Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bits and Bytes: Of Litos and Lester and Larry

For the Flying Dutchmen to succeed in March, Nat Lester needs to become the Brandon Walsh to Charles' Jenkins Nat Bussischio. I either tried too hard with that analogy or knocked it out of the park, not really sure which.

Your good friend and mine Mike Litos is at the top of his game today. His morning post absolutely nailed the joke that is the Brad Kelleher fiasco, reasonably questioning what has taken the NCAA so long to rule on the case—Kelleher played alongside professionals in his native Australia, which is apparently a worse crime than taking money from an agent—yet also subtly blasting holes in the entire process and the concept that anything about it is fair. Me, I would have spent 2,500 words calling the NCAA a bunch of morons, but Litos has the perspective and the distance to let the charade speak for itself.

One thing I will add: I have little doubt the NCAA is taking its sweet-ass time at least in part to punish Tom Pecora for daring to criticize it way back on Nov. 24, when Pecora unloaded on the NCAA after someone asked him for an update on Kelleher following the loss to Charlotte.

“We’re just waiting to hear from the NCAA,” Pecora said. “They’ve had everything since early September. But that’s what the NCAA does. Don’t get me started. It wouldn’t take this long if we were at Kentucky. And that’s got nothing to do with the people here. People here are busting their ass trying to get this thing done. But that’s just the way life is.”

This is what I mean when I declare that Hofstra fans don’t realize how good they have it with Pecora. He gets that life in Division I favors the big boys and expects the Dutchmen to win while competing by their ever-morphing rules, yet he’ll stand up for his team when it is being railroaded, consequences be damned.

Then this afternoon, Litos whipped up a post in which he called tonight’s Flying Dutchmen-VCU game not only the biggest of the season for both teams but the biggest of the season thus far in the CAA. The similarities between the teams make this a particularly compelling game: Both squads have younger players emerging as the core at the expense of veterans. And both teams are 2-3, so neither can afford a loss if they hope to earn a top-four finish and first-round bye.

Yet someone is going to end the night 2-4, unless Bud Selig takes over as CAA commissioner between now and 7 p.m. Further increasing the pressure tonight: Both teams are headed for long road trips Saturday—the Dutchmen to William & Mary and the Rams to Georgia State.

Litos writes that make-or-break time is nearing for Cornelius Vines and Greg Washington, but I’d say the player who really needs to emerge now or else is Nathaniel Lester. The Dutchmen can win with Vines and Washington as role players—Vines defending the opposition’s best player and occasionally nailing a 3-pointer, Washington providing a body and some blocks down low on defense and hitting 15-foot jumpers on offense—who play less than 25 minutes. It’d be nice to get more than that out of the 6-foot-10 Washington, but the emergence of Halil Kanacevic has lessened the demand for Washington to become the big man the Dutchmen have almost never had.

Lester is not in danger of losing his starting job, but the Dutchmen absolutely cannot get beyond Saturday in the CAA Tournament if he doesn’t emerge as their second-best player and second-most reliable veteran behind Charles Jenkins. He doesn’t have to produce a double-double every night, but he’s too good to be this inconsistent. Here are his points and rebounds over the last six games:

vs. Davidson: 2-5
vs. Florida Atlantic: 17-7
vs. William & Mary: 14-10
vs. George Mason: 9-9
vs. Towson: 8-4
vs. Old Dominion: 4-4

The Dutchmen are 7-4 when Lester plays 30 or more minutes and 2-4 when he does not. They are 6-2 when he goes to the line at least five times, and the two losses were to William & Mary and George Mason. He has to attack the rim and become the other indispensible member of the starting five. That simple.

If he does that tonight, the Dutchmen have a much better chance of winning this literal toss-up. The Dutchmen’s ability to turn a surefire rout into a competitive loss at Old Dominion is cause for encouragement, especially considering they did it against a team that has one of the CAA’s two best big men in Gerald Lee. VCU, of course, has the other in Larry Sanders. Washington and Miklos Szabo must limit his effectiveness.

Throw into the equation the home court advantage and the lack of internal strife and I like the Dutchmen in another nail-biter that goes down to the final minute. Either way, see you there. I’ll be the guy yelling about how much the NCAA Clearinghouse sucks.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

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