Monday, January 31, 2011

Bracketbuster TV Game Predictions

Folks, I don't know how accurate these will turn out to be (plus I haven't verified fully that these teams have not played each other yet).  But based on the list of home and away teams, RPI ratings, and travel considerations, these are my best guesses.

Utah State vs. St Mary's
Cleveland State vs ODU
Missouri State vs Valpo
George Mason vs Wichita State
VCU vs Northern Iowa
Kent State vs Drexel
Hofstra vs Charleston
Maine vs Fairfield
Iona vs James Madison
Vermont vs Wright State
Ball State vs Indiana State

I have been thinking for a while that Hofstra might play Fairfield, but that would mean that Maine might have to travel to Charleston.   My guess is the Bracketbuster selection committee will try to play up the first place MAAC vs. the first place America East.   Then you can market the Hofstra - Charleston game as a battle of two of the best scorers in the country (Charles Jenkins vs. Andrew Goudelock).

We'll find out how accurate these are tonight at 6:30 PM on ESPNU.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

For Fordham, A New Beginning Means Growing Pains

For nine years, Tom Pecora strolled the court at the Mack Center for Hofstra as head coach.  He led the Pride to three NIT appearances (one of which should have been a NCAA Tournament appearance) and four twenty win seasons.  Hofstra fans knew though that Pecora had a disdain for the CAA and longed for the Pride being in the A14, er, A10.   So when a very good source told me the week of the CAA Tournament that Pecora was going to become the Fordham head coach, it all made perfect sense. Sure enough, a few weeks later Pecora was named the head coach of the Rams.

Fordham hiring Pecora started a chain of events that no one could envision.  One week after Pecora was hired at Fordham, Tim Welsh was hired as head coach at Hofstra. What everyone thought was a dream hiring for the Pride turned into a nightmare after Welsh was arrested for a DUI.  A few days later Welsh resigned.  With the Pride coaching situation in sudden turmoil, Hofstra Athletic Director Jack Hayes wisely recommended a Welsh assistant, Mo Cassara as the new head coach.  Cassara was hired and has put the Pride program back on track.  Welsh has returned to an analyst job with SNY and ESPN and was the analyst for last night's St Mary's - Portland game on ESPNU.

As for Pecora, he was going to a program that hadn't made a NCAA appearance since 1992 and hadn't won a game in conference since two years ago to nearly the very day against the team they were facing yesterday, St Bonaventure.  On January 28, 2009, the Rams defeated the Bonnies 67-65 on their home court.  It was Fordham's only win of that A10 season.   So, including the Rams 0-6 start, Fordham is 1-37 in the Atlantic 10 since the start of the 2008-09 conference season.

When Tieff and I got to the Rose Hill Gym, the entrance was packed with fans waiting to enter the gym.  We got online for our Will Call tickets, which I had ordered weeks in advance.  Immediately, I saw the sign at the regular ticket counter stating the game was "Sold Out".   I was glad that I planned ahead.  We got our tickets, walked up the stairs past a Fordham Basketball Poster that said "A New Beginning" and made our way into the over one hundred year old, 3200 seat gymnasium.

At Hofstra, my season ticket seats are Section 111 Row D.  At the Mack, you go up a slight row of stairs to your seat, and that's the case for all the rows in Section 111. Thus you are slightly elevated from the court in Row D.  Yesterday, our seats at the Rose Hill Gym were Section 113, Row B.  But I forgot that at Rose Hill, there is no elevation really for the first few rows of seats.  So basically we were at court level.   And as you could see, we were very near the Fordham bench.  Thus we had a very good view of Pecora watching over his young team.

This was Fordham's second sellout of the season.  The first was their stirring comeback win over St John's in December 84-81.  Pecora and Fordham received significant press as a result of the win from ESPN, the New York Post, and Bleacher Report, among other publications.  The Rams started out the season 6-4.  Six wins was one more than the previous two seasons combined.  Hopes were high on the Bronx campus.

Then came two losses in the Cable Car Classic, followed by six straight losses in conference.   What was once a 6-4 team on the rise that had fans hopeful, was now a struggling 6-12 last place A10 team that had fans in back of us making snide comments about Pecora's salary and lack of emotion on the sideline (boy do they not know Pecora yet).

As I previously stated, Pecora's team is quite young, with only one senior that plays, Brenton Butler.  His team is also not deep as Pecora basically plays a seven man rotation.   Fordham's best players are Butler and Chris Gaston, a double double machine.  Gaston averages 15 points and 11 rebounds per game while Butler averages nearly 15 points per game.  Pecora's top recruited freshman, Branden Frazier averages 12 points per game.

The game started out with St Bonaventure's best player, forward Andrew Nicholson taking charge.  Nicholson scored six of the Bonnies' first nine points as the team from Olean, NY went out to a 9-3 lead. But two three pointers by Butler quickly tied it at nine.

Matthew Wright gave the lead back to the Bonnies with his first of three 3 pointers at the half.   St Bonaventure started stretching out their lead as the young Fordham struggled to get good shots off from the field.  Over the span of eight and a half minutes, the Rams only hit three of fourteen shots.  In fact, Gaston did not hit his first basket until 2:43 left in the first half.  By that time the score was 28-19 St Bonaventure.

The Bonnies had a large contingent of fans at the game.  Turns out St Bonaventure had an alumni function in the city that day and many of them came to the game.   And their team gave them a lot more to cheer about as the Bonnies ended the half on an 8-1 spurt as Nicholson hit a monster dunk, then Wright buried two more threes to put St Bonaventure up 36-20 at the half.  Nicholson had thirteen of those points for the Bonnies.  He would end the day with 25 points and 11 rebounds, his eighth double double of the season.

We left at halftime since we needed to get to Hofstra for the Jenkins scoring record game.  However, Tieff and I kept track of the game.  And whatever Pecora said at halftime worked.   The Rams showed a lot of heart and came back with an 22-6 run to start the second half.  It was a total team effort as five Fordham players contributed on the run.  Gaston led the charge with eight points during the span, the last two points came on a layup to tie the game at 42 with 10:50 left.

St Bonaventure quickly regained the lead and extended it to 54-46 as who else, Nicholson scored the last four points of the 12-4 Bonnies spurt.   The Rams would cut the lead back down to four 55-51 as we listened to the game on WFUV in the Hofstra parking lot.  But St Bonaventure would score the next six points as the radio announcers play by play basically gave the impression that the Rams were worn out.

The Bonnies would eventually win the game 69-60.   For Fordham, it would be their seventh loss in a row in conference. Gaston got another double double with eleven points and eleven rebounds.  Butler led the Rams with 15 points.  Frazier added eleven points for Fordham.

Despite the Rams struggles, there is one thing a Pecora coached team can always do.  Rebound.  The Rams are 58th in the country in rebounding.   The next three games will be very difficult for Fordham -at Rhode Island, home to Richmond, then at Temple.  The best chance for Fordham to get a win is at home against St Joe's on February 13.  The equally as young Hawks are also 0-7 in conference.

At Hofstra, it was in Pecora's fourth season as coach before the Pride had significant success.  Prior to that, his record in his first three seasons was 33-55.   So the Fordham faithful will have to be patient with Pecora as he tries to build a successful program.  But the win over St John's was a good start, and the second sellout of the season yesterday certainly shows that there is hope with the fan base.  

And if there is one last thing that the Fordham faithful could be hopeful about, Pecora knows how to get talent. All Rams' fans have to do is look out east to Hempstead, where one of Hofstra's players is the two time Haggerty Award winner and a likely NBA draft pick.  Charles Jenkins was recruited by Pecora, as were two former NBA players, Speedy Claxton and Norman Richardson.  The next Pecora recruited gem will be wearing Fordham maroon and white.

Jenkins Sets Scoring Record, But Hofstra Falls to Drexel

Saturday was a college basketball doubleheader day, the first of two doubleheader Saturdays in a row for me. After staying for one half of St. Bonaventure vs. Fordham at Rose Hill Gym (more in my next post), Tieff drove us to the Mack Center for the Drexel vs. Hofstra game.   It was very strange getting to the parking lot 90 minutes before game time, but we wanted to make sure we were here early for this game.   This was the game where Charles Jenkins would likely set the all time Hofstra men's basketball record for most points scored and a sellout was expected.

So after listening to the end of the St Bonaventure - Fordham on WFUV radio, we walked from the parking lot to the Mack Center and entered the arena an hour before game time.  Both of us were starved, but I had the ultimate equalizer.  Saturday's game was also Staff Appreciation Day.  Anyone that worked for Hofstra got four free tickets and a voucher for free food.   Since I have season tickets, I gave my tickets to a colleague while I used the voucher for two hot dogs, a couple of pretzels, some chips and soda.

Once we grabbed our food, we headed to our normal entrance.  But it was jam packed with students waiting to get Charles Jenkins T-shirts.  So we went to the opposite end entrance to the arena where I ran into a Public Safety officer I know named Will.  His son went to day care with my son and we had been at birthday parties for the kids.  After briefly saying hi, we got to our seats.

As we basically devoured our food over several minutes, the arena started filling up.   By game time, the entire Lions Den student section was filled and then some. It was by far the largest student section I had seen in at least four years.  And it made sense, the game was announced as a sellout. There were 5,000 people who decided to "Pack the Mack".

There was more to the game than just Jenkins setting the scoring record.  It was also the 2011 Hofstra Hall of Fame Class Induction Day which included one Craig "Speedy" Claxton, former NBA star, perhaps Hofstra's greatest all time player.  So you had Jenkins' scoring record, the induction of Claxton, and 5000 fans, including one large, raucous student section.  Throw in two of the better teams in the CAA, mix well and you had one great atmosphere in Hempstead.

The game had a wacky start to it.  After the starting lineups were announced, the game clock started running down for about 30 seconds before someone finally reset it to 20:00.  Just another example of things that happen when Drexel and Hofstra get together.

Hofstra had won the first game earlier this month against Drexel at the DAC.  And the Pride came out as if they were going to win the second game as well.  Using the full house as inspiration, Hofstra went out to a 9-4 lead five minutes into the game.

But Drexel would come back and went on a 12-2 over the next four minutes as they used guard play from Chris Fouch, Gerald Colds and Derrick Thomas to score ten of their twelve points.   The Dragons were up 16-11 with eleven minutes left in the first half.

Enter the man of the hour, Charles Jenkins.  He would score the next four points on all free throws due to drives to the basket.  He was now only ten points away from setting the scoring record that had been set by Antoine Agudio.  Jenkins and Agudio were teammates during Agudio's senior season when Jenkins was a freshman (Jenkins was also redshirted during Agudio's junior year).  The score was 16-15 Drexel with ten minutes left.

But a problem that has reared its ugly head lately for Hofstra, lack of rebounding, would manifest itself again against Drexel, the eleventh best rebounding team in the country.  Over the next eight minutes, the Dragons would dominate both the offensive and defensive boards.  As a result, Drexel was up 34-22 with two minutes left.

The Pride would then rally behind the play of Jenkins and Mike Moore.  Jenkins would assist on all three of Mike Moore's baskets - two 3 pointers and a two pointer.  Hofstra was down at the half 35-30.  Moore would have 16 points at the half, while Jenkins had 10 points.

There were two problems though for Hofstra in the first half.  First, Drexel was thoroughly dominating the boards.  The Dragons outrebounded the Pride 26-11 in the first half, which included a 10-2 advantage on offensive rebounds.  Hofstra's two offensive rebounds came from their guards; Moore and Shemiye McLendon.  Second, the Drexel bench was outscoring Hofstra's 21-0.  Still, it was amazing the Pride were only down five at the half.

The second half saw the pace slow down as the teams each only had two baskets in the first five minutes.  Still the Dragons dominated the glass and extended their lead to eight, 47-39 with 12:06 left.  The crowd was getting restless and desperately wanted a run by the home team.

The home fans finally got their run and got to see history in the process.  Charles Jenkins scored the last two points of a 6-0 spurt by the Pride with two free throws with 10:15 left in the game to make the score 47-45 Drexel.  With those two points, Jenkins now had the all time points scored record in Hofstra Men's Basketball history.  Mo Cassara took Jenkins out of the game after the second free throw to a monsterous standing ovation by the capacity crowd.

Hofstra had a chance to tie or take the lead while Jenkins sat on the bench, but Moore took an ill advised three point attempt and missed.  Drexel extended the lead after that.  The Dragons were up nine, 59-50 on a Dartaye Ruffin layup with 5:06 left.  The Pride had no answer the entire game for the 6 foot 8 240 pound freshman forward.

But again, with the home crowd spurring them on, Hofstra made one last run.  Jenkins made three free throws and assisted on a Brad Kelleher three pointer.  Then after David Imes hit a layup to cut the lead to one, 61-60 with 1:17 left, Chris Fouch turned the ball over for the Dragons.   Hofstra had the ball with  53 seconds left and the Mack Center was rocking.

So you had the moment the Lions Den faithful had been waiting for the entire second half.  The Pride had a chance to take the lead and the ball was in the hands of Jenkins.  Jenkins drove down the left hand side of the lane as two Drexel defenders tried to stay with him.   As he went up to seemingly put up a layup, he actually tried to dump a pass to Imes underneath the basket.   Drexel got possession of the ball with 39 seconds left.

Since they were under the foul limit, Hofstra had to then commit three fouls, which took twelve seconds off the clock.  Chris Fouch would hit two free throws to put Drexel up three, 63-60 with 27 seconds left. Hofstra still had a chance to tie and they worked the ball over to Moore who was open in the corner.  But Moore couldn't get set for his shot and his attempt barely grazed the front of the rim.  Again, Drexel got the rebound and Ruffin hit two more free throws.   The game ended with a Kelleher miss and the Dragons ran out the clock, winning the game 65-60.

For Drexel, it was all about there bench play.  Fouch had 18 points to lead the Dragons, but it was Ruffin who was the dominant force on the night.  He had a double double with 15 points and 14 rebounds.  He also showed a deft touch at the line as he was 5 of 6 from the charity stripe.  Samme Givens almost added a second double double for Drexel with 9 points and 10 rebounds.

For Hofstra, Moore (20) and Jenkins (19) combined for 39 points. Jenkins also had eight assists and five rebounds.   The problem for Hofstra though was again, not enough balance.  Only Moore and Jenkins scored in double figures.  Imes did have nine points but Greg Washington, who had averaged 13 points per game in his last three games went scoreless.  The Hofstra bench scored 7 points on the night, as opposed to 35 for Drexel's bench.

But the story of the game, besides Jenkins' scoring record, was again the domination by Drexel on the boards.   The Dragons outrebounded the Pride 47-24, including 20-5 on the offensive glass.  That lead to six more field goal attempts and more importantly it often lead to Drexel hitting the foul line.  The Dragons were 17 of 22 from the line as opposed to Hofstra's 12 of 14.   Those five more free throws were the exact difference in the score of the game.

And no Hofstra - Drexel game would be complete without a Bruiser Flint incident.  After one call in the first half, Bruiser was just about to lose it and was going up and down the court like a madman.  But instead of one of his coaches calming him down, a referee came over and put his arms around him.  In what could have been a technical foul moment, the referees seemingly showed our man Bruiser some compassion.

With the win, Drexel went back over .500 in the CAA at 6-5, tied for sixth with Delaware.  Had they lost, the Dragons would have been basically done for a top four slot.   With the loss, Hofstra is now 8-3 in the Colonial.  Six days after being tied for first place in the CAA, two straight losses have put Hofstra in fourth (they are tied for third with ODU, but the Monarchs have the tiebreaker).   Just another example of how crazy the CAA can be for teams.

Friday, January 28, 2011

VCU Defeats Hofstra and Takes Sole Possession of First in the CAA

After Monday night's thrilling overtime game between James Madison and Hofstra, my good friend Tony, aka Tieff, tried to convince me to take a road trip down to Richmond to see Hofstra play VCU for first place in the CAA.  When I told him that I had too many obligations on my calendar, he wittily replied "You should only have three characters on your calendar - V...C...U."   The Wednesday night snowstorm that hit the Northeast and dumped over a foot of snow on Long Island made that idea moot.

Due to the snowstorm, it was another day off for the kids from school and another day off from work for me as it took me nearly three hours to shovel all the snow to clear the driveway, sidewalks and the cars.  Thus there would be no road trip and I would have to settle for my older son's drawing (shown at the top) and watching the game on ESPNU.

Hofstra was traveling to their house of horrors, the Siegel Center, where the Pride was 0-7 all time vs. the Rams.  Not only were they winless at Siegel, but their average margin of loss in those games was 11 points.  Also, with kudos to Mike Litos, Hofstra was facing a VCU team with the fourth longest home winning streak in the country, 20.  It was a big mountain for the Pride to climb.

The game started out, as the WWL announcers put it, "a track meet."  Before you blinked it was, 14-10 VCU not even six minutes into the game.  Then the Rams' Jamie Skeen and the Pride's Charles Jenkins decided to play each other.   Over the next eight minutes, Skeen and Jenkins would each score thirteen points, including two three pointers by each player.   In front of nine NBA scouts (another Litos' nugget), Jenkins' second three made the score VCU 33 Hofstra 28 with 6:00 minutes left in the first half.

Then, the only other Pride player providing offense, Greg Washington, who had nine points in the half, picked up his third foul with 5:45 remaining in the half.   When Washington went to the bench, VCU went on the attack.  The Rams would flood the Pride with a 13-1 run in just two and half minutes.  The Rams lead was now seventeen, 46-29.  Hofstra would enter halftime down 48-33.

In the second half, three times Hofstra got the VCU lead down to thirteen, the last being 63-50 with 12:22 left.  But the Rams would not let the Pride get any closer, nor as Brian Mull correctly noted in a Tweet, did they allow Jenkins to drive the lane in the second half.    In fact, Jenkins did not have a second half point until he hit a jumper with (though he had two assists during this time) with 11:32 left in the game to make the score 66-52.

After that Jenkins layup, VCU put the game away with an 11-3 spurt that put VCU up 77-55 with 6:55 left.   Jenkins would hit his last basket to get the lead down to twenty.  And later, Jenkins' last point, a free throw was the last point scored in the game, an impressive 82-67 win for the Rams.

VCU had terrific balance on the evening as four players scored in double figures.  Skeen had a very good night with 18 points in only 21 minutes of action, due to spraining his knee in the second half.  Bradford Burgess had a double double, scoring 15 points, including 9 of 10 from the line and pulling down 14 rebounds.  Ed Nixon added 14 points and Juvonte Reddic added 13.  Most importantly, the Rams were 21 of 25 from the line.

Meanwhile, Hofstra had a nice one two punch with Jenkins (8 of 17) and Washington (7 of 11) combining for 36 points on 15 of 28 shooting.  But the rest of Hofstra shot only 11 of 29.   Hofstra's  David Imes and Mike Moore, who normally average 22 points per game combined,  only scored nine points combined on 4 of 9 shooting.   Moore and Jenkins, the first and third best free throw shooters in the CAA were a combined 2 of 3 from the line (Hofstra, the best FT shooting team in the CAA shot 10 of 14 overall).

VCU now is 9-1, alone in first in the CAA.  Their next contest is another home game vs. UNCW tomorrow.  Hofstra is now tied with George Mason for second in conference at 8-2.  They also have a home game vs. Drexel tomorrow. Hofstra fans should see Charles Jenkins break Antoine Agudio's Hofstra all time points record tomorrow, as he only needs 16 points to pass Agudio.

If you are wondering if yesterday's 15 point win by VCU was the largest ever at home vs. Hofstra, the answer is that it was the second largest.  The largest came in the 2005-06 season, yes the season where Hofstra was snubbed out of the NCAA Tournament.   The Rams won 87-64 at Siegel Center.  

But there is hope Pride fans.  Hofstra won the rematch in the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament that season, 72-66.  But before there can be a rematch, both teams need to take care of business in the last eight games of the regular season.  You can never look too far ahead in the CAA.

For Your Reading Pleasure, I Hope

Kyle Whelliston, author- founder extraordinare of the Mid-Majority.Com site, has recently started the "800 Game Project.   The "800 Game Project" features submitted articles from various writers throughout the country on games they have attended recently.   I submitted an article Tuesday about the Monday night Hofstra-JMU classic.  Kyle was kind enough to feature it today.  Hope you enjoy.

Also, I highly encourage any of you to submit a story for the 800 Game Project for the Mid Majority site.  The idea is for fans to write a story about a live mid major Division I College Basketball game (if you need to know the MidMajority's mid major criteria, you can find it here).  When you write it, as Kyle states on his site often, don't just do a game report you can find via an AP feed.  Write about your experience there, what it's like to be a fan for your team, any unique events at the game, etc.   The idea is it's all about the fan's experience of the game.

I hope to have an article about last night's Hofstra - VCU game later tonight...after I take my kids to Monster Jam at Nassau Coliseum.  Such is life with two little boys who LOVE monster trucks.

Tomorrow is a live game doubleheader - St Bonaventure vs. Fordham, then Drexel vs. Hofstra.  You can follow my tweets at gmoore21566.  But, remember, there is nothing, NOTHING, better than going to a live college basketball game yourself.  Now, go out and do it!  And if you can, write about it!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Additional Thoughts on Last Night's Hofstra vs James Madison Game

Something was gnawing at me last night as I wrote my article about last night's thrilling Hofstra - James Madison game.  It was that there was not just the 2005 classic triple overtime game, but that there was another overtime game in recent history involving James Madison and Hofstra at the Mack Center.  And sure enough, there was another game.

On February 18, 2009, there was a double overtime classic at the Mack won by Hofstra 99-96.  And of course, DUH, I wrote about it.  In that game, Wells went for 32 points and Jenkins scored 32 points and had 13 assists and 7 rebounds as well. And if you read the story from two years ago, you will notice that a lane violation by JMU in the overtime period proved to be a costly for the Dukes in that game.  And as you know from last night, a lane violation by JMU also proved to be costly for the Dukes late in the game.

Hofstra and Madison also have a recent history of close, wild, high scoring games at Jamesburg.  Hofstra defeated JMU 86-85 on Feburary 16, 2008.  And on January 24, 2009, the Pride defeated the Dukes 69-68.  Think about it, four games separated by a total of seven points.  All won by Hofstra.   And the Pride have in fact won twelve in a row vs. JMU.

Whatever it is with these two teams, whenever you get James Madison and Hofstra together, a wild, wacky, high scoring overtime game is quite likely.  Whether we will get one more Madison-Hofstra game in the CAA Tournament season, well, stay tuned.

Hofstra Outlasts James Madison in Another OT Classic

On February 9 2005,  I was at the Mack Center when Hofstra outlasted James Madison in three overtimes 95-88.   It was one of the wildest games I ever witnessed.    The win put Hofstra over .500 in conference for the first time in nearly a month that season.  It was also a very important win for the Pride as it was the springboard to a seven game win streak, which included a quarterfinal win over Drexel in the CAA Tournament.  You could also say that the triple overtime win also helped to lead them to a NIT bid in that 2004-05 season, their first of three NIT bids in a row.

The circumstances were somewhat different Monday night at the Mack Center.  Hofstra came into the game tied for first place in the CAA at 7-1.   JMU was tied for fourth in the conference at 5-3 (in 2004-05, Madison was 3-15 in conference).  Both teams wanted to the end the first half of the conference season with a much needed win.   And the 2,324 in attendance, many of which was comprised by a lively Lions Den student section, were about to see another overtime game.  This was going to be a heavyweight championship fight and AC-DC's Highway to Hell, played right before tipoff, was going to be the perfect lead-in.  

Hofstra came out of the corner with a 13-5 lead as the Pride used good ball movement to score their points.  Five of the first six Hofstra baskets came as the result of assists.  Then the next four Hofstra baskets were the result of Charles Jenkins.  Jenkins scored two baskets and assisted on two others as the Pride held a 22-16 lead with 9:45.

But like a good prizefight, James Madison withstood Hofstra's blows and came back firing haymakers, in the form of a 15-0 run over the span of five minutes.  And it was a one two punch, Humpty Hitchens and Denzel Bowles delivering the haymakers.  Hitchens buried two threes while Bowles had seven points in the span.  The score was 31-22 JMU with 4:22 left in the half.

The Dukes would extend the lead to thirteen, 41-28 at the half.   Bowles (15 points) and Julius Wells (14 points) outscored Hofstra at the half.  The difference in the first half was Madison abusing Hofstra's zone defense with 6 of 11 shooting from beyond the arc.  Meanwhile, Hofstra was 2 of 11 from three at the half.

The second half saw Hofstra switch to a man to man defense.  And while it was successful in stopping the three (Madison would not hit a three pointer in the second half),  Bowles and Rayshawn Goins went to work inside for the Dukes.    Bowles and Goins were responsible for the first nine points scored by JMU in the second half as the lead was now fourteen, 50-36 with 16:11 left.  Goins repeatedly got offensive rebounds and putbacks for Madison as Hofstra had no answer for the 6 foot 6 275 pound mound of rebound.

But somehow, the Pride withstood the body blows by Bowles and Goins, and responded with a 13-2 run in not even four minutes.  This was due to Hofstra finally starting to hit open threes.  Jenkins and Shemiye McLendon hit back to back three jabs to make the score 52-49 with 11:22 left.

But again, Madison responded with a right cross, a 6-0 spurt to make the score 58-49.  The lead would actually swell to eleven, 69-58 with 6:34 left.  The Dukes were doing it at the line as they hit 9 of 10 free throws over one stretch during the second half.   It looked like Hofstra was teetering on the ropes and all that was left was one hook to the head by Madison to knock the Pride out.

But the Pride channeled Rocky Balboa, bounced off the ropes and hit JMU with shots to the ribs.   Brad Kelleher scored five points in a row (a three pointer and two free throws).   Then Jenkins and McLendon both buried threes and suddenly a 11-2 Hofstra spurt made the score 71-69 JMU with 3:33 left.  Matt Brady called timeout and the Mack Center was rocking, Giant Charles Jenkins paper head and all.

For the next couple of minutes,  the pattern was Madison would hit foul shots, Hofstra would hit then hit a basket.  JMU's next seven points would come all on free throws.   After a Brad Kelleher layup cut the Dukes lead to one, 78-77, Devon Moore got fouled with 33 seconds left.   JMU's Moore would hit the first free throw.  But on the second attempt, Madison's Andrey Semenov inexplicably stepped in the lane before Moore shot the free throw.  The free throw was waved off and Hofstra had a chance to tie.

The next 16 seconds were basically a free for all.  The Pride tried to setup a play for Jenkins but JMU denied Jenkins the ball,  Then when it seemed like McLendon was on the verge of being out of control with the ball, Hitchens fouled him.  That was Hitchens' fifth foul.  McLendon then calmly drilled both free throws and the game was tied at 79 with 17 seconds left.  With the entire crowd on its feet, Devon Moore ran the clock down then tried to drive the lane.  But Yves Jules, who had entered the game on defense (good coaching at the end of the game by Hofstra's Mo Cassara), stole the ball from Moore and the game went into overtime.

The Hofstra PA system appropriately played "Don't Stop Believing" before the tipoff at overtime.   And certainly Jenkins didn't stop believing as he scored the first six points for Hofstra in the extra period.  After two Mike Moore free throws put Hofstra up seven, 90-83 with 2:05 left, it looked like Madison was going to lose by TKO.   But Wells hit the Dukes' first three pointer since the first half and Madison was down four.  Then after Jenkins missed a sure layup, a stunned crowd watched as Bowles hit a layup and drew the fifth foul on Washington.  He hit the free throw and suddenly it was 90-89 with 53 seconds left.  McLendon would miss a three and JMU had the ball with 25 seconds left as Matt Brady called a timeout to setup the play.

Everyone thought Bowles would get the ball.  Certainly Cassara did as he inserted Stephen Nwaukoni to guard Bowles.   But on the inbounds, Semenov got the ball at the top of the key and inexplicably, Semenov drove the lane.  But thanks to once again the defense by Jules, Semenov's layup attempt was way off.  And guess who got the rebound.  Yup, the just inserted Nwaukoni with 3.9 seconds left.  He was fouled and he headed to the line.

Tieff stood next to me worried about these two free throws.  And rightfully so, since Nwaukoni was only a 55 percent foul shooter.  But Nwaukoni calmly buried both and the lead was three.  Cassara called timeout and Tieff was yelling out "Foul them, foul them".   Cassara decided not to guard Goins who was inbounding the ball.  Goins hit Wells with a pass just past center court.  And sure enough, McLendon fouled him before he could get a foul shot off.   Wells would hit the first free throw, then purposely miss the second.  Who got the rebound?  Who else but the best player in the CAA, Jenkins, and the clock ran out.  Hofstra held on for an absolutely amazing 92-90 win as the Hofstra players celebrated with the Lions Den fans after the buzzer sounded

The game was televised on ESPN Regional.  And those 2374 at the game and those who watched on TV or on ESPN3 were treated to a 35 point 5 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals performance by the Force of Nature, Jenkins who shot 11 of 19 from the field and 11 of 13 from the line.    But the man the scouts came to see also had help.  Before he fouled out, Washington had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks.  Moore was the usual wingman with 14 points and 7 rebounds.  McLendon also had 14 points and Kelleher added 10.  Also, the best free throw shooting team in the CAA was 21 of 23 from the line.

As for Madison, Bowles was dominant with 27 points and 10 rebounds.  Wells added 23 points on 5 of 9 shooting from beyond the arc.  Devon Moore nearly had a triple double with 13 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds.  Goins had a double double with 11 points and 10 rebounds while Semenov had 10 points.

Hofstra sent their home crowd happily to their cars and their dorms knowing the team was now 8-1 in conference, 14-6 overall.  More importantly, the Pride have a three game lead on James Madison, now 5-4 in conference, tied for fifth with Drexel and Delaware.  And now the Pride also have the tiebreaker on the Dukes.  Hofstra now plays VCU for first place overall Thursday on ESPNU.  Meanwhile JMU has a home game vs. Drexel on Wednesday night.

After the game, Tieff and I met up with Jerry Beach and his better half Michelle.  We talked briefly about how great the game was and Beach, being his usual crazy self wanted a group hug to celebrate the game.  And yeah, we indulged him.   You couldn't help but be happy after seeing your team rally from fifteen points down (score was once 45-30 in the second half) to force overtime, then hold on for dear life in the extra session.

As Tieff said as we headed to our cars, it was a tournament quality game.  It really felt like a classic heavyweight championship fight.   And Hofstra won on points.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Second CAA Gauntlet Begins Today

Michael Litos always does solid work.   In his Thursday CAAHoops post, he talks about today, Saturday being the start of the "second four in eight day"sprint.  The first sprint was the beginning of the January.  But now in late January, in the span of eight days, all twelve CAA teams will play four games.  By the end of next Saturday, all twelve CAA teams will have played eleven games in conference and be dead tired to boot.   It's probably going to separate "the men" from "the boys" in the conference.  It will truly be a gauntlet.

So let's see what the schedule is for all the teams in the conference by standings order.   And yes, it's even important to list the bottom three - William and Mary, Northeastern and Towson, because they will have a say in the matter.

Hofstra (6-1 CAA) -  The Pride start their stretch with another trap game as they travel to Williamsburg to take on William and Mary.   The Tribe should have the Flying Dutch's attention as the Tribe have won two games in a row.  Then it's a potential first place showdown Monday in Hempstead with James Madison.   Following "Them Dukes! Then Dukes!", the Pride travel to VCU for a Thursday ESPNU matchup in the Siegel Center, a place of horrors for Hofstra.  That could also be for first place in the CAA.  Then the gauntlet finishes with a return matchup next Saturday against Drexel.  A pretty tough stretch for the the Pride who have finally found a wingman for the great Charles Jenkins.  Mike Moore is averaging nearly 15 points per game for Hofstra.  In his last four games, Moore is averaging over 18 points per game while shooting 25 of 44 from the field.

VCU (6-1 CAA) - No Larry Sanders, no problem so far for the Rams as they are tied for first in the CAA.  But their gauntlet starts with the Virginia war at Old Dominion.   Then it's a road game Monday at Towson.  Then VCU gets to host a national ESPNU game on Thursday vs. Hofstra, a team that has never won at the Siegel Center since joining the CAA.  The Rams then finish their stretch with a home game vs UNCW.   Rob Brandenburg has eased any concerns the VCU faithful had when Brandon Bozzell went down with a broken hand. Brandenburg has had two twenty plus point outings in his last three games.

ODU (5-2 CAA) - The CAA preseason favorites have righted their ship with back to back wins over two of the other top teams in conference, Hofstra and James Madison.  Now they have to play a third top team in a row as they host VCU at a sold out Ted today.   Then it's a home game vs. an improved UNCW squad on Monday.  Then it's a road game against Georgia State next Wednesday, then back at home vs. Towson next Saturday.  Frank Hassell got his second double double in a row in the Monarchs win over the Dukes.  ODU is 7-0 when Hassell gets a double double.

James Madison (5-2 CAA) - "Them Dukes! Them Dukes!" host an 11:00 am ESPNU matchup today with fellow 5-2 George Mason.   After Breakfast in Harrisonburg,  JMU travels to Hempstead Monday for a potential first place matchup with Hofstra.    Then it's home next Wednesday as Madison hosts Drexel.  Then next Saturday the Dukes travel to the Bob to take on the Blue Hens.    For Madison to be successful, they must ride their horse, Denzel Bowles.  In his last two games, Bowles has scored 41 points on 18 of 27 shooting.  On the season, Bowles is shooting a dominant 61 percent from the field.

George Mason (5-2 CAA) - Jerry Beach's favorite team starts their eight day stretch in Harrisonburg against James Madison on the U.  Then it's another road jaunt to Delaware on Monday for a game against the Blue Hens at the Bob.  Mason finally has a home game vs.  last place Towson on Wednesday before returning to the road.   The Patriots finish their stretch at Williamsburg vs. William and Mary.  The Patriots have won three in a row due in large part to Cam Long.  In his last four games, Long has averaged nearly 19 points per game while shooting 30 of 48 from the field (62.5 percent).

Delaware (4-3 CAA) - The Fightin Blue Hens have been the surprise of the CAA so far with their 4-3 conference record.  But the next four games should be a gauge of how good the Blue Hens really are.  They start with a road game vs. Georgia State today, then they are back home at the Bob on Monday vs. George Mason.   Delaware then travels to improving William and Mary on Wednesday.  Finally it's another home game at the Bob, with it's yummy concessions area, for a matchup next Saturday for James Madison.  For the Blue Hens to be successful during this stretch, an Alphonso Dawson resurrection would be great.  Dawson is averaging four less points per game than last season (7.9 to 12.1) and has only scored ten points in his last four games combined.

UNCW (3-4 CAA) - I was really impressed Wednesday night with the improvement of the Seahawks from a year ago, despite their loss to Hofstra.  Their four game stretch starts with a home game at the Trask vs. a Towson team that's winless in conference.  Then it's a road game at ODU on Monday.  Following the trip to Norfolk, the Seahawks head back to Wilmington to face another team winless in conference in Northeastern.   Finally UNCW heads to Richmond to face VCU in the Siegel Center.   Keith Rendleman has become a dominant force as he has averaged 15 points per game in his last five games while shooting 31 of 57 from the field.  Rendleman is shooting 58.8 percent on the season.

Drexel (3-4 CAA) - The Dragons have been a disappointment so far as they are sub .500 in conference despite beating ODU (and also having defeated Louisville at the Yum Center).  Bruiser's Boys look to get back on track with two straight home games.  First, Drexel hosts Northeastern today, then the Dragons host Georgia State on Monday.  Then it's two straight road games.  Drexel travels to Harrisonburg to take on James Madison on Wednesday.  Then it's a road trip to Hempstead to face Hofstra next Saturday.   For Drexel to be successful, they need Chris Fouch to step up.  In his last four games, Fouch is only shooting 19 of 58 (less than 33 percent) from the field, averaging only 12 points per game, nearly 5 under his season average (16.8 ppg).

Georgia State (3-4 CAA) - After a 3-1 start in conference, the Panthers have lost three straight CAA games.  Georgia State looks to get back on track with a home game vs  Delaware today.  Then it's a road trip to Philly on Monday night vs. Drexel.  Then it's back home to host Old Dominion on Wednesday night.  They finish their four game stretch with a road trip to farthest point in the CAA, Boston to face Northeastern next Saturday.   The Panthers need to get Eric Buckner going again.  After scoring 28 points vs. VCU on January 3rd,  Buckner has scored a total of 32 points in his last five games combined.  Buckner doesn't even have a field goal in either of his last two games.

William and Mary (2-5 CAA) - After losing their first five games in conference, the Tribe have won their last two in impressive fashion - a fourteen point home win over Drexel, then a 15 point beat down of the Tigers at Towson.   The Mary, as my friend Tieff calls them, start their four game stretch hosting Hofstra, a team they swept a season ago.  Then the Tribe travel to Northeastern on Monday night.  William and Mary then host two more home games in Williamsburg - next Wednesday vs. Delaware, followed by George Mason next Saturday.   Freshman Brandon Britt has come alive. In his last two games, Britt has scored 25 and 16 points respectively, shooting 12 of 19 from the field and 12 of 13 from the free throw line.

Northeastern (0-7 CAA)  - The Huskies are looking for their first win in the CAA.  It won't be easy at the start of their four game stretch, as Northeastern travels to Philly to take on Drexel.   Then it's a home game vs. William and Mary on Monday, followed by a road jaunt to UNCW on Wednesday.   The Huskies finish their four game gauntlet by hosting Georgia State.   Joel Smith has been terrific for the Huskies.  In his last three games, Smith has averaged 17 points on 11 of 15 shooting from beyond the arc and 18 of 25 from the field.  If Smith continues his torrid shooting, the Huskies will finally win at least one game during this stretch.

Towson (0-7 CAA) - There seems to be little hope for the Tigers.  With Tony Franklin transferring and Robert Nwankwo out for the season due to academic ineligibility, the Tigers are playing short handed.  The Tigers have a rough four games in eight days schedule. First it's a road game tonight at UNCW.  Then it's a home game on Monday vs. VCU.  The Tigers finish up the schedule with two road games at ODU on Wednesday, then George Mason on Saturday.  Towson's Josh Brown is playing well lately, averaging 13 points per game, shooting 20 of 38 from the field.

So how will this play out?  Right now, I have only one guarantee.  Towson will remain winless.   Other than that, I think ODU will win the slugfest over VCU today and then win their next three games (though watch the Georgia State game as a potential trap game).  VCU will lose the ODU game but win their next three games.  I think James Madison wins the Bagels and Basketball game this morning vs. Mason, then loses to Hofstra, then wins their next two.  UNCW will win their two home games and lose their two road games.  Likewise for Drexel, a team struggling from the field.

Others are far more difficult to predict.  If Hofstra wins the game against W&M tonight, which will be tough, I think they have a chance to hold serve at home vs JMU and Drexel.  But I would be very surprised if they won at VCU.   George Mason doesn't play well on the road (4-5 on neutral and road sites), so I think they will lose to Madison this morning, then I wouldn't be shocked if they lose at Delaware on Monday.  They will definitely win out the rest of the week.   William and Mary could very win tonight vs. Hofstra and probably vs. Delaware as well.   It's not impossible that they could also win at Northeastern, however a win hosting Mason will be tough.

I think Georgia State wins their first game of their stretch today, but loses their last three, including their road game to the Huskies up in Boston next Saturday.  Thus I believe Northeastern will get a win this stretch and they might get a second when they host William and Mary as well.   Finally, Delaware could win a couple of games, but it is equally as likely they could go 0-4 as well.

I believe Litos is right in that after this four game stretch, you will see separation between the top five teams - Hofstra, VCU, ODU, James Madison and George Mason and the rest of the conference.   Drexel, Delaware, UNCW and believe it or not William and Mary will fight out for sixth and seventh.  I think Georgia State falls back.  Northeastern gets a little separation from Towson.  The Tigers are clearly the worst team in the conference.

Should be a great eight days of basketball in the CAA.  Can't Wait!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hofstra Rallies to Beat UNCW

Last night as I entered the Mack Sports Complex 40 minutes before the start of the UNCW - Hofstra game, in a way, it was like returning to the scene of a crime.  A little less than a year ago, the same two teams played at the Mack Center.  It was a night where you could say the Pride and Charles Jenkins "murdered" the Seahawks 93-54.  But it was also much more than that.

For those of you who remember (or just read the above linked story),  during the game, Charles Jenkins had an eight point play, which was unreal if you witnessed it live.  Apparently the media thought it was unreal as well, as the eight point play received national attention.  Combine the final score with the eight point play, and it was probably a very publicly embarrassing moment for a UNC- Wilmington team that was at the time 7-14 and was 7-25 the season before.

Well apparently the public spotlight of their struggling program was the final straw for the UNCW administration.  Two days later,  Seahawks coach Benny Moss was "reassigned".   As I noted my article from last season (which is the link on the previous sentence),  I had thought Moss deserved to finish out the season.  However I also noted how bad a defensive team the Seahawks were and that you "could just see the lack of effort on defense".  They were a very undisciplined team under Moss.

After a coaching search that took longer than the Falklands War (kudos to Beach on that classic nugget), UNCW hired Buzz Peterson, who had been coaching Appalachian State, to be the new head coach.   Peterson had a tall task in his first season as his team had combined for 14 wins the two previous seasons  and several players including forward John Fields, now at Tennessee, left the team.

But as Wilmington Star News writer Brian Mull terrifically put it in a article yesterday, Charles Jenkins saved UNCW basketball.  Peterson's team entered the game last night with a 9-9 record, including a 3-3 conference record.   Based on a talk I had with Brian Mull after the game, Peterson has also rejuvenated the UNCW fan base.  The attendance for their home game against VCU was 5,126, which was more than double their attendance from a year ago in their previous home game with the Rams (2,375).  And that was with school not in session (Kudos to Mull for that nugget).

As for Hofstra, they were recovering from their first loss of the conference season against ODU.  But despite that loss, no one would have thought in Mo Cassara's first season as head coach that they would be 5-1 in conference.  The Pride have a huge road win over Drexel, their first road win vs the Dragons since 2007 and a win over Mason, their first win over the Patriots since 2007.  Not bad for a team which a year ago only had a 2-7 record in conference when they faced UNCW.

So while the PA System was playing AC-DC's "For Those About to Rock" right before tipoff, you had the backdrop for last night's UNCW-Hofstra game.  Two teams, both with completely new coaching staffs this season, both significantly improved from a year ago.  Unfortunately, only a small crowd of 1781 would see a much more competitive game this time around.

The Seahawks came right out and gave notice that this wasn't your Benny Moss Seahawks.  UNCW's terrific duo of Chad Tomko and Keith Rendleman gave a preview to the Seahawks scoring on the night as they combined to score all their team's points as UNCW led 7-3 early.   The Seahawks would still be up 9-7 with 16:04 left in the first half.

But Hofstra would go on a 20-5 run over a ten minute span as four of the Hofstra starters; Charles Jenkins, Mike Moore, David Imes and Brad Kelleher would score all the points during the run.  The score was 27-14 with 5:45 left in the first half.   It seemed like the Pride were about to have another blowout on UNCW.

However, where last season's Seahawks would have likely folded the tent, Buzz Peterson's team would show a lot of heart.  Rendleman led a 11-2 Seahawks spurt scoring nine of the eleven UNCW points as the Hofstra lead was now only four, 29-25 with 2:35 left.   Rendleman's athleticism forced the Pride frontcourt into foul trouble.  Greg Washington and Roland Brown each had two fouls and Paul Bilbo and Imes each had one as they could not defend the quicker, bouncier Rendleman.

Hofstra would extend the lead back out to eight by halftime, as unlike the game against ODU,  Jenkins pass to a wide open Kelleher would lead to a three pointer by Outback Brad at the buzzer.    The score was 35-27 at the half.   The score differential was due in large part to Hofstra' shooting from three, as the Pride were 5 of 9 from beyond the arc.  Hofstra's four starters had all their points (Jenkins and Moore each had 10, Kelleher 9 and Imes 6), while Rendleman led all scorers with 11 points.

The start of the second half saw Hofstra score four quick points to extend their lead back to twelve, 39-27 with 19:04 left.  Then Peterson called a 30 second timeout.  Whatever he said, it sure worked.  The Seahawks offense went to work while their zone forced the Pride to shoot errant threes.  As a result, UNCW went on a stunning 23-6 run over the span of ten minutes.   Tomko would lead the run scoring ten points, the last of which, a patented Tomko three pointer gave the Seahawks a 50-45 lead with 9:17 left.

During this Seahawk run, an ironic thing happened.  I noticed the Hofstra women's lacrosse team, who had been recognized at halftime for their academic achievements, were walking down the stairs behind the Hofstra basket with their lacrosse sticks.  I turned to my friend Jeff Silberfeld and told him a story about last season when the lacrosse team "tossed" T-shirts to the crowd with their lacrosse sticks during a timeout.

It just so happens that last year one of those girls whizzed and I mean, whizzed, a t-shirt into the first couple of rows.  And she smacked someone not paying attention right in the face with the T-shirt.  Well wouldn't you know it, they came out again during a TV timeout and "tossed" T-shirts into the crowd again.   During this time, I stupidly turned to say something to Jeff and I got nailed right in the shoulder with a T-shirt. Jeff was like "why didn't you catch it?!"  And I replied, "Because I was about to turn to talk to you on the game."  Lesson learned...again.  Always pay attention during a Hofstra Women's Lacrosse T Shirt Toss.

OK, back to our main story.   Mo Cassara called timeout as the Pride were down five, 50-45 to a Wilmington team that came to play.  You knew what was coming.  No doubt that Cassara was calling on "The Man" as Beach refers to him, "The Power Guard" as Brian Mull calls him, or my nickname for him ,"The Force of Nature" to take matters into his own hands.  And he did.

Jenkins first assisted on a three by Shemiye McLendon to cut the lead to two, 50-47.  Then after Rendleman put the Seahawks back up by four, Moore and Imes hit baskets to tie the game at 52.  Then it was another episode of "Charles in Charge".   Jenkins would score the next seven points for Hofstra, the last two coming on free throws to put Hofstra up 59-52 with 3:14 left.   Later, his two free throws extended the lead to ten, 64-54 with 2:09 left.   The Pride would eventually win 66-57.

One more funny story from the game.  Late in the game,  UNCW's Matt Wilson was called for an intentional foul while he was trying to knock the ball away on an inbounds play.   Wilson was clearly going for the ball.  The call was so bad that the Hofstra fans by me couldn't believe it was called an intentional foul.  Finally, my friend Mal yelled out to the ref, now by us, "Hey, I'm a Hofstra fan and I think that's a terrible call!"  Funny.  Then a little later, Tomko literally pushes Moore down on an inbounds play.  That was much more an intentional foul and though a foul was called, the ref didn't call an intentional.  Makeup call.

Jenkins had 22 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the field and 9 of 10 from the free throw line.  He also had six assists and two blocks.  Moore added 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting.  He also had 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and unfortunately 6 turnovers.  Imes had his fourth double double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.  Kelleher, who I tweeted before the game as key player since a) he had to guard Tomko and b) needed to not turn the ball over on offense, added nine points, all threes in the first half.  He also had zero turnovers in 34 minutes, a major improvement considering he had fourteen turnovers combined in his last four games.

As for UNCW, they played so much better than last season's game and if not for Jenkins, they may have very well won the game.   Tomko and Rendleman combined to score 35 points on 15 of 31 shooting.  Rendleman also had eight rebounds while Tomko had six assists.  Unfortunately they combined for nine turnovers.

After the game, while the Hofstra crew worked on the court,  I chatted with Beach's lovely wife Michelle, as we waited around while Jerry did his post-game conference interviews.  We also waited for Brian Mull, who was there covering the game, and is as a good a person as he is a writer (and as you may know, I link to his blog on this site).  Read his game article, which contains a classic Buzz Peterson quote on Jenkins.   Here's Beach good work as usual as well.

The four of us ended up having a late dinner at the Colony Diner in East Meadow as we chatted generally about CAA hoops and the rising fortunes of both Hofstra and UNCW.   After a great dinner at the diner, the four of us agreed we would have dinner again in Richmond while there for the CAA Tournament in March.  It's funny, but that's only five plus weeks away.  And since we agreed that there seems to be no clearcut favorite right now, it could be the best CAA tournament ever.   Five weeks eh?   I know I am looking very much forward to it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Miscellaneous Thoughts From the Past Weekend

I was thinking more about Old Dominion's win over Hofstra on Saturday.  Really was impressed with the play of Frank Hassell.  In my CAA preview, Hassell was my key player this season for the Monarchs.   And he had a huge second half against the Pride in which he scored 12 of his 18 points and 7 of his 13 rebounds.  He did this all while committing only two fouls in the game.

Kent Bazemore may be their most talented player, but Hassell is ODU's most consistent player.   Hassell leads the Monarchs in scoring averaging 12.9 points per game, shooting 55 percent from the field and ODU is 6-0 when Hassell has a double double.  The Monarchs now play their next three games at home which starts with  James Madison, then a game against VCU.  Both Madison and VCU are tied for first with Hofstra.

As for Hofstra,  the Pride didn't get the balanced scoring they had been getting in their previous four wins.  Yes, Charles Jenkins and Mike Moore outscored ODU's Hassell and Bazemore 38-36.  But the Monarchs got at least 8 or more points from four other players while the only other Hofstra player with more than 8 was Shemiye McLendon with 9 points.   Also, the Pride frontcourt must play better.  Greg Washington and David Imes had disappointing games Saturday combining for eight points and eight rebounds against ODU.  Against the Monarchs, that's not going to get it done. You may see  freshman forward Stephen Nwaukoni (four points and five rebounds in eleven minutes) play more for Hofstra.

The next two games for Hofstra are key as they are home to UNC Wilmington then travel Saturday to William and Mary, a team Drexel lost to on Saturday.   The Pride need to win those next two games because then they face a four game gauntlet after that - home to JMU, road game at VCU, home to Drexel then a road game at George Mason.   This six game stretch will tell us a lot about Hofstra.

I ponied up for the $5.00 fee for the Iona - Rider live stream last Friday (game picture is Iona's win over St Peter's last week).  It was a wild game won by Iona 100-96 in overtime.  If you were looking for defense, this wasn't the game for you.  However, if you like end to end action and lots of scoring, this was the game for you.  The Gaels were up 17 in the first half and looked like they were going to blow the Broncs out of their own building.  In fact, Iona was up 42-30 late in the first half, then stopped going to Michael Glover inside.  The result, a 31-11 Rider run over the span of two halves.

Rider was up 61-53 with 11:58 left in the game. And it looked like I was going to write about how Iona blew a huge opportunity against Rider by not going to the big man Glover more.  Glover had 11 quick first half points but was scoreless over a  twenty three minute span over two halves until a little less than six minutes left in the game.

Then Glover took over.  Glover would score 13 points over the final 11 minutes of the game (which included the five minute overtime period).  Glover had 24 points, 17 rebounds, shot 8 of 12 from the field and 8 of 10 from the free throw line.  He has eleven double double games this season (Iona is 9-2 in those games) and is shooting a ridiculous 66 percent from the field.

Nine players from both teams combined scored in double figures in the game.  Rider's talented duo of Mike Ringgold and Novar Gadson combined for 43 points on 17 of 27 shooting.    Meanwhile, talented Iona freshman Sean Armand is really coming on.  He had 17 points in the Rider game and had 22 points yesterday against Marist.    With Glover, Scott Machado, Kyle Smyth and Jermel Jenkins, just what Iona needs, another scoring option.  Look for Rider and Iona to be the top two teams in the MAAC (though Fairfield may have something to say about that tonight vs. Rider).

I watched Butler twice over the weekend.  I saw the second half of their dismantling of Detroit on the Titans home court, then I watched their exciting loss to Wright State at the Nutter Center last night.   They certainly aren't struggling to score points.  They put 87 on  Detroit shooting 57 percent and they are actually averaging five points more per game than last season.  Matt Howard is averaging 17 per game and Shelvin Mack is averaging 14 points per game, the same as last season (though he is shooting 39.6 percent as opposed to 45.4 percent last season).

The difference between Butler last season and this season is defense.  The Bulldogs only played four games last season where they gave up 69 or more points, only one of which was in conference (and they were 1-3 in those games).  Already this season, the Bulldogs have given up 69 or more points seven times, three of which are in conference.  They are 2-5 in those games, including 1-2 in the Horizon.

The Bulldogs scoring defense in the Horizon last season was 58 points per game (that was through all 18 regular season games plus the two tournament games).   Through seven games this season, the Bulldogs scoring defense is 66.6.  Over eight points a game is a huge difference which explains their 5-2 conference record and their 13-6 overall record.   Not only do they miss Gordon Hayward, they also really miss Willie Veasley, a very good defensive stopper.

One of my favorite teams St Mary's is starting to get respect in national circles as they are ranked #21 in the country.  Of course, with national rankings comes a glaring spotlight and the Gaels, who are second in the country in FG percentage and assists, are going to quickly find out if they are up to the bright lights.  After what should be a win at home Wednesday vs a San Diego team that's winless in conference, the Gaels travel a long distance to face Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon.   Then after that, the road trip continues as they head back west to Spokane to face Gonzaga, then it's off to Portland.  If St Mary's can win 2 of those 3 road games, that would be huge, as in at large bid resume huge.

There are some other things of note in college basketball and let's do in bullet style.

  • I got to see Florida Atlantic win a road game vs. Hofstra and I was pretty impressed with the Owls, especially Greg Gantt.  Well the Owls are the only undefeated team in the Sun Belt at 6-0 and 14-6 overall.   And don't expect Mike Jarvis' team to wilt as the season goes on because nine Owl players average at least 10 minutes per game.
  • Belmont is freaking ridiculous.  They are 16-3 overall, 9th in the country in points per game, 18th in the country in assists, 47th in FG percentage.  The Bruins' average margin of victory in the Atlantic Sun is a dumbfounding 29 points per game.  They have won by 30 or more points in conference five times.  Finally Belmont has only lost to likely NCAA Tournament teams Tennessee (twice) and Vanderbilt and those were all single digit losses.  They are good.  Real good.
  • What's more impressive about Missouri State - The fact the Bears are 27th in the country in FG percentage, that they are 7-0 in the Missouri Valley, or the fact that four of their Valley wins came at probably the toughest places to play.  Missouri State has won at Wichita State, at Creighton, at UNI and at Bradley.  Give me the latter on that question.  Damn impressive.
  • Hey CAA fans, remember Ron Everhart, formerly coach of the Northeastern Huskies, now the coach of Duquesne?   Well Everhart's team has been the surprise so far of the Atlantic 10 as they are 3-0 in conference.  The Dukes, fourth in the country in assists, dominated Temple Saturday 78-66.  Duquesne has an excellent chance to be 6-0 with a favorable schedule (at LaSalle, home to Charlotte and at Fordham) before playing Dayton at home on January 30.
  • Finally a little love for Coastal Carolina.  The Chanticleers are an overall dominant team -11th in the country in FG percentage, 19th in scoring, 23rd in rebounding and 24th in assists.  They are 16-2 overall, 7-0 in the Big South.  But we will find out if they are real for sure because their next four games are all on the road.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On the Rebound, Old Dominion Defeats Hofstra

I had been thinking about this game for a week ever since Hofstra defeated Northeastern the Saturday before yesterday.  Even though there was the trap game for Hofstra with Towson, which turned out not to be a trap game, the game against Old Dominion was a statement game.  The first place Pride, having won ten straight regular season conference games dating to last season, were playing the defending CAA champ Monarchs, the team picked by EVERYONE to repeat as champs.  If Hofstra could defeat Old Dominion yesterday and along with its favorable schedule over the next three games, it would put the Pride in a terrific position to at least get one of the four first round byes in the conference tournament.

Then came the nationally televised Thursday night game between ODU and Drexel on the U.  In the first half, the Monarchs looked like the best team in the CAA, dominating the Dragons for the first twenty minutes.  The second twenty minutes were perhaps the Monarchs' worst of the season as Drexel used a 21-3 run to defeat Old Dominion 62-57.   

Thus the Monarchs came into the game yesterday two games behind the Pride in the standings.  A loss to Hofstra would make it three games, plus the Pride would have the tiebreaker, since the teams only face each other once this season.  To me, this had to be a desperate situation for ODU.  A team considered by many as a serious at large contender could not afford to be .500 in conference after six games.  Though a couple of friends of mine disagreed with me on this, I knew better.  ODU absolutely now had to win this game.

With those scenarios in place and a crowd of 2572 on hand (it seemed like more than that), the Pride and Monarchs tipped off the CAA game of the week.   At the outset, Hofstra stormed out of the gate, playing strong defense and showing good ball movement.   Greg Washington had a block party, as he rejected four shots within the first two minutes.   Meanwhile, Charles Jenkins,  Mike Moore and Shemiye McLendon helped lead the Pride out to a 12-0 lead in the first six minutes  The Monarchs came out as flat as they did in the second half vs Drexel as they missed their first ten shots of the game.

ODU finally got on the scoreboard with six straight points as Keyon Carter's layup cut the deficit to 12-6 with 12:33 left.  However Hofstra responded as Jenkins and Stephen Nwaukoni scored all the points in an 8-2 Pride spurt to make the score 20-8 with ten minutes left in the first half.   At this time, Hofstra was 8 of 15 from the field while ODU was 3 of 16 from the field.

But there were storm clouds building for the Pride.  Washington already had two fouls by this time and was on the bench.  Then at the nine minute mark, Jenkins picked up his second foul.  Once he headed to the bench so did the Hofstra offense.   The Pride would only hit three of their remaining seventeen shots for the rest of the half. 

Meanwhile ODU finally shook off their hangover.   And they did it the Monarchs way - Ground and Pound.   Down 20-10,  Kent Bazemore missed two free throws but Keyon Carter grabbed an offensive rebound and Darius James buried a three pointer.  From there, the Monarchs dominated the boards and gashed the Pride defense with inside offense.   Combine that with ODU clamping down on Hofstra's offense and you had a 19-5 ODU run, culminating with a Bazemore three to put the Monarchs up 27-25 with 90 seconds left in the half.

Hofstra's offense had gone stagnant as the Monarchs clamped down on Jenkins drives, often double teaming him.   Jenkins would find an open man but the Pride just couldn't hit the open outside shots.  A perfect example was the end of the half.  With a chance to tie or take the lead, Jenkins dribbled the ball at the top of the key.  When Jenkins made his drive and the ODU defense converged, Jenkins wisely dished off to an open Brad Kelleher in the corner,  But Kelleher's shot missed and ODU went up at the half 29-27.  

The Monarchs dominated the boards on the first half, outrebounding the Pride 28-13.  But the great equalizer was turnovers.  Hofstra had only two while Old Dominion had nine.   Thus why it was a two point game at the half. 

The start of second half saw ODU and Hofstra trade baskets as ODU kept a two point lead 34-32 after a Jenkins layup.  The Monarchs then went on an 8-1 spurt as Hassell, Ben Finney and Carter dominated the inside play and ODU was up 42-33 with 15:22 left.   The sluggish pace favored the Monarchs, and it looked like Old Dominion was going to pound Hofstra off their own court.

But the Pride would respond with a 11-4 run of their own as they picked up the pace over the next three and half minutes.  Moore's layup cut the deficit to 46-44 with 11:57 left.   Hofstra got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead.  But Moore would miss a shot and ODU would extend the lead back to six, 50-44, as Cooper and Hassell scored inside.

Jenkins, aka "The Takeover", "The Man" or "The Force of Nature" depending on your preference of nicknames, then took matters into his own hands.  On two consecutive possessions, he would be fouled and he hit all four free throws to make the score 50-48 with 8:14 left.  The pace however had slowed due to the second half foul fest for ODU.  The Monarchs had nine fouls in the first eleven minutes of the second half, as the CAA officiating crew decided to make up for the large differential in fouls that favored ODU in the first half.

While during a timeout late in the game, the Hofstra sound system played "Number One" from the Real Genius soundtrack to try to get the Hofstra crowd to show they are number one in the CAA in crowd noise.  But I was more focused on the fact that every time Hofstra got close, Old Dominion responded by working it inside to Hassell.  After a Ben Finney three for ODU and a David Imes two for Hofstra, Hassell hit two layups to extend the Monarchs' lead to 57-50 with 5:56 left.   The lead was still seven, 59-52 with 4:45 left.  It seemed that when Washington picked up his third foul in the first half he became tentative the rest of the game on the defensive end.  And Hassell took advantage of that. 

Hofstra tried desperately to get back in the game by driving to the basket.   Moore would hit four free throws to cut the lead 60-56 with 2:43 left.   Needing a defensive stand, the Pride forced the Monarchs to work the shot clock down to one second,  But Bazemore buried an NBA three with Jenkins in his face to put ODU up 63-56.   Bazemore then stole a pass intended for Jenkins and a Finney layup was the dagger as the Monarchs went up 65-56.   ODU would eventually win 75-64.  

Hassell and Bazemore each had 18 points shooting a combined 14 of 27 from the field as the Monarchs shot 45 percent from the field overall.  Hassell also had 13 rebounds as ODU dominated the glass 52-28, which included 18 offensive rebounds.   Ben Finney nearly had a triple double with nine points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

For Hofstra, Jenkins and Moore each had 19 points.  But combined they only shot 12 of 30, including Jenkins limited to 6 of 16 from the field.  Jenkins had entered the game just shooting under 50 percent from three, 34 of 69.  But yesterday, Jenkins was 0 of 4.  Jenkins did have six assists. The team as a whole only shot 37 percent from the field, which included an unseemly  5 of 20 from beyond the arc.   

With the win, ODU is now 4-2 in conference, only one game out of first place, and the talk about their declining at large bid hopes should cease for now.  But they now have to face another team Wednesday that's tied for first place in the CAA, James Madison at the Ted.   At 5-1 in conference now, Hofstra must regroup for their next home game on Wednesday, against UNCW who just lost to James Madison last night. 

Oh and if you are wondering about the team that knocked Old Dominion Thursday night.  Well Drexel went to Williamsburg last night and played a William and Mary team that hadn't won all season in conference...till last night.  The Tribe stunned the Dragons 80-66.   That's just life in the CAA.  Crazy as always.