Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Have Seen the Light - End the BracketBusters

So, if you're a mid major college basketball fan, unless you have been hiding under a rock, you should know by now the BracketBuster Pairings.

St Mary's vs. Murray State
Long Beach State vs. Creighton
Nevada vs. Iona
Wichita State vs. Davidson
Drexel vs. Cleveland State
Akron vs. Oral Roberts
Valparaiso vs. Loyola Marymount
Northern Iowa vs. VCU
Buffalo vs. South Dakota State
Drake vs. New Mexico State
ODU vs. Missouri State
UNC Asheville vs. Weber State

After seeing the pairings, I am considering hiding under a rock.  And here's why (you will see I added three non televised BracketBuster teams for comparison.  Also you can click on the image for a full sized image);

As far as the televised game team selections, I had most of the teams from my predictions yesterday; ten of the thirteen home teams and eleven of the thirteen road teams.  I completely missed out on New Mexico State, since they deserved a spot (I did say yesterday though that I had an open home team).  What I didn't figure on was Missouri State and Loyola Marymount getting televised home games.

As for road teams, I had Drake in the discussion, so I am OK with that. As I noted in my article yesterday, the road teams were much weaker than the home teams and the statistics above prove that.  You have three road teams with nine losses, one with eight losses and another three teams with seven losses.  Compare that with the home teams where only three teams had seven losses or more.

You can see the wonderful, brilliant folks (once again, sarcasm by the author) selected their teams in most part by RPI.  It's the only explanation for Missouri State, only one of two home teams lower than second place in conference and the only home team with ten losses.  I could understand that if they had a record like ODU in conference, but they are only 6-5 in conference with an equal number of non conference losses.

As for the explanation of Loyola Marymount, I simply have none. Their numbers are worse across the board compared with both George Mason and Loyola Maryland.  To not have the first place CAA team in a televised BracketBuster game is criminal. Equally as criminal is not having Loyola Maryland, tied for first place in the MAAC, in a televised game.  Missouri State and Loyola Marymount stick out like sore thumbs in the home team comparisons and should not have got televised home games.

But the most serious transgression is giving Northern Iowa a televised game.  They are 4-7 in conference. Four and freakin seven and tied for seventh in the Missouri Valley!  Yes, they have good RPI and KenPom numbers.  But to quote Dennis Green, when you are 4-7 in conference, "They are what we thought they were". Meanwhile that leaves Stony Brook the only other BracketBuster eligible first place team besides George Mason without a televised game.  ESPN has just told the mid major basketball world what it thinks of the America East.

The pairings are not the greatest either. Based on region and RPI, I would have given St Mary's to Creighton, Wichita State to Murray State, Long Beach State to Iona and Nevada to Oral Roberts.   Yes, I know Davidson won at Kansas, but if you are going to base things on RPI, then Wichita State deserved the second best game.  If you are going to give Iona a west coast team, Long Beach State is somewhat better than Nevada based on numbers.

But again to not have the first place teams in the CAA or America East have televised games and instead have three teams that have at least nine losses and are not at least tied for second place in their conference have televised games; Northern Iowa, Missouri State and Loyola Marymount is criminal.   And if you are not going to reward a team like Stony Brook that's 7-1 in conference and in first place, why include the America East at all in the Bracketbusters?

Basically what ESPN said with yesterday's pairings is that a) the third place team in the Missouri Valley, a team with equal number of losses in conference and non conference is better than the first place team in the CAA that has only one loss in conference and half the losses overall, b) the seventh best team in the Missouri Valley that is 4-7 in conference is more rewarding of a televised game then the one loss first place team in the America East and c) Loyola Marymount is the best Loyola named school in the BracketBusters despite not being in first place and having four more losses than their Maryland counterpart.

If I was a George Mason, Stony Brook or Loyola Maryland fan this morning, I would be quite upset.

I have long been the defender of the BracketBusters.  But after yesterday's pairings, the decisions were as bad as some past NCAA Selection Committees.  For all the hassle with the home and road requirements, at least if you had selected teams based on merit and pairings that made sense, I could see it being worth the trouble.  But you didn't have that yesterday. I see only three games that can really help teams as far as at large bids; St Mary's vs. Murray State; Long Beach State vs. Creighton and believe it or not, Drexel vs. Cleveland State (a road win could definitely help the Dragons' numbers).  Otherwise, ESPN didn't do anybody any favors.

I have seen the light.  It's time to end the BracketBusters.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Too Many Good Home Teams Spoil the BracketBusters

Later today is the announcement of the thirteen televised BracketBuster games.  As I noted in a post last October, like them or not, the BracketBusters have made a difference for mid major teams.  You can make a strong case that neither George Mason or VCU would have made the NCAA Tournament in 2006 or 2011 had it not been for their road BracketBuster victories over Wichita State.

This year, the BracketBusters have more teams than last year (142 compared to 111 last year). The problem with the BracketBusters is that occasionally that depending on the schedule you have too many good home teams as opposed to road teams.  That was the case in 2006, and it is the case again this season.

Below are a list of what I think are the top teams that are home teams and the top teams that are road teams for the BracketBuster games

Definite Televised Game Home Teams - Murray State, Creighton, VCU, George Mason, Davidson, Oral Roberts, Iona, Weber State, Ohio, Cleveland State.

Home Teams in the Televised Game Mix - Loyola Maryland, South Dakota State, Montana, Manhattan, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Kent State, Georgia State, Illinois State.

Definite Televised Game Road Teams - St Mary's, Wichita State, Long Beach State, Akron, Drexel, Nevada, ODU, UNC Asheville, Texas Arlington, Stony Brook.

Road Teams in the Mix - Valparaiso, Buffalo, Wofford, UTSA, Drake.

As you can see from above, there is much more depth in the home teams than the road teams.  In fact with the "definite televised game home teams" you have nine teams that lead their conferences.  Only VCU is not in first place in their conference; they are tied for second with Drexel.  But the Rams are a no brainer after making the Final Four last season, plus they have strong KenPom and RPI numbers.  Had Butler not imploded in the last few weeks, they would have been a televised game as well due to their history.

Now look at the road teams.  Only seven of the teams lead their conferences.  There are also very few road teams with solid resumes.  Three of the five should get a televised game.  Compare that with the home teams in the mix.  Only three of the nine will get a televised game.

If I was a betting man, my guess is that of the home teams in the mix, South Dakota State and Loyola Maryland will get televised games.  That will leave one home team spot available.  As for road teams, I am going to say they take the second Horizon team, Valparaiso, another MAC team, Buffalo, and Wofford, since Wofford made the NCAA Tournament last year.

I think the definite game is St Mary's vs. Creighton.  The games that I see are likely are Wichita State vs. Murray State, Long Beach State vs.VCU, Akron vs. George Mason, Nevada vs. Oral Roberts and Drexel vs. Iona.  We'll see come later tonight.

But here's what I would do to fix the BracketBusters in the future.

  1. Get rid of the home and home requirement of the BracketBusters.  Teams that are selected to play each other are supposed to schedule a game on the other's home court in the next season or two.  Well, some teams aren't thrilled with that idea, especially East Coast or West Coast teams that will have to schedule a return game and travel across country.  Rumor has it that Iona is balking at the notion of hosting Long Beach State because they will have to travel to California for the return game.   Get rid of it and just make it a one time game.
  2. Have all the teams reserve their home gym the third weekend of February.  This way, you can guarantee the best games and not have to worry about too many home teams or too many road teams.  For teams that say "Well we could travel across the country to play in a BracketBuster game and it could affect our conferenc play the week after."  As Colonel Potter on MASH used to say "Horse Hockey!"  These teams want to make the NCAA Tournament.  It's very possible if they make the NCAA Tournament they could be sent all the way to the west coast or vice versa to the east coast.  Best to get used to it now.
If the wonderful, brilliant people at ESPN (author says that with sarcasm) would make those two changes, the BracketBusters would be even better.  Remember, before the BracketBusters there was no exposure for mid major teams.  Yes, regional networks like the Horizon and CAA have helped out.  But for teams like Oral Roberts or UNC Asheville, the games on ESPNU are few and far between.   The BracketBusters gives those teams exposure.

Remember, a little exposure is better than no exposure at all.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Most Underrated Team on Long Island - Part I - St. Joseph's Defeats Purchase

Over the past five seasons, the St. Joseph's Eagles have reached the postseason in Division III.  Four of those times were in the ECAC Metro Tournament.  But in the 2008-09 season, the Eagles went 24-4, won the Skyline Tournament Championship, defeating Farmingdale State and made the Division III NCAA Tournament. The Eagles would lose in the first round to DeSales, a team that made it to the Elite Eight that year. Over those five seasons, the Eagles were 101-38 with three twenty plus winning seasons.

Four years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Coach John Mateyko, the head coach of the Eagles.  You couldn't meet a nicer man.  Coach Mateyko is only a part time coach.  His full time job is a financial planner, but his background in basketball is vast.  The above linked interview/story, which I highly encourage you to read, gives you all the details on John Mateyko's basketball background.  However, a key detail for this story, which is the first of two on the St. Joseph's program, is that he was the assistant coach for Tim Cluess at St. Mary's.  As everyone knows, Cluess is the current coach of Iona and is also Mateyko's good friend.

I watched a number of St. Joseph's games in the 2007-08 season, including their regular season home win over Farmingdale State, and the Skyline Championship game, which they lost at Farmingdale State.  The Eagles had a terrific guard in number three, David Acree, who set the all time St. Joseph's scoring record the next season.

I thought that 2007-08 team deserved to make the Division III Tournament but they were snubbed. Last season, they were snubbed as well. Coach Mateyko told me in our interview yesterday that he was told they were the sixty third team.  Only sixty two teams make the NCAA Division III Tournament.  So you see folks, tournament snubs don't just happen on the Division I level.  You just don't thankfully have Jay Bilas doing any "eye tests" on Division III teams.

As I noted, in 2008-09, the Eagles made the NCAA Tournament. Behind Acree and J.J. Walsh, a former NAIA Player of the Year, who was also Acree's best friend, they finally took down Farmingdale State in the Skyline championship game.  Unfortunately, I couldn't make any games that season due in large part to my younger son's kidney issues and subsequent surgery in the beginning of March.  But I remember distinctly getting a message on my answering machine from Coach Mateyko after he won the championship that he so deserved.

We have kept in touch a little bit over the last two seasons, but I haven't been able to catch any of their games, due in large part to that they often have the same schedule as Hofstra. However, I have kept track of his team's success over the past couple of years and yesterday, an opportunity arose to go out to Patchogue to St. Joseph's College to see one of their games.

On Friday, I contacted Coach Mateyko to let him know I was coming out and asked if he wanted to do another interview.  He immediately got back to me and was happy to do that.  The plan was for me to come out early and conduct the interview with him before their game against Purchase, the team that defeated St Joseph's in the Skyline Championship Game last season.

I made the familiar drive from the Southern State Parkway out east to Sunrise Highway to the Waverly Avenue exit.  The entrance to St Joseph's College is literally off the service road to Sunrise Highway.  I entered the Danzi Athletic Center and nothing had changed since the last time I had been there.  A student group was by the entrance selling candy just like I did the last time I was there for a game.  I walked down the corridor to Coach Mateyko's office, but he was not there. One of his players informed me if he wasn't in his office, he was in the bleachers in the gym watching the women's game.

Now when you go to a game at St Joseph's, there's no admission.  Yes, the games are free.  Where can you go for two hours of good entertainment for free?  Well, now you know of such a place.  The remainder of St Joseph's basketball schedule can be found by clicking here.

When I walked into the gym and made my way over to the St Joseph's fan section of the bleachers, I saw a familiar face.  Howie Hamlin, a colleague of mine at Hofstra, was there in the crowd watching his daughter, Danielle, a starting sophomore forward for the the Eagles.  Danielle averages 8.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Howie and I talked for the last four minutes of the game, which was won by St Joseph's 59-37 over the Purchase women's team.

As Howie was leaving, I saw Coach Mateyko and he greeted me. He asked me where my older son was, but I told him unfortunately that my "color analyst',as I call Matthew, wanted to spend time with his mommy, since my wife had to work earlier in the day.  So, we went to a conference room and we talked for a little over ten minutes before he had to leave to get ready for the game.  The interview with Coach Mateyko will be the second part of this story later in the week.

But I can tell you some things about this season's Eagles team.  They use the same philosophy Iona uses - Paul Westhead's "The System"; More Possessions + More Shot Attempts = More Points.  Last season though, Coach Mateyko switched to a four guard lineup, which caused match-up problems for his opponents.

This season, he has used that same four guard lineup to a 10-0 Skyline conference start and a 14-2 record overall entering yesterday's game. One of the wins was a 90-76 road win over #18 ranked Eastern Connecticut in the championship of Eastern Connecticut's Tournament.  The Eagles actually have nine votes in the current D3Hoops.Com Top 25 Poll.

Of their two losses, only one has come against a Division III opponent, Ramapo, who had received a significant number of votes in that D3Hoops.Com poll earlier in the season.  The other loss is to Yale.  Yes,  St. Joseph's traveled to New Haven and played the Division I Bulldogs on their home court in December.  Yale went out to a 29-4 lead before St Joseph's rallied and actually cut the lead to one, 44-43.  They trailed at half only by three points before losing to the Bulldogs 101-86.

Since they are a proponent of "The System", not surprisingly the Eagles are first in the Skyline in points per game at 86.8 points per game, entering yesterday's contest.  The Eagles are also first in the Skyline in three very important categories; assists to turnover ratio, turnover margin and free throw percentage.  They are also third in the Skyline in field goal percentage defense.

The Eagles are an experienced team with seven seniors, led by their dual point guards Chris Jimenez (14 points per game) and Trey Black (15 points per game).  Another two senior guards, Olivier Laurent, their leading scorer at 17 points per game, and Steve Velasquez (12.8 points per game) round out the double digit scorers.  Senior Vincent Russo is the lone forward starter, who averages 8.5 points per game.  Senior forward Shahab Syed is their sixth man and averages 8.8 points per game.

Before the game started, St Joseph's did a three pointer drill.  Meanwhile, Purchase was practicing a side to side defensive drill as the two assistants passed the ball from one side of the court to the other.  Next, one assistant drove toward the basket and the entire Panthers team dropped on their backs as they did a charge drill.  I haven't seen that drill before.

After the teams were introduced, the Cub Scout Pack 40 came out. Instead of the National Anthem, which was likely played before the women's game, the Cub Scouts, after some encouragement by the public address announcer, gave the Pledge of Allegiance.  Afterwards, they went up into the bleachers behind the scorers table and appeared to be playing tag the rest of the first half.

Coach Mateyko told me that he had a good shooting team and I quickly found out that was the case.  The team that leads the Skyline in three point attempts, 469, and three pointers made, 162, hit five of their first six baskets from beyond the arc.  But Purchase hung around due to hitting ten of twelve shots from the charity stripe. In fact, the two time defending Skyline Conference Champion Panthers took a 32-29 lead with 6:57 left in the half.

But as Coach Mateyko noted, the Eagles' style of play forces a lot of pressure on teams to keep up with them.   On offense, they spread the court with four guards and one forward in the middle.  They move the ball around quickly with passes and setup ball screens for open corner looks. Black is particularly effective at finding open people. On defense, they setup traps and force turnovers.  The three starting guards on Purchase had a combined ten turnovers on the day.  It's basically like watching Iona, minus Michael Glover.

It's especially very hard to keep up with a team that hits nine of their first fifteen three pointers from beyond the arc.  Jimenez hit a three to tie the game at thirty two.  His three pointer also keyed a 19-8 St. Joseph's run to end the half.  Jimenez had five three pointers in the first half which accounted for all of his fifteen points in the first twenty minutes.

The score at the half was 48-40.  It was going to be hard for the Panthers to keep up because they had hit four fewer shots than the Eagles in the first half and they only had two three pointers to St Joseph's nine.  I could see why teams felt pressured to keep up with St Joseph's.  When half of your opponents shots in the first half are three pointers (15 of 31 FG attempts), they hit nine of them and shoot fifty eight percent from the field as a whole in the first half, it's hard to keep up with a team like that.

The second half started out like the end of the first. Velasquez buried a three pointer, then hit a layup to put the Eagles up by eleven, 53-42. The Panthers, like most defending championship teams, refused to quit.  Purchase cut the deficit down to four, 56-52 with 14:45 left, due in large part to their three starting guards, D.J. Smith, John Pressley and Amar Reynolds. Smith, Pressley and Reynolds combined for forty two of Purchase's seventy points on the night.

But again, St Joseph's style of play was too much for Purchase to handle.  Over the next eleven minutes, the lead start to slowly grow.  It started with, what else, two three pointers by Velasquez and Laurent.  Then the Eagles, led by Laurent, starting driving the lane for layups.  The lead would become for the most part ten or twelve points.  But after another Laurent layup, St Joseph's was up by eighteen 84-66 with 3:38 left in the game.

All that was left was for both teams to start clearing the benches, which resulted in an interesting development.  Purchase Coach Jeff Charney brought freshman Joel Neri into the game for the first time.  Neri stands seven foot tall and he dwarfed St Joseph's biggest player, the six foot six Syed.  Neri also showed a touch, hitting two of his three shots easily.  Considering the Eagles lack of size, you had to wonder why Neri wasn't in there sooner.  But Charney has done a terrific job with the Panthers, leading them to two straight Division III NCAA Tournament berths, so I am sure he knows Neri needs seasoning.

After the Laurent layup, St Joseph's was content to run out the clock and didn't score the rest of the way.  The Eagles didn't need to as they won 84-70.  Jiimenez led all scorers with twenty points, while Velasquez added seventeen points and Laurent had fifteen points.  Black had only nine points, six under his season average.  But he more than made up for it with eleven assists and just one turnover.  

The Eagles had nineteen assists and only eleven turnovers.  They had as many field goal attempts as the Panthers, sixty, but hit seven more of their shots to shoot fifty three percent for the game.  They also hit fourteen of thirty one three pointers, while holding Purchase to only two of thirteen from beyond the arc.

As I left, I made eye contact with Coach Mateyko, waved my hand and yelled "Good game, coach".  The Eagles still have seven games left in conference to play before the Skyline Conference Tournament.  I took a look at their schedule and noticed they have a road game at Old Westbury on Feburary 15.   It wouldn't be the first time I celebrated my birthday with a basketball game.

(Part two of this story, my interview with Coach Mateyko will be in the next couple of days)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Only Brownies and Ice Cream Can Ease This Pain (Recap of George Mason vs. Hofstra)

Coming into last night's game, in six of their eight conference losses, Hofstra has lost by a total of twenty five points.  It's never been a question of heart.   The Pride have played hard all season, and with very few exceptions, they have been very competitive in their games this season.  Hofstra even has three non conference wins over teams that are in first place in their conference (LIU, Cleveland State and Iona).  That's what makes it so surprising that they didn't have a single CAA win entering last Saturday evening.

In an earlier article this season, I wrote about why the Pride have lost so many games this season.  Turnovers and two point field goal percentage defense have been their achilles heels for the most part.  Still, having seen in person this team beat several good teams is what makes it most frustrating.  I am sure that many fellow Hofstra fans probably have felt the same frustration this season

But there was a glimmer of hope last Saturday evening as my friend Tieff and I stood outside the entrance to the Spiro Sports Center Gym on the campus of Wagner College before the LIU-Wagner game.  We were listening to the end of the Hofstra-James Madison game on my WRHU app for the IPhone.  The Pride had led most of the way until losing the lead late.  It was like the story line to many of their games this season; lead for a good part of the game only to lose at the end.  But Steve Mejia, who had struggled all season in part due to injury, hit a three point play with six seconds left to give Hofstra their first conference win of the season; a 71-69 win over JMU.

Finally, the Pride had some momentum entering their Wednesday night contest vs. George Mason. This time Hofstra was back home at the Mack Center as the students were back as well.  It was nice to see the Lions' Den packed again. In fact, we had two enterprising students dress up as referees.  Before the game, they followed the CAA officials around, mimicking their every move.  Too bad they couldn't officiate the game as well.

My son Matthew and I took our usual seats.  It was another free give away night as we were each given coffee mugs.  I don't have to worry about my six year old son drinking coffee for a while.  He was content to have his pre game ritual of a pretzel and a bottle of water.

If the Pride were going to build upon their success from Saturday night, they would have to do so against the first place Patriots, who had only lost one conference game entering last night's contest.  Mason Nation was in full force as they filled the entire section behind their bench.  Have a first place team, will travel.

But it was Hofstra that came out looking like the best team in conference.  The Pride went out to a 9-0 lead, looking aggressive and confident.  Mike Moore and Nathaniel Lester combined to score the Pride's first nine points as Hofstra looked sharp on offense.

Meanwhile, Mason couldn't hit the side of barn nor could they hold onto the keys to the barn.  In the first five minutes, the Patriots missed their first five shots and matched that with five turnovers.  But George Mason had recent history on their side.

That's because during this season, Hofstra had started out strong in several games, building big leads, only to hit an ice cold stretch and allow their opponents back in the game.  In a recent game vs. Northeastern, Hofstra scored the first nine points of the game as well, only to see the Huskies score the next twelve points.  Northeastern would end up winning a nailbiter 64-62.

Sure enough, the Pride's shooting went frigid as they went without a field goal for almost six minutes.  Little by little, Mason cut into the lead.  But the Patriots' shooting was equally as arctic.  Over the first twenty minutes, George Mason would be four of twenty three from the field.

The first nearly twenty minutes of the game were comical.  You had brutally bad shooting, two teams carelessly turning the ball over, lane violations and rugby scrums. All that was missing was music from the Benny Hill show.  After eleven minutes of game action, the score was incredibly Hofstra 12 George Mason 7.

What kept the Patriots in the game though was their foul shooting, especially from Jonathan Arledge.  Mason, who came into the game with the second most free throw attempts and the second most free throws made, went eleven of thirteen from the free throw line, with Arledge a perfect six for six from the charity stripe.  The eleven free throws accounted for nearly fifty eight percent of their points in the first half.

Though Hofstra was not shooting well and not careful with the ball, they were playing hard as they always do. Poor Stephen Nwaukoni crashed to the floor during several rebound attempts.  I thought on the third time they were going to have to carry him back to the bench.  But with help from his teammates he kept getting back up and stayed in the game.

Nwaukoni was in better shape than Ryan Pearson though, who had to leave the game due to being hit in the face with a tipped pass.  Pearson, the Patriots leading scorer on the season, was on the sideline bleeding being attended to by the trainer.  To say  the first half was physical was an understatement.  After a particularly hard foul by Arledge on Dwan McMillan, Matthew turned to me and said "I hate George Mason right now."  Probably McMillan felt the same way too.

The first half mercifully ended with Hofstra holding a 20-19 lead.  Despite shooting seventeen percent and turning the ball over eleven times, George Mason was amazingly down one point at the half, thanks to defense, rebounding and free throw shooting.  The teams combined for twenty turnovers and twenty fouls in the first half.  Hofstra shot only eight of twenty three from the field and  was only two of five from the free throw line.

It didn't take very long for the Patriots to come out firing.  With a Hofstra student holding a giant Andre Cornelius credit card in the front row due to his arrest last summer for using a stolen credit card, Cornelius buried two three pointers to start the second half to put George Mason out to a 25-20 lead.  Then Pearson started getting into the action with a three pointer and a couple of free throws.  The lead was extended to eight, 36-28 with about ten and a half minutes left.

But as I noted, despite their record, the Pride have played hard all season.  And Hofstra rallied, scoring eight straight points over the next two and a half minutes.  David Imes nailed a three pointer from the left corner and the game was tied at thirty eight with a little more than eight minutes left.   The crowd was finally into the game.  Then the fans had even more reason to cheer as Mike Moore's three pointer gave Hofstra their first lead of the second half, 41-40.

The Pride actually took a three point lead before Cornelius hit his third three pointer of the night to tie the game at forty three with five and half minutes left.  The teams then exchanged the lead three times over the next couple of minutes.  An Imes jumper gave Hofstra the lead 50-48 with a little more than two minutes left in the game.

But George Mason would respond with a Sherrod Wright jumper and one.  Wright would hit his free throw to put the Patriots up one, 51-50.  Free throws would be the deciding factor down the stretch.  And as fate would have it, just like all conference season, Hofstra missed four open jumpers in the last ninety seconds in the game.  Four more Patriots free throws would seal Hofstra's fate.  After Shemiye McLendon's layup was blocked with Mike Morrison, George Mason ran out the clock.   Another close game, 55-50.  Another close loss for the Pride.

Moore, the leading scorer in the CAA, led all scorers with eighteen points. Lester added twelve points for Hofstra.  Pearson, the third leading scorer in the CAA, only had seven points on the night.  But the Mason bench had his back.  Reserve guard Sherrod Wright led the Patriots with fifteen points while Arledge added ten points.  George Mason's bench outscored Hofstra's bench 36-6.

Hofstra actually outshot George Mason from the field, hitting five more field goals, as both teams hit five three pointers.  But the big difference was the free throw line.  The Patriots hit twenty of twenty three free throws while Hofstra was five of eleven.from the charity stripe.  If anyone ever tells you that free throws don't matter, just show them the boxscore of this game.

As we made our way out of the arena, I was at a loss for words.  It was now Hofstra's seventh loss in conference decided by six points or less.  Matthew however was not a loss for words.  He expressed his frustration over how Hofstra was beating a first place team.  All I could do was say "I know. I know."   When we got home, my wife had made brownies.  Sometimes, even at your lowest point, inspiration strikes.   I cut a brownie from the tray, put it in a bowl and put moose tracks ice cream on top.

As I started writing this article, I had my comfort food.  Another close game.  Another close loss.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mason Nation vs. The Lions' Den - Preview of George Mason vs. Hofstra

Starting in the 2005-06 season, Hofstra and George Mason have had a heated rivalry. OK, it's a really heated rivalry when it comes to Defiantly Dutch and Mason Nation (and no, I haven't read that article at the time of this article's posting yet).  Still, there is a lot of history between the two teams.

In Hofstra's first season in the CAA, the 2001-02 season, the tenth seeded Pride upset the Patriots in the quarterfinal round of the CAA Tournament.   The 2005-06 season saw the Pride defeat the Patriots twice, including the semifinals of the CAA Tournament.  In that semifinal game, there was the infamous Tony Skinn punch to Loren Stokes that ended up on national television.  But George Mason made the NCAA Tournament that season and went onto Final Four fame, while Hofstra was snubbed out with the ultimate punch to the groin.

In the 2006-07 season, the Pride defeated the Patriots at the Patriot Center in the regular season.  But what originally was supposed to be Hofstra's season to win the CAA Tournament ended up in smoke after the Patriots upset the Pride in the CAA Quarterfinals.  It would be the start of a five game winning streak for Mason Nation over the Flying Dutchmen.  The streak ended last season when Hofstra defeated George Mason in the Mack Center.  But the Patriots would gain revenge winning at home later in the season.

So what's going to happen tonight, other than Defiantly Dutch's rants against Mason?  Here's what I think Mason Nation and the Lions' Den Faithful need to watch out for tonight;

Seven Things to Look For in Tonight's Game
  1. Points in the Paint - George Mason is averaging 51.7 percent from two point field goal range.  Hofstra's two point field goal percentage defense is 49 percent.  Look for the Patriots to try to exploit that by going to Ryan Pearson 51% FG and Mike Morrison 61% FG percentage, which leads the CAA..  Pride frontcourt players will be challenged tonight. 
  2. Where Art Thou Three Pointer? -  George Mason and Hofstra are two of the worst teams in the CAA as far as three pointers per game. George Mason is tenth at 4.6 three pointers per game, while Hofstra is eleventh at 4.3 three pointers per game. Only Northeastern and Towson have made less three pointers than the Patriots and Pride and the Huskies have played two less games.  Now here's the kicker - George Mason and Hofstra are third and fourth respectively in three point field goal percentage.  Simply put, neither team puts up that many shots from beyond the arc.
  3. Lots of Blown Whistles and Free Throws - In the Patriots and the Pride, you will be seeing the two teams that attempt the most free throws in the CAA.  Hofstra leads with 513 free throw attempts.  George Mason is second with 484.  Both teams are also first and second in free throws made; Hofstra with 366 and George Mason with 330.  If you're expecting an exact two hour game with end to end action and little stoppage in play, think again.
  4. Turnovers -  After being two of the best teams last season as far as not turning the ball over, this season  the Patriots and the Pride are two of the worst teams in the CAA.   Hofstra is eleventh in the CAA with 320 turnovers while George Mason is ninth with 305.  
  5. Fear the Beard - Ryan Pearson has been dominant this season and is right now the favorite for CAA player of the year.  In five career games against Hofstra, Pearson has averaged 18.6 points, 7 rebounds and has shot 28 of 54 from the field.  
  6. The Pride on the Offensive Glass -  Surprisingly, George Mason is one of the worst teams in the CAA in defensive rebound percentage, as they are eleventh at .650.  That means thirty five percent of the time, the offensive team gets a rebound on the Patriots.  Hofstra has the fourth most offensive rebounds in the CAA at 241.  It could be a very good night for Stephen Nwaukoni and Nathaniel Lester.
  7. The Students Are Back - The Mack Center has been awfully quiet in January as classes have not been in session.  But Hofstra undergraduates start their Spring Semester classes today. What will that mean for the student section at the game tonight?  The Pride could use a packed Lions' Den for support tonight. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

This Isn't Your Father's NEC (Recap of LIU vs Wagner)

The Northeast Conference, otherwise known as the NEC, started as the ECAC - Metro conference in 1981.  As the NEC website notes, originally the conference's goal was "to create a competitive NCAA Division I men’s basketball conference for unaffiliated schools on the Eastern seaboard."  It started as just a men's basketball conference, but it grew to twelve schools and twenty three sports.   There are still six original members;  Wagner, LIU Brooklyn, Fairleigh Dickinson, Robert Morris, St. Francis (NY) and St. Francis (PA).  Joining them later were Monmouth, Mount St Mary's, Central Connecticut State (CCSU), Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart and this season, Bryant.

Still, the main focus of the NEC is founded on its original goal, men's basketball.  There is great history in some of the conference's teams. Legendary coach Clair Bee, inventor of the 1-3-1 zone and the three second rule, coached his LIU team to two NIT championships in 1939 and 1941.  Jim Phelan, the legendary former coach of Mount St Mary's, won 830 games as coach of the Mountaineers and currently is seventh on the all time wins list.  Both Bee and Phelan are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  And in a recent article, I talked about my second hand knowledge of one the NEC's greatest all time players, Desi Wilson of Fairleigh Dickinson.

However, for years the NEC has been considered one of the doormat conferences of the NCAA Tournament. In its thirty year existence, the Northeast conference has won only two games in the NCAA Tournament, both play in games. In 1983, Robert Morris defeated Georgia Southern 68-54 before losing to Purdue by two points, 55-53, in the first round.  In 2008, Mount St Mary's defeated Coppin State 69-60 before losing to North Carolina in the round of 64, 113-74.  I was at the Mountaineers game vs. the Tar Heels in the Raleigh Regional.  Mount St Mary's played hard the entire forty minutes, unlike a certain team from Bloomington vs. Arkansas in the evening session.

But in the last few years, the NEC has proven itself worthy on the court, especially in the NCAA Tournament.  In the 2010 NCAA Tournament in front of a national audience, #15 Robert Morris had #2 Villanova on the ropes, up by eight points with a little more than four minutes left before the Wildcats rallied and won in overtime 73-70. In the 2011 NCAA Tournament, #15 LIU was actually tied with #2 North Carolina with five minutes left in the first half before losing by a respectable fifteen points, 102-87.

This season, NEC teams have several big wins.  Wagner won at then nationally ranked Pittsburgh, then also won the Cable Car Classic Tournament, defeating Air Force and Santa Clara.   Robert Morris defeated LaSalle at a neutral site (currently the Explorers are 14-6 and 3-2 in the A-10) and won at Ohio (currently the Bobcats are 15-4 and 3-2 in the MAC).  LIU has a neutral site win at Vermont.  The combined record of those three NEC teams going into Saturday night's Wagner-LIU game was 43-15.

That brings us to Saturday night, where Wagner hosted LIU at Spiro Athletic Center for first place in the NEC.  The game was a hot ticket because it was being shown nationally on ESPNU.  It is the first time that I can ever remember a a regular season Northeast Conference game being televised on ESPN.  The NEC truly decided to hype the ESPNU broadcast with this video.

Part of the reason I believe ESPNU was televising the game was that Wagner not only had their big wins, but they also have Team Hurley - head coach Danny Hurley, formerly a point guard at Seton Hall and assistant coach Bobby Hurley, former star point guard at Duke.  Of course, their dad is Bob Hurley Sr., the legendary coach of St. Anthony's in Jersey City.   At 15-3 overall, Team Hurley has done a terrific job of turning around a team that two seasons ago was 5-26.

But going into Saturday night's game, defending champion LIU Brooklyn had been the best team in the NEC so far this season.  Jim Ferry's Blackbirds had won eight games in a row, including a 78-73 win at home over the Seahawks.   LIU was looking to sweep the season series and have a two game lead in conference.

Due to the icy conditions by yesterday's snow/ice storm, my good friend Tieff picked me up at my house two and half hours before game time.  That's due to the fact that you never know what the Belt Parkway will be like in bad weather, even on a Saturday.  As we drove towards the Verrazano bridge, I was listening to the Hofstra-James Madison game on WRHU's IPhone App, which works quite well by the way.   The lack of traffic and the basketball game over the IPhone made for an unusually quick trip to Staten Island.

When we got to the Spiro Sports Center, it was ninety minutes before game time.  So we each grabbed a pretzel with cheese and sat on a green bench listening to the end of the Hofstra game.  Thanks to Steve Mejia's three point play, the Pride finally had their first win in conference.  As a result, two happy Hofstra fans entered the gym.

The Spiro Sports Center Arena is your classic small conference gym.  It seats about 2,400 and is strictly bleacher seating.  Just about all the seating is general admission, so it was first come first serve.  There is an administrative office above with a great view of the court.  That's where the main ESPNU cameras were filming and there seemed to be an alumni reception there as well watching the game.

In our case, amazingly we were sitting three rows up, near center court, right between the LIU bench and the scorers table.  I called my wife and told her that she should see us on the telecast.  Sure enough, when I got home later, she told me that her and my older son Matthew saw us several times.

Spiro is a very cozy environment.  Also when it's packed, it's a LOUD environment.  The Wagner student section behind the LIU basket was already filled with students wearing white.  It was "whiteout night" as everyone in attendance got free white Wagner T-shirts.  Several Wagner dance team members went through the crowd before the game encouraging those who hadn't put their T-shirts on to do so in support of the team..

LIU had their fans, apparently made up of many members of their dance team behind the Wagner basket. In a funny moment, they grabbed one of the T-shirts, tore it up, then threw it up in the air.  It ended up with the Wagner fans next to them, who threw it back at them.

The only bad thing about Spiro was the PA system. The volume was turned up way too high, as the music, even the PA announcer sounded distorted.  Also, unfortunately it kept Tieff and I from hearing some of the student chants before the game.   Wagner is not the only one that does this as far as unbearably loud PA systems; Hofstra and Iona are guilty of this too.  But in a smaller Spiro Sports Center gym, it's much more noticeable.

Memo to the Wagner Athletic Department - Please turn down the volume on your system.  Also, please get a pep band.  With a packed student section that's already quite loud, the pep band works much better than canned music. Trust me, it works well for the Hynes Center with the Iona Pep band.  Thanks.

Once the game got started and the PA music was turned off, it was the perfect college basketball atmosphere; a sold out gym, a large, loud student section complete with a giant Danny Hurley head and two very good teams squaring off in a meaningful conference game.  This was as close to hoops heaven as a fan could get.

LIU seemed unfazed by the television cameras and the mostly partisan Seahawks crowd.  The Blackbirds jumped out to a 13-4 lead after just two and a half minutes, in large part due to their big three; Julian Boyd, Jamal Olasewere and Jason Brickman.  Boyd hit two baskets and assisted on another, a three pointer by Brickman. Olasewere also had two baskets in that span.  That would be a common theme for the Blackbirds on the evening.

But Wagner came back and outscored LIU 19-9 over the next several minutes due in large part to Latif Rivers who scored nine of those points during the span.  A Josh Thompson layup gave the Seahawks their first lead, 23-22.  The crowd roared in approval.  The game would see five ties in the first half alone.

When there is such an intensive atmosphere and first place in conference riding on the game, it's normal to have players' tempers flare up. During that Wagner run, a  foul was called on C.J Garner which led to an altercation between Boyd and Jonathon Williams.  The referees went over to the scorers table to review the play, which eventually led to double technical fouls for Boyd and Williams.

While the referees reviewed the play, I took this picture of them at the scorers table.  A woman behind me stated "Look, he's taking a picture of them."

I turned around and said "I write for two college basketball sites and I am going to talk about this in my article.  It's the only reason I would take a picture of this."

She replied "I guess you heard me".  I responded "Yes, I did."  Even with a raucous atmosphere, my ears can still pick up a smarmy comment.

With Wagner up 31-29,  LIU scored seven straight points, including a three pointer by Brickman that put the Blackbirds up 36-31 before Mario Moody's dunk cut the lead to three, 36-33 at the half.  Brickman, who looks like Joey Rodriguez' younger brother, also shoots like him.  He was three of three from beyond the arc in the first half.

There were also warning signs for the Seahawks. Several of their front court players would get in foul trouble in the first half.  Thompson, Williams, Naofall Folohan and Tyler Murray each picked up two fouls.  Danny Hurley was not happy with the officiating and actually stayed on the court a few seconds after the first half ended to voice his displeasure.

The second half started with Wagner coming out strong.  Williams, Murray and Kenny Ortiz hit layups which put the Seahawks up one, 39-38 with a little less than seventeen minutes left in the game. The Seahawks' student section was now in full force.

But the Blackbirds responded with a 13-2 run due to their big three.  Olasewere started it with a three point play. He would add two more baskets.   Brickman, Boyd and Olasewere would all add foul shots to put LIU up 51-41 with 11:43 left.

By that time, Wagner was in serious foul trouble. Both Williams and Thompson  picked up their third and fourth fouls. Ortiz picked up two quick fouls to give him three total.  With most of his big in serious foul trouble, Hurley was down to the last forward in his rotation, the aforementioned Moody.

One intrepid Wagner student held a sign during the game "I'm feeling MOODY".  And Mario was feeling it too as he kept the Seahawks in the game with his inside play.  Over the span of five minutes, Moody had eight points, the last of which cut the Blackbirds lead to 56-52 with six and half minutes remaining.

The noise from the Wagner student section was now at its crescendo.  Facing an incredibly loud chant of "DE-FENSE", LIU was now at a critical moment of the game.  This is where they either rose to the occasion or wilted in the face of adversity.

Once again, the Blackbirds' big three responded.  Over the remaining six and a half minutes of the game, Brickman, Boyd and Olasewere combined would score the last seventeen points LIU scored.  Boyd's emphatic dunk with a little less than two minutes remaining put the Blackbirds up seven on their way to a convincing 73-66 win over the Seahawks.

Wagner had no answer for Boyd, who scored nineteen points and added fifteen rebounds.  Olasewere had eighteen points and Brickman had seventeen points and eight assists.   Moody had a double double for the Seahawks with twelve points and ten rebounds. Rivers led Wagner with seventeen points.  Williams added fourteen and Murray had eleven points for the Seahawks. Murray was honored before the game for scoring his 1000th career point in a previous game.

With the win, LIU is now firmly in first place in the NEC at 8-0, with a two game lead over three teams.  One of those teams is Wagner, who now has to battle out for second place with Robert Morris and CCSU. The Seahawks dreams of finishing first are likely dashed as the Blackbirds have the tiebreaker, since they swept the season series.

The NEC is one of the very few conferences that have their championship game on the highest remaining seed's home court.  Last season, Tieff and I were at LIU's Wellness Center for the NEC championship game.  After the Blackbirds' win Saturday night, there's a good chance we'll be back there in March.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

It's Late Night With Scott Machado (Recap of Rider vs. Iona)

A couple of days ago, when I went on Iona's web site and saw the game time for last night's home game was 10:00 P.M., I did a double take.  But when you are dealing with the wonderful people in Bristol, Connecticut and their ESPNU channel, anything is possible.  Yes, the World Wide Leader thought it was a brilliant idea to put a MAAC women's game at 6:00 PM; Loyola - Maryland vs. Marist, then a Horizon League game at 8:00 P.M; Green Bay vs Cleveland State, then finally the Rider vs. Iona  MAAC game at 10:00 PM.

So as a result, two east coast teams were playing at a time that's normally reserved for West Coast Conference games (based on Eastern Standard time).  Most sane, normal people would have decided to stay home and watch the game on television.  But basketball fans like you and me are not most sane, normal people.  We like to see good live college basketball at any time.

When I first got home last night, I prepared for the late start...by taking a nap.  Yes, when you're nearly forty six years old and you get up at 6:00 AM to walk your dog to start your day, to stay up late, a brief nap is a requirement.   When I woke up from my nap, it was that exhausted feeling that you get when you didn't get the proper sleep time.  I worked that off with an evening walk with my dog.

Then it was off to New Rochelle.  Well, not exactly.  When I got on the Southern State Parkway, I realized I better check to see if I have my EZ-Pass.   No, it was in my wife's Honda CRV.  So I went back home, got the EZ-Pass from the other car and headed back out.  I made excellent time to the campus of Iona and was there about forty five minutes early.

Once I got my ticket, I went into the Hynes Center.  Since I was there so early, there were few people there.  Maybe I was just tired, maybe because it wasn't crowded yet, but the gym had an early morning glow.  As the Iona Pep Band played a seemingly slower version of Earth Wind and Fire's "Fantasy", which they normally play, I felt like I needed to have eggs and mimosas.  Too bad they don't let food and drink into the gym.

But as it got closer to tipoff, the crowd filled in nicely, especially the students' section.  Oh, to be twenty one again.  Apparently the students loved the idea of a10:00 P.M. start.  It certainly wasn't too late of a start  for them based on their attendance.  Chances are this was only the beginning to their night. The entire general admission/student section would be packed by game time, so much so that the gym entrance ushers started sending students over to our side of the gym.  It made for a very lively atmosphere

I sat with Guy Falotico, otherwise known on Twitter as @IonaGuyF. Guy is an Iona alum and is the moderator for IonaHoops.Com.  He is also a fellow member of John Templon's Big Apple Buckets New York City Power Poll and he knows his basketball. Guy would also provide the funniest moment of the night at the end of the game.

Neither Rider or Iona were phased by the late start as both teams put on a show in the beginning of the game.  In the first three and half minutes, each team scored eight points.  Novar Gadson buried two three pointers.  Unfortunately for the Broncs, Gadson would only score four more points the rest of the night.

Now if you are going to have a late show, you need a late show host.   Sure enough, Scott Machado would fill the Letterman role last night.  Machado, the nation's leader in assists per game at 10.3 assists per game, got off to a hot start as he assisted on the Gaels' first three baskets.  His fourth assist of the game, a layup by Momo Jones ended an Iona 9-1 spurt as the Gaels went up 14-8 with 15:28 left in the half.

The Broncs responded and came back to tie the game at sixteen with eleven minutes left.  The Broncs were scoring most of their points on drives to the baskets.  It looked like Rider was equal to the task of staying with the fourth highest scoring team in the country.

But every good late show not only has a good host, but also superstar special guests. And in Iona's case, they would be Sean Armand, Momo Jones and Michael Glover. Armand came off the bench to perform his specialty; hitting three pointers.  Armand would hit four shots from beyond the arc over the span of five minutes to put the Gaels out in front 32-23 with five and half minutes left in the half.

When Armand wasn't hitting threes, it was Glover working hard inside for layups or getting to the line as the result of fouls, as he had nine first half points. And if it wasn't Armand firing a three pointer, or Glover being the hardest working man on the court, it was Momo Jones knifing his way through the Broncs' defense to the basket.  He had ten first half points, eight of which came on layups.  Meanwile, Iona clamped down on Rider defensively and the Broncs main scoring weapon, the layup, was taken away.

The end of the first half came as a result of good coaching.  After Eddie Mitchell on Rider hit two free throws with three seconds left, Machado dribbled the ball to half court.  Iona Head Coach Tim Cluess called timeout with 2.2 seconds left in the half.  Off the timeout, Machado found Sean Armand who buried his fifth three pointer of the first half.  The Gaels entered the locker room up 46-32.

As the second half started, it appeared that Rider left their perimeter defense back in the locker room. Momo Jones immediately hit two shots from beyond the arc. Then after Jones hit another layup, Machado buried a three pointer.  Not even four minutes into the second half, Iona had gone up by twenty, 60-40.

Things didn't get any better for the Broncs.  Machado hit an old fashioned three point play, then setup Glover for their typical lob and dunk.  In this case, Glover did a nice job corralling the ball and slamming it  home to give the Gaels a 65-40 lead.  But as he dunked the ball awkwardly,  Glover hung on the rim to try to balance himself.  He was called for a technical foul.   Unfortunately for Rider, Jonathan Thompson missed both of their technical foul shots, which was probably his best chance at scoring all evening, as he was scoreless in twenty nine minutes of action.  It just wasn't the Broncs night.

Things would actually get worse for Rider, as Iona would actually extend the lead.  A three point barrage by Jermel Jenkins and Kyle Smyth put the Gaels up 85-56 with over seven minutes remaining.   The game had been no longer in doubt for several minutes and the fans knew this.  Several of them actually started leaving. Guess it was either past their bedtime or they were going on to the next activity for the evening. They had seen enough of a successful Iona show.

But the show always come back to its host.  In fact, Machado was the focus at the end of the game.  Machado had much earlier in the game achieved double digits in assists, as he would have fifteen on the night (with only two turnovers, which is amazing).  He also reached double figures in scoring early in the second half as well.   But Guy had been checking the live statistics and noticed Machado was getting very close to double figures in rebounds.  That would give him the rarely seen triple double, double figures in assists, points and in this case, rebounds.

With fifty one seconds left, Machado grabbed his ninth rebound.  Now the triple double watch was on.  With twenty six seconds left, Glover was at the line shooting a one and one. Machado was at the line on the left hand side of Glover, ready to get the rebound.   But Cluess decided to replace Machado. You could tell on Machado's face he knew about the triple double.  He wanted to stay in and get that tenth rebound.

Now we were only a few rows behind the Iona bench,  and it was quiet enough that Cluess and the players on the bench could hear the fans if they were loud enough.  On cue, Guy started yelling at Cluess "He's got a chance for the triple double, Tim!  Put him back in the game!  Give him the rebound!"   Many of us in our section started laughing hysterically as Guy continued to plead loudly with Cluess to get Machado back in to the game.

Sure enough, Glover missed the free throw and the ball bounded to the left side, right where Machado would have been.  Machado gave an "Aww, man!" look on the bench as the chance for the triple double went away.  Still, eleven points, fifteen assists and nine rebounds was quite an impressive night for Machado, whose reward was to do the post game interview with ESPNU.

Iona won the game 91-71.  Glover had twenty one points and Momo Jones had twenty points to lead Iona. Armand added fifteen points and Smyth chipped in with thirteen to give the Gaels five double digit scorers on the night.  The Gaels shot seveteen of thirty nine from beyond the arc and fifty five percent overall.  Jeff Jones led Rider with seventeen points, one of four Broncs in double figures in scoring.

After I said goodbye to Guy, I headed out back to the parking garage.  Due to many people leaving early, it was actually relatively easy to get out of the Iona lot, which normally is not the case for a men's game.  As I made my way driving back down the Hutchinson River Parkway at 12:30 A.M. in the morning, I had one thought.

Is it too early to stop at a diner for breakfast?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Drexel + Hofstra = Rockfight (Recap of Drexel vs. Hofstra)

There are few certainties in life; death, taxes and a Drexel-Hofstra rockfight.  I really don't know how to describe this rivalry otherwise.  The games are tough, physical and almost always a closely fought game. The rivalry has its roots in the America East where the teams battled out from 1994 until 2001.  In the 2001-02 season they both joined the CAA.  The Dragons owned the Pride for the first several seasons in the Colonial, winning eight games in a row.

The Drexel winning streak ended in the quarterfinals of the 2005 CAA Tournament.when Hofstra won 89-77.  Including that win, the Pride had gone 8-5 vs the Dragons since entering last night's contest. Many of the games in the series have been close.  Since the 2003-04 season, ten games have been decided by eight points or less and three of those were overtime games.  The teams have split those ten games.

Just before my six year old son Matthew and I left the house last night to go to the game, Matthew lost a tooth.  He told me he knew the tooth fairy would come over night and leave him a present. I joked with him that maybe the tooth fairy will bring Hofstra a win.

Hofstra was desperate for their first win in conference playing at home in the Mack Center while Drexel wanted to maintain its position in the top four of the CAA.  Just like their game against Northeastern last week, there were no cheerleaders, dance team, pep band or Lions Den student section due to no classes in session.  But the Freeport Marching Band and cheerleaders were in attendance and they did their best to fill the void and the Lions Den Section seating area.

But even if the crowd was small, there will always be electricity in the air when Drexel Head Coach Bruiser Flint is stalking the sidelines.  Bruiser is known for his animated coaching, whether he is arguing with officials, admonishing his own players or doing the classic Bruiser stomp.  Watching him in action is worth the price of admission alone. It only took nineteen seconds of game action before Bruiser was yelling at a referee.

The Pride came out quickly and jumped to a 6-0 lead in not even a minute and a half gone by in the game. And as animated as Bruiser was, Hofstra coach Mo Cassara was equally as animated.  You could tell that he really wanted this win badly.

But as quickly as they started out, Hofstra's shooting turned cold even quicker.  For the next eight plus minutes, the Pride didn't score a point until Stevie Mejia hit one of two free throws. It would be about another two and half minutes before Hofstra scored its next field goal, a layup by Mike Moore with a little more than eight minutes left.

Fortunately for the Pride, the Dragons weren't much better in the scoring department.  Despite outscoring Hofstra 14-1 over the span of ten and a half minutes, Drexel was only ahead by five points after the Moore layup.  The Dragons missed nine of their first ten shots and hit six of seventeen overall in those first twelve minutes.

However, Drexel stretched their lead out to ten, 26-16 on a Damion Lee three pointer with about two and a half minutes left in the half.  The Pride had a chance to cut into the lead but missed six free throws in the first twenty minutes of action.  The Dragons entered halftime leading 29-21.

Looking back on the first half, Hofstra was fortunate that the Drexel lead was not larger.  The Dragons struggled from the outside, shooting two of ten from beyond the arc.  That counterbalanced the Pride's own struggles from the three point line as they missed all five attempts.

As we normally do at halftime, my friend Tieff, Matthew and I visited Defiantly Dutch, aka my good friend Jerry Beach and his better half, Michelle.  After talking a few minutes with Jerry, Tieff came up with the idea that we should try to change our luck and change our seats.  Since no one was sitting behind Jerry and Michelle (the crowd was listed at over 1500), we decided we would sit behind them.  We were joined later by my friend Jeff, a colleague of mine at work. Together we all watched the second half unfold.

The second half saw Hofstra come out on a 7-1 spurt to cut the lead to 30-28 with sixteen and a half minutes left.  The score remained within two to five points in favor of Drexel for the next several minutes until Hofstra scored four straight points, the last two by Shemiye McLendon and Hofstra had their first lead since early in the first half, 40-39.  The crowd was finally into the game including the large Drexel contingent behind their bench.

The lead was short lived as McLendon missed a chance to extend the lead with a three pointer, but Chris Fouch didn't miss his three pointer and the Dragons were back out in front 42-40.  Dwan McMillan tied the game back up with a layup.  But then Drexel worked it inside and scored the next six points to go ahead 48-42 with two and half minutes left.

But Hofstra didn't quit and chipped away at the lead again, helped by a three point play by David Imes and a three pointer by Mike Moore with thirty five seconds left which cut the Dragons lead to 51-50.  It was the Pride's first and only successful three pointer on the night.  Hofstra tried to force a turnover in the backcourt, but had to foul with twenty five seconds left.   Frantz Massenat hit the first free throw, but missed the second.

Hofstra had the ball and a chance to tie the game.  Mike Moore drove down what appeared to be an open lane.   As he went for the game tying layup, he collided with a Drexel player.  The referee blew his whistle.

Moore was called for an offensive foul on a very questionable call.  Drexel ball.

After the Dragons inbounded the ball, Shemiye McLendon fouled Damion Lee.  Lee hit both free throws. Then off a Pride miss and a long outlet pass, Lee scored the final two points on an emphatic dunk.  Drexel escaped the rockfight with a 56-50 win.

When it came down to it, two statistics jumped out and they were not in Hofstra's favor. First, the Pride shot nine of nineteen from the charity stripe.  Second, the Pride hit only one three pointer out of thirteen attempts. In a low scoring game, those stats come back to haunt you.

Both teams played very hard in another typical Drexel-Hofstra rockfight.  There were forty seven fouls called in the game, which is typical in this series.  It was also the eleventh time that a Drexel-Hofstra game was decided by eight points or less since the 2003-04 season.  The Dragons emerged victorious and now have won five straight in conference.  The preseason CAA favorite is now tied for third place in conference in what they hope is the Year of the Dragon.

Meanwhile, the Pride left with another loss, their seventh straight in conference.  Five of their losses in conference are by six points or less and it was their fifth conference loss when they had either had a lead or were tied in the second half.  It doesn't get more frustrating than that.

Well, except for knowing that the tooth fairy doesn't bring wins.  I guess that's another certainty in life now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Colossal Colonial Ratings (CCR) for the Week of January 16

Another week has gone by in the CAA and the standings are getting a little clearer.  There are now three teams with a 5-1 record; Georgia State, George Mason and Old Dominion.  Another three teams have a 4-2 record; VCU, Drexel and Northeastern.  There is the middle of the road; UNCW and Delaware both 3-3.  Finally, the bottom tier is becoming pretty apparent; William and Mary is 2-4, James Madison is 1-5, Hofstra and Towson are both 0-6.

The next eleven days are critical as Dave Fairbank points out in which CAA teams are about "to dive into the competitive equivalent of running around to multiple holiday meals at various in-laws, step-families and blood relatives who may or may not be playing with a full deck."  Most Coloinal teams will play five games in eleven days.  The only exceptions are William and Mary and VCU who will play five games in ten days, which includes their game on ESPNU Thursday night at the Siegel Center (Tribe=Sacrificial Lambs).

With all this in mind, "I'm Lookin Out My Backdoor" at the latest Colossal Colonial Ratings, aka the CCR.

  1. Georgia State (13-4. 5-1 CAA) - Yes, we perfectly know that if the season ended today,  George Mason would finish first since they have beaten both Georgia State and Old Dominion.  However, the season doesn't end today, so we give the number one ranking to the Panthers.  They are the team that's first in the CAA in both field goal percentage defense and assists to turnover ratio, two categories statistically proven to be the mark of championship teams in the CAA.

    Plus, we have to give props to a coach, Ron Hunter, who, despite having his team hold the opposition (Towson) to forty two points, was so unhappy with his team's effort he tweeted "I love my basketball team, but tomorrow, practice will be epic. Bring your lunch pail."  I can't wait to see Georgia State in person when they play Hofstra on February 4th at the Mack Center.
  2. George Mason (13-4, 5-1 CAA) - The Patriots finally suffered their first loss in conference at Drexel last week.  Based on their schedule, they may not lose another game until their last two games of the regular season; road games at Northeastern and VCU and they don't play Georgia State again.  The Patriots are first in the CAA in field goal percentage offense and second in field goal percentage defense.  They also lead the CAA in blocks per game (having Erik Copes and Mike Morrison helps) and assists per game.

    Interesting statistic;  George Mason is only one of four teams in the CAA with not a single player in the top ten in minutes played (the others are Old Dominion, UNCW and William and Mary).  Yet while averaging only 30.6 minutes per game, Ryan Pearson is third in the CAA in scoring at 17.4 points per game.  Both Mike Moore, 20.4 points per game and Devon Saddler, 18.6 points per game average 35.5 minutes per game, basically five minutes more per game than Pearson.
  3. VCU (13-5, 4-2 CAA) -  I got to see the Rams live again at Newark this past Saturday and once again, I left very impressed.   The Rams are third in the CAA in scoring defense, allowing only 59.7 points per game.  Of course, "Havoc" plays a large part in their play, as they are first in steals in 9.6 per game.  Finally, in Shaka Smart's favorite category, turnover margin, VCU is again first in the CAA with + 5.67.

    Briante Weber makes the most of his minutes played.  Weber averages twenty minutes per game, yet leads the CAA in steals at 2.5 steals per game.  The other top fourteen players in the steals category rounded off average thirty or minutes with the exceptions of Quincy Ford (twenty six minutes) and Josh Micheaux (nearly twenty nine minutes).
  4. Drexel (12-5, 4-2 CAA) -  The Dragons have rebounded nicely winning three games in a row against good competition; VCU, George Mason and UNCW.   Damion Lee, Frantz Massenat, Chris Fouch and Samme Givens usually get the most attention, but Derrick Thomas has played well of late.  In his last three games, Thomas has averaged twelve points a game and has shot thirteen of twenty five from the field and seven of nine from the free throw line.

    Perhaps this is "The Year of the Dragon" because Drexel is first in the CAA in free throw shooting percentage at 73.1 percent.  Yes, the team that's since it has been in the CAA has never finished shooting from the line higher than 68.3 percent (2006-07 season) is shooting 73.1 percent on the season.
  5. Old Dominion (10-8, 5-1 CAA) - The Monarchs have played only two teams above .500 in conference so far and they have split those games; won at Northeastern and lost at George Mason.  Still ODU is winning with its trademark defense as the Monarchs are fourth in the CAA in scoring defense at 62.9 points per game, third in steals at nine per game and second in rebounding margin.

    Trian Iliadis has stepped up his game for the Monarchs.  Once considered mainly a three point shooter, Iliadis has added to his game. He averages 3.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and is one of the leaders in the CAA in steals at 1.7 steals per game. Strangely, he is only shooting twenty five percent from beyond the arc this season.
  6. Northeastern (8-8, 4-2 CAA) - The Huskies had a nice week, winning both their games over Hofstra and William and Mary.   The most impressive stat is the team averaging the second most turnovers in the CAA at nearly sixteen per game had only one turnover in the last fifteen minutes versus the Pride.   They also create turnovers as they are fourth in the CAA in steals, averaging eight per game.

    Jonathan Lee has been huge the past four games for the Huskies.  Lee is averaging nearly eighteen points per game and has shot twenty five for forty three from the field (fifty eight percent).  Lee is also averaging nearly five rebounds per game.  Lee is only six foot two inches tall.
  7. UNCW ( 7-9, 3-3 CAA) - The Seahawks faced stiff competition the past week which saw both opponents score in the mid to high seventies and the Seahawks lost both games handily.  UNC Wilimington defends the three pointer well as the Seahawks are second in the CAA in three point field goal percentage defense.  It's been their two point field goal percentage defense that has been a problem.  Opponents are shooting two point field goals at a fifty two percent clip.

    Adam Smith gets most of the press of the UNCW freshman class, but K.K. Simmons is having an impressive rookie season as well.  Simmons has averaged thirteen points per game over his last four games.  Simmons also shoots eighty two percent from the line and has hit eighteen of his last twenty one free throws.
  8. Delaware (7-9,3-3 CAA) - The Blue Hens were another team that went 0-2 for the week. Delaware lost two games at home; in overtime to Old Dominion and by thirteen to VCU.  The Blue Hens have been successful largely due to their field goal percentage defense, third in the CAA at 38.4 percent.  The Blue Hens' problem has been turnovers as they are tenth in the CAA in turnover margin at -3.5.

    Jamelle Hagins and Devon Saddler are the two main reasons why Delaware has been competitive in the CAA this season. But Josh Brinkley has been a force lately. Over his last three games, Brinkley has averaged fourteen points and ten rebounds per game.  He is shooting fifty five percent from the field on the season.
  9. William and Mary (4-14, 2-4 CAA) - The Tribe went 1-1 last week as part of their three game road trip that concludes at VCU tomorrow night.  Yes, their win was over Towson, but they were ahead early against Northeastern before the Huskies rallied.   W&M is at the bottom of most CAA categories sans free throw shooting.  The Tribe are fourth in the CAA at 71.9 percent.

    I am starting to really wonder if Quinn McDowell is playing hurt.  After his record setting performance in the first round of the CAA Tournament last season, McDowell has struggled since.   His average points per game is down three points from last season. McDowell's field goal percentage is way down ; it was 47.5 percent last season, this season it's 39.4 percent.  His shooting from three point range is also significantly down; 45.5 percent last season, this season 37.2 percent.  The Tribe need the re-emergence of the Mighty Quinn.
  10. James Madison (8-9,1-5 CAA) - The Dukes went 0-2 last week. They were drubbed at VCU and outscored at home by George Mason.   They dug themselves holes in both games.  The Dukes were down nine at the half to the Rams and down by fifteen at the half at home to the Patriots.  Part of that has to do with rebounding. They were outrebounded 42-26 to VCU as the Rams had fourteen offensive rebounds.  JMU is tenth in the CAA in rebounding margin.

    A.J. Davis is doing his best to help out the Dukes.  Davis has averaged seventeen points and three steals in his last three games.  He is also sixteen of twenty one from the free throw line in his last three games.
  11. Hofstra (6-11, 0-6 CAA) - The Pride had leads in the second half of both of their games against Northeastern and Old Dominion last week, only to lose both games.  Offensively, the two halves were completely dissimilar.  Hofstra shot sixty percent against Northeastern in the second half, but only shot twenty seven percent vs. ODU in the second half.  What was consistent was their lack of defense in the second half.  The Huskies shot fifty eight percent in the second half while the Monarchs shot fifty percent in the second half.

    Nathaniel Lester has played much more consistently lately.  In his last three games, Lester has averaged nineteen points per game and has shot twenty of twenty four from the line.  Lester has scored in double figures in ten straight games and has three double doubles in those ten games.
  12. Towson (0-18, 0-6 CAA) - The Tigers played quite respectably in both their losses last week. Towson actually had leads against both William and Mary and Georgia State before losing.  Ron Hunter commended the Tigers on their play saying that Towson came out with more effort than his own team.

    Robert Nwankwo continues to play hard for Towson.  Against the big front line of Georgia State, Nwakwo had seventeen points, thirteen rebounds, six blocks and four steals. He also had eleven points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals against William and Mary.   Nwankwo is doing everything he can to help Towson find that elusive first win.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another Seawolves Home Game, Another Seawolves Win (Recap of UNH vs. Stony Brook)

Often one of the key ingredients to a team's successful season is the ability to win at home.  Seven times this season, Stony Brook has hosted a game in Pritchard Gym and seven times this season, Stony Brook has won that home game.  The Seawolves were looking for nine wins at home in a row dating back to last season when they hosted the Wildcats of New Hampshire for a 5:00 P.M. start due to the Martin Luther King Holiday.

It was clearly evident at the start of the game that this was going to be a contrast in offensive styles. New Hampshire was content to shoot from long distance, while Stony Brook worked it inside.  Brian Benson gave the Wildcats their first and only lead at 3-2 on a three pointer. But that was their only basket on their first five possessions as they turned the ball over on the other four.  Meanwhile, Al Rapier got off to a good start as he scored the first eight Seawolves' points.  Stony Brook was up early 14-5 with ten and half minutes left.

But the Wildcats refused to go away as they responded with a 9-0 run to tie the game at fourteen with a little more than seven minutes left.  Alvin Abreu kept the Wildcats in the game with ten points in the first half. The remainder of the first half would remain close as the Seawolves continued to hit layups and the Wildcats continued to hit three pointers.  The score at the half was Stony Brook 26, New Hampshire 24.

Earlier in the game, my color analyst, my six year old son Matthew, commented that all that New Hampshire does is shoot threes.  He was correct. In the first half, the Wildcats had twenty field goal attempts, twelve of which came from beyond the arc.  New Hampshire hit four of those, which kept them in the game.  Meanwhile, Stony Brook was only two of ten from beyond the arc, but ten of sixteen from two point field goals.

The start of the second half was the Tommy Brenton show.  The junior Seawolves forward scored nine of Stony Brook's first sixteen points and assisted on two baskets during that stretch.  Brenton is everywhere on the court and there was one series in particular that showed that.  First he hit an up and under layup for two points. Then on the defensive end, Brenton grabbed the rebound and brought the ball up court. Then while holding the ball, he set up a screen for Marcus Rouse, who canned a jumper.

With much of the credit due to Brenton, Stony Brook opened up a 48-33 lead on New Hampshire with about eight and a half minutes left.  During the first eleven and a half minutes of the second half, the Wildcats only shot three of nine from the field and committed six turnovers.  Things looked bleak for New Hampshire.

One of the great things about Stony Brook games is that it is very family friendly.   There are several contests during the stoppage of play and there is of course, Wolfie, the Seawolves' intrepid mascot and one of the best mascots I have seen at Division I basketball games.  But what stands out is the "Cotton Eye Joe" dance late in the second half.   This is where all the kids get to dance on the court with the Stony Brook cheerleaders, dance team and Wolfie. After having been at several Seawolves' games, Matthew finally decided to join the dance yesterday and I took a video of  it.  He told me he had a great time and would do it again.

The three pointer can get a team back into a game quickly and as noted in the first half, New Hampshire loves to shoot the three.  The Wildcats would mix in four three pointers along with several other baskets over the next seven minutes and cut the Seawolves lead to seven, 57-50 with a minute and a half left.   But the clock ran out on New Hampshire as Stony Brook held onto win 61-52.

Rapier had fourteen points and nine rebounds for Stony Brook, while the stat sheet stuffer Brenton had thirteen points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.  Bryan Dougher added ten points for the Seawolves. Stony Brook had fifteen offensive rebounds in the game compared to six for New Hampshire.  Abreu led the Wildcats and all scorers with twenty points while Patrick Konan added fifteen points.  New Hampshire hit nine three point shots and had more three point attempts, twenty two, then two point field goal attempts, twenty.

It was Stony Brook's eighth straight home win of the season and their ninth in a row overall dating back to last season.   Their recent Pritchard Gym winning streak is helping the Seawolves maintain first place in the America East with a 5-1 record. Holding serve at home is half the battle in conference.