Sunday, March 6, 2016

And now we’re back where we started

Changing it up from Billy Joel better not be bad luck.

Does it really matter who the Flying Dutchmen play in the CAA semifinals, as long as they got there? Would we fail to feel anticipation following Saturday’s 80-67 win over Drexel if it advanced the Dutchmen to play James Madison, or Delaware, or Elon or five guys recruited from the gym at the local Y?

Of course not. We’d be busting with nervous energy this morning and afternoon, and salivating at the opportunity to watch the Dutchmen play for a berth in the CAA championship game.

“I just said to our guys in the locker room: Doesn’t matter who we play. It’s going to be a really good team,” Joe Mihalich said Saturday afternoon.

But playing William & Mary with a trip to the title game at stake? Would we want it any other way?

I don’t normally take it upon myself to speak for a large group of people, but the Hofstra fanbase is not that large so I feel confident in declaring that we all, at some point in each of the last 363 days, have thought about the 92-91 double overtime loss to William & Mary in last year’s semifinals.

Maybe it popped to mind while watching someone else’s agony. Like, wow, Carolin Panthers fans must really be in hell right now, but I bet the temperature in their hell is a little bit cooler than the temperature in ours.

Or maybe it came up in everyday conversation, like, well, this meeting blows, but it doesn’t blow as much as losing a conference tournament game in double overtime on a buzzer-beater.

Or maybe the thought just popped to your mind to remind you it was there, like how chewing food a certain way reminds you of a cavity you haven’t gotten filled or how stepping or reaching a certain way elicits a pain in a creaky joint. The pain is always there, even when you don’t think it’s there.

But now there’s a chance to fill the cavity, fix the joints, erase the pain (well, mostly). William & Mary rode a dominant first half to a 79-64 win over James Madison to set up The Rematch. Or is it The Sequel?

Regardless, the first of two The Rematches/The Sequels—just like a year ago, UNC Wilmington and Northeastern will battle in the second semifinal—provides the kind of redemptive opportunity for us (oh, and the Dutchmen too) that normally only comes from the mind of a Hollywood screenwriter. 

To get where the Dutchmen want to go, they have to vanquish the demons from where they once resided. Will they be the #CAAHoops version of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, redeeming themselves for a 2003 ALCS collapse against the New York Yankees by knocking off the Yankees? Or will it end with even more agony and angst, a la the Buffalo Bills dropping a second straight Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys in January 1994?

This storyline is not a one-way narrative. The Tribe fell short of the ultimate goal last year, when it lost in the championship game for the second straight season and the fourth time since 2008, and its fans are thirsting to experience their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

William & Mary was also swept this season by Hofstra, which handed the Tribe its most convincing loss of the season in a 91-63 rout in Hempstead on Jan. 24. So the Dutchmen won’t be the only ones looking for some revenge today.

“Who do we play tomorrow?” William & Mary coach Tony Shaver said with an impish grin. “They’re the big boys in the league right now. We played them twice this year and they whipped us twice.”

One side will be euphoric, and inhaling as much oxygen as possible to prepare for the climb up one final mountain. One side will be devastated, having expected a leap of faith to end with a perfect landing only to fall once again into a bottomless abyss. 

“Really looking forward to it,” Shaver said.

We wouldn’t want it any other way.

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