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.

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