If you’re anything like me—once again, I’m very sorry—then you saw the CAA schedule when it was released in August and figured one of the few sure things for the Flying Dutchmen during conference play was a pair of wins over the College of Bill Lawrence Jan. 2 and Jan. 16.
Everyone else seemed to agree with us, too, as the Fighting Lawrences were a consensus pick to finish last in the CAA. Except, of course, CBL has emerged as one of the nation’s surprise teams, compiling a top-10 RPI thanks to road wins over Wake Forest and Maryland and winning five of its first six conference games. Three of those wins have been by a single point, including a 48-47 win over the Dutchmen two weeks ago today in which CBL trailed for the first 39 minutes, which fuels the notion that this is finally The Year for CBL, which has never made the NCAA Tournament.
The Dutchmen, of course, are the anti-CBL. Like CBL, the Dutchmen played an upgraded non-conference schedule, but the type of wins that would have boosted the RPI and the Dutchmen’s at-large candidacy never materialized as they squandered second half leads against UConn, St. John’s and Charlotte. The Dutchmen have been similarly star-crossed during conference play: In addition to falling to CBL and George Mason by combined five points in consecutive games, they lost freshmen Chaz Williams and David Imes last week due to high ankle sprains and learned this week that Brad Kelleher is officially a poster boy for the NCAA’s skewered sense of justice.
As a result, the Dutchmen will likely take the court tonight with just seven scholarship players, though I wouldn’t be shocked if Williams manages to make it back. Regardless, being ice-cold and hexed and going on the road to visit red-hot and charmed is not the optimal situation for a team staring at the possibility of a 3-6 or 2-7 start in conference play.
Of course, we specialize in optimism here and in thinking of ways the Dutchmen can win, so we’ll spend the hours until game time figuring that Pecora has whipped his team into an us-against-the-world fury, that the Dutchmen are at their most dangerous when they are wounded—it was a year ago today that the reeling Dutchmen knocked off first-place Northeastern, which was just 12 days removed from a wire-to-wire thrashing of the Dutchmen in Boston—that this is a much better matchup for the undermanned Dutchmen than VCU was and that CBL’s run of incredibly good fortune has to come to an end some time.
Turns out your good friend and mine Mike Litos doesn’t think the concept of a Dutchmen win is so crazy, either. He predicts another narrow CBL win but lays out the ingredients for a Hofstra upset: A big night from Charles Jenkins and Nathaniel Lester’s return from witness protection. We’ve said it multiple times this month: When Lester is the Dutchmen’s second-best player—when he plays 30 minutes and gets himself to the foul line with regularity—they win far more often than not. But who knows which Lester will show up tonight?
I’ll add that as important as Lester is to the Dutchmen’s fortunes, they’ll also need Miklos Szabo’s recent resurgence to be a trend and not an aberration. He has played quite well the last three games (during which he has averaged 8.7 points and seven rebounds), avoided the foul trouble that plagued him earlier in the year and earned back his starting job.
If Pecora is grumpy and sparse with his praise late tonight, I’ll bet you it’s good news for the Dutchmen. After all, he didn’t complement the Dutchmen last year when they finally began playing up to their potential.
A win here and things will look a lot better. We’ll be tuning in—hopefully on the William & Mary website, unless it sucks like the Florida Atlantic one did—and live Tweeting throughout. Join us, won’t you? It’s much better than the NFL playoffs.
A couple other quick bits and bytes:
—In writing last night’s piece about the similarities between this year’s slow CAA start and last year’s slow start, I reconstructed the 2008-09 standings through six games. Worth a look as a reminder of how much things can change over the final two-thirds of the season.
2008-09: Through six
George Mason 6-0
James Madison 4-2
Old Dominion 3-3
Georgia State 2-4
William & Mary 1-5
George Mason 13-5
Old Dominion 12-6
James Madison 9-9
Georgia State 8-10
William & Mary 5-13
—Injustice update No. 1: Save Hofstra Football is hosting a fundraiser tonight at Public House in Manhattan from 4-8. NFL memorabilia donated by the likes of Wayne Chrebet and Dave Fiore will be auctioned off, as well as golf outings to local courses. For more information, check out the Save Hofstra Football website. The group is also hosting a rally at Bar Social (the old Bogarts) Tuesday from 5-7 p.m., just before the basketball game against George Mason.
—Injustice update No. 2: The NCAA issued a statement in response to Tom Pecora’s comments in Friday’s Newsday in which he blistered the so-called governing body for declaring Brad Kelleher ineligible because he signed a contract with—but was never paid by—a professional team in his native Australia five years ago.
It boggles the mind to think of how many people were paid obscene amounts of money to drum up this crap: “Coach Pecora’s comments are both inappropriate and inaccurate. Brad Kelleher’s eligibility is not finally determined, but a Division I committee that includes Hofstra’s peers has sustained the finding that he signed a previous professional contract which makes him ineligible.
“Like any NCAA institution, Hofstra now has the opportunity to seek Mr. Kelleher’s reinstatement from the NCAA. This process starts with a review by NCAA staff, and the university can also appeal staff decisions to the Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee, comprised of representatives from NCAA schools and conferences.”
So let’s get this straight: The NCAA has declared Kelleher ineligible, but it’s not a final decision and Hofstra can make an appeal to a committee comprised of the same people who already declared Kelleher ineligible. Oh. OK then. That’s fair. I’m sure the appeal will be a fruitful endeavor. I’m convinced Dilbert creator Scott Adams worked at the NCAA before turning to comics. And I’m convinced that Pecora’s comments only scratch the surface of how livid he is with those bureaucratic lowlifes.
But hey, Stuart Rabinowitz sent a letter to the NCAA. No word on whether he needed to conduct a secret “two-year study” before composing it, though.