Saturday, December 4, 2010

Retrospect - Part II - Looking Back on Five Years of the College Hardwood

Earlier this week, when I started thinking about that this blog was going to be five years old today, all sorts of memories came back.  Images of  past live college hoops games I have been at suddenly flooded my mind -  regular season classics, seven years of CAA Tournaments in Richmond, the 2008 Regional in Raleigh.  All the road trips, oh the road trips!  So many great players with so many great individual performances.  It's so hard to try to encompass them all in one retrospective article, but I will try.

First, how did this blog get started?  Well much credit goes to my dear friends, Tieff and Mal.  My fellow partners in crime for Hofstra season tickets.  They thought I had a vast knowledge of college basketball and particularly the CAA.   They encouraged me during one Hofstra home game to start writing about my knowledge.  Thus I started "College Basketball Featurning CAA Men's Basketball and thus my first article, which I dusted off and brought it back to light yesterday.

And oh what a first season the blog witnessed.  2005-2006 was the CAA's coming out party.  Back in December of 2005, I honestly thought it would come down to Old Dominion and Hofstra.  But even then, if you read my December 4, 2005 CAA Preview on the above link, I honestly thought you would see the CAA have multiple bids that season.  And we all know what happened there.  But I also mentioned in that first article that Mason had to play much better defense to be successful.  And the Patriots ended up being in the Top 10 in the nation in scoring defense and we all saw what happened as a result.  Well almost everybody, except Billy Packer.

And being a Hofstra fan, as well as a season ticket holder, I got to see so many great Pride, err Flying Dutch  games that season and several were on the road.  Whether it was the wild overtime win at Drexel in Philly, the last second heroics at home vs. ODU, the wild Bracketbuster game vs. Siena where Fran McCaffery AND his wife got thrown out of the game,  Hofstra won some incredible games.

Then came the CAA Tournament, which Mal, Tieff and I attended,  where I really thought any of four teams could win it all (UNCW, Mason, Hofstra and ODU) plus you had two good teams that could pull off upsets in Northeastern and VCU.  Only UNCW came out of their quarterfinal game unscathed.   Northeastern upset Old Dominion, then in the night session, few people remember that Mason had to rally against Georgia State to force overtime, then won in the OT session.  Then in the final game of the evening, Hofstra went out to a big lead thanks to Antoine Agudio (Antoine Agreatio as Litos called him) and held off VCU and the refs in front of a partisan Ram crowd.

Finally there was the semifinals where Noreaster never gave the Seahawks a game in their semifinal.  Then you had the antithesis in the nightcap.   In the game that a lot of people thought was going to decide the second CAA bid to the tournament, Hofstra took on Mason.   The Pride, er Flying Dutchmen rallied from a halftime deficit with perhaps their greatest 20 minute defensive effort ever and took down the Patriots.

The game will also live in infamy for the Tony Skinn groin punch on Loren Stokes, captured by a Wilmington North Carolina  TV crew. Despite the punch, seeing the ending of the game with the Pride winning might have been one of my greatest highs ever.  And the ride home was equally as great a high as the three of us tried to figure out what seeds the winner and the loser of the CAA championship game would have in the NCAA Tournament.

As noted, we didn't stay for the final, where UNCW defeated Hofstra, but a good number of "experts' figured that with Hofstra sweeping Mason during the season, the Pride, err Flying Dutchmen would make the NCAA Tournament as an at large.   I even wrote the first Moore Primer, which I STILL think is the best set of rules for deciding whether a prospective at large team should make the tournament.

Of course, one week later after the highest of highs, I, along with many others suffered the lowest of lows.  So many of us were stunned to see Hofstra left out and Mason in as the at large.  I have never thought Mason should have been kept out though and thought Air Force was the team that didn't and still doesn't deserve to be in.  Mason of course would go to the Final Four, while UNCW would blow a huge lead vs. GW and lose.  Meanwhile Old Dominion did beat Hofstra the quarterfinals of the NIT and also end Hofstra's home winning streak.  Overall, a 9-4 postseason men's basketball postseason record in 2006 is perhaps the greatest accomplishment in the history of the CAA.

2006-07 came full of hope and the season started for us on a road trip to Charlotte to see the Pride (sorry Beach, no more Flying Dutch references) take on the 49ers.  Nothing like golf and then basketball on a beautiful 80 plus degree day, which still makes me think I should move down south to Carolina.  Unfortunately Hofstra would play a game that was a harbinger of things to come, losing to Charlotte.  The season would basically end when the Pride were upset by George Mason in the CAA Quarterfinals (yes Hofstra went on and lost to DePaul in the NIT, but that was anti-climatic).

Still there were many things to be thankful for that season.  Watching so many games of the Hofstra guard trifecta of  Loren Stokes, Antoine Agreatio Agudio and Carlos Rivera.  Another multiple season bid as Old Dominion, on the strength of a road win at Georgetown, got an at large.   Then VCU continued the CAA streak of winning in the NCAA by knocking off mighty Duke in the first round.

2007-08 brought some of the greatest basketball memories I can think of.  The epic game by William and Mary vs VCU in the CAA Semifinals, still to this day the textbook example of how to beat a press team.  Then, thanks to Mal, aka Golfman, who was the leader behind the idea of  going to Raleigh for the NCAA first round regional, I got to see history live.  That being Stephen Curry's rise to the national spotlight as he and his Davidson team shot down Gonzaga and Georgetown on the Wildcats' way to the Elite Eight.  Words can't describe how electric the RBS Center was over those two days.

2008-09 brought some fun memories as Tieff and I were two of the several thousand people who christened the Kresse Arena for the inaugural Charleston Classic.  I also learned that Stephen Curry was more than just a great player, but a great human being.  I got to C.W. Post make it to the Elite Eight by winning their regional.  And finally, I saw before my eyes the next great Hofstra player, Charles Jenkins.

This past season, the 2009-10 season, the season really centered around one of my all time favorite road trips, a trip to Lawrence, Kansas.  It was truly a great experience to see Allen Fieldhouse, one of the great meccas of college basketball.  It was also involved a crazy road trip the day after a major snowstorm in December.  There was also a memorable game in March 2010 which involved Stony Brook hosting their first ever postseason game.

The 2009-10 season also brought about a great honor for me.  In late January of this year, Jeff Eisenberg who over sees "The Dagger", Yahoo Sports' National College Basketball Blog, asked me to be a part of the Blogger Power Poll, where a group of bloggers voted for the Top 16 teams in the country every Sunday from February through the beginning of March.   From the beginning of the poll till obviously the end, I had Butler ranked in every poll.   Of course, we all know what happened with Butler.

Of course this past season had a major coaching carousel.  Locally, several teams added new coaches including St John's, Fordham, Rutgers, Wagner, Hofstra and Iona.   In fact, Hofstra had three coaches in the span of three months - Tom Pecora who left for Fordham (which I knew weeks before it was official), Tim Welsh, who resigned and Mo Cassara, who was hired to replace Welsh and looks to be a terrific keeper.

But it's not been all about Division I Men's College Basketball.  I chronicled C.W. Post's meteoric rise to the Elite Eight in the 2008-09 season.  So much so, I promoted their coach for the Hofstra coaching position this past April and it turned out Iona chose our man.   Then there has been this site's long devotion to covering Iona women's basketball and how Tony Bozzella turned a cellar dweller program around into an annual contender for the MAAC title.   Finally, the one interview I did with a coach was with the terrific John Mateyko and how he built a Division III playoff team at St Joseph's in Patchogue.

And it wasn't just about college basketball.  As I mentioned before, it's about the camaraderie between three friends who equally love college basketball.  It's about the road trips and all the places I have seen up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Worcester, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina.  From Stony Brook, New York to Lawrence, Kansas.

And all the places I have eaten in, from the now closed Pasta Luna in Richmond to Maggiano's in Philly, to Frank Pepe's in New Haven, to Hyman's Seafood in Charleston.  All the various Waffle Houses on road trips to Towson and Richmond.  All the various Aunt Sarah's Pancakes and the Buffalo Wild Wings in downtown Richmond by the James River.  And of course, I will never forget Guy and Mae's Barbecue Tavern in Williamsburg, Kansas.

Much of my life has gone on during the College Hardwood.  My older son Matthew was a little over four months old when this blog started on December 4, 2005.  My younger son Jonathan was born on Saturday, November 17, 2007, only four and half hours after I watched Hofstra beat Manhattan overtime.  That lead to an infamous comment I made that "I saw two things in labor Saturday night; my wife and Hofstra."   In the five years of this blog I have dealt with depression, my younger son's kidney problems (which have all cleared up), betrayal by once a dear friend and suffered a great loss.

This blog actually has not been always a one person show.  I have also had several people along the way write for this site, albeit briefly. Jeff Hufnagle briefly wrote for the site in April 2006.   Then Mr. MAC himself, Tom Kemp wrote a few articles for the site after I was very impressed with his comments on some of my articles.  I still have Tom's number on my cell phone, so I have to call him one of these days.  Finally, last season, Jerry Beach of Defiantly Dutch and I did a blog swap. Here's his article on my site and here's my article on his site.  I hope we do another blog swap this season.

This blog has also never been afraid of criticizing those in power, whether it's criticizing the No Clue At All for inconsistent punishment of players or ESPN for watering down the Bracketbusters.  The College Hardwood has also taken a certain coach to task for his style of play at the end of close basketball games.  It's also been a conduit for controversy for not being afraid to say what others might not like.    I stand by what I have written on this site and will not make apologies.

If you have been one of the few, the proud, the dedicated readers of this site, you know that the emphasis has been on live college basketball,  If there is one thing that you have ever got out of this blog, it is the all important belief that you should see college basketball live.  College basketball is truly the greatest spectator sport to see live.  Two hours of constant action, great pep bands, beautiful cheerleaders, and often loud wonderful crowds with ingenious fans.  Hopefully I have brought some of that to light for you.

I also want to give a shout out to three people whose writing I admire and respect.  Mike Litos is CAA Basketball, and I love the in depth work Mike does and really appreciate being called an "erstwhile blogger" by him.   Mr Defiantly Dutch, Jerry Beach is one of the most talented writers I know and I will be doing a book review soon of his baseball book "Fighting Words - The Media, The Red Sox and the All Encompassing Passion for Baseball in Boston".  I have read half the book so far and it's a truly fascinating look into how important the Red Sox are to Boston.  But even more importantly, how powerful the various Boston media members are that cover the Red Sox.

And last but not least, thank you Kyle Whelliston for being a huge inspiration to me.  Your work at The MidMajority is truly phenomenal and has been an influence in my writing style.  I have tried to make my basketball articles be more like stories instead of regurgitation, and I have tried to pattern a little of that based on your work. Also, I really appreciate the occasional tweets promoting my work on your twitter feed.  Most importantly, thanks so much for the kind words over the years.  Some of those words have kept me and this site going through several tough times as I have mentioned above.

Finally, these five years wouldn't be possible for a dedicated group of readers.  I want to thank you all so very much for joining me on this journey, as the Moody Blues would say (and yes, Jerry, there had to be a Moody Blues reference in this article).  Especially,  I want to thank many of the CAA Zone members who often link to my articles in their posts.   It is so appreciated that you read my blog.  And to the one recent CAA Zone member who recently linked to my Hofstra-Wagner article on a thread and asked whether or not I sleep, well the answer is simple.  I have two young boys, thus sleep often is not an option.  So why not take advantage of that and write!

As I stated recently, due to deadlines and commitments, I don't know how much longer this blog will exist.  Heck, I didn't think it would last this long five years ago today.  But it's been a wonderful five year ride and it will continue for the near future. Besides, with the kids still little, what else is there to do in northeast winters but to go see college basketball games and write about them!

For me, the ability to try to paint a picture of a game I saw live, trying to emulate how Vin Scully, my all-time favorite broadcaster, calls baseball play by play, is something I dearly love to do.  Hopefully you have enjoyed five years of my artwork.  And thanks again for being a part of this journey.

Now go watch some live college basketball!

With Warmest Regards,

Gary Moore
The College Hardwood

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