Monday, January 9, 2012

Postgame Buffet: UNC Wilmington 86, Hofstra 80 (Or: I ain’t seen the sun since I don’t know when)

I can see this "0FerFile," though.

Things were so much simpler and promising when I was younger. I was focused, committed and optimistic; certain I could not only change myself but the world around me.

But here it is, a week later, and not only has my diet yet to begin, I prepared for writing during the overnight hours by wolfing down an ice cream sundae. Not only is my office not clean, it still looks like it needs FEMA intervention.

Most importantly, the Flying Dutchmen have as many CAA wins today as they did on New Year’s Day. Which is to say none. From taking random happenings and declaring they were a sign of a magical evening and season ahead to starting a file on my desktop titled “0FerNotes,” this has not been the start to 2012 anyone envisioned.

In fact, it officially became the worst start to a calendar year of the Defiantly Dutch era Saturday, when the Dutchmen dropped a not-as-close-as-it-seemed 86-80 decision at UNC Wilmington. The Dutchmen are 0-4 in CAA play, the first time they have opened conference play with four straight losses since 1987-88, and history suggests the year will only get longer from here.

So how DID we get here (the Dutchmen at 0-4, not me still eating and working amidst a pile of paperwork like it’s 2011)? Feast on the postgame buffet. Don’t lie. Your diet hasn’t started yet, either.

1.) While there are plenty of valid ways to spin the belief that 0-4 record is not as bad as it looks and that the Dutchmen’s future isn’t as bleak as it might seem, an 0-4 start brings out the inner Bill Parcells/Bill Belichick: It is what it is and you are what your record says you are.

For the Dutchmen, the most ample proof of the gridiron theorem was on display during a pair of destructive stretches in each half in which UNC Wilmington took control. The Seahawks scored on 11 of 13 possessions in a 6:51 span in the first half as they turned an 18-13 deficit into a 38-28 lead. That run was sparked by four offensive rebounds which the Seahawks turned into seven points and symbolized an evening in which the Dutchmen allowed season-highs in points and points per possession (1.217) and had little answer for power forward and sure-fire All-CAA pick Keith Rendleman (19 points on 7-of-10 shooting) while allowing the Seahawks to hit nearly 50 percent (8-of-18) of their 3-pointers.

The Dutchmen briefly managed to cut the gap to three late in the first half and kept the deficit below 10 in the early minutes of the second half before UNC Wilmington went on an 11-0 run in which the Dutchmen failed to score on eight straight possessions, during which they were 0-for-9 from the field and twice failed to convert offensive rebounds into points. The field goal drought actually reached 10 attempts before Stephen Nwaukoni ended the funk for the Dutchmen with a free throw.

Maybe the Dutchmen are better than 0-4, but they don’t have the manpower or the depth to dig out of the holes they have tended to create for themselves this year. The Dutchmen trailed by at least 15 points Saturday for the third straight game and the seventh time this season. They’re 0-7 in those games.

2.) Offensively, the boxscore seems to be an encouraging one for the Dutchmen, who reached 80 points for the fourth time in six games and lost by six points or less for the third time in CAA play.

Nathaniel Lester had 23 points, his second-most ever, and tied a career high with 12 rebounds. Mike Moore scored 22 points and had three assists and three steals. Dwan McMillan also got into double figures with 11 points to go along with two assists and two steals.

But the close margin of defeat and the apparent offensive outburst were each of the lies, damn lies and statistics variety. The Dutchmen got closer than eight points just once in the final 16 minutes—on Nwaukoni’s jumper with four seconds left. The Dutchmen hit all four of their field goal attempts in the final minute, which improved their second half shooting percentage to 29.3 percent (12-of-41). In addition, the Dutchmen had just eight assists, a remarkably low figure on an 80-point night.

And much of the production from the Dutchmen’s three leading scorers was cosmetic. Lester scored eight of his points in the final 41 seconds, 10 points in the final two minutes and 15 points in the final 7:03. Moore was just 7-of-19 shooting, including 2-of-11 in the second half and 2-of-8 overall from 3-point land. McMillan scored five of his points in a 14-second span midway through the second half. In other words: Too little and/or too late.

While the idea of Moore and Lester teaming up to replace Charles Jenkins—with Lester playing the finisher role once defenses key on Moore in the second half—sounds good, they need to distribute their scoring in a more productive manner. They also need help, particularly from Shemiye McLendon, who was scoreless and played just 15 minutes on a night in which six Dutchmen finished with at least three fouls. The Dutchmen got more fouls (10) than points (nine) from their bench, though a couple of Matt Grogan’s four fouls were burned in the waning seconds.

3.) It was not an entirely negative night for the Dutchmen, who got encouraging performances from big men Nwaukoni, Moussa Kone and David Imes. Nwaukoni had nine rebounds and has pulled down an impressive 29 rebounds in the last three games. That’s sixth-most in the conference since CAA play resumed, which makes the Dutchmen the only team with two players in the top six (Lester has 32 boards in the last three games). Nwaukoni, the hardest worker—and perhaps the rawest player—on the Dutchmen, also continued evolving on offense and again displayed his new-found jumper during an eight-point performance.

Kone tied a career-high and set a new one, respectively, with six points and seven rebounds in just 15 minutes. Imes was rendered a non-factor in the first half thanks to three fouls, but he had five points and three rebounds in 15 second half minutes, which puts him right on pace for the near double-double Mo Cassara would love to see from him on a regular basis. With Old Dominion and Drexel coming up in the next 10 days, the Dutchmen will need their forwards to continue creating opportunities on the boards.

4.) What other positives are there to be taken from this 0-4 hole? The Dutchmen have the talent to win CAA games—they are not undertaking the most massive rebuilding project in conference history, a la Towson. If they can score 80 points on a night in which they shoot less than 40 percent and lose by six after their worst defensive effort of the season, then how far are they away from turning a corner and winning some games?

The Dutchmen’s four losses have been by a combined 26 points, the second-smallest margin of defeat amongst the 14 CAA teams that have started 0-4 since 2001-02. (William & Mary lost its first four CAA games by 24 points last year) For all intents and purposes, they are a Humpty Hitchens half-court shot and three missed free throws against Delaware away from being 2-2 and being amongst the gaggle of teams in the CAA’s muddy middle.

A season that has already been unpredictable even by #CAAHoops standards also provides hope the Dutchmen can make up some ground quickly. VCU, pegged by a certain dope as the no-doubt-about-it conference champion after the Rams’ rout of the Dutchmen last Monday, has lost two in a row and is looking up at George Mason and Old Dominion as well as Georgia State, Delaware and UNC Wilmington, just like we all figured back in October.

(Fortunately, VCU’s loss to Georgia State Wednesday inspired self-satisfied Mason fans to crawl out of the woodwork and declare I have no idea what I’m talking about. And this time it didn’t even take suggesting Jim Larranaga falls in the water whenever he walks off the poolside deck at his palatial Miami home.)

It certainly helps to view the Dutchmen’s chances through blue-and-gold tinted sunglasses, but the idea they could win three or four in a row just as quickly as they lost three or four in a row is not completely outlandish. Which is all well and good and optimistic, but…

5.) …the Dutchmen will have to make history just to approach .500. Since the CAA expanded in 2001-02, the average finish of the 12 teams to open league play 0-4 is 11th (well, 10.46th) with 3.23 wins. Six of those squads finished last (10th prior to 2005-06). Only Towson in 2009-10 and Northeastern last year managed to win as many as six games and only Towson finished as high as eighth. Teams that have opened 0-4 since 2001-02 have won a total of four CAA Tournament games, none after the Friday opening round games.

In addition, the last Hofstra team to open conference play 0-4 finished 2-12 in the East Coast Conference (you can look it up, Litos!) 24 seasons ago. Now, of course, that won’t have an impact on the Dutchmen as they try crawling out of this hole. But the scope of the job ahead is daunting, and if the Dutchmen dug themselves all the way to China in starting 0-2, then they’re in Antarctica by now.

And history is not on their side as they prepare for Northeastern Wednesday: Only three of the last 12 teams to open 0-4 won their fifth game. Oh geez. I really don’t want to have to update my “0FerNotes” file Wednesday night.

3: Nathaniel Lester
2: Mike Moore
1: Stephen Nwaukoni

Mike Moore 35
Nathaniel Lester 21
Dwan McMillan 13
Shemiye McLendon 9
David Imes 8
Stephen Nwaukoni 5
Stevie Mejia 3
Bryant Crowder 2

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

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