Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Review of The Last Wacky Regular Season Day in the CAA

A few notes of congratulation

First, to the St Joseph's Golden Eagles. I wrote a few columns about the Golden Eagles last year and even interviewed their coach, John Mateyko, a very nice man and a Jim Larranaga protege. Last night, the Golden Eagles (24-3) defeated Farmingdale State (24-3) 69-68 to win their first ever Skyline Conference Championship, and as a result, I believe got their first ever automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. They won on a free throw by Stu Coleman with .2 seconds left. It was Coleman's only point of the night as the Golden Eagles had four players score in double figures led by Chris Niblock's 20 points. St Joseph's overcame a 10 point second half deficit by shooting 57 percent from the field.

For some reason I didn't have a chance to cover them this season and that is something that I very much regret for this season. They have an incredibly talented guard in David Acree, which if you read the story above from last season, is a great story in itself. They added this season Acree's long time friend, JJ Walsh, who had been a former NAIA player of the year. Last year they got snubbed from the Divsion III tournament at large consideration. That's not happening this season. Congrats to Coach Mateyko and the Golden Eagles on a successful season so far and best of luck in the DIII tournament.

Meanwhile, in Brookville, another team is poised for great things. The C.W. Post Pioneers finished their regular season undefeated, holding off Adelphi 61-56. The Pioneers are 24-0 now and are ranked second in the country and now host the ECC tournament starting Wednesday night. Cluess' brings a very aggressive approach on both offense and defense. Plus he has recruited talented former starting Division 1 transfers Nick Carter (Stony Brook) or Kevin Spann (St Peter's). Plus Cluess is responsible for Jonathan Schmidt, C.W. Post's all time leading scorer to choose the Pioneers.

But here's how good Cluess is. Recently at a Hofstra game, I struck up a conversation with a fan who has followed Cluess. He flat out told me that Cluess had even better talent at St Mary's in Port Washington than he has at undefeated Post. It's a bold statement but a very true statement, if you check this link out. Consider one of St Mary's former players is Danny Green, the stud starting small forward on North Carolina. Another player is Rashad Green, Danny's brother formerly of Manhattan now sitting out the season having transferred to USF.

It is quite fitting that St Joseph's John Mateyko's best friend is Cluess, coach of C.W. Post. Mateyko was Cluess' assistant when Cluess was the head coach at St Mary's, where they were a perennial state power. Now both coaches are doing something special in the same season. What are the chances of that? Knowing Mateyko and knowing of Cluess, it's really not surprising.

The Iona Lady Gaels (17-12, 10-8 MAAC) finished their regular season with a 75-54 drubbing of St Peter's at New Rochelle. In Naeemah Ricketts' last regular season game with the Lady Gaels, Iona moved out to an early 13-0 lead and never looked back. The Lady Gaels shot 53.6 percent in the first half as they had a 43-21 halftime lead. The Lady Gaels led by as many as 29 in the second half. Thazina Cook led Iona with 19 points. Ricketts, who had 8 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds, is the only Lady Gael to ever been a part of four consecutive winning seasons, two MAAC Championship games and two WNIT teams. Congrats Naeemah and keep the season going in the MAAC Tournament.

When I posted my column yesterday previewing the Saturday action in the CAA, I predicted that there would be one last wacky day in the conference. Little did I know the following would happen;

1) Northeastern would have seven free throws the entire game, all by Matt Janning and that Janning would miss THREE of them.

2) That Northeastern and ODU had to go into overtime to decide their seedings for the CAA tournament.

3) UNCW would never have a lead in the entire 40 minutes of regulation, be down often in double digits, yet come back to tie, then take the lead in overtime, but only to lose to Hofstra. And they get to play each other again in the first round of the CAA tournament.

4) William and Mary, which was in eleventh place going into last night, would actually be up ten in the second half on Drexel, then blow the lead, then come back and win and actually move up to tenth place.

5) James Madison with a chance of actually finishing sixth, decides, with the exception of Juwann James, absolutely to not show up against Delaware.

It was a fitting end to a fitting regular season. Two overtime games, another game decided by a point and four teams moving up in their seeding as a result; George Mason, Hofstra, Delaware, William and Mary.

James Madison had a chance to finish sixth yesterday with a win vs. Delaware, a win by Hofstra and a loss by Drexel. Two of the three things happened. Unfortunately James Madison didn't hold their end of the bargain. The Blue Hens jumped out to a 21-3 lead and never looked back in beating the Dukes 79-65. Marc Egerson had a typical day, yawn, 20 points and 14 rebounds, another double double for Mr. Double Double. The Blue Hens shot 49 percent from the field including 11 of 24 from three. Juwann James led all scorers with 23 points on 10 of 15 shooting from the field. The rest of the Dukes shot 13 of 35 from the field. With the loss, James Madison finishes seventh.

VCU was home yesterday. The mission was simple. A win and clinch the #1 seed for the CAA tournament for the third season in a row. The opponent was Georgia State, a team that had won four in a row and five of their last six, including wins over Northeastern and Hofstra. Well that team never showed up as the Rams forced 20 turnovers and pounded the Panthers 69-41 in what must have been a raucous Spiegel Center. Eric Maynor, the soon to be two time CAA Player of the Year, only had 9 points in the game but had 9 assists to lead the Rams. Larry Sanders led all scorers with 10 points and 3 blocks for the Rams. Rashard Chase had 10 points as well for the Panthers.

As usual, I was at the Hofstra game at Senior Day, as the Pride celebrated six seniors graduating. The Pride also retired Richie Laurel's number. Laurel had over 2000 points for the Pride and led them to two consecutive NCAA tournaments in 1976 and 1977. Laurel was also drafted in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977. He played only one season in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks. The motto for the Hofstra Pride should be "It's Never Easy". Think about it, fourteen of Hofstra's 29 games this season have been decided by five points or less, with Hofstra winning 12 of them. So when my friend Mal told me that Hofstra was favored by 13 points yesterday, I replied "When has Hofstra won a game by 13 points this season?" Actually, in fact Hofstra has only won three games this season by more than 13 points this season - 3-23 Fordham, 10-19 St Francis and DIII Farmingdale State - obviously none of the teams are in the CAA.

So when Hofstra faced UNCW yesterday, it was probably hard for the fans to grasp that the fact that Hofstra might actually win a game handily. Early on the game was tied at 10 and then the Pride went on a 19-6 run to go up 29-15. But as usual, the game got close as the Seahawks went on a 11-0 run to cut the lead to three. The game would be 38-33 as Hofstra shot 50 percent from the field with balanced scoring. However the pace favored UNCW as did the first game won by Hofstra 80-78 at Wilmington.

The second half saw the Pride take two double digit leads. The first came at 43-33 as the Pride scored the first five points of the second half. The Seahawks scored the next six points to cut the lead to four, 43-39. The Pride continued the mini scoring streak run by scoring the next ten points to give Hofstra again a 14 point lead, 53-39. The lead for Hofstra would hang around the eight - ten point range, In fact with four minutes left, the score was 73-65 Hofstra.

But Hofstra would start running their typical slow down offense and UNCW took advantage. The Seahawks whittled the lead down to 77-74. After Cornelius Vines missed an ill advised three point jumper, the Seahawks had a chance to tie with 51 seconds left. Darren Townes blocked Chad Tomko's layup, but the ball ended up in UNCW's Dominique Lacy's hands. Lacy found Johnny Wolf, who drilled a three to tie the game. Charles Jenkins missed a jumper and thus, a typical Hofstra game went into overtime.

The Seahawks would score the first basket of overtime, and would take THEIR FIRST LEAD FOR THE ENTIRE GAME, at 79-77. UNCW would have their last lead at 81-79, but the Pride would score the last nine points in the game as Jenkins scored six of the eleven points in that OT period. But Greg Washington's emphatic slam off a Cornelius Vines steal, ignited a loud roar from the 3600 fans at the game and seal the win for the Pride, 88-81.

Jenkins celebrated his 20th birthday in style by scoring a career high 35 points, shooting 11 of 18 from the field, 11 of 13 from the line, and had 8 assists. During the game, Jenkins scored his 1000th point of his career. Cornelius Vines added 17 points off the bench for Hofstra. Dominique Lacy had 21 to lead the Seahawks.

So with the first part of my wild scenario complete, Northeastern had a chance at home to clinch the second seed and potentially knock Old Dominion out of the four seed yesterday. In a thrilling game where the lead changed 12 times and had 13 ties, the Monarchs forced overtime when Jonathan Adams hit a three to tie the game with 11 seconds left. Then Adams would put ODU ahead to stay with two free throws with 43 seconds left and Old Dominion defeated Northeastern 57-54.

There was a question of whether Gerald Lee was going to play yesterday with a sprained foot. Well Lee answered that question and answered the question of how healthy he was with 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting in 35 minutes of play. The game also showed how much Matt Janning has struggled this season. As noted Janning missed several free throws down the stretch which may have cost the Huskies the win in regulation. Janning also shot 3 of 11 from the field. Janning's stats have dropped across the board from last season. His ppg is down from 16.1 to 14.3. His FG percentage is down from 44.7 to 40.6 this season. His three point field goal percentage is down from 37.6 to 33.1. As my friend stated, Janning has probably been most adversely effected by the three point line being moved back. If Northastern wants to win the CAA tournament, Janning has to find his stroke.

Meanwhile, Drexel, coming off a heartbreaking loss to Northeastern, tried to keep their hopes alive for the fourth spot by playing at William and Mary. The Northeastern/ODU game was already an hour in when this game started. And it seemed like Drexel was in a fog as the Mary went out to an early 19-12 lead and a 21-16 halftime lead as again the Bruiser Flint Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight was at it again, shooting 5 of 18 from the field in the first half.

Around this time, Drexel may have got the bad news that ODU had won their game and clinched the fourth seed, the last bye spot. It got even worse for the Dragons as the Mary jumped out to a 35-25 lead with 13:25 minutes left. Drexel though made a 14-2 run to go ahead 39-37 on a Tramayne Hawthorne three pointer with 8:04 left. The Dragons went up four 47-43 with 2:44 left on another Hawthorne jumper. Then in a deja vu moment from their game against Northeastern on Wednesday, the Dragons would not score a point again for the rest of the game. While the Dragons missed their final five shots and Danny Sumner's three with 30 seconds left won the game for the Mary. Drexel shot 32 percent from the field, including 4 of 14 from the field. Thus Drexel finished as the sixth seed and the Mary would get the 10th seed after what transpired next in Norfolk.

So now Northeastern had to hope that Mason would lose to Towson for any hope of keeping the second seed. Now after you have stopped laughing for the past minute, the Tigers actually were ahead 27-23 before reality snuck up and hit Towson across the head like a sledgehammer. The sledgehammer's name was Darryl Monroe as the Patriots' went on a 12-2 run to end the half and go up 35-29. You could have closed your browser on ESPN360 right there as George Mason went on to a 71-59 win. Monroe had 13 points and 9 rebounds to lead four scorers in double figures for the Patriots. George Mason has the #2 seed and Towson finished with the #11 seed.

So here's what you got now as a result of this wacky last day in the CAA.

Friday first round

Afternoon Session

#9 Delaware vs #8 Georgia State - The teams split their season series, each winning on their home court.

#12 UNCW vs. #5 Hofstra - Hofstra swept the season series but both games were close, a two point win at the buzzer in Wilmington and the seven point OT win yesterday.

Evening Session

#10 William and Mary vs. #7 James Madison - The Dukes have swept the season series vs. the Mary.

#11 Towson vs. #6 Drexel - The Dragons swept the season series vs. the Tigers.

So you have three of the four games where one team swept the other. You know what they say...'Three's the Charm". Lets see who gets burned by that.

Saturday Second Round

Afternoon Session

#1 VCU vs. #8-#9 winner

#4 ODU vs. #5-#12 winner

Evening Session

#2 George Mason vs. #7-#10 winner

#3 Northeastern vs. #6-#11 winner

I'll talk more about that in preview this week. Enjoy.

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