Tuesday, January 19, 2010

If it turns into a pillow fight tonight, we’re screwed

The Dutchmen might need a motivational speaker if they can't GET BACK ON THE RIGHT TRACK tonight against the CAA's best pillow stealers.

Declaring the depths of my disdain for George Mason before the Dutchmen’s lone meeting of the 2008-09 season didn’t really work out all that well. So with the Dutchmen preparing to host the Patriots for the first time in two years and two days, I’ll just state that, guess what, my two favorite teams are still Hofstra and whomever’s playing George Mason.

The players from the 2006 Final Four team are all gone, but Tom O’Connor and Jim Larranaga are still cashing checks from the finest Division I school in Fairfax, which automatically makes Mason as likable as a cold sore.

O’Connor, of course, is the Mason AD who (and this is where I put a Chris Farley-esque emphasis on my air quotes) “wasn’t in the room” when the selection committee “got around to discussing his team’s at-large candidacy. And Larranaga continues to provide plenty of fuel for my fire with his disciplinary actions.

Larranaga is the Great Leader of Men who suspended Tony Skinn one game for punching Loren Stokes in the nuts in the waning seconds of the CAA semifinals in 2006. That seemed a little lax at the time, but now it’s just hilarious, because earlier this season, Larranaga suspended Ryan Pearson and Andre Cornelius for one game apiece because the two supposedly took pillows from their hotel rooms.

Which means, in Larranaga’s world (which no longer features Twitter), swiping a pillow from a hotel room is as serious an offense as punching an opposing player in the nuts in the waning seconds of a defeat. I’m beginning to think a one-game suspension is to Larranaga what going to our room was for the rest of us as kids—the catch-all that serves as universal punishment.

Didn’t finish all your homework on time? “Go to your room!”
Pulled your sister’s hair and made her cry? “Go to your room!”
Punched a kid in the nuts on the playground? “Go to your room!”

Yet another Patriot got in trouble last week when freshman Sherrod Wright was suspended for the Georgia State game for a “violation of team rules.” I’m just going to go ahead and assume he took a towel from a hotel room, or called down to the front desk for toiletries that he didn’t use and instead just packed away, or maybe dropped a buck into the newspaper box and took two copies instead of just one.

Tsk tsk. Sure seems to be a renegade program building at Mason. Anywho, since we have no idea what Wright did, we can only mock Mason for the actions of Pearson and Cornelius as well as the standards of Larranaga. And along those lines, I actually spent much of the weekend pondering whether or not to encourage fans to bring pillows to the Arena to taunt the Patriots and Larranaga.

I decided against it because if some idiot chucks one on the floor, it’s probably my season ticket and my media pass that pays the price. But you know, if you’re reading this now, two-plus hours before first tip, and you wanted to bring a pillow to the game and wave it every single time a Mason player is at the free throw line and NEVER EVER THROW IT ON THE COURT, well, that’d be great.

As for the game itself, Vegas has the Dutchmen as a 3 1/2-point favorite (to quote UNC Wilmington beat writer Brian Mull: For entertainment purposes only!) and your good friend and mine Mike Litos predicts a narrow Hofstra win. Those oddsmakers are uncannily accurate (Chaz Williams’ layup right before the buzzer in Fairfax allowed the Dutchmen to cover the five-point spread) and Mason is a poor road team (3-6 away from Fairfax compared to 8-1 at home) whose statistical deficiencies in rebounding, 3-point shooting and turnover margin would seem to play into the Dutchmen’s strengths.

Still, I’ve got a bad feeling about this one. Maybe it’s just the memories of the 2008 game against the Patriots, when Antoine Agudio missed a free throw at the end of regulation that would have iced the victory and the Patriots tied it with a 3-pointer right before the buzzer and won going away in overtime.

More likely, it’s the realization this team has yet to win a close conference game, at home or on the road. The Dutchmen’s three losses to William & Mary and George Mason came by a combined 12 points. The Patriots, meanwhile, are 3-0 in conference games decided by five or fewer points and 7-3 overall, and their rotation is 11 deep. That could be a big advantage if Chaz Williams is still hobbled.

Maybe tonight’s the night the Dutchmen finally break through in a close game, but even if they do, this is not a Signature Win, despite Mason’s status as one of the four first-place teams in the CAA. That’s fine, though, because with seven losses in their last nine games, the Dutchmen need A Win more than they need anything else. A Win tonight and the Dutchmen have a shot at hitting the halfway point at 4-5—not great, but a whole lot better than the alternative.

The usual things have to happen tonight if the Dutchmen are to “GET ON THE RIGHT TRACK!” Nathaniel Lester has to play 30 minutes and emerge as Charles Jenkins’ wingman and either Miklos Szabo or Greg Washington has to complement Halil Kanacevic down low. Another perfect assist-to-turnover ratio from Cornelius Vines would be a boost, too.

Either way, it should be compelling. Litos believes it’ll be a rock fight. Well, as long as it doesn’t turn into a pillow fight.

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

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