Friday, March 2, 2012

All we are saying...is the Dutchmen have a chance

Just when I think this season can't get any more frustrating, Flying Dutchmen, you go and do something like this and TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELVES!

At this point, what else is there to say? The media guides have been scoured and the numbers have been crunched. History has been reviewed and the reasons for hope identified, as has the winning equation for the Flying Dutchmen this weekend.

Of course, it involves more algebra than anything this side of my junior year of high school: If A plus B happens and is added to the outcome of C times D, and VCU gets lost on the way to the Richmond Coliseum and has to forfeit a game, then Hofstra can win it all!

For the Flying Dutchmen, this year’s CAA Tournament this year, much more so than any of the past three editions, is all about delusion barely disguised as hope. Despite my valiant efforts to paint an optimistic picture, the truth is history—both of the recent and longer-term variety—is decidedly not on the side of the Dutchmen.

Sure, there have been 17 teams to earn an NCAA Tournament bid with a losing record, but the 14 to do so since the tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1985 all did so as automatic qualifiers from mid-major conferences that didn’t possess the cache the CAA owns now. Those conferences had the type of parity—which is and always will be a good synonym for mediocrity—that made it possible for a sub-.500 team to make up for a poor regular season by winning three or four games in as many days.

If there’s one thing the CAA lacks after sending two teams to the Final Four in a six-season span, it’s parity. Top three seeds Drexel, VCU and George Mason—the three teams the Dutchmen would have to beat in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals—all won at least 14 league games.

And to run through Mason, VCU and Drexel would require the Dutchmen winning three games in three days against a trio of opponents whom they went 0-5 against this season. With James Madison and Towson the first two teams eliminated, the Dutchmen have beaten just one club still in the tournament (UNC Wilmington).

Only one team with a conference record as poor as the one the Dutchmen produced this season has ever made the NCAA Tournament (Fairfield in 1997). And as we discussed last night, CAA teams that lose close games as regularly as the Dutchmen did this season tend to go home quickly from the CAA Tournament.

Plus, since Hofstra emerged from the remains of the ECC following the 1993-94 season, the Dutchmen’s conference tournaments have almost always gone to chalk. In the last 17 seasons—the NAC/America East from 1995-2001 and the CAA since 2002—the top seed has won the title 15 times. The only exceptions were third-seeded George Mason winning in 2008 and second-seeded Old Dominion taking home the crown last year.

These trends are nothing new in either the CAA or the America East: Only six CAA champions have entered the tournament ranked lower than second. And the no. 1 or no. 2 seed has won the America East/NAC in each of the last 18 years and in 30 of 32 seasons overall.

So much has to go right to make history that it’s almost foolish to ponder the possibilities. And even if everything goes right—an unlikely scenario for a team whose luck has been among the worst in the nation this season—there are no guarantees the Dutchmen will make a Cinderella run. The Dutchmen could have three or more players score in double figures, crash the boards, play good defense, minimize their mistakes and remedy the issues and imperfections that turned what should have been a .500 conference season into a 3-15 nightmare, and the odds are at some point this weekend they will still run into a team that is just a little bit better in every facet of the game, not to mention one that runs deeper than seven scholarship players.

So as awesome as it is to envision an upset over Georgia State tonight and an even bigger upset over George Mason tomorrow night, and as cinematic as it would be to see the Dutchmen win an 8-on-5 game against VCU on Sunday and knock off Drexel in an ECC title game Monday, the odds are the Dutchmen will spend three nights in Richmond only because they play so late tonight, and that by first thing tomorrow morning Mo Cassara and staff are focusing fully on 2012-13.

It’s weekends like this that test your mettle as a sports fan. Do you turn the page on 2011-12 and hope next year is better? Or do you believe, even when every trend is suggesting otherwise? Are you as ardent during 10-21 as you were during 22-11?

Do you head to Richmond because you believe in the longshot, and because you still haven’t forgiven yourself for missing the 1994 Dutchmen’s run to the ECC title (no I didn’t make that up!) and you don’t want to miss a chance at seeing history again, even if it is a 16-in-10,000 chance? And if you can’t go, do you sit home and obsess and stew all day (and maybe all weekend) over the unlikely possibility that magic happens in Richmond while you’re on Long Island.

These are the weekends that turned us into sports fans in the first place. We watch sports for the unexpected and the unimaginable, to experience those moments that will always have us saying “I was there.”

And as infrequently as those shocking moments happen, and as mostly irrelevant as they are to this year’s Dutchmen, there ARE teams that have basically done what the Dutchmen want to do. There ARE teams that have earned the right to yell some “We shocked the world!” and not have it come off as banal and clich├ęd. It probably won’t happen to the Dutchmen. But right now, as of this moment, it could.

“D-Mac [Dwan McMillan] told me earlier in the year he dreamed that we would win the CAA Tournament,” Mike Moore said after the Dutchmen beat UNC Wilmington in the regular season finale Saturday. “So I always had hope that we could make a miracle run in the tournament. This is a great start. Got me believing a little bit.”

“You never know,” Cassara said before departing for Richmond Wednesday. “That’s the great thing about college basketball, it’s the great thing about our league, it’s the great thing about sports. There’s always another opportunity and there’s nothing like a Cinderella story.”

So what else is there to say? How about “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…”

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

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