Back in the old days, Jan. 2 was more often than not the lousiest day of the year. As long as it fell between Tuesday and Thursday, it meant I’d be trudging into the first day of school after Christmas vacation less than 36 hours after reveling in the alternate universe that was New Years Eve.
As a kid, New Years Eve meant a dinner out for our normally thrifty parents, which in turn meant a rare night in which my sister and I could order pizza and have the run of the house for a couple hours (“Sure, babysitter, our Dad always allows us to eat a tub of ice cream apiece!”).
Later, in my teenage years, New Years Eve was the one day of the year when my curfew was relaxed and I was allowed to stay out far later than usual—as long, of course, as I was at a trustworthy friend’s house or at the town-sponsored drug- and alcohol-free party. And I was always at a trustworthy friend’s house or the town-sponsored drug- and alcohol-free party…my teenaged years were completely free of booze and largely absent of drama and romance, but I digress.
To have school on Jan. 2 and to have to downshift so quickly back to the drudgery of day-to-day monotony—to know, when I finally went to bed in the pre-dawn hours of New Years morning, that the end of vacation was on the other side of sleep—seemed to be an especially cruel form of punishment, and I surely stayed up an extra hour or two just to stave off the inevitable as long as possible.
All of which brings me to the change in odometer from 2009 to 2010, and the fact that conference play reboots in the CAA with six games tomorrow—Jan. 2. From revelry to reality, all in 36 hours. Except, of course, Jan. 2 is a Saturday this year and we’ve had Jan. 2 circled on our calendar for months.
Kyle Whelliston at The Mid-Majority and your good friend and mine Mike Litos have already put the anticipation that accompanies the real start of conference season in far finer terms than I could. All I will add is pay particular heed to Mike when he implores you to enjoy the ride—because we go from standing still to a 4x100 sprint as soon as tomorrow tips off. One-third of the conference schedule will be complete 13 days from now. And we’ll be halfway home 17 days from now. Hmm. Maybe the conference season is like New Years Eve in another way—months and months of buildup for an event that is gone in the blink of an eye.
Anyway, there’s a decent chance that the Flying Dutchmen’s first game of the decade will be one worth remembering when it comes time to wax poetic about the best of the ‘10s. If polls were released on Friday instead of Monday, there’s a good chance William & Mary would be the second ranked team to ever visit Hofstra Arena today.
The Fightin’ Bill Lawrences have won nine in a row, are fresh off a waxing of Maryland in College Park and are ranked sixth in RPI. Not in the CAA, in the country. Pretty good for a team that was the consensus pick to finish dead freakin’ last in the conference.
Regardless of national ranking—or lack thereof—the FBLs are, in multiple ways, an appropriate foe to begin the real conference season. This afternoon is a delicious strength vs. strength matchup pitting the FBLs, who rank third in the nation with an average of 10.7 3-pointers per game, against the Dutchmen, who rank seventh in the country in defending the 3-pointers (25.6 percent).
In addition, the FBLs will provide the first in a series of tests during a rigorous season-opening stretch for the Dutchmen, whose first five opponents this month (William & Mary, George Mason, Towson, Old Dominion and VCU) began the New Year with a collective winning percentage of .625. Only UNC Wilmington (.661) is facing a tougher slate over the first five games. The list:
UNC Wilmington: 39-20 (.661)
HOFSTRA: 35-21 (.625)
Delaware: 34-23 (.596)
Towson: 36-27 (.571)
Drexel: 31-25 (.554)
Northeastern: 31-27 (.534)
George Mason: 33-29 (.532)
James Madison: 30-28 (.517)
Old Dominion: 27-30 (.474)
William & Mary: 28-32 (.467)
VCU: 27-34 (.443)
Georgia State: 24-34 (.414)
“This year is probably the most difficult conference schedule we’ve played,” Tom Pecora said after practice today. “We’re playing five games in 10 days and we’re playing the teams that are at the top of the conference. So this is going to be a great challenge for us. The first 10 days of true conference play could really define our season.”
Of course, Pecora reserves the right to minimize the importance of this five-game stretch if the Dutchmen go 1-4 or—egads—0-5. My guess is it will be neither awful nor awesome and that a 2-3 or 3-2 mark sets the Dutchmen up well to improve upon last year’s 11-7 conference mark, which was fashioned with a team not nearly as talented as this one.
The non-conference schedule has provided plenty of glimpses at the potential of the Dutchmen. They are still prone to bipolar moments, but unlike a year ago, these are a byproduct of youth. Given the upgraded roster, I’d typically assume a couple more wins than a year ago, especially with the second half of the conference schedule seemingly positioning the Dutchmen for their annual February surge.
That said, we all know how quickly a friendly looking schedule can turn sour, and the Dutchmen are usually good for one head-scratching road defeat. So let’s assume 12-6 and a fourth-place finish. Only twice in the last eight years has a 12-win team failed to finish in the top four.
It’ll all begin this afternoon with a nice RPI-boosting win over the FBLs. If you’re not there at the Arena, you better have the excuse of living in Virginia, since this is the first home game in three weeks. But if you’re not there, follow along with us on Twitter. This is my first home CAA game as a Tweeter, so it feels like the real season is beginning for me, too. Hopefully I don’t choke, and hopefully I remember to hashtag #caa once I get rolling. See you there…in one medium or another.
I planned on projecting the CAA in two parts—right before the faux conference opener Dec. 5 and right before the reboot, figuring it would be fun to see how much effect the final month of non-conference play had on the perceptions of the conference at large. Except, well, on Dec. 3, Hofstra killed football, so that kinda scrapped the plans to post hoops content over those next couple days.
And now that four weeks have gone by, I’d be lying if I told you I remembered the exact order of my predictions. I will say my picks for first and last are the same, and the biggest leap has been made by—shocking!—William & Mary. Northeastern probably took the biggest fall, from second to fifth, and I won’t be surprised if I overreacted a bit to their respective starts, especially with Northeastern looking as if it is beginning to find its way.
Anyway, here are the picks, preserved forever so that you can mock me in March:
1.) Old Dominion
3.) William & Mary
7.) George Mason
8.) James Madison
9.) UNC Wilmington
10.) Georgia State