Saturday, January 31, 2009

In which I remember there is also a big game today

Hope you enjoyed the Speedy content. As for today's game, call it blog bias, but I like the Flying Dutchmen's chances. Lots has been made of Eric Maynor's freaking studdom and the importance of Greg Johnson against VCU's press, but the key will be all of Hofstra's big men--especially, oh, pull a name out of a hat, Darren Townes--playing will and helping to limit the damage inflicted by Larry Sanders.

This is a huge two-game period for the Dutchmen, because the final third of the conference schedule looks pretty inviting. A split or better against VCU and Mason and things could get really interesting.

See you there. I'll be the guy yelling about Speedy Claxton. Hey, somebody's got to do it.

Speedy returns to the house that he built

That's Speedy at the PFC. How's that for old-school?

Tom Pecora had no idea he was about to begin recruiting the player who would change the fortunes of Flying Dutchmen basketball—nor any idea just how massive a rebuilding job he, Jay Wright, Brett Gunning and Joe Jones were undertaking—the first time he saw Craig “Speedy” Claxton at a park in Queens in the summer of 1994.

“It was a Saturday afternoon and nobody else was there,” Pecora said Friday. “I was the only guy watching him. He was little—he was 5-5, 110 pounds, but playing, competing harder than anyone I’d ever seen. The following Saturday, me, Jay and Joe went, the three of us, and everybody’s like ‘What are you doing here?’ and we were there to see him. And that’s when we started recruiting him.”

Fifteen years later, a whole lot of people will be there to see Claxton today, when his number 10 is retired prior to the noon game against VCU. That the Dutchmen are playing a mid-major power that Claxton never opposed is appropriate, because landing Claxton was the most pivotal domino in the series of events that turned Hofstra from a program on the brink of extinction into a perennial contender in one of the best mid-major conferences in the land.

“He put us back on the map,” Pecora said. “We say, half-kidding, the house that Claxton built, talking about this arena. But he got us all the exposure and he got this place revved up. When you look at every coach’s career—[for] Jay, obviously, it was Speedy, for me, it was probably Loren [Stokes]—you have those players that put you on the map.

“Speedy did that for an entire university. This place was bonkers.”

So, too, was the end of the recruitment process. The Dutchmen had no trouble landing an early verbal commitment from Claxton, but an outstanding senior season for a legendary Christ The King squad (the other starters all played Division I ball: Lamar Odom, Erick Barkley, Ira Miller and Kamal McQueen) piqued the interests of multiple programs from major conferences.

“He was kind of the afterthought, he was the fifth guy going into his senior year,” Pecora said. “People were coming in to look at those other guys and I remember [Rick] Pitino saying ‘Hey, I saw the kid that committed to you guys. He could play on any level.’ And then at the end of the year I remember Georgia Tech and Villanova and St. John’s and Missouri and some other schools came in hard on him.

“And he stayed true to his word, he said ‘No, I committed to Hofstra, I’m going to Hofstra.’ And obviously that speaks volumes for the kind of person he is.”

Claxton’s ball-handling and defensive skills were already top-notch when he arrived at Hofstra—he is the program’s all-time leader in assists (660) and steals (288)—but he looked nothing like the all-around weapon who would eventually score 2,015 points, the fourth-best total in school history.

Claxton shot 43.2 percent from the field as a freshman but 46.8 percent for his career. He was just 14-of-68 from beyond the arc in his first three seasons—as a sophomore, he won the America East player of the year award despite making just two of his 11 shots—but made 51 of his 134 3-pointers as a senior.

He also established the template for the players Pecora would continue to recruit once he succeeded Wright as head coach following the 2000-01 season: Overlooked, eminently coachable players with inexhaustible work ethics who led by example.

“When he got here, man, he couldn’t make a jumper,” Pecora said. “[He] just worked and worked and worked and worked. His work habits were tremendous and that’s how he got better. No secret there. That’s usually the way it is with great players. Why are they so good? Well, you know what, they bust their ass to be good.”

During his junior season, Claxton said he thought his career at Hofstra would be measured by whether or not he led the Dutchmen to the NCAA Tournament. The Dutchmen seemed primed to make a serious run at the America East title after finishing third during the regular season in 1998-99, but a deep thigh bruise limited Claxton to 11 minutes in the tournament and Hofstra fell to Drexel in the semifinals.

“I think if I don’t win a championship, I’ll probably be just another guy that walked through here and was a good player,” Claxton said. “But I think if I win a championship I’ll be remembered for a long time.”

Claxton played his senior season as if driven by the disappointing ending to his junior year and as if his legacy was at stake. He averaged 22.8 points per game—nearly 10 points more per game than his average a year earlier and the highest average by a Dutchman since Rich Laurel in 1976-77—and set career highs in rebounds (168) and steals (102) while averaging six assists per game.

Claxton not only led the Dutchmen to the NCAA Tournament—a 16-2 regular season earned Hofstra the no. 1 seed and the right to host the conference title game, which it won 76-69 over Delaware—for the first time in 23 years but also turned himself into Hofstra’s second-ever first-round NBA draft pick.

The Philadelphia 76ers selected Claxton 20th overall in 2000 to begin an NBA career that has been alternately lucrative and frustrating. Claxton missed the 2000-01 season after tearing the MCL in his left knee but won a championship ring as a backup with the San Antonio Spurs in 2002-03. After two solid seasons split between the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Hornets, Claxton signed a four-year, $25 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks but has played in just 42 games—and none since March 3, 2007—due to hand, knee and hamstring injuries.

Even if Claxton never suits up for another NBA game, Pecora figures he’s already had an enviable career—especially compared to the Christ The King teammates who landed at bigger, more established schools.

“He made the right decision—look at the rest of them,” Pecora said. “Kamal went to St. Peter’s and he had a decent career. Ira went to Louisiana Tech. Poor Erick went to St. John’s and it never really played out for him. And Lamar had a pretty crazy college career—Vegas and Rhode Island and all that. So when you look at who had the best collegiate experience and who went on and had the best professional experience—I mean, Lamar’s had a great career, but Speedy’s got a ring, you know?”

Pecora said he’d love to someday welcome Claxton—who is building a house in Old Westbury—back to Hofstra as a member of his coaching staff. Today, though, Pecora will be looking back and thinking of the first time he saw Claxton—and the first time he realized how badly the Flying Dutchmen needed a player like him.

“The first game we played in the PFC when we got here to Hofstra, there were 174 people there,” Pecora said. “I was an assistant and I counted. And I remember saying ‘What did we get ourselves into?’

“And then it was packed for his last game and people were hanging from the rafters.”

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tom Pecora's five favorite Speedy Claxton moments

The steal at half court against Maine is the first one that comes to mind.

I remember sitting on the bench at one point and I don’t remember who we were playing—might have been in a Drexel game—and he was defending the ball at the top of the circle and the pass went to the corner and we ran the pass and doubled the ball. He stole the ball, started dribbling it up, kicked it ahead, got it back and dunked it. And I turned to Brett Gunning, who was on the bench with me and is now with the Houston Rockets—I turned to Brett and Joe Jones and said ‘That’s why that kid is [expletive] great.’ I think we had just gotten in here, we played in here the end of his senior year. I think it was in here [Feb. 15, 2000].

The night he had 39 against Iona. That was the last game in the PFC. I remembered the first game we played in the PFC, when we got here to Hofstra, there were 174 people there. I was an assistant and I counted. And I remember saying ‘What did we get ourselves into?’ And then it was packed for his last game and people were hanging from the rafters.

Duane Posey missed a jumper against Delaware and [Claxton] tipped it in for the win at the PFC at the buzzer.

I remember a game at Hartford. They had a big 6-8, 6-9 kid and we ran a baseline OB, Just sort of lobbed it to Speedy and he dunked it over a 6-10 guy.

That’s half a dozen [or so] off the top of my head.

The steal, I think that was in the game to get us [to host] the championship. Might have been the first sellout in here and he stole the ball from a good player, Andy Bedard, who was a transfer from Boston College [and] was a helluva player. Andy Bedard and Nate Fox, two kids who transferred from BC and went to Maine that year.

From the home office in Vander Poel Hall: The top 10 moments for no. 10

Speedy, Uma. Uma, Speedy.

Very sorry for the delay in posting today’s Speedy Claxton content, turns out you could have done a lot more than just head to the lobby and get yourself some snacks. Guns-n-Roses have come out with albums quicker than this.

Anyway, it was a crazy day at DDHQ and we humbly apologize for posting this so late.
Here are the top 10 Speedy moments, as determined by the DD staff (i.e. Sully Ray, the wife and myself). Coming later tonight: Tom Pecora’s most memorable Speedy moments as well as a Speedy retrospective.

1.) Signing with Hofstra, April 18, 1996: Obviously, without this, nothing else ever happens.

2.) Winning the America East championship game, March 11, 2000: Four years after the big-time schools tried luring him away from his commitment to Hofstra by promising the national stage, Claxton got his shot on ESPN and scored 24 points and added eight assists in leading the Dutchmen past Delaware, 76-69, and into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1977. Claxton didn’t need an NCAA tournament berth to validate his impact on Hofstra, but going dancing was the perfect exclamation point. The one thing I remember most from re-watching the game on TV (and every March since): The usually expressionless Claxton pumping his fist and screaming as Rick Apodaca throws an arm over his shoulder as Claxton goes to the line to hit a couple free throws to ice the game. We forget just how stressful that game was—Delaware led by eight with 14 minutes left.

3.) Dunking the game-winner as time expired to beat Delaware, Jan. 19, 1999: I think Claxton came in off the wing to dunk a miss by Duane Posey (that’s from Tom Pecora). Holy crap. Best regular season ending, up to that point, ever. The PFC went absolutely ballistic. Some people even spilled on to the court to mob Claxton.

4.) Beating Maine to clinch the America East regular season championship, Feb. 20, 2000: We sat high up in section 110 or 111 for Senior Day, during which the Dutchmen were down 64-58 but scored the final nine points—five by Claxton, who finished with 32 points—to stun the Black Bears. I remember how the place filled with a noise I never thought I’d hear at Hofstra as the P.A. announcer, uhh, announced the Dutchmen had clinched the no. 1 seed and the right to host the title game if they got that far. Check out Pecora’s recollections for more on how Claxton took over the game in the waning minutes.

5.) Closing out the PFC with a career-high 39 points against Iona, Dec. 18, 1999: Claxton gives a sign of things to come during a dramatic and brilliant senior season with the first of his seven 30-point efforts in his brilliant senior season. Claxton finished one point shy of tying Rich Laurel’s PFC record, set in 1976-77.

6.) Scores at least 29 points in six straight games, Jan. 4-21, 2000: Symbolized a senior season in which Claxton carried a Dutchmen team that had no margin for error in the America East (they finished 16-2, one game ahead of Maine) and scored 706 points—more than half his career total (1,309) entering the season. He ended the stretch with consecutive 40-point games against Hartford and Maine.

7.) Scores 20 points in an 86-66 loss to Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament, March 17, 2000. There would be no Cinderella march through the Tournament for Claxton, who battled through an early injury, or the Dutchmen, who were buried early by Desmond Mason and the Cowboys. But Claxton still displayed his trademark toughness in tying Norman Richardson for the team lead in points and racking up a team-high seven assists in his Hofstra finale.

8.) Opens his Hofstra career by nearly racking up a double-double against Stony Brook (13 points, nine rebounds) before scoring 22 points in a 55-54 win over Florida International and 28 points in a 64-61 win over Florida Atlantic. That’s right: He scored 50 of the Dutchmen’s 119 points in a two-game span. Not bad for a freshman.

9.) DNP against Rutgers in a 58-45 loss in the first round of the NIT, March 10, 1999: How can a game in which Claxton didn’t play rank as one of his ten most memorable moments? Because without the possibility of Claxton—who was battling a thigh injury that limited him to 11 minutes in two America East tourney games—suiting up, the NIT never takes Hofstra over Drexel, which shared the America East regular season crown with Delaware, lost to the Blue Hens in the title game and went 2-1 against the Dutchmen during the season.

10.) Sets a career-high with 33 points and adds 10 assists in a 90-79 win over Hartford in the 1998 America East quarterfinals. It was the first time the Dutchmen had won a tourney game, other than an outbracket contest, under Jay Wright. Who knows what could have happened if the Dutchmen didn’t have to play host Delaware in the semis?

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Today's coming attractions

You have some time to go to the lobby and get yourself some snacks.

Just a quick, friendly note to ask you to stop by later today for all the Speedy Claxton coverage you can possibly handle, and then some. We'll do our best David Letterman impersonation as well as unveil an interesting (I hope) feature about the Claxton years. Over and out.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hofstra 80, UNC-Wilmington 78 (Or: I don’t believe what I just saw)

Sure, he hit one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history. But did Kirk Gibson ever pluck an air ball out of the, uhh, air and lay it up and in to win a game at the buzzer?

Hope you listened to Litos (or, more accurately, read and absorbed his words) Monday when he wrote the following: “The JMU/Hofstra game is exactly why you pay for the video feed of CAA games.”

Dude is clairvoyant. I shall now call him Dion Warwick. His gifts are being wasted on us. He should be penning predictions for the National Enquirer. I miss those predictions of my youth. Some buffoon whose claim to fame in 1984 was predicting re-election for Ronald Reagan predicting silly crap for 1985 like “Michael Jackson will announce he’s retiring from music, only to return in December as the lead singer of Motley Crue, which will record the soundtrack to Breakin’ 3: Heavy Metal Boogaloo.”

Anyway, if you didn’t pay the $4.95 for UNC-Wilmington’s webcast last night, your loss. (Oh, and a little birdie tells me that the Hofstra website will soon undergo an overhaul that will allow it to offer webcasts. I’m going to believe that my words yesterday inspired the school to take action. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)

I like to think I’ll be able to do justice to how the Flying Dutchmen turned a potentially gut-wrenching defeat into a holy crap moment and an 80-78 victory. But really…you should have been there, watching a webcast—good quality as far as those things go, but still nowhere near as crisp as watching it in HD, or even on our plain ol’ TV—whose inherent fuzziness added an additional surreal, is-this-really-happening vibe to the festivities.

As UNCW prepared to inbound the ball with 13 seconds left in a tie game, you should have been sitting there, in my dad’s recliner in an otherwise silent house, thinking to yourself how often you’ve wished for a steal in a situation like this and how rarely it happens.

Then you should have seen the Dutchmen swarm Chad “much better than my distant relative Brett” Tomko as time ticked away. Cornelius Vines and Nathaniel Lester surrounding Tomko near the left sideline, no timeouts for the Seahawks, nowhere to go for Tomko…maybe this could happen.

And then it did. Someone—Tony Dennison—swipes the ball and begins streaking towards the opposite basket. With no clock visible on the webcast and no idea how much time was left—what is this, soccer?—you should have been there, imploring Dennison to shoot. But then it looked like he slipped—or did he collide with Tomko? That’s right, the final sequence was so wild even those who had a crystal clear view of things had different views of what happened—and there’s Dennison sitting, a la me right now, and desperately chucking the ball towards the basket.

Air ball. But then there’s a shadowy figure, Arminas Urbutis, appearing out of nowhere, jumping up and putting the ball in and then…buzzer. Holy crap. Eat your heart out, Aurimas Kieza! It was as if this dude’s steal and this dude’s shot and these dudes' shots got together and had a baby.

Even without the dramatic finish (alas, being on a webcast wasn’t enough to land this on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays of the night), you missed one of the most enjoyable and, perhaps, pivotal games of the season. The biggest lead of the game was six (by the Dutchmen midway through the second half) and there were 13 ties and 24 lead changes. The Dutchmen didn’t so much play down to the competition as the Seahawks played up to it. UNCW will be a pretty good team’s nightmare matchup on the first Friday of March.

UNCW, which is only the seventh team this season to exceed 70 points against the Dutchmen, was so pesky Wednesday that Tom Pecora said he ordered his players to be aggressive on the final possession because he feared the Seahawks would win in overtime. That would have been the fourth straight season these teams have played an overtime game…maybe it’ll happen in 30 days. (For a more extensive take on the game, check out this excellent blog entry from UNCW beat writer Brian Mull)

A loss would have looked bad on the resume because a team that harbors hopes of playing deep into the first weekend of March—and beyond—can’t lose to a team seemingly doomed to finish among the bottom quarter of the conference. But the worst part about a loss Wednesday would have been the lack of a tangible reward for an encouraging performance.

It’s unlikely the 80 points—the third-most scored this season by the Dutchmen and only the second time they’ve hit or exceeded 80 points in a victory—are a sign of things to come. After all, everyone scores (must…resist…urge…to…make…cheap…pop…culture…joke) against the Seahawks.

But even with that caveat, there were plenty of positive developments on offense Wednesday. Even though the Seahawks shut him down for the final 12 minutes—during which he made just one of four shots from the field and scored three points—Charles Jenkins had the monster game most of us have been waiting for since the middle of December. Jenkins drained a career-best four 3-pointers in the first half on his way to a career-high 33 points. He also tied a career-high with a team-best three blocks and added five rebounds.

For the third straight game, Dennison stepped up in place of Jenkins in the middle of the second half. Dennison had no points when Jenkins went to the bench with three fouls with 12:10 left, but he scored the Dutchmen’s next six points and finished with 10 points. Dennison has scored 38 points in the last four games—37 in the second half.

Lester made me look almost as prescient as Litos by scoring a season-high 18 points, tying a season-high with three steals and playing 30 minutes without a turnover.

And the winning basket was an appropriate reward for Urbutis, who had a brilliant second half and seems to be emerging as the player most likely to have a Roberto Gittens-esque impact late in his senior season. The undersized Seahawks hustled their way to a 16-12 rebounding advantage in the first half, but Urbutis pulled down nine of his team-high 10 boards in the second half and the Dutchmen ended up outrebounding UNCW 36-31.

The victory was additionally valuable because it allowed the Dutchmen to maintain their grip on fifth place in the CAA. Those who are much better at math than me and compile the various RPIs are very likely skeptical of the Dutchmen’s solid standing, figuring they aren’t as good as their record because their uncannily good record in close games—9-1 now in contests decided by five points or less, and really, they should have beaten Iona to make it 10-0—means the good luck is going to turn sour at some point.

But the more games the Dutchmen win like this—and Wednesday marked the fifth time this year the Dutchmen have won a game in which they trailed in the final minute—the less it is about luck. It’s about toughness—a toughness Hofstra has displayed in the macro sense as well by going 4-0 against the spectrum of the CAA since what could have been a season-ruining rout at the hands of Drexel 15 days ago.

That toughness will come in handy Saturday, when pre-season favorite VCU arrives at the Arena. I’m no psychic, I’ve got a pretty good feeling you’ll get some legitimate bang for your buck if you show up Saturday. At the least, you owe it to Speedy Claxton in his return to The House That He Built. More on that tomorrow.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tom Pecora is glad you have to go back to school today

Tom Pecora's Triple Lindy: Getting the start of the spring semester pushed up a few weeks.

The spring semester starts today at Hofstra, so won’t you join me in pouring an overpriced can of Dutch Treats Coke on the sidewalk in memory of the good ol’ days, when classes began the day after the Super Bowl instead of the day after Media Day.

Of all the perks that came with attending Hofstra, few topped the concept of being able to attend a Super Bowl party with absolutely zero worries about the homework I wasn’t going to do once I got back to my dorm room.

True story: Sully Ray and I met at a Super Bowl XXVIII party (it was the one where the Bills lost) hosted in Wantagh by Loyal Reader Rob. Alas, I was still in my shy and unsure of myself at Hofstra stage and Sully Ray was still in his mute phase (he hasn’t always been a cocky, ruthless, T-shirt stealing bastard…I think Corporate America ruined him), so we didn’t say a word to each other until the following September, when he joined the newspaper.

For Super Bowl XXIX (it was the one where the 49ers won), my future wife and I watched the game in my dorm room with my future best man and my wife’s future bridesmaid. (The coupling of the future best man and future bridesmaid, alas, was doomed and they did not get married. To each other, anyway)

For Super Bowl XXX (it was the one where future Netherlands resident Neil O’Donnell forgot that he wasn’t supposed to throw the ball to the guys with the stars on their helmets), I hung out on my floor at Vander Poel with a bunch of neighbors several years younger than me and began to realize I was feeling a lot like the guy who stuck around the party a little too long...and feeling not at all like David Wooderson.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Blame the NFL, which just has to start the season after Labor Day and just has to have two weeks of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing at all in between the conference championships and Super Bowl, which in turn means it just has to play the Super Bowl in February, for Hofstra no longer starting the spring semester after the Super Bowl. Too bad. You kids today with your wireless campus and multiple chain restaurants on campus and your presidential debate have no idea how good we had it. Ha ha.

Anyway, I know one person who would be perfectly content if classes began right after the final weekend of the NFL regular season. And Tom Pecora, who has wanted this day to arrive for weeks, is sitting in a Wilmington hotel room this morning, marveling at the irony of having to play a game more than 600 miles south of Hofstra the day classes finally begin.

I loved the extended Intersession break, but I can’t blame Pecora for loathing it and believing it makes it all but impossible to create any momentum with the student body. The Flying Dutchmen played just three home games—none against CAA opponents—prior to Intersession and have only five home games left. Not a whole lot of time to get and keep involved the notoriously apathetic students.

“I’ll tell you what, man, it kills us, it really does,” Pecora said earlier this month. “When you think about it, the number of home games we have with students here—it’s a great place to be a professor. I’m the only one without a tan when we come back to classes.”

There won’t be a chance to get a tan this week, even if Pecora and the Dutchmen have been near the beach the last couple days, but a win over UNC-Wilmington—described quite accurately by Litos as the closest thing the CAA has to a Homecoming opponent—would help lure more students to the Saturday showdown against VCU.

(I will take this opportunity to channel my inner Dr. Elliott Reed and mention that Northeastern forced everyone to pay attention by beating VCU last night. Only caught the last few minutes on the VCU site, but what a marvelous game and what a great advertisement for the quality of play in the CAA. Northeastern’s win is both good news and bad news for the Dutchmen. Good since they are the only team to beat my first-place Huskies, bad since the Rams will be ornery Saturday. I now return you to my regularly scheduled blog)

This is as much of a must-win as William & Mary was a week ago. The Seahawks, who have lost six conference games by at least 20 points, are the perfect tonic for any ailing offense and as misplaced in the defensive-minded CAA as Amy Winehouse in a R.A.D. campaign. The undersized Seahawks—one player stands taller than 6-foot-6; the Dutchmen can field an entire lineup that tall—are forced to press most of the time and have allowed a Division I-worst 88.1 points per game.

The Flying Dutchmen, who haven’t exceeded 69 points in their last 10 games and haven’t scored 70 points in a win since the CAA opener against Towson a mere 14 games ago, should get to 70 by accident. Expect Charles Jenkins to put together his most complete game since classes were last in session and for Cornelius Vines to approach 20 points as well, but the pick to click is Nathaniel Lester, who sparked Saturday’s comeback when he moved to small forward and is versatile enough to beat the Seahawks in multiple ways.

I think you can check out a webcast here, though it looks like you have to buy the monthly subscription to see this game, a la James Madison. (Tune in later this week, maybe even tomorrow, as I wonder why just about everyone in the CAA offers webcasts except Hofstra). No matter how I watch or listen to the game, I’ll do my best not to get nostalgic and fall into that nasty old first-day-of-class habit of dropping a class.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In which I take a break from ranting about Hofstra to declare that nobody respects Northeastern

You'd be mad too if nobody respected you and your 8-1 conference record.

I’m going to interrupt my usual Hofstra bleatings to declare that I think Northeastern is getting the shaft. Not because they’re a six-point underdog tonight at VCU in the latest Clash of the Titans, or because Litos picks VCU to win by six. VCU should be favored and should be expected to win tonight at home, where Litos notes the Rams are 9-0 this season and 72-11 all-time against the CAA.

But why is Northeastern so clearly considered the third team amongst the trio atop the CAA standings?

According to this week’s notes package from the CAA, Northeastern is ranked 59th in the latest Collegiate Basketball Report RPI, behind both Mason (53rd) and VCU (55th). OK, that’s basically a dead heat. But Ken Pomeroy has the Huskies 84th, well behind VCU (54th) and Mason (75th). That’s despite an OOC Pomeroy ranks 40th in the nation, second-toughest in the CAA behind Drexel (37th) and well ahead of VCU (74th) and Mason (190th)

Most amazingly, the Collegeinsider.com mid-major top 25 poll has the Huskies 18th, behind VCU (sixth) and Mason (ninth). Psst. You guys know Northeastern just beat Mason, right?

Not only that, but Northeastern is beating its CAA opponents more decisively than Mason. The Huskies’ eight conference wins have been by an average of 13.75 points, more than a point-and-a-half better than Mason (12.29 points). In fact, Drexel’s average margin of victory in conference (12.5 points) is better than Mason’s.

So why does Northeastern get no respect? Maybe it’s the familiar bias against former America East schools and/or schools not inside the Beltway. Maybe the Huskies get no love because they play in a hockey arena, or because they play in a hockey arena that prominently mentions it was the original home of the Boston Celtics, or because they play in a hockey arena that looks like a theatre from the outside and has a concession stand straight out of a K-Mart: Pizza and soda and hot dogs. Going there almost had me waxing nostalgic about the summer of 1990, when I spent my weekends at K-Mart stocking shelves, chasing down carts, misplacing my name badge and getting yelled at by my beaten-down-by-life managers. Good times.

More importantly, why did I decide to take up Northeastern’s cause and adopt them as the unofficial second-favorite team of Defiantly Dutch? (That’s lame, but not quite as lame as a New Yorker whose two favorite baseball teams are the Yankees and Mets. One or the other, wafflers. One or the other)

Maybe it’s because I saw Northeastern at its complete best during a 73-50 thrashing of the Dutchmen Jan. 5. Maybe it’s stemming from when I was a junior in high school and determined I wanted to go to Northeastern, until I took another look at my report card and had a good laugh with my folks. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m so fond of Boston. Or maybe I’m just like Sully Ray and I think they have sharp uniforms.

Anyway, tonight’s the night for the rest of the world to learn how good Northeastern really is. The Huskies are beating the Rams tonight to take sole possession of first place and earn the title of Team Most Likely To Lose To The Dutchmen In The CAA Championship Game. Believers, climb aboard.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hofstra 69, James Madison 68 (Or: Back For The Attack)

And you thought Dokken and mullets were no longer relevant.

To see the Flying Dutchmen residing above .500 in the CAA at the halfway point of the conference season following a dramatic 69-68 win over James Madison is to, once again, remind me of my academic career.

I remember strutting into the living room (OK, fine, it was physically impossible for me to strut…it was 1988 and I was sporting a mullet, my face was dotted with acne and I wore a jean jacket with a Dokken patch along the bottom of it, are you satisfied?!) with a decent report card, expecting Mom and Dad to genuflect at my all-around awesomeness. Instead, any complements I received were of the “yeah, but…” variety, as in yeah, but imagine how well I could have done had I not waited until halfway through the marking period to begin paying attention.

Such tempered praise was a reminder that earning a passing grade by pulling multiple all-nighters and acing two or three consecutive tests to end the marking period doesn’t mean your work is done, or that Mom, Dad and your teacher forgot about the poor performances that necessitated the progress report that spelled out, in gory detail, just how badly Junior was on pace to fail.

And let’s be honest: The progress report 11 days ago—after the wire-to-wire loss to Drexel 13 days ago dropped the Dutchmen to 2-4 in the conference—was not good at all. With red-hot Northeastern, struggling William & Mary and surprising James Madison next on the docket, 3-6 appeared to be the best-case scenario.

So yeah, being 5-4 and holding down the fifth seed is fantastic in a disaster-is-averted sort of way. But it’s not good enough for Tom Pecora, who preached patience when the Dutchmen were skidding but is expressing little, if any satisfaction now that the season has been saved.

As he said following the win over William & Mary last Wednesday, Pecora thinks the Dutchmen are a lot better than their current record, even if it took a great deal of effort to get to this point. (I’m going to assume Pecora’s reliance on teaching/parenting analogies just means we’re both traveling the same genius wavelength).

Along those same lines, I imagine he’s not doing cartwheels over the apparent return of Charles Jenkins, who scored 23 points and capped the evening by doing his best Danny Ainge impersonation (hey Litos, check out the bumper music there) when he drove from end to end and hit a beautiful, don’t-try-this-at-home jumper in the lane with 1.9 seconds left to give the Dutchmen the win.

It was the second straight Saturday in which Jenkins scored 23 points. But Pecora still expressed caution over Jenkins when he was asked during last Monday’s CAA teleconference if the sophomore was back to his old self.

“Time will tell,” Pecora said. “Down at Drexel, he only had 10 shot attempts. We were really upset with that. We expect him to get shots up and we expect him to stay aggressive offensively…he came out and played more aggressive offensively and we hope he continues to do that.

“I’m not quite ready to jump on the bandwagon yet. We’re cynical when it comes to these things. It’s going to take some time to prove it to me.”

Pecora’s skepticism proved to be well-warranted. Jenkins took just 11 shots against William & Mary, though he missed a handful of minutes late in the second half with a leg cramp, and started slowly against both Northeastern and James Madison. The similarities in the 23-point contests are uncanny: Against Northeastern, Jenkins was 3-of-9 in the first half and 5-of-7 in the second half. And against James Madison, he was 4-of-11 in the first half and 5-of-8 in the second half.

That’s not to say Saturday was bereft of unequivocally encouraging developments. A team doesn’t improve to 8-1 in games decided by five or fewer points without having an intestinal fortitude that is as impressive as it is innate. This narrow win might have been the most impressive one yet. On the road against one of the league’s hottest teams, the Dutchmen trailed for all but a few seconds of the first 30 minutes yet still managed to pull out the type of victory that might be looked back upon as a turning point.

And while Pecora might not be thrilled with the way the season is going, the Dutchmen cannot doubt the faith he has in them. Tony Dennison was just 3-of-14 from the field, but for the third straight game, he got hot during a pivotal second half stretch: He was 3-of-7 and scored eight of his nine points during a stretch of more than seven minutes in which the Dutchmen outscored the Dukes 22-12 to turn an eight-point deficit into a two-point lead.

Pecora has been demanding of Nathaniel Lester, but Lester scored a season-high 11 points and led the Dutchmen with seven rebounds—the third time in nine games Lester has at least tied for the team lead in rebounds. In addition, Lester’s shift to small forward coincided with the second half comeback.

And as for the decision not to call time out after James Madison’s Juwann James hit the second of two free throws and to allow Jenkins to travel the length of the court in an all-or-nothing move? It elicited one of the best quotes of this or any other season: “Who’s going to criticize me?” Pecora told Newsday. “People who don’t do this for a living and sportswriters. I’m undefeated in games that I watch on TV, too. We know the character of our players.”

The Dutchmen are hot and Pecora is hot under the collar. Watch out.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

3-for-1!

What a deal this is for you! Or is it?

Interesting article from The Boston Globe earlier this week about the fuzzy math stores use to lure shoppers into buying bargains that may or may not actually be bargains. Why do I bring this up? Because this 3-for-1 deal really isn’t a deal at all for you. I didn’t post Thursday or Friday and so today I’m combining everything—a William & Mary recap, a James Madison preview and whatever else I usually do on a Friday—into one post and using some cynical marketing ploy to get you thinking that you’re the beneficiary. What a deal!

Anyway, sorry for the lack of a post following the win over the Tribe. Turns out Sully Ray had to do something much more important than pinch-blog or watch Lost—pinch-babysit—so there was no Defiantly Dutch representation at the Arena. Apparently, that was a good thing, as the Dutchmen are now 1-0 when none of us are in the building.

Tom Pecora continues to get plenty of mileage out of essaying the furious father. Tony Dennison, who lost his starting job and played just 26 minutes in the first four games of the month, played at least 20 minutes for the third straight contest Wednesday and scored eight straight points during a 76-second span in the second half—all with Charles Jenkins on the bench due to a leg cramp—to expand a two-point lead to 10 points. That’s as many or more points as he’s had in 10 games this season.

Of course, outside of that burst, Dennison was 0-for-7 from the field, another indication that his season-long shooting woes aren’t quite solved. But hey, it’s a start.

And Cornelius Vines, who was yanked from the starting lineup for the first time this season against Northeastern and didn’t play at all in the second half following some poor shot selection, scored all 15 of his points in the second half—or, as noted Vines fan Litos notes, as many points as the Dutchmen had in the entire first half combined.

It was an encouraging win for Pecora, who, as the Daily News’ Sean Brennan notes here, has long envisioned Jenkins, Dennison and Vines forming a dominant offensive unit. But Wednesday was only the third time this season all three players have scored in double figures in the same game. Not surprisingly, the Dutchmen are 3-0 in those contests.

It’ll be interesting to see if Vines’ second half performance is enough to get him back in Pecora’s ever-morphing starting lineup. Ten players have made at least two starts this season for the Dutchmen (everyone except Mike Davis-Saab, Zygis Sestakos and David Vallins), one shy of the Pecora-era record set in 2003, when Rick Apodaca and Wendell Gibson were suspended half the season. Three years ago, only six players made multiple starts for the Dutchmen.

The Dutchmen hit the midway point of the CAA schedule tonight (time flies) against surprising James Madison, which has emerged as a legitimate contender under first-year coach Matt Brady (otherwise known as the current CAA coach most likely to enjoy a Jay Wright-esque arc). Check out the Litos preview here. This isn’t quite the must-win that Wednesday was, but a road victory over an upstart and a 5-4 record would be a nice way to keep building on momentum heading into the make-hay part of the schedule.

And lastly, I offer you a link. I learned during four years in Boston that Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan was about the only sportswriter universally liked by the region’s notoriously hard-to-satisfy sports fans (you can read more about that dynamic later this year…are you intrigued? You should be).

Here’s why. Ryan’s column on the random awesomeness of Boston University’s 99-97, four-overtime win over Stony Brook last Monday should be required reading for anyone insane enough to want to do this for a living.

The easy thing to do is to marvel at the box score and write a few hundred vaguely condescending words about what a cool game was played by two low-level D-I teams in front of just about nobody. It takes equal parts talent and humility to produce a piece like this. Ryan is on your TV set just about every day and spends most of his nights covering the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots, yet it’s not beneath him to do the grunt work necessary to convey how memorable the BU-SBU game was—nor to make it clear he wishes he’d been there. It’s nice to see a newspaper postpone its self-inflicted death march and ditch the belief that readers can only handle USA Today-sized stories long enough to actually produce something like this.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bits and Bytes: Post-Inauguration Day Edition

Why wasn't the Inauguration held at Hofstra? "Washington D.C. hates deviation." What does Tom Pecora want for his birthday? "Total domination."

To the surprise of no one, Hofstra was left out in the cold (Ha! Get it? Cold?) in the Inauguration Day festivities. This is the thanks Hofstra gets for inspiring every American under the age of 160 to vote? This is the thanks Hofstra gets for loaning the magic of the Arena to Barack Obama?

Think about it: Hofstra was awarded the third and final presidential debate on Nov. 19, 2007. Since then, the Flying Dutchmen basketball team is 13-7 at home—a pretty good winning percentage of .650, but not as good as the pace the program set over the first seven-plus seasons of the building, when it went 70-21 (.769).

The Inaugural parade should have traveled the length of Hempstead Turnpike. Concerts should be headlined by Long Island’s finest musical acts, such as Billy Joel, Debbie Gibson, Twisted Sister and Marcy Playground.

Inaugural Balls should have taken place all over the campus: Hofstra USA…the Arena…the PFC…John Adams Playhouse…the lounge at Vander Poel Hall. Meals should have been catered by Dutch Treats. President Rabinowitz should have magnanimously offered his tickets to a student. Obama should have made his Inaugural address from the parking lot of Nassau Coliseum, soon to host nothing more than the occasional monster truck pull.

Oh well. Overlooked again. Maybe in 2012.

Other bits and bytes culled over the last couple days:

—Lots has been made about the strength, or lack thereof, of the Flying Dutchmen’s OOC, but if you’re thinking the conference schedule has been challenging, you’re not the only one. Entering this week, the Dutchmen have played the second-toughest schedule in the CAA, just behind Towson. Here’s the list, with the composite conference record of the school’s opponents in parenthesis:

Towson (31-18)
Hofstra (30-19)
William & Mary (29-20)
Drexel (27-22)
UNC-Wilmington (27-22)
Old Dominion (26-23)
Georgia State (26-23)
James Madison (24-25)
Delaware (22-27)
Northeastern (18-31)
George Mason (18-31)
VCU (16-33)

In addition, the Dutchmen are the only team to play two teams twice this month—and Northeastern and Drexel haven’t exactly been pushovers.

Of course, a quick look at the above numbers points out that the top three teams in the conference have played the weakest conference schedule while six of the seven sub-.500 teams have played a composite schedule that is above .500. So that raises the questions: Have the Hofstras of the world been battered by tough schedules, or are they just not that good? And have the VCUs, Northeasterns and Masons of the world fattened up on easy schedules, or are they just that good?

Along those lines, the most impressive team in the conference just might be Drexel, which entered the week both in a tie for fourth overall and in a tie for the fourth-toughest conference schedule. And the team that has performed least impressively just might be Delaware, which entered the week both in ninth place overall and the owner of the ninth-toughest (or, conversely, fourth-easiest) conference schedule. Isn’t it ironic that Drexel beat Delaware last night?

As for answering the questions of what the schedules mean, you know what our hunch is going to be, at least for Hofstra. And keep this in mind: The opponents in the Dutchmen’s next seven games have a composite conference record of 24-25—and that record is considerably boosted by the presence of VCU and Mason. The other five opponents (William & Mary, James Madison, UNC-Wilmington Old Dominion and Towson) are 11-24. So there appears to be plenty of opportunity to get back on track.

—The first game in that stretch occurs tonight, when the Dutchmen host William & Mary and its appropriately named head coach Tony Shaver, who continues to break Litos’ heart by not growing back The Stache. The Tribe, a perennial league doormat, made a surprising run to the CAA title game last year but have struggled this year.

It’s been a hectic few days so I have no real game preview to offer, but I’ll go away from Litos’ advice and skip flipping a coin in favor of just picking the Dutchmen to win. Coaches hate the term “must-win” anytime before the CAA tournament, but when you’re fresh off a win over a previously unbeaten team and you’ve got the cellar dwellers coming in…it’s a must-win.

It’ll also be interesting to see (or hear, or read) who starts for the Dutchmen. Pecora said during the teleconference Monday that he’ll decide the lineup based on who practices the best. That’s quite a departure for a team whose lineups in previous seasons have been predictable as the sunrise and sunset. I’ll have more on then vs. now in the next few days.

We won’t be there tonight, but Sully Ray may pinch-blog again in between eating hot dogs and catching T-shirts…as long as he doesn’t have to be home by 9 for Lost. I wish he was making that up. I don’t even know who he is anymore. Hey Sully, here’s a spoiler: THEY’RE STUCK ON AN ISLAND!!!

—Lastly, a happy birthday to Tom Pecora, who turns 39 again today. This is the third time in his eight years as head coach the Dutchmen have played on his birthday but the first time they’re playing at home. In 2006, the Dutchmen lost at Northeastern, 89-73. In 2004—when Jan. 21 also fell on a Wednesday—the Dutchmen beat James Madison, 69-66.

I sure hope someone remembers to mention Pecora’s big day during the birthday roll call. Maybe he can even get the best seat in the house as a gift! That or a win. Either/or.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hofstra 57, Northeastern 52 (Or: In which I become the Drew Bledsoe to Sully Ray’s Tom Brady)

I know how you feel, Drew.

I’ve figured out what was missing for the Flying Dutchmen. Or, actually, what wasn’t missing.

Me.

Two weeks ago today, I went to Boston to watch the Flying Dutchmen play unbeaten Northeastern. The Dutchmen trailed from start to finish and lost by 23 in one of the bleakest performances of the Tom Pecora era. So Saturday, I was in Boston to not watch or listen to the Flying Dutchmen play unbeaten Northeastern, and with Sully Ray pinch-blogging (and, he says, catching a T-shirt while holding two hot dogs in his other hand…absent any photographic evidence, I’ll have to declare he’s full of it and I maintain my 2-0 lead), the Dutchmen win, 57-52.

(You know what I did watch though? VCU-ODU. Apparently, you can watch two Virginia-based schools on television in Boston, but not a Boston-based school vs. a New York-based school. OK then. Hopefully I can see New Hampshire vs. Maine once I get home)

(Second parenthetical tangent: You want uncanny, go check out Litos’ predicted final score for Saturday)

Furthermore, I realized, in typing this, that the Dutchmen are actually 3-0 in games when I do not watch or listen to them. They won the final two games of the Charleston Classic. So the guy who has written tens of thousands of words wondering what might be wrong with the Dutchmen is actually the reason WHY something might be wrong with the Dutchmen. Coming soon: Sully Ray waxing nostalgic about the days when he used to sniff chemicals in The Chronicle darkroom and re-telling stories of how I snored the entire time during our road trip for spring break ’95.

Anyway, before the Dutchmen ride Sully Ray all the way to the CAA championship and I follow in the footsteps of another Bostonian and get traded to upstate New York—where I figure I’ll blog about Tom Parrotta and Chris Gadley—I will say I got at least one thing right: The whole gotta-prove-the-disgusted-parent-wrong thing. I never figured Pecora and Van Macon were giving up on the Dutchmen after the uncompetitive loss to Drexel Wednesday, but they had to figure that speaking as strongly as they did would make the Dutchmen particularly mad and prideful.

Hey, with the knowledge my you-know-what would be grounded as soon as the report cards arrived, I followed the failing of Algebra II during the second marking period of my junior year of high school by getting an A-minus on the mid-year exam. Oh, that’s right. I was an equal opportunity flunker.

Where was I? Oh yes.

The Dutchmen also provided another reminder Saturday why they are the perfect symbol of an unpredictable conference. Litos wrote last week Hofstra would come up with as many head-scratching wins as losses, but I doubt even he thought he’d be proven right IN CONSECUTIVE GAMES. The Dutchmen, in a span of three games, have thrown a scare into the preseason favorite, trailed wire-to-wire for the second time this season against a team picked to finish 11th in the conference and knocked off the unbeaten—and previously unchallenged—co-leader. This stuff is for the sadistic, I tell you.

Anyone who says he pegged how the playing time would shake out Saturday is either a liar or the only person on the planet who predicted a Cardinals-Steelers Super Bowl. Darren Townes, on a milk carton for weeks, started and played 28 minutes, one more minute than he’d played in the last four games combined. Arminas Urbutis played 31 minutes and pulled down nine rebounds after playing 32 minutes and collecting eight rebounds in the first five games of the month.

Greg Washington, who’d started the last six games, didn’t start and played a season-low three minutes. Dane Johnson, who’d started four straight games, didn’t play at all.

Nathaniel Lester made his first start of the season, shot just 1-of-9 from the field yet played a season-high 36 minutes and led the Dutchmen and set career highs with five assists (half as many assists as he had in the first 17 games) and three steals (one more than he had in his first 17 games). Greg Johnson had two assists, one steal and no turnovers, but played just 18 minutes (his minutes this month, by the way: 34-37-38-40-22-18).

Tony Dennison, who entered the game shooting 33 percent from the field and 58 percent from the line, hit both his field goal attempts and was 4-of-6 from the line in scoring nine points. Cornelius Vines, who was one of only two players to start the first 17 games, came off the bench and played a season-low nine minutes—none, according to the in-game thread at the CAA Zone, after he chucked up an ill-advised three.

And Charles Jenkins, whose field goal percentage lately (27 percent—35-for-129—in his previous nine games) has been somewhere south of the outgoing president’s approval ratings, finally came back and played his most complete game in weeks. Jenkins bounced back from a 3-of-9 performance over the first 20 minutes to make five of his seven shots in the second half and five of his six free throws in a clutch performance straight out of November.

Jenkins scored seven straight points for the Dutchmen and nine overall in a 12-1 run that turned a 32-28 deficit into a 40-33 lead and hit two free throws to give Hofstra the lead for good at 52-51 in the final minute. In addition, he was also credited with shutting down Northeastern’s biggest weapon, Matt Janning.

The win wasn’t a thing of beauty: The Dutchmen didn’t hit a field goal in the final 6:41 but held on by hitting 11 of their last 13 free throws. Nor did the Dutchmen escape unscathed: Miklos Szabo hurt his arm in the second half and was wearing a sling on the bench.

In addition, Sully Ray reports, via text, that it was a “…great game by none, good game by all.” That’s why I like Sully Ray: He’s a calm, collected sort whose approach to life is a cliché. Had I been there Saturday, I probably would have come up with multiple reasons why the Dutchmen are now headed for the Final Four. Except, of course, Northeastern would have won by 74.

And sure, the Dutchmen might have taken advantage of a wiped Northeastern team. Oh well. Fair is fair. Playing the Huskies in Boston 53 hours after facing Drexel on Long Island wasn’t a whole lot of fun, either.

So where do the Dutchmen—now 3-4 and a mere game out of a first-round bye, it’s never too early to look too far ahead!—go from here? The hell if I know. The last three games have proven how impossible it is to project three weeks ahead, but I will say the schedule lines up nicely for Hofstra to make a charge over the next 22 days—something I’ll blog about in the next day or two.

If I were a betting man, though, I’d bet all Pecora wants for his birthday is me not paying any attention Wednesday night. And I’d also wager the Dutchmen would be in great shape if I sold the blog to Sully Ray. My asking price begins at one million dollars.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In which I interrupt this basketball season to announce the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the official NFL team of Defiantly Dutch


If Raheem Morris' first act as Buccaneers head coach is to bring back Bucco Bruce--except in blue and gold--he will instantly become one of favorite people ever.

Was traveling all day Friday, so imagine my surprise when I got a text at 1:35 a.m. this morning from semi-loyal reader JG about the only other team I root for outside of the Flying Dutchmen: “Wow, shocker on Gruden.”

That was nothing, though, compared to the surprise of clicking on ESPN once we got settled in our hotel room and seeing the name of his likely successor: Raheem Morris. That’s the Raheem Morris who played safety at Hofstra from 1994-97, otherwise known as the bulk of the Defiantly Dutch Era, and spent time as a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach with the Flying Dutchmen in 1998 and 2000, respectively.

That’s right. Someone who played football while I was at Hofstra is now an NFL head coach. Boy I’m getting old and inconsequential.

I told my wife the news, to which she replied “Oh that’s convenient. Now you get to name the Buccaneers as the official NFL team of Defiantly Dutch.”

Well, yeah.

This is pretty interesting for multiple reasons beyond Morris’ Hofstra ties. He’s just 32, which will make him one of the youngest head coaches in NFL history. Morris has been viewed as a rapidly rising head coach candidate even though he hasn’t even coached a game as a coordinator: The Buccaneers promoted him from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator Christmas Day, after which he interviewed for the head honcho job with the Denver Broncos.

And Morris’ hiring is quite a feather in the cap of the NFL, which encourages diversity in its head coaching ranks with the “Rooney Rule.” But two years before the “Rooney Rule” was instituted, Morris began his coaching career as a minority intern with the Jets under Herm Edwards. I remember attending a press conference at Weeb Ewbank Hall in which Morris talked about the program. Who knew I was watching the birth of an NFL head coach?

It’s also interesting to examine the Bucs’ thought process here. Three of the four remaining head coaches in the NFL playoffs have been head coaches for two years or less. Clearly, the Bucs think they can be the next team to find a Mike Tomlin or John Harbaugh or Ken Whisenhunt.

And if I think I feel old and inconsequential, imagine how Gruden feels. It seems like he’s been the Hot Young Coach forever, but this is proof that the shelf life of a Hot Young Coach is finite. Gruden is only 46—younger than both Harbaugh and Whisenhunt—but he’s been an NFL head coach for 11 straight years and hasn’t won a playoff game since the Super Bowl following the 2002 season.

The Hot Young Coach is now, officially, a retread…shoved out of office for a Flying Dutchman. What a world. Go Bucs.

***

We didn’t forget there’s a basketball game today against Northeastern, the hottest team in the CAA. The Dutchmen will prove they have plenty of—wait for it!!—pride by coming up with a much better performance than the one they mustered up against Drexel Wednesday. I’ll even wager they’ll hold a lead!

Litos is keeping the faith about the Dutchmen and believes there will be a day when the gang that can’t shoot straight will become the gang that can’t miss. I don’t think there’s much chance of a breakout performance today, though, against a Northeastern team that has yet to be challenged since conference play began For Real. The Huskies have won all five CAA games this month by an average of 17 points.

Charles Jenkins is the pick to click—it has to happen at some point, right?—but I have a hard time imagining the Dutchmen derailing the Huskies’ juggernaut. Perhaps a competitive loss can give the Dutchmen something to build on with William & Mary and UNC-Wilmington—two of the CAA’s three one-win teams—on the docket within the next 11 days.

We won’t be at the game due to the unexpected out-of-state trip, but Sully Ray may step in with some thoughts. Stop back Monday to see if he’s as good with words as he is with T-shirts.

And in the meantime, check out this Litos’ excellent blog from Thursday in which he makes quite a good case for a 22-game CAA schedule. It makes so much sense, it’ll never happen.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Drexel 70, Hofstra 52 (Or: Parental Guidance Suggested)

The mojo's nowhere to be found. (Sorry, I have no photos of my mom glaring at me after another poor Spanish test. Thankfully)

This Flying Dutchmen basketball season is beginning to remind me of my own academic career, and trust me, that is never, ever a good thing.

When I was a junior in high school, I failed Spanish II. I didn’t even come close to passing it, and both my mother and I loathed the teacher—and my mom is a teacher and was all-too-aware of her son’s sporadic study habits, so trust me, it took a lot for her to give me the benefit of the doubt when I complained about teachers—yet I was too old (at 16, what was I, a member of Menudo?) to switch languages and still get two years’ worth of foreign language credit. So I spent the second semester trying to absorb as much as I could in hopes of building momentum for when I re-took it senior year.

First marking period of senior year, I kicked butt, at least by my standards, and got a high C. Second marking period wasn’t so hot, a C-minus or so. A bunch of realizations struck me during the third marking period: I was a senior, I was more concerned with flirting with girls at lunch the period before Spanish than studying, this teacher was still loathsome and I was going to begin my collegiate career at a two-year school in the fall of 1991, so, you know, screw it.

So I failed the final two marking periods (as an aside, the members of this fall’s freshman class weren’t even born yet the last time I wrote the words “marking period,” I am so very depressed, I think I’ll go watch this video and reflect on my mullet-wearing days), which meant I needed to score something in the low 70s on the final exam in order to pass the year.

Two weeks after graduation, the report card landed in my parents’ mailbox. I got a 64 in Spanish II. Failed by a point. That wasn’t a fun day.

The point to this story, aside from the fact my wonderful younger sister skated through two painless years of Italian? The Flying Dutchmen, who built momentum with a respectable finish following a rough start last year and an impressive performance during the OOC this year, look as if they’re right back to square one after a 70-52 loss to Drexel Wednesday.

It’s not just one loss, of course, that has imperiled the Dutchmen’s season. And it’s not even the six losses in eight games—and four losses in five conference games this month—or the ongoing offensive slump that are so alarming.

It’s this: The Dutchmen trailed wire-to-wire Wednesday for the third time in five games, including the second time against Drexel, the team picked to finish last in the CAA. The Dragons are better than the projections—we told you so—but not so much better that the Dutchmen shouldn’t hold a lead once or twice in 80 minutes.

And it’s this: The disappointment and bewilderment with which Tom Pecora and Van Macon refer to the Dutchmen. Pecora has regularly lauded the Dutchmen’s effort throughout this extended slump, but after the loss Wednesday, he told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he “…thought we played as hard as we’re capable of for about five of the 40 minutes” against Drexel in Hempstead Jan. 3.

In the rematch? “I don’t know if we played even that well tonight.”

In his regular post-game interview with WRHU, Macon said the Dutchmen were punched in the mouth early on and didn’t respond. And Macon seemed exasperated with Charles Jenkins, who has become the symbol of Hofstra’s struggles. Macon said Jenkins was playing with no urgency on offense, making foolish fouls on defense, deferring too much to teammates and playing “…like a very young sophomore.”

Ouch. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Pecora hoped rock bottom would be Northeastern—for Jenkins as well as the Dutchmen—but the loss Wednesday was more discouraging, even if it wasn’t as lopsided on the scoreboard. Where did the team that gave preseason favorite VCU all it could handle for 30 minutes on Saturday go? Maybe the Dutchmen aren’t the most talented team in the CAA, but they’re surely better than this—better than a team headed for a second straight lost season.

Few things inspire a kid into action quicker than a parent telling him he can do better—in a tone of voice that suggests maybe, just maybe, Mom or Dad is beginning to wonder if he can. Of course, Mom and Dad pull out the heavy artillery in hopes of driving their son (or, err, daughter) to prove them wrong. Pecora and Mason can only hope such a tone works with an entire team.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Oh, relax kids, I’ve got a gut feeling this year’s Uter is around here somewhere

Adrian Uter transferred to Hofstra, Uter is a foreign exchange student from Germany at Springfield Elementary. Good enough for me!

First things first: Be patient and forgive me over the next few days if posts are brief and/or sporadic. The wife and I are traveling out-of-state on short notice today and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to listen to/watch the game tonight or how much time we’ll have to post over the next couple days. Hopefully everything returns to some semblance of normalcy soon and we can get back to giving the word count a good workout.

As for tonight against Drexel, Tom Pecora’s comments Monday about transfers Cornelius Vines, Tony Dennison and Miklos Szabo—“Your transition period is over”—reminded me of Bill Parcells’ famous saying about rookies and the increased expectations and responsibilities that will greet them in the NFL: “You’re not on scholarship anymore.”

Except, well, Vines, Dennison and Szabo are on scholarship. But Pecora’s sentiment is the same as the one espoused by Parcells: No more talk about inexperience, no more chalking up early season struggles to the adaptation process. The training wheels are off. You can’t run with the big dogs if you stay on the porch. Place your own cliché here, baby. (That is the most extreme of inside jokes, by the way)

As of the first tip in Philly, the regular season is more than halfway over (of course, with the Flying Dutchmen destined to win all three CAA tournament games and six NCAA Tournament games, the actual midway point of the season won’t arrive until a week from Saturday at James Madison). I imagine Pecora isn’t too displeased with Vines, who is one of only two players to start every game and whose non-stop motor and unflappability as a shooter are valuable traits.

But it’s time for Dennison and Szabo to begin chipping in like Pecora envisioned when he brought them to Hempstead—Szabo more so than Dennison, the latter of whom isn’t a pure point guard and isn’t shooting well enough to get more than a handful of minutes in relief. The Dutchmen, though, can really use Szabo to add to their front court depth, especially with Greg Washington slumping and Dane Johnson having played 30 minutes in a game just once.

When discussing the transfers last week, Pecora mentioned Adrian Uter—who, like Szabo and Dennison, transferred to Hofstra from Broward CC in Florida—as someone who experienced his share of initial struggles in moving from a JUCO to Division I. And Uter’s final stats in 2004-05 (6.2 points, 5.2 rebounds. 19.1 minutes per game) are quite comparable to Szabo’s stats through his first 14 games (3.9 points. 5.8 rebounds. 18.9 minutes per game). Szabo missed the Dutchmen’s first two games while serving an NCAA suspension for playing with professionals in his native Hungary.

There are also some notable similarities in how Uter and Szabo performed through 14 games. Each had had one double-double, two games in which they recorded 10 or more rebounds and four games in which they played 30 or more minutes.

But overall, Uter made a bigger and more immediate impact than Szabo. With Wendell Gibson missing the first half of the season recovering from knee surgery, Uter started 13 of the Dutchmen’s first 14 games, during which he averaged 7.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 25.2 minutes per game. Uter scored in double digits six times and pulled down seven or more rebounds six times.

Szabo has scored 10 or more points twice and had seven or more rebounds four times. In addition, his 30-minute performances, though, all occurred within his first five games.

Uter started the Dutchmen’s 15th, 16th and 17th games before giving way to Gibson, who started the final 13. Uter’s numbers over the final 16 games of the season dropped precipitously: He averaged 5.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 13.9 minutes per contest over that span.

For the Dutchmen to end this season the same place they ended the 2004-05—or better—they’ll need Szabo to finish this season the way Uter began it four years ago. And there’s no better time than tonight for that emergence to begin (how’s that for a segue?).

Szabo is the pick to click and the guess here is Greg Johnson, who scored a career-high 15 points at Drexel 362 days ago, plays another 38 to 40 minutes and enjoys another impressive game at the point. Perhaps a few days away from the gym and a return to Philly and the scene of his most impressive game last season (21 points, seven rebounds and six steals) allows Charles Jenkins to further shake his slump.

Another interesting thing to watch: How many passes the Dutchmen make per possession now that Johnson is re-entrenched as the point guard. Jon Wagner, who is chronicling the Dutchmen and Jenkins in particular this season for the Queens Ledger, has been steadfast in his belief that the more the Dutchmen move the ball, the better the offense performs, as he notes in this very interesting post.

In addition, you’ve also got to figure a defense that has suffocated opposing guards during conference play won’t allow Scott Rodgers to go off like he did 11 days ago.

With sizzling Northeastern coming to Hempstead Saturday, this would be a fine time to steal a roadie. And a win in the not-so-cozy confines of the DAC would also line up with the trends in a series that summarizes the unpredictability of the CAA. The Dutchmen are just 2-6 at home against Drexel in the Pecora Era—pretty remarkable for a team that is 65-27 overall at the Arena in that span—but they’ve won three straight in Philly to lift their record at the DAC to 3-4.

The unexpected, after all, is expected. How’s that for a new twist on an old cliché?

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In which I research the CAA one year at a time

Even Jack Bauer can't get someone to tell him how the CAA season will shake out.

I have to admit: Whenever I write something about how competitive and unpredictable the CAA is, I cringe a little bit. Such traits have been standard for the CAA for years—the first- and third-place teams in the CAA have been separated by two games or less 14 times in 26 seasons and last year marked only the fourth time the regular season champ has finished three games ahead of the runner-up—so I’m not exactly breaking any news there.

To wax poetic about the unpredictability of the league is to skirt dangerously close to what Litos calls clee shay territory. And let’s face it: Most of the coaches in the league bathe in clichés. No need for the rest of us to do so. (Fortunately, Tom Pecora lapses into coach-speak far less than his rivals. And that’s not blog bias talking, other guys ‘round the Interwebs are impressed with Pecora’s candidness, too)

Plus, it’s early in the season. Has there ever been a year—in any league, going all the way back to the ECC, OK, maybe not in my case, since the 1993-94 conference season was five games long and nobody even knew it was going on—in which we didn’t spend the first quarter of the conference slate marveling at the balance of the league?

It’s not the same sport, but along the same lines, it annoys me every September when I read columns after the first week or two of the NFL season about how it’s so unpredictable and wacky. Uhh, isn’t that the point of a salary cap, to create parity and make it impossible to predict who will rise and fall? Marveling at that is like marveling at mall traffic the weekend before Christmas.

But as I scanned the CAA results and standings Saturday night, I thought to myself “Self, this is REALLY unpredictable and balanced, even by CAA standards.” Georgia State began the week 2-0 and ended it 2-3. James Madison began the week 0-2 and ended it 3-2. And as noted Monday, Delaware beat the pre-season favorite on the first Real Saturday of the conference season and lost to a team that had lost 10 in a row on the second Real Saturday.

And look at those standings: Two teams at 5-0, one at 4-1, one at 3-2, FIVE at 2-3 and three at 1-4. Only one-third of the league is over .500, yet three-quarters of it is no worse than a game away from breaking even.

So I wondered: Is this just par for the course, or is the CAA really even more competitive than usual this year? A pretty good case can be made for the latter.

This is the second straight year nine teams have had at least two wins through five conference games. However, it’s the first time since the CAA expanded to 12 teams in 2005-06 that only four teams have had at least three wins through five conference games. There were six teams that were at least 3-2 at this point in the schedule last season.

(Special thanks to the Hofstra site, which archives game notes back to 2003-04, for its invaluable role in researching this entry)

In 2006-07, there were five teams with at least three wins and eight teams with at least two wins through five games. In 2005-06, there were seven teams with at least three wins and eight teams with at least two wins through five games.

Every team has reached the five-game point at the same time in each of the last three seasons. The unbalanced schedule was really unbalanced in 2005-06, when there were six teams with five conference games through Jan. 11 and six teams with four conference games. Hofstra and Drexel were among the latter teams, but both were 3-1. And each of the bottom four teams already had four losses through Jan. 11.

This is also the second straight season in which every team has at least one win through five games. There was at least one 0-5 team in each of the preceding four seasons.

Going back a bit further into the final two years of the 10-team alignment: Every team reached the five-game point at the same time in 2004-05, at which point five squads had at least three wins and seven had at least two wins. Another really unbalanced unbalanced schedule in 2003-04 makes it difficult to figure out how many teams were 3-2 or better through five games—four teams had at least three wins through Jan. 15, but Drexel and Delaware, two of the four teams with only four games played, were each 2-2—but eight of the 10 teams had at least two wins at that juncture.

So what’s all this suggest? Will there be a bigger gap between the top quarter and the rest of the conference, yet a bigger logjam between four and 12? Or will this be a year that the NFL would love?

Northeastern is too scary good—and UNC-Wilmington’s defense too scary bad—to expect something similar to 1996-97, when Old Dominion and UNC-Wilmington tied for first in the nine-team conference at 10-6 and American and Richmond tied for seventh at 7-9.

Yet very recent history suggests that at least one of the 5-0 teams will come back to the pack and make the middle of the league an even bigger mess than it is now. Remember the only team to get off to a 5-0 start last year? It was Delaware…which finished 9-9 and was the seventh seed come March.

All these numbers mean, for now—and, I imagine, for the foreseeable future—that the perception is once again the reality, and that the CAA is tighter than ever. Remember: Cliches are clichés because they’re true. Which, ironically-but-not-really, is a cliché in and of itself.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And search for and join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook!

That's not me. I don't use a desktop computer.

In my continuing quest for global domination, I’ve started a Facebook group for Defiantly Dutch. Alas, in my continuing inability to grasp anything more technologically involved than turning on the computer, hitting Tab and waiting for a diet soda, I’ve got no idea how to put a widget on this here blog that takes you to the group page.

So in lieu of that, I humbly ask that you go to Facebook, search Defiantly Dutch and join a bunch of fellow Hofstra grads who obsess over the Flying Dutch athletics…and some friends of mine with no Hofstra ties who probably signed up because they were worried I’d end up sitting there all alone, thinking how much this reminded me of the last dance at every high school dance I ever attended, minus, of course, Stairway To Heaven. I don’t want to talk about it.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Go join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook! All the cool kids are there…and me, too.

VCU 68, Hofstra 60 (Or: In which beggars suddenly become choosy)

Chester Lampwick isn't greedy. As long as he's got his health, his millions of dollars, his gold house, his rocket car and victories by the Flying Dutchmen basketball team, he doesn't need anything else.

What would you have thought, last Tuesday morning in the aftermath of one of the most discouraging losses of the Tom Pecora Era, if you were told the Flying Dutchmen would lose by eight points at VCU on Saturday? My guess is you would have been satisfied with a competitive defeat that provided the Dutchmen something to build upon, as opposed to the I-don’t-even-know-where-to-begin-fixing-this vibe of the Northeastern loss.

Well, that’s what I would have thought, anyway. The wife reports that she would not, in fact, have been willing to accept an eight-point loss to VCU. Which is probably why she’s a better poker player than her risk-averse husband, but that’s neither here nor there.

So why, then, did it feel as if a precious opportunity had slipped through the Flying Dutchmen’s hands during a 68-60 loss? Given the way the week started for the Dutchmen, there is no shame in losing by eight to the pre-season favorites in an arena in which Hofstra has never won. In fact, it was the second-closest game a Pecora-coached team has played at VCU: The 2001-02 team fell to the Rams by two, but the next five regular season defeats at VCU were by a combined 66 points.

The Dutchmen didn’t lead once in the second half and didn’t get closer than four points in the final 13 minutes, so there was no reason to wonder what could have happened if not for a bad bounce here or a bad call there.

Yet after the win over Delaware Wednesday that fixed everything—or at least coaxed a lot of us off the ledge—and an encouraging first half Saturday, it didn’t seem unreasonable to believe the Dutchmen could pull off the upset.

The Dutchmen avoided the first half fade that ruined their chances against Drexel (which jumped out to a 14-4 lead and never trailed) and Northeastern (which jumped out to an 11-0 lead and, you guessed it, never trailed) and would have carried a lead into the locker room if not for Eric Maynor driving the length of the court and hitting a buzzer-beating jumper with Charles Jenkins and Greg Johnson in his face. Hofstra looked much more cohesive and patient on offense and Jenkins hit as many field goals (four) in the first half as he did against Delaware—and he only needed eight shots to do it, not 24.

And hey, this is the CAA, where it would make sense for the Dutchmen to open the week with a 23-point loss at Northeastern and end it with an upset win at VCU.

Instead, the unpredictability of the CAA was summarized hours later and 250 or so miles to the south, where UNC-Wilmington—whose porous defense seemed to give the Seahawks a real shot at going 0-fer-the-conference—surprised the Blue Hens, 75-72. That’s right. In the span of seven days, the Blue Hens beat the preseason favorites, lost to a team that literally could not shoot straight and lost to a team that hadn’t won since the day after Thanksgiving and whose 10 straight defeats had come by an average of 21 points. Trying to project this stuff is for the sadistic, I tell you.

The second half proved the Dutchmen are still the work in progress that Pecora described during a conference call last week. The pieces are there and the box score looked pretty good, but it’s just not a complete puzzle yet.

Jenkins continues to emerge from rock bottom, led the Dutchmen with 15 points and five assists and added eight rebounds, but his slump is still a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, as he proved by shooting 1-for-8 in the second half and finishing with a team-high five turnovers. Maybe, Pecora figures, the answer is shooting less instead of more.

The Dutchmen are deep, but not yet deep or strong enough to withstand a sputtering Jenkins and a non-existent Cornelius Vines, the latter of whom fouled out after setting season lows in minutes (17) and points (six). In addition, all four shots Vines took Saturday were from beyond the arc.

Nathaniel Lester’s role keeps growing—he tied a season high with 28 minutes played and had seven boards, the third time in four games he’s had at least that many rebounds—yet his eight points came on 3-of-10 shooting.

Speaking of work in progress, to watch Larry Sanders (16 points, 13 rebounds) dominate down low was a reminder that Greg Washington is still the biggest work in progress—literally—on the Dutchmen roster. It’s one thing to be 6-foot-10, it’s quite another to be a freaking behemoth like Sanders. Washington’s suddenly stellar play in December wasn’t a fluke, but it wasn’t necessarily a sign of things come this season for the still-spindly Gee Dubs. Washington made his fifth straight start Saturday, but his minutes in that span are as follows: 29, 23, 23, 18 and 14.

He played only seven minutes in the second half Sunday, during which VCU outscored the Dutchmen 24-8 in the paint. At some point, Darren Townes will have to escape from Witness Protection to provide more depth in the front court. In the meantime, I once again humbly offer Washington my extra 25 pounds. I’m even willing to negotiate it up to 35 pounds.

Anyway, what we went through Saturday is a pretty good idea of what’s to come over the next seven weeks: Jumping back and forth between trying to minimize expectations and hoping the Dutchmen can shoot the moon—and the ball, too. Litos was impressed with what he saw in the defeat and wrote Sunday that he projects a 9-9 conference finish for the Dutchmen—and as many surprising victories as unexplainable defeats. It’s sadistic, I tell you.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bits and Bytes: VCU edition


Two unidentified members of the Flying Dutchmen, above, celebrate following a really good morning run at unseasonably warm Jones Beach. Will the training be enough to knock off Clubber Lang, err, VCU? And were Rocky and Apollo the first bromance? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Sully Ray—who, by the way, is still oh-for-the-season when it comes to catching T-shirts—called Thursday afternoon to talk about what we’d just seen Wednesday and what we might see Saturday, when the Flying Dutchmen visit preseason favorite VCU. The hope, expressed an hour or so before VCU was to face Drexel in Philly, was that maybe a game against Bruiser Flint’s scrappy and physical bunch would exhaust the Rams and leave them particularly vulnerable less than 48 hours later.

So much for that. Apparently, the upset last Saturday at the hands of Delaware in the Real CAA Opener woke up the Rams, who were driving the so-calm-I-wonder-if-he-has-a-pulse Anthony Grant crazy but have won their last two games by 29 points apiece. Now, granted, those wins came against UNC-Wilmington and Drexel, each of whom was roundly picked to finish at or near the bottom of the CAA. But still: Two straight wins by 29 points means sneaking up on VCU is out.

There are plenty of interesting storylines as the Dutchmen seek to beat VCU in Virginia for the first time ever. Hofstra is 0-6 all-time at VCU and has beaten every other conference foe on the road at least once.

A Dutchmen team that—warning! Terrible pun coming up!—prides itself on defense, albeit out of necessity these days, gets the highest-scoring team in the conference and the NBA-bound Eric Maynor, who ranks 14th in the country with 22.5 points per game. Charles Jenkins’ performance Wednesday gives some hope that he can contribute even if he remains ice-cold from the field, but maybe going against Maynor—with whom Jenkins was neck-and-neck for the conference scoring lead before his epic slump—will give him an additional jolt.

Is Cornelius Vines’ willingness to shoot inside the 3-point line—and occasionally drive to the basket—is a trend or an aberration? The Dutchmen will be a much better offensive team if it’s the former.

It’ll also be interesting, especially with Greg Washington in a mini-slump and still not quite a 30-minute-a-game guy, to see if the Milk Carton likes of Darren Townes and Miklos Szabo see a lot more PT against the Rams, who have just two players 6-foot-8 or taller averaging 19 minutes per game.

I can’t blame anyone whose prediction is pain for Hofstra, but my guess is the Dutchmen are more relaxed Saturday now that they’ve got a win under their belts. And hey, the unpredictable is predictable in the CAA these days and Delaware beat VCU and the Dutchmen beat Delaware, which means the Dutchmen will win. Either way, tune in to MSG-Plus, unless you live outside of the Island and five boroughs, in which case you’re screwed.

Some other bits and bytes heading into the weekend:

—The plan is to write more about this next week, but I’ve decided Dutch Nation’s criticism of Vines is particularly misguided because the Flying Dutchmen have never had a guy like him…ever. Think about it: In the last 15 years, have you ever looked on the court and said “If he wasn’t wearing a Hofstra uniform, I’d loathe that guy?” Oh sure, the likes of Loren Stokes or Speedy Claxton earned some scorn from opposing fans, but that was more of the jealous, damnit-that-guy-drives-me-crazy-because-all-he-does-is-figure-out-a-way-to-beat-us type of contempt.

Vines, on the other hand, has as much swagger when he’s 0-for-10 as he does when he’s 5-for-10. And in my completely unbiased opinion, I think that’s good. Except if he was on the other side. Then I’d say it’s bad. And so would you. Even if you think he’s bad right now.

—True story: While writing this blog, I saw the video for The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.” I think that’s ironic, in the sense that it’s not ironic at all.

—Ken Pomeroy, who was projecting at least 13 conference wins for the Dutchmen three weeks ago, is off the bandwagon too. We’ll remember this, Ken!

—I blogged Wednesday about the similarities between this Dutchmen team and the 2004-05 edition, but the first team I thought of while driving home from Boston Monday was the 1995-96 squad. Those Flying Dutchmen had two transfers playing vital roles in Lawrence Thomas and Seth Meyers (the one we don’t loathe). It had a couple of seniors who were once starters but who had been relegated to little-used reserve roles in Matt Carpenter and Chris Johnke.

And that team went into a major, season-ruining nosedive after a convincing win over Towson State (that’s right, Towson was going by its rightful name back then). An 83-63 win over the Tigers was the third straight NAC win for the Dutchmen, who improved to 4-4 in conference play and 7-7 overall. I remember this stretch occurred during Intersession and had me worrying that I’d made a huge mistake agreeing to go to Florida with my future wife for spring break, which coincided with the start of the NCAA Tournament. Hofstra was going to go dancing and I wouldn’t get a chance to cover it.

Turns out I had absolutely nothing to worry about. The Dutchmen followed the rout of Towson State by losing their next nine games. And the conference losing streak reached 10 games before they beat Hartford at MSG in the regular season finale. The Dutchmen were bounced by Northeastern in the play-in round of the NAC Tournament, after which Sully Ray and I went to the Stone Balloon and eventually ended up in a party in the room of a couple New Hampshire players. Seriously. It was a very, very long drive home the next day for Sully Ray.

Where was I? Oh yeah. In retrospect, the comparison to the 1995-96 team was a bit of a panicked one. That team’s longest winning streak was three games and its high-water mark was one game over .500—at 1-0 and 2-1. These Dutchmen extended their winning streak to eight by following the Towson win with victories over Stony Brook and St. Francis. And while Darius Burton was an outstanding player, he wasn’t a Jenkins- or Washington-type.

—And one more thing about the 2004-05 team. It ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak, during which it won home games against James Madison, UNC-Wilmington, Towson and George Mason and beat Delaware and Old Dominion on the road. This year, the Dutchmen’s final six conference games include four home contests against Towson, Old Dominion, James Madison and UNC-Wilmington and a pair of roadies at Delaware and Georgia State. (The Bracket Buster is also in there)

I’m not saying anything. I’m just saying.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.