Friday, November 13, 2009

It’s showtime!

Baseball has been my favorite sport since I was old enough to embed my elbows in a newspaper and memorize the standings, but I’m here today to tell you Opening Day is no longer my favorite day on the sporting calendar and that baseball is no longer the only sport that has earned the right to refer to Opening Day as a multiword proper noun.

Opening Day in baseball is more like the headline attraction at a festival concert. You’re sufficiently warned up by the time it finally takes the stage, which doesn’t diminish your enjoyment of the event, but the initial hunger for music has already been satisfied.

A baseball team has four weeks of exhibition games and, before that, two or three weeks of playing catch and taking batting practice. Even watching the latter can quench the thirst for baseball.

Opening Day in college basketball—and yes, I know what I said about referring to it as such last year—is more like waiting for your favorite band to perform a full concert. Even though your favorite team has been practicing for a month, there hasn’t been anything close to The Real Thing since the last game of last season.

The rare exhibitions (and let’s face it, Alma Mater U. vs. Marathon Oil isn’t exactly Red Sox vs. Twins) and the practices are the unfamiliar opening acts, all of whom try hard and none of whom you have any interest in seeing. Or, more accurately, they are the basketball version of the faint sounds of a distant sound check. It’s soooo close, yet so far away, and really, all the band is doing is teasing you by playing the same thing over and over and over again.

But now practice is over, and tonight’s the night your favorite band finally performs. Every hour during the day seems to last 120 minutes. You carefully determine when you should arrive at the arena, and just to be safe, you do so an hour earlier than you planned.

The final few minutes before show time—when the roadies have finished testing the instruments and the arena clock has been shut off, the sound system is no longer playing a canned soundtrack, the stage is dark and the house lights are growing ever dimmer—is the best foreplay you’ll ever find outside of a bedroom. The electricity builds by the second. With what will the band open? Will they play your favorite song ever? Will they be as crisp and cohesive as you remember them?

And then, just when the anticipation is too much to bear, when you think you can’t possibly wait another second…finally, the wait is over. With the crowd going wild, the band comes on to the darkened stage, takes their position behind the instruments—and then the first notes pour from the speakers, filling your body with an electricity that is impossible to describe but one that is worth the buildup.

The beautiful thing is this is a show you can experience 30-odd times in the next four months. Thirty-plus times in which you spend all day anticipating the two hours at night that perhaps provide an escape from the drudgery and suckery of Real Life. Or maybe those two hours are the best of the day because of the unpredictability they present, even when you think you know what the set list will be from night to night, and because they are all leading up to an encore that could be talked about for years to come.

Maybe, finally, this will be the year in which the best show opener of all-time will also be played in March. It’s the same old song sing it one two three, let’s go go go…


So many words already spilled, so little time, so let’s get right to the predictions. First the CAA: 

1. Hofstra

2. Hofstra

3. Hofstra

4. Hofstra

5. Hofstra

6. Hofstra

7. Hofstra

8. Hofstra

9. Hofstra

10. Hofstra

11. Hofstra

12. Hofstra

Coach of the Year: Tom Pecora

All-CAA First Team: Charles Jenkins, Chaz Williams, Nathaniel Lester, Greg Washington, Miklos Szabo

All-CAA Second Team: Cornelius Vines, Brad Kelleher, David Imes, Yves Jules, Halic Kanacevic

All-CAA Third Team: Matt Grogan, four more walk-ons Hofstra brings aboard out of sympathy for the rest of the overmatched CAA

NCAA Tournament: Hofstra, relegated to a no. 4 seed despite its unbeaten record when this guy once again finds a way to put the screws to the Flying Dutchmen, wins its first four tourney games by an average margin of 52 points before it destroys Texas, 120-50, in the national semis. The Dutchmen then end the season the same way they began it by routing Kansas, 134-47, in the title game to complete their 40-0 season. Afterward, Kentucky—whose second-round exit was vacated when it is discovered John Wall had someone else take his driving exam at age 17—offers Pecora $50 million to come to Lexington and replace John Calipari. But Pecora agrees to stay at Hofstra with a small raise after the school FINALLY agrees to officially change its nickname back to Flying Dutchmen.

OK, once again, I have gone overboard. I must keep reminding myself there is no changing the official nickname.

But seriously folks…for the second straight year, I am predicting a fourth-place finish in the CAA, but I won’t be surprised if the Dutchmen finish a couple spots higher, or even if they finish a couple spots lower. That might sound like me covering my backside, and I guess it is to some degree, but there’s a certain unpredictability to this team that makes it tougher than usual to project.

The Dutchmen could be really good if multiple newcomers make themselves indispensible pieces in the rotation. And they could be really good if the four non-Jenkins returnees combine with Jenkins to give Pecora a veteran and Ironman-esque rotation, a la 2006.

Conversely, the Dutchmen could struggle if one or more of the quartet of Lester, Washington, Szabo and Vines isn’t ready for full-time duty, and/or if the six incoming players have the type of growing pains most Division I rookies experience. But even if that’s the case, I don’t foresee the Dutchmen sinking into the bottom third of the conference. The eight players who departed after last season were role players who, as noted by your good friend and mine Mike Litos in the Blue Ribbon Yearbook, combined for just 24.8 points of production per game last season. So the core is here. It’s just a matter of how many players emerge to take some of the attention and pressure off Jenkins.

My guess, shockingly, is that the mixing of newcomers and veterans goes as well as Pecora could expect. The chemistry between the two sides is authentically good, probably because the Dutchmen will need both to contribute equally in order to maximize their potential. Williams, et al, are the future, but Lester, Washington, Szabo and Vines aren’t just place-holders.

Lester and Washington live up to the promise they showed at the end of last season and become the second and third options the Dutchmen so sorely need, which in turn maximizes the amount of “looks” Pecora can give an opponent. Szabo and Vines provide plenty of value as inside and outside specialists, for lack of a better term, and Williams becomes, far sooner than later, the point guard the Dutchmen have lacked—all of which means the Dutchmen finally have the type of depth we thought they had a year ago at this time.

Regardless of how the season shakes out, expect the Dutchmen to be better in February than they are in November, and for all of Dutch Nation (snort) to have reason to believe it should take the trip to Richmond the first full weekend of March. Climb aboard the bandwagon now, before it gets crowded.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

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