Friday, October 21, 2011

Touch of Madness

Excuse to post Night Ranger for the win!

While dozens, if not hundreds, of schools of all sizes either opened the college basketball season with Midnight Madness-esque festivities last Friday night—or are planning a similarly themed party at some point in the preseason, a la Iona tonight and Stony Brook next week—Mo Cassara and the Flying Dutchmen are getting underway in a low-key fashion. The first practice of 2011-12 came and went late last Friday afternoon with nary an undergrad nailing a half-court shot and having his tuition paid for by ESPN and his books covered by Dickie V.

And other than the season ticket holder meet-and-greet scheduled for next Thursday, practice will continue unfolding in perfectly routine fashion leading up to the season opener against Long Island three weeks from tonight. Cassara and the marketing staff at Hofstra figure their efforts are better utilized focusing on filling the Arena for that rare Friday night home game and using that as a springboard to a season that features a program-record 17 home games rather than on an event long on filler and short on substance.

That’s not to say Midnight Madness won’t someday actually arrive at Hofstra (those of a certain age—mine—will recall that Midnight Madness in the Jay Wright Era didn’t actually include basketball). But holding Midnight Madness now would be like planning an extension on a house whose foundation has barely been poured. The program made great strides expanding its heretofore meager fan base last year, but there’s still work to be done retaining the students and other newcomers to the bandwagon last year.

Plus, you don’t need Midnight Madness to go a little mad. For one thing, these realignment rumors will make anyone go nutty. How about Stuart Rabinowitz, that noted sports fan who is less than two years removed from begging Mike Francesa to get Hofstra out of the CAA and into the Atlantic 10, not only serving as the president of the CAA Council of Presidents/Chancellors but, per the New York Times, cold-calling Charlotte, George Washington, Richmond and Boston University to see if they’d like to join the CAA?

As the kids say: What is up with that? I mean, geez, two of those schools play that dreaded brand of I-AA football. What does Rabinowitz say to 2008 national champion Richmond as well as Charlotte, which will begin I-AA play in 2013? “I was just kidding, CAA football is awesome!”

I half-think Rabinowitz’ new gig is just his way of paying homage to horror movies past and present: “We all go a little mad sometimes.”

Anyway, Rabinowitz suddenly emerging as a member of the CAA’s inner circle is just one of the reasons I’m a little less WHOOHOO WE’RE GOING TO THE A-10 SEE YA CAA!!!! than I was a few weeks ago.

Saner, smarter people than me (line forms to the left) believe the CAA will emerge from realignment stronger than it is right now—your good friend and mine Mike Litos reminded us recently that Tom Yeager, with his conference on tilt, managed to gut and forever weaken the America East 11 years ago—and that it will be proactive in the process, not reactive, even if it is quiet right now.

As much as Southern Bias drives me freaking crazy, what good would it do Hofstra as well as Northeastern and Drexel—two more northeast schools now putting all their eggs in the basket of men’s basketball—to leave the CAA if it means taking a step down? As one of those saner, smarter people said to me recently: If the A-10 ends up losing Xavier, Dayton and Temple to the Big East or an off-shoot of it, who wants to end up in what is left of the A-10?

No matter how it shakes out, I still firmly believe the CAA and the rest of the Division I landscape will look far different 12 months from now, which creates a weird purgatory for 2011-12—for the league as well as the Flying Dutchmen.

A spate of graduations and the defection of a certain coach (sniff) means a regression for the CAA is likely and that one bid is all the league will get come March. The good news there is the CAA is more wide open than usual: Drexel is the preseason pick to finally overcome Southern Bias on the first Monday of March, but the Dragons are far from an overwhelming favorite. It’s the type of year in which just about everyone has a touch of madness when it comes to evaluating their chances at winning the CAA—even the fans of the team picked to finish eighth!

Believe it or not, eighth place ISN’T seven spots lower than I would have picked the Dutchmen, It’s a smidge lower than my projection—my ample gut is saying seventh, for some reason—but a perfectly reasonable one given how little we know about this team.

The Dutchmen are adjusting to life without Charles Jenkins and will field a starting five that has spent far more time together in practice than on the court. The lineup against Long Island will likely include two incumbent starters from last year in Mike Moore and David Imes, two players who were in the program but redshirted last season in Stevie Mejia and Nat Lester (who is going to sweep the balloting for the “Holy crap didn’t that guy play against David Robinson?” award) and JUCO transfer Bryant Crowder.

While actual experience together is a concern, the collective maturity of the starters is not. Moore, Mejia and Lester are all five years removed from high school while Imes prepped following high school and is four years removed from his graduation. Other returnees Dwan McMillan, Shemiye McLendon, Stephen Nwaukoni and Matt Grogan have all bought into the Cassara system and will be valuable leaders this season in helping four newcomers adjust to Division I.

This team is going to be better than people think and will feature at least one and maybe two first- or second-team All-CAA players. It’s the type of year in which a seventh-place finish and an 18-15 record is a cause for celebration, or at least pursuing a CIT bid, and reason to believe the foundation—there’s that word again!—has been set for a potentially magical 2012-13 season, when the Dutchmen will welcome a loaded recruiting class that features highly touted freshmen as well as big-time Division I transfers.

Admittedly, when it comes to forecasting this season, it takes a touch of madness to think of anything beyond a middle of the pack finish for the Flying Dutchmen, at least until we get to see them in action in November. But isn’t that what this time of the year is all about—unbridled and often uncharacteristic optimism about everything?

Why can’t the league be more balanced than expected and the Dutchmen gel faster than projected? Why can’t Hofstra work in the CAA long-term? Why can’t I root for George Mason whenever the Patriots aren’t playing the Dutchmen? I’ve got a touch of madness, and until that last sentence I really didn’t want the antidote.

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1 comment:

Pav said...


The problem for Hofstra is that this is the year that the VA3 is down, and another school has a chance to step up. By 12-13, the "rebuilding" will be done.