Sunday, February 5, 2017

When a Season Ends...

 Kyle Whelliston, founder of the now defunct Mid-Majority basketball website, always noted that except for one team, a team's season ends in a loss.   I always disagreed with that, with my philosophy being that a season just ends.  Where Kyle's philosophy seemingly was based in sorrow, my philosophy was based in closure. While for most teams a season does end in a loss, the end of a season also brings finality, reflection and often, warm memories.   Such was the case in our church league postseason tournament yesterday.

After our Trenholm Road United Methodist team had won our first game of the regular season in convincing fashion, we lost two close games at North Trenholm Baptist Church.  In our sixth game of the season, we led 21-19 in the second half only to see our opponents go on a 14-2 run to end the game.  In our seventh game of the season, we rallied from a six point halftime deficit to take a four point lead late in the game.  Our opponents rallied, taking the lead on a three point field goal.  We would then tie the game on a putback, only to see our opponents win on an off balance floater at the buzzer.  It was the fourth game of the season where we lead in the second half only to lose the game.

Our last regular season game was a makeup game at Trinity Episcopal Church on Monday.  We took a 20-15 halftime lead against a Shandon Methodist team and eventually won 39-26, our second regular season win of the season.   We entered yesterday's contest with a 2-6 record, but as noted previously, four of those six losses were where we had leads in the second half.    We were the #8 seed and we would have a rematch against Shandon Methodist, the #9 seed.  Both teams knew that the winner would play again an hour later vs. the #1 seed Epworth.

In that win over Shandon Methodist, coach Brad made an adjustment at half time.  We went to a box and one on defense, the one being whoever guarded  Shandon Methodist's #24 on offense.  He had scored twelve first half points.  In the second half, he scored two. It was the difference in the game.

Yesterday, Shandon Methodist's head coach made an adjustment.  He moved #24 from the wing to the post.  #24 scored two quick baskets, which was part of an 8-0 run to start the game.   We got our composure and rallied to cut the deficit to two, 12-10 at halftime.   In the second half, we continued our rally and took a 24-20 lead.  My older son Matthew contributed to that with a nice corner jumper for two points.   Shandon Methodist came back, scoring five straight points, taking the lead on a three pointer 25-24 with about a minute and a half left in the game.

We had two straight possessions with turnovers.  With time winding down, we forced a jump ball and the change of possession gave us the ball.  With a few seconds left, we worked the ball into the paint, where our center, Alex, took a jumper just inside the free throw line.  As he took the shot, he was fouled.   Alex had a chance to give us the lead with two free throws.  He calmly sank the first free throw.  When he got the ball back from the referee, he turned and looked at the scoreboard to make sure he at least tied the game and possibly to see how much time was left.  Perhaps it also took his mind briefly off the second free throw.  He went back to look at the goal and put up the second attempt.


We were up one, but we remembered all too well what happened the last time we were at North Trenholm Baptist, losing on that buzzer beater.  Shandon Methodist got the ball to their guard, #4, who had put up seven second half points and ten for the game. We surrounded him outside the three point line at their basket and they never got a shot off.  We won 26-25.

It was a very happy group of players.  We had an hour break.  Some players went to get something to eat nearby, while several of us stayed to watch the next game, which featured our friends' son Seavy and his #2 seeded Trinity team.  They would go out to a 19-5 lead early on, only to see First Presbyterian cut the deficit to six, 26-20 before Trinity ran away with the game.  Seavy made a nice play in the second half, stealing the ball in the corner, then driving all the way down the court for the layup.

After Trinity's convincing win, it was time for the rematch against undefeated Epworth.   They had dominated us in our second game of the season.  They outscored us in the first half 28-2. That was not a misprint.  Twenty eight to two.  We played better in the second half, losing the game 46-12.   Epworth was a very balanced team, with five or six solid players including our friends' son Shane, who is also an outstanding baseball player.   But #35 was their difference maker.  A tall, athletic, unselfish player with a terrific all around game.  His passing ability might be his best skill.

Epworth jumped out on us early and forced Brad to call time out.  We were playing well on defense but just were intimidated when on offense.  We weren't running our motion offense, perhaps due to #35 being in the paint.

After being on the bench the first game, I switched positions with our other assistant coach, Phil Betette, for the second game and did the scoring for both teams at the scorers' table, while Phil sat on the bench.  Mark, who I've known from playing in the baseball tournaments at NTBC, runs the basketball league.  He always mans the clock for the games.  As we held Epworth without a basket on one possession, Mark turned to me and said "That was really good defense".  And it was.

We finally settled in on offense.  The team scored on several possessions in a row and cut the deficit to four, 12-8.  After getting fouled on a drive to the basket, Matt sank two free throws to help get us there (Matt would hit one of his two free throw attempts in the second half to finish with three points).  Our team was motivated, our players' families were excited and we had made this a game.

Epworth clamped down on defense in the final few minutes and scored the final eight points of the half.   But the score was 20-8 at halftime, a far cry from the 28-2 drubbing we received the first time we played.   We were playing hard and the team knew it.

In the second half, we got within ten pretty quickly at 22-12.  But Epworth used their balance on offense.  All I know was that I was marking two's in seemingly every player's column on Epworth.  Still we fought and cut the deficit down to fourteen, 33-19 in the middle of the second half.   But we ran out of gas, having played our second game in the span of really an hour.   Epworth would score the final twelve points to win 45-19.

Still it was a good showing on our team's part.  We had won three of our last six games and it could have easily been five of our last six.   Outside of our first game of the season and the two games with Epworth, we were in the lead in the second half in every other game we played.  We did that with likely the youngest team in the league.  In a league with sixth and seventh graders, we had no seventh graders and several fifth graders who played up.   It was a good building block for next year.

Five years ago, Matt and I spent Saturday, February 4, 2012 going to three basketball games in a row; Charlotte-Fordham, Georgia State-Hofstra, and Iona-Manhattan, as part of the Mid Majority's 800 games project.  As much fun as that day was, I'd like to think the two games we had yesterday as assistant coach and player were just as fun, if not more.

After he had hit his two free throws in the first half against Epworth, Matt came off the court in a substitution.  As I sat at the scorers' table, Matt came by me as headed to our bench.  I reached out my hand and he slapped it five.  It didn't matter at that time whether his season about to end in a win or a loss.   All that mattered to him was that he was playing well and that he was having fun.

What I will remember now that this season is over is that Matt grew as a player.  He now knows what a motion offense is, how to properly come off screens, how to set a pick and much more.  Matt's got a pretty nice shot and it shows in his free throw shooting.  He still has a lot to learn, especially about being aggressive with the ball.  But that will come given more experience.

As for me, as much as I thought I knew about round ball having covered college basketball for eleven plus years, I learned a lot in my first year as an assistant coach in youth league basketball.   There's still a lot more to learn.

After the games yesterday, we went home and Matt continued to play basketball outside.  I decided to go down to Trenholm Park and helped out in the Trenholm Little League coach pitch baseball evaluations.  

When one season ends, another season begins...

Monday, January 16, 2017

It's All About the D Part 2 - Relentless (Recap of Ole Miss vs. South Carolina)

Later on in the day after our team won our first basketball league game of the season, Matt and I went to the Ole Miss-South Carolina Men's Basketball Game Saturday night.  Our day ended as it started - with tenacious defense.

It was to be expected to see tenacious defense with the Gamecocks.  They entered the game in the top five in the country in several defensive categories; second in turnover percentage at 25.2%, third in two point field goal defense percentage at 40.4 percent, fifth in three point field goal defense percentage at 28.4 percent and first in the country in effective field goal defense percentage at 41.1 percent.  

This is Frank Martin's fifth season at the helm of the Gamecocks.  He started at USC at the same time, I did, the summer of 2012.  I had always appreciated his Kansas State teams' defense.  It took him a while, but starting with his 2014-15 team,  the Gamecocks started playing very good defense.  After inheriting Darrin Horn's team that didn't have much talent, Martin's teams started improving their record season after season.  Last season,the Gamecocks went 25-9, including 11-7 in SEC play.  Only an upset in the SEC Quarterfinals to Georgia 65-64 kept them from making the NCAA Tournament, despite having beaten eventual NCAA Tournament team Vanderbilt in their only regular season contest.

This season, the Gamecocks started off strong, winning their first eight games, including a neutral site win over Syracuse and home wins over Michigan and Vermont (don't laugh, they're in first place in the America East at 5-0 and 14-5 overall).  Then Sindarius Thornwell, the Gamecocks leading scorer and first team all SEC defensive player last season, was suspended for eventually six games for violating team policy.   The Gamecocks struggled without Thornwell, going 3-3 with two close losses to Seton Hall and Clemson, along with a thrashing at Memphis.

But Thornwell came back for the start of SEC play and it was like South Carolina hadn't missed a beat.  First they won at Georgia 67-61, holding the Bulldogs to thirty eight percent from the field, four of thirteen from beyond the arc and forced sixteen Bulldog turnovers.  Last season, the Gamecocks lost all three games they played versus the Bulldogs.

Then came a hard earned, come from behind win at home vs. Texas A&M 79-68, where they forced the Aggies to commit twenty five turnovers, which gave South Carolina thirteen more shot attempts. Finally, the Gamecocks traveled to Tennessee and downed the Volunteers 70-60.  South Carolina forced twenty two Tennessee turnovers and held the Volunteers to thirty nine percent from the field and unseemly one of eleven from beyond the arc.

So in three SEC games, the Gamecocks forced sixty three turnovers, an average of twenty one per game.  Watching them play against Ole Miss, it's easy to see why.

First, the Gamecocks starting five; Duane Notice, Thornwell, PJ Dozier, Mark Kotsar and Chris Silva have length.  Notice is the shortest at six foot two, but he's a solidly built two hundred and twenty five pounds.  Thornwell is six foot five, Dozier six foot six, Kotsar six foot ten and Silva six foot nine.  Length matters folks.

Second, the Gamecocks contest every dribble, every pass, every shot. South Carolina is eleventh in the country in steal percentage and it was evident early on as Ole Miss turned the ball over five times in five and a half minutes.   Ole Miss, who was missing their leading scorer, Deandre Burnett, due to injury, would only score two points in the first six and a half minutes.  It was due in large part to the tenacious South Carolina defense, as the Gamecock defenders would pick up their man right after the ball was inbounded and they trapped Ole Miss at half court.  Kotsar was particularly impressive early on, grabbing rebounds and adding a block shot.

But the Gamecocks couldn't take full advantage of their defense, missing on twelve of their first fourteen field goal attempts, Dozier made USC's first two field goals, including a three pointer he was fouled on.  Dozier hit the free throw for the four point play and four other free throws by Thornwell and Silva gave South Carolina the early 10-2 lead.

Ole Miss would score the next five points to cut the lead to three, 10-7.  The Rebels would stick around within three for a good part of the first half.  Finally with South Carolina up 25-20, the Gamecocks went on a 9-0 run, with Dozier and Silva combining for eight of the points, to end the first half up 34-20.   South Carolina held Ole Miss scoreless for the last four minutes of the first half and held the Rebels to twenty six percent shooting in the first half.  USC forced fourteen Ole Miss turnovers in the first half, but didn't fully take advantage as they committed eight of their own.

At halftime, the Gamecocks honored their Rhodes Scholar, Jory Fleming, who has a perfect GPA and also has autism.  Jory has been the subject of several, wonderful national news pieces.  Jory was given several gifts, including an autographed football helmet given to him personally by USC football coach, Wil Muschamp.  It was a touching ceremony and the 15,000 in attendance gave Jory a standing ovation.

At the start of the second half, South Carolina outscored Ole Miss 7-1 to go up twenty, 41-21.  The lead was 46-28 with 13:56 left after two Silva free throws. Both teams would not score for nearly three minutes until two more free throws by dynamic USC reserve Rakym Felder, who scored twelve points off the bench in the contest.  

The Gamecocks lead would swell to twenty five, 61-36.   The Rebels would outscore the Gamecocks 20-6 the rest of the way but not before actually having four players on the court with four fouls each.  South Carolina would win the game 67-56.

The game was not pretty for the most part.  Ole Miss turned the ball over twenty one times, keeping with the average the Gamecocks have forced on a SEC game basis.  But South Carolina turned the ball over twenty times themselves.  Both teams shot under thirty seven percent from the field.  USC went to the line and had thirty one free throw attempts, almost hitting as many free throws, twenty two, as Ole Miss had attempts, twenty three.

At the end, it was an ugly but effective win for South Carolina.  At 4-0, they are right in the thick of things in SEC play.  They need to improve on their offensive sets, but after watching their defense play for forty minutes, I can tell their future SEC opponents that one word sums up the Gamecocks defense.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

It's All About the D (Part I)

I make this confession now. I love defense in sports.  Being a baseball coach, I love when the teams I have been a coach for play terrific defense.  There's nothing better than a nicely turned double play.  One of the true joys of my life was when my older son Matthew caught a fly ball in center field, then threw a strike home on the fly to his teammate/catcher/friend Eli who tagged out the potential tying run tagging from third for a game ending double play to win a travel ball championship.

As a basketball fan, I love watching teams play defense.  Whether it was Jay Wright's stifling man-to-man defense while coaching at Hofstra or Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of hell" at Arkansas or Shaka Smart's VCU "Havoc", those teams dictated the tempo.  Their defense inspired their team's offense. 

Yesterday was the story of three teams; two that did well, and in the case of my alma mater, one not so much. And it was all about the defense.  This is part one of two stories about yesterday.

My older son Matt got the basketball bug on my birthday nearly six years ago.  As a favor to me, he came with me to William and Mary vs. Hofstra game. He got hooked after Charles Jenkins' heroics in regulation and overtime propelled the pride to a come from behind victory.  After that, he went to a lot of men's and women's college basketball games with me, especially in the 2011-12 season, where I covered fifty nine division one men's basketball games for the Mid Majority and my site. 

 For the past three winters, Matt has played basketball.  He's a guard with a nice shooting touch and plays on a church team, Trenholm Road United Methodist, with several friends, many of whom he has known for several years from baseball and school.  His head coach, my friend, Brad Painter, who I've coached with in baseball for several seasons, and whose son Jack is also on the team, was an all state basketball player in South Carolina and played college basketball at Wofford.  Until this past season, Brad had the record for the highest free throw shooting percentage in a season at Wofford.   Matt, his teammates, and I, who is one of his two assistant coaches, have learned a lot from Brad, especially on set offenses.

On Thursday, the entire team's parents got an email that said "We play this Saturday at 8:30 AM at North Trenholm again.  Coach Gary Moore will be leading us, as I have to work" (Brad is a pediatrician).

Oh boy.

We had travel baseball practice later on Thursday evening and I asked Brad. "I saw the email.  You want to have a beer and go over the offenses etc."   He said "Nah, you'll be fine.  The team knows what to do."  

I was like "OK".   Meanwhile, my mind is saying "Careful for what you wish for".

I've been writing about college basketball since December, 2005.  I've seen more than my fair share of men's and women's college basketball games at all different levels over the past eleven plus years.  I've seen the preparation, work and in game adjustments that my good friend, Seton Hall Women's Basketball Coach Tony Bozzella has done successfully coaching teams like LIU Brooklyn, Iona and Seton Hall.  I've seen the work put in firsthand by Brad.  In fact, Matt was on another team last season, when we got smoked by Brad's team.  Brad's team put on a clinic in offensive set fundamentals.

When Matt started playing basketball, I had no coaching aspirations whatsoever.  I just wanted to be a parent, especially given that I had been his baseball coach in one way or another since he was five.   But when Matt joined Brad's team this season, Brad needed help coaching.  So I volunteered.  

It's been a learning experience for Matt and his teammates.  They have moved up to 6th and 7th grade level teams.  The kicker is, a number of the players, including Jack Painter, are fifth graders and the rest of them are 6th graders.  Based on experience, we may likely be the youngest team in the league.  And it showed the first two games, playing more experienced teams with mostly 7th graders and more importantly, taller teams.  We got beat pretty good the first two games.   

However, the last two games were tough, tough losses. We had leads in both games and lost late in the games, especially the last game, where we lost by a point, missing a jumper at the end that would have won the game.   That last game was a week before Christmas Eve and the league was off until the new year.  We won a scrimmage against another team in another league on January 2nd, but our game last week was canceled due to the threat of snow and ice, neither of which came about.  So our team hadn't played an official game in nearly a month.

While we had baseball practice Thursday, during a break at my station, I checked the Hofstra-Elon men's basketball score.   Elon was ahead at the half  50-34,  Hofstra had given up its fair share of points so far this season, giving up eighty plus points several times, including ninety six in front of a nationally televised audience to Kentucky.  But Elon had done something that not even Kentucky did, score 50 points against Hofstra in a half.  Elon would eventually win the game 96-80, marking the third time Hofstra gave up ninety or more points this season.

Thursday evening, I sat in my bed, thinking about how I wanted us to play, especially on defense.  Brad had taught the team the 1-3-1 half court trap, affectionately known by us as "Texas" (think about it for a second and you will realize why it's called "Texas").   We play that often in games, but not an entire game.  Usually we play a bit of 2-3 zone, some man to man and a good amount of "Texas" (our church league rules only allow you to press/double team at half court until two minutes left in the game).

Then I thought about how Hofstra always plays a passive 2-3 zone.  I have never been a big fan of the 2-3 zone, especially how Hofstra plays it.  It only works if you are active with zone movement,  have length, especially at the wings and point position and you can move to the shooter quickly.  Syracuse has always been successful because their players have length, are active and close on shooters well.  

However, zone defenses are susceptible to teams that shoot the three well.  It's one thing for us at the 6th grade/7th grade level to play zone, because most players at that level can't shoot the three consistently.  It's another thing at the college level.  And nowadays, every college team shoots the three for the most part and players especially like shooting the three, thanks to Steph Curry.

So unless you're Syracuse, as far as a college team, you should play either man to man or 1-3-1 trap.  Elon shot sixty percent from three against Hofstra Thursday night.  In fact, heading into their game against UNCW on Saturday, in their previous four straight losses, the Pride allowed teams to shoot a combined 39 of 80 from beyond the arc (49 percent).   Each team they lost to; William and Mary, James Madison, Charleston and Elon, all shot higher than their season percentage from beyond the arc.

So while doing a bad job of going to sleep, I thought about Hofstra's passive zone and decided we're playing Texas.  We're going to dictate the pace.  We're playing forty minutes of Havoc!

I texted Brad my plan early Saturday morning.  He was fine with that and he also told me to remind the team that we can press with two minutes left in the game. 

North Trenholm Baptist Church or NTBC for short, where we play most of our games, is not even five minutes from our house by car.   I had been to NTBC several times over the years, because the good folks there host several end of the spring invitational baseball tournaments and TLL has had several teams play in that tournament.  Matt has had a lot of fun playing in those NTBC baseball tournaments.

Matt and I were the first ones there.  The other players started showing up and we first went through free throw shooting drills and then eventually we had layup lines.  We have a ten player team and all ten players were there.  As the players were shooting layups, Phil, our other assistant coach, whose son Jackson plays on the team (also I work with his wife Michelle), and I talked about the game plan.  I said we're going to play 40 minutes of Texas against our opponents, which happened to be NTBC.  He said that sounds like Nolan Richardson and Arkansas.  I responded, "Yeah I know, but I didn't want to say "Forty minutes of hell!" in a church!  We both laughed and agreed.

As I looked at the game clock, I had forgot that we only played twelve minute halves.  So, OK, it would be twenty four minutes of Texas.

As the buzzer sounded announcing the start of the game, the teams joined together at center court as the NTBC head official gave a talk about good sportsmanship and then we all joined in prayer.  Then I got the team into a huddle and told them the game plan.  We're playing "Texas" the entire game, hands up the entire time on defense, look for the man on the block on offense and rebound/box out.  We have two squads of five that we shuttle in and out every two minutes and I told them we were keeping to that.   I made one change.  The squad that had been playing as the second five would be the starting five today.   Both squads were of equal talent, so it didn't matter. 

We scored the first two baskets quickly.  NTBC got a basket to make it 4-2.  We scored the next five straight points and made it 9-2 after Matt hit a free throw, then Bryson stole a pass, drove down the court and fed Jack Painter for a pretty layup.   We were aggressive to the ball on defense and offensively we were having our best game.  Our defense was creating fast break opportunities, our point guards were finding open players, we were making our layups and unlike our previous games, we hit our open shots.  If we didn't hit a shot, we crashed the boards and made the best of our second chance opportunities. Every two minutes, I made a full hockey line change of five players in, five players out.

As for my coaching style,  I would yell out "Good play" to our players when we made a nice play.  If we took a good shot but missed, I tried to say "That's OK. Good shot."  When I could yell out advice to a player, I did, whether it was shot selection, positioning or whatever.  But it was always positive

My favorite moment was when, near our bench, Matt clearly fouled a player by extending his arms out blocking the opponent from driving to the basket.  After the ref blew the whistle and made the foul call, I immediately told Matt what he did wrong and how he should have played defense there.  Then I turned to the ref and said "Good call, ref."  The ref replied "Thank you, coach."

Towards the end of the half, we were getting complacent and not boxing out or crashing the boards.  I called timeout and asked the team what were we not doing.  Immediately, our one squad's point guard, Thomas, who reminds me of Jose Juan Barea in stature, talent, shooting ability and confidence, said "We're not rebounding and we're not boxing out".  So they knew and I just told them to fix it.

At the half, we were up 22-6.   The second half pretty much went the same way.  Early on in the second half, in a teaching moment, I put Jack Painter, normally the point guard for the second squad, in for Bryson and moved Jack to wing with Thomas at point.  Free from having to play point, Jack went off offensively, scoring at will, including nailing an open three pointer, which I told the guys not to do.  But it was off a nice pass and he was open, so even though I grabbed my head in a little frustration, I dealt with it.  Bryson then would come off the bench and played outstanding as the point guard for the second team, aggressively driving the lane, either firing bounce passes or driving to the basket and getting fouled. 

The highlight of the second half was Jack Painter making a perfect entry bounce pass on the block to Jonathan, who's been our best player lately.  Jonathan pivoted, and as he banked the ball off the board for the layup, got fouled for the "And one".  He would hit the free throw for the three point play.  It was beautiful. 

Everybody on the team scored; I already noted Jonathan, Bryson and Jack Painter for their play, Thomas was electric at the point, Jacob, who was a second chance scoring dynamo, Jack Moseley who must have had double figures in rebounding, Franklin, who hit a nice jumper, Jackson who made some open shots and fed players with nice passes, and Alex, who is equal to Jack in size and also has a nice free throw line jumper.  Finally, Matt had three baskets and a free throw.  They all had big games.  All the little things you want to see in a game - free throws were being made, help defense, loose ball hustling, boxing out; all those things occurred.   

With six minutes left in the game and the outcome a certainty, we switched to a 2-3 zone.   When we got the ball with a minute left, I told Bryson, "Dribble it out, Don't take a shot".  Bryson relayed the message to the team and dribbled the ball out.  I turned to the ref, since there was no shot clock by league rules and said "We're dribbling it out. No more shots."  He nodded his head and at right the end, the other team stole the ball but time ran out.

We had our first league win of the season.  I was so happy for the team.  You can coach all you want, but it comes down to the team executing.  They did an outstanding job of that and they finally showed the talent they possess with an all around, convincing win.

After the game, my friend and ever the kidder Chris Moseley, whose son Jack, an amazing baseball player, has been friends with Matt since Chris had the good sense of blind picking Matt for his eventually undefeated Trenholm Little League Championship Coach Pitch Baseball team, the Moseley Builders' Blue Thunder.  Chris said to me "Good job, Bobby, you didn't throw any chairs!" I don't remember what I said, but I laughed, because I know how intense I can be.

When I got home later, I found out it was Chris' birthday.  So I texted him and said "We got you a win on your birthday!"  He responded with a LOL and "Thanks, Coach!"

After the game, I brought the team over by the stairs into the stands and showed them the score, told them they could do this regularly, how everyone contributed and how proud I was of everyone.  Finally, I reminded them we had practice tomorrow at 4:00 PM.

Afterwards, I texted Brad the score and told him later on a phone call that I was retiring and returning to be an assistant coach.  It was a great experience for me but I am happy having Brad, who taught me so much, coaching the team.   I'm quite happy being just an assistant. 

But it is something I will always remember.  And it all started deep in the heart of "Texas".    

Friday, December 30, 2016

St John's Rallies to Beat Butler to Start Big East Play

Good game and great atmosphere at a sold-out Carnesecca Arena last night as St John's rallied from a ten point second half deficit to defeat Butler 76-73 in the opening Big East conference game for both teams. Even got a free Jack Kaiser Bobblehad doll and a souvenir t-shirt.  Red Storm shot 54 percent for the field in the victory.  For further details, see Jaden Daly's terrific recap of the game -  Here are pictures from last night.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Hofstra Gives Their Fans an Early Christmas Present (Recap of Siena vs. Hofstra)

Last season, Hofstra was one regulation free throw away from winning the CAA Tournament Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Instead, the Pride lost in overtime to UNCW and ended up playing in the NIT, where they would lose a first round heartbreaker to eventual NIT champion George Washington 82-80.

During last season, Hofstra suffered its worst loss, certainly by point margin, at Siena.  The Saints would go out to a thirteen point halftime lead and coast to an 81-68 victory.  This season, a good number of Saints' fans made the three hour trip from Albany down to Hempstead, New York to see if Siena could make it two in a row against the Pride on Thursday night.   This time, Hofstra had the home court advantage at the David S Mack Arena and within a few minutes of game action, it was apparent that Siena would not win two in a row.

The Saints would actually go out to a 4-2 advantage on a layup by Marcus Wright.  From there, Hofstra would outscored Siena 25-7 over the next seven and a half minutes, keyed by five three pointers, to take a 27-11 lead.  The Saints would then go on a 7-0 spurt to cut the deficit to nine, which would eventually be the margin at halftime, with Hofstra up 38-29.

Siena would cut the Hofstra lead down to seven, 40-33, early in the second half.  But the Pride would go on a 15-4 spurt, thanks to, what else, three 3 pointers, two by Deron Powers to go up 55-37 and the game was basically over with 13:44 left in the game.   All that was left was for Hofstra to avoid fouling out their two big men - Rokas Gustys and Hunter Sabety and get Gustys into double figures in scoring, which gave him is twenty eighth career double-double (Gustys had 10 points and 15 rebounds).  The Pride would win handily 84-64.

When you did the post mortem of the game, it was easy to see how Hofstra won the game.  The Pride shot eleven of twenty one from beyond the arc, while the Saints were two of fourteen from the same distance. The Pride also had fifteen assists, eight of whom came from Powers.  Sabety added five of the seven Hofstra blocks in only eleven minutes of action (also had six rebounds).    

Powers led all scorers with twenty one points on seven of thirteen shooting, including four of five from beyond the arc.  Along with Powers and Gustys, Hofstra got double figure scoring from Justin Wright Foreman, who scored sixteen points off the bench, Eli Pemberton added thirteen and Brian Bernardi chipped in with eleven points.  Nico Clareth led the Saints with sixteen points.

The Saints did a poor job guarding the three point line.  In fact, Powers at least twice dribbled down the court, squared up and shot an open three.    Also, the game would had been a lot closer had Siena 's big men made the most of the open chippies in the paint that Hofstra gave them.  

As for Hofstra, Powers is incredibly quick.   He knifed through the lane several times and had a three point play on a layup and a foul.  That likely is why Siena's guards gave him repeat open looks for three pointers.   I also finally got to see Eli Pemberton in person.  The Hofstra freshman has a nice all around game and Coach Joe Mihalich and his staff should be commended for successfully recruiting such a talented player.

The Pride should try to get Gustys, who has solid post moves for a big man, more field goal attempts - he only had eight and was fouled only once in the act of shooting (and yes, he needs major work on free throw shooting.  He missed both.   The balance of scoring by the Pride offense was nice to see, though Ty Greer, who only had six points,  isn't shy shooting from anywhere, which mind you is a problem when you only go two of seven from the floor.

But in all, it was a very good end to the Pride's non conference schedule.   Their next game starts #CAAHoops conference play, a road trip to the Bob to play Delaware on New Year's Eve.   Outside of the decent size contingent of Siena fans, most of the nearly 1500 in attendance went home happy.  For Hofstra fans, the twenty point win didn't give them visions of sugar plums this holiday season.  It's that ever elusive NCAA Tournament bid that dances in their heads.   

Monday, December 12, 2016

Jaden Daly Previews the Pirates for the Seton Hall-South Carolina Game at MSG

Good morning, college hoops fans!  It's time for the annual Daly Dose of Hoops/College Hardwood preview swap as South Carolina takes on Seton Hall tonight at MSG.  While I preview South Carolina for Jaden Daly on his terrific Daly Dose of Hoops site,  Jaden previews Seton Hall for us on this site.  Enjoy!

Hi everyone, Jaden Daly from Daly Dose Of Hoops here, joining you once again to preview the Pirates of Seton Hall University as they take on South Carolina in the Under Armour Reunion event at Madison Square Garden.

My staff and I have covered Seton Hall extensively over the past few years, and have seen them in person three times already this season. Below you will find game recaps and postgame thoughts from each of those games: (Feature on Myles Powell)

Starting Guards
Seton Hall's strength is in its backcourt, and Khadeen Carrington leads the way following the transition of Isaiah Whitehead into the NBA. Still primarily used as a two guard, Carrington will move on to the ball and run the point during games, and still provide the same lethal scoring ability. Once predicted to be the all-time scoring leader before his career was over, Carrington leads the Pirates with a 20 point-per-game average, becoming the latest in a long line of scorers from Brooklyn. His shooting has picked up where it left off in the Big East tournament, shooting 55 percent both from the floor and three-point range. If the Hall needs a bucket, you can bet Carrington will be the first option for it.

Desi Rodriguez is more of a wing, but still a slasher at 6-foot-5 who can be a guard in a conventional lineup and a small forward in a smaller lineup. The most athletic of the Pirates, Rodriguez is the source of many highlight-reel dunks throughout the year, and will seek opportunities to drive the lane against South Carolina. With averages of nearly 15 points and seven rebounds per game, his numbers have improved enough to where the offensive production vacated by Whitehead and Derrick Gordon is no longer a question. His defense is still a work in progress, though, so if the Gamecocks can exploit him on the perimeter, it could change the game.

Madison Jones usually gets the start at the point guard spot. A graduate transfer who came to South Orange from Wake Forest, Jones made a strong first impression with ten assists in the season-opening win over Fairleigh Dickinson, and has since continued to be a deft passer who knows how to thread the needle in almost any situation. Like Rodriguez, his defensive ability needs work, which has explained a slight dropoff in minutes while he learns the nuances of the defense-oriented Pirate system. But when he is on the floor, he will always look to get his teammates involved before taking a shot of his own.

Starting Forwards
Any mention of the Seton Hall front line has to start with Angel Delgado. By far the best big man in the Big East, the junior has been unceremoniously snubbed of all-conference honors in each of his first two seasons, and is still making his opponents pay every time out. The 6-foot-10 Dominican is a walking double-double, averaging nearly 14 points and 11 rebounds per game, all the while shooting 59 percent from the field. Delgado is, in my opinion, a cross between former Pitt forward DeJuan Blair and a player some of you may already be familiar with from Gary's past chronicles, Stony Brook's Jameel Warney. An evolving part of Delgado's game has been his ability to elude double-teams and pass out of the post, freeing up players like Carrington and Rodriguez; and even Myles Powell, for long-range jumpers or threes on the baseline.

Next to Delgado is Ismael Sanogo, who is the most underrated big man in the New York area. A 6-foot-8 forward built like a linebacker, Sanogo has a nose for the ball unlike any other, and makes so many defensive plays that box scores simply will not do any justice. Without Sanogo, the Pirate interior is significantly weakened, as there is no one else to do the dirty work under the rim when Delgado gets into foul trouble. His stats may not seem like much, but look at what Sanogo affects on the defensive end before you read a stat sheet.

The Pirates normally play a seven-man rotation for the most part, meaning Myles Powell and Michael Nzei are the two you will see in the game most often. Powell is a precocious freshman whose three-point shooting conjures up memories of former Seton Hall legend Jeremy Hazell. Having lost 45 pounds in the offseason, Powell is most dangerous on the perimeter as evidenced by his 42 percent shooting from beyond the arc. He can also step in and take a mid-range shot in a smaller lineup. Nzei is a 6-foot-8 high-energy forward, a lot like ex-Fordham center Ryan Canty. A redshirt sophomore, Nzei is developing more with each passing game to become an integral piece of the puzzle for the reigning Big East champions.

Should one of the bigs get in foul trouble, Rashed Anthony will likely see a handful of minutes, as will Veer Singh. Singh is a stretch four who has become a fan favorite for his tendency to shoot NBA-range threes and connect on a fair share of them.

This is where Seton Hall has undergone its biggest evolution. The improvement in Kevin Willard's execution over the last two seasons has been unparalleled. Once rumored to be on the hot seat after the alleged rift between Whitehead and Sterling Gibbs, which ultimately saw Jaren Sina transfer to George Washington, Willard stepped back and assessed the situation, and applied a renewed sense of energy into offseason workouts and practices prior to last season. The result paid off with a conference title, and with four returning starters back this season, the expectations in South Orange remain high. In some ways, Willard's upward trajectory is quite similar to that of Frank Martin. Take a look:

2010-11: 13-17, 7-11 Big East
2011-12: 21-13, 8-10 Big East (second round of NIT)
2012-13: 15-18, 3-15 Big East (dropoff due to younger team, first true post-Bobby Gonzalez roster)
2013-14: 17-17, 6-12 Big East
2014-15: 16-15, 6-12 Big East
2015-16: 25-9, 12-6 Big East (conference champions, lost in NCAA round of 64)
2016-17: 7-2, picked in a fourth-place tie in Big East

Seton Hall was picked low presumably because those unaffiliated with the program really did not know what to expect as the Pirates adjusted to life without Isaiah Whitehead. Their 1-2 record in November's Advocare Invitational proved that much more remains to be accomplished, but wins over Hawaii and California in the Aloha State last week also serve as proof that the core of last year's championship squad remains very much alive.

The best part of this roster is that only one player, Madison Jones, is a senior. Assuming no one else takes their talents to the professional ranks, the Hall has a chance to potentially three-peat in the Big East, which would establish them as the first true dynasty in the league since it was restructured in 2013. Reaching the NCAA Tournament as sophomores, albeit overachieving, was a significant feather in the cap of the program in that the resurgence Willard spent a half-decade building toward came a year ahead of schedule, with the realistic opportunity to use last year as a foundation.

With in-state rival Rutgers coming up one week from Friday, the Pirates get yet another strong test to prepare them in the form of South Carolina. The loss of Sindarius Thornwell presents a huge opportunity for Seton Hall to take advantage, as does Angel Delgado against an undersized front line. The biggest key to victory, however, will be what happens at the free throw line. Foul shots have been Seton Hall's Achilles' heel all season, and if they leave points at the charity stripe, the door will be open all night for the Gamecocks to push through.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

St Bonaventure Rallies Late and Defeats Hofstra 81-75

Last night in Hempstead, St Bonaventure, down four points, 72-68 with 5:15 left, outscored Hofstra 13-3 the rest of the way to win the game 81-75.  The Bonnies' win broke a three game winning streak for the Pride, while the Bonnies won their fifth game in the row.  It also avenged a home loss last season to the Pride up in Oleana, New York.

We're going to do a new segment here breaking down games on the College Hardwood.   It's called "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".

The Good - For St. Bonaventure, the dynamic duo of Jaylen Adams (31 points) and Matt Mobley (23 points) combined for fifty four points, twenty rebounds and shot seven of thirteen from beyond the arc.  This is a nightly occurrence for the two players, who both average over twenty points per game.  The Bonnies also out-rebounded the Pride 32-22.

For Hofstra, it was the return of Rokas Gustys' offensive game.  Gustys just missed a double double with twenty points and nine rebounds on nine of fourteen shooting from the field.  It was the most field goal attempts he had all season and only the third time this season where he had ten or more field goal attempts.   For someone who shot sixty six percent from the field last season and fifty one percent this season, that's just simply not enough field goal attempts for the big man.

Other than Gustys, freshman Eli Pemberton continues to impress, scoring fifteen points, his eighth double figure scoring game of the season.  Deron Powers had six assists and only two turnovers.  Also, Hofstra did a good job in the second half on defense, holding St Bonaventure to thirty three points and forcing sixteen turnovers the whole game.   However, see "The Ugly".

The Bad - For St Bonaventure, sixteen turnovers, compared to Hofstra only having eight, eliminated any advantage they had on the boards.  Consequently the Pride had seven more field goal attempts.  The Bonnies also had significant foul trouble last night with three players having four fouls, including their two starting front court players, Denzel Gregg and Josh Ayeni,  Fortunately, David Andoh gave St. Bonaventure good minutes off the bench, plus eleven points and five rebounds, along with the two starting guards Mobley and Adams combining for twenty boards.

For Hofstra, where to begin.  First, any time your assist-to-turnover ratio is 2-1 on the night, seventeen assists to eight turnovers, you should win the game.  Alas, the Pride went scoreless over the last five minutes and fifteen seconds of the game to negate that.

And it was easy to see why.  Shot selection. After Ty Greer's tip in made it 72-68 Hofstra with 5:15 left, the Pride were one of ten from the field to end the game.   Their next three shots were three point attempts, with Bernardi hitting one of them.  After that, it was either Deron Powers throwing up bad layup attempts (3 of 13 from the field) or the Pride taking three point attempts or outside jumpers.

After Rokas Gustys scored on a tip in with 6:44 left in the game, he touched the ball on offense only once the rest of the game, getting fouled on a put back attempt with less than a minute left in the game.  He missed both free throws, more on that later, but that's not the point.

This was eerily similar to the 2016 CAA Championship Game between Hofstra and UNCW.  In that game, with 12:30 left, Gustys made a layup to put Hofstra up 56-48.  It was his eighth field goal in only ten attempts at the time.  It was also his last field goal attempt of the second half and he didn't even get fouled and go to the foul line those last twelve and half minutes!  To me, that was the main reason why Hofstra lost in overtime to UNCW (Gustys would hit his only field goal attempt in overtime to finish with eighteen points in the championship game).

To be perfectly blunt, if you cannot get the ball to your leading scorer, a fifty percent plus field goal shooter, in the last six plus minutes of a close game, you deserve to lose.

The Ugly -  For the seventh time in ten games, Hofstra gave up eighty or more points.  It looked like it was going to be another ninety points plus allowed, as St. Bonaventure had forty eight at the half. Amazingly in these seven games, they are 3-4.  But given their record, that also means they are undefeated, 3-0, when they give up less than eighty points.  Simply put, you cannot win consistently night in and night out when seventy percent of the time you are giving up eighty plus points per game.

As aforementioned, I've been saying how Hofstra must get the ball in the hands of Gustys more.  Consequently, he needs to shoot MUCH better from the free throw line.   He has been simply awful, shooting eighteen percent from the charity stripe this season compared to forty three percent last season.  Gustys needs to get to at least shooting fifty percent from the line, otherwise he won't get the ball more down the stretch. 

St Bonaventure will give #CAAHoops folks a chance to compare the two teams from the 2016 CAA championship game, as they next host UNCW on Saturday.  As for Hofstra, they get Kentucky in the Barclays Center on Sunday.