Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bits and Bytes: Previewing ODU…and chewing over some stats, suspensions & stupid network tricks

Conan O'Brien only LOOKS as tall as Gerald Lee.

Quick apology for the sporadic posting this week. Just have not been able to get back into the usual Monday-Friday flow after the super duper car crash and the subsequent weirdness, which I will do my very best to put into words over the weekend because there needs to be a written account of the sheer lunacy of it all.

In the meantime, let’s get back into the flow of things by breaking down today’s big game at pre-season favorite Old Dominion. Unfortunately, this marks the third straight season in which the Dutchmen and Monarchs play just once, which is too bad since ODU has earned Favored Rival status here at Defiantly Dutch.

Since Hofstra joined the CAA, seven of the 18 games between the two teams have been decided by a basket or less—including perhaps the most exciting regular season game ever played at the Arena, the 65-63 win over Old Dominion in 2006 in which Aurimas Kieza drained a 3-pointer as the buzzer—while another was decided by four points and another was decided by five points.

The Dutchmen handed Old Dominion its only home loss in both 2004-05 and 2005-06, but the Monarchs have eliminated the Dutchmen from the CAA Tournament three times in the previous six seasons—including last year, when Gerald Lee scored 30 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Charles Jenkins’ 3-pointer at the buzzer fell shy as the Dutchmen lost to the future CIT champions 52-51, and yes, that was a passive-aggressive swipe at Hofstra for being too good to play in the CIT—and knocked Hofstra out of the NIT with a quarterfinal win at Hofstra (arrrrrrgh) in 2006.

This may be the most challenging game of the taxing early January schedule for the Dutchmen, who took a bus down to Norfolk yesterday—their second bus ride to Virginia in five days—and will return tonight in order to get two practices in before VCU visits Tuesday to cap the 5-in-10 stretch.

“I don’t ever remember, in all my years of coaching, having a stretch like this—we’re playing five games in 10 days and trips back and forth to Virginia in the course of it,” Pecora said after the Dutchmen’s 77-61 win over Towson Wednesday.

And in between bus rides the Dutchmen have the task of playing at one of the CAA’s toughest venues. “I said to the guys ‘Hey, Old Dominion is why you came to play in college, Hofstra at Old Dominion,’” Pecora said. “It’s going to be 8,500 people, the place is going to be rocking, they’ll all hate us. It’s awesome. And there’s nothing better than going there and winning. And we’ve had the opportunity to do that.”

The key is seizing the opportunity today is very, very simple: The 3 Stars of the Game must—MUST—include someone other than Jenkins, Chaz Williams, Nathaniel Lester and Halil Kanacevic. More specifically, that someone has to be Greg Washington and/or Miklos Szabo. The Dutchmen cannot win if Lee is a one-man wrecking crew again.

As good as Kanacevic has been thus far—and as timely as his ascension to the starting lineup appears to be, right before back-to-back games against teams with dominant big men—it’s not fair to expect him to single-handedly contain Lee, who has three years of experience and at least two inches on Kanacevic. Washington and Szabo don’t have to shut Lee down, either, just minimize the damage he wrecks down low. That said, it would be a huge help if one of them could channel Darren Townes, who had the best game of his oddly quiet senior season in collecting 10 points and seven rebounds against ODU in the Dutchmen’s wire-to-wire 60-51 win Feb. 10.

At the least, Washington and Szabo have to carefully distribute the 10 fouls at their disposal. The Dutchmen are in trouble if one (or both) of those players picks up two fouls in their first couple minutes.

Limit Lee to a merely human effort and the Dutchmen have quite a shot at pulling off the upset and recording the get-over-the-hump win they have not recorded since, let’s be honest, 2005-06. Either way, it’ll be a sludgefest determined in the last minute again.

And regardless of the result, enjoy the game, because we must appreciate the opportunity to watch Hofstra against Old Dominion on MSG while we can, since Hofstra is leaving the CAA as soon as humanly possible and leaving both Old Dominion and DD-era Favored Rival Delaware behind in The Land Where They Still Play Football and since MSG is no longer the network most likely to televise a Hofstra game.

This is the second of the Dutchmen’s three schedule appearances on MSG. The Dutchmen have appeared twice already on FIOS, which about 17 people get here on Long Island, and their next two television appearances will be on ESPNU, which Cablevision doesn’t carry. You know, like HGTV and the Food Network.

A couple other quick bits and bytes for the weekend:

—A real interesting stat courtesy of some detective work by Loyal Reader John K., who read Jeremy Kniffin’s typically outstanding game notes and did the math to figure out that the Dutchmen’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio is…we kid you not, Cornelius Vines, whose 1.54 mark is just ahead of Williams (1.43) and Jenkins (1.39).

Now, granted, Vines’ place atop that category is largely a result of his work in the non-conference schedule as well as Williams’ recent sloppiness. The last time Vines had at least two more assists than turnovers was Dec. 20 against St. John’s. Still, it’s proof Vines—much-maligned among Dutch Nation (snort) for his errant long-distance shooting—is deserving, on both sides of the ball, of the pivotal role he’s playing even after being benched for Williams.

—Speaking of Williams and stats, the freshman has hit his last seven 3-point attempts, just two shy of the school record set by Mike Radziejewski in 2002-03. Neither Williams nor Pecora were aware of the streak when informed of it Wednesday night.

“I wish you hadn’t told him that,” Pecora said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

—And speaking of behemoth big men, VCU star center Larry Sanders was suspended for the Rams’ game today against Delaware for committing a flagrant foul against Drexel Wednesday. Oh sure. He couldn’t have waited until TODAY to earn a one-game suspension, could he?

Interesting only to me was that VCU coach Shaka Smart declined comment beyond a canned quote and had his players off-limits yesterday. Booo. That’s BCS stuff out of a guy who is supposed to be different than the typically controlling head coach. Or maybe I’m just a grump, I don’t know.

—Lastly, and only tangentially related to Hofstra: I’ve been a big fan of Conan O’Brien since I caught his debut show on NBC during my first month at Hofstra in 1993, so I’ve been following with a good deal of interest the eminently predictable shenanigans at NBC, which is apparently trying to correct the mistake it made in giving Jay Leno the 10 p.m. hour five nights a week by returning him to 11:35 and pushing O’Brien—who took over The Tonight Show last June—to 12:05.

TV critic David Bianculli—who, in a bit of irony that is not really irony, has also been my favorite TV critic since I discovered him upon his debut with the New York Daily News in the fall of 1993—nails the insanity taking place at NBC in writing that the network is “…shattering a TV tradition older than any of the executives making this bone-headed decision.

“NBC is strangling The Tonight Show, and burying its own history and heritage.”

Hmm. Sounds familiar.

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