Monday. My blog, my rules) Townes has started the last four games, but his minutes have read like a locker combination: 24-11-8-8. Foul trouble has saddled him the last two games (three fouls against both Towson and Stony Brook), but he didn’t draw a single foul against Fordham Dec. 3.

The Dutchmen are deep, but not so deep that they can’t use a lot more than eight minutes out of Townes. Big game Saturday, you watch. If you’re going, I’ll be the guy yelling about Sean Titus.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hofstra 61, Stony Brook 56 (Or: Can the Arena undergo a year’s worth of renovations, thereby pushing the Dutchmen to the PFC?)

Stony Brook's vaunted recruiting class did not feature werewolf Scott Howard, above.

Tom Pecora saw it coming before the rest of us, which is why he’s a well-compensated, well-dressed Division I coach and I’m an unemployed sportswriter typing this in shorts.

The Flying Dutchmen had extended their 11-point halftime lead to 13 and seemed more likely to double that advantage than lose it against a Stony Brook team that had been within one possession twice all night when Pecora called time out with 16:18 to play Wednesday. He saw the Dutchmen open the second half in a 2-for-8 funk from the field and probably sensed the additional momentum the Seawolves could gain in a claustrophobic, hostile building straight out of Hollywood central casting and wanted to nip any rally before it began.

Through no apparent fault of his own, he didn’t, and the rally not only began but built to a near-deafening crescendo as the Dutchmen—not to mention the handful of us hanging out in enemy territory—had to sweat out (it was like one million degrees in there) a 61-56 win that wasn’t clinched until Greg Washington—or, as Michael Litos points out today, GREG FREAKIN' WASHINGTON!!!—hit two free throws with eight seconds to play.

The high-powered offense that threatened to ring up triple digits on Towson Saturday was nowhere to be found, especially in the second half, when the Dutchmen shot an ice-cold 4-of-22. That’s right: The 2-for-8 stretch was as good as it got.

Actually, that’s not true. The Dutchmen made two of their first five shots to open the half. Then they missed six in a row over nearly eight minutes before Armanis Urbutis hit a layup to give the Dutchmen a 49-36 lead with 10:01 left. Then they missed two shots over the next three-and-a-half minutes before Cornelius Vines hit a 3-pointer for the final field goal of the game.

Hofstra missed its final six shots and scored its final eight points from the free throw line, though those points were nostalgically torturous: The Dutchmen were 15-of-27 from the line in the second half, including 3-of-8 after Vines’ 3-pointer before Charles Jenkins and Washington combined to hit five of their final six freebies.

Fortunately for Hofstra, the Seawolves were almost as errant and had no teenaged werewolf to lift them to a dramatic last-second victory: Stony Brook shot just 28.8 percent overall, including 27.6 percent in the second half, and was 12-of-20 from the line in the second half.

It wasn’t quite the momentum-building victory one would have preferred after the yup-they’re-for-real win over Towson. But not every win is going to be one worth savoring and placing in the ol’ time capsule.

That’s not to say the victory was without value. Good teams find ways to win games in which they don’t play well. Plus, playing at Stony Brook is probably as close to a conference game environment as the Dutchmen are going to find this month, especially with UMass stumbling along.

Just like last year, the game grew increasingly physical in the latter stages, with at least two instances in which players had to be pried apart following the whistle. In addition, Pritchard Gymnasium is going to be the difference in multiple America East victories for the Seawolves this year. That place is a pit, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. It’s loud and the fans are right on top of the action and I can only imagine how difficult it is to communicate in such an environment. It makes me pine for a return to the Physical Fitness Center, except even the PFC seems like a cavern compared to Pritchard.

This wasn’t a conference game, but just like on the road in the CAA, Pritchard is place from which you’re grateful to escape with a win, no matter how ugly it might have been.

The win also served as a nice reminder—to the Dutchmen as well as those of us driving the bandwagon—that the bus isn’t guaranteed to get on the highway and drive to a first-round site the third weekend of March.

As promising as this team has looked for most of the past month, it’s still a fairly inexperienced bunch (the two seniors who see the most playing time, Dane Johnson and Darren Townes, are transfers and the four four-year seniors bounce back and forth between the floor and the side of a milk carton) prone to the familiar free throw woes as well as head-scratching hiccups.

Litos also notes today that aside from Jenkins and Zygis Sestakos, the Dutchmen are shooting 54.6 percent from the line. That inability to hit throws that are free catches up to EVERYBODY in the end. Just ask Chris Douglas-Roberts.

The Dutchmen looked as if they’d blow Stony Brook out of the barn in the first half. They took a 10-point lead less than 10 minutes into the game and shot 55.2 percent in the first 20 minutes. Jenkins was clearly the best player on the floor—the dude goes from zero to 94 faster than anybody I’ve ever seen—and had one of those you’ve-got-to-be-kidding me moments when he drove the lane, whirled, got caught up in a handful of players and somehow hit a layup anyway.

When Stony Brook brought in its mammoth center Desmond Adedeji—who is such an awful and awkward free throw shooter that he makes his idol, Shaquille O’Neal, look like Calvin Murphy—Pecora responded by putting in Washington and Dane Johnson. It was probably just a coincidence, but it was pretty cool when those two were the first players on to the court for the Dutchmen following the timeout. Seemed to set the tone.

I thought there should have been some really dramatic music accompanying their entrance, like “Gonna Fly Now,” minus the awkward hug. Or maybe “Welcome To The Jungle,” minus one of the guys completely losing his mind and needing 15 years to make a pile of crap that turns into one of the epic bombs of all-time. Or at least “Beat It,” minus, well, you know, just about everything. But the game was at Stony Brook and I don’t think the powers that be there were in the mood to add mood music for the opposition.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Johnson and Washington combined for a ridiculous nine blocks, including six by Johnson—one of which he punctuated with a Dikembe Mutumbo-esque wag of the pointer finger, a gesture for which he was immediately warned by the ref. Yet the leading rebounder for the Dutchmen was Jenkins with seven and Stony Brook held a 42-40 rebounding edge—shocking considering how often it seemed as if multiple guys in blue uniforms were swarming a poor lonely Stony Brook guy down low.

The Dutchmen should have routed Stony Brook, but it was a one-possession game with 39 seconds to play. How did that happen? Who knows? But Pecora saw it happening before anybody, which has me figuring he spent today and will spend tomorrow making sure it doesn’t happen again Saturday against St. Francis.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NIT-picking Stony Brook

Marcus Henry of Newsday gave me a run for my money as the most optimistic person about a Long Island basketball program last week when he surmised in a blog that Stony Brook—whom the Flying Dutchmen play tonight at Pritchard Gymnasium—could parlay a win over Hofstra into a breakout season and a possible berth in the NIT.

But while the Seawolves are shaping up to be much better this year—and not a moment too soon for coach Steve Pikiell, who entered this season 20-67 in his first three seasons—they’d have to go from (almost) worst (Stony Brook finished eighth in the nine-team America East last year via a tiebreaker over Maine) to first, and then lose in the conference tournament, to make the NIT.

When it invited 40 teams from 2002-2006, the NIT was a viable alternative for low-major teams left out of the Big Dance. Those fields featured little-known schools such as Tennessee Tech, Wagner, Eastern Washington, Austin Peay, Fairfield and Denver as well as America East schools Boston University and Northeastern and former Atlantic Sun member Georgia State. The NIT took another step towards including deserving low-majors in 2006, when it began to award an automatic bid to regular season conference champions who didn’t win their conference tourney.

But 2006 was also the year the NCAA bought the NIT to end a five-year legal battle between the two sides. Not surprisingly, the NCAA didn’t wait long to begin pushing around the little guy. The NCAA dropped the field back to 32 teams in 2007, ostensibly because it’s easier to schedule four eight-team brackets.

Of course, the teams left on the outside looking in are the smallest Davids. Counting automatic bids, the NIT invited 17 non-BCS schools in 2007 and 20 in 2008, right in line with the average from 2002 through 2006, when 116 of the 200 invitees were non-BCS schools. But the at-large bids to the NIT the last two years—12 in 2008, 10 in 2007—have come almost exclusively from the power mid-major conferences.

(As an aside, I hate further breaking down the mid-major conferences and schools into major mid-majors and mid mid-majors, because that just further encourages the BCS schools to take bigger and bigger pieces of the pie and softens the impact of the inevitable day that the NCAA Tournament is for the Big Six only and the rest of us are rooting for our alma maters to win the I-AA national title in the NIT. So please forgive me and let’s move on.)

So even before taking into account the minimal preseason expectations for Stony Brook, the Seawolves have a long way to go—even longer than Hofstra, which plays in one of those power mid-major conferences and reached the NIT despite sputtering to the finish line in 2007—to sniff the NIT.

On the other hand… those of us who went to school in western Nassau should be familiar with the encouragement Stony Brook fans are feeling right about now. Like Hofstra, Stony Brook has proven far better than initially expected in producing the best non-conference record in its conference. And like Hofstra, Stony Brook is clicking with a handful of new faces.

I’m not sure if tonight’s game is the beginning of an authentic rivalry—even after last year’s win at Hofstra, Stony Brook is 4-17 all-time against the Flying Dutchmen—but it should be an entertaining contest between a pair of teams eager to prove their early success is not a fluke.

This may just be blog bias talking, but Hofstra would seem to have more at stake: In addition to the historic dominance of the Seawolves, the Dutchmen made the leap from the hunters to the hunted with the impressive win over Towson Saturday. The Dutch debuted in the Collegeinsider.com mid-major top 25 at no. 19 this week, a 22-spot jump from a week ago. People are watching. Another win tonight and the bandwagon may even begin to get a little more crowded.

If you’re going, see you there. I’ll be the guy yelling about Setauket native Rob Ogden. It’ll just be me and the wife as Sully Ray had to cancel. Apparently, he’s swamped with work at his job and in his house. Employed AND a home owner. What year does he think this is, 2005?

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hofstra 90, Towson 81 (Or: All aboard HAHAHA!!!)

Ozzy Osbourne indicates how many games he thinks Hofstra will win in the NCAA Tournament. Which is good, 'cause who can understand what he says anyway?

Sorry for the lack of a post Monday. The last three days have been crazy at Defiantly Dutch World HQ, with actual paying work making its way across my desk, a visit to the dentist for Root Canal 2: Electric Drillboogaloo and the wife and I spending far too many hours shopping for and preparing the HQ for new furniture.

True story: Dante’s original manuscript for his Divine Comedy mentioned 10 circles of hell, the last one of which was shopping for furniture. But his editors said 14th century readers didn’t have the attention spans and were too busy arguing over global warming and fearing the day they’d fall off the edge of the flat Earth to read about 10 circles of hell, so he had to axe it to nine. I swear. I learned it in English class.

Anyway, for a little while Saturday night, I was worried root canal and furniture shopping had met, courted each other, fallen in love, gotten married, had a baby and named it Hofstra-Towson. I was suckered into spending the $5 for the Towson webcast of the game, and not only was it impossible to get in at 7 p.m., but when the game finally appeared on my screen, Hofstra was losing 12-2.

Worse yet, a few seconds later, I realized I’d paid $5 for a webcast that had all the quality of a basketball snuff film. I mean, seriously, I understand the need to create new revenue streams in this happy happy joy joy economy, but c’mon. At least make it so it’s possible to tell the teams apart.

The webcast got no better, but fortunately, the Flying Dutchmen did in a 90-81 victory. (Also, nobody was hacked to pieces) All the usual caveats apply about how it’s only one game and there’s still 17 games left in the conference season and a whole lot can change between now and the next CAA contest and Towson, while solid thus far, is still a consensus pick to finish in the bottom third of the conference.

But still, if you’re the type of person who likes to plan ahead and hates being rushed and likes to laugh at the harried and irresponsible and panicked, I’d go ahead and book a reservation on the Hofstra bandwagon. Cause it may just get as crowded as the Port Jefferson-Bridgeport ferry on Christmas Day (which, as a harried and irresponsible and panicked individual, I always make at the last possible second).

First Saturday of December and all, this was as thorough and encouraging a victory as I’ve seen (or barely seen) in a long time. We all remember Hofstra victories where the Dutchmen got hot from 3-point land—and the vaguely unsettling feeling engendered by those wins, that knowledge that somewhere over the hill, maybe even in the same game, there was an extended period of time awaiting the Dutchmen in which they went cold from beyond the arc and couldn’t find another way to create some offense.

But such worries were minimal in the first half Saturday, even though all seven of the Dutchmen’s 3-pointers came from two players—Cornelius Vines was 5-for-7 and Charles Jenkins was 2-for-2—and though Zygis Sestakos (0-for-5), Tony Dennison (0-for-2) and Nathaniel Lester (0-for-1) combined to miss all eight of their 3-point shots.

Typically, you’d fear the market correction on Vines and Jenkins, but the pre-season hope that this would be a deeper and more versatile Hofstra team was proven correct again in the second half, when the Dutchmen went 2-for-9 from 3-point land yet still scored 41 points.

More than half the points in the final 20 minutes were scored by the “bigs,” including five apiece by Dane Johnson and Miklos Szabo (who hit one of the 3-pointers) and two by Arminas Urbutis. No one looked (or sounded) as good, though, as the suddenly emerging Greg Washington, who had nine points and nine boards in the second half alone on his way to his second straight double-double.

The Dutchmen also got a where-in-the-hell-has-THIS-been performance from Greg Johnson, who committed just one turnover in 22 minutes—one minute more than he’d played combined in Hofstra’s five previous games against Division I foes—and was 6-for-8 from the free throw line in the second half.

Speaking of the free throw line, the Dutchmen were 10-of-10 from there in the first half and 25-of-31 overall (80.6 percent), a remarkable performance for a team that had shot below 50 percent from the line in its last two games and had yet to even reach 70 percent in a game once this year.

Other stats as fun as they are encouraging: Five players scored nine or more points, eight played at least 13 minutes and the Dutchmen outrebounded Towson 39-30. And despite the 90 points, it wasn’t a perfect game on offense. Dennison scored just two points on 1-of-6 shooting. Darren Townes started but played just eight minutes—none in the second half—after picking up three fouls.

As good as the Dutchmen looked against Fordham and in spurts against Manhattan, it needed to happen against a conference foe to lend it an additional air of legitimacy. There’s no easy way to beat the Dutchmen and they’re nowhere near a finished product.

These guys are for real. Get on board. I’ve got a feeling the bandwagon is going to begin filling up pretty soon.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tiger Beat?

If you ever picked up Tiger Beat expecting to read about Towson, you were sorely disappointed. Or so I've heard.

Like with Bucknell on the football schedule a couple months back, seeing Towson (do you think there’s a blog in Maryland called Stubbornly Towson State? I hope so) next up on the docket for the Flying Dutchmen basketball team brings back some fond memories.

Actually, the memories shouldn’t be so fond, since all Towson did during the Defiantly Dutch era was kick Hofstra where it hurts. But what can I say? Nostalgia is strange and unpredictable.

The Tigers knocked off the top-seeded Dutchmen in what was supposed to be the final ECC championship game in March 1992 (of course, that didn’t really upset me at the time, since I was skipping class to play hearts at community college and couldn’t have found Hofstra on a map). There was no automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at stake and no expectations of an at-large bid by Butch van Breda Kolff—who had no idea he was proving the more things change the more they stay the same when he told Newsday the selection committee would “…rather take a seventh-place team in the Big 10, the ACC or anything other than the ECC”—but a win over Towson would have made Hofstra 21-8 and given it a pretty good shot at an NIT bid.

Towson gave the selection committee—albeit in a different sport—all the ammo it needed to keep an underdog Hofstra squad out of the postseason in October 1994, when the Tigers stunned the unbeaten Flying Dutchmen football team, 24-21, in an instant classic at Hofstra Stadium. Towson led 24-7 entering the fourth quarter, but the Dutchmen stormed back, whipped a crowd of 5,829 into a frenzy and appeared to take the lead when Nick Johnson scored on a 34-yard reverse. But the Dutchmen were called for a ticky-tack holding penalty (oh sure, I’m over it) and the drive eventually stalled at the Towson five-yard-line in the final minute.

Fourteen years later, I’ve still never seen a post-game locker room sadder than that one. That’s the difference between the pros and mid-major colleges: The pros almost always have next year as well as piles of million dollar bills on which to sleep. The mid-majors have one random, light-streaking-across-the-sky shot and an eternity to wonder what could have been.

Offensive lineman Ricky Wyatt, officially listed at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds but unofficially A Very Big Dude, sat stoically at his locker, still dressed in his uniform, for a while before his shoulders began to shake and tears began to stream down his face.

“We played hard and the fans were awesome,” said Wayne Chrebet, who had no idea he was four years away from playing for the AFC title. “But we lost, and it’s a loss that myself and the other seniors are never going to forget for the rest of our lives.”

The stakes weren’t as high at University Field in April 1996, because, well, has there ever been a high stakes Hofstra baseball game? But Towson’s 9-3, 11-inning win over the Dutchmen was much more compelling and dramatic than the final score would indicate. (I’m not going to subject you to the overwrought prose I churned out for The Chronicle that week, so you’ll just have to trust me on it) It also extended the Tigers’ win streak over Hofstra to 19 games. NINETEEN GAMES! That’s unpossible!

A decade later, a 94-91 loss to Towson in men’s basketball may have been the loss that kept the Dutchmen out of the NCAA Tournament. Had the Dutchmen—who, as Michael Litos reminded us earlier today, were missing Adrian Uter, who was in the midst of a four-game absence due to a bad ankle—won that game, they would have finished 15-3 and in a three-way tie for the CAA championship. Winning a share of the regular season crown was among the pile of crap reasons the band of roving idiots provided for giving Mason the at-large bid. Of course, had Hofstra shared the regular season title but lost in the CAA tourney, this guy probably still would have come up with another reason to keep Hofstra out.

Where was I? Oh yes. All that said, for the handful of heartbreaks Towson has provided the Dutch, Hofstra’s actually had the upper hand in the rivalry.

Football is 4-3 against Towson, and I would have bet my increasingly meager fortune that the two teams had played two or three times as many games against one another. The baseball team is 22-35 all-time against Towson, which is not bad at all given that 19-game losing streak. Women’s basketball is 22-26 against Towson while the volleyball team is a robust 34-7 all-time against the Tigers.

Men’s basketball, meanwhile, is 11-5 against Towson under Tom Pecora and 29-19 all-time. The Flying Dutchmen have recorded as many or more wins against just four other schools—Delaware (42-23), Wagner (33-16), Drexel (31-35) and Kings Point (29-6).

The two programs have been going in opposite directions since they were reunited in the NAC/America East in 1995-96. While the Flying Dutchmen won consecutive America East titles and have become a regular CAA contender, Towson has endured 11 straight sub-.500 seasons, hasn’t finished higher than seventh in the CAA since joining in 2001-02 and finished higher than eighth just once in its final five years in the America East.

But maybe this is the year the rivalry is renewed. Hofstra and Towson were both picked to finish in the bottom half of the CAA, but they’re among the few—if not the only—teams in the conference to exceed expectations thus far. Litos likes the Tigers, a lot, and the stats he produces in today’s blog indicate Towson is putting together a team that will look familiar to the Flying Dutchmen.

Towson has nine players averaging at least 16 minutes a game, Hofstra has seven. Towson has four players averaging at least 10 points a game, Hofstra has two (and a third, Tony Dennison, with 9.8 ppg). Both teams have seven players averaging at least three rebounds a game.

Hofstra ranks eighth in the CAA in points per game (68.2) and third in points allowed (65.3). Towson ranks ninth (67.7) and sixth (67.9), respectively, in those categories.

Add it all up and this is the most intriguing December game the Flying Dutchmen have played in a long time. A win Saturday, in a place where close games are the norm (five of the seven games in Towson in the Pecora era have been settled by seven points or less), could be a springboard to a season much better than anyone envisioned.

Of course, I predict a narrow victory. And of course, if the Dutchmen fall, I reserve the right to say it’s just one game and it’s too early in the season to declare watershed moments. Hey, my blog, my rules.

Alas, win or lose, we won’t be there. We’ll be listening to or watching the game (which you can also do right here) as we put up the Christmas tree. So if you crane your neck just right, you’ll probably hear me yell “FINE! YOU’RE SO SMART, YOU RIG UP THE LIGHTS!”

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

In which Mike Francesa says Hofstra cannot win the CAA, thereby all but guaranteeing a championship this season for the Flying Dutchmen

You'd smile too, if you were never wrong.

I guess I should open this bashfest of Mike Francesa by saying he’s always been pretty good to Hofstra and the men’s basketball program in particular. Francesa and Chris Russo were usually complimentary of the University whenever they broadcast live from Jets camp. Francesa and Russo broadcast the America East championship game live for WFAN from Hofstra in 2000 and 2001, which lent a huge air of legitimacy to the festivities.

Jay Wright was a regular guest on Mike and the Mad Dog in his final two seasons, and the hosts have regularly found time for Tom Pecora over the last eight years—a pretty cool thing to do by a couple of guys who thrive on talking about the headline sports and personalities and for a team that is, more often than not, a rumor on its own campus, never mind the packed New York scene.

Francesa and Russo have divorced, but apparently they’ve agreed to share custody of Pecora, who appeared on Russo's XM show a few weeks ago. It was Francesa’s turn Wednesday, when the newly solo host of the WFAN afternoon drive show interviewed Pecora, reminded us all why it’s so difficult to listen to him (Francesa, that is) and provided the best evidence yet that Hofstra fans should make preliminary travel plans for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Thank goodness YES not only simulcasts Francesa’s show but also airs a “best-of” every night. Thank goodness, because I was in the car with a friend, who in turn was on the phone, which in turn made it difficult to hear the interview, which in turn necessitated watching the clips show at 11 p.m. (And along those lines, thank goodness for crappy brakes, because if my car had functioning brakes, I would have driven to my lunch appointment and listened to satellite radio. Viva la crappy brakes!)

Thank goodness because the pomposity, hypocrisy and unintentional hilarity of Francesa need to be seen, not heard, in order to be fully understood. And Pecora’s bemusement and good sportsmanship Wednesday just could not translate over the radio.

Francesa’s “interviews” should be required listening for every journalism student, because they’re living, breathing examples of what interviewers shouldn’t do. His questions are really just rambling statements and his interviewees are window dressing placed there to absorb his blustering verbiage.

It took Francesa about 10 seconds to interrupt Pecora:

Mike: “Welcome in the head coach of Hofstra, Tom Pecora. Tom, welcome.”
Tom: “Thanks Mike. [Next words are inaudible because Francesa interrupts him]

Francesa’s world-sized ego (that New Yorker piece is long but well worth the time investment…great stuff), dueling agendas and contempt for just about everyone not named Mike Francesa—but particularly ink-stained wretches who produce the work that he comments upon—makes it nearly impossible to listen to his show.

“I could do that job on one foot,” Francesa told Newsday in 2004. “You have all day to work on your story, while I’ve gotta react 25 hours a week live. God, that’s an easy job.”

Of course, what did Francesa do throughout the interview with Pecora? Stare down at a couple newspapers as well as a packet of notes that I imagine was the Hofstra pre-game hoops release.

Francesa also told Newsday that talking to fans on the air is “…part of the job, but they need to remember that we’re the experts here.” Which, of course, explains why he appeared to have no idea Davidson star Stephen Curry was held scoreless last week against Loyola (MD).

Mike: “And the Pride [editor’s note: All would be forgiven, Mike, if you just referred to Hofstra as the Flying Dutchmen] are off to a 4-1 start. And Tom’s got himself another flashy guard in this Charles Jenkins, right? When you’ve got a college guard scoring 20 points a game, that’s a flashy guard, ‘cause you don’t get a lot of guys in college scoring 20 points. He’s averaging 23. That might not mean much to the kid down with McKillop. Other than that, that’s pretty good, 23 points a game.”
Tom: “[Curry] had zero the other night, didn't he? You heard about that game?”
Mike: “He had zero points?”
Tom: “Yeah. They played a team and the team put two guys on him and he didn’t score. But they lost by 30. So they put two guys on him.”
Mike: “Well why would you do that if you’re a coach?”
Tom: “I don’t know, I’m just telling you that’s what I heard.”
Mike: “And Bobby won by 30?”
Tom: “Yeah. He put him in the corner with the other two defenders.”
Mike: “Well, I mean, if you’re gonna do that, what…what…what…wouldn’t you, after the game, go up to the coach and say to him ‘What were you trying to prove?’”
Tom: “I don’t know, I didn’t do it, Mike." [laughs]

Eventually, after digressing into a rant about how unprepared Greg Oden is for the NBA, Francesa finally got back around to asking Pecora about, you know, college basketball in the area and his team in particular. Pecora mentioned that the Dutchmen travel so much in the CAA that they like to play metro teams during the non-conference slate.

That inspired the following:

Mike: “Your president’s gotta get—listen: He’s a shrewd guy. He got a debate in his building. He’s got a medical school opening at Hofstra. But one thing he’s gotta do is he’s gotta get his act together and realize you need to be in the Atlantic 10. You cannot be in a league where every year you’ve gotta play most of your games in Virginia and get beat up by those Virginia schools…"
Tom: *shifts in his seat, arches his eyebrows, clearly thinking of ways to turn this into inspirational fodder for the Dutchmen*
Mike: “…and get reffed out of the building by those Virginia schools and then go play the tournament in those Virginia schools. You’re never going to win there. It’s impossible. Your best Hofstra teams…"
Tom: *licks lips, looks away* “Well, anyway…” *laughs and pats Francesa on the shoulder*

Well, anyway indeed. Pecora’s best teams—the back-to-back-to-back NIT squads from 2003-06—went 10-6 against the Virginia schools in Virginia (counting the CAA tourney). Not bad for a team that just gets beat up by all those Virginia schools.

In Francesa’s defense, it took me all day to find the Hofstra basketball media guide and turn to page 138.

Mike: “Your best Hofstra teams, really good teams, never won that league.”
Tom: “No, we played in the championship once. One year, we played in the championship game, lost to Wilmington. And that was the year we got slighted by the tournament committee.

(I just included that because it’s always appropriate)

Mike: “It’s true. But it’s a very tough thing to do.”

Yeah, but I figure it just got a lot easier. Like most blusterous know-it-alls, Francesa doesn’t know nearly as much as he thinks he does. I remember the smug certainty with which he believed the Yankees would not blow a three games to none lead to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS. (Of course, in fairness to Francesa, that had never happened before) He once said Paul McCartney was a better guitarist than John Lennon. Except McCartney’s a bassist. (In other news, I write better with my left hand than Sully Ray.)

Earlier this season, Francesa dismissed the surging Tampa Bay Rays by asking those who thought the Rays were for real to come back to him in August. On Aug. 1, the Rays led the AL East by three games. On Oct. 27, the Rays lost to the Phillies in the fifth and final game of the World Series.

I remember driving around in the early part of the 1996 NFL season, when the Jets—fresh off a 3-13 season—were looking even worse in their second and final year under Rich Kotite. Someone called in and wondered what the Jets would do if they “earned” the no. 1 draft pick again.

Francesa and Russo began hollering at the guy, treating him as if he’d just said he hated puppies and kittens and the ice cream man, and Francesa boldly declared there was no way in hell that was happening and hung up on the guy. I always hoped that guy called back in January, after the Jets went on the clock with a 1-15 season, and told Francesa he had no idea what he was talking about.

So if—nay, when—Hofstra wins the CAA in March, Francesa will have Pecora on the day after the title game and he’ll a.) never mention he guaranteed the Dutchmen could not win the conference, b.) act as if he knew it would happen all along and c.) make it all about him.

“Listen, Tom, that kid you’ve got there, Jenkins…that’s the kind of star who can carry you to a championship, and that’s what he did. I was saying that to you in December. I knew it all along. You went down there and beat up those Virginia schools just like I figured you would.

“But listen, Tom, I was watching that game on ESPN and thinking about how I broadcast the game in 2000 and 2001. Your president’s a shrewd guy, he got a debate, he's got a medical school. But one thing he’s gotta do is he’s gotta get his act together and realize you need to host the conference title game…”

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.