Saturday, January 14, 2012

It’s just a little losing streak, it’s still good, it’s still good!

Preach on Homer. And shut up, Bart.

College basketball fandom is all about selective rationalization, and always finding reason to believe it’s still early even when the calendar says otherwise and even when you are a pessimistic pain in the ass in all other facets of life.

For instance: That 62-60 loss to James Madison? Stung like a sonofa, but it was only one game and it was only December. That 17-point loss to VCU 12 days ago? A tough one, but VCU’s going to win the CAA going away. (What’s that? Oh. Never mind.) The Dutchmen were 0-2, and history has proven an 0-2 start is almost impossible to overcome and still earn a bye in the CAA, but as long as they could split the road trip to Delaware and UNC Wilmington and beat Northeastern they’d be fine—2-3 and right in the thick of the muddy middle of the conference.

Then the Dutchmen lost to Delaware, 67-66, in the most unlikely wire-to-wire defeat in the history of sports. But it was still OK. Maybe they’d steal a win at UNC Wilmington, then beat Northeastern and still be at 2-3 after five games.

But they didn’t beat UNC Wilmington, which won last Saturday, 86-80, in a game that wasn’t really that close. The history of 0-4 teams in the CAA is REALLY bad, but I guaranteed on Twitter that if the Dutchmen could beat Northeastern on Wednesday then they’d beat Old Dominion on the road today and then they’d be 2-4. And then, my thinking went, they’d steal a home game against Drexel this coming Wednesday and beat James Madison on the road and they’d be 4-4 with a four-game winning streak going into VCU and the toughest place to play in the CAA.

And then the Dutchmen lost to Northeastern, 64-62, after allowing the Huskies to score on their last four billion possessions (give or take a couple), and even I was done. At dinner Wednesday night—during which not a single bite of food tasted even the slightest bit good—I told my wife we were looking at an 0-10 start in CAA play and the specter of playing Towson, which of course is in the midst of the longest losing streak in Division I history, with 11th place and an 11th straight conference loss on the line on Feb. 1.

I was done. The Dutchmen were done. There’s only so many times you can come agonizingly close before the season goes down the crapper. And three losses by a grand total of five points, with the at Old Dominion-Drexel-at James Madison-at VCU-George Mason-at Northeastern gauntlet coming up, meant the Dutchmen were done.

Except…except that was Wednesday. By Thursday, I was telling myself the Dutchmen were too damn good to be 0-5. I mean, this isn’t Jay Wright’s second team at Hofstra, one that was basically recruited to play in the East Coast Conference (a league that I made up) but was trying to compete in the North Atlantic Conference (a league I may also have made up). There are big-time players on this team.

Sure, they’re not perfect, but Mike Moore is probably going to lead the CAA in scoring and Nathaniel Lester is a nightly threat for a double-double and a legit second half scorer in the Charles Jenkins mold. Stephen Nwaukoni, David Imes and Moussa Kone give the Dutchmen enough bulk to compete down low in a grind-it-out league.

By Friday, I was telling myself how this Dutchmen team does not stack up to the other squads to start 0-5 in CAA play since 2001-02. While the Dutchmen are in a transition season, they are not rebuilding like Delaware in 2006-07 or Northeastern and William & Mary last year, nor are they in the midst of the greatest overhaul in conference history, a la Towson this year.

Mo Cassara is not trying to turn around a program conditioned to second-division finishes, a la Tony Shaver at William & Mary in 2004-05 and 2005-06. And Hofstra is not a program predisposed to underachievement, a la James Madison in 2003-04 and 2005-06 or Delaware 2005-06 or Towson 2009-10 and 2010-11.

I don’t know where the Dutchmen will be come the first weekend of March, only that they will have more than the six wins that, so far, represent the ceiling for a team that opens conference play 0-5. For the second time in three years, I’ll be writing about their rise from the ashes of a terrible start in conference play.

And so it is that this morning I woke up absolutely certain the Flying Dutchmen would win at Old Dominion, a place they haven’t won since 2005-06. Old Dominion can’t shoot straight (I say that in the most endearing, complimentary way possible). Hofstra can hang with the Monarchs on the boards. The Dutchmen are DUE—for not only a good break, bur for their end-game defense to become something more than non-existent.

And then, after the Dutchmen win today, they’ll stun Drexel at home Wednesday and go to James Madison and beat the Dukes a week from today. Then they’ll be 3-5 and bursting with confidence going into VCU. And if they can win that one, and upset George Mason two days later, and then beat Northeastern in Boston two weeks from today—well hell, they not only have a chance at being 6-5 when the month ends, it’s a goddamn ironclad lock. It’s just a little losing streak. It’s still good, it’s still good.

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