Thursday, March 31, 2011

Contract extension makes Mo the man for Hofstra

Charles Jenkins is gone, but Mo Cassara will remain a Lions' Den favorite for years to come after signing a contract extension today.

Three of the season’s lowest points convinced Jack Hayes that Mo Cassara was the school’s long-term answer at head coach. Two of the season’s most exciting moments convinced Cassara that Hofstra was the home an itinerant basketball coach had been seeking.

The two men who reached the same conclusion via different methods needed little time to cement Cassara’s future at Hofstra. The school announced Thursday that it had signed Cassara to a five-year extension taking him through the 2015-16 season. The extension comes with a raise that will put Cassara into the top half of CAA coaches in annual compensation (that sound you just heard was George Mason drafting another press release announcing another extension and raise for Jim Larranaga).

Cassara, whose original deal at Hofstra was for four years, signed his new contract a day before the anniversary of Tim Welsh’s hiring, a coincidental capper to a year that turned out nothing like expected and much better than expected, all at the same time.

“I did not think of that,” Hayes said with a chuckle Thursday afternoon. “You try to handle these situations as best as you can, and in looking back now, I feel that the university made a good decision and I think everybody is happy with the decision to hire Mo as the head coach. As you look back now, over a 12-month period it’s been an excellent situation and one that we wanted to make sure lasts for a long time.”

A year ago, Cassara headed to the Final Four in Indianapolis hopeful he’d join Welsh on Long Island but still nursing the wounds from the surprising dismissal of Al Skinner’s staff at Boston College and uncertain what he would do next.

“I remember flying out here to the Final Four last year essentially thinking or hoping that I was going to go with Tim but really, essentially, without a job and not really knowing that much about Hofstra and not knowing about the opportunity and not knowing what I really wanted to do and, ultimately, still trying to figure out what happened at Boston College,” Cassara said tonight as he drove back from a dinner in Houston. “It’s amazing what happens in a year. You try to do the right thing and you work hard and you surround yourself with good people and I think a lot can be accomplished.

Cassara, thrust from the third assistant’s role into the head coaching position when Welsh resigned following a DUI arrest last Apr. 30, finished second in the CAA Coach of the Year balloting (urge to curse rising) after leading the Flying Dutchmen to a 14-4 conference mark and a share of second place, the program’s best finish since moving to the CAA in 2001-02 and two games ahead of Final Four participant VCU.

The Dutchmen finished 21-12 after falling to Old Dominion in the tournament semifinals and losing to Evansville in the first round of the CBI, but a season that ended shy of the ultimate goal left everyone associated with the program excited about what Cassara and his staff had begun to build.

In addition to piecing together a 20-win season out of a thin and injury-depleted roster that featured just two players—Charles Jenkins and Greg Washington—who had started a game for Hofstra prior to this year, Cassara’s tireless efforts to reach out to fans via social media and other more traditional means helped the Dutchmen draw almost 700 more fans per game this year (3,073) than last year (2,410). The Dutchmen also played to their first two sellout crowds since the 2006-07 season.

“Mo did a great job and showed that he can coach and that he can recruit and that he can certainly energize a college campus,” Hayes said. “At the end of the regular season, as we sat there tied at second at 14-4 in the conference, we knew we wanted to do something.”

Hayes said he was particularly impressed by how Cassara got the Dutchmen to respond to and bounce back from disastrous trips to Puerto Rico, Iona and Wright State. The Dutchmen went 0-3 in the Puerto Rico Classic, where they opened and closed the trip by getting blown out by North Carolina and Nebraska and blew a 13-point lead against Western Kentucky in the final four minutes of the middle game, but won their next four games upon returning home.

A 25-point loss to Iona in the final game of the calendar year led to a weekend’s worth of boot camp practices and resulted in the Dutchmen winning their first four games in January and seven of their first eight overall as they put themselves in position to earn a CAA Tournament bye. The Dutchmen lost by 26 in the BracketBuster at Wright State but mounted another four-game winning streak that ended with the loss to Old Dominion.

“I think Mo did a great job of going through situations like that and getting everybody refocused and re-energized and working on the task at hand to put those things behind us, learn from them and move on,” Hayes said. “We came back from those stretches and we were very successful.”

Cassara, who coached at six different colleges or high schools in the 13 years before he arrived at Hofstra, said he knew Long Island was the place for him after seeing the reaction to the Dutchmen’s home win over George Mason Jan. 5—a victory highlighted by Cassara racing over to Brad Kelleher and high-fiving him after Kelleher’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first half—and the anticipation prior to the sold-out season finale against Delaware Feb. 26.

“There was a period of time early in the year I was like ‘Oh my God, are we going to win a game? How are we going to do this?’” Cassara said. “And I knew how good George Mason was, they really had been the class of the league and when we beat them at our place and really played well that second half, I could see the momentum start to turn and the fans start to get excited.

“And then I think that kind of just steamrolled into more and more positive things. Walking out on that court that last day down to the student section and being so excited—not about just playing the game, but more excited about the turnout and the fan support in the community—I walked out that day and I said to myself ‘This is not just a job.’

“Those are the two times that I can think of that I said ‘Wow, this isn’t just a job. This is home to me.’”

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

Monday, March 28, 2011

This is for the ones who stood their ground

Long before we ever got to the doorstep of #8Wins4CAA, there was the seemingly Quixotic hashtag that turned into reality and made all of this—VCU’s incredible, historic, orgasm-is-an-anagram-for-GORAMS run from the First Four to the Final Four—possible. And so, as we congratulate VCU and Rams fans on unprecedented achievement and direct you to those who can do this story justice—Mike Litos and Kyle Whelliston—we also pay homage to those who stood their ground and will enjoy this as much as anyone outside of RamNation, beginning with the ones who treaded what had to be the loneliest patch of grass in the yard.

Our good friends and William & Mary alums @Gheorghetheblog and @batogato were the ones who started the #3Bids4CAA movement on Twitter back before Valentine’s Day and they, along with Litos, kept the faith even as the odds and hope seemed to dwindle. It was Litos who on Selection Sunday—15 days that feel as if they happened 15 years ago—channeled Tug McGraw (Google him, kids!) and implored us to believe in the two percent.

We thought they were crazy. Turned out they were prescient geniuses. Enjoy this, gents, you believed before, and with more fervor than, anyone else.

This VCU run is also for those of us who displayed a different fervor five years ago, for the Hofstra fans who pushed away the spoon and refused to swallow the feel-good Cinderella story being spewed by a nation that didn’t know the truth, didn’t know what we knew about THEIR run and HIS way. Most people—especially THEIR fans—wondered how we could derive nothing but sickness and heartache out of THAT run, how we could let our contempt and, yes, hatred consume us during the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to root for a school in the same conference as Hofstra—Hofstra, for crying out loud, a school just 12 years removed from winning the championship in a conference that didn’t have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament—to reach the Final Four.

Once-in-a-lifetime or not, how we felt and reacted in 2006 was the right thing—the only thing—to do. This—a seemingly twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity, emphasis on seemingly—is a reward for us, a second chance nobody ever expected to get. If they didn’t understand why we felt how we felt five years ago, then they’ll never understand the sense of peace that came over all of us yesterday afternoon, of seeing a team whose Final Four run wasn’t hatched via felonious acts of assault and underhanded backroom politics and whose coach delivers inspirational speeches that sound authentic, heartfelt and spontaneous and not hackneyed and scripted for television.

2006 is a footnote now—one that will always gnaw at us, to be sure, but one we no longer have to hear parroted every goddamn March by people who don’t know any better. We are free. Now and forever, the Cinderella standard is five wins over five BCS league opponents to get to the Final Four. Now and forever, we are searching for—and hoping to become—the next VCU.

This VCU run is for those who cover entire leagues and an entire genre (for lack of a better word) of basketball in the type of comprehensive and outstanding fashion they deserve, and not as the niche the gatekeepers wish it was. Once again, this is for you, Mike Litos, a man I am proud to call my friend and someone who inspires me everyday to be a better writer and person, and for you, Kyle Whelliston, so accurately dubbed the bard of the mid-majors.

Of all the Tweets generated by VCU’s stunning upset yesterday, my very favorite was from Northwestern State broadcaster Patrick Netherton: “Funny that this season, with all ESPN’s experts, the guy most knowledgeable about half the Final Four teams is @midmajority, who they fired.”

Whelliston was fired for daring to suggest “The Sports Bubble” that was created by ESPN is unsustainable. The mainstream kicked him out, and not coincidentally, has deemed the CAA a conference unworthy of big-time coverage or a seat at the big boy table. So Litos and Whelliston ran an end-around and made their own breaks, and this weekend, they will be covering VCU in the Final Four.

Most of all, this VCU run is for all those who stood our ground and refused to believe the notion that the mid-major basketball we love is somehow lesser than power conference ball. It’s for those whose world views are shaped not by what ESPN tells us is REALLY IMPORTANT but by heading out to smaller arenas and gymnasiums and seeking out those of our ilk on what must be the best community on the Internet. It is a place where a Hofstra fan and a Mason fan can tell each other to go fudge a kite, and then come to appreciate and respect the other’s passion for his alma mater, all in a single day.

It is a place in which everyone went to bed last night (or this morning) dreaming of the day their team is the one tugging at uniform tops after knocking out Drago. The odds are long—very long. But three mid-majors have made the Final Four in the last five years. As Final Four-bound VCU coach Shaka Smart might say: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

Yes there is. The last song I heard before I got out of the car last night was the Rocky IV anthem—and Hofstra Arena staple—“No Easy Way Out.” That’s a good enough sign for me. We can be the next VCU. The hashtag is #HUF4. Pass it on.

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

Saturday, March 26, 2011

This is the shape of a basketball

VCU, the first team to ever win four games to reach the Elite Eight, will be playing with one just like this Sunday, when tries to knock off Kansas. Suck on that, Jay Bilas. #DuckFuke

Friday, March 25, 2011

Of second chances, southern biases and sympathy for the Dragons

Breathing fire over a fellow CAA team in the Sweet Sixteen? Been there, done that.

This feels like the type of second chance that only comes in the movies. Five years after George Mason mounted an unprecedented NCAA Tournament run that still makes me see red to this day, I’ve got another opportunity to watch as a CAA rival try to topple the giants of college basketball, and enjoy it.

We have taken a great deal of pleasure in watching VCU turn Jay Bilas into the picture of clueless Duke arrogance, and will be rooting like hell this weekend for the Rams to not only match what Mason did but exceed it. What better way to render Mason and Jim Larranaga nothing more than a historical footnote than by winning FIVE games to reach the Final Four? Even if the run comes to an end tonight against Florida State or Sunday against Kansas or—and wouldn’t this be something?—Richmond, we’ll still have enjoyed it and the knowledge there’s a certain purity and legitimacy to VCU’s Cinderella story that we’ll never associate with the one authored by Mason.

But I have a pretty good suspicion that there’s one fanbase out there feeling a bit like we did five years ago—battling some conflicting emotions and finding it difficult to derive conference price in a rival’s surprising NCAA Tournament success because it feels slighted from within.

“Is this how you feel about Mason?” Loyal Reader and even more loyal Drexel fan Metsox1 asked me on Twitter Sunday. “Is that what I’m feeling?”

VCU’s stunning run began three weeks ago tomorrow, when the Rams benefited from some interesting officiating to edge Drexel, 62-60, on Jamie Skeen’s layup at the buzzer. A whole bunch of us ranted about it at the time, but in case you need a refresher, that was the game in which Drexel was whistled for 27 fouls (plus an odd technical for Bruiser Flint, who didn’t curse in arguing a non-foul call on VCU late in the second half but was whistled anyway) to 19 for VCU and in which the Rams went to the line more than twice as often (36 times) as the Dragons (17).

In the second half, VCU took 25 free throws to Drexel’s three. Again: 25 to 3. The Dragons had three players foul out, and Skeen hit the game-winning layup by muscling his way past Yannick Farmbor, who had four fouls.

“It’s disappointing that in a conference playoff game, a team can shoot 25 foul shots to three in the second half,” Flint told the Philadelphia Inquirer afterward.

The discrepancy was enough to raise the whole specter of Southern Bias, and this time without a tongue planted firmly in cheek. The game was to the CAA what Game Six of the Kings-Lakers Western Conference finals in 2002 was to the NBA: So awfully and lopsidedly officiated that we actually HOPE there was some kind of conspiracy at play, because the alternative—incompetence—is almost harder to stomach.

Such talk is not entered into lightly. And the truth is the establishment—the five Virginia schools and UNC Wilmington, all of whom were in the CAA before the America East Four saved the league in 2001—has dominated basketball the last 10 years because it has been better than the newcomers. A LOT better.

As solid as Hofstra, Drexel and Northeastern have been—the three schools have finished .500 or better in CAA play 20 out of a possible 26 times since joining the league—Towson has been one of the worst programs in America the last 10 years. Delaware and Georgia State have been irrelevant since departing the America East and Atlantic Sun, respectively, which is a fate almost worse than Towson’s.

Since expansion, the establishment is 31-8 against the newcomers in the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament and beyond. The newcomers have been the lower-seeded team 32 times, and Hofstra’s win over William & Mary in the quarterfinals this year ended a 16-game winning streak by the establishment over newcomers in the quarterfinals and later.

Only 10 of the 39 games have been decided by six or fewer points or in overtime. Most of these were games in which the officiating didn’t seem to tilt things in favor of the establishment. For instance, when William & Mary knocked off Northeastern, 47-45, in the 2010 semifinals, the two teams shot the same number of free throws and the Tribe were actually whistled for four more fouls than the Huskies. When Hofstra fell to Old Dominion 52-51 in the 2009 quarterfinals, the Dutchmen were whistled for four more fouls and had one less free throw attempt than the Monarchs.

The winning team shot at least 10 more free throws in five of these 10 close games, but Hofstra did it twice (in an upset of George Mason in 2002 and VCU in 2006). Only three times has a Virginia school benefited from seemingly lopsided officiating in a close game against a non-establishment school.

But the last time it happened was in the 2006 quarterfinals, when George Mason edged 10th-seeded Georgia State, 61-56, in overtime. The foul discrepancy in that game was even more lopsided than in VCU-Drexel: Georgia State was whistled for 30 fouls and took 16 free throws while George Mason had just 18 fouls and took 37 free throws. The Panthers had four players foul out while only Jai Lewis was disqualified for the Patriots.

I think we can all agree that if George Mason loses that game, the Patriots never sniff the NCAA Tournament. Even having its athletic director on the Selection Committee wouldn’t have been enough for Mason to overcome losing to a sub-.500 team in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

Five years later, VCU had to do more than just win one game in the CAA Tournament to assure itself a spot in the NCAA Tournament. But VCU never gets a chance to bolster its at-large candidacy by convincingly beating Mason in the semifinals if the Rams don’t get past Drexel. And it sure is an interesting coincidence that the two times the CAA had its best shot at three NCAA Tournament bids, a Virginia-based school got a HUGE assist in an oddly officiated game to keep its hopes of an at-large bid alive.

Of course, without the NCAA adding four teams to the tournament field, VCU never gets in. But we will always wonder why it took an expansion of the NCAA Tournament in order for the CAA to get three teams in the tournament when Hofstra—with a 14-4 CAA record, two games better than the one fashioned by VCU this year, and an RPI of 30, nearly 20 spots higher than VCU’s RPI entering the tournament—had such an impressive resume yet still missed out five years ago.

Or, for that matter, why Drexel didn’t make it three CAA teams in the NCAA Tournament in 2007, when the Dragons finished fourth in the CAA (the same spot as VCU this year) with a 13-5 record (one game better than the Rams), an RPI of 43 and road wins at Villanova, Syracuse and Creighton. Two northern teams, two excellent resumes, no NCAA bids. Interesting.

This year’s Drexel squad didn’t have at-large aspirations, not after a fifth-place finish and with an RPI of 74. And thankfully, nobody got punched in the nuts. So the Dragons’ plight isn’t as odious as Hofstra’s was in 2006, or their own a year later.

But who can blame Dragons fans for wondering what if about potential matchups with George Mason and Old Dominion and for wanting a fairer fate out of this season? While VCU gets to play for a spot in the Elite Eight, Drexel is saddled with the indignity of finishing the season with the second-highest RPI of any school not invited to a postseason tournament.

We’ll be rooting for the Rams to extend their Cinderella run as long as possible. But we won’t forget how it began, nor will we blame our Drexel brethren if they are unable to climb aboard the VCU bandwagon. Because we understand, as much as we wish we didn’t, how tough it is to view Southern Bias as just an easy punchline.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oh the humanity: Son of CBI Craziness Standings, Round Two

Have fun with Vicki (err, VCU), Bill (err, Mike)! This clip will also be enjoyed by Son of CBI Craziness leader Craig. In fact, it might just serve as his prize. I don't know.

Sometimes life really sucks. The beautiful part about rooting for a mid-major is the shared collective geekdom. We are perpetual outsiders, doomed to always be gazing through the fence at the beautiful people as we laugh at our own inside jokes about Airplane! quotes and John Waite songs and remind ourselves we wouldn’t want to be THEM anyway.

Once in a great while we might be invited to their party, but we are usually escorted from the premises after wolfing down some pigs in blankets and are home in our rented apartments and ratty sweats by the time the main course is served. It really is like the adult version of high school.

But this never happened in high school. Not only was one of our friends invited to the big party, but well after most of the guests have left, the prom queen is doing her damndest to give him mono. Or, in this case, our so-called good friend Mike Litos traveling to San Antonio to chronicle VCU’s Sweet Sixteen appearance for both CAAHoops.com and VCU’s official website.

We always imagined how awesome it would be if this—going to the Sweet Sixteen, never mind actually covering it—happened to one of us, but a.) the one of us is never anybody else in the group and b.) we never ACTUALLY wanted it to happen to anybody else in the group. We’re selfish, small bastards wracked by jealousy. We’re not happy for our friend, we’re wondering what the hell the prom queen sees in him. I HELPED YOU WITH YOUR HOMEWORK IN HOMEROOM AND LOCKERED NEXT TO YOU FOR FOUR YEARS, WHERE’S MY MONO?!

Anyway. While Litos is off living the dream, we’re here posting the standings to Son of CBI Craziness—the adulthood version of gathering in a fellow geek’s basement and watching some movies that have to be back at the video store by Monday morning.

No, wait, this is much worse. Nothing in high school was ever as bad as sifting through the Son of CBI Craziness while our so-called geek friend is off sucking face with greatness. Life sucks, boo hoo.

In all seriousness, we are as thrilled for Litos as we are sick of the CBI and all gambling pools associated with it. But we committed to this stupid thing so we may as well see it through and show the standings through two rounds as well as remind all of you the semifinals start tonight and that you need to send in your picks for the remainder of the tournament. Because, as you may or may not have forgotten, the CBI is so awesome, it tears up the bracket and starts anew for the semifinals. Yay!

Emails/Tweets/Facebook messages will be sent as well, but in case you’re in the pool and you stumble across this, pick the winners of the semifinal games (Central Florida at Creighton and Boise State at Oregon) as well as the winner of the championship series and the number of games that damn thing takes. You get four points for each semifinal game you pick correctly and eight points for correctly picking the winner of the championship series (seriously, CBI, a championship series?!).

Get your picks in tonight by 8, which may or may not be an hour after the first semifinal game starts. Who cares for crying out loud? It’s the CBI.

All that said, I am seriously considering ending this now, not only because it sucks but because semi-Loyal Reader Craig Smith is lapping the field. He broke an eight-way tie for first place by somehow picking all four winners in the second round, which means—duh—he has all four finalists and that he almost surely can’t be beat if Central Florida wins the whole thing and he gets a 16-point bonus for picking them before this charade started. Congrats, Craig. I think. Damnit now I have to find a prize.

Four other contestants, led by Loyal Reader Mike Brodsky, are in double digits. Make sure to add that to your resumes! At the other end, I am no longer in last place, thanks to fellow Extreme and Scrubs fan Joe Suhoski, but hey, there’s still two rounds to go, plenty of time for this CBI experience to get even worse!

Anyway, the standings. Let us never speak of this again, or at least until after the semifinals tonight.

SON OF CBI CRAZINESS STANDINGS
QUARTERFINALS

Craig Smith 14

Mike Brodsky 12

John Templon 11

Dominic Pody 10
Rick Vizzi 10

Nick Mazzarella 9

Chris Crowley 8
Jaymes Langrehr 8
Elise Manicke-Russell 8
Lee Warner 8

Gary Moore 7

Michelle Beach 6
P.J. Harmer 6
Mitch Merman 6

Lori Chase 5
Raphielle Johnson 5
Geoffrey Sorensen 5

Christian Heimall 4
Rob & Todd (JMU Sports Blog) 4

Jerry Beach 3
Victoria Rossi 3

Joe Suhoski 2

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

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hey Jay Bilas. You fail the eye, ear AND laugh test

The face of inexplicable and unaccountable arrogance.

On this, the morning after VCU became the first team ever to reach the Sweet Sixteen by winning three NCAA Tournament games, we remind you of Jay Bilas’ words on Selection Sunday (thank you TIVO!) and offer up his comment about VCU last night. Not because we think it’ll change anything, or that Bilas will stumble over here and deign to find religion, but because arrogance, ignorance and a lack of accountability—even if his “defense” is the need to stir stuff up in order to get attention, generate discussion and draw ratings—deserves to be spotlighted, mocked and scorned:

“This is competition. We’re supposed to make the right decisions. What I’m saying is these are HORRIBLE decisions, and I’ve been saying for years that I think we need more basketball people on the committee. And I don’t say that because I think the committee does a bad job. I think the committee, year after year, does a good job. It’s always done a good job. I’ve always said we need more basketball people on the committee because I think we should do the best possible job.”

[snip]

“When I look at UAB and VCU at the expense of these other teams—now, look, we’re not talking about great teams here, I understand that—but I wonder if some people on the committee know whether the ball’s round. That sounds harsh. But I’m wondering. These were bad decisions. They’re indefensible.”

[snip]

“UAB and VCU can win. But a bunch of teams can win. This isn’t about ‘can win.’ This is about proving you belong in this tournament—who’s best, who’s proven that they’re best who’s accomplished. These teams haven’t accomplished anything.”

[snip]

“These were bad decisions. And we talk about the eye test—this one fails the laugh test. This one doesn’t make it through the laugh test.”

And Jay Bilas last night, asked which team seeded third or lower can make the Final Four (he picked Wisconsin):

“It’s hard to say no to VCU right now, the way they’ve been playing. They’ve had two technical knockouts in the first two rounds of the tournament.”

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

Friday, March 18, 2011

This was not a fruitful endeavor


I blame my clone for this. Congrats to Mason on the win. (Jay, we forgive you)

In which I beg Villanova to win one for Hofstra, and for humanity

Sorry, Doc, I just can't do it.

I think we can teach America a lot, me and Mason Nation. I think we have done a good job, the last two Marches at the CAA Tournament and the last 14 months on Twitter, of proving that two bitterly opposed, dueling factions can find common ground, learn that the other is not as horrendously evil or insufferably, well, insufferable, come to mutually regret some of our past actions and peacefully co-exist. If only we could get the Republicans and Democrats to meet in Richmond, we might really do some good.

But I have my limits. I can’t root for Mason today against Villanova, and I would feel that way even if Hofstra legend Jay Wright—whose schtick is as legitimate as Jim Larranaga’s is manufactured—were not patrolling the sidelines for the Wildcats. I can’t do it, not for my new friends in Mason Nation and not for the good of the league. I can’t do it, even if it means more money in the pocket for Hofstra. Note to Jack Hayes: If Mason loses today, I’ll up my contribution to the Pride Club for next year to try and begin making up for the money Hofstra won’t get.

I never considered rooting for Mason this week, but any shred of possibility disappeared once Larranaga went into full-bore Media Bore mode. The guy can play to the cameras and knows how to kiss mainstream media ass and sure can coach up a basketball team, I give him that, but I see people who don’t know any better eating up the calls to ESPN College Gameday and Mason players “spontaneously” captured rooting for Old Dominion in the media room in Ohio and it makes my blood boil.

He’s not fooling me. I know the truth. The wounds from 2006, and other lessons subsequently learned, have cut too deep.

If Villanova wins I will not revel in the disappointment of my new friends, or laugh at them and try to minimize the accomplishments of their favorite team. I’m not a Mets fan, you know. No matter what happens today or the rest of the tournament, Mason had an INCREDIBLE season, one well-deserving of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. We will stand and tip our caps to our friends in Mason Nation, and to their favorite team.

But life is not a bad PG-13 sequel to a classic 1980s movie. The Tri-Lambs and the Alpha Betas will not join forces, not today. Go Jay, and c’mon Villanova, crush George Mason for the rest of us. For Hofstra. For humanity.

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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It will take all summer to comprehend this

We can't believe Old Dominion lost on a putback at the buzzer either, Blaine. (Dear basketball gods: All will be forgiven if Mason loses like this tomorrow)

Son of CBI Craziness (i.e. The Worst Idea Ever) Standings: 1st Round!

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This idea was worse than any of those.

I’ve had some bad ideas in my life. I once tried to forge my Mom’s signature on a particularly poor progress report (brilliant move, trying to perpetuate academic fraud on a teacher—dear beloved late Mom smelled that one out a mile away). I went on a blind date with a girl with a criminal record (hey, maybe she was framed—no, she wasn’t).

I wore a mullet until my second semester at Hofstra—that was the spring of 1994—until one of my fellow editors at The Chronicle finally screamed some sense into me. I invited my future wife to spend New Year’s Eve with me in Connecticut in 1995 and assured her it wouldn’t take me that long to cover that New Year’s Day road race the next morning. Do you know how long it took to get race results during the infant days of the Internet? Let me tell you: A damn long time.

Anyway, all the forged progress reports and girls with criminal pasts and 1994 mullets and freezing New Year’s Day mornings spent waiting for race results with a very cold and very unhappy future wife combined couldn’t match the epic suckitude of my latest and worst idea yet: A SECOND CBI pool. Because really, the first one led to such great things for the Flying Dutchmen, and ended so well (prize is in the mail, @VCUPav!). This is the faux gambling version of green-lighting the sequel to The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

Sure enough, forming a CBI pool was once again terrible karma for the Dutchmen—good news, though, Hofstra was not the first team to fall to 0-2 in CBI play, thank you very much Nevada!!!—which is just one reason why this will not happen again. Mostly because if Hofstra ever even THINKS of accepting a bid to the CBI in the future, I’ll be too busy (climbing to the top of Shuart Stadium and vowing not to leave until the school changes its mind) to run a pool.

But since I made the commitment to a CBI pool while fueled on adrenaline and a lack of sleep, I may as well try to see it through and PRAY either my wife or Loyal Reader @NUHF—both of whom are among the eight people tied for first—win it all because then I won’t have to ante up a prize.

Alas, my wife, like just about everyone else in this game who has ever taken a class at Hofstra, picked the Dutchmen to win it all, so her chances aren’t that good. Speaking of the Dutchmen, nobody will be perfect in the most imperfect bracket game ever because EVERY SINGLE ONE of our 21 contestants (hey that’s not bad for six hours) picked Hofstra to beat Evansville Tuesday night. I’m shocked. I figured someone—a Mason fan—would have joined just to pick Evansville and piss me off.

Oh and guess who is tied for last, with only one semifinalist left. Worst. Idea. Ever.

I’ve already spent way too much time on this. There will be no Just The Facts: CBI Bracket in which I break down the stats on how each game was picked, but you’ll get over it. Now I will post the standings and be done with this, thankfully, until after the second round Monday!

SON OF CBI CRAZINESS STANDINGS
FIRST ROUND

Michelle Beach 6
Mike Brodsky 6
Jaymes Langrehr 6
Mitch Merman 6
Dominic Pody 6
Craig Smith 6
Rick Vizzi 6
Lee Warner 6

Lori Chase 5
Raphielle Johnson 5
Nick Mazzarella 5
Gary Moore 5
John Templon 5

Chris Crowley 4
P.J. Harmer 4
Christian Heimall 4
Elise Manicke-Russell 4
Rob & Todd (JMU Sports Blog) 4

Jerry Beach 3
Victoria Rossi 3
Geoffrey Sorensen 3

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Evansville 77, Hofstra 70 (Or: It was easier to say hello than to say goodbye)

Call it cheesy if you must but tell me this doesn't sum things up.

So here’s where the story ends. The Flying Dutchmen endured an itinerary straight out of a John Hughes film (thanks to Loyal Reader Missy for that analogy), all to lose to a .500 team in a Division II gymnasium in the central time zone in something called a CBI (seriously, and I mean it this time, if I ever—EVER—stump for a CBI bid again, give me the Tony Skinn treatment).

It ends not with drama or excitement for the Dutchmen or another YouTube moment for Charles Jenkins, but with Jenkins capping the finest career in school history with just 14 points—a total he exceeded 31 times in his first 32 games this year and in 93 of his first 127 games at Hofstra—as the Dutchmen fell to Evansville, 77-70, in the first round of the Can’t Believe I thought it was a good idea for Hofstra to play in this tournament (yes, I’m going to the well again with that one).

It ends with fellow seniors Greg Washington and Brad Kelleher concluding their careers with desperate, meaningless 3-point attempts in the waning seconds. It ends with Mike Moore authoring the biggest last-minute head-scratcher by a Dutchmen since Greg Johnson drove for two against George Mason with Hofstra down three. A season defined by frantic, inspired comebacks ends with the Dutchmen closing within a possession of Evansville eight times in the final 10-plus minutes yet losing a game they led at halftime for just the second time all year.

Nobody ever said life was fair, or that endings were just or anything other than abrupt and unsatisfying. But geez, didn’t we ALL deserve something a little better than this after one of the most exciting seasons in Defiantly Dutch history, one that got our hearts thumping and our imaginations racing and inspired all of us to believe this would be the winter of our impossible dream?

“Tough night,” Mo Cassara said by phone afterward. “It’s a tough ending. It’s a tough way to end after such a great year. You can lose sight of that a little bit because we’re out here in southern Indiana and you feel almost lost a little bit right now from what’s gotten us here.”

Whether it was the uninspiring setting, the travel or just a team that finally ran out of gas, the Dutchmen drifted off course (get it?) and played an unfamiliar game at the most inconvenient time. Jenkins had as many field goals as assists (six), took just 12 shots (only the ninth time this year he shot 12 or fewer times) and, amazingly, went to the free throw line just once, which means he had one free throw attempt combined in his final two games in a Hofstra uniform.

The Dutchmen don’t blow multi-possession leads in the second half, but they squandered leads of seven points and six points in the first six minutes of the second half and never led in the final 11:37. The Dutchmen, who—groan—pride themselves on taking care of the ball and set a CAA Tournament record with just two turnovers in a quarterfinal win over William & Mary, turned it over 14 times, their highest total since the loss to Western Kentucky. Not coincidentally, that was also the first time this season the Dutchmen lost a game in which they led at halftime. Kelleher, who had 45 assists and eight turnovers in his previous 11 games, had three assists and four turnovers.

“We had a couple chances to get control of the game, we just couldn’t,” Cassara said. “A lot of credit to [Evansville], they implemented their game plan. Very similar to Wright State, they held and grabbed and kept the ball out of Charles’ hands and we couldn’t get into any flow for the game. Had a couple opportunities to try and separate ourselves a little bit early in the second half and we just couldn’t do it.”

David Imes, who averaged 8.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in 35 minutes over his final seven games, had just five points and six boards in 17 minutes, only the third time this year he played less than 20 minutes. Early foul trouble for Imes and Washington (who scored the Dutchmen’s first seven points and nine of their first 12 points overall but didn’t score again until an old-fashioned 3-point play with 26 seconds left completed the scoring for Hofstra) forced little-used Stephen Nwaukoni into extended action for the second straight game and he pulled down eight rebounds in the first half before sitting the final 13:45 with four fouls.

Jenkins and Moore scored 12 of the Dutchmen’s first 13 points in the second half as the Dutchmen took those two big leads, but when Hofstra needed a 3-pointer later in the second half, it got it not from Jenkins, Kelleher or Moore but from Yves Jules, who had a season-high eight points and hit both his attempts to twice pull the Dutchmen within a possession.

Jenkins, Kelleher and Moore were a combined 3-of-11 from beyond the arc and Moore’s final miss turned out to be the final shovelful of dirt on the season. After a rare missed free throw by Evansville star Colt Ryan with 24 seconds left kept the Dutchmen within three points at 73-70, Moore raced down the court and attempted to create contact with a Purple Aces player as he fired up a long 3-pointer. He didn’t get the call and the ball didn’t even hit the rim and bounced out of bounds.

Evansville hit its final four free throw attempts to hand the Dutchmen—who displayed impressive resiliency all year in going 6-4 after a loss and 5-2 after double-digit defeats—just their third losing streak of the season. “We always found a way to come back,” Cassara said. “Unfortunately, we can’t come back out there and play. It’s just not the place we wanted to end our season.”

Most teams will utter some variation of that lament (of the 345 Division I teams, only four will walk off the court victorious in a postseason tournament), but the commonality is little consolation when seasons, impossible dreams and careers— whether they are as brilliant as the one produced by Jenkins, as workmanlike as Washington’s or as cruelly brief as Kelleher’s—come screeching to a halt.

“I had some time to thank each of them individually in the locker room,” Cassara said. “The three of them have given us everything they have. At some level, it’s a little bit of shock, a little bit of just ‘Wow it’s really over, we’re not going to get another chance to go out there and play.’ I think it’s going to take a little time for that to sink in, because we had so many games—a bunch of games—where we didn’t play well and those three guys brought us back and we got to practice and found a way to [win]. Ultimately, this was our last opportunity to do this as a team this year.”

The abrupt finality of Tuesday makes it difficult, at least initially, to remember how much Hofstra has to be proud (pun most certainly intended) of this season, how Cassara’s steady hand helped turn a campaign that surely seemed headed for disaster turned into something memorable and how he managed to coax 21 wins and the program’s best-ever CAA finish out of Jenkins and a roster that was the basketball version of a pot luck supper.

But the ending is also a reminder that the odds of achieving the ultimate goal—winning the conference tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament—will always be long, especially for certain northern schools in certain southern-based conferences, and that it’s important to revel in the moment even if it happens in November, December, January or February because there are no guarantees that the ultimate celebration will happen in March.

Someday soon, we will look back on the 2010-11 season with a smile on our faces, and as long as the Internet exists the reminders of Jenkins’ late-game exploits and ability to unite a famously apathetic Hofstra community—and how those talents symbolized the 1,220 days in between his atypically quiet first game (five points on 1-of-7 shooting against Holy Cross Nov. 10, 2007) and last game—will only be a click away.

But as of late last night, all Cassara could think about was the long road back from Indiana—one more long bus ride and one more plane to catch in a remote airport in a season full of interesting travel challenges—taking him into his first long off-season at Hofstra, and, like the rest of us, bemoaning how the first day of practice five months ago could feel so recent while the next first day of practice could feel so much further away than seven months away.

“I don’t think it’s really hit me yet—I’ve been pacing around here in my room,” Cassara said. “I don’t think any of us have had a chance to process what we’ve really done. Big picture, there’s so much to be proud of, and it’s amazing. I think the thing that we really have to be proud of is the excitement that this team has created on campus and in our basketball community and our Hofstra community. My phone won’t stop buzzing from Twitter and Facebook and people who generally are upset that it’s over, like we are.

“As a team, I don’t think it’s really hit us yet.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Evansville, 3/15)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Greg Washington
1: Yves Jules

FINAL SEASON STANDINGS
Charles Jenkins 85
Mike Moore 37
Greg Washington 30
David Imes 22
Brad Kelleher 11
Shemiye McLendon 5
Dwan McMillan 5
Yves Jules 2
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: Evansville

1.) I don’t even know why I’m bothering doing this. Evansville’s video feed is non-existent (I want my $6.99 back!). Better yet, according to Evansville’s live stats, the game has not begun yet, but Hofstra is winning at halftime, 37-32, and trailing 62-58 with 4:34 left. Really.

1b.) Anyway, Charles Jenkins has to get untracked. He has just two points—giving him 2,501 for his career—on 1-of-6 shooting as Evansville suffocates him from coast to coast. Even with Jenkins struggling, the Dutchmen bounced back from a slow start (they fell behind 7-0) to shoot 47 percent and take a 36-34 lead at the half (yes, I just broke the cardinal rule of sportswriting by not making the real score the first one I listed, but geez, Evansville is traveling ahead in time on its website!), but Greg Washington has three fouls and Mike Moore has just four points so it’s hard to see the Dutchmen advancing if Jenkins doesn’t get hot.

2.) Washington continued his inspired play by scoring the Dutchmen’s first seven points and nine of their first 12 before foul trouble ensnared him again. Who would have imagined he’d turn into such an offensive weapon that we’d beg Mo Cassara to tell him to just stand still on defense so he can contribute on the other end?

3.) Stephen Nwaukoni has been outstanding in place of Washington with four points and eight rebounds (I think), just five shy of his season and career high. Shemiye McLendon and Yves Jules each have two points as the Dutchmen have gotten far more from their young role players—one of the goals of participating in the CBI—than last year.

4.) Other than a couple turnovers, Brad Kelleher has been excellent again with seven points and a couple assists. He needs to continue running the point as effectively as he has the last few weeks in order for the Dutchmen to move on.

5.) This game is reminiscent of the Wagner game the day after Thanksgiving, when Nwaukoni pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds and Jenkins looked as bad as he’s ever looked in the first half before turning it on in the second half and scoring 17 of his 19 points in the final 13:31 to lead the Dutchmen back from a 10-point deficit. It’s hard to envision Jenkins struggling for 40 minutes. At some point in the second half, he’s going to flick the switch on. I sure hope so, anyway. My CBI Craziness bracket depends on it!

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

Five pregame thoughts: Evansville

1.) After playing in a frenzied big-time atmosphere the last few weeks, the Flying Dutchmen will return to 2009 when they visit Evansville at the 2,500-seat PAC Arena (shouldn’t a facility hold more than 2,500 people to be dubbed an Arena?) on the campus of Southern Indiana. While the Dutchmen will have to adjust to the environment, it shouldn’t present the type of problem they encountered last year, when the sight of 5,000 empty seats at the Arena seemed to suck the life out of everyone.

2.) Evansville doesn’t have a lot of height—the Purple Aces’ center is an ACTUAL Flying Dutchman, 6-foot-10 Pieter van Tongeren, who averages just 6.1 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, and their leading rebounder is Kenneth Harris with an average of 6.2 per game—so this is a good matchup for the Dutchmen and Greg Washington and David Imes, each of whom played well down the stretch. Washington was on his way to perhaps his best game ever before the Southern Bias refs reared their ugly heads against Old Dominion while Imes averaged 8.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in his final seven games.

3.) The Dutchmen will be focused on Evansville’s best player, Colt Ryan, who leads the Purple Aces with 15.7 points per game. Ryan rolled an ankle in practice last week, and if he’s shut down, whether because of injury or the Dutchmen, then Evansville doesn’t have much else. Nobody else on the Purple Aces averages as many as nine points per game.

4.) Don’t be surprised if the Dutchmen get off to a slow start. The Dutchmen stumbled early against William & Mary after a week-long layoff before routing the Tribe. Between the lack of preparation time for this game and the long rest, don’t panic if the Dutchmen look rusty.

5.) Unlike a year ago in the CBI, playing with a sense of urgency shouldn’t be an issue for the Dutchmen, who have three seniors in the starting lineup and two players, Imes and Mike Moore, who have never started a postseason game before. And, of course, one of those seniors is Charles Jenkins, who is one point shy of 2,500 for his career and by far the best player on the court. If this is close late, expect him to go into Wolf/Beast/Takeover mode.

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

Will the second time around the CBI be better for the Dutchmen?

Don't make me regret gorging on the CBI again, Dutchmen!!!

All you need to do is take one look at my waistline to know I lack willpower. But my resistance is just as poor away from the dinner table too, as evidenced this week when I embraced the idea of playing in the CBI with the type of enthusiasm I usually reserve only for a dinner of chicken parm and Carvel cake. (But honey I’m almost HALFWAY to my birthday!)

I did this last year, too, and on The Morning After felt so awful and so bloated and so regretful I swore I’d never do it again, and asked my loyal readers to smack me upside the head (figuratively speaking) if I started pining for a non-NIT bid at any point in the future.

Which, of course, I started doing about as soon as the Flying Dutchmen lost to Old Dominion in the CAA semifinals. My thinking, even before the NIT field filled up with mid-major regular season champions that lost in their conference tournaments, was that I’d rather see the Dutchmen have a shot at hosting (and winning) a few games at home and maybe even win the whole thing in the CBI or CIT rather than have to fly to some BCS school and put up with BCS Bias and, probably, lose a first-round game.

Who didn’t love the idea of watching the Dutchmen a few more times? And who among us doesn’t love the idea of Charles Jenkins winning his very last collegiate game?

Alas, now that the postseason is here and Hofstra is once again in the CBI, I find myself hoping I’m not sitting here, a couple hours or a few days from now, wishing I hadn’t gotten what I’d hoped for.

Part of it is the urgency of the postseason. One more loss and it is really, truly, finally all over for Jenkins, Greg Washington and Brad Kelleher. One more loss and we have to start gazing at the calendar and willing October to get here. The senses and nerves are heightened, the margin for error officially gone. Now that what we wanted is here, we’re nervous. Makes sense.

We’re also nervous because the Dutchmen will hit the road for at least the first round (and likely the second, if they get that far) and will tip off in Evansville tonight a mere 44 or so hours after they found out their destination, barely 24 hours after flying out of New York and less than 18 hours after bussing (yes, bussing) to Evansville from Nashville. That’s a lot of traveling and not a whole lot of preparation in a short period of time, but Mo Cassara said yesterday he was confident the Dutchmen could rely today and tonight on the lessons they learned during this season’s challenging road trips.

“I think so much of today and really into tonight and traveling is more about us getting our mental frame of mind kind of in line,” Cassara said. “It’s much more about us, about our energy and our overall effort and our attitude and then our execution.

“I think as disappointing as the result was at Wright State, it’s a good learning tool for this trip. Another challenging trip to the Midwest against a very hard-nosed, tough Evansville team. In Wright State we know we didn’t play very well and we weren’t as prepared as we thought, so we can use that as a measuring stick going out to Evansville.”

Also a cause for concern: That the disappointment over missing the NIT will impact the Dutchmen once they get on to the court of the played-in-obscurity-at-a-Division-II gym CBI. That disappointment—among fans and, particularly, the players and staff—was higher than I expected. I think most of us were resigned to missing the NIT, but VCU squeezing into the field gave us all hope, however short-sustained, that the NIT couldn’t possibly fail to invite the highest non-NCAA Tournament qualifier in a great mid-major. Nope. It’s the NCAA. It can screw up anything. (This is the first time since 2000 the CAA has not sent a team to the NIT, by the way)

Cassara was as unhappy as anyone that the Dutchmen didn’t get an NIT invite, but during a 20-minute meeting yesterday he reminded the Dutchmen to take—warning! pun ahead!—pride over how far they have come in five months and in the opportunity to keep playing, both for themselves and for the graduating seniors as well as the university.

“I wrote two dates on the board: One was Oct. 15, the other was today,” Cassara said. “And I drew a line in between. I said ‘Think of this journey, going from this date to that date.’ I think, if we said on the first date that we’d be 21-11 and finish tied for second in the CAA and playing in the postseason, we’d be pretty happy. So let’s go play our butts off and have some fun, because we deserve to be in this position for all the hard work we put in along this journey.”

For whatever reason, the Dutchmen did not seem happy to be there a year ago tomorrow night, when IUPUI never trailed in a 74-60 rout. Those memories are hard to shake for the 27 of us who were in the stands and who walked out figuring it would have been better to put away the basketballs after a frantic rally in the second half of the season ended with the double overtime loss to Northeastern in the CAA quarterfinals.

But this Dutchmen team is far more deserving of postseason play than a year ago, when Hofstra had the fourth-lowest RPI of anyone in the CBI and the seventh-lowest of the 31 teams that received at-large bids to the CBI or CIT. This year, the Dutchmen have the second-highest RPI of anyone in the CBI, behind only Central Florida.

In addition, Jenkins, Washington and Kelleher remember how last year ended—though only Jenkins played in the game, Washington was out with an ankle injury and Kelleher was in NCAA purgatory—and don’t want history to repeat itself.

“I talked to Charles and to Greg about the postseason experience from last year and obviously it wasn’t one that they like to talk about or are real proud of,” Cassara said. “I said ‘Let’s not make that happen again.’ As I say all the time: If we do what we’re supposed to do and execute our game plan and have the right mental approach and play hard, winning will take care of itself.”

The Dutchmen’s “Why not us?” mantra didn’t translate into the CAA title that everyone so desperately wanted, but it could work here, even “Why not us?” doesn’t resonate quite as well in the CBI. There’s 140 teams participating in postseason basketball and only four will win their last game. Why can’t the Dutchmen be one of those, make this CBI experience as pleasant and as last year’s was disastrous and give the program a building block for years to come?

“We’re pretty upset we didn’t get a bid to the NIT, but we’ve got our second wind,” Kelleher said. “We really want to go out and win this tournament…look at VCU last year: They won this thing and now they’re in the NCAAs.”

“The seniors, I told them it’s their last tournament and last go-around, play as hard as you can and give everything you can to this team and to the program,” Cassara said. “Because I think [their] effort and attitude will help move this program forward. And hopefully we’re playing in the postseason in a different tournament in years to come.”

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

It’s the son of CBI Craziness!

CBI Craziness: The only thing less obscure than the final season of The Drew Carey Show!

Because it worked so well last time! That’s right, like episodes of The Drew Carey Show airing on ABC in the summer of 2004, you can’t kill CBI Craziness (subhead: The world’s biggest—and only—CBI pool!), you can just hope it airs in obscurity!

I really wasn’t going to unveil a second edition of CBI Craziness, because, duh, I hoped Hofstra would be playing in another tournament and last year’s CBI experience was such a lousy one for the Flying Dutchmen and their 17 fans who went to the game against IUPUI that I didn’t even officially congratulate our winner. But that lucky man, VCUPav, asked me last night (surely in jest) if he could defend his title and that was all I needed to get the band back and do it again!

Rules are simple, or as simple as can be for a tournament that is freaking reseeded for the semifinals and whose champion is determined in a best-of-three series. Check out the CBI bracket here and pick ONLY the first two rounds and your champion today. We will pick the semifinals and finals once those matchups are announced. So your picks should look something like this:

FIRST ROUND
James Madison over Davidson
Creighton over San Jose State
Montana over Duquesne
Weber State over Oregon
Boise State over Austin Peay
Hofstra over Evansville
Rhode Island over Miami (OH)
St. Bonaventure over Central Florida

SECOND ROUND
James Madison over Creighton
Weber State over Montana
Hofstra over Boise State
Rhode Island over St. Bonaventure

CHAMPION
Hofstra (duh)

Scoring system: One point per correct first round game, two points per correct second round game, four points per correct semifinal game and eight points for picking the champion. If your ORIGINAL pick as champion wins it all, you get a 16-point bonus. Oh boy!

Tiebreakers are simple: Pick the number of games in the CBI championship series as well as predict the CAA’s record in the NCAA Tournament.

As always, send me your picks via email (defiantlydutch@yahoo.com) or by DM on Twitter (@defiantlydutch). And as always, the winner gets two Hofstra football season tickets, as well as another prize I may or may not ever find and may or may not ever mail out!

If you’re uncertain about whether or not to join, consider the plight of VCUPav. He participated last year and now his favorite team is in the NCAA Tournament! PEOPLE REALLY WIN AT DEFIANTLY DUTCH!

Deadline is tonight at 8 p.m. Yeah I know the first games are at 7 p.m. Like the tournament we are betting on, this is not very well-organized at all. Tell your friends! Let’s get more than the 26 people we had last year! And ignore them when they laugh at you.

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

Just The Facts: CBI!!!

Rebooting the Just The Facts franchise is scary stuff!

And you thought Hollywood wasted no time rebooting old and tired franchises! Good afternoon and welcome to the first-ever Just The Facts: CBI, in which I actively seek an intervention by trying to examine the trends in a tournament that seems as if it is annually flung together by a bunch of catty teenagers at the cool kids table.

Teenager: “Hey if the NIT won’t invite you to the party Tuesday you can come to my house!”

Unnamed team an hour later: “Stupid NIT didn’t invite me, can I still come?”

Teenager: “No I saw you talking to CIT, you can’t hang out with CBI if you’re talking to the CIT. Plus Oregon is bringing beer and will come to two of our parties in the next three years, so we gave your invite to her.”

Unnamed team: “I hate you, I’m going to start my own postseason tournament!”

Anyway. Though there is no rhyme nor reason in putting together the CBI field, and though a combination of awarding home games to the highest bidder and the slim pickings left after the NCAA, NIT and CIT all make their selections makes it tough to find anyone entering the postseason on a roll (more on that shortly), I thought it would be interesting, since the Flying Dutchmen are 7-3 in their last 10 games, to see how teams that were hot entering the CBI the previous three years performed.

And the news is GREAT for Hofstra! Teams that were 7-3 entering the CBI have historically (snort) performed far better than anyone else in the field. Of the previous 10 teams to enter the CBI on a 7-3 run, eight won their first-round game, four got to the semifinals—at least one every year—two got to the championship series (really, CBI, a championship series?) and one, Tulsa in 2008, won it all. The only teams to reach the CBI on a 7-3 run and lose in the first round: Akron last year and Nevada in 2008.

In addition, teams that were 7-3 entering the CBI are 14-10 in CBI play, the most wins and the highest winning percentage among any teams that played at least 10 games.

The best news? The Dutchmen are the only team to enter the CBI this year on a 7-3 run. BOOK THE ARENA FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES WE’RE COMING HOME!!!

The raw data on those teams that entered the CBI on a 7-3 run:

2010
St. Louis: Reached title series, lost to VCU
Princeton: Reached semis, lost to St. Louis
Morehead State: Reached second round, lost to Boston U
Charleston: Reached second round, lost to VCU
Akron: Lost in first round to Green Bay

2009
Richmond: Reached semis, lost to UTEP

2008
Tulsa: Won championship
Old Dominion: Reached second round, lost to Virginia
Valparaiso: Reached second round, lost to Houston
Nevada: Lost in first round to Houston

It’s a good thing the Dutchmen lost that game to Wright State (no, not really, it probably cost Hofstra an NIT bid), because the track record of teams that are 8-2 or better entering the CBI is not good. Last year’s Dutchmen were one of eight teams in the first three years of the CBI to go 8-2 or better in their last 10 games entering the tournament. Only one of those teams (Boston University last year) got as far as the semifinals.

The Dutchmen, of course, lost a year ago this week, albeit to fellow 8-2 squad IUPUI. Nevada and Troy in 2009 and Brown, which went 9-1 in its 10 games entering the CBI in 2008, also lost their first CBI game after entering the tourney 8-2 or better in their last 10 games. Only two teams are 8-2 in their last 10 entering this year’s CBI and both have Hofstra ties: Boise State, whom Hofstra could face in the second round, and Davidson, which is coached by Hofstra alum Bob McKillop.

All that being said, there is ample evidence that this is a foolish exercise, that there’s no way to figure out whether or not a team’s regular season finish is a precursor to CBI performance. Nine of the 16 teams in this year’s field were 5-5 or worse in their last 10 games while 22 of the 48 teams to participate in the first three years of the CBI were no better than 5-5 in their final 10 games entering the tourney. So the sheer numbers suggest a team that stumbles into the CBI will end up doing pretty well—like Oregon State did two years ago, when it was 3-7 entering the tourney and won the whole thing. And five of the eight teams to reach the CBI semifinals were 5-5 or worse to end the regular season.

Then again, the five teams to enter the tournament at 5-5 or worse last year all got knocked out in the first round, which would seem to be good news for Hofstra: Evansville was 4-6 in its final 10 games. Or maybe it’s not good news. I don’t know, I’ve cried for help enough today. Go join my CBI Craziness pool!

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

This time, Hofstra goes to Indiana for the CBI (Or: Everything you ever wanted to know about Evansville but were afraid to ask!)

Don Mattingly (left) grew his first pair of sideburns in Evansville!

A year ago this week, the Flying Dutchmen hosted Indiana University Purdue Indianapolis—which I referred to by its real name for a very valid reason, but which I will never again refer to as anything other than IUPUI—in the College Basketball Invitational even though their RPI (145) was almost twice as high as IUPUI’s (83) and even though they lost in the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament while IUPUI reached the Summit League championship game.

Whether IUPUI was that much better than the Dutchmen, or whether the Jaguars were honked off they had to travel halfway across the country and played with a purpose or whether the Dutchmen were out of gas after a frantic second half and completely uninspired playing in front of 17 people (OK, fine it was “952”), I don’t know, but IUPUI won 74-60 and it wasn’t anywhere near that close.

The Dutchmen have to hope history repeats itself as they prepare to return to the CBI by visiting Evansville—that’s the third-largest city in Indiana, according to Wikipedia, as well as the birth place of Don Mattingly, according to the baseball cards of my youth!—for a first round game Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Dutchmen are hitting the road even though they entered Sunday with an RPI of 86, lost to eventual CAA champion Old Dominion in the conference tournament and will enter the CBI with a 21-11 mark. Evansville, meanwhile, has an RPI of 136, lost to eventual Missouri Valley champion Indiana State in the quarterfinals and is 15-15 this year.

Adding to the irony that is not really irony: Evansville led for most of its quarterfinal game against Indiana State before losing in the final seconds. The Dutchmen, of course, led Northeastern for most of last year’s CAA quarterfinal tilt before the Huskies forced overtime with a last-second shot and won by three points in double overtime.

And like the Dutchmen last year, Evansville—whose nickname is Purple Aces, no idea if they divide up into the shirts and the blouses during intrasquad scrimmages—announced immediately it would like to play in the CBI. However, unlike Tom Pecora’s final Hofstra squad—which entered the CBI with 10 wins in its previous 12 games—Evansville stumbled to the finish line by suffering a four-game losing streak near the end of the conference season and dropping six of its final eight overall. Still, it was an impressive season for the Purple Aces, who were picked to finish last in the 10-team Missouri Valley but finished sixth, their best performance in 10 years.

We’ll have more on the game later today and tomorrow, but a quick look indicates the similarities in the matchup go well beyond the circumstances. Like the Dutchmen, Evansville suffered six losses this season by 14 points or more. But both teams were successful in tight contests: The Dutchmen were 8-3 in games decided by six points or less while the Purple Aces were 8-5.

Each team was smoked by North Carolina, but each team also has a Signature Win over a recent mid-major Final Four darling: The Purple Aces beat Butler, 71-68, at Butler on Nov. 27 while the Dutchmen of course beat George Mason 87-74 on Jan. 5.

The Dutchmen play really well on the road (10-4) while Evansville is quite good at home (12-3). And Evansville has its own version of Charles Jenkins in sophomore Colt Ryan, whose 15.8 ppg are almost twice as much as the Purple Aces’ second-leading scorer.

Some quick facts about Evansville's program in general: Head coach Marty Simmons played at Evansville and, as a senior, finished sixth in the country in scoring at 25.9 ppg and helped the Purple Aces to the program’s first Division I postseason win in the 1988 NIT. Simmons was an assistant when Evansville for 11 seasons from 1990 through 2002, during which the Purple Aces reached the NCAA Tournament three times and the NIT once. Unrelated to hoops, but most remarkable of all, Simmons lost 135 pounds between the end of last season and the start of this year and shed another 15 pounds during the season.

Evansville is 2-8 all-time in the postseason at Division I (another uncanny similarity: Hofstra is 2-9). The program’s most famous alum is Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan, who was a three-time All-American at Evansville and led the Purple Aces to two of their five Division II national championships.

The Purple Aces just completed their 55th and final season at Roberts Municipal Stadium, which seats 11,600, and will move into a downtown arena next year. The CBI game will be held at Southern Indiana’s PAC Gymnasium, a 3,300-seat facility, because Roberts is booked all week with—we kid you not—Disney on Ice.

Oh and the Purple Aces actually have a FLYING DUTCHMAN on their team! Starting center Pieter van Tongeren, who stands 6-foot-10, is from the Netherlands. Presumably the one across the Atlantic Ocean and not the one across Oak Street.

This will be the first-ever meeting between Hofstra and Evansville and only the fifth time the Dutchmen will face a current member of the Missouri Valley. Not surprisingly, all five games have come in tournament settings. Hofstra won its lone meetings with Wichita State (at the Puerto Rico Shootout in 1997), Southern Illinois (at the Pittsburgh Classic in 1976) and has split with Illinois State (beat the Redbirds at the University Hoops Classic in—holy smokes!—Pittsburgh in 2001, lost at the Carrier Classic at LeMoyne in upstate New York in 1979).

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

Sunday, March 13, 2011

So where do we go from here?

Will the Dutchmen be dreaming a little NIT dream tonight?

One of the reasons I was more melodramatic than usual after the Flying Dutchmen lost to Old Dominion—and let’s face it, my usual melodrama is enough for 10 CAA bloggers, and I’m not even sure we HAVE 10 CAA bloggers!—a week ago today was the purgatory-like uncertainty that accompanied the defeat.

We figured the Dutchmen would play again this year, even if their NCAA hopes were obviously extinguished, but where would they play? And how do you mourn the demise of the big dream, and put that into context, without shoveling dirt on the entire season, even when you don’t know where the rest of the season will be played?

Watching the Dutchmen in the CAA Tournament last weekend wasn’t like watching a baseball team fall six games behind in the playoff race with five to play. For a team like Hofstra—with 20-plus wins and a top 100 RPI on its resume—the end of the conference tournament is really only the first goodbye. That’s both good and bad, as we’ll try to discuss in between previewing the Dutchmen’s next game, whatever and wherever it is.

And as of now, a little more than an hour before the NIT selection show, the odds of the Dutchmen being invited to the NIT are much better than they were before the usually moronic NCAA Tournament Selection Committee shockingly invited VCU, made #3Bids4CAA a reality and sent elitist snobs Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale and Hubert Davis into a fit of fury on ESPN.

The Dutchmen will probably still miss out on the NIT, since 14 regular season mid-major champions received automatic bids after losing in their conference tournament, but if the committee places an emphasis on conference performance—a long shot, to be sure—then the Dutchmen should be the pick to represent the CAA.

If it’s not the NIT, then the Dutchmen will very likely make a return trip to the CBI. The CIT, which is exclusively for mid-majors, has already issued 20 of its 24 invites, according to ChicagoNow.com, while the 16-team CBI has received confirmations from six teams.

The CBI, which has invited multiple schools from major conferences (defined by me as BCS leagues, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West) in each of its first three seasons, could provide an incremental boost in publicity for the Dutchmen. Follow me on Twitter all night long as we try to figure out where the Dutchmen are playing next and tune in tomorrow for the very latest analysis.

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

KICK THEIR ASSES JAY! DO IT FOR TOM! DO IT FOR US!

Give the morons at the Selection Committee credit: Pitting, in the first round, George Mason against a team coached by the former Hofstra coach is GENIUS.

Thanks to the NCAA, the “Not Invited Tournament” has a whole new meaning

The NCAA, in this file photo, laughs at mid-major teams that will miss out on the NIT tonight.

As sure as the clocks jumped ahead one hour this morning, you can be sure that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee—the biggest bunch of idiots gathered in one room this side of Congress—will screw things up tonight and, in particular, find a way to screw the mid-majors.

But let’s give the NCAA credit where it is due: Hours before Twitter explodes with our collective fury over the latest Field of 64 (err, 68) snubs, the most crooked sporting governing body not named the IOC has already managed to stick it to the little guy, and all under the guise of helping us out.

As a Hofstra fan, you no doubt know that the Flying Dutchmen’s NIT hopes went from cautiously realistic last Sunday to all but non-existent this morning thanks to an amazing 14 regular season mid-major conference champions losing in their tournaments. The news has gotten worse with each passing day, “peaking” yesterday when top seeds McNeese State, Kent State and Long Beach State (moral of the story: state schools suck) all lost in their tournament finals.

The spate of upsets among the mid-majors wrecked havoc with the NIT field, since those 14 fallen top seeds will receive an automatic bid to the NIT if they are not selected to the NCAA field. Which, other than maybe Alabama-Birmingham of Conference USA, they won’t. If all 14 regular season champs end up in the NIT, that leaves just 18 at-large spots in the NIT, which means, even if the NIT were solely for mid-majors, someone—multiple someones—with 20 or more wins would be left out: There are 25 true mid-major teams (I discounted the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West) with at least 20 wins who have not yet clinched a spot in the NCAA or NIT.

The NIT, of course, is both literally and symbolically an extension of the NCAA, which has been running the NIT and saving it from extinction since 2005. A fox guarding a hen house thinks this smells funny. So there are going to be a lot of someones—including, almost certainly, our beloved Flying Dutchmen—left scrambling for a bid to the CBI or CIT tonight.

This isn’t about keeping out the regular season champions of the smaller conferences, who absolutely deserve this reward after proving themselves the best in their league over the long haul before having a bad day at a bad time. It’s about the chutzpah of the NCAA ensuring the NIT field is, just like the NCAA Tournament, bottom-heavy with vulnerable mid-majors who will be quickly dispatched as the NIT turns into an elitist and exclusive party for the big boys. Most of the bottom 12 spots in the field will be taken up by automatic bid winners who otherwise wouldn’t have even sniffed the field.

Of the 24 at-large bids awarded last year, only eight were claimed by schools outside the BCS leagues, Atlantic 10 or Mountain West. And three of those eight were snapped up by Tulsa, Memphis and Alabama-Birmingham of Conference USA, which was, for all intents and purposes, the ninth major conference in the land in 2009-10.

If the math holds this year—and you can probably bet the mortgage it won’t, and that the big conferences will get a larger share of the at-large bids—then there will be only six spots in the NIT for true mid-majors. Not only doesn’t Hofstra make that short list, it doesn’t even make the list of teams on the bubble.

Our friend John Templon, who has been authoring a mock NIT bracket all week at Chicagonow.com, has Wichita State (24-8, 62 RPI) and Marshall (22-11, 56 RPI) out as of late last night/early this morning, while Southern Mississippi (22-10, 64 RPI) and Cleveland State (26-8, 40 RPI) are barely in. All RPI rankings are as of Saturday at realtimerpi.com.

That’s FOUR schools with top 68 RPIs either out of the NIT or hanging precariously on to a spot—two schools from Conference USA, one from the annually excellent Missouri Valley and one from the Horizon, the league which only gave us last year’s national runner-up. That’s incredible, and an injustice.

NIT bubble teams from mid-majors have been fortunate the last five years, during which between five and eight spots were filled by automatic bid winners. But we should have seen a year like this coming in 2006, when the NCAA announced it would reduce the NIT from 40 to 32.

“It is more logical in terms of structure, easier to follow for fans and participants, more workable in bracketing,” NIT committee head C.M. Newton told USA Today. Oh sure, but the NCAA didn’t mind expanding from the perfect 64 (or 65) to 68 and changing the dynamics of and deadlines for not-for-profit (snicker snicker snort snort) March Madness brackets everywhere, did it?

The reduction of the field negated the one decent thing the NCAA has ever done for mid-majors. The NCAA began awarding regular season conference champions an automatic bid to the NIT upon taking over the NIT, and a 40-team field (which the NIT debuted in 2002) left plenty of room for the chaos of this season, when there would have been (math major here!) an extra eight at-large spots available. In that case, a school such as Hofstra is still likely out, but the aforementioned four schools on the bubble would be safely in.

The supply and demand of the NIT field is great news for the CBI and CIT, which will have deep and competitive fields and shouldn’t have to resort to begging anyone to play this year, and more evidence those tournaments are absolutely necessary in an expanded Division I landscape in which power is more consolidated than ever.

The NCAA, of course, could fix this in a hurry, and weaken or destroy the upstart tournaments, by expanding the NIT to 40 or even 48 teams and leaving plenty of room for mid-majors who have played well enough to warrant postseason play. I imagine that’ll happen, just as soon as we begin setting the clocks back an hour in the spring.

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

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The more I know, the less I understand

Because there are no still images of The Heart of the Matter, and who can resist such a quintessentially '70s photo? Go ahead everyone try and figure out what Hotel California is really about!

Two years ago this week, I undertook a nightly exercise I dubbed “Chalke Talk.” I did this for two reasons. One, because it was an amusing (to me, anyway) play on words and it gave me an excuse I didn’t need to post pictures of Scrubs knockout Sarah Chalke. And two, because I convinced myself the Flying Dutchmen, who were knocked out of the CAA Tournament in the quarterfinals by Old Dominion, had a shot at an NIT berth.

Looking back, I was wasting my time, other than the time I spent Googling Sarah Chalke (sounds like the sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Though the Dutchmen finished the season 21-11, they had just 20 wins against Division I foes, only finished fifth in the CAA during the regular season and played a famously weak non-conference schedule in which their best win was a one-point decision the opening weekend of the year over eventual Atlantic Sun champion East Tennessee State, which was 111th in the final RPI. In addition, I had to be on some kind of magic peyote to think a fifth-place team that didn’t get beyond the quarterfinals of its conference tournament.

This year, such an exercise would seem to be particularly useful, since the Dutchmen finished third—technically, tied for second—during the regular season and advanced to the CAA semifinals before they were eliminated by eventual champion Old Dominion. But I’m more convinced than I was 104 weeks ago that it’d be a waste of time—partially because those damn kids over at the CAAZone beat me to the discussion, but mostly because it appears the Dutchmen are in danger of getting squeezed out of the field by at least one and as many as TWO teams that finished below them this season.

Of the five mock NIT brackets I’ve found, two have Hofstra in: “Brad-ketology” at MVN.com has the Dutchmen as a sixth seed, as of tonight, while our good friend Patrick Stevens of the D1scourse blog at The Washington Times had the Dutchmen as a seventh seed as of Monday (which means they are almost surely out now, as several regular season champions of mid-major conferences have lost in their tournaments since then and will receive an automatic bid to the NIT).

Two other sites—Chicagonow.com and Nitology.com—have the Dutchmen as one of the first handful of teams out of the field as of their most recent update (Wednesday for Chicagonow.com, Sunday for NITology.com). A fifth site, The Bracket Project, doesn’t even have Hofstra in the discussion. Boooo!

Meanwhile, Drexel—which finished fifth in the CAA at 12-6, two games behind the Dutchmen, and lost the biggest joke of a quarterfinal game in tournament history when the refs gave VCU a 62-60 win Saturday—is slotted in four of the five mock NIT brackets and among the teams that just miss the field at Chicagonow.com. And James Madison, which finished sixth in the CAA at 10-8 and was upset by 11th-seeded William & Mary in the quarterfinals, is listed as a sixth seed at Chicagonow.com and is among the last teams out of the field at Bracket Project.

If the Dutchmen do in fact miss out on the NIT (this is presuming George Mason makes the NCAAs), it will mark only the second time since the CAA expanded in 2001-02 that the CAA’s highest-seeded non-NCAA participant did not make the NIT. Second-seeded VCU lost to eventual NIT participant Drexel in the semifinals of the 2003 tournament, but the Rams were just 18-10 that season and finished in a tie for second with Drexel.

How is this possible? How is the third-place team in an outstanding mid-major that will send at least two and possibly three teams to the NCAA Tournament sweating out an NIT bid and, we presume, making contingency plans with the CBI and/or the CIT while a fifth-place team that failed to get out of the quarterfinals and a sixth-place team that didn’t even get there are in the discussion?

The common explanation I’m getting—other than the fact nine mid-major regular season champions have earned automatic bids to the NIT by virtue of losing in their conference tournament, which has drastically cut the number of available at-large spots—is that the Dutchmen’s non-conference schedule pales in comparison to those played by Drexel and James Madison.

No argument there: Much like two years ago, the Dutchmen are sorely lacking a Signature Win outside the CAA. They went 0-3 against non-conference opposition currently ranked in the top 100 (North Carolina, Nebraska and Iona) and their best non-conference win is over Rider, ranked 108th as of today. And just like two years ago, this team finished the CAA Tournament at 21-11 with 20 wins over Division I opposition.

Drexel, meanwhile, went 2-2 against top 100 foes, shocking Louisville on the road and beating Kent State in the BracketBuster, while James Madison was 3-2 against the top 100 with wins over Princeton, Marshall and Kent State prior to the New Year.

But as well as Drexel and James Madison played out of conference, and as unimposing a schedule Hofstra played, shouldn’t their performances during the league season—which represents more than 50 percent of the schedule—play a bigger role when trying to establish NIT at-large candidacies?

In addition to finishing comfortably ahead of Drexel and James Madison, the Flying Dutchmen went 3-5 against top 100 CAA foes (beat George Mason, Drexel and James Madison, lost twice to Old Dominion and once each to George Mason, Drexel and VCU). Drexel and James Madison each went 3-6 against top 100 CAA foes.

Granted, a half-game difference is not that much. But two and four games in the standings and advancing one and two rounds farther, respectively, in the conference tournament is a big deal. Should the Dutchmen be punished because they are a far better team in March than they were in November and December? Should they be punished because they didn’t draw a top 100 team in the BracketBuster (Wright State—which, admittedly, hammered the Dutchmen—is currently 126th). Shouldn’t they be rewarded for being better over the longer haul of the conference season?

Over on the NCAA side of the bubble, our good friends at George Mason seem to be getting rewarded for their outstanding CAA performance. The Patriots were 2-1 against current top 100 foes during the non-conference season, beating Harvard (34) and Duquesne (94) and falling to Dayton (79).

That’s a solid, if not world-beating, performance, but the Patriots became America’s media darlings and a Top 25 team again (bleeech) by going 6-3 in games against top 100 CAA foes. Six of their 14 straight conference wins to end the season were against current top 100 teams. It is very fair to say that if Mason had lost two of those games—to fall to 4-5 against CAA teams in the top 100 and 14-4 in the league overall—they’d likely be a lot more nervous about their at-large hopes right now.

(I, of course, can hope they’ll get screwed anyway, not so much out of Schadenfreude—I am selling out people, I’m either taking pictures or corresponding on Twitter with a whole bunch of one-time mortal enemies—but so they FINALLY FREAKING UNDERSTAND what pissed me off so much about Tom O’Connor’s placement on the Selection Committee five years ago. OK it is still out of Schadenfreude. But I digress)

Speaking of 2006: If Hofstra ends up missing the NIT this year, I won’t go crazy over it, toss and turn at night and declare lifelong war upon the schools and forces that kept the Dutchmen out. It’s the NIT, man, you can’t get that upset about it.

Plus, as I’ll write tomorrow, I’m actually more intrigued by the possibility of a multiple-game run in one of the smaller tournaments. But still: If the Dutchmen miss out, and Drexel and/or James Madison make it, I will, in a less angry way, be just as bemused as I was five years ago this weekend and wonder why this stuff makes less sense the more we are informed about it.

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