Sunday, March 15, 2009

Explaining our absence...and see you in the CIT?

Just wanted to inform the Loyal Readers (all eight of you!) that this will probably be the last post for at least a few days due to a death in the family. We’ll be back to some semblance of regular posting as soon as we can and humbly request you check in on us when you get a chance.

As for the Flying Dutchmen’s postseason hopes, my guess is they won’t profit from the uncanny success of the Chalke in the mid-majors (only five regular season champs have fallen in their postseason tourneys, with Stephen F. Austin still to play in the Southland finale today; eight regular season champs lost their tourneys and earned automatic bids to the NIT each of the last two years) and earn a bid to the NIT, though you can never rule out the tournament wanting a New York presence.

The tea leaves indicate the Dutchmen won’t host a game in the CBI or CIT, since there’s been no announcement of ticket sales by the school. Hard to blame them for not wanting to fork over $60,000 for a home game in the CBI or $28,000 for a home game in the CIT, especially with the economy in the crapper and most average fans having no idea these tourneys exist. But I think the Dutchmen are deserving of hosting a CIT game, perhaps against Rider, and that they’d have a decent shot at drawing the 2,500 or so fans necessary to make back the fee.

My prediction: The Dutchmen make the CIT and visit Seton Hall. Unbelievably (and I say that with admiration), someone has come up with a site projecting the CIT field. I wish I’d thought of that. That site has the Dutchmen headed for a three seed in the 16-team tournament and a potential game against either high-scoring VMI or regular NIT foe Saint Joseph’s.

Regardless, hopefully we’ll have another game (or two, or three, or four) this season to recap at some point.

Oh, and if Mason makes the NCAA, it’ll confirm every conspiracy theory I’ve ever had about anything and assure that my return post will be X-rated. See you soon.

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

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chalke Talk: Friday

Take heed, no. 1 seeds: Sarah Chalke means business when she cuts her hair, dons that outfit and starts strutting to "All-American Girl." And she expects you all to win today.

Near the end of the second overtime of Syracuse-UConn last night/this morning, Semi-Loyal Reader Eric asked me via instant message (how 1999, yes?) if the game was better than last month’s Flying Dutchmen-James Madison double OT classic.

Four overtimes later and an epic 127-117 win for Syracuse later, the answer was easy. Yes. And no.

Yes because, well, hell, who’s ever seen a game go to six overtimes? Short answer: Nobody you or I know. Only one Division I game has ever gone to seven OTs (Cincinnati-Bradley in 1981) and according to ESPN play-by-play guy Sean McDonough, the first two games to end in six OTs occurred in the 1950s.

It was memorable for anyone who watched it and quite the communal experience on my Facebook (or, as I now call it, the post-modern water cooler/lunch table). It would have been awesome to cover. And if I had covered the game, I’d be on the phone today pitching a book about it. The proposal would feature Jim Boeheim’s awesome quote: “It’s a lot better to win the greatest game ever played.”

Yet it’s not necessarily better than Hofstra-JMU, because for all the drama and suspense of the actual game, there was no drama or suspense in the reward. No matter what happened last night, both teams are going to the NCAA Tournament. There was really nothing at stake. It was an exercise in you-know-what swinging for the Big East: LOOK AT US! WE’RE ON ESPN ALL WEEK! AND WE’RE SO DEEP THAT THESE TWO TEAMS PLAYED THIS EPIC GAME IN THE QUARTERFINALS!

I’m moderately biased, but I’d say there was more at stake in Hofstra-JMU in February than ‘Cuse-UConn in March. The Dutchmen and the Dukes were battling for momentum and a valuable bye in a one-bid conference. The Dutchmen didn’t get the bye, but the Dukes never recovered from losing in Hempstead, either.

And can you imagine a six-OT tournament game in a mid-major conference? With one NCAA bid on the line? That would have provided unbearable amounts of drama and suspense and made it a game truly worthy of the moniker “greatest ever played.” Of course, only a few of us would have appreciated it, since ESPN wouldn’t devote half of SportsCenter to it. Which is the way we like it, this bit of kvetching aside.

Anyway…I just spent nearly 400 words ranting about the Big East in a blog about how the Dutchmen’s NIT chances are being affected by the mid-major conference tournaments. Is that ironic?

Back to business: The Chalke had another perfect night Thursday in games that weren’t breathlessly broken down on The Worldwide Leader. No conference champions were crowned, but top seeds Bowling Green, Stephen F. Austin and Utah State all won their quarterfinal games.

In addition, the Dutchmen might have been helped by the losses suffered by UTEP (C-USA) and Saint Joseph’s (Atlantic 10). UTEP has 19 wins, and while the expansion of Division I over the last 15 years means 20 wins is no longer the unofficial magic number for the NIT, the fact is it’s still a gaudy figure that 95 teams have already reached. So the fewer teams that make it to 20 this weekend the better.

And while Saint Joseph’s opened the week just ahead of the Dutchmen in the RPI and play in a better conference, the Hawks are only 17-15, so let’s hope the meager record works against them.

There will be no shortage of pivotal games involving Chalke teams today as the mid-majors begin sprinting to the finish line. The only title game is in the Patriot, where top-seeded American hosts Holy Cross, but six top seeds are participating in semifinals in the Big West, Mid-American, MEAC, Southland, SWAC and WAC.

It’s too much to expect another perfect night, but let’s hope Friday the 13th isn’t a particularly bloody one for the Dutchmen’s NIT/postseason hopes. More later today or tomorrow, by the way, on some possibilities for the Dutchmen and the Collegeinsider.com Tournament.

Here’s the updated tally of regular season champs (actually, it’s not updated at all, there’s been no change since yesterday). As usual, those in italics have won their conference tourney and the NCAA automatic bid while those in bold lost in their conference tourney and are bound for the NIT. I’ll update this every day through Sunday.

CAA: VCU
A-East: Binghamton
Atlantic Sun: Jacksonville
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Radford
Big West: CSU-Northridge
MAAC: Siena
Mid-American: Bowling Green
MEAC: Morgan State
Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Tennessee-Martin
Patriot: American
Southern: Davidson
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
SWAC: Alabama State
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky
WAC: Utah State

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

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chalke Talk: Thursday

Top seeds winning makes Sarah Chalke--and us--happy.

Another day, another boost for the Flying Dutchmen’s postseason hopes. The Chalke was 3-for-3 as Robert Morris eked out a 48-46 win over Mount St. Mary’s in the Northeast Conference title game and top seeds Morgan State (MEAC) and Alabama State (SWAC) easily won quarterfinal games. The Robert Morris victory was the third time since Sunday a regular season champ has won its championship game in the waning seconds and at least the fifth nail-biting win overall for a no. 1 seed.

There are no conference title games tonight (the calm before the flurry of title games Friday and Saturday), but top seeds in the MAC (Bowling Green—my bad for mistakenly writing Bowling Green was in action Wednesday), Southland (Stephen F. Austin) and WAC (Utah State) play quarterfinal games.

Here’s the updated tally of regular season champs. As usual, those in italics have won their conference tourney and the NCAA automatic bid while those in bold lost in their conference tourney and are bound for the NIT. I’ll update this every day through Sunday.

CAA: VCU
A-East: Binghamton
Atlantic Sun: Jacksonville
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Radford
Big West: CSU-Northridge
MAAC: Siena
Mid-American: Bowling Green
MEAC: Morgan State
Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Tennessee-Martin
Patriot: American
Southern: Davidson
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
SWAC: Alabama State
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky
WAC: Utah State

Perhaps even more importantly, the Dutchmen’s status as the metropolitan area team most deserving of a postseason bid was solidified Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, where St. John’s fell to Marquette in embarrassing fashion and Seton Hall lost to Syracuse in a pair of Big East quarterfinals.

A halfway-decent performance by the Red Storm in the Big East Tournament might have earned them a look as a host team in the CBI or CIT, but 10 points in one half? Geez. Even the Dutchmen scored more than that during their can’t-shoot-straight phase.

Seton Hall is at least over .500 at 17-15, which makes it a more legitimate postseason candidate, and the Pirates were the only metro area team ranked ahead of the Dutchmen in the NCAA RPI released Monday (the Pirates were 100th while the Dutchmen were 106th).

But the Pirates finished 11th in the Big East with a 7-11 league mark and Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown are all ahead of Seton Hall in the RPI and, presumably, in the race for NIT spots. Will the NIT want to follow in the footsteps of the NCAA and award one-eighth of its bids to Big East schools? And does an 11th-place finisher—even in the big bad Big East—deserve a spot in the NIT over the Dutchmen, who won 21 games and finished fifth in the CAA with an 11-7 mark?

You know my answer to that last one. That said, my guess is it’s a moot point and neither team is going to the NIT.

But a Hofstra-Hall (not at Hofstra Hall, unfortunately) game might appeal to the CBI. The Pirates drew an average of 5,782 fans to seven non-conference games, which is less than half the capacity of that new arena in Newark (hey, if the sponsor wants me to mention its name, it can cut me a check). But the exorbitant ticket prices at said arena—a quick Internet search didn’t reveal the ticket prices for 2008-09, but according to the Seton Hall website, season ticket holders got a great bargain at an average price of $28 per ticket—all but guarantee that the Hall would make back the $60,000 hosting fee.

Let’s say tickets for a CBI game are $28 apiece. To draw 5,782 would bring in $161,896. To draw even half that would still net the school a profit.

It’s worth noting Seton Hall turned down a bid to the CBI last year, when it also finished 17-15. But that was when Bobby Gonzalez was butting heads with his bosses. He’s doing a better impersonation of a sane human being this time around.

A Hofstra-Hall game would not only determine the best team in the metro area this year but also its best player: Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Hazell (check out his stats here) are the two leading candidates for the Haggerty Award. And it would pit the school that wanted Tom Pecora against the school that kept him. Hmmm. Juicy, yes? OK maybe not, but it might be the best we can do, damnit.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chalke Report: Wednesday

Good thing there's only four days left before the NIT field is revealed, because there's a whole lotta Sarah Chalke pictures out there, a whole lotta which will get you (or me) in trouble at work (or at home).

Things went about as well as could have been expected for the Flying Dutchmen’s NIT hopes last night. The Chalke (yes, that’s my new March Madness spelling of it) went 2-1, with Weber State getting upset at home by Montana State in the Big Sky semifinals.

That makes four mid-major regular season champs headed for the NIT, but it could have been five or six because 1-2 easily could have been 0-3. North Dakota State came back from a 14-point deficit to beat Oakland in the final seconds of the Summit League championship game while Western Kentucky got off to a fast start against South Alabama and survived a mid-game funk to hang on in the Sun Belt title tilt.

NIT bubble teams may have been helped by Cleveland State’s upset of Butler in the Horizon League championship game. You want to feel the hair on your arms stand at attention, by the way, check out the highlights of that game, with Cleveland State coaches and players alike shedding tears of joy.

Of course, the net effect of Cleveland State’s win is probably zero when you consider that a team that would have missed the NIT had Cleveland State made it will probably still miss it, since a Saint Mary’s or a San Diego State is going to fall into the NIT from the NCAA. And the NITology site still has the Dutchmen well down on the bubble.

Ahh, the hell with it, my blog, my positive spin. Cleveland State’s win helped the Dutchmen! Hooray Cleveland State!

There are four Chalke games tonight, including the Northeast Conference championship between top-seeded Robert Morris and second-seeded Mount St. Mary’s. Top seeds Bowling Green (Mid-American Conference) and Morgan State (MEAC) and Alabama State (SWAC) are in quarterfinal contests.

Here’s the updated tally of regular season champs. As usual, those in italics have won their conference tourney and the NCAA automatic bid while those in bold lost in their conference tourney and are bound for the NIT. I’ll update this every day through Sunday.

CAA: VCU
A-East: Binghamton
Atlantic Sun: Jacksonville
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Radford
Big West: CSU-Northridge
MAAC: Siena
Mid-American: Bowling Green
MEAC: Morgan State
Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Tennessee-Martin
Patriot: American
Southern: Davidson
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
SWAC: Alabama State
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky
WAC: Utah State

Hofstra isn’t the only CAA school observing conference tournaments with interest. Old Dominion is so confident it will host a game in one of the three non-NCAA Tournaments that it will begin selling tickets Friday, while James Madison is continuing to practice in hopes its long-shot bid for the CBI or CIT comes through. Hey, if the Dukes are willing to pony up, the CBI will probably throw ‘em a home game.

A few left over bits and bytes from the CAA Tournament:

—Whether you were hitting “refresh” all weekend or not (and if it’s the latter, shame on you), take another trip down memory lane with Litos’ tournament blog. It went well enough that he’s already thinking about next year. But I refuse to be satisfied until he unveils “BruiserCam.” That NEEDS to happen.

—It didn’t work out the way we would have liked, but the Dutchmen-Old Dominion quarterfinal lived up to the hype (Let’s hear it for me and Litos! We are so smart! We are so smart! S-M-R-T I mean S-M-A-R-T!) as the best game of the tournament. And there was little competition for that honor: Only one other game (Towson’s 58-54 win over Northeastern in the quarters) was settled by less than eight points. Not quite the nail-biting weekend we envisioned after an unpredictable regular season, but that’s why they play the games.

—Old Dominion is Hofstra’s new Towson—the opponent that has a knack for handing the Dutchmen heart-breaking losses. The Monarchs have beaten the Dutchmen in the postseason four times since 2005 and has trailed at the half the last three times. Do not lead ODU at the half in the postseason. Nothing good can ever happen.

Does this mean ODU will be a perennial also-ran in whichever conference the Dutchmen are in come 2024? I’d like to say I hope so, but I can’t muster up any contempt for the Monarchs. They’re just a really good, solid, well-coached team.

—Speaking of contempt, I was too busy reveling in George Mason’s thumping yesterday to marvel at just how impressive VCU was in the championship game—not just winning like it did, but winning like it did in the only game of the year that mattered. Navigating the land mine of the CAA and winning a record third straight regular season—all in a season surrounded by a last-time-around vibe—was an impressive accomplishment, but the Rams had to win on the second Monday of March to validate their entire season.

Fair? Of course not. But that’s how it works in a mid-major, especially one with a graduating stud of a senior and a hot young coach likely destined for a BCS school by this time next month. That’s huge pressure, and to play a nearly perfect game like the Rams did with 365 days of buildup is remarkable.

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

You can’t spell Mason Nation without N-I-T

This is the theme to Larry’s show, the opening theme to Larry’s show, this is the music George Mason won’t hear at all this month...

The wife and I ordered some takeout food in advance of last night’s CAA final. It was quite a fine meal: Pizza, a small dish of baked ziti, some garlic knots. Yet the best part was free and wasn’t even delivered by the restaurant: A heaping, filling, diet-busting dose of Schadenfreude. Mmmmmm.

Yeah, I know: The Flying Dutchmen’s CAA season ended two games earlier than George Mason’s and yeah, I know, you probably won’t be able to spell Flying Dutchmen without C-I-T. And yeah, I know, when a mostly grown man cackles with glee over a team losing a sporting event, he reveals himself to be shallow and immature.

I don’t care. VCU’s wire-to-wire 71-50 thrashing of Mason—the most lopsided CAA title game ever, by the way—was so very tasty, I must rely on a fictitious character to properly summarize my feelings (starts around the 14-second mark, but if you stick around for the whole thing, you can see the easy-on-the-eyes Sarah Chalke as well as a pivotal moment in Scrubs history).



It was just about a perfect game for VCU, right down to Anthony Grant pulling Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders with 1:49 left. Brilliant move. You never know what could happen in the waning seconds of a game in which Mason is getting smoked, after all.

This is two straight duds for Mason on the national stage. First the 18-point loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament and now this. Might be time for a new bag of tricks for Jim Larranaga. Tom Pecora has never lost a postseason game by 21 points, and the only one he lost by 18 points or more was at the end of a season in which Hofstra went 8-21. Just saying.

Anyway, never would have guessed Sanders (with a man-among-boys line of 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks) would outshine Maynor. Can someone get in his ear and tell him to follow Maynor to the NBA…or at least Grant to whatever BCS school he ends up coaching next year?

Nice job, Rams, and it’ll be nice to have a team to root for next Thursday or Friday (and hopefully beyond). And now Tom O’Connor has five days to come up with a way for the Selection Committee to award Mason an at-large bid while he’s “not in the room.”

Mason’s loss wasn’t the only good thing to happen to Dutch Nation (snort) last night. The Dutchmen’s slim hopes of earning an NIT bid were boosted when Siena won the MAAC. Tonight, root for the chalk to come out on top tonight in the championship games of the Summit (North Dakota State) and Sun Belt (Western Kentucky) as well as for the top seed to escape a semifinal game in the Big Sky (Weber State).

And maybe you should root for Cleveland State against Butler in the Horizon final. Butler, a top 20 team, should be headed for the NCAA regardless of how it fares, but Cleveland State moving up to the NCAA opens up an NIT spot…that will probably be filled by a Big Six school anyway.

Below is the entire list of the regular season mid-major conference champions. I didn’t include the Horizon, West Coast, Conference USA or Atlantic-10 because the regular season champions of those leagues are almost surely going dancing even if they lose in their conference tourneys (and Gonzaga won the WCC last night anyway).

Those in italics have won their conference tourney and the NCAA automatic bid while those in bold lost in their conference tourney and are bound for the NIT. I’ll update this every day through Sunday.

CAA: VCU
A-East: Binghamton
Atlantic Sun: Jacksonville
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Radford
Big West: CSU-Northridge
MAAC: Siena
Mid-American: Bowling Green
MEAC: Morgan State
Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Tennessee-Martin
Patriot: American
Southern: Davidson
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
SWAC: Alabama State
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky
WAC: Utah State

Expect another handful of regular season champs to fall in their tourneys and into the NIT. Eight spots in the NIT have gone to mid-major regular season champs in each of the last two years.

All this being said, I think the NIT is a real long shot. The RPI (106, according to Jerry Palm as of Monday morning—down seven spots from last week) just isn’t high enough and there’s too many 20-win teams outside the Big Six conferences (26, as of this morning) and too many BS schools (hey, I like that) with less than 20 wins all fighting for too few spots.

The Dutchmen have the strongest NIT case of any area school (barring a run by Seton Hall in the Big East tournament), so I’m tempted to harbor some hope that the NIT will still want New York representation, despite its proclamations that the NCAA-run tournament will not allow regional bias to slip into the selection process (yeah, because the NCAA Tournament is such a paragon of freaking virtue). But how much media buzz can a team create when it’s not even covered on the road by its hometown newspaper? Nor are the Dutchmen likely to run off three straight wins on the road to get to Madison Square Garden for the Final Four.

In addition, the guy behind the awesome site NITology.com only has the Dutchmen listed among 32 bubble teams, which, you know, is not real encouraging given his pretty impressive track record picking the NIT. The good news is the Dutchmen were one of his three misses in ’07, so keep your fingers crossed…and keep rooting for the chalk. Or the Chalke, if you prefer.

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

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Day After

The author, above, wonders what the bowling ball is doing strewn about the beer and booze bottles.

That little red-haired orphan was right. The sun did come up tomorrow. Or, in this case, yesterday.

Except said sun came up an hour later than it did on Saturday. That’s right: The Flying Dutchmen’s loss to Old Dominion in the CAA quarterfinals was so jarring, it completely screwed with the time/space continuum.

Or maybe the sun rose on time, and I just didn’t notice because I wasn’t yet functioning following a Saturday night of drowning my sorrows at Fezziwigs, belting out “American Pie” and “Brown-Eyed Girl” with Rick and Ted and generally living out the lyrics of a Poison song.

Anyway, Sunday wasn’t nearly as soul-crushing as Saturday, but it was disappointing nonetheless. I’m from the school of thought that says if the team you root for can’t win the championship, root for the team that eliminated your team to win it all. Well, with occasional exceptions, of course.

But Old Dominion couldn’t recover from a run by VCU early in the second half and fell to the top-seeded Rams, 61-53. Like the Dutchmen a day earlier, the Monarchs squandered an early double-digit lead, fell behind late in the first half before coming back to take a one-point halftime lead. Unlike the Dutchmen, there was no second half comeback for ODU, which trailed the final 17 minutes. I’d like to say the Dutchmen wore out the Monarchs Saturday, but I think the real problem Sunday was Gerald Lee’s re-injured ankle and Eric Maynor’s general awesomeness.

In the nightcap, Towson’s shocking run came to a halt when the Tigers ran out of gas in the second half against George Mason, which means a season of wild unpredictability ends with 1 vs. 2 in the championship game for only the second time since the CAA expanded in 2001-02. I think that’s ironic, in that it’s not ironic at all.

It would have been easy to root for Towson had it gotten to tonight, but instead we’ll have to be willing to sacrifice an NIT bid for the greater good. Sure, a Mason win would almost surely help the Dutchmen’s NIT candidacy (more on that tomorrow), but I’d rather clean all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station with my tongue (and have a 2008 CIT banner hanging at the Arena) than spend a single second in Mason Nation. Anyone got a VCU jersey I can borrow for a couple hours?

Make sure to check out Litos' excellent blog for much more about the semifinals and make sure to click repeatedly throughout the title game tonight.

Other bits and bytes from The Day After:

—I never linked to the stories about Hofstra-ODU. I’d like to say I was in denial, but the truth is I just forgot. So check out the Dutchmen-centric stories from the Daily News and Newsday as well as the excellent coverage from the Virginia newspapers. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a gamer, as does the Newport News Daily Press (check out the bummer of a picture from the immediate aftermath of Charles Jenkins’ miss at the buzzer). This Daily Press blog breaks down the Jenkins-Lee battle while this column profiles Jonathan Adams, the Monarchs’ lone senior, their emotional leader and the big ol’ meanie who blocked Jenkins’ shot. And The Virginian-Pilot profiles the soft-spoken Lee.

—The Dutchmen’s NIT hopes got more good news than bad news in the aftermath of the loss to ODU. Davidson, the top seed in the Southern Conference and the darlings of the 2008 NCAA tournament, lost to College of Charleston in the semifinals and are likely bound for the NIT (much to the relief of the Big Six, I am sure). But top-seeded Northern Iowa won the Missouri Valley while top seeds Binghamton (America East) and American (Patriot) survived scares. Tonight, the Dutchmen need to root for a win by Siena in the MAAC finals.

The d’oh/whoo-hoo moment of the weekend, meanwhile, occurred in the Atlantic Sun championship game Saturday, when East Tennessee State beat Jacksonville. That’s good because it means the Dutchmen have beaten an NCAA Tournament team: The Dutchmen edged ETSU 76-75 in the third game of the Charleston Classic way back in November. But it’s bad because Jacksonville was the A-Sun’s regular season champ, which means it’s headed for the NIT.

The Dutchmen last beat an NCAA-bound team in 2006-07, when they eked out a 65-64 win over eventual Patriot League champion Holy Cross in the Bracket Buster.

—And speaking of the America East, I always follow its conference tournament, and Binghamton’s comeback win over New Hampshire restored a shred of sanity to a tournament that went haywire for the first time ever. Had fourth-seeded New Hampshire—coached by Bill Herrion, who led Drexel to three straight NAC/A-East titles from 1994-96—held on to a five-point lead in the final two minutes, it would have hosted the title game against sixth-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County.

That would have been crazy stuff for a conference in which only one team seeded lower than second has won the title and in which at least one top two seed has reached the title game every year since 1983. Along those lines, the VCU-Mason matchup tonight assures that a top two seed will win Hofstra’s conference tournament for the 14th time in 15 years. Damn you chalk! Damn you to hell!

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

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Old Dominion 52, Hofstra 51 (Or: They took the last bus…out of Richmond)

Who knew Cinderella wrote so many songs about actual basketball Cinderellas?

There’s no need to spend today scouring the Internet for cheap flights Monday to Richmond. No need to come up with a story how the Virginia flu wiped you out Monday and Tuesday and left you so exhausted you couldn’t even get out of bed, never mind come to work and God are you kidding, you might have it too because there’s no way you saw me on camera on ESPN.

There’s no need to come up with another excuse to miss work next Thursday or Friday. No need to spend the next 10 days coming up with ways to justify spending several hundred dollars you probably can’t afford to spend in order to see the Flying Dutchmen in the NCAA Tournament at some far-flung location and buy the accompanying T-shirts (I did that in 2001. Just paid off those credit card bills. Good times!).

There’s no need for any of it, because the mighty Chucky had his shot blocked.

Jonathan Adams got a piece of Charles Jenkins’ shot just before the buzzer expired as Old Dominion escaped with a 52-51 win in the CAA quarterfinals in Richmond. The Monarchs advance to face top-seeded VCU today in a semifinal game at 3 p.m. while the Dutchmen are left to nurse the wounds from the type of agonizing defeat a Hofstra team last suffered when Jenkins was two years old, Tom Pecora was coaching SUNY-Farmingdale and I was listening to the album pictured above.

That would be 1991, when the Dutchmen fell to Maryland-Baltimore County, 68-67, in the East Coast Conference tournament. Such gut-wrenching defeats were commonplace in the pre-Defiantly Dutch era: Eight of the Dutchmen’s 12 losses in a conference tournament between 1981 and 1992 were by five points or less and only one was by more than eight points.

Since 1995, only one of the Dutchmen’s 18 conference tournament or NCAA/NIT losses has been by less than nine points. And the 64-61 loss to George Mason in the 2007 CAA tournament was not nearly as close or suspenseful as the final score indicated.

But now we know how the Dutchmen fans of the Reagan/Bush era felt every March, and are left to wonder what if about both the micro and macro. What if Dane Johnson finishes off that dunk late in the second half? What if Keyon Carter is called for hacking the ever holy hell out of him on the dunk attempt?

What if the Dutchmen don’t get nostalgic at the free throw line and what if Johnson and Nathaniel Lester hit a free throw apiece instead of missing both attempts following shooting fouls? What if Jenkins doesn’t miss the first of the two technical free throws he took in the first half? What if they score just one more basket at some point in the second half?

And what if Drexel wins one of the four games it lost by a single point? Then the Dutchmen get the six seed and maybe they’re playing George Mason this afternoon.

Or maybe they’d have been home by mid-afternoon yesterday, because 11th-seeded Towson—a team the Dutchmen swept this season and a school that hasn’t had a winning season since Hofstra College consisted of a single building—is somehow in the semifinals. Such bewildering randomness leaves us shaking our fists at the sky and bemoaning the mighty and heartless fates.
A season of watching bipolar basketball has left us feeling pretty schizophrenic ourselves. Should I drink all the liquor in the house (all we have is some wine; that’s not very aggressive) and kick the dog (which would severely strain neighborly relations, since the only dog in the house belongs to the folks living downstairs)?

Or should I realize this was a season in which the Dutchmen exceeded all expectations and a season that may not be over yet? There’s a pretty good chance the Dutchmen will play at least one more game—most likely in the fledgling CollegeInsider.com Tournament (presuming, of course, the crashing economy hasn’t crushed it), less likely in the NIT (root like hell for the top seeds in mid-majors to win their tournaments, except VCU—I’d be shocked if the NIT awarded three at-large bids to the CAA), even less likely in the CBI (where it costs a team $60,000 to host a game…uhh, no).

And should we find some beauty in the Dutchmen participating in another game that lived up to the hype, one that will probably stand the test of time as the best game of the tournament and one that serves as an appropriate symbol of the Dutchmen’s unpredictability? Should we look at this logically and understand that it’s tough for the Dutchmen to win when they shoot 34.6 percent, score three points on 1-of-12 shooting in the first 10 minutes of the second half to fall behind by 10 points? Should we remind ourselves that Gerald Lee was such a monster (30 points, 10 rebounds) and that no matter what Hofstra did, he may have done whatever he had to do to make sure his team ended up with one more point?

We should know that the heartache of Saturday will benefit Jenkins and fellow sophomores Lester and Greg Washington, the latter two of whom symbolically took the baton Saturday and ranked 2-3 on the Dutchmen (behind Jenkins, of course) in minutes played.

But…but they were so close. A 20-2 run turned a 9-2 deficit into a 22-11 lead that had Blaine Taylor earning himself a technical and the Monarchs on the verge of a standing eight count. Then, after Old Dominion outscored the Dutchmen 31-10 over a 17-minute span, the Dutchmen stormed back to take a 47-46 lead on Jenkins’ 3-pointer with 2:06 left.

All of which led to the wild final 20 seconds: Two incredibly clutch free throws by Darius James, who was perfect where his teammates were not, a quick layup by Jenkins, a steal and a time out that probably wasn’t a steal and a time out by Life of Corny and Jenkins’ last, heavily contested shot.

And if we think we feel bad, well, we didn’t have to pack up and head back to Hempstead within two hours of the final buzzer. The narrowest of margins separated the Dutchmen from a semifinal date against VCU and a quiet ride home up I-95.

The sudden finality of the Dutchmen’s season reminds me of a great quote from Terry Francona about the end of the baseball season. “You kind of laugh when you hear people say it winds down,” Francona said following the 2005 season. “It doesn’t. It comes to a crashing halt. You go 100 miles per hour, then it’s over.”

“But the way it ends—it doesn’t wind down. That’s a very difficult concept. You can be in the game for years and years and it’s still a difficult concept.”

We can all hope that next year will finally be next year. But next year never feels as far away as it does in the moments after this year ends.

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

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tom Pecora on the loss to ODU

The Flying Dutchmen’s NCAA Tournament hopes ended in heart-breaking fashion this afternoon, when Old Dominion held on for a 52-51 win in the CAA quarterfinals in Richmond. Afterward, Tom Pecora took a few minutes to talk about the game, his thoughts on the season and the Dutchmen’s chances of earning a bid to the NIT or another postseason tournament. Our sincere thanks to Jeremy Kniffin for arranging the interview and to Tom as well for his time, both today and throughout the season.

On the game:

They did what we did to people all year. That was the difference in the game. [Gerald] Lee was great, had 30 and 10, but with that said, we could have weathered the storm better, rebounded the ball better.

On Lee’s performance:

It was frustrating, we expected it. At our place, he had 20 and eight, but we beat them. What really hurt us was they had Jonathan Adams [with] eight rebounds. They did a good job on the offensive end, at the other end they had more field goal attempts than we did. And we didn’t shoot the ball well from the free throw line. That’s where we lost the game, there and the offensive glass.

I’m proud of the guys, they played their tails off all year. Charles Jenkins was great again and the sophomores played well with him, Greg Washington and Nathaniel Lester. And we’ve got a good recruiting class coming next year.

On the Dutchmen’s resiliency this afternoon:

We jumped back in it. They jumped on us 9-2, we jumped back in the game and they fought their way back and made a couple threes in transition early in the second half. And it’s a road game basically—the house goes crazy when they score. You settle in, I had to burn some timeouts early to do that. But I thought we had a good look at the end. Charles got a good look on the elbow. You’re not going to get a whistle at the end of the game there.

Look, this year, we’ve been tough. I think, including tonight, we’re like 12-3 in five-point games. We had the ball and with a chance to win the game. When we’re in the game late like that, we expect to win. Tonight it didn’t work out that way. Such is life.

On what he said to the team after the game:

Not a lot [laughs]. Just said, hey, we’ve got to get on the bus, going back to the hotel and we’re on the bus on the way home now. We’ll have a team meeting [upon their return]. We’re on the bubble for the NIT. Four years ago, we would have definitely been in, in the old days. But I don’t know how important the New York influence is anymore for them. Maybe we’ll have a better chance if there’s an upset tonight, if Northeastern loses tonight or something like that. We’re going to practice and see what happens.

On what he’d say about his seniors if this is in fact their last game:

Just a sad way for them to end their career, quite honestly. I think they were great soldiers. They went from 12 wins to 20 this year. They all bought in. Wonderful young men. But I’m sure they all would have preferred to have had a better [end] to their career than tonight.

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

Well, crap

Opening Day is 29 days away.

Burton knows best

Darius Burton knows the situation for the Flying Dutchmen in the CAA Tournament is much different than the one he and his teammates were presented with entering the 1994 East Coast Conference tournament.

These Dutchmen won 20 regular season games, finished fifth in one of the best mid-major conferences in the country and must win four tournament games in Virginia—home state of three of the top four seeds—in as many days in order to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Yet the objective and mindset are the same as 15 years ago, when the Dutchmen were seeded fifth in a piecemeal six-team league that offered no automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament yet won the championship by recording half as many victories in a three-day span in an empty arena in Buffalo as they had in the preceding three months.

“In general you can’t look ahead—you’ve got to look at each opponent one game at a time and do what they did today,” Burton said Friday, a few hours after the Dutchmen beat UNC-Wilmington and on the anniversary of the 1994 team’s title-clinching, double-overtime victory over Northeastern Illinois. “I heard it on the radio—they got off to a good start and they didn’t look back. Put your opponent away when you can, don’t settle. Put them away early, that way you can get your bench in there, get some rest and be ready to play tomorrow.”

While rest is valuable, Burton believes momentum and adrenaline are an even bigger advantage in a short tournament. A relatively easy 86-77 opening round win over Chicago State jumpstarted the Dutchmen, who were further fueled by a dramatic overtime victory over Troy State in the semifinals (Burton hit a lay-up just before the buzzer to give the Dutchmen a 90-89 win).

“Playing three games in three days, you get on a little roll, start believing in each other, you start playing good ball and it spreads,” Burton said. “It was very tiring, but I know for myself, I wasn’t thinking fatigue at all. I think at that stage you’re not even thinking about that. You’re thinking your season could be over with a loss.”

The end came for the Dutchmen with an 88-86 victory over Northeastern Illinois that not only served as a unique and unlikely going-away present for retiring coach Butch van Breda Kolff but also provided a lesson that’s as relevant today as it was in 1994.

“We were 6-20 [in the regular season], we had a horrible record, but we came together for three days and it was great,” Burton said. “We were the second-to-last team in the conference and we beat the [fifth seed], the two and the one to win it all. I think it just showed that if you put it all together for three days, it’s not [necessarily] the best team that wins but the hottest team that pays the best ball at the right time.”

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

Bits and Bytes: Saturday



Can’t say this enough: If you’re not clicking repeatedly on Litos’ tournament blog, you’re missing out on some great stuff. The above clip contains footage shot before, during and after the Flying Dutchmen’s win over UNC-Wilmington. It’s almost as good as being there and he’s really revved up for today, so check back all afternoon and evening.

Give the Dutchmen’s win another look by reading the game stories from the Richmond Times-Dispatch (as well as a notebook that features items on both the Dutchmen and Old Dominion), the Daily News and Newsday. Tom Pecora also appeared after the game with Mike Francesa, who, to the surprise of no one, could not be bothered to figure out what Charles Jenkins did before Pecora called in.

Pecora hints he believes the Dutchmen need to win today to give themselves a decent chance of earning an NIT bid, should, of course, they not win the tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. I still think today’s game is an elimination game for the NIT—no way a 32-team tournament takes a fourth- or fifth-place team from the CAA that didn’t get out of its own quarterfinals—but that whomever wins still has to get to the final to have a realistic shot.

I’m pretty sure the world spun off its axis sometime yesterday, because my mother-in-law is now contributing to the blog. She told us she read on The Sports Network that the Dutchmen were predicted to win 79-64. I told her that was crazy, she must have seen a box score from late in the second half. But it appears she was right. Of course let’s not get carried away pounding The Sports Network on its back. That’s the website, after all, that picked the Dutchmen to finish last in the CAA way back in November.

As for March, maybe it’s a good thing Hofstra didn’t finish sixth after all. That Towson thrashing of Drexel looked real familiar. And hey, Drexel, thanks for nuking my CAA tournament bracket! I felt pretty good two games in, not so much after four games. You know, a lot like I feel on the first day of the NCAA Tournament.

And don’t forget this afternoon’s potentially epic Old Dominion game is on MSG2-Plus, which I’ve never heard of and which apparently Cablevision customers don’t get (I’m pretty sure that’s ironic, in that it’s not ironic at all, since Cablevision runs MSG) However, it appears as if the game will be carried on Channel 14, otherwise known as the Channel That Killed TV Guide. Seriously, when was the last time you opened up a TV Guide or checked out the TV listings in the local paper?

Anyway…lastly, stop by for another story around noon or so, this one in which Darius Burton talks about the task of winning at least three games in as many days in a postseason tournament. Burton, of course, was the point guard on the 1993-94 Dutchmen, who won the ECC Tournament by winning three games in three days—a feat unmatched by a Hofstra team before or since.

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

Hofstra 79, UNC-Wilmington 66 (Or: Deep Impact)

Tea Leoni is going to break the story of the giant comet on its way to destroy Earth, but not before she watches the Flying Dutchmen beat UNC-Wilmington Friday.

The Flying Dutchmen opened the season in mid-November with what looked like the deepest roster of the Tom Pecora Era. But nobody could have imagined just how correct that assumption would prove to be at the most opportune time possible.

Four Dutchmen starters played 13 minutes or less, but reserves Greg Washington, Dane Johnson, Cornelius Vines and Zygis Sestokas combined for 37 points and 29 rebounds and Charles Jenkins had another monster game as the Dutchmen never trailed in beating UNC-Wilmington, 79-66, to advance to the CAA quarterfinals today against Old Dominion.

The Dutchmen managed to record their most lopsided win of the conference season—and their most lopsided victory since a 68-52 win over St. Francis on Dec. 13—on an afternoon in which Pecora was forced to juggle his rotation before the first media timeout. Nathaniel Lester and Darren Townes each picked up two fouls in the first three minutes and played just seven and 10 minutes, respectively, while Greg Johnson (nine minutes) and Arminas Urbutis (13 minutes) were also limited.

Lester, who still managed to score 10 points, made by far his briefest appearance in his 13 games as a starter while Townes tied his low mark in minutes in the 13 starts since returning to the lineup Jan. 17. Johnson played his fewest minutes, disregarding the game against James Madison in which he hurt his shoulder, during his streak of 17 straight starts while Urbutis, who was making his 13th straight start, played his second-fewest minutes in that span.

The four starters with 13 or fewer minutes is easily the most since at least the 2004-05 season (more research today). The Dutchmen have had as many as two starters play 13 minutes or fewer only five times in that span (all since the start of last season).

Yet the work of the four reserves helped the Dutchmen produce perhaps their most complete game of the season. Washington and Dane Johnson enjoyed particularly revelatory performances off the bench. Washington recorded his third double-double of the year by scoring a career-high 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting—most of his 15-foot jumpers hit nothing but net—and tying a career high with 12 rebounds in a career-high 33 minutes

Johnson, whose indecision with the ball down low has led to an increasingly marginal role, played the type of game that no doubt had fans and his coaches alike wondering just where the hell this has been all year. All three of Johnson’s baskets were ferocious dunks and he pulled down seven rebounds in 23 minutes, his highest totals in both categories since Jan. 10.

Vines and Sestokas combined to shoot just 4-of-16 from beyond the arc, yet Life of Corny played 33 minutes, his most since he was demoted to the bench following the loss to Drexel Jan. 14, and his suffocating defense on Chad Tomko resulted in a miserable shooting night (2-for-14) for the Wilmington star. Sestokas tied a season-high with five rebounds in 33 minutes the fourth tie in the last five games he’s exceeded 30 minutes—a mark he didn’t reach at all in 44 consecutive games between last Jan. 5 and Feb. 14.

Jenkins, meanwhile, got plenty of work, in playing 40 minutes for the fifth time and scoring 27 points—on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 shooting from the free throw line—to go along with nine assists and four rebounds. That Jenkins didn’t sit once in a game the Dutchmen led by at least two possessions over the last 32 minutes was the source of some concern at the CAA Zone boards.

But while the Dutchmen were never threatened after a 17-4 run gave them a 16-point lead a little more than 12 minutes into the game, they could never really put away a pesky Wilmington squad Pecora called the best 12 seed he’s ever seen. The Seahawks didn’t get within single digits over the final 16:11, yet they made six of 10 3-pointers in the second half to keep things just interesting enough that Pecora could not empty the bench.

Plus, why mess with what was just about the perfect momentum builder going into what could be the game of the tournament? The Dutchmen returned to their usual defensive tenacity (they out-rebounded Wilmington 43-30 and limited the Seahawks to just 31.6 percent shooting form the field) while shooting 52.7 percent, their second-best effort of the season. Multiple players supported Jenkins on offense and fellow sophomores Lester and Washington played like future anchors of the program.

A similar performance will be needed today in what could be the game of the tournament against a red-hot Old Dominion team that is, in many ways, a mirror image of the Dutchmen. Washington and Dane Johnson, in particular, will need to be as effective in limiting the impact of ODU’s 6-foot-10 star Gerald Lee and the experienced. And another good start is essential. It says here that the Dutchmen will be playing Sunday as long as they’re within a couple baskets by midway through the first half today.

The collective effort Friday was reminiscent of the one generated in a home victory over Towson Feb. 7, when the Dutchmen eked out a 71-68 win despite nobody getting as many as 30 minutes of playing time. That win marked the start of a four-game conference winning streak. The Dutchmen would be quite content if history began repeating itself Friday.

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

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bits and Bytes: CAA Tournament

The clock is ticking...

Cliches exist for weekends like this. There really is no tomorrow. It’s all on the line. Win or go home. The cream rises to the top. Four months of basketball come down to four games. Et cetera, et cetera.

There’s no more rationalizing a defeat with “they’re just a little flawed, it’s still good, it’s still good.” The season is officially a tightrope and one more defeat (at least if it occurs before Monday) likely sends the Flying Dutchmen into the abyss of the off-season (or, perhaps, the CBI or CIT…which, you know, may be abysses of their own).

It’s the cruelest—remember last year, when the Dutchmen were the first team to tip off and the first one to go home?—yet potentially most rewarding weekend of the season, and the mere math suggests the odds are the ride home to Hempstead will be a long one. But everyone’s facing the same 1-in-12 shot, so why can’t the Dutchmen be the 1?

Sure, it’s a lot to expect four wins in four days, but this is the season in which all hell will break loose in a tournament that typically goes according to chalk. I refuse to believe everything will unfold in fairly predictable fashion after a crazy regular season.

It’s largely a matter of apples and oranges, but I think back a couple months and how an unpredictable NFL regular season beget a playoffs in which both top seeds were wiped out in the conference semifinals and an afterthought no. 5 seed fell to a perennial contender in a thrilling Super Bowl. (Hmm…in that case, I guess the Dutchmen would fall to Mason in the championship. Aaaaaargh!)

So how do the Dutchmen end up the Arizona Cardinals, plus one? They need Greg Johnson—who isn’t Carlos Rivera and isn’t a 40-minute-a-game point guard—to mimic Rivera’s nearly perfect play in the 2006 CAA Tournament. Tom Pecora is right to presume the Dutchmen will need big performances from their big men, but a combined 20 productive minutes a game out of the inconsistent Dane Johnson and the still-healing Miklos Szabo is essential to any title hopes.

Nathaniel Lester needs to rediscover his form and confidence of early-to-mid February, when he was a consistent double-double threat and the wingman to Charles Jenkins. Speaking of Jenkins, he doesn’t have to shoot 50 percent four straight games for the Dutchmen to win, but he does have to remain productive in other facets of the game even if he’s struggling from the field. Like he did against Fairfield, when he was 4-of-17 from the field but had nine assists and three steals.

Cornelius Vines and/or Zygis Sestokas need to be hot all weekend, because it’s going to be very tough to win a game in which neither one of them is draining multiple 3-pointers. Tony Dennison needs to have a game in which he scores more points than he did all of February. Considering he scored three points in February, I figure that’ll happen.

I like the Dutchmen’s chances because they’re fundamentally sound, extremely well-tested in close games and deeper than any other team in the field. Also, Mike Francesa said in December he didn’t think they could do it.

And I’m fretful because this team is prone to slow starts on the road, and all it takes is 10 bad minutes in the first half to render the first 30 (or more) games meaningless. And I’m fretful because history not only suggests but screams that nobody’s ever done this—this being a northern-based team winning the CAA, this being a team winning on Friday as well as Monday, this being a five seed emerging as the champion.

But what the hell. Optimism this weekend is a lot like a gift card to a store that’s getting ready to close (I know, I know: What a concept). There’s no saving it, so spend it all now. Plus, it’s the 15th anniversary of the fifth-seeded Dutchmen storming to the ECC championship.

It’s serendipity, baby. And if it’s not, well, hopefully they make it interesting along the way.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be in Richmond, but we’ll have posts as long as the Dutchmen are playing, so please keep stopping by. Enjoy the ride, however long it is.

***

Blog-biased predictions that will probably be wrong:

FIRST ROUND
No. 8 Georgia State over no. 9 Delaware: Maybe it’s just the fresh memories of Georgia State’s thrashing of the Dutchmen, but I have a hard time seeing the Panthers lose to Delaware, which is 5-11 overall—and 0-9 in conference—away from the Bob.

No. 5 Hofstra over no. 12 UNC-Wilmington: Historical trends aside, this one still scares me, and I don’t expect the Dutchmen will enjoy their first blowout of the conference season now. But they’ll expose the Seawolves just enough down low to advance to the quarters.

No. 10 William & Mary over no. 7 James Madison: For precisely the reasons Litos described…plus the whole tree-falling-on-the-JMU-parking-spot thing. Sometimes you just can’t ignore the signs, you know.

No. 6 Drexel over no. 11 Towson: Biggest blowout of the first round. Pat Kennedy’s last game?

QUARTERFINALS
No. 1 VCU over no. 8 Georgia State: For a few days last week I was thinking Georgia State would pull off a shocking upset here. That 28-point loss Saturday put a kibosh to that, but the Panthers will still make the Rams sweat here before VCU pulls away late.

No. 5 Hofstra over no. 4 Old Dominion: Game of the tournament. Whomever wins here makes the final. ODU is clicking better than anybody else and it won’t surprise me at all if they escape with the victory, but my minor blog bias foresees Charles Jenkins taking this game over late and declaring to all of Virginia his arrival as a CAA superstar.

No. 2 George Mason over no. 10 William & Mary: Midnight comes a couple rounds earlier this year for William & Mary.

No. 6 Drexel over no. 3 Northeastern: I know I was all over the Northeastern bandwagon a few weeks ago, but Drexel’s season-ending skid seems more a matter of bad luck and more reversible than that of the Huskies.

SEMIFINALS
Hofstra over VCU: Oh sure, the tiebreaker here is blog bias, but the Dutchmen gave the Rams all they could handle twice this year and have the big men to give VCU fits if Larry Sanders gets into foul trouble (which, with an average of 3.7 fouls per game this year, he will).

Drexel over George Mason: In a season in which nothing goes according to plan, a team finishing the regular season in a 1-4 slump and then making the conference title games makes perfect sense. The Dragons, who were a couple decent breaks away from being 14-4, get revenge for the first of their four conference losses by a single point in a strength vs. strength matchup. I just foresee Mason’s free throw difficulties catching up to it at some point this weekend. Why not here?

ECC CHAMPIONSHIP
Hofstra over Drexel: Revenge for 1986! Plenty of good seats available.

(I’ll also take credit for being right if Old Dominion beats Hofstra and wins its final two games)

***

Newsday previews the tournament here. So does the Daily News. And the New York Post. And the New York Times. Everyone’s climbing aboard! Alas only the Times is down there, and birdies tell me the Dutchmen will need to win at least two games before the other papers even think of sending anyone down to Virginia. Yeah, God forbid the bean counters at Long Island’s newspaper cover a Long Island college in its conference tournament.

Once again: For the best coverage of the tournament, click early and often on Litos. He's going to kick all sorts of ass.

I wish I was still a college student. A hundred bucks for tickets, transportation to Richmond and lodging—and people are complaining? I like to criticize Hofstra’s bottom-line ways as much as anyone, but people, geez, you’ll never enjoy a deal like this again, especially in the Great Depression II: Electric Bankruptaroo. Hope you went if you had the chance.

If you’re like me, you’re just hoping the CAA webcast is worth the five bucks. See you there in a few hours. I’ll be the guy yelling about Darius Burton.

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

Go Four It

Dude, I totally think the Flying Dutchmen can win four games in four days. (This one's for the wife)

Every coach who is directing a team today in Richmond is telling his players they can be the ones to beat the odds and play—or even win—on Monday. But nobody knows of what he speaks quite like William & Mary’s Tony Shaver.

The Tribe last season became the second team in as many years to reach the championship game by winning three games in three days. Ironically, in that it’s not ironic at all, William & Mary’s run came to an end at the hands of George Mason, which emerged from Friday’s first round to play in the 2007 title contest.

Mason has a bye this year as the second seed, but the Tribe—who were seeded fifth a year ago and reached the final by winning three games by a combined six points—is seeded 10th and hoping history will repeat itself. “I think the league is that balanced and there’s no question that somebody from the bottom half of this league can make a great run at a championship,” Shaver said during the CAA coaches’ conference call Monday.

Of course, those of us with a particular rooting interest look at the Flying Dutchmen’s seeding and harbor hopes that the Dutchmen can not only repeat history but make it, as well. To listen to Tom Pecora this week is to wonder if he snuck back to Hofstra during the debate preparations in October and hung out with Barack Obama.

“Hey, someone is going to do it eventually,” Pecora said. “Why not it be us this year?”

It’s commonly believed that the biggest hurdle to a championship for a team playing today is overcoming the fatigue of playing the four games in four days. But Pecora and Shaver believe the momentum and adrenaline of winning the first three games—not to mention the inherent resiliency of youth—will counteract any exhaustion.

“We recruited these kids and we’ve seen them playing AAU tournaments and four or five games in one day,” Pecora said Monday. “Granted, the intensity, the physicality isn’t what our games are. But I get a kick out of it when they say they’re tired at the end of a three-hour practice. You’re 20 years old, you’re not allowed to be tired.”

The fatigue effect from playing a fourth game in four days appears negligible. Mason almost couldn’t help but shoot worse in the 2007 finale against VCU (47.1%) than it did in during a brilliant semifinal win over Old Dominion (58.3%). The Patriots set their tournament high in turnovers—in fact, their turnovers from Friday through Monday went 8-9-11-16—and pulled down their 27 rebounds, their fewest of the tournament, but they still led VCU by five points with two minutes left before Eric Maynor took over.

William & Mary had its worst shooting game of the tournament (38%) in last year’s finale, when it took its most shots from the field (50) and from 3-point land (29). The Tribe were outscored 41-33 in the second half after trailing just 27-26 at intermission.

However, William & Mary tied its tournament low with just nine turnovers, shot a tournament-best 80 percent from the line and was outrebounded by seven (35-28), which fit right in with its tournament average (outrebounded 34.3-27.5).

“Last year there were people who said our guys looked a little more sluggish than they did previously, maybe not as quick,” Shaver said. “I really didn’t feel that way. Doggone it, you get to a championship game in a conference tournament that’s got a chance to put you in the NCAA. There’s a lot of things that propel you through that entire 40 minutes of basketball and the adrenaline kicks in.”

The key for a potential Cinderella is to play better over four days than it did over the previous two months. “You are what your record says you are,” Pecora said Monday. “And we had some losses this year that ended up biting us in the tail when it came time to try to get that four seed.”

Mason’s shooting percentage (both overall and from 3-point land) during the 2007 tournament was better than its overall numbers and the Patriots bettered their season averages in both turnovers and rebounding advantage. Last year, William & Mary shot better and saw a minimal decrease in its free throw shooting but greatly reduced its turnovers-per-game while narrowing the rebounding gap. (All stats are below)

From the clip and save department (well, you can’t do that here, so just, err, bookmark and save): The Dutchmen enter the tournament shooting 39.1% overall, 31.3% from 3-point land and 69.7% from the line. They’ve averaged 15.4 turnovers per game and outrebounded opponents 41-35.3.

The biggest task for the Dutchmen and the seven other teams playing today? Overcoming the general parity of the CAA to win four games in four days. Such a feat is tough to accomplish in any conference, but particularly in the first weekend of March in a league defined by its wild unpredictability.

“I don’t think being tired is as big of an issue as having to beat four teams [over] four straight days,” Shaver said.

“Each of [the] brackets contains a team that has beaten us,” said Bill Coen, the coach of third-seeded Northeastern. “So it’s really just the advantage of the extra day. But everybody is as capable [of winning], as evidenced by the day when we lost to William & Mary and VCU lost to Wilmington. It’s just going to be that wide open.”

***

Mason 2007 tourney, game-by-game:
Vs. JMU: 55.6% FG (25-45), 52.6% 3FG (10-19), 52% FT (13-25), 8 TO, 32-23 R
Vs. Hof: 44% FG (22-50), 35% 3FG (7-20), 76.5% FT (13-17), 9 TO, 38-31 R
Vs. ODU: 58.3% FG (28-48), 33% 3FG (5-15), 62.1% FT (18-29), 11 TO, 35-31 R
Vs. VCU: 47.1% FG (24-51), 40% 3FG (6-15), 83.3% FT (5-6), 16 TO, 27-27 R
TOTALS: 51% FG (99-194), 40.6% 3FG (28-69), 63.6% FT (49-77), 11 TO/gm, 33-28 R
SEASON: 46.3% FG, 34.2% 3FG, 64.3% FT, 12.3 TO/gm, 32.6-30.3 R

W&M 2008 tourney, game-by-game:
Vs. GSU: 40.9% FG (18-44), 27.3% 3FG (6-22), 55.2% FT (16-29), 9 TO, 27-37 R
Vs. ODU: 48.5% FG (21-43), 41.7% 3FG (10-24), 73.3% FT (11-15), 13 TO, 27-32 R
Vs. VCU: 43.1% FG (22-51), 35% 3FG (7-20), 62.5% (5-8), 12 TO, 28-33 R
Vs. GMU: 38% FG (19-50), 31% 3 FG (9-29), 80% FT (12-15), 9 TO, 28-35 R
TOTALS: 42.6% FG (80-188), 33.7% 3FG (32-95), 65.7% FT (44-67), 10.8 TO/gm, 27.5-34.3
SEASON: 41.7% FG, 34% 3FG, 69.5% FT, 13.3 TO/gm, 31.7-34.3 R

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

Thursday, March 5, 2009

CAA Tournament Preview: Tom Pecora Q&A

Tom Pecora will be prepared if the Dutchmen go four (to the) straight.

If he’s sick of seeing my mug, he’s doing a fine job of hiding it. Tom Pecora once again took some time to chat following practice Tuesday, when he looked back at the regular season and ahead to the CAA Tournament this weekend in Richmond.

And hey, it’s March, you don’t need some wordy intro about what he said. You just want the goods. So here you go. Make sure to stop by for much more tournament content tomorrow.

What’s this week like for a coach?

It’s exciting, it’s a great time of year. I wasn’t thrilled with our performance Saturday, but we were able to get our 20th win. Four out of five years we’ve had 20 wins, so that’s a goal we always shoot for. So that’s something to enjoy for a day and then you start thinking about your next game and preparing for your next game. It’s an exciting time, a great challenge to go down there and play, but we’ll go down and take care of business. We’ve got a good bunch of guys. I enjoy spending time with the team on the road, they’re great kids. So that makes it easier, too.

Hopefully we can stay there for a while. I’m packing four suits.

You haven’t been thrilled with the defensive performance the last few games. How much of that is running into a team that couldn’t miss in Georgia State and a couple of high-scoring teams in James Madison and UNC-Wilmington?

To a degree. But I also think it’s commitment on our part. I talked to them after the Madison game—I think we got seduced by the idea of running up and down the floor and outscoring people. And that’s not who we are. We talked about that today: We’re about defending and rebounding. Blue-collar, tough team. And if we don’t get back to playing that, we’re not going to win this tournament. The only way we have a chance of winning this tournament is playing what we call Hofstra basketball, and that’s built on tough man-to-man defense, relentless rebounding and just having that one or two spurts in the course of a game that helps you win. It’s about wearing people down with your intense, physical defense. And hopefully we can get back to that this week. We’re going to work on that the next few days.

You said on the CAA coaches' conference call Monday that you’re still waiting for this team to play a game where everything clicks. What game, do you think, was the closest to the “A” game?

Defensively, Old Dominion. I thought ODU, we played with great defensive intensity. And offensively, that might have been the game too. At home, we really played well against Old Dominion. Earlier in the year, I thought the win at Towson was great for us offensively because we had good balance and we attacked various defenses.

Why do you think a team that is so good at winning close games [the Dutchmen are 12-2 in games decided by five or fewer points] has a hard time closing games such as the ones against James Madison and UNC-Wilmington, when you had healthy leads for most of the second half yet needed overtime to win?

I think some of it is immaturity. Very often, late in those games, you see we still have three sophomores on the floor. And I think that there’s times where our immaturity shows. We’re up eight, we’re up 10 and we think the game’s over. When you’re a mature team, you say ‘We’re up eight, we’re up 10, now we’ve got to put this way’ and you realize the next run is the one that puts them away. It’s like in a boxing match, getting a guy in a corner, working him over, but you take two steps back, Well, why would you do that? Let’s put him away. The smelling of the blood and pounding on that opportunity—I think veteran teams do that. And the majority of our scorers are not veterans, they’re underclassmen.

Why do you think Nathaniel Lester has struggled the last few games?

I don’t know. And I’ve been on him hard, He’s a sophomore, so there’s no more of that freshman wall or any of that [expletive]. You know what it is? It’s him getting his head out of his ass and coming to games prepared to play.

How about Ziggy Sestokas and Darren Townes? Why have they emerged as such key contributors after spending much of the season out of the rotation?

The light’s gone on for them and they realize their careers are almost over. Like I said earlier: We’ve had that on the board, we’ve had the countdown how many practices you have left, how many games you have left in your career. And at some point, you’ve got to say ‘Holy moley, I’ve got to play balls out every possession.’

What’s your take on Charles Jenkins’ performance this season? He had a great start, a rough middle and a pretty good end…

And that’s how our season’s been. He was a mirror image of us, because that’s how important he is to us. There’s been nights where Nathaniel or Corny or Ziggy have picked up the slack a little bit, but for the most part, as Charles goes, we go. It’s not as extreme as it was last year with Antoine, you know what I mean? And I didn’t want it to be that way. That’s why we didn’t win last year. We were too predictable and we were too easy to shut down, because there was no other options. But the other guys around this year [provide] a great balance. [It’s] what’s enabled us to make a jump from 12 to 20 wins.

He’s a pleasure to coach, he’s just like Carlos and Loren and all those guys. It’s great to watch him grow up and at the same time stay humble and become more and more of a leader. There’s a lot on his plate, as a sophomore especially.

Why do you think this team is prone to the slow starts that have led to a handful of lopsided losses?

Especially on the road. In the beginning it happened to us—at UMass might have been the first time—and once again they were just making shots. I thinks sometimes after it happens once, it’s like taking a beating when you were a kid: After it happens you kind of learn from it. What really concerns me is that it could have happened like it did at Georgia State the other night. I think one of the things is when you hang your hat on defense and a team comes out and they’re just unconscious—and in some cases making shots with you draped on them—you’re like wow, you know, what is going on here? It’s like a team that’s always used to making jumpers and all of a sudden you can’t make one. Well, when you can’t get stops, I guess it kind of takes their spirits away. And that can’t be the way it is. It’s got to fire you up even more, you know what I mean? And I think some of that’s maturity on the road. Life on the road is tough.

One thing that has impressed me is their resiliency. We’ve always come back. We’ve never lost more than two games in a row this season.

Aside from Charles, who else has to have a big weekend for you guys to go far this weekend?

We’ve got to get some play in our frontcourt. I mean, it’s time. We’re going to need to play by committee, but our seniors in the frontcourt—we’ve got four seniors and those guys have got to have big weekends if we’re going to make a run at this championship.

How about Miklos Szabo and Greg Johnson? Will they be limited at all?

We’re going to press them and push them as much as we can right now. It’s like all hands on deck, you know? It’s like that playoff game in baseball where there’s no bullpen. Everybody’s coming out of the bullpen today [grins].

History suggests it’s going to be tough for you guys to win the championship: No team has ever won the CAA by winning four games in four days and last year was the first time since you’ve been here that a team outside the top two seeds won your conference tournament.

The other thing, too, is the northern teams have never won the conference. Drexel might have played in it [in 2003] once early on. So us and Drexel are the only two teams that ever played in the final game. For those Virginia teams, it’s a great home court advantage. They bring a lot of fans and that’s kind of the way it’s gone. The year we were playing in the championship, Stokes was playing with one of his nuts the size of a grapefruit. I don’t know if you can write that, but it’s true. The one chance we had to [expletive] win the thing. And he had 21 [points]. Well, you know what? He could have had 35.

Given how wild the CAA has been this season, is it easier to convince the guys that this can be the year that someone can win four in four days?

Hey, someone is going to do it eventually. Why not it be us this year? And I truly believe we have the depth to be able to do it, if we can get everybody on the right page.

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

No longer child’s play for Jenkins, Dutchmen

All it takes is one look at the stat sheet to understand why Charles Jenkins is the favorite player of a revitalized Lions Den. Jenkins, touted as the latest in a long line of top-flight guards at Hofstra when he arrived in 2006, has proven worthy of his advance billing this season by filling up the box score, a la predecessors such as Speedy Claxton and Loren Stokes. Jenkins leads the Flying Dutchmen in scoring, assists and steals while also ranking third in rebounding.

Jenkins turned 20 Saturday, when the student section serenaded him with chants of “Happy Birthday” prior to the game against UNC-Wilmington and presented him with a cake after Jenkins scored a career-high 35 points to lead the Dutchmen to an 88-81 overtime win.

He’s also finding himself recognized more often around campus. “I’ll see someone that I don’t think even knows me and they’ll just scream my name or start a chant,” Jenkins said following practice Tuesday. “It’s crazy. A lot of guys even traveled to Fairfield, they traveled to Delaware.”

Fans also see a kindred soul in the emotional Jenkins. While Claxton, Stokes, Jason Hernandez, Carlos Rivera and Antoine Agudio played with a certain stoicism, Jenkins has worn on his sleeves (well, so to speak, anyway) all the ebbs and flows of a challenging sophomore season.

That passion fueled Jenkins and the Dutchmen during an eight-game winning streak in November and December as well as in a convincing, wire-to-wire victory over Old Dominion and overtime wins against UNC-Wilmington and James Madison. But it could also be a hindrance, particularly when Jenkins endured the worst shooting slump of his career over a nine-game stretch spanning December and January.

Jenkins shot just 27 percent (35-for-129) from Dec. 13 through Jan. 14, during which the Dutchmen went 3-6. He shot 44.8 (150-for-335) percent in the other 21 games, during which the Dutchmen went 17-4.

“He was a mirror image of us because that’s how important he is to us,” Tom Pecora said. “There’s been nights where Nathaniel or Corny or Ziggy have picked up the slack a little bit, but for the most part, as Charles goes, we go.”

Jenkins hoped to snap out of the slump by taking extra shots before and after practice, but after a 4-for-24 effort against Delaware Jan. 7, Pecora finally had to tell him to leave the gym.

“I was getting frustrated because the shots weren’t going and I was saying ‘Coach, if I practice every night, why am I not seeing it on the court?’” Jenkins said. “And coach kind of used reverse psychology. He told me to calm down, just relax, maybe come in and shoot free throws and don’t go so hard. I was tiring out my legs, being in here until 2 in the morning and waking up, going to classes and coming to practice.”

Jenkins was also consumed by the delicate balancing act of captaining a squad on which he is the youngest player. While plenty of his predecessors have emerged as team leaders as sophomores, none of them had so many responsibilities at a young age. Jenkins said he was helped by the elevation of senior Mike Davis-Sabb to co-captain near the end of the non-conference schedule.

“I was always meeting with [Pecora] and asking him how would I get through to some of my teammates, because at that point I felt like I wasn’t getting through to everybody,” Jenkins said. “Coach did a great job of making Mike Davis-Sabb a co-captain, because he’s a very vocal person.”

Neither Jenkins nor Davis-Sabb had to say a whole lot to ignite the Dutchmen’s annual February surge. The month began with a 78-54 loss to George Mason, after which the Dutchmen went 6-1 to improve their record under Pecora in regular season games played after February 1 to 38-11.

“Getting embarrassed on national television—it sucks, no one likes to lose, especially when you lose by a lot,” Jenkins said. “We feel we can compete with any team in this league, and for us to go down there and lose like that, it was more of a wakeup call for us, because we can’t come out sluggish against any team, especially on the road.”

Jenkins realizes youth is no longer an excuse for anybody on the Dutchmen. This weekend is the perfect time to display what the Dutchmen have learned over the last few months and to avoid slow starts while trying to avoid the need for fast finishes (the Dutchmen are 12-2 in games decided by five or fewer points) by putting a team away when they have the chance.

“When a game is close or [there’s] a close game that we lose, we look at the last play,” Jenkins said. “But coach always tells us there’s plays earlier in the game—like getting a rebound or getting a stop—that can change the game from an eight-point lead to a 10-point lead. Certain things like that—lock them in on defense, get rebounds, steals, taking charges. Those are things that can help put a team away. When we get a lead sometimes, we get a little comfortable with the lead and back off instead of smelling blood.

“We’re not really young anymore. We don’t have any freshmen on the team. We’ve got a lot of experienced players, so it’s just something that we have to do this week.”

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The calm before (and after) the storm

Hope you took advantage of the snow day Monday with burgers at USA!

Just a quick note to request that you travel to the upper right of this here page and click, early and often, on Litos' sure-to-be-excellent blog about the CAA Tournament. He's already started and will be a busy man over the next few days.

I'm biased, but I find it hard to believe there's someone out there with a better bead (or is it beat?) on a conference than Mike, and it's awesome that the CAA is providing him (and, by extension, us) an all-access pass. Just another of the million reasons why it's better to follow mid-major hoops than the BCS bullies.

Also, stop by here over the next two days as we rev into high gear with previews, features and what not. We got a chance to talk to Tom Pecora and Charles Jenkins yesterday and those stories will be up tomorrow. Come Friday, I'll have something about the challenges of playing four games in four days as well as my sure-to-be-inaccurate predictions for the tournament. And maybe I'll find a way to reference the 15th anniversary of the ECC championship, too.

No idea yet where we'll be for the tournament, but one way or the other, we'll have weekend posts as long as the Dutchmen are playing. So stop back and check us out.

Once, twice, three times an opponent

Hello? Is it an NCAA Tournament bid you're looking for?

It’s not quite the sporting version of Big Foot, NASA faking the moon landing or Mikey the Life cereal kid exploding after chasing a packet of Pop Rocks with soda (man, though, did that story ever have legs in fourth grade). But Litos was right yesterday: The belief that it’s tough to beat a team three teams in a single season is just as flawed as your favorite urban legend.

I like to think this belief has been spread—by fans and writers alike—not by laziness but by people falling prey to assumptions that prove true the old adage about what happens when you assume. Or maybe it’s because a team recording a tournament win to improve its record to 1-2 against a particular opponent is more newsworthy than the 2-0 team improving to 3-0.

Or perhaps the theory that the 2-0 team is the vulnerable one is just paranoia by the fan base of said squad. Take Flying Dutchmen fans, for example, who were crushed when two regular season wins over Old Dominion beget a loss to the Monarchs in the quarterfinals of the NIT in 2006.

Along those lines, I’m pretty sure that’s why I haven’t been able to eat, sleep or otherwise function since learning late Saturday night that the Dutchmen would play UNC-Wilmington in the first round of the CAA tournament.

College basketball and professional football are two sports so fraught with parity that it often seems as if a flip of the coin is as effective a prognostication device as spending hours evaluating the strengths, weaknesses and histories of each team. So when a team is going for its third win of the season over an opponent, it feels as if the law of averages is due to rear its ugly head.

Another reason why we might believe the 0-2 team is the one with the advantage : It happened twice last year when the third time was the charm for William & Mary and George Mason against VCU and UNC-Wilmington, respectively.

But history suggests that’s the exception, not the norm. Since the CAA first expanded prior to the 2001-02 season, teams that sweep an opponent during the regular season are 20-9 (.690) against said opponent in the tournament (see the full list below). That does not include Old Dominion’s NIT win over the Dutchmen.

I mentioned professional football because this very topic was a popular one in January in the days before the AFC Championship Game, where the Pittsburgh Steelers (whose offensive line features Hofstra grad Willie Colon, aha, it all ties together very nicely!) recorded their third win of the season over the Baltimore Ravens. With the Steelers’ victory, teams that have beaten an opponent twice in the regular season are 12-7 (.632) in the re-rematch since the AFL/NFL merger in 1969.

And how’s this for irony that’s not really irony: If you thought the Ravens were due, it’s probably because the previous two teams to sweep an opponent in the regular season lost the third game in the playoffs: The 2007 Dallas Cowboys (to the New York Giants) and the 2004 Green Bay Packers (to the Minnesota Vikings).

As for Hofstra, the Flying Dutchmen have swept an opponent and then played it in the conference tournament seven times since 1983. They’re 5-2 (.714) in those games (whoohoo!), but 5-0 since 1991. (Oh no! They’re due!)

Conversely, the Dutchmen are 3-7 (.300) in a conference tournament when playing a team they lost twice to during the regular season, but 2-1 since joining the CAA. See below for the full list of how the Dutchmen have fared in a third game against an opponent it has either beaten twice or lost twice to during the regular season.

So chances are Litos will be right in projecting a third straight win Friday for the Dutchmen over UNC-Wilmington, which sets up what he expects to be the game of the tournament against ODU. Of course, as paranoid fans, we still bite our nails over the chance 2-0 will turn into 2-1 at the worst possible time and leave the Dutchmen traveling up I-95 while ODU plays UNCW. Pass the Metamucil.

***

The third time around, Part One
Here’s a list of how the Flying Dutchmen have fared when facing in a conference tournament an opponent they have either beaten twice or lost to twice in the regular season.

SWEPT THE SEASON SERIES (5-2): Beat Vermont (2001 A-East), beat Maine (2001 A-East), beat Boston U. (2000 A-East), beat Drexel (2000 A-East), beat UMBC (1992 ECC), lost to UMBC (1991 ECC), lost to Lafayette (1984 ECC)

SWEPT IN THE SEASON SERIES (3-7): Beat Drexel (2005 CAA), beat Mason (2002 CAA), lost to UNC-Wilmington (2003 CAA), lost to Delaware (1998 A-East), lost to Drexel (1995 A-East), lost to Bucknell (1989 ECC), lost to Lafayette (1988 ECC), lost to Lafayette (1987 ECC), beat Bucknell (1986 ECC), lost to Lehigh (1985 ECC)

***

The third time around, Part Two
Here’s a list of how CAA teams have fared since 2001-02 when they face in the CAA tourney an opponent they have beaten twice in the regular season. (Team that swept the season series listed first)

2008: VCU loses to W&M, UNCW loses to Mason
2007: VCU beats Georgia State, VCU beats Mason, Mason beats JMU, ODU loses to Mason, Drexel beats Northeastern, Northeastern beats Delaware, W&M loses to Georgia State
2006: VCU beats W&M, Northeastern beats JMU, Towson loses to Georgia State, UNCW beats Delaware
2005: VCU beats Delaware, ODU beats W&M, Drexel loses to Hofstra
2004: VCU beats Towson, VCU beats ODU, Mason beats UNCW, UNCW beats JMU
2003: Mason loses to Delaware, UNCW beats Hofstra, UNCW beats Drexel, UNCW beats Delaware, JMU beats Towson
2002: VCU beats ODU, Mason loses to Hofstra, W&M loses to JMU, UNCW beats JMU

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