Monday, January 7, 2013

This is as good as it gets (Probably)

The Flying Dutchmen are the last team to begin play in #CAAHoops this season, but the seemingly inevitable descent to the bottom of the standings began in the days before tonight’s opener against Georgia State at the Arena.

As of last Tuesday, the Dutchmen were in a nine-way tie for second at 0-0. Then James Madison, Towson and Drexel all won their CAA openers on Wednesday, which “vaulted” them into a four-way tie for first place and dropped UNC Wilmington and Georgia State into a tie for last place with Old Dominion, which fell to James Madison.

This left Hofstra in a four-way tie for fourth place, through no fault of its own. At least until Thursday, when Northeastern beat George Mason, at which point the Dutchmen fell into a fifth-place tie with Delaware. Which had the audacity to go and beat Old Dominion on Saturday, the same day Towson and Northeastern created a three-way tie for first by beating Drexel and UNC Wilmington while Georgia State, George Mason, James Madison and William & Mary all settled into a tie for fourth place at 1-1.

So without even playing a game. Hofstra has fallen six spots in the standings. This seems to be a somewhat appropriate summation of the season: The Dutchmen, losers of eight straight, can lose without even playing!

Of course, the flip side is the Dutchmen can be tied for first place with a win tonight. And usually, I’d be bursting with optimism over such possibilities. Hell, I actually convinced myself 52 weeks ago tonight that the Dutchmen were going to beat VCU in the January opener. I think I envisioned Shemiye McLendon draining a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Well, McLendon is now a walk-on redshirting at South Florida and VCU is in the Atlantic 10 (and ranked no. 25 in the coaches’ poll today), so you can see where that optimism got me.

I’d like to say my pessimism is a diabolical plot to change the Dutchmen’s rotten luck via the time-tested and infallible reverse hex method. But no, as much as I hate to admit it, the pessimism is legitimate. The slate is clean tonight, and the philosophy should be a Homer Simpson-ian “It’s just a little losing streak, it’s still good it’s still good,” but after four arrests decimated a program that has now suffered eight straight losses stretching over three federal holidays and 34 bowl games (but not the Bluebonnet, may it rest in peace), I can’t come up with any reason to convince myself that tonight isn’t anything other than the beginning of the season’s second long, meandering stroll to nowhere.

Sure, the depleted Dutchmen can only benefit from being the last team to open conference play. But they’re tipping off the CAA season against Georgia State, which handed Hofstra its worst conference loss ever in the Dutchmen’s most recent CAA game a mere 10 months and five days ago.

And while the Panthers are a far different team than the one that laid waste to the Dutchmen in Richmond—they have four new starters—they still play a swarming zone defense that torments undermanned teams and they are still coached by Ron Hunter, who absolutely owns Hofstra regardless of whose opposing sideline he strolls.

Hunter-coached teams have played 80 minutes at Hofstra, dating back to IUPUI’s CBI appearance at the Arena in 2010, and have trailed for exactly zero seconds. His teams have opened up first half leads of at least 19 points all three times they have faced the Dutchmen and they’ve outscored Hofstra 218-153 in the three games. So, you know…yeah.

After tonight, the Dutchmen head to Delaware for a game Wednesday night. Given the short travel distance, Delaware is a perfect destination for a first conference roadie, especially on short rest. But Newark was the site where it all began to go wrong on the last season’s first roadie, when the Dutchmen trailed wire-to-wire and squandered two chances to take the lead or tie the game in the final seconds of a 67-66 loss. And the Blue Hens have double-double machine Jamelle Hagins and are one of the handful of league favorites this year. So, you know…yeah.

The Dutchmen complete the week by hosting William & Mary, which almost annually occupies a spot in the bottom half of the CAA standings. But the Fighting Bill Lawrences are also among the handful of league favorites this year and almost annually torment the Dutchmen, who needed Charles Jenkins’ magic acts to sweep the regular season series in 2010-11 before losing at Williamsburg last year, 75-71. So, you know…yeah.

Then after that the Dutchmen head on a two-game road trip to Northeastern and George Mason, two places at which it’s very tough to win for entirely different reasons. You can see where I’m going here: It’s not tough to envision a scenario in which I am once again crunching the numbers about teams that opened CAA play 0-5.

None of the other statistical measurements, historical trends or “eye tests” bode well for the Dutchmen, either. Hofstra’s RPI is well into the 300s, an area the program hasn’t seen since I first discovered Hempstead. The Dutchmen rank last in the CAA in field goal percentage and free throw percentage. They are also tied for last in defensive points per possession while ranking ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio and tied for eighth in defensive field goal percentage.

Since the CAA expanded in 2001-02, only two other teams have ever entered January with at least 10 non-conference losses, and last year’s William & Mary and Towson squads didn’t exactly catch fire once the calendar flipped to the new year.

The Dutchmen are bereft of confidence, having lost eight straight games in just about every fashion imaginable. One win can change everything, of course. But each subsequent loss just makes it that much tougher to get that elusive victory.

I hate being a negative Nelly, I really do. My imaginary paycheck here pretend pays me to come up with reasons to believe. Plus, I feel terrible being pessimistic about a group of players and coaches who are working so hard to try and turn this around.

I want to conjure scenarios in which the Dutchmen take advantage of a historically weakened CAA, pull off a few upsets and end up in the middle of the pack with a flickering chance at channeling the 1994 squad by winning the conference tournament with three victories in as many days in March.

I want to imagine David Imes and Matt Grogan emerging as the outside shooters the Dutchmen have lacked. I want to imagine Daquan Brown playing like a high Division I talent and teaming up with Stephen Nwaukoni and Moussa Kone to form a very solid inside trio. I want to imagine Taran Buie becoming the next Dutchmen superstar and Stevie Mejia continuing to handle the point as adroitly as he has the last handful of games

I want to—hey you know what, this has me feeling better. So with the opening tap less than three hours away, let’s just say that being in eighth place before the season starts is as good as it gets this season. You know, unless it isn’t.

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