Mother Nature was the last to know, or at least the last to let go of the remaining strand of the college basketball off-season. It felt like spring on Long Island yesterday afternoon, when it was so warm that I ditched my fleece, rolled down the car windows and let my freak flag fly in the wind as I cranked the above tune (full-length CD version, not this silly edited-for-MTV version I had to link; I realize the previous dozen words horribly date me, get off my lawn) on my way to Hofstra to pick up media guides.
Mother Nature could not turn back the smells, sights and feel of a new season for long, though. The sweet, sweet scent of new media guides filled my car on the way home. Hours before the Flying Dutchwomen officially opened the joint for 2010-11, Hofstra Arena looked like school always did on the first day of school—a new coat of paint (or, in this case, a new floor) and new decorations (a display of milestone basketballs in the lobby and a floor-to-ceiling mural of Hofstra fans next to the souvenir stand) meshing nicely with the familiar (the well-stocked bin next to the ticket window filled with this week’s issue of The Chronicle).
The clincher, though, was that 5 pm sunset, accompanied by a corresponding dip in temperatures that made it necessary to both wear another layer of clothing and roll up the windows.
It’s finally here.
Finally, 260 eventful days since Tom Pecora walked off the court at Hofstra Arena for the last time, the Flying Dutchmen play a game that counts this afternoon, when the Mo Cassara Era gets underway against Farmingdale. It’s a season unlike anyone in the Defiantly Dutch demographic has ever experienced, and like every single one we’ve experienced, all at the same time.
The last time Hofstra had an entirely new coaching staff, Jay Wright was building the program almost from scratch. We’ve never seen someone from outside the university inherit the sturdiest program in the New York area—mid-major or otherwise—and add on to an impressive foundation.
Cassara’s enthusiasm and passion is contagious, and more than a little reminiscent of Wright’s first days. We don’t know how Cassara will fare, but if he doesn’t bring Hofstra to the NCAA Tournament, it won’t be for a lack of effort or preparation. Like Pecora, Cassara is on 24/7 and not lacking for confidence—the good kind of confidence, the type that comes with someone doing what he knows he was born to do and what he loves to do.
As always, the best-case scenarios are tumbling from our mouths and fingers. Just a couple ifs need to pan out for the Dutchmen to contend for the CAA title. We can be reminded that the last two times the Dutchmen had to replace as much talent as they’re replacing this year, they finished 12-20 (in 2001-02) and 12-18 (in 2007-08). But we can also note that those teams didn’t have Charles Jenkins.
We know that the first hiccup will have us gazing skyward to see if the sky is falling, and that the next win will have us pricing hotels for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. And that’s OK—perfect, even. That’s life when you are fully invested. We can’t ride the clichéd even keel. Except Sully Ray.
And as always, we start the season with the unofficial anthem of Defiantly Dutch, with the hope that come the first Monday in March, we’ll be blaring it again during a delirious ride home from Richmond. The music is starting. Finally.
This is the part where I offer my super-serious CAA predictions and my forecast for the Flying Dutchmen.
Coach of the Year: Mo Cassara
CAA Player of the Year: Charles Jenkins
All-CAA First Team: Jenkins, Greg Washington, David Imes, Dwan McMillon, Mike Moore
All-CAA Second Team: Nathaniel Lester, Brad Kelleher, Stephen Nwankoni, Yves Jules, Shemiye McLendon
All-CAA Third Team: Paul Bilbo, Roland Brown, Matt Grogan, two walk-ons Hofstra brings aboard out of sympathy for the rest of the overmatched CAA.
NCAA Tournament: Despite going 33-0, Hofstra is relegated to a no. 4 seed and sent out west when this guy once again finds a way to put the screws to the Flying Dutchmen. The Dutchmen respond by winning their first four tournament games by an average of 55 points before thrashing Michigan State, 142-57, in the national semis. The Dutchmen complete their magical season by beating North Carolina for the second time this year, 112-71, and forcing Roy Williams to admit yes, he does in fact give a crap about Hofstra. Alas, the Dutchmen’s title is revoked when the NCAA declares Kelleher retroactively ineligible because he didn’t pay for lunch one day in seventh grade. That doesn’t stop Kentucky—which had its Elite Eight appearance revoked when it is revealed John Calipari was actually Enes Kanter’s GM—from offering Cassara $50 million to take over in Lexington. When Cassara pauses, Kentucky ups the ante and offers to rename Rupp Arena “Cassara’s Cage.” But there’s no taking Cassara from Hofstra, which retains him by allowing him to DJ every Friday night at Hofstra USA.
That’s silly talk. Cassara would want to DJ both nights of the weekend.
Anyway, a slightly more realistic projection is fourth place (BLOG BIAS!!!). Only one of the 13 preseason polls I’ve seen have the Dutchmen that high, but I’m convinced that someone from the consensus top four will fall (my money, if I had any, would be on George Mason or James Madison). Why can’t Hofstra fill that spot and grab that ever-valuable first-round bye? (My CAA predictions, which I know you are breathlessly anticipating, will appear next week)
As noted earlier (and yesterday), it’ll take a few ifs working out. Washington will have to become more of a force down low on offense and Nwankoni, who is as promising as Halil Kanacevic but not as polished, will need to smoothen out the edges on offense. McMillan needs to provide stability at point guard and Moore will need to be that reliable second scorer Jenkins hasn’t had the last two years.
No worries about Jenkins, who will be the difference between victory and defeat in at least three conference games, but he and the Dutchmen will be much better off if Cassara can find an eight-man rotation by the time the CAA schedule really gets under way. That means Kelleher adapting quickly to Division I play and, perhaps, Lester coming back from a possible season-ending injury.
There are certainly question marks, and a middle-of-the-pack finish is entirely possible. But the conference schedule is set up nicely for the Dutchmen to get off to a fast start and finish with a kick. Like under Pecora, the Dutchmen should be much better in February than in December. A 12-6 mark is doable, and a team with 12 wins has missed out on a bye just twice since the CAA expanded in 2001-02. I’m not saying big things are ahead, but make your reservations for Richmond for March 5-7 right now!!
As for what you’ll see here at DD in terms of game coverage, the Three Stars of the Game, which seemed to be a fun and popular addition last year, will be back. Game recaps will appear the next morning, though weekend games will almost always be recapped on Monday (next weekend and the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic being the exception), though there’s always the chance I’ll have to do it Sunday if the Day Job threatens to get in the way.
I’m also going to try to make pre-game and halftime observations regular staples as well, so check back before the game and at halftime for those. Those may or may not be part of an even broader coverage plan that I may or may not explain in the next week or so (needlessly vague, I know, but it depends if I can figure out the kinks). And as always, please follow me on Twitter at @defiantlydutch for in-game coverage, news, notes, snark and wisecracks at the expense of Sully Ray and my wife (no, wait, not my wife). Some may think this is obsessive. Well, duhhhh, isn’t that the point? See you today!