Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hofstra Makes a Statement by Hiring Welsh

The last 72 hours have been a blur for me. First, I finished my article late Monday night, an open letter to Hofstra AD Jack Hayes, and also started my "Tim Cluess for Hofstra Men's Basketball Coach" Facebook Group. I am proud to say seven members strong! Tuesday, the open letter to Jack Hayes brought some nice responses from several people, including those in the CAAZone discussion board. I just wanted to say thank you by the way to everyone for your nice comments, much appreciated.

In fact, earlier in the day yesterday, a fellow Hofstra alum e-mailed me. He appreciated that I had the same passion as him for Hofstra basketball. As we conversed back and forth, he mentioned Tim Welsh's name was now under consideration for the position and thought he might get the job.

That was a name I hadn't heard in the initial group of candidates from my source and from published reports. With my curiosity peaked, I immediately poked around the Internet and read the stories that Welsh was interviewing for the position. I also reviewed Welsh's coaching history.

called me at work, since we were getting together later in the evening. I informed him of the news on Welsh and both of us must have been on Wikipedia the same time (I knew I was). Tieff started going over Welsh's career coaching statistics on the phone.

So after work, I quickly got home, got changed and headed to my friend Mal's house. We discussed the hiring of Steve Lavin for the St John's position (Mal is a St John's alum) on the way to the Manhasset Train Station. And we also discussed how hot his wife, actress Mary Ann Jarou is. I can see the prospective Jonnies' recruits ask Lavin if his wife will be behind the bench for every home game. A simple "yes" would have me signing on the dotted line, that's for sure.

We were heading into the city to watch the NIT semifinals at "The World's Most Famous Arena", Madison Square Garden. As we waited outside on the Manhasset train station platform on a very rainy Tuesday night, my reliable source called me on the phone. I said hello and he simply replied "Tim Welsh, new Hofstra coach." We talked for a few minutes and he said he would keep me posted on further information.

I hung up the phone and gave Mal the news. At first, I felt great disappointment for Tim Cluess, because I felt like he deserved a chance to coach Hofstra. Cluess has convincingly won at every coaching position in his career and has been a major coaching figure on Long Island for years. I thought he at least deserved an interview. But that's ok, I have a feeling he is going to take Post to another Elite Eight next year. And then the phone will ring off the hook.

So after the initial disappointment of Cluess not getting the job, because my source is usually spot on, we got on the train. While getting on the train, my friend Bob called me and I informed him of the news. He too was disappointed for Cluess, because he works with him at Post and knows how good a coach he is.

But Bob also knows Tim Welsh. He did side work at Iona while Welsh coached there and he always thought highly of Welsh. So in part he was quite happy about the news and reminded me how Welsh is such a good coach and recruiter. Bob has often talked about Welsh over the years that I have known him, and he thought it was a great hire.

After I got off the phone with Bob, I sat on the train talking to Mal about the news. As we started talking about the hiring of Welsh, I became increasingly optimistic about the decision to hire Welsh. Because Hofstra actually got a name coach that I didn't even think was possible. And that was the talk for most of the night until we got into MSG for the start of the Dayton-Ole Miss game.

I texted Jerry Beach the news and Beach had heard the news too but was skeptical. But Jerry, my son, I wouldn't steer you wrong and I didn't. Jerry has his own take on the Welch hiring, and like all his articles, it has insight and in this case, even a 2002 Mets reference. Cmon Jerry, you can't put Tim Welsh and Art Howe in the same paragraph!

Welsh started out as an assistant under Pat Kennedy at Iona, then Florida State. He then was an assistant at Syracuse under Jim Boeheim, then went back to be the head assistant under his dad, Jerry Welsh at Iona. When his dad became ill, Tim became the coach of Iona midway through the 1994-95 season. When his dad was forced to retire, Tim became the head coach of Iona.

In his three full seasons at Iona, the Gaels were 70-22. Stop to read that again. 70-22. He led them to three MAAC regular season titles, one MAAC Tournament championship, two NIT appearances and one NCAA appearance in his last season at Iona, with a 27-6 record. Then he left the Gaels to accept the Providence head coaching position.

In his ten years at Providence, he had what you could call modest success, 145-126 in probably the toughest overall conference in the country, the Big East. Welsh led the Friars to two NCAA Tournament appearances and three NIT appearances. Welsh's ability to recruit talent led to the Friars getting Ryan Gomes, one of the best players in recent Big East history. Sharaud Curry is another talented player Welsh recruited.

Unfortunately, Welsh's teams were good one year, mediocre the next. He only had back to back winning seasons one time (2002-03, 2003-04). And that started to wear on the Providence boosters and fans. Welsh was fired after the 2007-08 season, a season the Friars finished 15-16. Welsh has worked with ESPN the last two years as a college basketball analyst, just like Lavin.

Now I know what some of you might be saying - Geez, Gary doesn't this seem like Hofstra is hiring a retread? My answer is "NO!" I think Welsh did a remarkable job getting Providence in the postseason 50 percent of the time in a conference that has sixteen teams.

Think about how other coaches have fared in the Big East the past several years. Norm Roberts had two barely winning seasons in six years and one postseason tournament (this year's NIT) before he was fired. Bobby Gonzalez had only one postseason tournament in four seasons (this year's NIT) before he got his pink slip. Jerry Wainwright had only one winning season and one post season tournament (2006-07 NIT) before he was kicked to the side of the road. Don't even get me started on Rutgers' line of coaches or South Florida.

So two NCAA Tournaments and three NIT appearances in ten years in the Big East actually looks pretty good compared to the aforementioned Big East coaches and teams. And remember, he never missed a postseason in his three seasons at Iona. Thirteen seasons, eight postseason appearances. Pretty darn good ratio if you ask me.

Now what really impresses me the most is the reported salary for Welsh. A five year contract at an annual salary of $600,000. Yes, that's more than Tom Pecora was making at Hofstra.

What?!! Say again??? Yes, he is getting more money than the previous coach, Pecora got at Hofstra (now don't cry for Tom, he is still making more now at Fordham, $700,000 then Welsh will be making at Hofstra).

Now it gets even better. If reports are accurate, the coaching assistant and recruiting budget will also be significantly more than when Pecora was coaching.

Does this mean that Hofstra is doing what Kyle Whelliston has long suggested, what Jerry Beach has long suggested, what yours truly has suggested? Actually increasing the men's basketball budget?

As Marv Albert would say.....YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And for those of you who think, why didn't they offer this to Pecora? Well, a couple of reasons. One, from what I heard, Pecora went to Fordham last Wednesday and signed the contract that day. There was no chance of a counter offer. Besides, Pecora wanted to be in the A10 in the worst way. He has a serious need to finally get into the NCAA Tournament and the A-10 simply offers a better chance to do that. He had enough of the CAA and he knew Hofstra was in no position any time soon to join the A10. I knew from my reliable source on March 1st that Pecora was gone and perhaps Hayes knew it then too.

Second, no offense to Tom Pecora, but Tim Welsh has a longer track record of success. It's not even up for debate. Thirteen seasons with three NCAA and five NIT postseason appearances vs. nine seasons with three NIT post season appearances. And no, I am not going to count the CBI appearance in Pecora's total. Over 4000 of you decided to stay home on March 17 and not count that appearance, so neither am I now.

Also, I think this past Sunday's Newsday article entitled "Hofstra's AD Downplays Concerns" very well could have made a difference. The administration may very well have said that we need to find a coach to take us to the next level. Also they may have said that we need to show that coach and more importantly our alumni/fans that we are serious about that commitment. That appears to be the statement made by Jack Hayes and President Stuart Rabinowitz

In my open letter to Jack Hayes on Monday, I intimated that if the money that was originally appropriated from the football team will indeed still be in the budget as the administration has noted, then "increasing the [basketball] budget is easy." Some people on the Hofstra CAAZone board scoffed at my notion that increasing the basketball budget money was easy.

Well for one of those rare solar eclipse moments, I might actually be right. It sure seemed easy enough to appropriate the money for Welsh and his assistants. And I bet you are wondering how good Welsh's assistants will be.

Well what from what my friend Bob tells me, this man, Steve Demeo will be joining Welsh at Hofstra. Yup, his top recruiter from Iona and Providence and a coach listed at one time as one of the Top 25 recruiters in the country. Yup, in the country. However, I have no confirmation yet though that Demeo is joining Welsh at Hofstra.

But if Demeo is indeed joining Welsh at Hofstra, then I have a question for someone.

Hey Steve Marcus, do you still think Pecora will "freeze out" someone like Tim Welsh in local NYC recruiting? Riiiiight.

In 2003, Tieff and I traveled up to Providence to watch the Hofstra-Providence game at the Dunkin Donuts Center. It was the only match up ever between Providence under Welsh vs. Hofstra under Pecora. It was our first look ever at Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera, both freshman at the time. Rivera started and scored nine points. Meanwhile, Stokes came off the bench in his first game and scored six points.

And it was also our first look live at Ryan Gomes who put a double double on the Dutchmen as the Friars won 69-56. Instantly I became a Ryan Gomes fan. He could shoot, rebound and even pass really well (four assists in that game). Gomes has ended up having a nice NBA career. And now the coach who recruited him is coaching Hofstra.

If you can tell that I am positively giddy about this, you're right. I will be watching the press conference at 11:00 am tomorrow. I will be curious to hear what Welsh says, what Hayes and President Rabinowitz say about the commitment to the program. I think it will be a great day in Hofstra basketball history.
Well the smile on my face lasted the entire evening in a surprisingly well filled MSG for two exciting though sloppy games. Due to the overtime game with North Carolina and Rhode Island in the second NIT semifinal, I didn't get home till nearly 1:30 this morning. Immediately I posted the quick article on Welch being the coach. Then I went to bed and before I knew it, I was up at 5:30 due to the fact my younger son wanted his morning bottle of milk.

So perhaps it's due to the fact that I am punch drunk from lack of sleep, but I already want the 2010-11 college basketball season to start tomorrow. But wait, the Final Four hasn't even occurred yet and one of my favorite teams, Butler has a chance to win it all.

So, ok, I will wait till next Monday after the Bulldogs with the national championship, then I will want the 2010-11 season to start on Tuesday. Hey I have Tim Welsh and a talented Hofstra team with Charles Jenkins returning to look forward to. Why not have the 2010-11 season start on April 6.

I tell you, is that so wrong?

Tim Welsh , New Hofstra Coach? Looks That Way

My usual reliable source contacted me last evening at 6:00 PM while I was on a train heading to the NIT. My source informed me that the next coach of Hofstra will be Tim Welsh, former Iona and Providence head coach. This is the same source that gave me the information on March 1st that Tom Pecora was going to Fordham weeks before it happened.

Other news sites have noted that Welsh has been in contact with Hofstra. But my source goes further, stating unequivocally that Welsh is the man.

So it appears I was correct that the new Hofstra coach would be named Tim. But it's not Tim Cluess, who I still think would have been a great choice. But it appears Hofstra is looking to get a big name coach with ties to the local NYC area. Welsh fits the bill.

If I get more information on this, I will let you all know.

UPDATE - ESPN confirms my source. There will be a press conference Thursday at Hofstra announcing Tim Welsh as the new coach of Hofstra. I like the hire and I will give my reasons why tonight.

Monday, March 29, 2010

An Open Letter to Hofstra AD Jack Hayes - Hire Tim Cluess and Increase the Basketball Budget

Jack Hayes
Athletic Director
Hofstra University
Hempstead, New York 11549

Dear Mr. Hayes,

I am writing to you as an alum, Hofstra Pride Club Member, and Men's Basketball season ticket holder. Due to the recent hiring of former Men's Basketball Head Coach Tom Pecora by Fordham University, obviously you currently have a vacancy at the head coach position. This is my recommendation that you should hire Tim Cluess as the new Hofstra Men's Basketball Coach.

Mr. Cluess is a fellow Hofstra Alum, and as you know, is the current head coach of C.W. Post University. He also played at St John's before transferring to Hofstra and finishing his degree work there. After college, he was an assistant at a couple of high schools before taking the head coach position at St Mary's High School in Manhasset.

In his fifteen seasons at St Mary's, Cluess amassed a 264-78 record with three New York State titles, two Federation Championships and won the Nassau-Suffolk Catholic League Championships eight years in a row. During that time at St Mary's, he had over 50 players who went on to collegiate and professional playing careers, including Danny Green, formerly of North Carolina, who is now playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After leaving St Mary's, Cluess became the head coach of Suffolk Community College. In his one season at Suffolk, he took them to the Region XV Championship and a fourth place finish in the NJCAA Division III Championship. It was the team's first appearance ever in that national tournament.

Cluess took over the C.W. Post head coaching position the next season. In four seasons with the Pioneers, he has taken them to two NCAA Division II Tournaments with an overall record of 98-23. In 2008-09, the Pioneers were 30-1, won the NCAA East Regional title and went into the NCAA Division II Elite Eight undefeated as the #2 ranked team in NCAA Division II. C.W. Post faced #1 ranked Findlay University in the Elite Eight and lost in overtime to the eventual National Division II Champions 88-79.

I have talked to several Hofstra season ticket holders in the past several days. To a person, each of them said that the team under Coach Pecora was "boring" and "predictable" on offense. I can tell you and those ticket holders that Coach Cluess' teams are anything but boring and predictable on offense.

He runs a wonderful uptempo spread offense and he runs a pressure style defense with lots of traps. I attended several of the C.W. Post games throughout the past two seasons, including their exciting Eastern Regional Championship win over Bentley last season. And I can tell you and my fellow Hofstra fans, that without a shadow of a doubt they will love his style of play. And in fact, there are many Hofstra fans on CAAZone who support the hiring of Cluess as well.

As for his ability to recruit, Cluess has a long standing history with Long Island AAU coaches. In fact in an article written last year, Cluess said the following.

“I think one of the main reason’s why we’ve been successful at the places I’ve coached at,” he said, “is because of all the basketball people in Long Island that I’ve met and the connections with the area coaches, and I’m lucky, because we really have some outstanding high school and AAU coaches in the area.”
At C.W. Post, where you have to often rely heavily on transfers, Cluess brought in Division I transfers like Kevin Spann and Nick Carter. And he helped recruit one of C.W. Post's greatest players in Jonathan Schmidt, who graduated last season. In fact, in a Newsday article from over a year ago, Steven Marcus wrote the following

"Tim Cluess is so omnipresent in Long Island basketball that he had a hand in recruiting a player for C.W. Post even before he started coaching the team. Jonathan Schmidt, who turned out to be one of the best players in Post history, becomes yet another case of Cluess' Midas touch in mining basketball gold."
Cluess actually noted Schmidt to then Post assistant Tom Sheehan, a former assistant of Cluess at St Mary's. It's further proof that not only can Cluess coach, but he can recruit as well. And if you think he can only just recruit in Long Island, I know for a fact that he has ties to New York City basketball programs as well.

Now I know you are seriously looking at current Hofstra Associate Head Coach Van Macon. Coach Macon has done a nice job as a recruiter and has definitely helped bring in talent to Hofstra. But unlike his predecessor Tom Pecora, Macon has never been a head coach at any level (Pecora was the head coach at Farmingdale for three seasons prior to being head coach at Hofstra).

Also, I read Steven Marcus' "Analysis" in today's newsday titled "Hey Hofstra, make it Macon". I plan to write a followup article on my site later this week detailing some of the troubling statements made in that supposed "analysis".

However, I will note that you should take some of that "analysis" with a grain of salt and refer to the aforementioned article also written by Marcus that Cluess has a "midas touch" when it comes to recruiting. Despite what Marcus says, Pecora will not be able to "freeze out anyone else looking for recruits in his territory." If that was the case, then how did George Mason get the very talented Ryan Pearson from Far Rockaway?

Also, I know that Marcus' "Analysis" mentioned the possible loss of Pecora "contributors" should Macon not be named head coach. Don't worry about losing possible "contributors". If you have a winning program, there will be plenty of "contributors" showing up for Hofstra games supporting the Pride Club. With a successful program, there will be a lot more "contributors" than the 952 people that showed up for the CBI game vs. IUPUI. Tell me if those current "contributors" made a difference there.

Now I know you are also looking at former head coaches Dave Leitao and Tom Herrion, who currently is the Associate Head Coach at Pittsburgh as well as current Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell. They are all fine coaches, but will they look at Hofstra as the ultimate destination, or just a stepping stone to another position?

In Leitao's case, I hate to say it, but Leitao's career similarly parallels to a current CAA coach, Pat Kennedy. Kennedy was successful in several spots such as Iona and Florida State before his failure at DePaul and has not been successful at all since in his tenure at Towson.

In fact, Leitao replaced Kennedy at DePaul. Leitao was successful in his three seasons at DePaul but not so successful at his next stop, Virginia, where he was fired after four seasons. There is also a question of whether Leitao can recruit in the New York area.

As for Herrion, you need to ask yourself "Will he stay long if he is successful?" Since he did have a somewhat successful tenure at College of Charleston (80-38 with one NIT bid in four seasons), he might have visions of a larger job down the road, especially since he has been a long time head assistant at Pitt. Likewise for Pikiell, a former UConn assistant.

In Cluess, you have someone who has been on Long Island his entire life. In fact, he had offers to interview for different Division I jobs, but he chose to remain on Long Island. In fact one of his requirements for the Post position was to have his two kids sit behind the bench.

Mr. Hayes, you would have a coach that would probably stay at Hofstra as long as he was successful. And he will be successful if given the opportunity. His long standing track record absolutely proves that.

Finally, you have to ask yourself, do you want to be status quo as Marcus' online article headline "Marcus' analysis: For continuity's sake, Hofstra should promote Macon" suggests? In the past four seasons, Hofstra has not gone past the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament. In the nine seasons that Pecora coached at Hofstra, the Pride only made it to the semifinals of the CAA Tournament three times.

Also, in the two past seasons in CAA conference play, Hofstra has had an over .50o record in conference play. However upon closer look, during that span Hofstra's record against CAA teams that were above .500 in conference was 6-16. Hofstra went 19-15 this season but only won two games against teams with a record above .500 - Fairfield and Northeastern. Is that the continuity you want?

Also, based on Sunday's Newsday article "Hofstra's AD Downplays concerns", there are several Hofstra alums who are concerned about the future of the basketball program. This is due to the loss of Pecora and the elimination of the football program all within the span of several months.

Mr Hayes, you can answers those concerns by taking Hofstra some of the money that is no longer being spent on Hofstra Football and put it into the Men's Basketball program. Increasing the funding for the basketball program could bring a significant amount of publicity to the school should the program be successful. Kyle Whelliston succinctly states this in his article "Xavier, It's a Basketball School, Dammit"

"Step one: drop football -- I know it's painful, and there's a lot of man-pride involved. Step two: spend a third of your athletic budget on men's basketball. As schools like Butler and have known for years, and as Saint Mary's and Northern Iowa are learning this week, there is no better form of advertising than being good at basketball. And for the cost of one 30-second Super Bowl ad in 2010 ($3 million), a Sweet 16 school can have two weeks of national advertising. Hours upon hours on CBS and ESPN, feature stories in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, endless chatter in restaurants and cafes. In a time of collapsing pyramids and bad money chasing after worse money, this is an investment that's too true to be good."
Hofstra administration has already done the first step, ending the football program. Now take step two. And if you really think about it, Mr. Hayes, Kyle is correct. Besides eliminating football, what were the last two major occasions where Hofstra received major publicity such as the above? One was the Presidential Debate that Hofstra hosted in October, 2008. And two, was due to the men's basketball program in 2006. That was of course when Hofstra basketball was in the news in due to both the Tony Skinn low blow punch to Loren Stokes during the CAA Tournament (which ended up being an item on PTI) and the NCAA's low blow punch to Hofstra by snubbing it out of the NCAA Tournament (despite sweeping George Mason during the season).

You can accomplish this Mr. Hayes by first increasing the recruiting budget so that coaches can recruit nationally for talent that might be elsewhere than New York City. Look at all the talent that Butler and Cornell had this season. You mean to tell me that Ryan Wittman wouldn't have been interested in playing at Hofstra if given the chance (he would have been a freshman during the last season of Stokes/Agudio and Rivera).

But more importantly you can make a statement to the Hofstra "Contributors", the Pride Club Members and the loyal season ticket holders by hiring Tim Cluess. You will be making a dual statement that you are increasing the basketball budget to increase the talent level and hiring a proven winner to take this program to the next level. And with Cluess being a lifelong Long Island resident and Hofstra Alum, you will also be making a third statement that Hofstra is making a long term investment in its basketball program and future.

Increasing the budget is easy. The other choice is much harder. But the choice is yours, Mr. Hayes. Please make the right one. Make it Tim Cluess.


Gary Moore
Class of '88

PS - I have also created a Facebook Group in support of Tim Cluess for Hofstra Men's Basketball Coach. You can find it here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Butler is Not a Cinderella Folks and Thoughts on Tonight

As for tonight, St Mary's- Baylor looks to be a high scoring game. I think St Mary's has a good chance here because Baylor is not known as a defensive team. But the Bears have talent and they shoot the ball well, as do the Gaels. Should be a fun game to watch. Also, I like Northern Iowa's chances vs. Michigan State. Both teams play a similar slogging style of game, but Northern Iowas is fully healthy and Michigan State is missing Kalin Lucas. As for the other games. As for the other games, I like Ohio State and unfortunately Duke. A healthy Robbie Hummel would have meant a much different outcome, but then again Purdue wouldn't be a four seed if he was playing.

At the end of January, Jeff Eisenberg who runs the Yahoo Sports National College Basketball Sports Blog, the Dagger, sent me an email and graciously asked me to be a part of their inaugural Blogger Power 16 Poll. Considering it a honor, I gladly accepted. Little did I know how much work this would be. I started watching...Whelliston turn away...a lot more Power 6 conference games than I normally did (and I do already - I watched a lot of Kansas' games this season). So it gave me a better perspective on some major college teams I didn't follow as much (ended up watching a lot of the Big Ten Network).

And each week, it actually took a good part of my Sunday reviewing what I considered the Top 16 teams in the country. And of course there would be upsets on Sunday afternoons and I would have to scramble what was my original order of teams. In fact, the last week of the Blogger Power Poll, I had to have my wife email my rankings to Jeff because I couldn't find a good WiFi connection in Richmond.

But one thing was surely consistent week after week after week. I had Butler as one of my Sweet 16 poll every week. Why? Because I thought they were truly one of the sixteen best teams in the country. However for several weeks, my fellow bloggers in the Poll for would not vote for the Bulldogs and thus they were listed under "Others receiving votes".

Perhaps they didn't view the Horizon League very highly. But having seen them win over Ohio State and Xavier (how do those wins look now), and lose close games to Clemson and Minnesota early in the season, I thought they were certainly Top 16 caliber and they were in the midst of what would become eventually a 23 game winning streak.

The game that might have brought the rest of the bloggers over to the Butler is Top 16 worthy side was their crushing Bracketbuster win over Siena, who still had the basic nucleus of a group that had won a NCAA Tournament game in each of the past two years. Finally on March 1st, the next to last Blogger Poll, Butler got enough votes from the rest of the bloggers to make the Top 16 Then came their two dominant wins in the Horizon League Tournament.

Then Butler had to prove themselves again in the NCAA Tournament. Many prognosticators picked UTEP to upset Butler. Not this one. A 22-4 second half run took care of the Miners. Then many thought Murray State would knock off the Bulldogs and the Racers almost did win the game. But Butler prevailed.

Then came last night's game vs. Syracuse. I thought Butler would use its outside shooting prowess to its advantage. Though they struggled shooting from the outside, the Bulldogs also set high screens to pick off the top of the zone and let Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward drive the lane. On defense, the Bulldogs hounded the Orange into numerous turnovers. The result, a 35-25 halftime lead.

The Cuse made their second half obligatory run and eventually took the lead 40-39 with 13:29 left on a Wes Johnson three pointer. But Butler would go back in front again. But again the Orange came back and went ahead 52-50 with 5:45 left on an Andy Rautins three pointer. The Orange had their lead up to four, 54-50 with 5:23 left. Neither team could score for the next two minutes but still the Cuse had momentum on their side.

But Bulldogs never quit and certainly not this group. A Ronald Nored three pointer with 3:13 left kicked off the decisive 11-0 run. And when Gordon Hayward hit one of two free throws with 37 seconds left to put Butler up 61-50, Butler was now one win away from going home to Indianapolis for the Final Four.

All that stands in their way is Kansas State, a very talented and tough team that survived two overtimes against Xavier, a team Butler barely beat at Hinkle Fieldhouse. It looks to be another tough game but Bulldogs never quit. And here's the scary thing, outside of Veasley, the whole team is back next season. Maybe my fellow Dagger Bloggers Power Poll members will have them in the Top 16 to start the season. But this season isn't over yet. Just one win from home.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Sweet 16 Start Rumbling Tonight and X Marks Their Spot...Again!

Tonight the Sweet 16 gets cut down to 12 as the Regional Semifinals begin. In Salt Lake City, in the first game Syracuse faces Butler while Kansas State faces Xavier in the other semifinal. In Syracuse, West Virginia faces Washington and in the second game, Kentucky faces Cornell.

The game that will probably interest most of the country is how will the Big Red handle Ashley Judd's boys. Can Ithaca's finest, only playing a short distance from home, deal with the pressure basketball that Wildcat nation will put on them? If Cornell can play as well as they did in their first two games in front of what should be for the most part a partisan crowd for the Big Red, then Kentucky is in for the fight of their season. Look for Louis Dale to be the key tonight. If he can turn John Wall's turnovers into points, I think we have something here.

As for Butler and Syracuse, it's pretty simple. Can Butler effectively score against the Syracuse Zone and can Matt Howard stay out of foul trouble and be effective against the Cuse's Rick Jackson. Butler has to run a half court offense, slow the pace down and score effectively in their possessions tonight to have any chance.Two teams that are 30-4. One will be 31-4 after tonight.

As for West Virginia, the loss of starting point guard Darryl Bryant due to an injury in practice weakens them against a Washington team on a serious roll. The Huskies, winners of nine straight, are looking for a high scoring game. The Mountaineers, winners of eight straight themselves, need to keep them under 70 if they want to win.

And there is the Kansas State- Xavier game. A lot of the interest will be on Kansas State's Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. But their opposition is probably the most underrated team in the tournament. And once again in a NCAA Tournament, X, as in Xavier marks their spot in the Sweet 16.

Take a look at the eight teams' records in the NCAA Tournament since the 2001-02 season

Xavier 13-7
Kentucky 13-7
Syracuse 12-5
West Virginia 9-4
Butler 7-4
Washington 7-4
Kansas State 3-1
Cornell 2-2

Would you have known that Xavier had tied Kentucky for the most wins? During this stretch of time, Xavier has been at least to four Sweet Sixteens and currently two Elite Eights. In fact, the only NCAA tournament they missed being in was the 2005 NCAA Tournament. Of the other seven schools playing tonight, Kentucky is the only other school that has missed just one NCAA Tournament during that stretch as well (Syracuse missed the NCAA Tournament in two consecutive seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08).

Is that amazing or what? But you rarely hear about the Musketeers. They are the NCAA's stealth team. You hear all the cinderella talk about Northern Iowa, Cornell, St Mary's and even Butler. But there is Xavier, a borderline mid major who doesn't want to be called a mid major. And after thirteen NCAA Tournament wins in nine seasons, perhaps they have a point.

What's even more amazing is that Xavier has done this with a seemingly revolving door of coaches the past several seasons. Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Motta, Sean Miller and now Chris Mack have all coached Xavier in recent history. Yet they don't miss a beat. How is that? Well, when your school spends its athletic budget on basketball not football, perhaps you get good enough players on a consistent basis to have been in 20 NCAA Tournaments.

Still to be so good with such a coaching turnover is amazing and speaks volumes of the program's ability to get top notch coaches and more importantly consistent top notch talent like current players Jordan Crawford, Terrell Holloway and Jason Love. Past players include David West, James Posey and Derrick Brown.

So when you are watching the games tonight at your local sports bar, don't be afraid to pull for the X-Men. When someone asks you why, just ask them "Who has more NCAA Tournaments win since 2001-02, Kansas State or Xavier". You now know the answer and it's not even close.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pecora to Fordham - No News Here

On the evening of Monday March 1st, a very reliable source completely unaffiliated with the Hofstra program texted me and asked me to give them a call. I called them immediately, and the source told me that Fordham was going to offer Pecora their coaching position. The numbers were six years in excess of four million dollars.

How good is the source? Well, the same reliable source told me two years ago about Matt Brady being hired by James Madison 48 hours before the news came out about that. And now, Pecora has been hired by Fordham as their head coach, much to the chagrin of my friend Jerry Beach.

So, why didn't I announce the news on March 1st as I did immediately two years ago about Matt Brady? Well, the difference between hearing about Matt Brady's hiring and the interest in Fordham hiring Tom Pecora was that Brady's season with Marist was already done.

In Pecora's case, his Hofstra team was about to play in the CAA Tournament later that week. The last thing I wanted to do was to write a potentially huge distracting story before an important tournament. I honestly felt I owed it to a team that I watched all year and more importantly to the players themselves.

Apparently some people actually do read my blog, and there was an article I posted here earlier this year that caused some controversy, which to me is now long over and done. But I was not interested in another controversy. Also, by the time the CAA tournament was over, the rumblings started on various blogs about Pecora to Fordham. So it made very little sense to me to chime in on what I had already known for a while.

Then last night, ESPN put this article on their web site. And I knew it was a done deal. Again my source was right. And to be honest, it's not a surprise. When Whittenburg was fired as Fordham coach five games into their season, I thought immediately they would go after Pecora. Then when Fordham announced they were going to significantly increase their men's basketball team budget, it all made sense. And here's why.

Pecora has openly shown his disdain for the CAA since Hofstra joined the conference, a decision made by the previous administration. Pecora and even the Administration have made it no secret that they would like to join the, A10. The problem is that the A10 already overexpanded by adding St Louis and Charlotte several years ago and has paid for it since. So they are certainly not looking to add any teams.

Thus it made perfect sense for Pecora to go to an A10 school where based on the average number of teams from the Atlantic 10 that have made the tournament the past several years (three), he has a 1 in 5 chance of making the NCAA Tournament as opposed to being in the CAA where you basically have a 1 in 12 chance.

Also, Pecora is a city coach, plain and simple. He loves recruiting New York City/New York Metro kids and has stated that in many articles over the years. That was his and Jay Wright's philosophy when they first started coaching at Hofstra together. Tough New York city kids, often underdogs who know how to play tough hard nosed city ball.

Yes, there have been players such as Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera that were found outside of the New York area. But the core of good players over the past ten or so years, Speedy Claxton, Norman Richardson, Rick Apodaca, Kenny Adeleke, Wendell Gibson. Antoine Agudio, Charles Jenkins, Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic, to name a few, all came from either the NYC area or the NY metro area.

And that philosophy has brought significant success under the Wright and now Pecora tenures. When Wright was coach, Hofstra went to two NCAA tournaments. Under Pecora's tenure, the Pride went to three NIT tournaments and Pecora has had four twenty win plus seasons in the past six seasons (and nearly another this season with 19).

At one time Fordham had a rich tradition of basketball success, especially under the glory years of Digger Phelps. However, their last postseason appearance was in the NCAA Tournament in 1992 and their last win in the NCAA Tournament came under Phelps in 1971.

Now some would say well, Pecora's teams have made at least the semifinals in the CAA only three times in the nine seasons he has coached (2001-02,2004-05,2005-06). And I understand those sentiments. However, you certainly can say the 2005-06 season should have ended up as an NCAA berth, but we all know what happened on Selection Sunday. How would have Pecora's resume looked then. Remember, Seton Hall badly wanted Pecora after that season but he wisely turned them down.

Say what you want about his Xs and Os, which I certainly have questioned several times over the years, thus the term "Pulling a Hofstra". But in fairness, how many coaches locally have made the postseason three times in the past six seasons and won 20 plus games four times in the past six seasons? Norm Roberts had only one postseason tournament appearance in his six year tenure at St John's (this season's first round NIT loss to Memphis) and he was not retained there.

In his four years at Seton Hall, Bobby Gonzalez also made one NIT appearance (also this season, where of course one of his player's hit a Texas Tech player in the groin twice on national TV). And due to the lack of NCAA Tournament appearances, let alone the lack of twenty win seasons and his boorish behavior, he was fired last week.

Pecora looks pretty good compared to Roberts and Gonzalez, though mind you the CAA is nowhere near the Big East.

So with the press conference scheduled at 1:00 pm tomorrow, I wish Tom Pecora the best of luck at Fordham. He has a long road ahead of him. It will probably take him four years to get Fordham potentially at a level his 2004-05 Hofstra team achieved. And I will certainly try to take in the first game Pecora's new team will play at the historic Rose Hill Gym.

As for Hofstra's search for a new coach, my same reliable source says that Hofstra has interest in Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell, a former UConn point guard and former assistant (and Hofstra AD Jack Hayes previously was at UConn). Pikiell led Stony Brook to their first America East regular season title and a NIT berth with a 22-10 record.

My source also states that the Pride also have interest in Pitt associate head coach Tom Herrion. Herrion had an 80-38 record in his previous coaching stint at the College of Charleston. Finally Hofstra is also looking at C.W. Post head coach Tim Cluess, a Hofstra alum who has taken the Pioneers to two NCAA Division II Tournaments in his four seasons there. Previously Cluess was the head coach at St Mary's High School in Manhasset, where he led the team to three NY State titles and a 264-78 record in 15 seasons.

Whoever is the next coach of Hofstra gets a very solid nucleus with Charles Jenkins returning for his senior season, as well as all time shot block leader Greg Washington and two very good soon to be sophomores in Kanacevic and Williams. If Branden Frazier, one of the top ten players in New York City, keeps his verbal commitment to Hofstra, and that is certainly questionable, then the team looks even better. Here's the problem - Frazier chose Hofstra over Fordham, where obviously Pecora is now. Hmmm.

Finally my same source says that four current Division I coaches are up for the Seton Hall job - Mike Lonergan of Vermont, Mike Rice of Robert Morris, Kevin Willard of Iona and Fran McCaffery of Siena. My money is on McCaffery.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Heroes vs. Villains

When the NCAA Tournament pairings were announced last Sunday, I didn't think Cornell would get this far. It's not because I believed they weren't very good. Believe me, having seen the Big Red play in the Holiday Festival at MSG, I knew how good they were.

I just thought they received a terrible seeding as a twelve and had to face another very good team with too low of a seeding in #5 Temple. The Owls were one of the top five scoring defense teams in the nation. Plus, Temple was a Top Ten ranked team that played a terrific non conference schedule. Finally, Fran Dunphy, the coach of Temple, was the mentor to Steve Donahue, the coach of Cornell, who was an assistant under Dunphy at Penn.

So if anyone knew how the Big Red played it was the Owls. Well, the protege's team dominated the mentor's team. And here was Cornell playing another top five scoring defense team in Wisconsin with a chance to go to the Sweet 16.

Yesterday, I had the same feeling before the game that I had before Davidson played Wisconsin two years ago in the Elite Eight. After personally seeing Stephen Curry dismantle Gonzaga and Georgetown, I knew Wisconsin was going to be another roadkill and they ended up being exactly that. And yesterday, that same feeling told me that Wisconsin wouldn't be able to stop Cornell either. And again, I was right.

The Big Red Machine came right out from the start and jumped out to a 16-4 lead in the first five and a half minutes with Ryan Wittman and Jon Jacques each scoring six points. The Badgers cut the lead to 18-12 solely on the shooting of Jon Leuer who scored all 12 of the Wisconsin points. The Badger would cut the lead to 24-21 on a Jason Bohannon two point jumper with 7:20 left.

But that's as close as Wisconsin would get the rest of the way. Cornell would outscore them 19-10 the rest of the half and enter halftime with a 43-31 lead. They shot 59 percent in the first half. Wittman had 14 points in the first half. And it wasn't like Wisconsin was shooting bad. The Badgers shot 52 percent from the field in the first half. They just couldn't contain the Big Red.

And the second half was a continuation of the end of the first half. The lead swelled to fifteen within the first four minutes of the second half. Leuer and Bohannon tried their best for Wisconsin. But Cornell was just too much for the Badgers vaunted D. In a three minute span, the Big Red's Louis Dale scored eight of their ten points and a thirteen point lead became a twenty point lead, 74-54 with 9:35 left.

You could have turned your TV off there. And in fact CBS decided to change the regional game here in New York to Michigan State-Maryland. Cornell would go onto a 87-69 win. Now stop and think about this. Wisconsin was in the top five in scoring defense in the country giving up 55 points per game. The Big Red put an 87 spot on them.

And Cornell actually shot better in the second half, shooting 63 percent and 61 percent overall from the game. Dale led all scorers with 26 points while Wittman added 24. Leuer led Wisconsin with 23 points.

The article title refers to the Survivor commercials we are being force fed while watching the NCAA Tournament. I thought it was an appropriate title for a seemingly unlikely Sweet 16 matchup (unless you are Jay Bilas, who did predict this). You have the Big Red, who seem like they are right out of the cast of the TV show, "Heroes", a motley group of young kids with various unknown superpowers.

They face the #1 seed Kentucky Wildcats, who outside of Wildcats fans and tournament bracket mongers, are probably the most hated team left in the tournament (ok Duke is a close second). Though John Wall and company have not helped things with their actions, the hate probably stems due to one man, Coach John Calipari.


Steve Donahue has collected a group of talented yet under-recruited players. Wittman, the sharpshooter, is the son of Indiana U and NBA sharpshooter Randy Wittman. Somehow a Mr. Minnesota Basketball candidate with NBA pedigree flew under the radar. Dale, the point guard who knows how to blow by his opponents using 3/4 speed, was barely recruited out of high school and ended up two years ago as the Ivy League player of the year.

Foote, the adept passer, was not even recruited by any Division I school. And apparently the Cornell coaches found out about him due to running into his mom, a nurse, in an emergency room. And in an ironic twist of fate, Steve Coury who started at Kentucky, transferred to Cornell and now gets to play against his original college team.


When you think of Kentucky this season, you think of John Wall and of course the above dance. Ugh. This was during the "Big Blue Madness 2009" and it looks like an NBA All Star introduction. And that's what probably turns off a lot of people to Kentucky. Now Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and the rest of the gang are very talented. But the hype and the celebratory poses and dances during and at the end of games leaves a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. But if that doesn't turn them off to Kentucky, the next person will.

The Antichrist

John Calipari is not one of the most beloved coaches in America. Jayson Williams, the former NBA player now facing jail time for manslaughter, once stated about Calipari "When Cal goes to church and dips his hand in the holy water, watch out, because it starts to bubble."

And of course there is the above dandy between John Chaney and Calipari. Calipari has also left a trail of rubble behind him in his two previous college coaching positions at UMass and Memphis. Calipari led both teams to the Final Four, but each of those teams has had to vacate their wins for those seasons and take down the Final Four banners from the rafters.

In UMass' case, it was found that Marcus Camby had taken money from agents and was eventually declared ineligible by the NCAA. In Memphis' case, a player, believed to be Derrick Rose, had an invalidated SAT score. Now whether Calipari knew about either player's ineligibility will always be a question. But one thing is certain, "He's now the only coach in history to have Final Fours vacated at two different schools." And now in his first year of tenure at Kentucky, Calipari's best player, Wall was suspended two games by the NCAA due to his AAU coach being a certified agent.

As for Kentucky, they knew all about Calipari's past when they hired him. They decided to dance with the devil to bring the Big Blue back to prominence. The question will eventually be "Will Calipari be the first coach in NCAA history to have Final Fours vacated at three schools?"

So Thursday night in Syracuse, it will be a battle of Heroes vs. Villains, well unless you are Ashley Judd or any other Kentucky fan. I'll forgive Ms. Judd, because, well duh (by the way, if she goes to the regional, what's the over under on CBS camera shots of her?). But the rest of the Kentucky fans won't get sympathy from me and the rest of non Wildcat nation.

We'll be rooting for the motley heroes, the Big Red. The team of 3.0 + GPAs. The local Ithaca Boys that can shoot the lights out. It's David vs. Goliath at its finest in the Carrier Dome. Just don't underestimate the Big Red Machine. Ask Temple and Wisconsin about that.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Day To Remember

Yesterday was an absolutely glorious day. And not just due to the warm weather outside for a Saturday in March. And I should have known when I saw my two boys playing their favorite table top basketball game in the kitchen that it was going to be a very special day in this year's March Madness (and no folks, this picture wasn't staged - they REALLY love this game).

It was a glorious for three mid major teams that weren't expected by many to get to the Sweet 16, but they did. Each team got there its own unique way yesterday. And for each of them, that's what made it a day to remember.

For one team, Butler, they had to fight for survival against an underdog team that had won 31 games on the season. For the other two teams, St Mary's and Northern Iowa, they were facing two heavily regarded, highly seeded teams. It was St Mary's and Northern Iowa that played like the heavily regarded, highly seeded teams.

I spent the later part of yesterday morning and early afternoon with my family up in Theodore Roosevelt Park in Oyster Bay. It's a park I have spent a great amount of time in over the years. I first knew about Roosevelt, as we called it, from playing softball in the Town of Oyster Bay Night League. The park is right on the water and when you are playing there on a late April night, it can be awfully cold.

But Chelle, the kids and I have been there many times since. In fact, when we asked Matthew what playground he wanted to go to yesterday, he said "the one in the picture". We have a framed picture in our dining room of the four of us from last year at Roosevelt.

After spending a few hours in the playground and playing wiffleball in the park, my wife knew that I had to get back to watch the St Mary's game. Though I felt somewhat terrible that we had to leave the park on a gorgeous day to go home so I could watch a basketball game, she knew how important the game was to me.

is great like that. She is probably the most accommodating person I have ever met in my life. Chelle respects my love of college basketball. And until lately, I didn't know how much she read my basketball articles (here's to hoping she reads this one too).

You see, I am a HUGE fan of St Mary's. I have been singing their praises for a few years on this site, and featured them in article in January. There have been many articles written about this Gaels team on this site. I wrote about when they were hosed out of the Tournament last year despite showing evidence that they should have been in as an at large.

I lamented the fact that they were squarely on the bubble after their second regular season loss to Gonzaga. And when they finally broke through the Zag glass ceiling and defeated Gonzaga in the WCC championship game, I noted "it was sooooooo great to see St Mary's win Monday night vs. Gonzaga."

So I was very happy to see St Mary's defeat Richmond on Thursday behind a dominating performance by Omar "Enter the Sandman" Samhan. The question now was how they would do against a Villanova team that survived an overtime battle vs. Robert Morris. I was worried the Wildcats would be more prepared for the Gaels than they were the Colonials.

As we drove back home from Oyster Bay, I was listening to the Westwood one broadcast of the game. And immediately my fears were dashed. By the time we got home, Samhan was in the midst of scoring eight points in the first seven minutes and the Gaels were up 16-11.

Then Samhan picked up his second foul and head to the bench. Nova took immediate advantage of that. When Dominic Cheek buried a three to tie the game at 17, I got so upset that I spilled ice from my now otherwise empty McDonald's large sweet tea cup.

Then came the gutsiest move of the NCAA Tournament so far. To stop the Wildcats momentum, Gaels coach Randy Bennett reinserted Samhan into the game. And immediately, the Moraga Monster restored order. St Mary's went on a 10-2 run capped by who else, Samhan with a layup to go up 27-19 with 7:05 left. Samhan would leave for the bench again. Villanova again tried to make a run, but once again Bennett reinserted Samhan, who promptly hit a three point play. The Gaels went into the half up 38-31.

The second half saw Nova finally make a big run. Antonio Pena scored five straight points to tie the game at 51. Then Corey Fisher's two point layup gave Villanova their first lead since the 15:20 mark of the first half as the Wildcats went up 53-51 with 9:41 left. But Samhan hit a layup to tie the game at 53.

It seemed every time Nova had the advantage, Samhan would respond. Tyler King hit a three to put Villanova back up one. Samhan then hit a layup to put the Gaels back up one. Maalik Wayans hit a jumper to put the Wildcats back up by two, but then Samhan hit two free throws to tie the game at 61 with 5:04 left.

Over the nearly next three and a half minutes, the teams would only score a combined eight points. Nova would again tie the game on two Corey Fisher free throws with 1:35 left. Then came the big play of the game. Mickey McConnell took a high arching three point shot which banked in and put the Gaels up to stay 68-65. The shot took the wind right out of the Wildcats as St Mary's went on for the 75-68 win.

Of course, who had the ball last? Samhan of course, who tossed the ball high into the air in jubilation. Omar had 32 points on 13 of 16 shooting from the field and 6 of 8 from the line. In two tournament games, Samhan has averaged over 30 points per game and has shot a ridiculous 75 percent from the field (24 of 32).

So with one of my favorite teams winning, it was onto another of my favorite teams, Butler as they took on the talented Murray State. I had been saying since February the Bulldogs were one of the best sixteen teams in the country and I hoped that they would prove it yesterday.

However the game that featured two solid offensive teams turned in a defensive barn burner. It was very evident that the Racers were very quick. Too quick in fact for the Bulldogs. Butler had a difficult time getting good shots off against Murray State. And again, the Bulldogs found themselves down at halftime for the second tournament game in a row 26-22.

Murray State extended their lead to seven 33-26 to start the second half. During this span, Howard picked up three quick fouls and headed to the bench with four personal fouls. But the Bulldogs switched to a small lineup to combat the Racers. Similar to their game against UTEP, where they went on a 22-4 run to put the game away, Butler went on a 20-5 run to go up 46-38 with 6:06 left.

But the Racers weren't the Miners and they responded with a 12-1 spurt capped by a Ivan Aska two point jumper with 2:47 left to go ahead 50-47. However, Butler scored the next six points, capped by Ronald Nored's three point play to regain the lead at 53-50 with 26 seconds left. Issac Miles hit two free throws to cut the lead to one.

Then after Matt Howard hit 1 of 2 free throws to put Butler up 54-52, Murray State had a chance to tie with 18 seconds left. But the Racers never got a shot off thanks to good Butler pressure defense on the ball. The Bulldogs escaped with the 54-52 win.

The biggest surprise was yet to come. Northern Iowa, the #9 seed faced the #1 overall seed for the tournament, Kansas. The Panthers were never phased though. Once Jordan Egsleder hit a three pointer to put the Panthers up 3-2, they never trailed the rest of the way against the Jayhawks. UNI was up 36-28 at the half.

Northern Iowa stretched the lead to as many as twelve in the second half and was up by eleven, 52-41 with about nine minutes left. Kansas finally made the anticipated comeback and was down one 63-62 on a Sherron Collins layup with 42 seconds left. But finally the Panthers broke the Jayhawks late press, and Ali Farokhmanesh decided to take an open three pointer instead of running the clock down. Farokhmanesh buried the biggest three pointer in the history of the school and UNI went on to win 69-67.

The day finished with three mid major teams left in the Sweet 16. The last occurrence of that happened in 2006 when CAA member George Mason and two Missouri Valley teams, Bradley and Wichita State made it that far. With potentially Cornell, Gonzaga and borderline mid major Xavier poised to join the mix today, it could be the biggest mid major Sweet 16 party ever.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Stony Brook Shows How It's Done

When you are a parent, things are never quite normal. Take this morning for instance. My older son Matthew had a nightmare and came into our room at 3:00 am. He came into bed with us and curled up to my wife in between us. Since now I was somewhat awake, I needed to go downstairs to the bathroom.

Now fully awake, I checked the late scores of last night's NCAA Tournament. Cal proved that the PAC 10 isn't really so bad as they clocked Louisville and made the conference 2-0 in the tournament while the Big East has seen half of its teams get eliminated in the first two days. Maryland pulled away from Houston in a typical high scoring game featuring a Tom Penders team that often ends up on the losing end, as it did last night.

So after checking what time the St Mary's - Villanova game was today (1:20 PM eastern) and watching TV for a little bit, I headed up to bed a little while ago. There to find my son sprawled out partially on my side of the bed, with my dog curled up on the rest of my side on the bed. A very cute picture no doubt, but no room for yours truly. So here I am writing this article at 4:30 in the morning on Saturday.

It was only a few days ago, I went to see a doubleheader with Tieff. We decided to watch the first half of the 7:00 PM Hofstra-IUPU game, then leave at halftime for the Illinois-Stony Brook game that was at 9:00 PM. After being two of the 952 people that were at the Hofstra game and watching a terrible first half performance by the Pride, it made things easier to leave at halftime.

Stony Brook is probably out in the middle of Suffolk County and that still is a pretty far trip from Hempstead in Nassau County - nearly an hour by car. I don't think people fully realize how large Suffolk County is. It takes about two hours to drive from my house in North Bellmore to go to Montauk Point on the eastern end of Suffolk County and Long Island. It also took us a while to find a parking spot on campus that was anywhere near the arena and we took the seemingly ten minute walk from the parking lot to the arena.

The first thing we noticed when we walked up the steps of the Stony Brook Arena was the huge sign "SOLD OUT". We already though had tickets waiting for us at will call. Section 109, Row N, aisle seats as it turned out. When we walked in, we saw a giant sea of Seawolves Red. And despite it being Saint Patrick's Day, we were totally out of place in our green, in my case my Wayne Chrebet's Jets jersey.

The game had just started and immediately the first thing I noticed was both ends of the court completely packed to the brim with Stony Brook Students and on the right side end of the court, the large Seawolves pep band. It's not really an arena, but a large gym that seats 4400. But that's ok, because that made the game more intimate, much to the dismay of Illinois Coach Bruce Weber.

What also stands out to me and I hadn't noticed the other time I was at the arena for an Iona-Stony Brook women's game, is the lighting is brighter on the court and it's dimmer where the fans sit. And I think that's fantastic, because it makes the game the focus of your attention. At Hofstra and at some other school arenas I have been at, the generic lighting is spread out the same throughout the arena, and it takes away your focus from the game.

And when you did look out at the crowd, outside of a smattering of Illinois fans here and there that made the trip out from Champagne, it was all Stony Brook fans clad in red. Many of them wearing T Shirts that said on the front "What's a Seawolf?" and on the back it read "I AM A SEAWOLF". Nice.

And talk about a difference between two game crowds. At the Hofstra game, where Jerry Beach had an entire section of seats to himself, you could hear Jaguars coach Ron Hunter in all his splendor chirping at the refs. Here at the Stony Brook game, it was loud, raucous and most importantly fun. As soon as we sat in our seats, I turned to Tieff and said "Now this is what a postseason game should be like!" I couldn't keep the smile off my face the entire night.

You had not just a lot of students here, but a lot of Stony Brook alumni and the community coming out to root on their Seawolves and they let it be known that they were happy to be at Stony Brook's first ever postseason Division I tournament game, let alone hosting it. We had a Stony Brook alum next to us talking all night about the basketball team and the football team (now that they had the only Division IA football team left on the Island). You could feel his sense of pride (no pun intended there Mr. Beach) for his school.

And a stoked Seawolves team fed off the energy of the crowd and jumped out on the Fighting Illini. When Weber called timeout for his team immediately after Chris Martin's layup gave Stony Brook a 7-0 lead, the crowd's eruption nearly took the roof off the place. And it was a good timeout by Weber. Despite Wolfie urging the crowd on, the Illini righted themselves and scored the next eight points to take the lead.

But the first half proved to be a battle of mini spurts, and the Seawolves would score the next five points to go back up 13-8. Stony Brook maintained a five point lead 18-13 on a Bryan Dougher three. But again, Illinois would come back with a 9-o run, which included one of Demetri McCamey's three three pointers on the night, to take a 22-18 lead.

But once again, the Seawolves would comeback and a Muhammed El Amin layup put the Seawolves up 34-30 with 2:30 left in the first half. However, again the Illini came back and ended the half on a 8-2 spurt capped by a McCamey jumper to put Illinois up two at halftime 38-36. Stony Brook played as a good half as it possibly could, keeping within two of one of the final bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament.

And Illinois came out in the second half showing Stony Brook why it felt it should have made the Tournament. McCamey and D.J. Richardson buried threes as part of a 10-2 run that put the Illini up ten, 48-38 with seventeen minutes left in the game. The Seawolves would then cut it back to five. But then a 7-0 spurt by the Illini gave them their biggest lead of the game, twelve at 55-43 with 12:54 left. It looked like the Big Ten's fifth best team during the regular season was too much for the America East's best regular season team.

But the Seawolves reminded Bruce Weber and the Illini why they were the regular season America East champion. Over the next nearly six minutes, Stony Brook whittled the lead in half to 59-53 with exactly seven minutes left on a Martin layup and he was fouled. Before Martin could hit the free throw for the three point play, Weber called timeout and looked up at the scoreboard. It was as if he was saying to himself, "How much time is left before we can escape out of here? I didn't expect this!"

And the crowd as it had been just about all night was loud, urging their team to make the comeback complete. Martin hit the free throw to cut it to five, 59-54. The Seawolves had two chances to cut the lead even further, but as he had been off all night, El-Amin, the America East Kevin Roberson Player of the Year, again missed a three pointer. The Illiini would extend the lead back to nine as Mike Tisdale hit one of two free throws and Richardson nailed another three pointer.

The Seawolves would keep it within six, 65-59 with about two minutes left and had several chances to cut the lead even further. But again El Amin was off with a shot and a Tisdale three with 1:29 left put Illinois up by nine. Stony Brook never got any closer the rest of the way, losing 76-66 in their first Division I postseason game.

As the clock expired on the game, all the fans in the arena stood up and gave a standing ovation to a game Seawolves team that played its heart out. Perhaps had El Amin had a better shooting night (he was 6 of 20 from the field), the outcome might have been different.

Still, the electric crowd reminded me that the NIT still has a little pull its now old, though perhaps irrelevant age. Mike Francesca stated on his radio show Friday that the NCAA moving to 96 teams is "a done deal" because that's the only way the NCAA will get a new television deal similar to the one they currently have with CBS. As a result, the NIT might be a done deal too.

But for one night in Stony Brook, it meant the world to a fledgling Division I program, its team and 4400 very supportive fans. The game showed the promise of what a good basketball team with the proper support can bring. There is nothing better than a good college basketball game in front of a sold out, electric crowd. And the Seawolves got two new fans for next season in Tieff and me, as we told each other we'll go to more games. I was really glad I stayed up past midnight Monday morning to get tickets. This was truly worth it.

Thanks Stony Brook for showing how it's done.