Thursday, February 3, 2011

George Mason 87, Hofstra 68 (Or: Where have all the good times gone?)

I'm fairly confident no one in the readership (except possibly NUHF) will call me out for not posting the Kinks original.

Mo Cassara had a readymade response a couple weeks ago when he was sniffling, sneezing and coughing as if he was auditioning for a NyQuil commercial: “I’m tougher than I look.”

More prescient, too, as it turns out.

Cassara warned us this was coming. Not so much last night’s thorough 87-68 loss to George Mason, but the first crisis for the Flying Dutchmen of the CAA season—a three-game losing streak that has dropped them from a share of first place into fourth place, just a game ahead of James Madison and Drexel, and has made the fast start that seemed so inconceivable in the final days of December seem so far away in the opening days of February.

He didn’t SAY he worried the Dutchmen were headed for the skids, of course. Not explicitly, at least. But this is what Cassara was getting at every time he uttered the familiar words “a work in progress” and when he joined us in imploring you to live by the clich├ęs and take the Dutchmen’s January surge one day at a time.

The Dutchmen have the best player in the conference in Charles Jenkins, but with three first-year starters on the floor and an eight-man rotation whose three bench players include two freshmen and a sophomore who saw little time last season, their margin for error is a thin one. Such a lean team was not going to go through the CAA season without hitting some choppy waters (get it?), especially with the infamous four-in-eight finally just concluding.

None of the three losses, individually, are cause for alarm. There’s no shame in losing at VCU and George Mason, the two teams that are now tied for first in the CAA. VCU has won 22 straight home games and nobody is hotter than Mason, which has won eight in a row and was itching for some payback after getting routed in Hempstead last month. And Drexel, which would have been all but eliminated from the race for a bye with a loss to the Dutchmen, was the more desperate team last Saturday.

And none of the three matchups were good ones for the Dutchmen. VCU and Mason play an up-tempo game and have the type of depth the Dutchmen can only dream about while Drexel thrives on crashing the boards.

But the fashion in which the Dutchmen have lost is worrisome. They haven’t led in the second half in any of their last FOUR games—Hofstra didn’t go ahead of James Madison until overtime last Monday night (and boy, is it ever a good thing the Dutchmen won that one). The Dutchmen didn’t lead for the final 27-plus minutes of regulation against Madison and trailed the final 34-plus minutes against VCU, the final 32-plus minutes against Drexel and the final 33-plus minutes against Mason. In addition, the Dutchmen trailed the entire second half in their first conference loss to Old Dominion.

The Dutchmen never even got within as many as 10 during the second half at VCU or Mason, another indication the Dutchmen don’t have the bodies to play from behind. The Dutchmen outscored the Patriots 27-23 in the first 13 minutes of the second half but strung together consecutive baskets just three times during that stretch.

Cassara prides (boooo!) himself on teams that play strong defense, but the Dutchmen gave up 48 first half points to VCU and 49 first half points to Mason. If that wasn’t enough to cause a sleepless night upon the return from Fairfax, then he surely tossed and turned over what to do with a team whose players seem to have hit the wall at the exact same time.

Jenkins finished with 22 points and seven assists, but he was just 8-of-20 from the field (his most misses of the season and only the fourth time he’s shot 40 percent or below) and tied a season-high with four turnovers as Isaiah Tate and Cam Long draped him all night long. He also looked exhausted in hoisting a bunch of short shots in the first half. Mike Moore tied his season high by draining four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points but had just two rebounds, the third straight game he’s had four boards or less.

Greg Washington had five blocks, tied for his most against a Division I opponent this year, but was scoreless for the second straight game, which is hard to comprehend given he was 19-for-30 in his preceding three games. The Dutchmen aren’t going anywhere if he’s a non-factor on offense.

David Imes had eight points and seven rebounds, a shade above his season averages, but he missed several shots underneath the basket in the first half as the Dutchmen tried to establish him down low and take some pressure off Jenkins and Moore. And while Shemiye McLendon had nine points and seven rebounds, he looked like a freshman for the first time in a long time with some questionable shot selection in the second half that briefly earned him a spot on the bench.

The schedule doesn’t provide much of an opportunity for the Dutchmen to catch their breath. Barring a run in the CIT or CBI, next season will be the next time they play consecutive home games. There are two two-game road trips left and mid-week flights to Georgia State and UNC Wilmington (as well as a flight to BracketBuster opponent Wright State) on the horizon.

In addition, a schedule that seemed to ease up after the four-in-eight—each of the Dutchmen’s last six conference games are against teams in the bottom half of the CAA—is suddenly fraught with potential danger. Northeastern comes to the Arena Saturday having won four in a row after an 0-8 start (we told you they wouldn’t be down for long) after a rout of VCU last night in Boston. William & Mary, whom the Dutchmen host Feb. 15, is 3-9 but easily dispatched James Madison last night (and we thank you for that, Fighting Bill Lawrences). And then there are two games in a 14-day span against thoroughly unpredictable Delaware.

The good news is the Dutchmen are in far better position than any of us could have envisioned last summer, when we would have gladly sold our souls to the Larranaga to be alone in fourth place two-thirds of the way through the conference season. And we all know Cassara relishes a challenge. He’s tougher than he looks, and so is his team, which is good, because the task ahead of them—regaining the confidence and mojo the Dutchmen had 10 days ago and figuring out where all the good times went—is at least as tough as it looks.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. George Mason, 2/2)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Mike Moore
1: Shemiye McLendon

SEASON STANDINGS
Charles Jenkins 59
Mike Moore 28
Greg Washington 21
David Imes 15
Shemiye McLendon 5
Dwan McMillan 5
Brad Kelleher 3
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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

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