Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday Morning Blurb

The news is bad for St Mary's. Leading scorer Patty Mills is out for a month with a broken hand, which was suffered in the loss to Gonzaga Thursday night. St Mary's will need Carlin Hughes and Mickey McConnell to step in and handle the point guard duties. Look for teams like Portland and Gonzaga to double team Diamon Sampson and Omar Samhan and force the Gaels to hit their threes. Its on the Gaels' guards to step up here and ride the tide to Mills gets back for the conference tournament.

The Iona Lady Gaels moved to 6-5 in the MAAC and 13-9 overall with a 58-55 win over Loyola Md. Thazina Cook had her fifth double double of the season with 23 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Lady Gaels. Anda Ivkovic had 10 points, seven rebounds and a career-high nine assists. Kristina Ford added 12 points, seven rebounds and career-best seven steals. It was an ugly win as Iona only shot 32.5 overall and only 5 of 12 from the free throw line. However, Iona forced 28 Loyola turnovers which led to 26 more field goal attempts for the Gaels than the Greyhounds (and six more field goals for the Gaels). Iona now goes home to play the now seemingly perennial first place team in the MAAC, Marist (10-1 MAAC, 19-2 overall).

The CAA has a full slate on its schedule with all twelve teams playing each other. Of the six games being played, two are the most important. VCU (8-2 CAA, 15-6 overall) travels to Hempstead to play Hofstra (6-4 CAA, 14-7 overall) and George Mason (8-2 CAA, 15-5 overall) travels to Norfolk to face Old Dominion (5-5 CAA, 12-8 overall). VCU and Mason are tied for second while Hofstra is fifth and ODU sixth in the CAA. VCU and Mason seem to be set in the two/three slot positions. However, Hofstra and ODU are desperately trying to get into fourth place, which is the last first round bye spot in the CAA tournament. If Drexel (7-3 CAA, 11-8 overall) plays to form and wins at Towson today, a loss by both Hofstra and ODU would make it extremely difficult for both teams to finish fourth. With a loss and a Drexel win, Hofstra would be two games behind the Dragons and the Dragons have the tiebreaker, winning both games vs. the Pride this season. A loss by ODU and a Drexel win, and the Monarchs would be three games out of the fourth spot with seven games left.

Friday, January 30, 2009

No Mills Means No Win For Gaels

I am beat today. I normally don't stay up till 1 in the morning, but last night I had a good reason. St Mary's - Gonzaga. Two ranked West Coast Conference teams undefeated in conference, battling for first. How I could say no?

It started off with an early Gonzaga run. Before you blinked, it was 10-3 Zags, as Matt Bouldin was showing the country and ESPN's Steven Bardo how good he is (Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye get most of the props but Bouldin is just as good). The Gaels looked nervous. Turned the ball over at least five times in the first few minutes. Then St Mary's got their composure and started getting some baskets as they worked it inside to Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. Then Patty Mills got hot. Real hot. Mills hit five three pointers in the span of six minutes as the Gaels overtook the Bulldogs and led 29-21 with six minutes left in the first half. Mills would hit his last basket of the game, another three pointer, with four minutes left in the first half.

During this time, it was evident that Mills was opening up the inside for Simpson and Samhan. Simpson, who I thought played the best game I had seen him play all season, was dominating Austin Daye inside. Daye had no answer for the bigger, stronger and even seemingly more athletic Simpson. The ball movement for St Mary's was crisp as they moved the ball inside and around the perimeter. Mills opened up everything for the Gaels. And St Mary's was playing very solid defense, shutting down Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye, who combined only had seven points at the half.

Then Mills drove to the basket with three minutes left and fell. He tried to break his fall by putting out his hand. He left the game with a sprained wrist. But the Gaels held serve and were up 39-33 at the end of a very entertaining first half. However, during the shoot around before the second half, it was evident Mills couldn't play the rest of the game. And the Bulldogs smelled blood.

Early on in the second half, St Mary's did their best to hold on. But Gonzaga wisely collapsed inside on Samhan and Simpson, while putting ball pressure on the less experienced sophomore point guard Mickey McConnell. The Gaels now seemed incapable of getting a post pass in and were forced to shoot three point shots, very few of which they could make. Gonzaga has too many weapons to hold down for so long. Between Steven Gray hitting long jumpers, Austin Daye and Matt Bouldin scoring inside and Jeremy Pargo (now free from Mills hounding him) hitting baskets, Gonzaga would pull even at 48 with 12 and half minutes left. After McConnell missed another shot, an alley oop pass dunk by Micah Downs put the Zags up to stay 50-48. It was part of a 12-0 run by Gonzaga which resulted in a 58-48 lead. Game over.

A few things to note. First, I have stated this before, but Terry Gannon and Stephen Bardo are one of my favorite announce teams. Bardo correctly pointed out a few things. First Josh Heytvelt was often MIA in the game and was not very aggressive in the post. He was content to take long jumpers at times and basically Bardo accurately described him as an enigma. Second Matt Bouldin is the best player on Gonzaga. He is just absolutely solid and really does have a NBA build. Bardo thinks he will have a long NBA career and I can't disagree. Third, while Mills was in the game, he absolutely dominated Pargo. He was too quick for Pargo, can bury a three from NBA range and passes the ball real well. A terrific point guard and you can see why he was able to put 20 points on the US Olympic Team as a member of the Australian team. Fourth, Diamon Simpson had a terrific game, 17 points, 13 rebounds and didn't miss a shot. Seven for Seven from the field. The problem was that Gonzaga collapsed on Simpson and Samhan, and they only had 13 attempts combined (though they did make 11 of them).

A bigger problem which Bardo addressed was that the post pass is a lost art. St Mary's was very reluctant to pass the ball in the post in the second half. When they did, they threw a lot of sloppy passes into the post. The Gaels are not the only team guilty of this. Watching the Hofstra guards try to pass the ball into the post is like sitting in a dentist's chair.

So where do these teams go from here. Gonzaga has San Diego at home tomorrow, then at Portland (more on that in a second) and then a big home game with Memphis on February 7th before the rematch at St Mary's on Feb. 12. St Mary's road is now more uncertain with Mills' injury. He is supposed to get Xrays/MRI today to determine the extent of the injury. It is pretty safe to say that they will be without him when they travel to play Portland on Saturday. Portland is 4-1 in the WCC and 14-7 overall. They just smoked San Diego and they have beaten Washington and Nevada this season. In other words, not an easy game. I don't think St Mary's loss affects their standing as far as the Bracket Buster Matchups. I think ESPN will certainly take into account that they were ahead of Gonzaga before Mills got hurt. The question will be, will Mills be back for the rematch against Gonzaga let alone the Bracket Buster game on the 21st.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Quick Thoughts

Great game Tuesday night between VCU and Northeastern on the U, won by the Huskies 68-63. The Huskies did a lot of damage from beyond the arc, especially Eugene Spates and Matt Janning. Plus the Huskies limited Larry Sanders and the rest of VCU besides Eric Maynor. Maynor, well, he is another league. The Stephen Curry/Blake Griffin league. Seriously, if you watched that game, you saw how he almost singlehandedly kept the Rams in the game. One of these days, I will have to go to a game in the Siegel Center. What a raucous place to play.

Meanwhile George Mason and Drexel keep winning in the CAA. Leon Spencer is becoming one of the best young players in the CAA and one of its best kept secrets. Another double figure night. Now mind you the Dragons roasted the hapless Georgia State Panthers but considering they were picked last in the CAA preseason poll, being 7-3 is a pretty mean feat. Mason, well, they drubbed Delaware in the second half en route to a 78-55 win. Five Patriots' players scored in double figures, led by Dre Smith and Michael Morrison each with 14.

Though still early, the Northeastern win could have serious implications as far as seedings in the CAA tournament. The Huskies have a one game lead now on VCU and have the tiebreaker, due to the fact they play VCU that one single time. Gotta love that uneven schedule in the CAA! But also, this has implications for the four/five seeds, which are occupied by Drexel and Hofstra respectively (by the way Charles Jenkins is back to being Charles Jenkins after dropping 33 last night in the Pride's win over UNCW). Whoever wins the four/five bracket quarterfinal could most likely avoid George Mason and especially VCU until the final - two teams that bring the most fans to the tournament. Thus you will have most of the Richmond Coliseum rooting for you against Northeastern in the semifinals. It's a big plus for an underdog.

Tonight features two big time mid major games. Games that decide first place in their respective conferences. At 9:00 pm eastern, it's Nevada at Utah State and Gonzaga hosting St Mary's. Simply put, wins by the Aggies and the Gaels will probably setup a Bracket Buster showdown between the two teams the weekend of February 21st. Let's face it, we are going to see Butler vs. Davidson as the feature Bracket Buster Matchup but this would be a good second banana.. A win by the Gaels could also put Gonzaga in bubble territory. Samhan, Simpson and Mills vs. Heytvelt, Daye and Pargo. I know I will be up late tonight. So should you!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quick Note on Iona Lady Gaels

I was at the Sunday Iona vs Niagara women's game up in New Rochelle, won by Iona 65-56. Coach Anthony Bozzella has a real find in freshman Kristina Ford, a 6 foot 1 forward from Fresh Meadows who is their third leading scorer at 11.7 ppg and leading rebounder at 6.3 rebounds a game. Ford led Iona with 17 points and probably would have had 30 points if not for two consecutive questionable foul calls early in the first half. Ford can handle the ball like a guard and has an absolutely terrific scoring touch. She just needs to realize to post up more when she has someone shorter guarding her. And that will result in a lot of attempts at the free throw line for Ford, who is only going to get better..a lot better.

By the way, that game featured one of my pet peeves. late in the second half, there was a scramble for a loose ball. Somehow one of the referees granted a timeout to Niagara while both teams were vying for possession. You can not allow a timeout when a team doesn't clearly have possession. It's the most ridiculous thing, even worse than the non walk calls (which where there were a lot of again).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The CAA at the Halfway Point

So we're nine games through the CAA season and the first half has brought some surprises but for the most part the league play has conformed to the preseason prognostications. Let's look at the teams in standings order

1) VCU (8-1, 15-5 overall) - The Rams had an early season loss at Delaware, but have played according to form winning seven conference games in a row. VCU leads the CAA in scoring offense, field goal percentage, three point FG percentage, scoring margin, first in steals, seconds in assist to turnover ratio and turnover margin. The concerns about where the Rams would find offense other than CAA scoring leader Eric Maynor (22 points per game) have been answered as Larry Sanders (11 ppg) and Joey Rodriguez (10.7 ppg) have stepped up to give the Rams more scoring options.

The Rams second half schedule starts with a home game battle for first with Northeastern on January 27th on ESPNU. Then two road games at Hofstra and at UNCW. The rest of the schedule features a home and home with James Madison, at ODU, home to William and Mary, Georgia State and Delaware (plus a Bracketbuster game).

Outlook - The Rams have a relatively easy schedule after the two games this week. The Rams look to be the team to beat in the CAA.

2) Northeastern (8-1, 13-6 overall). The Huskies started out to a 6-0 conference record before losing at Hofstra. The Huskies rebounded with a tough home win over George Mason then an impressive win at Old Dominion. Down 22-7 to the Monarchs early, the Huskies outscored ODU 51-20 the rest of the way in a 58-42 win. Matt Janning had two big games in the two wins, scoring 20 and 24 points respectively. However, the Huskies' ability to score inside with Manny Adako, Eugene Spates and Nkem Ojougboh has given Northeastern much needed balance. The Huskies are first in scoring defense, second in steals and first in turnover margin.

The Huskies' second half schedule features the showdown at VCU, home to Delaware then at William and Mary. Northeastern has a home and home with Drexel, the rematch at George Mason, home games to UNCW, Georgia State and ODU (plus a Bracketbuster game)

Outlook - The Huskies have a more difficult schedule than VCU with the road game vs. the Rams and on the road at third place George Mason. Throw in a home and home vs fourth place Drexel and the Huskies could be staring at a second place finish.

3) George Mason (7-2, 14-5 overall). The Patriots rode into the past week in first place at 6-0. After two very close tough road losses to co first place teams VCU and Northeastern, Mason is now in third place. The loss of Jon Vaughan at the end of the game with the Huskies due to a concussion certainly played a factor in both games.
Vaughan will miss the Tuesday home game vs. Delaware. But the play of underclassmen Cam Long and Ryan Pearson made things a lot closer vs. VCU than people thought so the Patriots will be okay. More touches to Darryl Monroe would help though.

The Patriots have Delaware at home, then at ODU, home to Hofstra on February 3rd on ESPNU, then two road games, then a revenge game at home to Northeastern, followed by another home game with Drexel, then a Bracketbuster game, then the last two games at UNCW and home to Towson.

Outlook - Don't be surprised if George Mason catches Northeastern for second place as the Patriots' schedule is more favorable than the Huskies. Mason's nice mix of four veteran starters plus five talented underclassmen should give Mason the needed depth required for a second half run. Unfortunately, the Patriots only played VCU once and the non rematch may cost them a chance at first.

4) Drexel (6-3, 10-8 overall). This is by far the biggest surprise of the first half of the CAA season. Picked to finish next to last in the CAA, the Dragons have won more conference games than I thought they would win the entire season. It quite possibly could be Coach Bruiser Flint's best coaching job ever. Considering what I believe is a dearth of talent, the Dragons have won five games in a row in conference after a 1-3 start. The emergence of Leon Spencer off the bench has helped greatly. Spencer has scored in double figures in all five straight wins for the Dragons. Another scoring option is needed since Scott Rodgers is the only Dragon averaging in double figures with 13.2 points per game

The Dragons second half schedule is a lot tougher than the first half. Home to Georgia State, home and homes with both Towson and Northeastern. At Delaware, home to ODU, at George Mason, then finishes at William Mary (along with Bracketbuster).

Outlook - Expect the Dragons to struggle in the second half of the season. The Dragons had an easy first half schedule with their two best wins being against Hofstra, otherwise they have feasted on the bottom half of the CAA. The second half schedule is much tougher with five road games. Also the stats show that the Dragons have done this with smoke and mirrors. Last in field goal percentage, next to last in scoring offense, next to last in assists, and turnover margin and last in steals. Definitely will be a struggle.

5) Hofstra (5-4, 13-7 overall). The Pride rebounded from a 2-4 start to win their last three games. The Pride are successful due in large part to their defense, which is first in the CAA in FG percentage defense at 38 percent (the only team in the CAA under 40 percent in that category), first in blocks at 5.3 and second in rebounding margin. Unfortunately that is evened out by the Pride's field goal percentage, which is last in the CAA at 38 percent as well. This was due in large part to the struggles of Charles Jenkins. Jenkins has seen his field goal percentage go down 10 percent over the past couple of months. Despite this, Jenkins is still the second leading scorer in the CAA behind Maynor. Another category the Pride needs improvement is assist to turnover ratio, dead last in the CAA at .7.

The Pride have a much easier second half schedule with only two games remaining against the top four teams; a home game to VCU on Saturday and a road game at George Mason. They also have a home against UNCW, home games with Towson, Old Dominion and James Madison along with road games vs. Delaware and Georgia State.

Outlook - Considering all their offensive struggles, to be 5-4 after the tougher half of their conference season is pretty impressive. The Pride now face a much easier schedule and one could easily see the Pride winning six of their nine remaining conference games. Throw in a Bracketbuster gamee and it is very conceivable that the Pride could have 20 wins and a possible first round bye come CAA tournament time.

6) James Madison (5-4 CAA, 13-8 Overall). Funny, I had Hofstra and Madison finishing next to each other in my preseason poll (though order was reversed) and here they are right next to each other. The Dukes lost their first two games in conference, before winning five of their next six before the loss to Hofstra at home Saturday night. The Dukes are winning, with get this...defense. Last season's swiss cheese D has turned into a respectable unit under new coach Matt Brady. The Dukes are second in three point FG percentage defense and fifth in FG percentage defense. The Dukes lead the CAA in free throw shooting and are third in scoring offense. However, some things never change as the Dukes are last in assist to turnover ratio and ninth in turnover margin.

The Dukes second half schedule is not easy with home and home vs VCU, home to ODU, George Mason, Georgia State and William and Mary, and road games at UNCW, Georgia State, Hofstra, and Delaware.

Outlook - The Dukes lost last season's leading scorer, Abdulai Jalloh due to a shoulder injury early on. However, Juwann James has picked up the slack, averaging 15.5 points per game and shooting 58.7 percent from the field. Since he doesn't have enough attempts to qualify for leading the CAA in FG percentage due to an injury at the beginning of the season, James will continue to get the ball a lot. How the Dukes perform though depends on how well they handle the ball.

7) Old Dominion (4-5 CAA, 11-8 overall) - The Monarchs classify as one of the biggest disappointments so far in the CAA. At times, ODU looks absolutely terrific, then at times they look terrible. There was no better example of this than Saturday's home game vs. Northeastern. The Monarchs jumped out to a 22-7 lead only to see the Huskies out score them by 31 points the rest of the way in a 58-42 meltdown loss. It's very simple with ODU - their guards have to shoot well to free up their talented frontcourt. When they do, you have the 73-56 crushing of Georgia State where the Monarchs shot 10 of 16 from beyond the arc (and nearly 62 percent overall). When they don't, you have the 58-42 meltdown where ODU shot 4 of 16 from beyond the arc.

The rest of the schedule is not that easy for the Monarchs. Road games at Madison, Drexel, Hofstra, UNCW and Northeastern. Home to George Mason, VCU, Towson and William and Mary.

Outlook - Unless the Monarchs straighten themselves out in a major way, the Monarchs will miss out on getting a bye for the first time in several seasons. And remember, no team has ever won the CAA tournament by being a non bye team and winning four games in four days (William and Mary and George Mason the last two seasons made the CAA final but both lost). Consistent play from the guards will be the key for Coach Blaine Taylor's boys.

8) Delaware (3-6 CAA, 9-12 overall). The Blue Hens have regressed from last season. The main factor, no size inside. The lack of a quality big man has resulted in the Blue Hens being next to last in rebounding margin, ninth in field goal percentage defense and tenth in scoring defense. This explains how UNCW, the Denver Nuggets of the CAA defeated Delaware. Marc Egerson though is a man among men. The six foot six guard/forward is the only player in the CAA averaging a double double - 13.9 points and 10.4 rebounds a game, the latter leads the CAA. Offense is not a problem as Jawan Carter leads the Blue Hens with 16.6 points per game and Alphonso Dawson chips in with 15.5 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. Delaware is fourth in scoring and third in three point FGs made.

The Blue Hens schedule is not very accommodating. It starts right off with road games at Mason and at Northeastern. Their first home game is not easy against fourth place Drexel who has already beaten the Hens this year. Then at Georgia State, home to Mason and Hofstra, then at VCU and Towson, then home to Madison.

Outlook - Don't look for the Hens to move up in the standings. The schedule is rough and with the lack of a big man to compete with the likes of Mason's Monroe and Birdsong, the Northeastern trifecta of Adako, Spates and Ojougboh and VCU's Larry Sanders, the Blue Hens would be very lucky to win four games the second half of the season.

9) Georgia State (3-6 CAA, 5-15 overall) - Remember at the beginning of the season with all the talk about how improved Georgia State would be with all their transfers now starting. Well as a friend pointed out to me (which I noted on this blog), there is a reason why they were sitting on another team's bench. The Panthers, outside of guard Joe Dukes, have been a huge disappointment. I mean think about it. The new look Panthers some how cut in half Leonard Mendez' production from last season (16 ppg game in 2007-08 to 8.5 ppg in 2008-09). It's not like the rest of the team is so great. Other than Dukes, not one of the other transfers averages 10 points per game.

The Panthers schedule actually starts off relatively favorable despite being at Drexel to start the second half of the season. Another road game follows at William and Mary , then home to Madison and Delaware, then at Towson, then home to UNCW. The end of the schedule is rough; at Northeastern, home to Hofstra, at VCU.

Outlook - I was watching the Georgia State/ODU game on TV a few weeks ago. They had a commercial on for Georgia State and you hear a student say "I get to watch AWESOME college basketball." Yeah perhaps if you are rooting for the other team, its awesome. Its been a long time since Georgia State was awesome in college basketball (we are talking the Lefty Driesell days).

For a team that is last in scoring offense, last in free throw percentage and next to last in three point FG percentage, its not good to be tenth in field goal percentage defense. It's time to get the ball back in the hands of Leonard Mendez and at least get him going. And boys and girls, let this be a lesson to those of you who think a team of all transfer starters is going to make a difference.

10) UNC Wilmington (2-7 CAA, 5-16 overall). It is so hard to imagine that a team with such a blatant disregard for defense, with no defensive post presence whatsoever could actually NOT be in the cellar of the CAA. Yet, thanks to the ineptitude of Towson and William and Mary, the Denver Nuggets of the CAA, the UNCW Seahawks are tenth, thanks to the equally defensive challenged Tigers and the Delaware Blue Hens. Yes, the Seahawks are second in the CAA in scoring offense, first in three point field goals made and even second in assists. But the Seahawks are dead last in scoring defense, giving up a whopping 88 points per game. Dead last in scoring margin at -14. Dead last in field goal percentage defense at 51.6 percent. FIFTY ONE POINT SIX PERCENT! Last in three point field goal percentage defense. Last in rebounding. Last in blocked shots and last in turnover margin.

How the hell are they only in tenth place?!!!

Schedule - Does it matter? Well here's a unique thing; three home games in a row. First Hofstra (talk about a contrast in styles - the team that plays D and can't shoot straight vs the team that scores and plays no defense whatsoever - something has to give. Then home to Madison and VCU (two guaranteed high scoring games). Then three road games - at Northeastern (uh oh), at William and Mary and at Georgia State. Home to ODU and George Mason, another ESPN Full Court televised pasting, then at Hofstra for another battle of styles contest

Outlook - Again, does it matter? If you like points scored, then the Seahawks are the team for you. If you want to see a team get clocked on a nightly basis and that will be fortunate to win as many games in the second half as they did in the first half, then again UNCW is the team for you. I really really want to see how Hofstra and UNCW matchup Wednesday. The immovable offense vs the always moved/run over defense. Priceless. At least Chad Tomko (15 ppg, 5 assists per game) is a solid player.

11) Towson (2-7, 7-14) - Well, Pat Kennedy and crew should be awfully proud. Give up 103 points and lose at home to UNCW. At least they fought into double overtime. I tell ya its karma for burying my boy Tim Crossin. It's killing me that my two player watches the Tim Crossin Burial Watch and the Chris Gadley Resurrection watch are on hold. Gadley is out with a sore back and Crossin is just out. Leading scorer Junior Hairston averages two less rebounds per game than last season and his FG percentage is down as well. But he did have 25 points and 15 rebounds vs UNCW. What a shock.

The amazing thing is that the Tigers might just have a better second half due to a relatively weak schedule. Home and home with Drexel and William and Mary. Consecutive road games against ODU and Hofstra. Also road games at George Mason. Home to William and Mary and Delaware. Ok, its not that weak. But a few wins are possible.

Outlook - Towson simply has to improve on their shoddy scoring defense which is next to last along with field goal percentage defense at 44.9 percent. Now the amazing thing is that Towson is third in three point field goal percentage defense at 31.5. Throw in that the Tigers are tenth in rebounding margin and this means only one thing. Teams are scoring inside at will. Not good.

12) William and Mary (1-8 CAA, 6-13 overall). This disheartens me the most because the Mary were one of my favorite teams last season for the way Tony Shaver coached them. Loved their offense and especially loved how they broke VCU's press (and their heart) in that CAA semifinal game. No more Nathan Mann. No more Laimus Kiselius. No more wins. Danny Sumner and the erratic David Schneider aren't talented enough to lift up the rest of a very talentless team. They can't hit a shot, especially from beyond the arc (they are tenth at 31.2 percent) and their style of zone defense is susceptible to a good outside shooting team (tenth in three point FG percentage defense).

Schedule - The Tribe actually start with two winnable home games vs Towson and Georgia State. Then two difficult games. Home vs. Northeastern then at VCU. Home to UNCW, then three road games; at James Madison, then Towson, then ODU. The Tribe end their season home to Drexel

Outlook - The Mary need to get Danny Sumner going. Despite being the Tribe's leading scorer, all of Sumner's other stats are down from last year. His FG percentage has dropped 10 points (50 to 40 percent), his three point FG percentage is down and his free throw percentage is down somewhat as well. A little more help from the supporting cast; especially Peter Stein who is averaging two points less this season and who's field goal percentage is way down from the past season 53 to 41 percent. It's a shame. When you watch the Mary, you can see how well coached they are and how they run the back door cuts, screens etc. They just can't finish.

CAA Outlook - It is pretty much a lock that the top three spots will be taken up by VCU, Northeastern and George Mason. There is still a question of how they finish. As for that fourth and final bye spot, there are really four teams fighting for that; Drexel, Hofstra, James Madison and Old Dominion. Of the four, believe it or not, the gang that can't shoot straight but can D up, Hofstra, has the easiest schedule of the four. Thus I think they have the best chance for the fourth spot. I just have a feeling that Drexel, a team that really can't shoot straight and has been winning with a little bit of luck, is going to hit the wall in the second half of the season. If Drexel and Hofstra tie for fourth, Drexel wins based on sweeping the Pride. Madison has a shot but needs to win some big games. I think ODU is just too inconsistent to jump over three teams to finish fourth. They do have talent though and I love Blaine Taylor as a game manager.

The rest looks like Delaware and Georgia State for eighth and ninth. Then pick your poison; UNCW, Towson and the Mary for the last three spots. As for the question of the CAA getting multiple teams in..highly signature non conference wins at the beginning of the season for any of the top three teams. I don't think the Bracketbuster will help that multiple bid cause much either unless VCU gets Davidson and beats them (then VCU loses in the championship to say Mason). Just look forward to a competitive CAA tourney where at least three teams can win.

A Day Spent Watching ESPN360 (and ESPN2)

It was a Saturday where I didn't have any Hofstra home games to attend. No specific plans. Just watch the kids..and ESPN! Well let's review the day

11:00 am - noon
- Watched the replay of the first half of the St Mary's vs. San Diego game played on Thursday night, which the Gaels won 65-42. The Gaels are playing so much better than when I first saw them earlier in the year in the 76 Classic. Much better defense and better ball movement. San Diego did miss some open shots, but it was more of the St Mary's D. The game was over at the half (St Mary's led at halftime 32-14). Patty Mills had a great first half but Omar Samhan is so solid, especially now on the defensive end. He held San Diego's solid forward Gyno Pomare to 6 points on 3 of 13 from the field. Pomare came into the game shooting 53 percent and averaging 14 points. Samhan shot 8 of 9 from the field, had 16 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. Samhan now is shooting 57.7 percent from the field and now has eight double doubles on the season.

Noon - 2:00 pm
- Watched Siena show that they are clearly the elite team in the MAAC after disposing of second place Niagara 82-65. The Saints clearly have their offense on all cylinders now as opposed to early in the season in the Old Spice Classic. It was all about balance for the Saints as four players scored in double figures. Ryan Rossiter, who's brother plays for Davidson, had 18 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks for the Saints. Edwin Ubliles led the Saints with 20 points, Alex Franklin had 15 and Kenny Hasbrouck had 13 points.

The announcers during the game talked about how Hasbrouck has had a disappointing season and that's true. Hasbrouck is down about 3.5 points per game in scoring and his field goal percentage is down from 44 percent last year to 38.8 percent this year. I think early on in the season, Hasbrouck tried to do too much. In three games in the Old Spice Classic, Hasbrouck shot 12 of 34 and the Saints lost all three games. However, the Saints have won 10 of their last 11, due in large part to others having picked up the slack. Rossiter is shooting 58.7 percent from the field. Ubiles is shooting 50.8 percent from the field and in his last five games is shooting 36 of 62 (58 percent). Alex Franklin is shooting 54 percent from the field. As a whole, Siena shoots 47 percent from the field to lead the MAAC and leads in assists and assists to turnover ratio. The Saints have a three game lead in the MAAC.

2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
- Wisconsin Milwaukee vs. Butler. Everytime I think Butler can't impress me more, the Bulldogs go out and top themselves. This week they came back from a halftime deficit to defeat Wisconsin Green Bay. Then yesterday, the Bulldogs came out and made sure the Panthers never had a chance to make it a game. The Bulldogs roared out to a 23-8 lead in route to a 78-48 drubbing of the Panthers. The Panthers made only one of their first ten shots and shot 24 percent from the field and 3 of 20 from beyond the arc. Wisconsin Milwaukee came into the game as the second highest scoring team in the Horizon.

A few other things to note. What amazes me about Butler is that they are so balanced. Yesterday Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward, two of their three leading scorers only had 14 points and 9 field goal attempts combined. It was their bench led by Shawn Vanzant (20 points) and Grant Leiendecker (12 points) showed the depth of Butler. Ten Bulldog players averaged 17 minutes or more. Remember, no seniors on this team. And also, I just love watching "Big Lumber" James Eayrs play. He is six foot seven (that might be generous) and 340 pounds (that is generous). But he has skills and is very tough to guard in the post. Just watching Matt Howard, no slouch at 220 pounds just literally bounce off him as Eayrs backed into him on the offensive end was a humorous sight to see.

4:00 pm to 6:00 pm - George Mason vs. VCU - The mid major game of the day. Give ESPN credit for putting this game on ESPN2. It was a very entertaining game, and it was a game of runs. First the Rams shot out to a 10-3 lead as their big men, Larry Sanders and Kirill Pishchalnikov scored all of those points. The Patriots though came back with a 18-4 run to go up 21-14 as my favorite CAA freshman, Ryan Pearson had six of those eighteen points. Then the Rams went on a 15-5 run as Eric Maynor starting getting hot and put the Rams up 29-26. Maynor would score all twelve of his first half points in the last 6:54 of the first half as the Rams led 39-32 at the half.

Then the Rams went on another run, 16-8, to go up 55-40 with 15:23 left. The Rams allowed the Patriots to hang around as the lead was chipped to ten, 65-55 with 8:02 left. Then the Patriots made one last run, going on a 9-0 spurt to cut the lead to 65-64 with 4:28 left. Then Eric Maynor put the Rams on his back again scoring eight of the Rams final eleven points as VCU held on for the 76-71 win.

Maynor showed a national audience why he is one of the best guards in the country. Maynor who is in the top twelve in scoring and assists in the country had 28 points on 9 of 16 from the field and added 6 assists. Maynor can do it all, drive to the basket, hit the floater in the lane, or bury the three (3 of 6 from beyond the arc). What's different from beginning of the season and certainly from last year's Rams team is that there is now an inside scoring presence in Larry Sanders. Sanders had 15 points on 5 of 9 shooting and 5 from 5 from the line. Sanders has scored in double figures in nine of the last 10 Rams' games. The Rams record in those nine games (8-1 only a loss at #5 Oklahoma 81-74. The only game he didn't score in double figures was a 81-79 loss to Delaware).

As for the Patriots, they played a spirited game and never quit. To do this at the always loud Alltel Center on the VCU campus, despite not having leading scorer Jon Vaughn due to a concussion vs. Northeastern, is pretty impressive. A lot of young George Mason players stepped up. Sophomore guard Cam Long had 20 points on 7 of 10 from the field and 8 of 9 from the line. The aforementioned Pearson had 12 points and 7 rebounds. Mason outrebounded a taller VCU 34-23 but the turnover margin 13-7 due in large part to the vaunted VCU press resulted in a number of VCU baskets. Also, Bucky Waters correctly stated that Mason was not getting the ball to Darryl Monroe enough during the game. Monroe, who shoots 58 percent from the field only had eight field goal attempts. The Patriots need to work the ball more into Monroe, who would lead the CAA in field goal percentage if he had enough attempts.

All in all it was a fun day to stay home, watch the kids and watch some good mid major basketball.

Next post will be the CAA at the midway point.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Iona Lady Gaels Rebound

As many of you know, I write many articles about the Iona Lady Gaels and I have been remiss on writing about them lately. Hopefully this makes up for that mistake.

When you have a young team with no seniors and only one junior starter, chances are your team is going to experience ups and downs. Such is the case with the Iona Lady Gaels. The Lady Gaels started the season winning eight of their first ten, including an impressive 54-44 road win over West Virginia, who had made the NCAA tournament the two previous seasons. Then a road loss at highly ranked Purdue started a streak where the Lady Gaels would lose seven of their last nine games including five of their last six games in conference.

The problem why the Gaels have been struggling has been relatively simple, lack of scoring. The shooting percentage for the Lady Gaels has been down from 41 percent last season to 38 percent this season. This maybe due in large part to the loss of one player they were counting on this season. Senior forward Anna McLean was out for the year prior to the season starting due to health reasons. McLean led the Lady Gaels last season in field goal percentage at 52.6 percent. Her presence often forced opposing teams to double up on her leaving other teammates open for easy baskets.

Last year, the Lady Gaels had four players in double figure scoring with McClean being the third leading scorer. This year, the Lady Gaels have only three players in double figures. Several players are down in field goal percentage. For example, Anda Ivkovic, the leading scorer for the Gaels, is shooting 41 percent as opposed to 48 percent last season. Thus the loss of an inside force such as McLean, results in other players, like Ivkovic to try to do more than they should.

However, it has opened up opportunities for freshmen such as Kristina Ford. Ford is third in scoring for the Gaels at about 11 points per game shooting 40 percent from the field. Ford had a career high 24 points on 9 of 16 shooting as the Lady Gaels ended their MAAC losing streak downing Loyola Maryland 79-55 last night in New Rochelle.

Down 19-15 early, the Lady Gaels went on a 16-3 run to go up 31-22 and the Lady Gaels never looked back. In fact, up 46-41 in the second half, the Lady Gaels went on a 31-6 run shooting 45 percent in the second half. Ford had help as Thazina Cook had 17 points, Naeemah Ricketts added 12 and Tomica Bacic chipped in 11. Iona shot 40 percent from the field which is the only the second time in their past ten games they have shot 40 percent or more (the other, a 68-64 win over San Francisco). The only bad note is that sophomore forward and leading scorerIvkovic had to be taken to the hospital during the game with dehydration. Her status for Sunday's game is uncertain.

I spoke briefly with coach Tony Bozzella a few days prior to their win over Loyola and asked him about his team's struggles. He said succinctly "We are going to battle through and will be better for it". After turning around a perennial losing program and leading it to two straight WNIT seasons, I have no reason to doubt him.

By the way, if you follow women's college basketball, you may have noticed that Marist lost to Fairfield in overtime yesterday on the Red Foxes' home court. Marist had their 35 MAAC conference game winning streak snapped by the Stags. Guess who gave the the Stags their only two losses so far this season in the MAAC. Yup, that's right, the Lady Gaels. The Gaels are fifth in the MAAC at 4-5 and can get back to .500 with a win over the Purple Eagles. I will be there to watch.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Ugly Night at Hofstra

Last night in Hempstead, I might have been witness to quite possibly the ugliest first half of a game this 2008-09 season. Hofstra was home to William and Mary and score with six minutes left in the first half was 9-8 William and Mary. NINE TO EIGHT WITH SIX MINUTES LEFT IN THE FIRST HALF! At one time in the first half, Hofstra was shooting 3 of 20 (15 percent) and the Mary (as my friend Tieff calls them) missed 13 of their first 14 shots. In fact, with the score at halftime being 17-15 William and Mary, almost as many points were scored in the final 5:50 (15) than were scored in the first 14:10 (17). Not only did both teams were off, even the officials were off. Greg Johnson went up for a layup early in the second half and was fouled. The official that called the foul said it was a non shot call. Seemingly only after the sparse crowd yelled out incredulously about the call, did the officials confer and award it a two shot foul.

Thankfully the teams played a better second half and the Pride pulled away for a 54-44 win. It was mostly due to the Pride bench as Cornelius Vines and Tony Dennison combined for 25 points on 6 of 13 from beyond the arc. Greg Washington came off the bench to add 6 points, 5 rebounds and most importantly 7 blocks. Even the Tribe's leading scorer came off the bench. Former starter David Schneider came off the pine to lead all scorers with 18 points on 4 of 8 from beyond the arc. The Tribe's leading scorer, Danny Sumner was held to five points on 1 of 9 shooting from the field.

Hofstra is now 4-4 in the CAA and 12-7 overall and William and Mary is 1-7 in the CAA and 6-12 overall.

There is now a three way tie for first in the CAA after Northeastern's Manny Adako hit a layup with 25 seconds to lead the Huskies to a 58-57 win over George Mason. The Patriots had trailed for most of the game but rallied to take the lead late. The game was marred by the Patriots' leading scorer, Jon Vaughan fainting at the foul line with 2:16 left. The game was delayed for 20 minutes while Vaughan was tended to on the court. He was taken to the hospital where tests only found a concussion and he was released. Vaughan had 19 points for the Patriots. Matt Janning led all players in scoring with 20 points for the Huskies. Both Northeastern and George Mason are tied with VCU at 7-1 in conference after the Rams easily handled Georgia State on the Panthers home court 65-50. Eric Maynor had 26 points to lead the Rams. Larry Sanders had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks for the Rams.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Whelliston out at ESPN

I just checked Mid and Kyle left a posting last night noting that he has been immediately relieved of all his duties at ESPN. He doesn't go into any reasons why other than he says it has to do with the Sports Bubble. Read for yourself. Without Whelliston now, ESPN has no mid major voice to speak of, which is a crying shame. Well we still have the Mid Majority Site. Keep up the good work Kyle and my sincere apologies for a major mistake by ESPN.

Creighton, Drexel, and RPIs of Top Mid Major Teams

Welcome to the new, albeit temporary look of the MidMajorHoops Web Site. If you are looking for the archives for the old site, click on the first link on the links site or click here.

Watched Creighton absolutely demolish Evansville last night in a Missouri Valley Conference game on ESPNU. First thought, where was this team the past month or so? The Bluejays went 10 of 19 from beyond the arc in their 79-57 thrashing of the Aces on the Aces' homecourt. Creighton (15-5, 5-3 MVC) had lost three of their last five. The important stat of the night was that Bluejays' two leading scorers - Booker Woodfox and P'Allen Stinnett, who combined average 28 points per game, only had nine points total last night. The more involved the rest of their teammates are, the better for the Bluejays.

Drexel continues to roll after beating Delaware 79-69. The team that was picked in the preseason CAA poll (and in my preseason rankings) to finish next to last is now 5-3 in conference which is good for fourth place. Samme Givens came off the bench to score 19 points and Jamie Harris added 14 while playing the entire game. The Dragons have won four in a row and seven of their last nine.

Here are the current RPI rankings for top mid major teams. In parentheses lists their Baker's Dozen Rankings.

Butler - 9 (1)
Siena - 28 (9)
Davidson - 31 (3)
Gonzaga - 35 (4)
Miami Ohio - 37 (unranked)
Utah State - 45 (5)
George Mason - 47 (6)
Illinois State - 48 (8)
Saint Mary's -51 (2)
Boise State - 55 (unranked)
Evansville - 59 (unranked)
Western Kentucky -60 (10)
VCU - 63 (11)
Stephen F. Austin - 68 (unranked)
Bradley -71 (unranked)
Cleveland State - 72 (unranked)
Creighton -74 (unranked)
Northeastern - 77 (unranked)
Fairfield - 78 (unranked)
Wisc -Green Bay -79 (tied for 13th)
Northern Iowa - 90 (7)
Charleston - 112 (tied for 13th)
Portland State - 133 (12)

I am surprised by how low Charleston and Portland State are. Charleston's three losses are to North Carolina (RPI 7, Davidson and Temple (RPI 41). And they have a win over South Carolina (RPI 87). Guess the SOS of 316 means the rest of the teams they faced aren't very good. Portland State's is low too. The others, not really surprised. Had Miami beaten Ohio they would have been ranked.