Friday, May 15, 2015

Of Shaka, softball and sinister selection committees

The Western Athletic Conference (file photo)

Six weeks ago last night, Shaka Smart left VCU for Texas. This is presented to you not for its newsworthiness—unless you were stuck under a rock for the last seven weeks, in which case, hey, Shaka Smart left VCU for Texas—but because the Hofstra softball team begins its annual trip to the NCAA Tournament today, and its rotten draw serves as a reminder of why the Shakas of the world don’t stay in one place anymore.

In case you were under the aforementioned rock, or simply stumbled upon here with no connection to or interest in Hofstra softball (in which case, thank you, Carole King fans!), the Flying Dutchwomen reached the NCAA Tournament for the 16th time by winning the CAA for the 11th time last week, when they beat top-seed and host James Madison on Thursday and Friday.

Prior to the first loss to the Dutchwomen, James Madison had won 36 straight games. For going 38-2 in its final 40 games, the Dukes were granted one of the 16 seeds and the right to host a regional this weekend, when Binghamton, North Carolina State and Fordham will visit Harrisonburg.

This is not to denigrate James Madison or declare the Dukes didn’t deserve to host. It’s actually nice to see an NCAA Tournament selection committee reward a mid-major team for sustained regular season excellence, instead of punishing it for one or two ill-timed losses in the conference tournament. James Madison is 12th in the RPI. It is a rightful regional host.

I should be writing the same six words about Hofstra. But I’m not, because Hofstra got screwed. Yet again.

The Dutchwomen’s reward for continuing the program’s history of excellence and putting a bow on an outstanding tournament resume—Hofstra is 13th in the latest RPI—by beating one of the best teams in the country twice at their place? A trip to the University of Florida and a regional hosted by the Gators, the defending national champions and the number one overall seed in this year’s tournament.

So basically, the selection committee is saying the Dutchwomen are the worst eight or nine seed in the tournament. With an RPI of 13.

If only this were something new, and not the continuation of a trend.

Remember the 2012 Flying Dutchwomen, the best softball team in school history, if not the flat-out best team in Hofstra sports history? That squad rode the bionic right arm of Olivia Galati to a 37-3 mark in its final 40 pre-NCAA Tournament games, including a 22-0 record in CAA play. Its reward was a trip to 12-time national champion UCLA and a regional that also included San Diego State and Florida State.

This is where I cut-and-paste this nugget from the SEEDING/SITES bullet point in the press release announcing this year’s field: “The top 16 teams were seeded in order, and the remaining teams are paired by geographic proximity.” The Atlanta Braves of 1969-1993 think the NCAA sucks at geography.

But hey, at least the NCAA got better at it this year. Florida is no easy jaunt from Hempstead, but on the bright side, it’s only 1,038 same time zone miles between campuses. If the NCAA is only going to allow one cold weather mid-major to host a regional—this is where we all guffaw at the NCAA when it declares that seeds are assigned blindly and with no quotas in mind—then I suppose a trip down the eastern seaboard isn’t that much of an inconvenience.

Except, well, the only other school hitting the road with a top 16 RPI is no. 15 Central Florida, which was the lone representative from the disaster known as the American Athletic Conference. For winning that hodgepodge East Coast Conference wanna-be #HiLitos, Central Florida gets a trip to a regional hosted by ninth-seeded Florida State, a whopping 271 miles away. Seems fair.

We spend every March screeching about the NCAA punishing mid-majors that dare to sit at—or even near—the cool kids’ table in the men’s basketball tournament. Remember unbeaten Wichita State drawing eighth-seeded Kentucky in the second round (go to hell, NCAA, it’s the second round no matter what you try to call it) last year?

Or how about VCU, which, of course, advanced to the Final Four in 2011 (ha ha Larranaga)? The Rams made the NCAA Tournament in each of the next four seasons, when they were sent to Oregon, Michigan, California and Oregon again. The total mileage traveled—per our good friend @VCUPav, who went to all four tournaments—was a tidy 8,983 miles.

Total Sweet Sixteens visited by VCU in those four years: None. That’ll teach ‘em.

And VCU’s first-round opponents the last four years? Three mid-majors (Wichita State, Akron and Stephen F. Austin #MidOnMidCrime) and Ohio State. When VCU knocked off Akron (where Smart used to serve as an assistant coach—no, I’m sure that was just a coincidence) in the 2013 first round, the Rams’ reward was a game with default home school and eventual national finalist Michigan.

Turns out the same punishments are meted out in softball. Hofstra has been to 13 NCAA Tournaments this century, by far the most of any cold-weather-mid major program.

When the Dutchwomen fell one hit shy of the World Series in 2012—they went 3-0 in the UCLA regional and beat South Florida in the opener of the Super Regional before losing a pair of 2-1 games, nope, never getting over that—it was the closest a cold-weather mid-major had come to reaching the biggest stage since UMass competed in the World Series in 1998.

Can’t have that happen again, right NCAA?

It’s almost honorific for a men’s basketball program to be forced to pay for its success—or threat of success—by a selection committee dominated by good ol’ boys out to preserve their standing. But the Dutchwomen were mistreated this year by a selection committee headed by a chairwoman, Mollie Lehman, who hails from the Western Athletic Conference.

The WAC is to Division I conferences what the post office is to everyday life: A dusty, terminally outdated relic that still exists because nobody’s had the heart to pull the plug. To get punished by the WAC is like being bullied by Milhouse.

But hey, at least Mollie gave her alma mater and former employer, Binghamton, a decent, travel-friendly draw after it reached the softball tourney for the first time.

We struck a surprisingly optimistic tone after the agonizing near-misses against South Florida. But this week is a reminder of how difficult it is to overcome the NCAA and the hurdles—higher and more densely placed every year—it places in the way of mid-majors in every sport.

With decades invested as a student, fan and alum, we have no choice but to grit our teeth, ride it out and hope for the miracle screw you run. But who can blame the Shakas of the world for choosing a smoother path?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Oh. My. God. It's #TheJanice!

Phoebe: Janice? You called Janice?
Chandler: Yes, Janice. Why is that so difficult for you to comprehend?
Ross: You remember Janice, right?
--Friends, “The One Where Mr. Heckles Dies,” Season 2

Let’s be clear about one thing: The CBI sucks. I mean, really, really sucks.

It’s not just that the Flying Dutchmen are 0-2 all-time in the CBI. Hofstra is winless in the NCAA Tournament, too, and has a losing record in the NIT, but I’d do cartwheels if we ever get back to one of those tourneys.

It’s that the CBI is Calvinball, on the floor and behind the scenes. This is a tournament that is bracketed for the first two rounds but then shuffled for the semifinals before the last two teams play a best-of-three championship series. What’s next? Games declared ties if teams are tied at the end of regulation? Or overtime consisting of duck-duck-goose?

The CBI is run by the Gazelle Group, which, ahem, has made no friends with the equal parts ruthlessness and incompetence with which it operates the CBI as well as its preseason tournaments. I thought Hofstra learned this when the Flying Dutchmen traveled to the Evansville on less than 24 hours notice to play a game in a Division II gym in the 2011 CBI, or when the Dutchmen were sent to Purdue instead of Villanova to open a Gazelle Group tournament bleak in November 2012, but I guess not.

The CBI is a joke, and something we should laugh at, even as Hofstra inexplicably participates in it for a third time tonight, when the Dutchmen host former North Atlantic Conference/America East foe Vermont at 7. I’m just an unfrozen caveman blogger, but if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that the CIT was interested in Hofstra and awarded bids to CAA foes James Madison and UNC Wilmington.

But whatever. The CBI is here, and the logo I imagine Hofstra is footing the bill for is on the court as I type, so we must make the best of this hate-watching experience.

We must call the CBI by its new name, The Janice. As in Janice Litman Goralnik, who was one of only three non-core characters to appear on every season of Friends. (thank you Wikipedia)

She was loud, shrill, annoying and generally awful. Nobody liked her and everybody made fun of her. You know, kind of like the CBI.

Yet Chandler kept hooking up with Janice, and Ross even bedded her once.  We are now Chandler and Ross, going back to play in a tournament we’re embarrassed to be a part of because, well, we all get lonely and maybe we panicked while CBI and CIT bids were being bandied about last week.

Regardless of how we got here, we are here, ashamed to be in the CBI, certain we’ll be making fun of it later. So why wait? Let’s make fun of it in real time. Beginning right now, please refer to the CBI not as the CBI but as #TheJanice.

Now that we’re treating #TheJanice with the reverence it deserve, there’s only two things left to do.

And after winning the whole (TV edit) thing, let the Flying Dutchmen find their Monica or Rachel, and let us never speak of or partake in #TheJanice ever again.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

We don’t sleep, we dream

Well, it’s too late to turn back now. It was one thing to get in the car Friday afternoon and drive roughly 227 miles over nearly five interminable hours, all the while finding promising signs on the radio that made us imagine what it’d be like to have to figure out a way to get back to Baltimore if the Flying Dutchmen made it to Monday night.

(Have I mentioned we have to go back Sunday night? I’ll save that story. It’s a good one)

But to actually see the Dutchmen rout James Madison 74-57 in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon? We could say all the right things about simply being satisfied in getting to the semifinals for the first time since 2011, or about the challenge that awaits the Dutchmen in today’s semifinal game against William & Mary.

We could even just heed the words of Moussa Kone, the lone four-year member of this year’s Dutchmen roster, who boiled Saturday’s win down to its most basic form.

“Means we can stay here and not go home,” said Kone, who continued playing like a senior trying to stave off going home for good by leading the Dutchmen with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

But no. It’s too late for caution, too late for tempered optimism. We are all damn in. All or nothing.

That’s how good the Dutchmen looked Saturday, when they dominated a James Madison team that outscored Hofstra by 29 points over the final 61:02 the two teams played against each other in the regular season.

On both ends of the court, this was a clinic in a coach realizing what didn’t work the first two times, and players implementing adjustments.

The Dutchmen took almost as many 3-pointers (61) as shots from inside the arc (64) in the regular season games against James Madison but drained just 19 from long range.

“First time we played them, we shot a lot of threes,” Ameen Tanksley said. “We got into that rhythm of just chucking threes and trying to find a way to make them.”

On Saturday, the Dutchmen were 7-of-20 from 3-point land but a whopping 24-of-33 from inside the arc. Kone set the tone on the first basket of the game, when he put back a miss by Juan’ya Green. Kone and Rokas Gustys finished with 29 points, on 14-of-18 shooting, and 16 rebounds in 40 minutes as the Dutchmen outscored the Dukes 46-28 in the paint and dominated the second chance points by a 25-12 margin.

Tanksley had 16 points on just 5-of-15 shooting, but a pair of individual 5-0 runs sparked the decisive turns of momentum in each half. In the first, Tanksley’s five straight points tied the game at 20-20 and began a 19-4 run that gave the Dutchmen the lead for good. In the second, his five straight points spanning the midway point of the half extended the lead to 13 points and started a game-ending 23-14 run.

Defensively, the duos of Kone and Gustys and Dion Nesmith and Malik Nichols ensured a far better outcome than in the regular season games. James Madison shot better than 50 percent (49-of-97) in the first two contests but just 37 percent (20-of-54) on Saturday.

After allowing James Madison to shoot better than 50 percent (49-of-97) in the regular season games, the Dutchmen held the Dukes to 37 percent shooting (20-of-54). Ron Curry, who torched the Dutchmen for 45 points in the regular season, had 18 points but was worked to exhaustion, a la Charles Jenkins in 2011, by the combination of Nesmith and Nichols.

“Our battle cry all week was we had to be a better defensive team,” Joe Mihalich said. “I thought, clearly, we were.”

Most encouraging of all, the Dutchmen played with poise and purpose that was often missing this season. A miserable first half at the free throw line—the Dutchmen were 3-of-10 from the so-called charity stripe—kept the game closer than it had to be.

James Madison whittled a 13-point deficit to six in the final 3:20 of the first half, during which the Dutchmen missed six of their final seven shots, including three putbacks in the final three seconds. But the lead never fell below eight following Kone’s layup to begin the second half, when the Dutchmen shot 56 percent (15-of-27).

“Today, toughness showed through,” Mihalich said. “We haven’t been tough every game this year, and that’s on me. But we certainly were tough today.”

You bet everyone else noticed. The buzz downstairs at the Royal Farms Arena was over the danger the Dutchmen could pose over the next two nights. We spent much of the game with some William & Mary fans, who acknowledged they’d rather see James Madison win.

Nobody took more notice of what happened Saturday than the Dutchmen themselves.

“We don’t think we should have had as many losses in conference,” Tanksley said. “As coach said, every game, we didn’t come out playing hard. I believe if we came out playing hard every game. we would have had two losses. At most.”

Now we begin to believe the Dutchmen can hand out two more losses in the next 40 or so hours. Even blinded by newfound belief, we know William & Mary didn’t trail for a second in sweeping the Dutchmen in the regular season. The Tribe have the Player of the Year in Marcus Thornton and the Defensive Player of the Year in Terry Tarpey.

William & Mary played terrific defense of its own in a 72-59 win over Elon earlier Saturday and played like a team that knows its window of opportunity to end the 322-year NCAA Tournament drought slams shut after this season.

But we also know the Dutchmen lost the first game this season to William & Mary by 21 points, and the second by two points. We know Juan’ya Green scored “just” 10 points on Saturday, though he added eight assists. We know the Dutchmen won by 17 on a day in which Brian Bernardi was scoreless from 3-point land until the final minute.

As good as Saturday was, it can get better. It will get better, today. Sure, such an approach sets us up for heartache, and for the agony of realizing just how long a road it is to get back to a chance to even play for a berth in a conference title game.

It’s OK. We’re willing to take that risk.

“It’s a very good team,” Mihalich said of William & Mary. “There’s a lot of things we have to do—how much time we got? [A reporter] wants to know how to beat William & Mary. I need a good 45, 50 minutes.”

We’ll take 40 today. Then 40 more tomorrow. It’s too late to turn back now.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I'm driving the Dutchmen Express

Kix will no longer be the first thing we think about Baltimore come Monday night!

The first full song we heard in the car Friday afternoon after leaving my wife’s school and hitting the road for Baltimore was “Come Dancing” by The Kinks.

(Honest to God true story: The song that was on when I turned the ignition was “Highway to Hell.” Nope. Not going to Richmond!)

At the rest stop in New Jersey, I saw a guy wearing an alumni sweatshirt from La Salle, the alma mater of Flying Dutchmen head coach Joe Mihalich. Somewhere between New Jersey and Delaware we saw an RV with the words “DUTCHMEN EXPRESS” painted across it. And the first song we heard upon hitting the Baltimore city limits was “Dance With Me” by Orleans (GOOGLE IT CRAIN).

So by the time I took a seat at Royal Farms Arena (think Nassau Coliseum, except older but with nicer seats, a crapton of Major Indoor Soccer League banners hanging from the rafters and probably less asbestos hanging from the roof), I was already wondering where we could storm the court on Monday night and imagining the Flying Dutchmen forming a euphoric pile of humanity at center court.

(Oh and within my first hour in the Arena, I managed to win a bottle of Buffalo Wild Wings sauce in a ring toss game at the Buffalo Wild Wings booth, which is the closest we get to Buffalo Wild Wings at the Arena despite Buffalo Wild Wings being a sponsor of the CAA Tournament. #ThatsSoCAAHoops)

Of course, it never takes me much to fully invest in the possibilities of March magic, even and especially when the numbers don’t support a deep CAA Tournament run by the Dutchmen. Which, let’s face it, has been the case every year since at least 2008, and if we’re honest with ourselves, none of us were surprised when the 2007 team was one-and-done, either (FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST GREG KICK THE BALL OUT TO ANTOINE AGUDIO).

And none of us will be surprised if the Dutchmen are on I-95 north by the time Northeastern and Delaware tip off in the final game of Saturday’s quarterfinal quadruple header. The Dutchmen played two good halves in getting swept this season by James Madison. As we’ve noted, teams that win the two games in a regular season series win a tournament re-rematch pretty often.

But…for the first time since this sporadically updated blog was founded (ca. 2008), it is equally easy to imagine the Dutchmen playing on Monday, and beyond. Bless the unprecedented parity in CAA Hoops (which you can read about here) for giving us all a reason to believe.

But…the 0-2 teams are red-hot lately. Elon and College of Charleston both vanquished regular season sweeps Friday night in beating Towson and Drexel in the out bracket games. In last year’s semifinals, William & Mary shrugged off a pair of regular season losses to Towson to knock off the Tigers.

Plus, Joe Mihalich wins March tournament games. Dating back to his days as the head coach at Niagara, Mihalich’s teams have won their conference tournament opener 13 times in 16 tries. He’ll have them ready to play today.

Of course, presuming William & Mary beats eighth-seeded Elon at noon today—and I don’t think the Tribe, which is trying to end a 322-year NCAA Tournament drought, is going to be caught overlooking anyone after the Drexel debacle last weekend—the task will only get taller if the Dutchmen beat James Madison.

I mean, at least the Dutchmen have led the Dukes this season. William & Mary led wire-to-wire in both wins over the Dutchmen. And the Tribe can match the Dutchmen’s high-octane offense, but thanks to Terry Tarpey, it can play some pretty good defense too.

But the Dutchmen only lost 80-78 against the Tribe on Feb. 22, when Hofstra completely erased a 10-point deficit in the final four minutes before Marcus Thornton hit two free throws in the final five seconds. All the pressure will be on the Tribe, whose entire season has been about getting back to the title game and giving Thornton a chance to drain the game-winning shot he missed against Delaware at the buzzer last season.

And who will be hotter than the Dutchmen if they get to Monday night? Only two teams seeded lower than fourth have made the CAA Tournament final since 2000. Advance to the Monday and it’s going to be difficult to beat the combination of momentum and adrenaline possessed by Hofstra.

As much as I try to remind myself little to none of this is actually going to happen, I can also, for once, find some people sharing my blind optimism. The computers and the wise guys love the Dutchmen, because the raw numbers are good (seriously, how did this team rank third in the CAA in opponents points per possession?). Our friend John Templon joins Ken Pomeroy in giving the Dutchmen a 36 percent chance of reaching the finals and a 21 percent chance of winning it all. The gambling website Covers has the Dutchmen’s odds of winning the tournament at 9/4, tied with Northeastern for second-best behind William & Mary.

Everything’s aligning. The music gods are on our side, the number-crunchers are behind us and Vinny in Vegas is going to pay for his buffet dinners with his Hofstra winnings the next three nights. And I’ve got a bottle of Buffalo Wild Wings barbeque sauce, for some reason.

The Dutchmen Express is on the road and won’t leave Baltimore until Monday night. Climb aboard.

So why did the CAA throw such a parity party this season?

The mascots for this season and this weekend?

By any measure—statistical or the eye test—the 2015 CAA regular season was the most unpredictable and parity-ridden in at least 10 years.

There was, as we all know, a four-way tie for first place at 12-6—the first three- or four-way tie in league history and just the third four-way tie at the Division I level in the last six years.

The four-way tie did not include Hofstra, which was the last unbeaten team in league play at 4-0 yet finished alone in fifth at 10-8. The Dutchmen edged out Delaware, which opened up 0-10 in non-conference play—the worst start ever by a defending CAA champion—and lost its first three CAA games before finishing 9-9.

The regular season ended last Saturday with William & Mary and UNC
Wilmington taking the court five hours apart and knowing a win would give them the regular season title. Yet the Tribe (Drexel) and Seahawks (Elon) were routed by teams that played in the out bracket games last night.

Those wins by Drexel and Elon helped the bottom half of the CAA finish 12-38 against the top half. The .240 winning percentage is the highest by the bottom half of the league against the top half since at least 2005-06.

“You never know, when you check the scores after a CAA night, who’s going to win,” Elon coach Matt Matheny said during the CAA’s weekly conference call on Tuesday. “And you can never be surprised, because anybody can beat anybody.”

The team with the longest active winning streak entering the CAA Tournament is Elon, which won its final three games to finish 5-13 in league play. The Phoenix stayed hot last night, when it edged Towson 74-69 in overtime.

So yeah, the league is more wide-open than ever, which gives everyone hope heading into the tournament (alas, that hope has already expired for Drexel and Towson—we pour out a bottle of iced tea for our fallen ECC comrades).

But why? In keeping with the theme of the season, there’s no consistent explanation. Here are three possibilities, with comments from league coaches gleaned from Tuesday’s conference calls.

--Conference realignment has robbed the CAA of its superpowers. VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion combined to win eight of the first 11 championships following the CAA’s expansion in 2001-02, including the final six before VCU (Atlantic 10) exited following the 2011-12 season. Old Dominion (Conference USA) and George Mason (Atlantic 10) left after the 2012-13 season.

Those three teams also finished in the top half of the CAA in each of the seven seasons in which the league had 12 teams (2005-06 through 2011-12).

Not coincidentally, the CAA’s three best seasons featured the largest divide between the top and bottom halves of the league. In 2012, when VCU won the tournament and Drexel was relegated to the NIT despite going 16-2 in league play, the bottom half went just 4-58 (.065) against the top half.

In 2006, the year UNC Wilmington won the tournament, George Mason made the Final Four as an at-large (grr) and Hofstra was robbed of a third bid (grr), the bottom half went 4-56 (.067) against the top half. And in 2011, when the league sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament for the first time and VCU went from the “First Four” to the Final Four (yay!), the bottom half was 7-53 (.117) against the top half.

But this year marks the second time in the last three seasons a team picked to finish next-to-last in the preseason poll ended up second. Towson was picked 10th in an 11-team CAA in 2012-13.

“Before all the major league changes around the country, there was often that one or two teams that were maybe a step above everybody else,” William & Mary coach Tony Shaver said. “I thought the bottom 80 percent has always been very balanced. I said back in the fall at media day I don’t think this league this year has that one or two great teams.”

--Injuries evened the playing field.

William & Mary played five games in February without Daniel Dixon. Drexel lost Major Canady to a broken ankle in the preseason and Sooren Derboghosian to knee surgery after eight games. Rodney Williams played in just 22 games due to a stress fracture in his foot and Player of the Year runner-up Damion Lee suffered a season-ending broken wrist against Northeastern on Feb. 21.

UNC Wilmington’s Freddie Jackson didn’t miss a game, but was hobbled for weeks by an ankle injury he suffered at Hofstra on Jan. 17. James Madison lost preseason first-teamer Andre Nation when Matt Brady finally kicked him off the team on Jan. 14 following numerous suspensions over the last two-plus seasons. Hofstra’s two big men, Moussa Kone and Rokas Gustys, each missed several games with leg injuries.

“A lot of it has to do with injuries,” Shaver said. “Drexel, obviously, really tough start to the year. They got healthy and won five or six in a row. I think for us, for example, (for) three-quarters of the season we were healthy and really good—at times a dominant team. And then we played our last seven games without one of our starters and we’ve been a little different.”

--A unique mix of experience and inexperience, both lot of inexperience, on the floor and on the sidelines. Half the CAA’s head coaches have either been at the helm for four years or less or are new to the league this season (Matheny is in his sixth season at Elon). The other five have all been with their schools for at least seven seasons.

Among the CAA’s top 10 scorers this season were four seniors, only three of whom (Marcus Thornton, Kyle Anderson and Addison Spruill) played four years in the league. There were five juniors in the top 10, but three redshirted last year (Lee and Hofstra’s Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley). Freshman Elijah Bryant of Elon was the lone underclassmen in the top 10.

For most of the season, Hofstra’s starting lineup featured four players—Green, Tanksley, redshirt sophomore Brian Bernardi and junior college transfer Malik Nichols—who didn’t play for the Dutchmen last year.

“I think there’s a great balance between a few teams that have got some seniors (and) the young guys in this league (that) are very, very talented,” UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts said, “And when you have, when you’ve got that balance , you can have some inconsistencies between teams. On any given night your young guys can be great and on certain nights they just play like young guys. So you get the chance to win some games and you get a chance to lose some games.”

In addition, defending champion Delaware lost its top four scorers (three to graduation, one to dismissal) while Towson, which finished second in the regular season and lost in the tournament semifinals, graduated its top four scorers.

:If you look back at who lost a lot from the year before—Towson was very senior-dominated and Delaware had a lot of seniors,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. “So the teams are more even from top to bottom. There’s no team that you look at and say ‘Oh wow, those guys are really dominating the league.’”

So was this season merely a cyclical hiccup, or the new normal? The next few years will determine that. In the meantime, spend the next three days wondering if the unpredictability can wreck havoc with a tournament in which only four teams seeded lower than third have reached the title game since 2000.

“This year, you can go one through six, one through seven or whatever you want,” Delaware coach Monte Ross said. It’s going to be a wild and crazy CAA Tournament.”

Friday, March 6, 2015

Just The Facts 2015: CAAT rematches of regular season finales

Can The Terminator get the real Guns N' Roses back together?

The Flying Dutchmen will see a familiar foe Saturday, when they open CAA Tournament play against James Madison at 2:30 PM. The Dutchmen’s regular season ended last Saturday with an 82-73 loss to the Dukes.

So that, of course, got me thinking not only about how a team fares when facing in the tournament an opponent that swept it during the season, but how teams fare when playing each other in the CAA regular season finale and then again in the first game of the CAA Tournament.

Welp, more bad news for the Dutchmen: There have been 13 such rematches in CAA history, and the team that won the regular season finale won the tourney game 10 times. James Madison and Hofstra have accounted for half of those victories: The Dukes swept the regular season finale and CAA Tournament opener three times (1992, 1993 and 2013) while the Dutchmen did it in 2009 and 2010.

Hofstra and James Madison have also been involved in the three times a team lost the finale but won the CAA Tournament rematch. The Dutchmen ended the 2001-02 season by losing to Towson before beating the Tigers in the tournament. James Madison knocked off Drexel in 2010 and was victimized in the tournament by Navy after beating the Midshipmen in the regular season finale way back in 1991.

So as you can see, this has only further muddied the already-confusing waters. Success! Below is the complete list of regular season sweeps and tourney rematches (or re-rematches).

George Mason vs. UNC Wilmington
FINALE: George Mason 99, UNC Wilmington 88
TOURNEY: George Mason 70, UNC Wilmington 67

James Madison vs. Navy
FINALE: James Madison 106, Navy 86
TOURNEY: Navy 85, James Madison 82***

James Madison vs. William & Mary
FINALE: James Madison 98, William & Mary 77
TOURNEY: James Madison 77, William & Mary 53

James Madison vs. George Mason
FINALE: James Madison 75, George Mason 59
TOURNEY: James Madison 60, George Mason 49

Old Dominion vs. William & Mary
FINALE: Old Dominion 94, William & Mary 70
TOURNEY: Old Dominion 83, William & Mary 58

Towson vs. Hofstra
FINALE: Towson 61, Hofstra 60
TOURNEY: Hofstra 72, Towson 52

VCU vs. William & Mary
FINALE: VCU 77, William & Mary 59
TOURNEY: VCU 62, William & Mary 59

Hofstra vs. UNC Wilmington
FINALE: Hofstra 88, UNC Wilmington 81
TOURNEY: Hofstra 79, UNC Wilmington 66

Hofstra vs. Georgia State
FINALE: Hofstra 87, Georgia State 74
TOURNEY: Hofstra 68, Georgia State 67

James Madison vs. Drexel
FINALE: Drexel 67, James Madison 64
TOURNEY: James Madison 77, Drexel 65

Drexel vs. Towson
FINALE: Drexel 66, Towson 63
TOURNEY: Drexel 75, Towson 69

James Madison vs. William & Mary
FINALE: James Madison 69, William & Mary 67
TOURNEY: James Madison 72, William & Mary 67

Northeastern vs. Drexel
FINALE: Northeastern 54, Drexel 52
TOURNEY: Northeastern 90, Drexel 81

***Navy played non-conference foe Army in its regular season finale in 1990-91.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Just The Facts 2015: Going 0-2 against a tourney foe

I saw this movie at a drive-in. GOOGLE IT DRAGONS SPEAK!

Hello and welcome to the 2015 edition of “Just The Facts,” the sorta-annual pre-CAA Tournament series in which I dispense with my usual witty verbiage (snort) and present to you the key data in a Hofstra-related topic. We’ll stick with the Terminator theme, since the Flying Dutchmen won a tourney game with it last year!

Anyway, there’s a few topics to sink our teeth into this year, so let’s get right to it. On Saturday, the Flying Dutchmen will open (but hopefully not close) CAA Tournament play against James Madison. The Dukes swept Hofstra this season, so that of course got me wondering about a familiar storyline at this time of season: How does a team fare when it’s facing a team it has already beaten twice? Or, in this case, lost to twice?

The news is not good for Hofstra, but it might be getting better. Since the CAA expanded to include the America East four in 2001-02, teams that went 0-2 in the regular season against a tournament foe have gone just 14-39 in the third game. That’s a winning percentage of just .264. Welp.

However, an 0-2 team has won the last three re-rematches, including two last night, when Elon and College of Charleston beat Towson and Drexel in the out bracket games. Whoo hoo!

Here are the results, with the 2-0 team listed first. Mostly because I’ve done this when Hofstra is the 2-0 team and I already had the data presented as such.

2015: Towson loses to Elon, Drexel loses to College of Charleston
2014: Hofstra beats UNCW, Delaware beats Hofstra, Delaware beats Northeastern, Delaware beats W&M, Towson beats JMU, Towson loses to W&M
2013: Delaware beats Hofstra, JMU beats W&M, Northeastern beats GMU, JMU beats Delaware
2012: Delaware beats Towson
2011: Drexel beats Towson, Delaware beats Northeastern, Hofstra beats W&M
2010: Drexel loses to JMU, ODU beats Towson, ODU beats W&M
2009: Hofstra beats UNCW, VCU beats Georgia State, JMU beats W&M, Drexel loses to Towson, GMU beats Towson
2008: VCU loses to W&M, UNCW loses to GMU
2007: VCU beats Georgia State, VCU beats GMU, GMU beats JMU, ODU loses to GMU, Drexel beats Northeastern, Northeastern beats Delaware, W&M loses to Georgia State
2006: VCU beats W&M, Northeastern beats JMU, Towson loses to Georgia State, UNCW beats Delaware
2005: VCU beats Delaware, ODU beats W&M, Drexel loses to Hofstra
2004: VCU beats Towson, VCU beats ODU, GMU beats UNCW, UNCW beats JMU
2003: Mason loses to Delaware, UNCW beats Hofstra, UNCW beats Drexel, UNCW beats Delaware, JMU beats Towson
2002: VCU beats ODU, GMU loses to Hofstra, W&M loses to JMU, UNCW beats JMU

However, the news is a bit better when simply discussing Hofstra’s experience as the team that was swept during the regular season. The Dutchmen, as noted above, have accounted for two of the 12 wins by 0-2 teams and are a solid 2-3 in these tourney re-rematches since joining the CAA.

Dating back to their days in the ECC, the Dutchmen are 3-9 (.333) when facing a team in a conference tournament that swept them during the regular season. The full list:

2014: Lost to Delaware
2013: Lost to Delaware
2005: Beat Drexel
2003: Lost to UNCW
2002: Beat George Mason

1998: Lost to Delaware
1995: Lost to Drexel

1989: Lost to Bucknell
1988: Lost to Lafayette
1987: Lost to Lafayette
1986: Beat Bucknell
1985: Lost to Lehigh

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Senior Night: Moussa Kone

Moussa Kone was perfectly positioned to transfer from Hofstra following his sophomore season in 2012-13, a campaign in which the Flying Dutchmen plumbed the lowest depths in school history on and off the court before head coach Mo Cassara and the assistants who recruited Kone were fired.

Kone could have surveyed the landscape, found a program that wasn’t staring at a complete rebuild, used his redshirt season to refine a still-maturing game and emerged as a key force down low for someone in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

But the only time Kone thinks about transferring from Hofstra is when others ask him why he didn’t.

“I decided to stay and recognize that the coaching staff is one thing that I loved, but the Hofstra community is another thing that I love,” Kone said Monday, two days before his final regular season home game at Hofstra Arena. “That’s what I’ve really enjoyed about the whole situation. I just realized that this is the best place for me to stay.”

Kone was further emboldened after his first meeting with Joe Mihalich, the famous (or infamous) one in which the new coach gathered what was left of the 2012-13 team in a room in the basement of the University Club shortly before his introductory press conference on Apr. 10.

“He wanted me to realize that he wanted me to be a leader on and off the court,” Kone said. “That’s one thing that built my confidence up. I wanted to make him a happy coach, as far as making sure everything was correct, as far as being a good teammate on the floor, off the floor, encouraging my teammates and being energetic.”

Winning and retaining Mihalich’s approval off the court was no problem for Kone, whose character and gentle demeanor immediately impressed athletic department staffers upon his arrival in the fall of 2011. Kone evoked memories of Charles Jenkins by immersing himself in student activities—he is a member of the Student-Athlete Advocacy Committee—and becoming a staple at sporting events on campus.

Meeting Mihalich’s standards on the court was a bit more challenging—particularly handling the adjustment from Cassara, who relied on positive reinforcement to try and keep the undermanned Dutchmen afloat while they went 17-47 during Kone’s first two seasons, to the demanding and rarely satisfied Mihalich.

Kone has come back from a knee injury suffered in the season opener against Jacksonville to average 8.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in 16 CAA games for the Dutchmen, whose nine league wins are three fewer than Kone enjoyed in his first three seasons.

But winning and displaying consistent improvement—Kone averaged 5.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game over his first three years—is often not enough for Mihalich.

“Sometimes he does look at me with a puzzled look, as if to say ‘Why do you want more? We’re doing pretty good right now.’ And he’s not used to that,” Mihalich said. “Like I said to Jeff Hathaway: This is how I want to be. We have 18 wins, knocking on the door of 20 wins, and we’re not happy.

“But that’s how you want to be. That’s the biggest adjustment for him, is that realization—he’s still learning that that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Mihalich has spent plenty of time this month praise Kone instead of pushing him. Kone has scored in double digits three times in six February games and twice came within a rebound of a double-double.

Kone had the best game of his career on Feb. 15, when he scored 23 points—on 10-of-10 shooting from the field—and pulled down nine rebounds in an 81-57 rout of Drexel.

On the bus afterward, Mihalich informed Kone that he was just the seventh player in CAA history to make at least 10 field goal attempts without a miss in a single game. Among the first six: Hall of Famer David Robinson.

“In the beginning of the game, if they get me going with a couple dump-off passes and I get a couple dunks in and I get three or four layups and I’m feeling good about myself, then they’ll continue to feed me,” Kone said. “And that’s basically what happened against Drexel. They just kept feeding off me and I was just getting great looks and I just couldn’t miss, I guess.”

The February surge is nothing new for Kone: Of the 21 times he has scored at least 10 points in a game for Hofstra, eight have come in February including both his 20-point efforts. That’s a good trend for a team that will have a legitimate chance at advancing deep into the CAA Tournament for the first time in Kone’s career.

While Kone is thinking about the remaining games he has to play, he’s also begun to reflect upon the circuitous path he traveled at Hofstra and how the struggles of his first two seasons are impacting the payoff he’s enjoying as a senior.

“I had to mature from the first two years and being on a team where a lot of people probably wouldn’t have stuck it out,” Kone said. “But I was mature enough to be patient and just stay around, stick it out, just be confident in the team and in the organization. The athletic director down to the coaches and managers that we have on the team. I just respect them to the fullest.

“I just wanted to come out here and stick it out. Looking back on it, I just feel like it was a great decision that I (made). I wanted to come in here and finish up and it’s turned out pretty well for me.”

And as demanding as he could be of Kone, Mihalich will always have a soft spot for the lone Cassara-era player to complete his eligibility under the new coaching staff.

“The negative things that happened, the losing, all that stuff, and he’s really the only one that stuck around,” Mihalich said. “And now he’s here and not only is the culture different, but he’s a big part of why it is. So it’s remarkable that he’s been able to do that.”

Senior Night: Dion Nesmith

Six years, three schools and almost two degrees later, Dion Nesmith finally gets his Senior Night tonight, when the graduate senior guard will be honored prior to the Flying Dutchmen’s regular season home finale against the College of Charleston.

So what took so long? Thank the NCAA. For more reasons than one.

Nesmith originally went to Northeastern in the fall of 2009 to play football. He was redshirted as a freshman, and ended up never playing a down for the Huskies because the school dropped the program two days after the conclusion of the 2009 season.

With the understanding that he couldn’t play basketball at Northeastern, and the increasing realization he didn’t want to risk playing football for another Division I-AA program that might shutter its doors, Nesmith decided to transfer some place where he could play basketball as a true sophomore during the 2010-11 season.

Nesmith, a native of Union, N.J., went home to Monmouth. But the ever-byzantine NCAA never approved his request to play immediately, which meant he spent his sophomore year the same way he spent his freshman year: On the bench.

“The rule was if the program gets dropped, you can go right away and play that same sport again,” Nesmith said Monday afternoon. “But since I chose to play basketball, I had to sit out.”

The ruling frustrated Nesmith, but it also emboldened him.

“At the end of the day, I wanted to play more than they were going to stop me,” Nesmith said. “So there was no quit in me. I was going to play one day. I knew it was going to happen. I just had to wait my turn.”

The waiting was worth it, especially for Hofstra. Nesmith played his junior and senior seasons at Monmouth, for whom he averaged 8.4 points while starting 60 of 63 games.

After graduating with a degree in finance in the spring of 2013, Nesmith decided to cash in on his opportunity to play an extra year by transferring to Hofstra, which not only offered a master’s degree in business analytics but an immediate chance to play as many minutes as he could handle.

Nesmith was named to the all-CAA third team last year, when he averaged 13.3 points per game as the Dutchmen’s starting point guard. But his biggest victory occurred early in the season, when Hofstra applied for and received a sixth year of eligibility for Nesmith.

The NCAA helping out the little guy, and Hofstra. What were the odds?

“I never really thought it could happen, the sixth year,” Joe Mihalich said. “And then just all of a sudden one day somebody said ‘Hey you know what? This could happen.’ And it was like, wow, really? It was one of those expect the worst, hope for the best (situations). I just expected him to not be eligible and he was. So it was great.”

The extra season began with Nesmith coming off the bench thanks to the arrival of Juan’ya Green, Ameen Tanksley and Brian Bernardi, all of whom sat out last season as transfers. His post-post graduate season is ending with Nesmith back in the starting lineup and cementing himself as one of the best players on the team.

Nesmith has played at least 30 minutes 15 times this season, including in six of the last seven games, a stretch in which he is averaging 12.3 points while shooting 40 percent (14-of-35) from 3-point land.

“I never stopped working, never stopped pushing,” Nesmith said, “And to see it finally start to pay off—I wish it would have paid off the other five years, too, but I can’t do anything about it now.”

Nesmith, who drained the dramatic game-winning shot ju9st before the buzzer to beat Stony Brook in the battle for Long Island on Nov. 21, was also the player Mihalich entrusted with the ball in the final seconds Sunday. With the Dutchmen down two against William & Mary, Nesmith dribbled up the left side of the court before colliding with Terry Tarpey and uncorking an errant shot as time expired in an 80-78 loss.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” Mihalich said. “We didn’t look at him and say ‘Oh my gosh, he’s going to be all-conference, he’s going to play 35 minutes a game and he’s going to be out best guard.’ We didn’t do that. We just knew he could be a piece of the puzzle and he could really help us.

“And then he turned out to be pretty good and I thin he just kept getting better. Speaks to his character. He is a high-character, total package guy.”

Mihalich likes to say that everyone will someday be working for Nesmith, who hopes to put his analytics degree to use in the sports field.

“He’ll end up being a CEO somewhere,” Mihalich said. “He’s going to be great at it.”

But before he occupies the corner office, Nesmith has a few more games to play—a few more opportunities to remind the powers that be that they might have delayed his dream of playing college basketball, but they couldn’t stop him from achieving it.

“I was definitely surprised that it worked out and happy that it worked out, because I got another year to play basketball and got another year to help me finish my degree,” Nesmith said. “It has just been tremendous, with the ups and downs at the beginning and to see stuff finally go my way towards the end. It’s a blessing.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Of parity with (long-ago) precedent, and one-hit wonders

Extreme parity in a college basketball conference is a lot like extreme weather. An extended bone-chilling cold snap—or sweaty heat wave—is not unprecedented, even though it is rare enough to warrant both hyperbolic reaction and the belief it’s never happened before.

So it’s fair for me, and anyone else my age or even a little bit older, to believe the inclusion of the Flying Dutchmen in a frantic five-way race for the CAA men’s basketball regular season title has never happened before.

A gritty 87-82 win over Towson Wednesday night improved the Dutchmen to 9-6 in CAA play and, coupled with complete chaos throughout the rest of the league pulled them within one game of the four teams tied for first place: William & Mary, Northeastern, UNC Wilmington and James Madison. The Dutchmen will try to loosen that logjam while remaining a game out of first today, when they host William & Mary.

It is not unprecedented for Hofstra to be involved in such a free-for-all. But February 1990 was a long time ago.

I was a high school junior, spending most of my time “running” indoor track. I had neither a blog nor a Twitter account, but if I did, both would have been dubbed “Defiantly Dateless.” I was just following the advice of Jane Child, whose lone hit, “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love,” was climbing the charts to no. 2 and pouring out of speakers in cars driven by teenagers yet owned by their parents.

And 125 miles southwest of my hometown, the men’s basketball program for a school I hadn’t even heard of yet was involved in a wild five-way race for the regular season championship in a conference I may or may not have invented in my mind.

There were subtle differences in the then vs. now comparison: With three games remaining in the 1989-90 East Coast Conference season, there were four teams tied for second, and chasing a lone first-place team, instead of vice versa. The ECC had just eight teams and played only 14 regular season games, instead of the 10-team, 18-game alignment possessed by the CAA.

But like now, Hofstra was doing the chasing. The second team of Butch van Breda Kolff’s second tenure was among the quartet of 6-5 teams chasing Lehigh. Really. This happened.

1989-90 ECC standings through 11 games
Lehigh 7-4
Towson State 6-5
Delaware 6-5
Lafayette 6-5
Drexel 5-6
Rider 5-6
Bucknell 4-7

Four CAA schools, three Patriot schools and a MAAC school walk into a bar…

Technically, the ECC in 1989-90 was even wilder than the CAA is now. Without looking at the remaining schedules for every team—what do you think I am, crazy?—it appears as if all eight schools still had a shot at a share of the regular season title while seven were in the running to win it outright.

But what we have now is pretty spectacular. Every November and December, we opine that the current season is wildly unpredictable and anyone can win. But it never happens that way. Someone or someones—usually a UNC Wilmington, a VCU, an Old Dominion or a George Mason—break away from the pack and make the tournament a miracle-or-bust affair for the rest of us.

Since Hofstra joined the North Atlantic Conference in 1994, only four times—in 1997-98, 1998-99, 2005-06 and 2008-09—have the top four teams in the Dutchmen’s conference finished a season separated by two games or less.

The closest race the Dutchmen have been a part of took place during the 1997-98 season, when 12-6 Delaware and Boston University finished a game ahead of Hofstra, Hartford and Vermont and two ahead.

But Delaware had a two-game lead entering the 15th game of the ’97-98 season. And in each of the other three close race seasons, first and fourth place were already separated by at least two games with three league games to go.

1997-98 America East standings through 15 games
1.) Delaware 11-4
2.) HOFSTRA 9-6
2.) Boston U. 9-6
2.) Vermont 9-6
5.) Hartford 8-7
6.) Drexel 7-8

1998-99 America East standings through 15 games
1.) Drexel 13-2
2.) Delaware 12-3
3.) HOFSTRA 11-4
3.) Maine 11-4

2005-06 CAA standings through 15 games
1.) George Mason 13-2
2.) UNCW 12-3
3.) HOFSTRA 11-4
3.) Old Dominion 11-4

2006-07 CAA standings through 15 games
1.) VCU 13-2
2.) HOFSTRA 12-3
2.) Old Dominion 12-3
4.) Drexel 11-4

2008-09 CAA standings through 15 games
1.) VCU 11-4
1.) Northeastern 11-4
3.) George Mason 10-5
4.) Old Dominion 9-6

If we can’t have the best-case scenario (Hofstra in first place with three games to play, which has not happened in the CAA era) then this (the Dutchmen one game back with three to go for just the second time in the CAA) is a pretty good alternative.

The stars have aligned—or, more accurately, realigned thanks to the departures of the perpetually excellent VCU, Old Dominion and George Mason—and created a chaotic race which generates in us the type of fresh-faced, wide-eyed, anything goes optimism that isn’t just the loyal Hofstra faithful trying to delude itself into believing the impossible. Isn’t it awesome, especially given how frustrated we were just a couple weeks ago?

It is easy, as with a spell of bad weather, to say this is the new normal. The state of the CAA would seem to present plenty of opportunities for topsy-turvy races moving forward. But let’s remember that the ECC was on its way to being dismantled in 1990, and that the back-to-back close races in the America East in the late ‘90s were followed by the CAA poaching the best of the America East.

So what we have today—the Dutchmen playing a first-place team with a chance to remain a game out of first and keep alive their hopes of finishing first—is a rare gift. It might not take 25 years to experience it again, but you’d better cherish it anyway, just in case this parity turns out to be Jane Child.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An idiot's dream (part one?)

Because sports is life, the great unexpected joy of the Flying Dutchmen throttling Drexel for the second time this season Sunday afternoon (sorry, Crain) was immediately followed by abject disappointment: Despite my previous hopes and beliefs, the win by the Dutchmen didn’t make a six-way tie for first place AT 12-6 in the CAA possible.

Though there are six teams with between four and six losses, only five can finish 12-6 because James Madison, which is 9-5, plays the 8-6 Dutchmen and Drexel. WHY GOD WHY CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS?

However, life has taught me to bounce back from soul-crushing misery, I promptly got back on the horse #Cliche and wasted little time figuring out THERE COULD STILL BE A SIX-WAY TIE AT 11-7! VICTORY!

And because I’m not quite right in the head—seriously, I love nothing more than coming up with the playoff tiebreakers for our fantasy football league every December—I also devised a potential five-way tie for first place at 12-6, as well as a four-way tie for first at 12-6. All machinations involve Hofstra finishing 12-6. Hey, don’t like it, start your own sporadically updated blog.

Alas, all these machinations also involve Hofstra not winning the no. 1 seed. That head-to-head sweep at the hands of Northeastern is going to be tough to overcome.

Without further ado, here are the remaining schedules for the top six teams, as well as the three scenarios I figured out. Please read this soon, as merely posting it ensures Hofstra will lose tonight and render all of these implausible scenarios downright impossible. (And if the Dutchmen beat Towson, tune back in for scenarios in which I devise a way for Hofstra to finish with the no. 1 seed)

1.) William & Mary 10-4 (@NU, @HU, Tow, Drex, .536 winning %)
2.) UNC Wilmington 10-4 (@UDee, @Tow, JMU, @Elon, .411 winning %)
3.) Northeastern 9-5 (W&M, Drex, @Elon, @CofC, .411 winning %)
4.) James Madison 9-5 (Drex, CofC, @UNCW, Hof, .500 winning %)
5.) Hofstra 8-6 (@Tow, W&M, CofC, @JMU, .464 winning %)
6.) Drexel 8-6 (@JMU, @NU, UDee, @W&M, .607 winning %)

1.) William & Mary (1-3 in last four, Ls to NU, HU & Drex)
2.) Northeastern (2-2 in last four, Ls to Elon & CofC)
3.) Hofstra (3-1 in last four, L to JMU) 4-2
4.) UNCW (1-3 in last four, Ls to UDee, JMU & Elon) 3-3
4.) Drexel (3-1 in last four, L to UDee) 2-4
5.) James Madison (2-2 in last four, L to Drex & UNCW) 2-4

William & Mary is the no. 1 seed by virtue of its 7-3 record against the other five 11-7 teams. Northeastern is the no. 2 seed by virtue of its 6-4 record against the 11-7 teams. The remaining four teams, in this scenario, are all 5-5 against the other five 11-7 teams, but Hofstra is the no. 3 seed by virtue of going 4-2 against Drexel, UNCW and James Madison. UNCW is no. 4 by virtue of going 3-3 against Hofstra, Drexel and James Madison. Drexel and James Madison each would go be 2-4 against the other three 11-7 teams, but Drexel would be the no. 5 seed because in this scenario the Dragons would go 1-1 against William & Mary while James Madison has gone 0-2.

1.) William & Mary (2-2 in last four, Ls to NU & HU)
2.) Northeastern (3-1 in last four, L to Elon)
3.) UNCW (2-2 in last four, Ls to JMU & UDee)
4.) Hofstra (4-0 in last four)
5.) James Madison (3-1 in last four, L to HU)

This would be the easiest one to figure out. William & Mary is the no. 1 seed by virtue of its 6-2 record against the other four 12-6 teams. Northeastern is no. 2 by virtue of its 5-3 record. UNCW is no. 3 by virtue of its 4-4 record. Hofstra is no. 4 by virtue of its 3-5 record. James Madison is no. 5 by virtue of its 2-6 record.

1.) William & Mary 
2.) Hofstra
3.) UNCW
4.) Drexel

Ohhhh Hofstra came so close to winning the no. 1 seed here. In this four-way tie scenario, Hofstra and William & Mary would emerge with 4-2 records against the other three 12-6 teams, while Drexel and UNCW would be 2-4 against the other 12-6 squads. However, UNCW would draw the no. 3 seed by virtue of its sweep of Drexel, and William & Mary would then get the no. 1 seed because it swept UNCW while the Dutchmen split with the Seahawks. I think? 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Can’t afford to let it pass

Can't go with Extreme the night of Billy Joel-Extreme.

Tonight is the biggest February home basketball game the Flying Dutchmen have played in at least six years and two days, which says more for the recently downtrodden state of the Hofstra program and the disheveled nature of the CAA circa 2014-15 than it does the scope of the game.

Barone Bowl XIII isn’t even the big deal that the CAA thought it might be a few months ago, when it placed Hofstra-Northeastern on a Thursday night so that it could air on NBC Sports Network. Northeastern was picked to finish first in the preseason poll and the Dutchmen were tabbed third, but tonight’s stakes are decidedly less imposing: The Huskies are just trying to move into a two-way tie for second place with UNC Wilmington, which was picked to finish last in the preseason poll, while the Dutchmen are trying to create a four-way tie for third.

This would be a bit more compelling if there were first-round byes in the CAA Tournament at stake, as was the case when the Dutchmen put together an impressive collective effort in beating Old Dominion on Feb. 10, 2009.

But the league has dwindled from 12 teams to 10, which means the top six teams get byes instead of just the top four. Even with a loss tonight, the Dutchmen would be 7-6 and two games up on seventh-place Delaware with the tiebreaker (head-to-head sweep) in hand and three games ahead of eighth-place Towson, albeit with a head-to-head loss to the Tigers to overcome.

But let’s not look CAA contention and a nationally televised game in the mouth. I mean, our lords and saviors Cablevision didn’t even carry ESPNU in February 2009, which meant you had to be at Hofstra to actually see the game. Our lords and saviors have blessed us with NBC Sports Network, so it feels like we’re ACTUALLY gonna be on TV tonight. Which is good, since I’ll be across the street at the Coliseum and will have to watch it on tape delay (odds nobody spoils it for me?).

Plus, if it’s a big enough game for Charles Jenkins and Matt Janning to engage in a Twitter avatar bet, isn’t it big enough for us?

Potential statement games come in all shapes and sizes, and this is one for both teams, even if it is somewhat oblong and shrunken. The Dutchmen need a win tonight—not a well-played loss, a win—in order to prove last week’s bounce back from the most embarrassing losing streak of the Defiantly Dutch era was legitimate and not a product of beating Delaware and ninth-place Elon.

“This is our second game in February and second game that turned out the way we like it to,” Joe Mihalich said following Saturday’s 80-69 win over Elon. “So it’s a good time to be feeling good about yourself.

“They got it back, they found themselves. We kind of lost our way, but I think we found our way back.”

That remains to be seen, even if there is a lot to be said for winning the games you should win during a season in which first-place William & Mary’s three league losses have come against Delaware, Elon and last-place Charleston. Ask Northeastern, which is trying to reassert itself after Saturday’s stunning home loss to Delaware.

But in order to make a run in Baltimore, the Dutchmen will have to beat the better teams, too. Hofstra is 2-4 against the six CAA squads with winning league records, and one of those wins came against Drexel before the Dragons navigated their way out of the iceberg and became the hottest team on the planet.

It’ll be a lot easier to believe in the possibility of a magical March if the Dutchmen can beat Northeastern, which shot about 500,000% in a 91-83 win in Boston on Jan. 14. The awful defense that began cropping up against the Huskies and was a hallmark of the Dutchmen’s recent skid was better against Delaware and Elon, but still nowhere near good enough to win three games in three days. The Blue Hens and Phoenix each averaged more than 0.90 points per possession, which is the highest rate surrendered by the Dutchmen in a league win this season.

Perhaps a home crowd emboldened by free white T-shirts will generate some momentum for the Dutchmen, allow them to come out tonight like the 2008-09 team did against Old Dominion and never let up after throwing the first punch (maybe with Malik Nichols playing the role of Darren Townes?).

It is more likely, though, that an equally desperate Northeastern squad is going to respond with a flurry of its own, probably by pouring the ball inside with its three-headed monster of Quincy Ford, David Walker and Scott Eatherton. In that case, The Dutchmen will need to prove the inconsistent resiliency of January was the aberration, and not the norm, and they’ll largely need to do so by relying on strong and efficient games on both ends of the floor from big men Moussa Kone and Rokas Gustys.

Kone and Gustys seem to begin most games with two fouls apiece, but they were very good on Saturday against Elon, when the duo combined for 16 points (on 8-of-11 shooting), 11 rebounds and three blocks. Throw some Ameen Tanksley at power forward in there and the Dutchmen have a shot at minimizing Northeastern’s inside game.

“Truth be told, we probably don’t get that ball to Moussa enough down there and (to) Rokas enough down there,” Mihalich said Saturday. “We probably don’t post up Ameen enough down there. We’re always trying to think of ways to do some better things. I feel like there’s still a lot of things we can do better.”

The Dutchmen need to keep doing better things tonight, especially given the road trip that awaits. After visiting Drexel on Sunday, the Dutchmen head for a lousy matchup Wednesday at Towson. A loss tonight and it’s not inconceivable Hofstra is under .500 and actually fighting to avoid the Friday play-in games when it returns home to host William & Mary on Feb. 22.

But a win tonight and the long-shot regular season championship hopes stay alive, as does the possibility of gaining some revenge on William & Mary for putting up triple digits in Williamsburg during the January funk.

“We had 21 days of basketball that wasn’t great—not three months, 21 days,” Mihalich said. “We were pretty good 21 days ago, I think everybody took a deep breath, got our composure back, we got our poise back and we got that bounce in our step back.”

Tonight we find out if it’s legitimate.