Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hofstra 58, Rider 48 (Or: I heard it on the radio, oh whoa whoa the radio)

Take that, Comcast and ChannelSurfing! Look what I found last night!

Hate to do this, especially after such an impressive and potentially pivotal win, but I’m going to go with the bullet point recap today of the Flying Dutchmen’s 58-48 win over Rider, because I’m up to my eyeballs in other work and I know if I wait on this it’ll be Thursday or so before I post it.

The bullet point recap will also have to suffice because my plans to go to the game fell through for a bunch of stupid reasons yesterday and I didn’t get to actually watch the game—either in person, online or on television—for the first time in quite a while. Thanks, Comcast, for blocking Rider from offering the feed and to Channelsurfing.net for never finding a way to offer it but offering VMI take on something called a Central Pennsylvania College! That is fantastic! (These are all very weird rantings coming from someone who used to change channels with something called a cable box, Google it D.C.)

Anyway, I hope to catch your main man and mine Mo Cassara later in the day for a more in-depth Q&A, so stay tuned to the Twitters in case that comes about. Thanks for your patience and I promise you the December recaps will be much better.

—This was a very encouraging win. The Dutchmen mounted runs of 10-0 and 8-0 in taking a 16-point lead in the first half and forced sharp-shooting Rider to miss its first 11 shots from 3-point land. It was unreasonable to expect the Dutchmen to dominate like that for 40 minutes, and the Broncs stormed back in a hurry over a 14-minute stretch spanning the halves in which they shot 50 percent from the field (12-of-24, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc) and outscored the Dutchmen 31-15 to tie the game at 39.

Rider had a chance to take the lead just beyond the midway point of the second half, but after Patrick Mansell missed a 3-pointer, Charles Jenkins hit a driving layup—almost but not quite drawing the charge in the process—to begin a 13-2 run that included two huge 3-pointers from Shemiye McLendon and a resounding dunk by Greg Washington that completed the surge and gave the Dutchmen a 52-41 lead with 5:31 left. The Dutchmen were never threatened again.

—It’s folly to read too much into non-conference results, but it cannot be underestimated how valuable these last two wins have been for the Dutchmen, whose second half comeback Friday and ability to remain upright despite a flurry from Rider in the second half Monday is proof this team is learning how to win under a new coach and developing both resiliency and a killer instinct all at the same time. Things felt pretty disastrous a week ago, but the Dutchmen have got to be feeling good going into the first game of the season that really counts Saturday against Towson.

Of course, Rider looked ready to win the MAAC when it beat USC by 20 in California and followed that up with double-digit wins over TCU and Loyola Marymount in a tournament in Massachusetts, but now the Broncs have lost two straight and coach Tommy Dempsey sounds despondent. So things can change just as quickly in the other direction—something Cassara is no doubt reminding the Dutchmen of today.

—Three days after Cassara came up with a winning combination in pot luck supper style, the Dutchmen won in far more conventional fashion Monday. For the first time this season, all five Dutchmen starters played at least 30 minutes, which allowed Cassara to pick his spots for the rest of the rotation—freshmen McLendon and Stephen Nwaukoni and sophomore Yves Jules. McLendon, in particular, maximized his minutes by draining those two key 3-pointers and scoring all eight of his points as the Dutchmen pulled away in the second half.

Among the starters, the most encouraging performances were delivered by Washington and Dwan McMillan, each of whom set a season-high in minutes played. Washington had eight points, six rebounds, three blocks and three fouls in 34 minutes—a steady and unspectacular line, but more than enough for the Dutchmen. If Washington can bottle that and uncork it every night, he’ll be an asset all season long.

McMillan, who looked so lost on both sides of the ball in the first two games in Puerto Rico, has improved dramatically in a week. He had 10 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals, two turnovers—an old-fashioned box score stuffer—and was lauded by the WRHU team for the efficient way he ran the offense. He also committed a smart foul at the end of the first half, when he gave the one foul the Dutchmen had to give and forced Rider to reset its offense at half court with under two seconds to play. The Broncs could only get off a long and rushed 3-point attempt. He clearly will not give up playing time to Brad Kelleher (11 days left until he’s freed) without a fight.

—Jenkins (a game-high 19 points on 6-of-16 shooting) didn’t have a classic Jenkins game, but he followed up another quiet first half with a handful of clutch shots during a 14-point second half. Mike Moore didn’t do much offensively (four points on 1-of-7 shooting) but pulled down a team-high 10 boards, the second time this season he’s reached double digits in rebounds. Imes pulled down just four boards and wasn’t as beastly as he was Friday, but he scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and committed just two fouls in 34 minutes. He has played at least 30 minutes in each of his last four games after playing in as many as 20 minutes in a game just once last year.

—This zone defense is for real. Check out Rider’s points per game before last night: 67-80-77-76-73-60. Rider shot just 33.9 percent overall and 21.4 percent from 3-point land, well below their norms of nearly 50 percent in both categories. The Dutchmen also forced Rider into 16 turnovers.

The Dutchmen have allowed 63 points or fewer in their last four games, only their third such streak in the last 10 seasons. Last night marked the second time this year the Dutchmen have held a team to more than 30 points below its season high (Western Kentucky scored 98 against Saint Joseph’s a week before scoring 62 against the Dutchmen).

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Rider, 11/29)
3: Dwan McMillan
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Greg Washington

Charles Jenkins 16
Mike Moore 6
Dwan McMillan 4
David Imes 4
Greg Washington 3
Shemiye McClendon 2
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Five halftime thoughts: Rider

1.) You would have taken an eight-point lead at intermission two hours ago, but the Dutchmen seemed ready to blow Rider out after runs of 10-0 and 8-0 gave them a 24-8 lead. But Rider has the momentum after cutting that 16-point lead in half with a 10-2 run that included three 3-pointers. The Broncs, who entered the game shooting 49 percent from beyond the arc, missed their first 11 shots from 3-point land.

2.) This is another fascinating maturation test for the Dutchmen. Rider is too good offensively to not come up with another run or two. Will the Dutchmen be able to withstand the Broncs’ flurries, continue clamping down on Rider outside and finish off a potent opponent on the road?

3.) It’s a very good sign the Dutchmen are up eight despite another rough first half for Charles Jenkins (five points on 2-for-9 shooting). If he has a second half like the one he did Friday, the Dutchmen are in very good shape.

4.) Dwan McMillan has been outstanding, racking up a team-high 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and running the point efficiently. According to the WRHU announcers, the offense seemed less smooth once Jenkins replaced McMillan at the point late in the half. McMillan also committed a smart foul in the waning seconds, which effectively forced Rider to reset its offense and limited the Broncs to a desperation 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

5.) The first half could have ended better for the Dutchmen, but they are doing what they have to do to win—keeping this game on pace to play in the 60s. If that continues, the Dutchmen win.

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

Five pregame thoughts: Rider

1.) This is a good test for the Flying Dutchmen. Rider was picked fifth in the MAAC preseason poll but looked like it might be the best team in the conference when the Broncs recorded double-digit wins at Southern Cal and over TCU and Loyola Marymount at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Rider cooled off when it fell to Siena in the MAAC opener Friday, but the Broncs still seem to be a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender and will be a good barometer for where the Dutchmen are in the maturation process.

2.) This will REALLY be a good test for the zone defense. Against Wagner, the Dutchmen were content to take away the middle and force the Seahawks to beat them from outside—which they almost did thanks to a superhuman performance from Latif Rivers, who was draped most of the night but was still 6-of-10 from 3-point land. Rider, which fell to the Dutchmen 92-89 in overtime in the Bracket Buster last year, is averaging 72.2 points a game this year on almost 50 percent shooting from both beyond the arc (49.1 percent) and overall (49.5 percent). The Broncs have three starters who stand at least 6-foot-7 but nobody taller than 6-foot-8, so a reverse of the Wagner game plan may be in order. It will be a very good sign for the Dutchmen if this game is played in the 60s.

3.) How will Greg Washington respond to Friday’s forced benching? Washington didn’t get off the bench in the final 17:40 due to foul trouble, but the Dutchmen stormed back from an eight-point deficit and beat Wagner thanks in large part to the stellar play of freshman Stephen Nwaukoni. In four games against Division I foes, Washington is averaging just 2.5 points and 4.0 rebounds. He had no boards at all against Wagner. Mo Cassara has no choice but to give Washington, one of just two players on the active roster who started a game before this season, plenty of opportunity to assert himself, so a demotion doesn’t seem likely quite yet. But Nwaukoni’s performance Friday should have Washington looking over his shoulder and doubly inspired tonight.

4.) Conversely, how much will Nwaukoni and Yves Jules be rewarded tonight? Nwaukoni and Jules were the most unlikely members of the unlikely quintet that pulled marathon duty down the stretch Friday. Nwaukoni was already cementing a role for himself but Jules played half as many minutes Friday (16) as he did in the first four games combined. His defense tonight will be a vital part of limiting the Broncs’ damage from outside.

5.) Will the real Charles Jenkins show up from the tip, or will it take a half for him to shed Cyber Monday Charles? Jenkins’ line about Thanksgiving Charles playing the first half Friday was one of the great quotes of the year, but the Dutchmen can’t win many games if he’s only the real Charles for one half. Expect a far more normal 25-point effort from Jenkins tonight.

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

Hofstra 67, Wagner 63 (Or: Stars Are Born)

David Imes and Stephen Nwaukoni--as well as their head coach--were far more impressive Friday night than Sky Corrigan and Mary Katherine Gallagher ever were. (And apparently I must post photos from movies inspired by Saturday Night Live whenever recapping a weekend win by the Flying Dutchmen)

As they exited the media room following the post-game press conference Friday, sophomore David Imes and freshman Stephen Nwaukoni were surrounded by kids asking them to autograph Hofstra schedule posters. If their performances against Wagner are any indication, Imes and Nwaukoni will be doing the same thing a year, except they’ll be signing schedule posters on which they are pictured.

Imes pulled down a remarkable 17 rebounds and scored 14 points in a passionate performance and Nwaukoni also had a double-double (13 rebounds, 10 points) as the Flying Dutchmen came back from a 10-point second half deficit to edge Wagner, 67-63.

“I think, coming out of Puerto Rico with three really tough teams and tough games, we were still feeling a little sorry for ourselves and trying to figure out how to win,” Mo Cassara said after recording his first win against a Division I opponent. “And that’s the biggest challenge for this team now, is to get better everyday and continue to learn how to win. I think tonight we did a few things down the stretch to learn how to win.”

That went for the players as much as the new coaching staff. The star-making performances of Imes and Nwaukoni—the first Hofstra duo to put up double-doubles in regulation since Aurimas Kieza (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Adrian Uter (15 points, 11 rebounds) against Northeastern Feb. 11, 2006—highlighted a fascinating game in which the Dutchmen maturation process took a big step forward before the eyes of the 2,542 at the Arena.

The Dutchmen appeared headed for a disastrous -looking defeat against a Wagner team picked 11th in the 12-team Northeast Conference when they trailed throughout a first half in which Charles Jenkins—this year’s schedule poster boy—didn’t score from the field. The Dutchmen fell behind by 10 a mere 126 seconds into the second half and saw starters Greg Washington and Mike Moore each pick up their fourth fouls within the next minute.

With the Dutchmen still down three at the end of the under-12 media timeout, Cassara sent this lineup on to the floor: Jenkins-Imes-Nwaukoni-Yves Jules-Dwan McMillan. That’s two first-year players and two sophomores who barely played as freshmen surrounding one of the most decorated players in school history.

“If you told me we were going to have that lineup in the game at the end of the game, I would say we were losing,” Cassara said.

Yet that quintet stayed out there for the next 11 minutes. The Dutchmen took the lead at the 9:56 mark on a jumper by Jenkins, who missed all six of his shots in the first half and his first shot of the second half before he drained his next six and ended up scoring 17 of his 19 points in the final 13:31, and took the lead for good on a free throw by Nwaukoni, who barely hit the rim on his first three free throw attempts but hit his next six from the line.

“I kept kind of leaning back to my staff, saying ‘Should we sub? Should we sub?’” Cassara said. “And then Mike and Greg and Shemiye had really been out of the game for a while and I really thought that we had done a pretty good job defensively. [Wagner] just hit some tough shots and I didn’t want to disrupt that.”

Cassara didn’t go to the bench again until there were 18.5 seconds left, when he pulled McMillan—who had a terrible time against the Western Kentucky press in the waning minutes of the 62-60 loss in Puerto Rico a week earlier—and Jules in favor of Moore and Shemiye McLendon. After Jenkins hit two free throws to give the Dutchmen a 66-63 lead, Cassara put McMillan and Jules back in, and it was McMillan who corralled the rebound and dribbled out the clock after Nwaukoni’s meaningless miss of a free throw with just under four seconds to play.

“Anytime we put the jerseys on, it’s going to be a learning process for this whole group,” Cassara said. “It’s a whole new staff. It’s a whole new team and we’re still learning how to win and we’re still trying to figure out what pieces to put in at what times.”

Imes ascended into the starting lineup over the summer and Nwaukoni was viewed as a valuable bench player because of his rebounding prowess, but not even the most optimistic observer could have foreseen how well they would play Friday, nor how they would almost single-handedly keep the Dutchmen in the game in the first half. Imes and Nwaukoni combined for 18 of the Dutchmen’s 21 first half rebounds, had 11 points between them and helped quiet a Wagner front court that broke the Dutchmen’s 2-3 zone for three easy baskets in the first seven minutes.

Imes was determined and dominant from start to finish Friday, when he was the best player on the court all night and left some hyperbolic Tweeter scrambling for descriptive terms other than “Goddamn Beast.” His previous career high for rebounds was seven, but he pulled down eight boards in the first 10 minutes Friday. Imes finished 6-of-11 from the field but saved his best basket for last, when, as the lone Hofstra player amongst three Wagner players, he grabbed a Jenkins air ball and muscled his way in for a layup that extended the Dutchmen’s lead to 64-61 with 1:07 left.

“I was like ‘I’ve gotta get this,’” Imes said. “One dude grabbed it, so I took it out of his hand and finished it. It was like ‘I’ve gotta get it.’ That’s the game right there, so I just made it my mission to go get that ball.”

Perhaps most impressive of all: Imes didn’t pick up one foul even though he spent most of the game giving up four inches to Wagner’s 6-foot-11 freshman Naofall Folahan.

“I just know at the end of the day, he is bigger than me, but I’m stronger,” Imes said. “So I should just have to use my body to get him off the paint as much as possible. And hopefully he goes over my back. It wasn’t too much of a hassle, to be honest.”

The consistency was particularly notable for Imes who tied his career high for points by scoring eight points before the first media timeout against Nebraska last Sunday but didn’t score again the rest of the game.

“I just came out knowing, from the jump, with Greg or without him, that I had to come make an impact,” Imes said. “The coaches [have been] saying that I need to start being more assertive with myself, be more aggressive. So I just took that as [a sign] this is my opportunity, so why not go out with some confidence and see what I could do.”

Nwaukoni’s confidence was tested against Farmingdale, when he missed five shots, all from underneath the basket. But the freshman has impressed Cassara with his work ethic, and the effort paid off Friday.

“The first couple games we had, I was kind of nervous, being that it’s my first couple of real college basketball games.” Nwaukoni said. “But today, I actually felt pretty good and I’m just really happy that I went out there and did what I had to do.”

“That kid is in the gym more than any kid we have,” Cassara said. “If you would have seen him shoot free throws in September, you would say there is no way that kid will ever play.”

And anyone who was told ahead of time Friday that Jenkins would have such a brutal first half (“That wasn’t me in the first half—that was the Thanksgiving Charles,” Jenkins said) and that Washington and Moore would play just 15 minutes apiece would figure there was no way the Dutchmen would ever win. But they did, in a win that indicated they still have pretty far to go but have already come pretty far.

“We’re going to continue to get better, we’re going to keep looking at different pieces in different roles,” Cassara said. “Guys are working hard, and you know what? Some of the guys that didn’t play that well tonight were cheering in there in the locker room, and that’s the sign of a team getting better and that’s the sign of a good team and that’s the sign of a team that’s learning how to win. And that’s what I’m most proud of.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Wagner, 11/26)
3: David Imes
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Stephen Nwaukoni

Charles Jenkins 14
Mike Moore 6
David Imes 4
Shemiye McClendon 2
Greg Washington 2
Dwan McMillan 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Five halftime thoughts: Wagner

1.) How messed up was this half for Hofstra? The five players on the court at the end of the half were Shemiye McLendon, Dwan McMillan, Yves Jules, David Imes and Stephen Nwaukoni. That’s three newcomers to the program and two players who barely got off the bench last year. Charles Jenkins (two points on 0-6 shooting, unofficially, and two fouls) and Greg Washington (no points, two fouls) have been invisible. Whatever is ailing Jenkins, he has to shake it at the half because the Dutchmen have no shot if he can’t emerge from his funk.

2.) That said, David Imes was an absolute beast this half, and the best player on the court—either team—by a wide margin. He had 11 rebounds, four more than his career high entering the game. He also has four points and a resounding block. Bill Thieben’s single game record of 43 boards is probably safe, but we are witnessing the coming out party for Imes.

3.) We’re also seeing an emergence of sorts by Stephen Nwaukoni, who is displaying the work ethic and determined nature that has Mo Cassara raving about him. Nwaukoni, who is aggressive under the basket and repeatedly putting the ball back, has six points and has hit his last three free throws after badly missing his first three free throw attempts.

4.) Foul trouble is going to be an issue for the Dutchmen in the second half. Mike Moore, who hit two early 3s to keep the Dutchmen in the game, has three fouls and Yves Jules also has two fouls.

5.) First to 60 wins. The Hofstra single-game record for points in a game—118 vs. Wagner in 1972-73—is quite safe. The Dutchmen’s zone defense has rendered taken away the inside game from Wagner, but the Seahawks are draining all their open looks from outside (4-of-6 from three-point land). The Dutchmen have to figure out a way to minimize the damage from beyond the arc in order to win.

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

Five pre-game thoughts: Wagner

1.) We don’t condone betting here at Defiantly Dutch—mostly because we suck at it—but if you’re wagering on tonight’s game, take the under. The Flying Dutchmen allowed 62 points in each of their final two Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic games while Wagner has given up 58, 73 and 54 points in its first three games. Each team also has three new starters under a first-year head coach, so it may not be the smoothest of games, especially on Nov. 26. Add it all up and this should be what Tom Pecora used to dub a rock fight.

2.) Charles Jenkins is going to have a big game. The senior superstar looked spent Sunday, when he took just 10 shots in the loss to Nebraska. Jenkins was surely grumpy after the 0-3 trip to Puerto Rico, so focus won’t be a problem. And the few days off should have him primed for a classic box score stuffer.

3.) This will be a good test for Dwan McMillan. The junior point guard looked much better Sunday and was one of the few bright spots in the loss to Nebraska, but Wagner coach Danny Hurley was McMillan’s coach at St. Benedict’s and knows his former player’s strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone. It’ll be a good sign if McMillan continues his improvement against his old coach.

4.) Greg Washington has to get involved. Don’t be surprised if Jenkins gives Washington the same kind of pep talk he gave him before the Farmingdale game, when Jenkins promised Washington he’d block the first shot of the game. The Dutchmen cannot succeed if Washington is scoring two points a night and is merely adequate on the boards.

5.) Why aren’t there more weekend night games at Hofstra? Not really related to this game, just a personal rant. This is only the second Friday night home game in the last 10 years. Part of that is because the CAA rarely plays on Friday nights, but you’ll notice the Dutchmen never play conference games on Saturday nights, either. The best way to actually boost attendance at Flying Dutchmen home games and get the students on board is to turn these into weekend night events. Sorry, but there’s a lot more buzz to a 7 or 8 pm start than a 4 pm start. And yes, “buzz” might be the operative word among the students who arrive for a night start, but it’s not like a game on campus is going to inspire students to do something that students have done, every single night of every single week of every single year, since the dawn of time, or at least 1935. Explain there will be a zero tolerance policy who try to turn this a basketball game into Happy Hour at Fezziwigs (Google it, kids!) and enjoy the heightened anticipation and better atmosphere that nighttime games provide. Rant over.

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Get to know: Wayne Morgan

This season marks the first time Hofstra has an entirely new men’s basketball staff since the 1994-95 season. Fans are already well-acquainted with head coach Mo Cassara, but we sat down last week with the rest of his staff—Steve DeMeo, Allen Griffin and Wayne Morgan—to get to know them a little better. We’ll unveil these introductory Q&As once a week for the next three weeks.

First up: Morgan, who played for Cassara’s Dad, Rich, at St. Lawrence and made such an impression on the senior Cassara that he named his son Richard Morgan Cassara. Morgan, 60, is the oldest coach on the staff and, as the third assistant, occupies a position that is normally held by someone half his age. But Morgan—who has 22 years of Division I experience, including six years as the head coach at Long Beach State, three years as the head coach at Iowa State and 12 years as an assistant at Syracuse—couldn’t be happier to be back doing what he loves after a four-year absence from the sidelines.

What did you do between Iowa State and Hofstra?

I spent four years out of basketball. I owned my own company called Mid-Iowa Satellite. As a matter of fact, let me show you our website—unless my wife took it down. We’re in the process of selling it.

Did you enjoy doing that?

I did OK. I think in 2006, I was Iowa Small Businessman of the Year. But I didn’t enjoy it. I am a basketball coach. I didn’t enjoy it. So when Mo got the position and asked me if I wanted to get into basketball and join him, I actually jumped at the opportunity. I was happy to do it, especially to work with him, because I’ve known him since he was a baby. I played for his father.

Did you ever worry you might not be able to get back into coaching?

That’s always a possibility in this business. That’s always a possibility. [He] was working at the business hard—I tried to be aware of what jobs were open and what friends I had that were getting jobs. But you also wanted it to be the right situation. This was the right situation.

I was born and raised in New York, I’m from the northeastern corridor. I tell people I’ve kind of been on a magical mystery tour, and now I’m home.

Were you embittered at all by the way you were fired at Iowa State and did you take anything from it in terms of the differences between coaching a mid-major and coaching a BCS school?

I worked very hard—bent over backwards—not to be [bitter] because I know so many people that have had bad breaks in their lives and end up being bitter and then chewing their own lives up as a result. And I didn’t want to be one of those guys. I learned a lot from all of the experiences at the various places I’ve coached.

What’s the dynamic like with this staff?

It’s very close. Morgan and I are basically like family. He’ll tell you and his mother and father will tell you he’s named after me. I’ve known Allen since he was 15 years old, I recruited him to go to Syracuse. And I’ve known Steve DeMeo for his whole coaching career. So we all know each other, we all like each other. We all get along well together.

Do you have any good stories about Mo from when he was younger?

I’ll tell you a great story. I was at Mo’s house last week and they had Big East Classics on—1988, Pittsburgh-Syracuse for the Big East championship. Paul Evans is coaching Pittsburgh, John Calipari’s his assistant. And at our end, obviously, Jim Boeheim is coaching. Well, when Rick Cassara, Mo’s Dad, got fired at St. Lawrence University, it was Paul Evans that took his place. So they became very good friends before Paul went and coached David Robinson at Navy and then went to Pittsburgh.

So we’re watching this game at Mo’s house and he goes ‘There’s Wayne. There you are. There’s Coach.’ And he keeps going ‘There you are.’ And he’s saying to the other people there ‘There’s Coach’ And now we look behind our bench and there’s Bob Hurley and Bob Hurley Jr., because I was recruiting him. And then we go to the other end and there’s John Calipari.

And then I go ‘Mo, there’s you.’ He was 14 years old, sitting behind the bench sitting with his father because his father and Paul Evans had become really good friends.

When did you know coaching was something Mo would end up doing?

I knew. We talked a lot. We knew he was going to be a good coach. When I first went to Long Beach State, I offered him a job on my staff. And then when I went to Iowa State, I went up and watched his team play at Worcester [Academy].

What was the Farmingdale game like for everyone?

It was very exciting. It was very exciting. We were glad that we were able to play pretty well. There’s a lot of work that we have to do. I think the key thing that everybody has to remember is when you have a new staff like this—although we have seniors who have played Division I basketball—the system is new to everybody. So it’s like having 13 freshmen and so we’ll be a work in progress all year. We’ll get better as the year goes on and we really probably won’t start playing our best basketball until the second or third week of January.

You need to hang in there and then February—last week of January and the month of February—you need to be pretty good. And I think just the big key for us [knocks on his desk] is just to not get any injuries or anybody hurt. We’re lean. Really, we’re almost anorexic [laughs].

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nebraska 62, Hofstra 47 (Or: In which the Dutchmen finally GEEEEEET OOOOOOOUT of haunted San Juan)

We ignored the signs, and the evil spirits bubbling out of puddles in San Juan the afternoon of July 6.

I should have seen this coming the morning of July 6, a mere 138 days before the Flying Dutchmen completed the wrong kind of sweep in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic by falling to Nebraska, 62-47. The moment my wife and I stepped off the cruise ship and into the town of San Juan—not kidding, no poetic license here, THE MOMENT we stepped off the cruise ship—the skies opened and unleashed a fury I haven’t seen since I was at Lollapalooza in 1992 (Google it, kids!).

We just figured it was a typical summer storm. No. It was our 1980s, we’re-living-in-a-haunted-house-but-too-dumb-to-take-the-hint moment. Puerto Rico was telling us, and anyone else either rooting or playing for Hofstra, to “Geeeeeeeet ooooooout.” But we stayed, and got drenched, and the Dutchmen didn’t cancel their trip, and it turned into a winless jaunt in which every loss was more demoralizing than the last.

The North Carolina loss was fine, not even those who broke Twitter with the #BEATUNC hashtags expected an upset win. The loss to Western Kentucky was one of the toughest of the Defiantly Dutch Era, but it wasn’t as discouraging as the cosmetically close loss Sunday.

The Dutchmen seemed completely gassed on both ends of the floor Sunday. Was it a hangover from Friday, the task of playing a third game in four days, the deadened atmosphere of an empty Coliseum at 9:30 AM local time or some combination thereof?

Whatever it was, it once again evoked memories of last year, when the depleted Dutchmen didn’t have the bodies to keep pace during their January slump and Charles Jenkins sometimes seemed burdened by the tasks of trying to create for everyone around him and serving as the only consistent offensive threat.

The Dutchmen jumped out to a 10-5 lead thanks to eight points, including two 3-pointers, from David Imes, in the first four minutes but were outscored 57-42 the rest of the way. Nebraska led by as many as 20 (53-33) with six minutes to play, which means over a 30-minute span, the Cornhuskers lapped the Dutchmen, 48-23.

Allowing 62 points for a second straight game looks good, but Nebraska’s 62 points were far more dominant than Western Kentucky’s. The bigger and deeper Cornhuskers toyed with the Dutchmen and shot better than 50 percent in each half and 54.8 percent overall.

Jenkins scored a game-high 15 points, but took just four shots in the first half and 10 overall—his fewest since Jan. 27 against UNC Wilmington, and that shouldn’t count since the Dutchmen won that game by 39. Jenkins took 13 or fewer shots four times in the Dutchmen’s first eight games in January, during which they went 1-7.

Mike Moore scored in double figures for the fourth straight game, but got his 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, including 1-of-5 from 3-point land. Imes tied his career high in the first four minutes, and then didn’t score again. Greg Washington had two points and has scored just six points in the three games. Shemiye McClendon, who scored in double figures in two of his first three games with the Dutchmen, was limited to three points.

It was a reminder that the Dutchmen are even less experienced than they were last season, when the seven-man rotation featured four players in their first or second year with the program. This year’s eight-man rotation has six players in their first or second year at Hofstra.

In other words: There may be more nights (or afternoons, or mornings) like Sunday over the next few weeks. The good news is this is happening in November, when the games are far less meaningful, and not during conference season in January. There’s plenty of time for players to shake a slump, get healthy and finally break free of the NCAA.

The more Moore and Imes play, the more consistent they will become. Dwan McMillan looked much steadier Sunday, when he had two assists and two turnovers and drew a couple charges. Jenkins will probably be able to count on one hand the number of times he shoots less than 15 times in a game

But as badly as Mo Cassara wants Nathaniel Lester back, there’s no guarantee he will return. And when Brad Kelleher does become eligible Dec. 11—assuming the NCAA doesn’t decide the pack of baseball cards he got for his 13th birthday qualifies as an impermissible benefit—he’ll be the oldest rookie in Hofstra basketball history (I don’t actually know if this is true but I’m assuming it) and the rotation’s ratio of veterans-to-newcomers will remain the same. And will Washington’s offensive funk last as long as it did last season, when he went 15 straight games—including the first nine of the conference season—without reaching double figures?

Maybe Sunday was to this season what the Drexel loss in Philadelphia Jan. 23 was to last season: Rock bottom and the point at which the Dutchmen begin an improbable climb to glory (that one’s for Tom Pecora, in case he’s reading). Perhaps getting away from the angry spirits of San Juan will be enough to repair the Dutchmen. But be prepared, in case it’s not.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Nebraska, 11/21)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Mike Moore
1: Dwan McMillan

Charles Jenkins 12
Mike Moore 6
Shemiye McClendon 2
Greg Washington 2
Dwan McMillan 1
David Imes 1

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Five halftime thoughts: Nebraska

1.) Get Charles Jenkins more involved. The Dutchmen didn’t score from the field in the final 9:06, due in huge part to Jenkins being rendered almost invisible. He has just four shots and didn’t even have anything to do with the Dutchmen’s early run, which was keyed by eight points from David Imes. Expect Jenkins to get the ball early and often in the second half as the Dutchmen try to climb back.

2.) The Dutchmen seem gassed. They got off to a good start thanks to Imes, but looked spent during the final 10 minutes and took just nine shots during their half-ending drought. Is it playing a third game in four days or the deadened atmosphere inside an empty Coliseum?

3.) Nebraska’s depth may be too much to overcome. The Huskers’ bench has outscored the Dutchmen’s 20-0 and they’re throwing waves of big men at the undersized Dutchmen, who have been outrebounded 20-6.

4.) So, too, might be Nebraska’s versatility. The Huskers have been equally efficient dumping the ball inside against the Dutchmen’s zone defense and draining threes. Nebraska is shooting 54 percent (13-of-24), including 4-of-10 from beyond the arc. On what do the Dutchmen focus in the second half?

5.) This is pivotal 20 minutes for the Dutchmen. Leaving Puerto Rico off a blowout will negate any progress they made in the near-win over Western Kentucky. The Dutchmen need to bounce back and display the resiliency they showed Friday, even if it’s not enough to depart with a win.

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

Five pre-game thoughts: Nebraska

1.) Shake it off: Sound familiar? Squandering a 13-point lead in the final four minutes and falling to Western Kentucky is a far tougher loss to absorb than getting blown out of the arena by North Carolina. But the performance Friday was an encouraging sign regarding the Dutchmen’s resiliency and it sounds as if the day off Saturday did the Dutchmen some good.

2.) Get Charles Jenkins some rest: Tough to do with such a lean roster, but the only time Jenkins sat Friday was after he got hit in the eye. He’s durable but even he can’t be playing 40 minutes a night every night.

3.) Dwan McMillan needs to have a better game: The junior point guard had one of the toughest nights in memory Friday. The emergence of Mike Moore and Shemiye McClendon lessens the pressure on McMillan, who just has to get the ball to the Dutchmen’s scorers. Expect Nebraska to test McMillan early and often with the press, though.

4.) The Dutchmen’s bigs will need to be big: Nebraska has three starters 6-foot-6 or taller, so Greg Washington, David Imes and Stephen Nwaukoni have to crash the boards like they did Friday night against smaller Western Kentucky. And Washington and Imes, in particular, have to contribute more offensively for the Dutchmen to excel.

5.) Forget a 1-2 punch, do the Dutchmen have a trio now with McClendon joining Jenkins and Moore? It says a lot for Mo Cassara’s confidence in McClendon that he was the one who took the last shot Friday. McClendon has been the first guy off the bench in all three regular season games and will be the player who profits most if the Dutchmen can find some regular rest for Jenkins.

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

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Mo Cassara

We caught up with Mo Cassara last night, 24 hours or so after the stunning loss to Western Kentucky, and got his take on the mindset of the Flying Dutchmen after the Hilltoppers’ late comeback as well as his other thoughts on the first two games of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic and this morning’s finale against Nebraska. As always, thanks to Mo for his time and accessibility.

How is everyone feeling the day after?

We’ve got a great bunch of guys. They work hard, incredibly hard. We had a couple good team meetings today and film sessions. Our chins are up and we’re going to use these couple real tough losses to ultimately help us get better. That’s been my challenge for this team everyday, is to get better everyday. And I think we’ve gotten better everyday down here. Now our next challenge and the next step, as I told our guys, is to learn how to win. That takes practice and time and we’re working hard at it. Our attitude is great and we’re going to keep working hard and ultimately the wins are going to come.

Is Friday night what you had in mind when you were talking about this season being a work in progress?

Yeah, I think so. I think we really executed our game plan last night, offensively and defensively, and definitely did some good things. I think our guys are starting to learn our system a little bit better. Ultimately, we weren’t able to finish it off last night, and that’s frustrating. But at the same time, my staff and I, we’re still very encouraged with the direction we’re headed.

Friday was obviously your first close game as a Division I head coach. How much self-evaluation did you undergo and what would you do differently, if anything?

I think as a coach—any coach, whether he’s coached a lot of games or a few—you’re always trying to get a little bit better, get an edge. I’ve watched the film, believe it or not, back-to-back-to-back three full times. The big challenge is I need to get a better feel for our guys and certain situations. Still being a new team and still seeing how some guys reacted in the first real tight situation, some guys we felt did a good job and some guys we thought would do a good job didn’t. And we’ve got to do something, we need to continue to analyze and make [more] evaluations and make sure, in these instances, we do it better [next time].

What did you see on the last play?

We drew up a pretty good play, we had a good look at the basket. We knew they were going to run at Charles a lot and we put Shemiye and Mike out to see if we could go to the basket or get a good look at a three. And Shemiye got a pretty good look at he basket. I thought, when it left his hand, it was going on.

Dwan McMillan had a tough game on both sides of the ball. What did you say to him afterward?

He had a disappointing game on a lot of levels. My big challenge to him is he’s got to learn how to be a college point guard and run a team. He’s going to make some mistakes and we’re going to learn through those as he has learn to continue to develop his game and how to run a team. And down the stretch, he didn’t do a very good job. We’re going to work with him and he keeps working hard. His attitude is good. That’s the most important thing to me—his attitude is good, he wants to learn and he wants to be better. He’s got a lot of talent and ability. He just needs more experience.

Down the stretch, do you think Western Kentucky got so hot because it stole the momentum on defense, or did your defense wear down?

I think our defense wore down a little bit. We missed a couple assignments, got out late on a couple of shooters. For about 35, 36 minutes, I thought we did a great job. Our defense was really—with about five minutes to go, they had about 40 points—we did everything exactly the way we wanted to do. There’s a team that goes into St. Joseph’s and beat them by 28 points and our game plan was excellent. We really did a good job I think we got a little tired and part of that right now is we lack some depth between injuries and Brad not playing and some inexperience, That’s part of our issues, especially when you play in a tournament like this. You really feel that when you’re playing two games in a couple days. Depth is an issue for us in a tournament like this.

How pleased were you with the resiliency you guys showed, not only bouncing back from the UNC loss but also the first 10 minutes against Western Kentucky?

I’m very pleased. As a coach, certainly you want to win every game, but I place a lot of value on things that I think are going to really help us down the road as we continue to build and grow. We were able to get right back from a real tough loss against a very good team and come out and perform the way we did against Western Kentucky—obviously, we didn’t come up with the win and we’re all disappointed about that, but I think there’s some real positives to come out of these first couple games.

What were your thoughts on the North Carolina game? Were you guys kind of caught flat-footed by just how hot they were from the field?

Yeah, I mean, they’re a terrific team, and the ironic thing is they come out the following night and Harrison Barnes can’t make a shot. It was just one of those things where we challenged them to make some threes and unfortunately, in the first half, they made 8-of-9. We shot 60 percent from the field [in the first half]. If we didn’t turn the ball over a couple times and let’s say they shot 4-of-9 or 3-of-9 [from 3-point land], heck, we’re not winning the game, but it’s probably a 10- or 12-point game at halftime and you feel like you’ve got a chance. But they shot the ball so well and we got behind and then ultimately their size and speed wore us down and we started to get rushed out there a little bit.

What were some of the other positives you took from the Western Kentucky game?

I really like the way Greg Washington rebounded. I really liked the way that Mike Moore rebounded. I think those guys are going to have to have 7-10 rebounds [per game]. I like the way David Imes rebounded and battled in the backcourt. I really like the way that Shemiye McClendon can continue to score the ball and score in some bunches. He really hit some nice shots for us [Friday] night. I think some guys, on an individual level, did a terrific job, And obviously Charles continues to be one of the best scorers not only in this tournament but in the country.

What is the attitude going into the Nebraska game?

They’re a very good Big 12 team. They’ve got gigantic size in the front court and are just a big, strong team. It’s two teams that have been on similar paths and for certain stretches of time have played very well in this tournament. Against Vanderbilt they looked great and Vanderbilt is a very good team. I don’t think there are any bad teams in this tournament. Nebraska presents a great challenges for us, a big, big front line, a team that we’re going to have to go out and try to execute our game plan [against]. Win or lose, we’re going to walk out of here with some great experience as we move forward and as we get into the meat of our non-conference schedule.

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Western Kentucky 62, Hofstra 60 (Or: Mo Cassara told us there’d be days like this, man he wasn’t fooling…)

New coach, many new players, same refrain for the Dutchmen.

The Flying Dutchmen were cruising Friday night, dominating Western Kentucky for more than half the game and heading into the final media timeout with a double-digit lead. So why couldn’t I shake a general feeling of uneasiness?

Was it my unfamiliar surroundings? I’d never before watched a game at the house of blogging rival Gary Moore, and I had to keep one eye on him the whole time to make sure he didn’t knock me out with chloroform, steal my laptop and hijack my Twitter with clips of Moody Blues videos. (That’s a joke: Gary, his wife, their two adorable kids and their friendly dog were awesome hosts. And why would I assume he’d knock me out in a fashion used only in dated Hardy Boys books?)

Was it my lapsed Catholicism? The feeling that disaster is always around the corner, even when things are going great? Was it the sense the Dutchmen were playing 2- or 3-on-5 out there, with Charles Jenkins, Mike Moore and Shemiye McLendon providing almost all the offense?

Or was it the voice of Mo Cassara in the back of my head, telling me the Dutchmen are and will be a work in progress? Or was it just the pessimism of being a member of Dutch Nation (snort, I actually saw this T-shirt in the Hofstra bookstore the other day, I will mock anyone I see wearing it), where we are bonded by tales of woe going back three-plus decades?

I didn’t know, but it concerned me that I couldn’t return a late game text from a friend who roots for George Mason (yes, I have friends who went to George Mason, what, I’m sure someone in Megadeth likes Metallica and vice versa) with 160 characters of unprintable trash texting, especially since Mason had already been routed by North Carolina State. When he asked who was winning this game, I typed Hofstra by 13 and added “fingers crossed!”

I should have crossed them tighter, because it happened and my unspoken fears came horrifically true. Western Kentucky came back from a 13-point deficit in the final 3:52 to stun the Dutchmen, 62-60, and relegate Hofstra to the seventh-place game against Nebraska Sunday morning at 10:30.

This one stung, on multiple levels, and was the type of defeat so demoralizing that even people who typically take great pleasure in my misery were sympathetic. (I’m sure I’d return the favor, Mason Nation!) We’ve suffered through a lot of tough losses, us Dutchmen fans, but I can’t remember one quite like this. I’m not sure I could uncover the biggest blown lead by the Dutchmen in the final four minutes of a game, nor that I’d be sadistic enough to try.

As we sat on his couches, plastered there by shock and dismay, Gary suggested the 95-87 overtime loss to Drexel Feb. 8, 2007 that ended the Dutchmen’s 28-game regular season home winning streak was comparable to this one. But the Dutchmen needed almost 11 minutes to squander an 11-point lead that night.

At least two factors made this one far tougher than that loss. The final three minutes and change completely negated the first 36 minutes and change, during which it looked like the Dutchmen would produce a statement win by a young coach and his inexperienced team.

The Dutchmen were in danger of getting blown out when they opened the game in a 4-of-20 funk from the field and fell behind 16-8 midway through the first half. But over the next 24 minutes, the Dutchmen were 17-of-30 from the field as they outscored Western Kentucky 40-18. Defensively, the Dutchmen’s zone defense suffocated the Hilltoppers, who shot just 9-of-33 and committed 12 turnovers from the midway mark of the first half through the 3:50 mark of the second half.

It wasn’t a perfect stretch by the Dutchmen, who got all but six of their 40 points from Jenkins, Moore and McLendon. The free throw shooting was shoddy (5-of-12). Point guard Dwan McMillan struggled running the offense and hoisted up some questionable shots and big men Greg Washington and David Imes were mostly silent on offense.

But still: Those looked like issues to worry about in the film room. With 3:55 left, the Dutchmen led 52-39 and seemed on the verge of a resilient win that would have made the trip a successful one.

I imagined we’d be talking this morning about how Jenkins finally has the wingman he’s lacked the last two years in Moore, who scored 15 points. He shot just 6-of-18 from the field but added a team-high 11 rebounds, indicating again he’ll contribute even when he’s cold. We’d be talking about how McClendon (10 points) gets more intriguing with every passing day.

We’d marvel at how the Dutchmen shrugged off the rout at the hands of North Carolina and looked much more inspired in general, pulling down 41 rebounds, including 15 on offense, and how they made a Western Kentucky team that put up 98 on St. Joseph’s a week earlier look helpless for more than half the game.

Well, we did talk about that, but those positives were overshadowed by a nightmarish 235 seconds that felt as if they lasted forever. Western Kentucky went into full-court press mode and forced the Dutchmen into five turnovers and a handful of near-misses after the final media timeout. When the Dutchmen did get the ball over half-court, they couldn’t do much with it: They took just three shots down the stretch.

The Hilltoppers grew red-hot from the field, hitting an amazing nine of their final 11 shots as they scored more than half as many points in the final 3:47 as they did in the first 36:13. Western Kentucky took the lead for good with a Reggie Miller-in-1995 sequence in which Caden Dickerson hit a 3-pointer before Brandon Peters stole the ball from McMillan and drained the layup to put the Hilltoppers up 61-60 with 29 seconds left. Moore missed a shot from just inside the 3-point line in the right corner with 12 seconds to play and McLendon missed a leaner as time expired to complete the collapse.

It took a while for the astonishment at what we’d just witnessed to fade, but once it did, the big picture came into focus as well as the gnawing feeling this is last season all over again.

The Dutchmen suffered a bunch of close, tough losses in the early part of 2009-10—none tougher than the 48-47 loss to William & Mary in the January CAA opener, a game in which the Dutchmen didn’t trail until the Tribe scored its final basket—but as disheartening as those were, the idea was those pains would create some gains this year. The Dutchmen’s best players were all underclassmen. There’s always an urgency to win, but at least there was more on the horizon for Jenkins.

Now? Now the best player most of us have ever seen at Hofstra is a senior. Every game is his last something, but he’s surrounded by newcomers adapting to Division I ball. The words Tom Pecora uttered after the loss to Charlotte that inspired me to first quote Aerosmith 360 days ago—“When you have five new guys, everyday is a new experience and everyday is a learning experience”—could just as easily be uttered now by Cassara.

How’s this for mind-blowing: Of the six players who saw double-digit minutes last night, only Jenkins and Washington have ever played that many minutes in a Hofstra game settled by a single possession.

It was also, of course, the first time Cassara had been involved in a close game as a D-I head coach, and I’m sure there’s things he’ll do differently next time. But a lot of what went on last night was a matter of necessity, particularly his sticking with McMillan at point guard in the final minutes.

Who else is he going to play? McMillan is the only pure point guard on the roster until Brad Kelleher gets back, and be careful viewing him as the savior, since he’ll have gone almost two years between competitive games whenever the NCAA finally frees him from its gulag. Stevie Meija is not coming through that door, at least not this year.

In the front court, meanwhile, what can Cassara do if Washington is scoreless and Imes produces just three points? All the backup big men are raw freshmen who aren’t ready to contribute offensively. Adrian Uter is not coming through that door, at least not with remaining eligibility.

Last night was proof that the collective inexperience of the Dutchmen means there will be some moments of great encouragement, and some moments that have us gazing skyward to see if it’s falling. This is a work in progress, and the Dutchmen will be better for what they went through Friday.

But will it happen in time for Jenkins to enjoy it? Shortly before 7 am today, Jenkins appeared on Twitter and wondered why he wasn’t sleeping yet. I’m pretty sure we both know what’s keeping him up nights.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Western Kentucky, 11/19)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Mike Moore
1: Shemiye McLendon

Charles Jenkins 9
Mike Moore 4
Shemiye McLendon 2
Greg Washington 2
David Imes 1

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Five halftime thoughts: Western Kentucky

1.) Very impressive resiliency by the Flying Dutchmen. This looked like a disaster in the making when Western Kentucky raced out to a 16-8 lead and Hofstra opened up shooting just 4-of-20, but the Dutchmen steadied themselves and ended the half on a 16-5 run and turned the Hilltoppers ice cold. Zone defense was quite effective in the final 10 minutes or so.

2.) That said, it could have been even better for the Dutchmen, who were just 2-of-6 from the line and frittered away a couple offensive opportunities late in the half.

3.) Dwan McMillan is having another rough game. He started off strong by drawing an offensive foul in the first minute, but he’s made three of the Dutchmen’s five turnovers and is just 1-of-5 from the field, including a couple ill-advised shots.

4.) Mike Moore: Volume shooter. He went from 0-for-5 from the field to netting five points in about 30 seconds. He also has seven boards, putting him on pace for his second career double-double.

5.) David Imes seemed to warm up at the end of the half with a spirited sequence on offense in which he recorded two boards and finally put one back for his first points. The Dutchmen will need him in the second half with Greg Washington (four boards but two fouls) potentially limited.

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

Five pre-game thoughts: Western Kentucky

1.) Shake it off. Lopsided loss to North Carolina aside, this can still be a productive and positive weekend for the Flying Dutchmen. In fact, it was two years ago this weekend that the Dutchmen bounced back from a one-sided loss to an ACC foe (98-69 to Clemson) to win two games at the Charleston Classic. That loss to the Tar Heels will sting a lot less if the Dutchmen come home 3-1 or 2-2 instead of 1-3.

2.) This is a good matchup for the Dutchmen: According to the Western Kentucky game notes, the Hilltoppers have only one starter as tall as 6-foot-6, and Juan Pattillo played just 18 minutes last night against Minnesota. This could be a confidence-boosting game for Greg Washington as well as David Imes’ coming out party.

3.) Look for all five starters to play at least 28 minutes. Only Shemiye McClendon played as many as 15 minutes off the bench last night in a 44-point loss, so Mo Cassara seems committed to riding his horses as much as possible—out of necessity—until Brad Kelleher is freed from NCAA prison. Expect McClendon, Yves Jules and Stephen Nwaukoni to get the most time among the reserves.

4.) Mike Moore has been solid in two games, but he’ll need to be more accurate from 3-point land to really give the Dutchmen that 1-2 punch they have lacked since In Guards We Trust. A 4-of-9 shooting tonight would go a long way towards ensuring a win.

5.) Dwan McMillan needs to show the form he displayed against Molloy and Farmingdale. McMillan’s first Division I game was against UNC, so his struggles were entirely understandable, but he’s the Dutchmen’s only answer at point guard until Kelleher returns so McMillan will need to channel Chaz Williams, circa early last season, to settle the Dutchmen in the early portion of the non-conference schedule.

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

North Carolina 107, Hofstra 63 (Or: That 1-0 run to open the second half wasn’t quite enough)

And so was the score!

Well. The #BEATUNC campaign went about as well as a third-party run for the Presidency. Not Ross Perot or John Anderson or Ralph Nader. Think Lyndon LaRouche. Or The Rent Is Too Damn High guy, if he’d tried to run for national office instead of limiting his sights to our fine state.

North Carolina never trailed Thursday in routing our beloved Flying Dutchmen, 107-63. The Dutchmen will play Western Kentucky, which lost to Minnesota, tonight at 6 p.m. on ESPN3.com. If you have Cablevision, you’re screwed!

I’m writing this much later than I would have liked (getting about eight hours of sleep and driving 300-odd miles in a span of two days equaled an epic crash last night), so we’ll go with the quick bullet points for this recap and get back to the usual format tomorrow.

—As discouraging as it is to watch Hofstra lose by 44 (hey, it could have been worse, imagine if Roy Williams was from the Jim Larranaga coaching tree THAT’S A JOKE MASON NATION RELAX), don’t read too much into it. There’s no beating a team that was as red-hot as North Carolina was in the first half last night, when the Tar Heels were 8-of-9 from 3-point land. The Tar Heels actually shot better overall in the second half (58.8 percent) than the first half (54.1 percent). The conference season should still be an interesting and compelling one, because…

—…any doubt the Dutchmen have the best player in the CAA was erased when Charles Jenkins was battling National Player of the Year favorite Harrison Barnes for best player on the court honors in the first half Thursday. Jenkins finished 24 points, 20 of which he had in a sizzling first half in which he shot 9-of-11 and scored from all over the court. I know he’s probably viewed as a “tweener” by NBA scouts, but whomever takes a chance on Jenkins next year (or whenever the NBA resumes) is going to be very happy. Jenkins has gotten better against better competition: After shooting 18-of-45 and committing 11 turnovers against Kansas and UConn last year, Jenkins shot 11-of-18 and turned the ball over just three times against the Tar Heels. With Jenkins in the fold, the Dutchmen will be in every game in the CAA.

—Mike Moore had a decent night that indicated he’s ready to become the reliable second scorer the Dutchmen have lacked the last two years. Moore was just 6-of-14, including 1-of-5 from 3-point land, in scoring 15 points but attacked the basket regularly and pulled down five boards, second-most on the Dutchmen. Moore’s willingness to slash and scrap in the paint will be a huge key for a Dutchmen team lacking height and depth.

—The most encouraging player in the front court, by far, was David Imes, who almost pulled off the Halil Kanacevic by producing a double-double in his first action against a nationally ranked foe. Imes had eight points and a team-high seven rebounds and was the Dutchmen’s most physical player all night. He muscled his way for three rebounds on a single possession in the second half and delivered the hardest foul of the night when he leveled Justin Knox in the first half. Most promising stat: Despite being dwarfed by the Tar Heels’ bigs, Imes finished with just that one foul in a career-high 31 minutes. On such a thin and small team, the Dutchmen will need Imes to stay on the court for 30-plus minutes every night.

—Greg Washington (four points, four rebounds, four fouls) had another quiet game against a big-time foe and Dwan McMillan (three points, two assists, three turnovers and four fouls) had a tough debut against a Division I foe. McMillan almost lost his cool when he was flagged for a flagrant foul against Tyler Zeller (who, in McMillan’s defense, is like eight feet tall) and his struggles are more concerning than Washington’s. We know what Washington can do when he’s on his game in the CAA, but the Dutchmen need McMillan to provide stability at point guard, especially in the early going with Brad Kelleher out.

—Your good friend and mine Mike Litos notes today the Dutchmen lost the loose ball count by something like 158-3. That, unfortunately, seems about right. Possible blog bias assessment: It’s not something to worry about unless it happens again today. In the first half, in particular, the brilliance of the Tar Heels seemed to stun and slow the Dutchmen.

—Mo Cassara’s concerns about the Dutchmen’s depth were well-founded, at least Thursday. The Dutchmen got just nine points from their bench, including a last-minute 3-pointer from walk-on Matt Grogan. Stephen Nwaukoni had three rebounds but four fouls in 13 minutes while Roland Brown and Paul Bilbo looked similarly raw in their limited duty. Shemiye McLendon and Yves Jules had almost as many turnovers (five) as points (six). Kelleher will help come Dec. 11 and Nathaniel Lester will certainly be welcomed if he can make it back from his quad injury.

—Some fun facts: This was the most lopsided loss for Hofstra since 1972-73, when Long Beach State beat the Dutchmen, 97-49, in the Nassau Classic at Nassau Coliseum. That’s right: Long Beach State flew 3,000 miles to beat by 48 points a team that walked across the street. Long Beach State was coached by Jerry Tarkanian, which means the NCAA read this sentence and tacked on another couple games to Kelleher’s punishment. It was also the most points the Dutchmen had allowed since Brigham Young racked up 119 in the third game of the 1983-84 season. North Carolina fell one point shy of the Defiantly Dutch-era record for points—108 by Drexel in the 1995 NAC Tournament.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. North Carolina, 11/18)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Mike Moore
1: David Imes

Charles Jenkins 6
Mike Moore 2
Greg Washington 2
David Imes 1
Shemiye McLendon 1

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Five halftime thoughts: North Carolina

1.) Wow. North Carolina is good. There’s not much the Dutchmen can do when the Tar Heels are shooting 54 percent from the field and an ungodly 8-of-9 from 3-point land. Harrison Barnes is a man among boys. See you in the pros, kid.

2.) See you there too, Charles Jenkins. The one bright spot for the Dutchmen is Jenkins crushing this audition on the national stage: He’s got a game-high 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting. He’s creating and hitting shots even though the Tar Heels are obviously keying on him. He’s not just a future pro, he’s a future first-round draft pick.

3.) It looks as if the Dutchmen have the “2” in their 1-2 punch with Mike Moore, who has 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting and showed off his willingness to bang down low with his 6-foot-5 frame by driving for a basket and drawing the foul.

4.) The Dutchmen have no answer, none at all, for the Tar Heels’ bigs. No shame in that, but it didn’t take long for the worst-case scenario to come to fruition as Greg Washington picked up his first foul 17 seconds in. Washington has no points, two blocks and two fouls. The Dutchmen are being outrebounded, 21-13, and their best chance to stem the tide on the boards, Stephen Nwaukoni, has three fouls in limited duty.

5) With UNC up by 25, the only bits of suspense in the second half are whether or not Charles Jenkins can become the first Hofstra player since Speedy Claxton to score 40 in a game and whether or not the Tar Heels will break the Defiantly Dutch Era for points in a game (108 by Drexel in the 1995 NAC tournament). Most points by a Hofstra opponent in the last 30 years: Brigham Young with 119 in 1983-84. Back then, I angered the Mormons by accusing them of running up the score.

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

Five pre-game thoughts: North Carolina

Still stoked to write that headline. Real quick five thoughts before the Flying Dutchmen set off a riotous celebration on Long Island by beating the Tar Heels!

1.) Greg Washington has to be a factor. Against Kansas last year, Washington played just nine minutes before fouling out with five points, no rebounds and no blocks. He had just two points, four boards and three blocks four days later against UConn. As promising as David Imes is, he’s probably not ready to have a Halil Kanacevic-like game against the Tar Heels, whose front court stands 6-foot-8, 6-foot-10 and 7-feet.

2.) Someone—Mike Moore or Shemiye McLendon—needs to give the Dutchmen a second legitimate scoring threat. Moore had the best game of his Fordham career against the best team he faced (Xavier) while McLendon was very impressive Saturday against Farmingdale. The Dutchmen didn’t have anyone else to rely on last year if Cornelius Vines was cold, which increased the pressure on Charles Jenkins.

3.) Jenkins will get his 25 points, but he must be better on defense. That’s him talking, not us. “I’ve got to keep my man in front of me,” Jenkins said Tuesday. “I was getting rebounds [against Farmingdale] because those guys were missing shots. If I don’t keep the guy in front of me, he’s going to make those shots [for] the teams that we’re going to play from now on.”

4.) Avoid the four-minute surge from UNC. Easier said than done, of course, but the difference in these David vs. Goliath contests is usually that burst the Goliaths can muster in the second half. It took UConn just 4:27 last year to turn a 54-45 deficit into a 59-58 lead. It doesn’t mean Hofstra has to play a perfect game, but the Dutchmen must limit the Tar Heels’ runs.

5.) Don’t get nervous. Yeah, leave that to us! Jenkins and Mo Cassara said the right things this week, but who knows how the rest of the team will react once the ball is tipped. This is the biggest game most of the Dutchmen have ever played, and most of them are playing it with little to no collegiate experience under their belts. Deep breaths. The Heels put on their shorts the same way as the Dutchmen.

Beat UNC. Beat UNC. Beat UNC.

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

No, UNC, I don’t think we can still be friends

There's a lot more where this came from. Note: My sister's kitchen was not set ablaze during this photo shoot.

Growing up, there are certain things that seemed equally unimaginable yet also inevitable. When I was in high school, I knew I’d eventually go away to college and move away from home, though at 15 or 16 the thought of leaving my little hometown, flying free of my parents’ protective nest and living independent of them was frightfully inconceivable.

I always knew I’d get married, but as a teenager, I couldn’t tell you what she’d look like or how we’d meet or when I’d be ready to become a grownup (OK, fine, that hasn’t exactly happened yet). But even when it was shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, I knew it would happen.

I knew that, as life changed and we all got older, my best friends and I would remain bonded, but that our interactions would not be nearly as frequent and that the days of pulling the gang together at a moment’s notice, every single weekend, would become more difficult and eventually impossible—even as I told my Dad that we’d all be different than his best buddies, the ones he barely saw anymore even though they all still lived in Connecticut.

But there was one thing that remained wholly incomprehensible to me, one thing I could not see on the horizon no matter how hard and long I squinted: The day that I would root for Hofstra against North Carolina in a men’s basketball game—even if the possibility was one of the first things my roommate and I talked about upon meeting in the fall of 1993.

“What would you do if Hofstra played North Carolina?” future Loyal Reader John asked the dork across the room dressed from head to toe in Tar Heels garb. “Who would you root for?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But it’s never going to happen.”

“Let’s say it does—let’s say we make the NCAA Tournament as a 16 seed and play North Carolina in the first round. Who would you root for?”

“Dude, that is not going to happen.”

“C’mon. Just say it does. Who do you root for?”

I paused. I couldn’t conceptualize Hofstra reaching the NCAA Tournament, even as a sub-.500 team from a lowly conference that would be fed to a perennial power in the first round. We were in something called the East Coast Conference back then, a piecemeal league whose champion didn’t even get an automatic bid, and our chances of escaping Division I purgatory were murky at best.

Hofstra was so deep in the throes of irrelevance that it wasn’t even possible to imagine the Flying Dutchmen playing the Tar Heels in November or December and taking a terrible beating in exchange for a big payday. We were that far off the radar—so anonymous that national powers wouldn’t even take pity on us in a glorified scrimmage.

“C’mon man. You’ve got to root for your school!”

It was like asking me what I’d do if I won the lottery, take the one-time payment or spread it out over 25 years, except less realistic. It was never going to happen.

“Yeah—yeah, I guess I would,” I said.

I didn’t believe myself. Rooting against North Carolina? Utter insanity. Who would ever root against his most favorite of favorite teams?

North Carolina was the first great love of my life. It began like all great loves, with a seemingly inconsequential moment. In March 1986, my seventh-grade homeroom teacher asked a few of the sports fans if we’d like to participate in an NCAA Tournament pool. I went home, filled out a bracket and, employing neither rhyme nor reason, settled on North Carolina as my national champ.

With a rooting interest established, I watched the Tournament more intently than ever. North Carolina reached the Sweet Sixteen—an annual occurrence back then—but played Louisville late on a Thursday night. I couldn’t stay up to watch the game, and come Friday morning, I raced to the kitchen table, grabbed the sports section of The Hartford Courant and was crushed to see Louisville had won going away.

I was hooked. Pretty soon, I had a wardrobe full of Tar Heels clothes and a bedroom wall filled with UNC newspaper and magazine clippings. I’d tape NCAA Tournament games. I’d talk trash for weeks leading up to the twice-yearly games with Duke, which somehow had a sizable fan base at my high school. After a lopsided UNC win over Duke during my junior year, I made a videotape mocking the biggest Duke fan at school and gave it to him. I believed every year that the Tar Heels would win the national championship, and mourned for days when they fell short.

Did I mention the wardrobe? My hats were UNC hats. My running clothes were UNC T-shirts and sweats. My school clothes were UNC T-shirts and sweatshirts. I loved everything about UNC, from the regality of Dean Smith to the old-fashioned “scoreboard”—it was actually hand-operated, like the one a gym teacher would use to keep score during volleyball and basketball—at Carmichael Auditorium, which was the Tar Heels’ home before the “Dean Dome” was built.

The first Saturday of the 1990 tournament—when Rick Fox hit a beautiful backdoor layup at the buzzer to beat no. 1 Oklahoma and extend UNC’s record streak of Sweet Sixteen appearances—was one of the best days of my 16-year-old life.

The first Saturday in April 1991 was one of the very worst days of my 17-year-old life. Not only did UNC lose to Kansas in the first Final Four game, but Duke—goddamn Duke, whose March choke jobs allowed me to have the final word in any argument—beat unbeaten and seemingly unbeatable UNLV in the second game. I was at a party and the only person in a house of about 80 people rooting for those criminals at UNLV. Do you know how much fun it is to be mocked by several dozen drunk teenagers? Not fun. Two nights later, Duke won the national title. Bad night.

I had a much better night 104 weeks later, when North Carolina made all the heartache worth it by beating Michigan, 77-72, in a national title game best known for Chris Webber pulling a Southern Illinois. As the Tar Heels hit the technical free throws to ice the win, I ran screaming through my good friend Dan’s basement, my right pointer finger held aloft like I was some kind of junior Joe Willie Namath, as his Dad stared at me and wondered if I was on drugs. It was my last chance to enjoy a national championship while still living at home, and North Carolina didn’t let me down. The next day, I bought all the newspapers I could find and went to Eblens and begin piling up championship memorabilia.

I remained just as passionate about North Carolina during my Hofstra years—hell, it wasn’t like I had to worry about the two schools playing, right? When the Tar Heels’ defense of their national championship ended with a loss to Boston College in the Round of 32 in 1994, I screamed so loud and threw so much stuff in my room that the resident assistant had to make sure everything was OK. In 1995, I insisted that a spring break car trip include a stop in Chapel Hill so I could visit the Mecca and get all sorts of swag.

But after I graduated in 1996, I knew something was different. I was changing. While I still wore Tar Heels garb morning, noon and night, I knew, deep down, I couldn’t keep rooting for a school to which I had no attachment. This wasn’t like a Connecticut resident rooting for UConn—that was understandable. But rooting for the Tar Heels while living in Connecticut and holding a degree from Hofstra—whose men’s basketball program, by the way, was not only still in Division I but in a pretty good mid-major conference in which it could contend? That was not good fandom. That was the sporting equivalent of the 22-year-old guy still hanging out at his local high school.

The Tar Heels made the Final Four again in 1997, and I felt…nothing. I wanted to exult, but I couldn’t. There were no hard feelings, but we’d grown apart, me and North Carolina. I couldn’t have two loves, even if I was as convinced as I was in 1993 that my two loves would never cross paths.

Today, they do.

My relationship with North Carolina stretched from junior high school through college, endured from Reagan through Clinton, bridged the span from my gawky and stringy-haired phase to, umm, a phase that was less gawky and stringy-haired. It began when I was still able to make local basketball teams and lasted well beyond the point in which the closest I could get to the court was press row. It was a passionate relationship and a mutually satisfying one in which my loyalty was tested but ultimately rewarded.

And today, when the incomprehensible becomes reality, none of that will mean a thing to me, and I will wonder how I ever had to ponder the question John posed 17 years ago this fall and marvel at how easily seven once-inconceivable letters flow from my fingers and spill from my mouth.

Beat UNC. Beat UNC. Beat UNC.

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

Cassara, Jenkins know inexperienced Dutchmen can’t be overwhelmed by UNC

It's here!

The Flying Dutchmen enter today’s Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic opener against no. 8 North Carolina—that’s right, I’m playing nice with Tar Heel Nation and not assuming a win in print, though in my head I am already planning riot routes and wondering if I should start off naked or shed my clothes throughout, I’m leaning towards the former—in the unique position of being a bit top heavy when it comes to experience in games against nationally ranked and renowned competition.

Mo Cassara was on the Boston College staff when the Eagles went into Chapel Hill Jan. 4, 2009 and never trailed in shocking the top-ranked and previously unbeaten Tar Heels, 85-78. Assistant Wayne Morgan was on Jim Boeheim’s staff for two national championship games at Syracuse while fellow assistant Allen Griffin played in four NCAA Tournaments during his Orangemen career.

Charles Jenkins scored 23 points in the Dutchmen’s season-opening loss at top-ranked Kansas last year and followed that up a mere four days later by scoring a game-high 25 points and nearly leading Hofstra to an upset win over no. 12 UConn in Storrs. And Mike Moore had the best game of his two-year Fordham career when he had his lone double-double (24 points, 10 rebounds) against 14th-ranked Xavier Feb. 14, 2009.

Other than that, though, the Dutchmen have little to no experience against high-profile opponents. Of the eight players who got into the game last year against Kansas, only three—Jenkins, Greg Washington and Yves Jules—will suit up today. Six of the 11 players who will be in uniform today, including Moore, will be participating in only their second game at Hofstra and their first against a Division I opponent.

It’s the hoops equivalent of a band debuting in a club and playing its second gig in an arena. But the task for Cassara and Jenkins is to get the Dutchmen to resist thinking in such terms and approach North Carolina with philosophies preached by coaches and underdogs since the beginning of time.

“The difference between the mid-majors and the high majors is that the guys are a little bit more athletic, talent-wise,” Jenkins said. “But at the same time, coach always said they put their clothes on just like us.”

“One of the biggest things I learned from [Boston College head coach] Al Skinner is you don’t want to treat it differently than any other game,” Cassara said. “If you make it way too big a deal, then you’re going to set them up for not being successful. I think we want to try and do everything we’re going to do for every game.”

Of course, even Cassara and Jenkins know this is not every game. North Carolina has won five national titles, made a record 27 straight NCAA Tournament appearances through the 2000-01 season and is one of just two schools with 2,000 wins.

The Tar Heels’ roster features six players who played in the McDonald’s All-Star Game as high schoolers. Their first-year players include Harrison Barnes, the first freshman ever selected to the AP’s All-American team.

But while Cassara is quick to remind the Dutchmen of the rare opportunity they have this weekend in general and this afternoon in particular, he also knows any chance they have of pulling off the monumental upset rests on spending no time marveling at the Tar Heels’ talent or tradition.

“I think [the Tip-Off Classic] is incredibly valuable—I think it’s an opportunity for us to travel together, to get into a hotel, to be in a different arena, a neutral site, play against some very good teams and ultimately learn how to compete under pressure and against teams that have great size and height and length and traditions,” Cassara said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to do all those things.

“But we’re going to approach it just like any other game. We’re going to go out there and execute the way we want to execute and then, ultimately, if we do execute our game plan and play the way we need to play, then we’ll have an opportunity to win.”

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Of the non-existence of Santa Claus and why two hours of hoops on Thursday is better than 24 on Tuesday

Not pictured: Me yelling "Santa's not real!"

I was nine or 10 years old when I told my sister Santa Claus didn’t exist. I’d grown suspicious upon realizing that the handwriting of my Mom, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus were all the same, as was the tone of the letters the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus left for us every year. I was quite the Encyclopedia Brown, as you can tell.

Anyway, we were in the frozen food section of the local Warehouse Foods (Google it, DC!) when I pulled a Bugs Meany and told my sister the harsh truth. I don’t know why I said it. We weren’t fighting or anything and I don’t think I was especially vindictive in my pre-teen years. I guess we were just trying to decide between frozen peas and frozen carrots and I chose the six words “Santa Claus is Mom and Dad.”

My sister ran to my Mom, who had little choice but to confirm this earth-shattering news as she searched for a carton of milk. And that is how I destroyed my sister’s idyllic childhood.

I bring this up not because I’m already sick of Christmas music and Christmas commercials and Christmas decorations at the stores (seriously, people, we’re still nine days away from Thanksgiving!) but because I felt a little Grinchy yesterday over the unofficial start to college basketball season. While everyone else reveled in watching 24 hours of hoops on ESPN, I grumbled that the entire thing was alternately exploitative and belittling of mid-majors.

Knowing how eager mid-majors are to get the four-letter validation yet not really all that interested in giving them a truly national stage, ESPN shuffles the mid-majors off to the side and turns them into a circus freak show—the collegiate version of the bearded lady—by scheduling pure mid-major games from midnight to noon, when the majority of non-alumni, non-hoops junkie viewers are likely to be battling insomnia or a misplaced remote control. (“What the hell? This isn’t The Price Is Right!”)

So after Stony Brook and Monmouth tip off before dawn and Northeastern and Southern Illinois play before lunch is even served in their respective student unions, the usual suspects are crammed down our throat during normal waking hours. Twelve mid-majors appeared on ESPN between midnight and noon. Four mid-majors appeared on either ESPN or ESPN2 the remainder of the day, but two are mid-majors in name only (Butler and Gonzaga) and two are from conferences that annually flirt with Big Six status anyway (LaSalle and San Diego State).

If this sounds familiar to you, it should: I was ranting about this a year ago this morning, when I somehow managed to tie in the mistreatment of mid-majors during the 24 hours of hoops with the Flying Dutchmen’s narrow loss to UConn in the preseason NIT. Don’t blame me, it was late, I was pecking away in an unfamiliar locale (my Dad’s recliner) and I think the meat on my Subway sandwich had turned.

Obviously I feel the same way 52 weeks later, and I felt a bit like Debbie Downer reading Twitter early yesterday morning—except more reluctant than Debbie to rain on everyone’s parade. “You know, as long as mid-majors continue to acquiesce to ESPN’s every request, we’ll never have the respect we deserve. WAHH WAHH.”

And fortunately, when I did express my displeasure this time around, I wasn’t really declaring the non-existence of Santa Claus. Everyone else on my feed realize Santa Claus doesn’t exist—at least the hoops version, some of my followers are pretty young, they might think the big guy is real and I’m not going to ruin their childhoods too—and agreed the 24 hours of hoops minimizes the mid-majors, but was willing to forgive and forget in exchange for a wall-to-wall day of hoops.

I didn’t really want to contribute to the charade, so that’s why I spent my afternoon watching reruns of Beverly Hills 90210. Oh OK there’s nothing that can lure me from that daily ritual except, oh I don’t know, Hofstra playing North Carolina in men’s basketball Thursday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2. But c’mon. What are the odds of THAT happening?

Of course, it actually is happening (and more on this seismic moment in my life in the next couple days), in something that is just as manufactured by and for ESPN as Tuesday’s 24 hours of hoops. But there will be no hand-wringing over the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic, or declarations that Santa is fake.

In fact, I whole-heartedly approve of ESPN taking over most of college basketball’s pre-season. According to an SI.com article from last year, ESPN has created six pre-season tournaments—all, of course, televised on ESPN—since the NCAA dropped the “two in four” rule (which prohibited teams from playing in more than two multi-team events in a four-year span) in 2006.

ESPN’s increasing role has not been good for everybody: As of last year, only nine of the 30 tournaments not founded by ESPN aired their championship game on national TV. In addition, the number of pre-season tournaments decreased from 58 in 2006 to 35 last year.

But Hofstra has certainly benefited from the rule change as well as ESPN’s dominating presence: This year marks the third year in a row the Dutchmen participate in a multi-team event and the second time they have played in an ESPN-created tournament (the Dutchmen played in the inaugural Charleston Classic in 2008).

And the best part about it? The honesty and the implied sense of respect. Nobody’s pretending these tournaments are some kind of unifying, collective experience. The mid-majors are there—in all the big tournaments, not just the ones run by ESPN—because they are needed to fill out these fields, and the obvious hope among the execs is that the big names dispose of the little guys and create the type of semifinal and finals matchups that will draw the most eyeballs to the tube.

Yet the mid-majors emerge from freak show status and get a chance on the big stage. We get to play the big boys, in a prime-time hour and maybe even on a big-time network. The odds are stacked in our favor, but at least we get an opportunity.

This is not a knock at all on Stony Brook or Northeastern, two schools of whom I am quite fond and two schools who can’t be blamed for doing anything possible to get on ESPN, even if it means playing at ungodly hours. But there’s a better chance of Santa Claus actually shimmying down your chimney Christmas Eve than anybody, outside of loyal alums and mid-major fans, remembering by this time next week—never mind this time next year—the identities of the schools that played at 6 am or 10 am yesterday.

And sure, the odds are nobody—by this time next week, never mind this time next year—will remember who played North Carolina in the first round of the 2010 Tip-Off Classic. But Hofstra has a chance to make sure nobody forgets who played the Tar Heels, and I’ll take that over getting squeezed into the breakfast block of the 24 hours of hoops any year.

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