This has not been a good week to be a Flying Dutchmen fan. A once-promising season for the men’s basketball team has splintered apart, with each successive loss in a four-game losing streak more discouraging than the last. Mason Nation came into Hofstra Arena Tuesday, humiliated the Dutchmen and serenaded what consists of Dutch Nation (snort) out of its own building.
A loss today at Drexel—which didn’t trail the Dutchmen for a single second in sweeping the season series last year—and the Dutchmen will slip to depths not experienced since 2003, the last time the program endured a losing streak of at least five games. A loss today also means the rest of the season will be spent hoping to avoid the worst-case scenario: Being the “12” in the 5 vs. 12 game on the first day of the CAA Tournament.
Pushing the panic button too soon, or at least too vociferously? Not if the Dutchmen are on a five-game losing streak heading into games next week against UNC Wilmington and Delaware, each of whom begin play today in a tie for eighth place with the Dutchmen at 2-6.
But I don’t want to hit the panic button. I want to look on the bright side, a bright side that will exist even if the Dutchmen lose today. No matter what, the Dutchmen will still be in good shape to win the mythical East Coast Conference championship!!!
(For those readers who joined us this week and began paying attention to college basketball in March 2006, the East Coast Conference was formed in 1974 from the remains of the Middle Atlantic Conference and featured as members schools such as Saint Joseph’s, Temple, Rider and Bucknell before sizable defections finally forced the ECC to close its doors for good following the 1994 season. Four former ECC schools are part of the CAA: Hofstra, Delaware, Drexel and Towson)
The Dutchmen currently lead the mythical ECC standings by virtue of their sweep of Towson (again: Can we take them with us to wherever we end up next?) and could take a huge step towards the championship that isn’t really a championship by upsetting Drexel today. Here are the standings that aren’t really standings:
Wins today and next Saturday against Delaware would just about lock up the ECC for the Dutchmen. Of course, spending a couple graphs waxing about the possibility of winning a conference that doesn’t exist pretty much sums up the 2009-10 season thus far.
This really has been an imperfect storm for the Dutchmen, who have, in terms of caliber of competition and pacing, played a rigorous schedule this month. The four schools the Dutchmen have played that are not located in Towson enter today 26-6 in conference play, and both VCU and Mason played perhaps their best games of the conference season in routing the Dutchmen in Hempstead.
In addition, the Dutchmen’s first seven games this month went like this: Home-Virginia-home-Virginia-home-Virginia-home. Only one other team, James Madison, has alternated home and road games thus far, and even the Dukes finally get to play a second straight road contest today. And their road trip to Drexel and UNC Wilmington marks the first time they’ve left Virginia since Jan. 2.
At least today’s road trip is the shortest of the conference schedule for the Dutchmen, though the task of beginning to turn the season around doesn’t get any easier just down the Jersey Turnpike. Drexel is a tough place to win in the best of circumstances—the Dutchmen are 3-5 there under Tom Pecora—never mind during the Dragons’ Homecoming Weekend. What is up with that? Can you imagine going to a school that didn’t have a football team and had to have Homecoming in the winter? Geez, that sure would suck.
Still, while I fear this will be another close loss, I don’t have the hideously bad feeling I had all day Tuesday (seriously, I knew for hours it would be a crap burger of a day), mostly because I imagine a couple days of Pecora’s midseason boot camp will have the Dutchmen playing far more inspired this afternoon than they did four nights ago.
I’m also very curious to see today’s starting lineup. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Yves Jules is on the court at noon in place of Nathaniel Lester, if for no other reason than to give Lester a wake-up call.
Lester and Charles Jenkins are the only members of the opening night starting lineup who have yet to be benched for performance reasons, yet nobody has been a bigger disappointment this month than Lester, especially considering how well he played in the two games following Christmas. Jules did all the things Lester should do Tuesday—driving the lane and forcing the action despite being three inches shorter than Lester—and has earned a starting assignment as much as Lester has lost it.
I’m also wondering how much we’ll see of Cornelius Vines, whose reality show existence grew even more fascinating when he was benched for the second half Tuesday after he told Pecora he had no confidence. Vines lacking confidence is like me lacking bluster—inconceivable—but there you go, a shocking twist a couple weeks before sweeps season.
Vines’ state of mind and Pecora’s role in mending it, by the way, has been quite the subject of debate in our household the last few nights. I, being the world’s biggest fan of Pecora (I think I nudged ahead of Litos Wednesday), argued that Pecora would not have benched him if he didn’t think he was shot, at least for one night, and that this season has turned into an audition for next year so Pecora may as well see what he has in the freshmen, even if it is at the expense of a senior like Vines.
My wife believes the only way to boost Vines’ confidence would be to keep sending him out there with orders to shoot and that Pecora might have lost him forever Tuesday. We kept arguing back and forth until she finally declared “Nobody knows Corny like I do.” Honestly, there was no serviceable comeback to that, just more proof that I married way the hell up.
Anyway, while it’s the shortest road trip of the conference season, and while it’s always awesome beyond words to see Pecora and Bruiser Flint stalk the sidelines, this is one trip we won’t be making. Three weeks after the glorious car accident following the Mason game, I still choose to make the shorter and slightly less dangerous journey from my bedroom to the living room recliner. We’ll be tuning in at noon on MSG, and Hofstra is hosting a viewing party at Dave and Buster’s in Westbury if you’re interested.
Me, it’s easier to live Twitter these things when I’m not feeding my face full of wings and fries. Join us, won’t you? Don’t expect me to annoy Drexel Nation, though.