Before we get into the really relevant business of pondering how tonight will determine the Flying Dutchmen’s potential second opponent in the CAA Tournament (which begins in 10 days, holy hell, where did the time go), let’s get really goofy and ponder what the final week of the regular season might have meant for the Dutchmen if the first two games of January turned out just a little bit differently.
By little bit differently, of course, I mean had the Dutchmen beaten William & Mary and George Mason on Jan. 2 and Jan. 4 instead of suffering gut-wrenching last-minute losses. A few of us blogger/broadcaster types were chewing this over after the Dutchmen defeated Rider Saturday and I declared I am convinced (CONVINCED I TELL YOU) that had the Dutchmen held on to beat William & Mary—whom they led for the first 39 minutes and 43 seconds—they also would have beaten Mason in Fairfax.
That’s admittedly a pretty big leap to take—even for someone like me, with the most pronounced blog biases in all of the CAA!—given Mason’s success at Patriot Center (the Patriots had won 18 straight CAA home games until William & Mary won there last Tuesday). But the Dutchmen had a six-point lead with less than eight minutes to play and twice closed within two points in the final minute. I really think beating William & Mary would have fueled the Dutchmen with the confidence and momentum necessary to close out the Patriots.
Of course, at that point the Dutchmen would have been 3-0 with a home game against Towson coming up on Jan. 6, so it’s fairly inconceivable that they would have fallen apart as badly as they did the rest of the month. It’s also impossible to assume that the rest of the season would have played out as it has for William & Mary and Mason.
But for the sake of this blog, let’s just assume that the first two games of January were the only ones to turn out differently. Because to do so is fun. Because if that was the case, the standings today would look like this:
Old Dominion 13-3
William & Mary 10-6
George Mason 10-6
Ohhhh yes. That’s like the tiebreaker version of Viagra. I could go all night…figuring out those permutations!
And I did. OK fine I didn’t spend all night, but I still spent more time than anyone should on a completely fictitious possibility. The five-way tie is listed in the order in which it would be broken. William & Mary would be 5-2 against the fellow 10-6 teams, followed by VCU (3-3), Drexel (3-4), Hofstra (3-4) and Mason (2-3). Drexel gets the fifth spot ahead of the Dutchmen by virtue of its sweep of Northeastern. There are no more games scheduled between the 10-6 teams that aren’t really 10-6, so this would be good to go if there was an actual fictitious tie come Saturday night.
The Dutchmen would have an uphill climb towards one of the byes in this scenario, since William & Mary, VCU and Drexel combine to play just one team with a winning record in conference this week (VCU visits Old Dominion Saturday). But can you imagine the fun we’d have tonight, tomorrow and Saturday watching the Dutchmen, tracking the other relevant games and hoping for an ODU win over VCU and an upset by someone like UNC Wilmington (over William & Mary or Drexel), Towson (over William & Mary), James Madison (over VCU or Drexel) or Delaware (over George Mason).
I’m not complaining: There’s not much fluky about an 18-game season and the old Bill Parcells saying really does apply here. And the Dutchmen are perhaps the most perfect .500 team ever—not good at all for a few weeks and then really good for a few weeks.
That they’ve managed to turn tonight’s game into something meaningful says a lot for how far the team has come. But still…man, those tiebreaker scenarios for the five-way tie for third would have been FUN.
Battling for a first-round bye also would remove the ambiguity attached to tonight’s Barone Bowl II in Boston. Obviously, we should root for a Dutchmen win, because momentum is a delicate, finite thing and Tom Pecora and crew would love to enter the CAA Tournament on the hottest second-half run in the history of the conference. (Also, we should root for a Dutchmen win because rooting for the Dutchmen is what we do here)
But a loss would not be the worst thing in the world. As I wrote last week, Northeastern scares the hell out of me as a potential quarterfinal opponent. The last-time-around Huskies are too experienced and too mature to get caught flat-footed next Saturday.
Beating Northeastern tonight would likely drop them to second place for good—while the Huskies visits Mason in the season finale, ODU hosts VCU. (ODU hosts Georgia State in the only other CAA game tonight and wins by both the Huskies and Monarchs assure they will finish in the top two)
And to beat Northeastern—which thoroughly dominated the Dutchmen in Hempstead 17 days ago to hand them their only loss in the last eight games—on its Senior Night would certainly build a bigger buzz around the Dutchmen and quiet much of the skepticism that their recent hot streak is simply a matter of fattening up on the league’s bottom-feeders.
“I feel we can beat anybody now,” Pecora said Saturday. “I think we can go and play anyone and beat them. So whether we win or lose Tuesday, I’m going to feel like we can beat Georgia State Saturday and then whoever gets in our way the rest of the way. Tuesday won’t dictate that.”
But it probably will for the rest of us, for whom tonight will largely determine the mindset we’ll possess next Friday. While Dutch Nation (snort) is beginning to believe again, it is also exercising caution. Things were going so sour in January, it was impossible for even the most optimistic of people to avoid looking ahead to 2010-11.
But now this season matters again. Do we dare to believe? Do we dare to ignore the looming likelihood of heartbreak and invest, once again, in the hope that the Dutchmen can make a Cinderella run at the CAA Tournament?
Of course we do. A win tonight and nobody’s fretting about who the Dutchmen might face a week from Saturday. Even a close loss won’t necessarily send people back to the CAA Zone to call Pecora the worst coach to call Hofstra home since Rich Kotite. Another lopsided defeat though, and that bandwagon will be empty except for the blogger in the driver’s seat.
I can’t see Northeastern losing a second straight home game, especially on Senior Night, but this one will be far more competitive than the one at Hofstra. Any hopes the Dutchmen have of pulling off the upset rest on Chaz Williams, whose recent slump (he is shooting just 26 percent in his last six games and had more turnovers than assists Saturday for the first time in 11 games) has been mostly concealed by the Dutchmen’s red-hot play. But any chance the Dutchmen have of winning multiple games in the CAA Tournament are reliant on Williams finding his earlier form and doing a passable impersonation of Carlos Rivera circa 2006.
Greg Washington needs to continue his resurgent play and combine with Miklos Szabo, Halil Kanacevic and maybe even Nathaniel Lester to limit the damage of Northeastern big men Nkem Ojougboh and Manny Adako, the latter of whom scored 12 second half points in Barone Bowl I.
It should be a good one, either way, and I wish I was up there to see it in person. As is, we’ll be hitting Applebee’s for the ESPNU game (thanks again, Cablevision!). Tune in and follow along with me on Twitter as I wreck my fledgling diet by attacking the half-price appetizer menu!