Friday, February 6, 2009

Picking on Pecora is misguided

An angry mob descends upon Hofstra Arena in search of Tom Pecora. Oh, OK, fine, you got me. This is a file photo from the secretaries strike of 1995.

Even if you don’t spend your days fiddling with a Jim Larranaga voodoo doll (note: I’m just kidding about that, really), you’ve got a right to be bummed out, or worse, about the Flying Dutchmen’s lopsided loss at the hands of George Mason Tuesday.

It’s also perfectly fine if you grew even more disappointed by the defeat and wondered what might have been after the CAA got turned upside down Wednesday. With a win Tuesday, the Dutchmen would have been in a three-way tie for fifth place, one game behind Drexel (though the Dragons have the tiebreaker over the Dutchmen via their head-to-head sweep) and the ever-valuable final first-round bye in the CAA Tournament.

And if you’re among the vocal minority raging over Tom Pecora’s acumen, or lack thereof, hey, it’s not my cup of tea, but to further this week’s theme, leaping on the bandwagon when the team wins and buying the rights to the domain name when it loses falls under the acceptable part of being a fan.

But if you’re doing the latter because you’re angry at Pecora over the Dutchmen’s record, well, I’m wondering who you think could do better than 6-6 and 14-9 entering the home stretch.

Let’s face it: This is a flawed, oddly constructed team filled with tweeners and contradictions. The Flying Dutchmen’s seniors are experienced, but not too experienced. There’s depth in the front court, but the four post players currently in the rotation (Darren Townes, Arminas Urbutis, Dane Johnson and Greg Washington) are providing an average of just 15.6 points per game. And the leading rebounder the last nine games is 6-foot-5 Nathaniel Lester, who has 49 boards in that span.

Cornelius Vines and Tony Dennison, imported from junior college to provide some experience and shooting ability at guard, have had such a terrible time shooting that they’re now coming off the bench. Charles Jenkins is the captain and the Dutchmen’s leading scorer, but the youngest player on the team is having a crisis of confidence. Maybe it’s because he’s trying to be everything to everyone—or, as UNCW beat writer Brian Mull aptly dubs him, a power guard.

And the Dutchmen might be 4-8 and 12-11 if not for Pecora’s late-game maneuverings in consecutive wins over James Madison and UNC-Wilmington. Pecora didn’t call a time out after Madison’s Juwann James drained a pair of free throws with 12.2 seconds left to give the Dukes a 68-67 lead, which allowed Jenkins to drive coast-to-coast and hit the winning jumper against a defense that never had a chance to set itself. (Check out Jenkins’ basket, that was some freaking shot)

And when UNCW called a timeout with the game tied and 12 seconds left last Wednesday, it gave Pecora a chance to tell the Dutchmen to play for the win on the road and to draw up a play defending the Seahawks’ best player, Chad Tomko. Here’s what happened, in case you forgot.

(And that clip, by the way, gets funnier with repeated viewings. First there’s Pecora, who exhibits no emotion at all as he dashes off to shake hands with Benny Moss as if he just won a hand of hearts. Then there’s the delayed reaction of Dennison and Urbutis, who eventually join the rest of their teammates in celebrating. No one goes as ballistic as Townes, who is stomping his feet and trying to tear off his pullover. And at the end of the bench there’s Mike Davis-Saab, who seems as moved by the victory as Duke’s Thomas Hill was in 1992)

Want to blame Pecora for a senior class full of role players and a pair of JUCO transfers who sometimes look as if they’d need four hours to finish a game of H-O-R-S-E? Fine, but recruiting is an inexact, unpredictable science. Everyone’s incoming recruits walk on water. The reality two, four or five years later is considerably different.

Nobody bats 1.000. Almost everything falling perfectly into place doesn’t happen a whole lot. It did during Jay Wright’s last two years and in 2005-06. Hate to tell you, but that’s a pretty good ratio at this level. More often, imperfect players remain imperfect. And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.

That it didn’t work out for only one player in the class of ’09 (Chris Gadley transferred to Canisius) means this was a pretty good class, all things considered. Especially compared to the headache-inducing Class of ’05, which consisted of five promising players, only two of whom lasted four seasons.

Kenny Adeleke was dismissed from the program prior to his senior season, Chris McRae disappeared without a trace prior to his sophomore season and Tyler Glass never played a second for the Dutchmen. Wendell Gibson and Woody Souffrant played four years, but Gibson was suspended for the first half of his sophomore season and missed chunks of the other three years with injuries and Souffrant started just four games in his final two seasons after starting 50 games in his first two campaigns.

And everyone waxes poetic—rightfully so—over Adrian Uter, but it was Kenny Harris who was the more highly touted of the JUCO transfers entering the 2004-05 season. At least the Dutchmen got some production out of both Townes and Dane Johnson, even if it has been of the steady but unspectacular variety.

Feel free to get a jump start on wondering what could have been this season. But what it is and what it could still be with Pecora is better than what it could be without him. And at some point—probably not this season, but who knows, stranger things have happened—Pecora will have the last laugh here at Hofstra, and when it happens, you’ll swear you never doubted him for a second.

(Stop back late this afternoon or first thing Saturday morning for some links and a Towson preview)

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