Saturday, March 1, 2014

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Iona/Manhattan, Siena, Wichita State, Duquesne and Fordham

If you're a college basketball fan and you didn't watch Iona/Manhattan on ESPN2 last night, you missed an absolutely terrific game between two long time MAAC rivals.  The Jaspers won in overtime 80-77.  It was exciting, action packed, end to end, three point drilling (on Iona's side), small gym, capacity, loud crowd fun.  You could hear the crowd loud and clear on your TV.

Having been at Draddy for Iona vs. Manhattan previously for a SRO crowd between these two rivals, I can tell you how intense the Gaels-Jaspers rivalry is from a spectator's standpoint. And if you don't think this is a hot ticket, two years ago, tickets for the Iona- Manhattan game were going for $100, which is usually unheard of in NYC mid major basketball.  Jaden Daly of Daly Dose of Hoops was there last night and here's his writeup.

It's quite possible that Iona and Manhattan will face each other again in the MAAC Tournament.  Despite the loss, Iona has clinched the MAAC regular season championship and the #1 seed for the MAAC Tournament.   Manhattan is tied for second with both Quinnipiac and Canisius.  The Jaspers host the Golden Griffiths on Sunday for at least third place. 

Oh, one last thing.  If Iona wins at home over Rider on Sunday, it will be the fourth time in the four seasons Tim Cluess has coached in New Rochelle that the Gaels have won twenty games.  Four years ago, I gave a New York metro college advice on who to take as their head coach.  Iona took the advice instead and two NCAA Tournament later, with a possible third on the horizon, the Gaels must be quite happy with the decision.

Speaking of MAAC coaches, how about the job Jimmy Patsos is doing with Siena.  The Saints are now over .500 in the MAAC at 10-9 and with a win over Monmouth, will be the fifth seed in the MAAC Tournament.   Siena has already won six more games than all of last season and six more games in conference from last season as well.  Not surprising, given Patsos' history of success with Loyola Maryland.

One last MAAC note.  With Cluess, Steve Masiello, Patsos and Jimmy Baron, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has become a premier coaching conference.  MAACTION!

Wichita State has been getting a lot of flack lately on whether they are a #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament .  Several basketball "pundits" have questioned their non conference schedule (Yes, Jeff Goodman of ESPN, I am talking about you in particular).   Mark Adams, ESPN analyst, put this into excellent perspective on Twitter by stating that the eight power conference teams ranked in the top ten played eighty six percent of their non-conference games at either neutral site or home.   As I pointed out to Mark in a reply, I noted Wichita State only played seven of its twelve non-conference games at home (two were neutral site).  Saint Louis, the other non power conference team in the top ten played only six of its eleven games at home (two were also neutral site).

Furthermore, compare Wichita State's team to the last Missouri Valley team that went so far into the season undefeated, the 1978-79 Indiana State team.  That team of course was led by Larry Bird and went to the NCAA Championship game undefeated vs. Michigan State before losing to Magic Johnson and the Spartans.  

That 78-79 Sycamores team only played one NCAA Tournament team during the regular season, New Mexico State, which Indiana State beat twice in that season in conference.  In fact, the Sycamores had to have a 50 foot shot by Bob Heaton to force overtime on the road vs. the Aggies.  New Mexico State ended up getting an at large bid, losing to Weber State in a first round game.  At that time, only forty teams made the NCAA Tournament.  

Despite their lack of a signature non-conference win, Indiana State received a #1 seed.   Perhaps having Bird helped their chances of getting a #1 seed.  Still, Indiana State justified their seeding by making the NCAA Championship game.

This season, Wichita State has played two definite NCAA Tournament teams in their non conference; BYU and currently #10 Saint Louis.  The neutral site win over the Cougars was the championship game of the CBE classic and the win over SLU came on the Billikens home court.  Until their loss at home to Duquesne this week, Saint Louis had been undefeated in Atlantic-10 play, which is quite impressive considering there is a very good chance that there will be five A-10 teams in the NCAA Tournament (SLU, VCU, UMass, George Washington and St Joseph's).

Wichita State has also won over bubble team Tennessee, along with wins over Davidson, the Southern Conference regular season champion, who knocked off the current #2 team in the SEC, Georgia and NC Central, who won at North Carolina State and who at 22-5 and 13-1 in the MEAC, is the likely MEAC regular season champion (the Eagles have a two game lead over Hampton).  Throw in the fact that with basically the same team from last year's Final Four team, if the Shockers can make it through the rest of the Valley regular season and the MVC Tournament undefeated, they should definitely be a #1 seed and have serious consideration as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Gregg Marshall is my coach of the year (and Jaden Daly, I knew about Marshall for years even before his Winthrop team knocked off Notre Dame).

On Thursday night, I watched on TV two bottom A-10 teams play, Fordham and Duquesne.  Both teams played good first halves against their respective opponents, VCU and St Louis, as I noted, two definite NCAA Tournament teams.    In their respective second halves, only one team maintained their composure and heart.  The road team Dukes withstood the Billikens and gave St Louis their first loss in A-10 play.

Duquesne at one time was tied with Fordham in the A-10 standings.  Yet, Jim Ferry's 12-15 team has not given up and won two of its last four games.   Of their four conference wins, three of those are on the road, including a win over the Rams.  The Dukes have lost fifteen games on the season, nine of those fifteen losses have been by nine points or less, including six A-10 conference games.  Duquesne's scoring margin on the season is - 0.3.  You can certainly say the Dukes have been competitive for the most part this season.

I'm not surprised by Ferry's Dukes playing so hard.  His successful LIU teams were high scoring, yet very gutty.  I was there when the Blackbirds won over Wagner at a hostile, sold out Spiro Center two years ago in what was quite possibly, given the game was on ESPNU on a Saturday night, the biggest regular season game in the history of the NEC (see picture of the game on the left).

Ferry's LIU teams made the NCAA Tournament two years in a row before he took the Duquesne job. Already the Dukes have a four win improvement from last season.   Given his ability to recruit nationally (several of his LIU players came from Texas), Duquesne is in good hands.

Meanwhile, VCU went on an early second half run and Fordham looked like they got run over by a truck.  They looked clueless on defense, showed no fundamentals on boxing out as VCU got offensive rebound after offensive rebound (in fact VCU had twenty four offensive rebounds) and basically showed no heart the last twenty minutes of the game.  VCU scored FIFTY ONE second half points beating Fordham 85-66.   One team looked Ram Tough and another looked Rammed.

Then to top it, Fordham Coach Tom Pecora just torched his team's effort after the loss, as per another great Jaden Daly writeup.   Yet not anywhere in the post game press conference notes does Pecora accept any blame for his team's failures that night.  He even notes that "Teams that win find ways to win, teams that lose, they know how to lose".

Well who's responsibility is for that demeanor and play?  It's the coach. 

I have already written about Fordham's struggles this season, in fact, it's been my most read article of the season, and taken Pecora to task.  So yes, it's like beating a dead horse.  But after his VCU post game press conference comments, the dead horse needs to beaten some more.

Fordham has lost five straight games, all by double digit margins.  In their last nine A-10 conference losses on the season , the Rams have lost each game by double digits and by an average margin of NINETEEN POINTS.  In fact, in Fordham's seventeen losses on the season, thirteen have now come by double digit margins.    

Think about that.  In only four of their seventeen losses was Fordham even close to winning.  

And even the defensive intensity that Pecora's Hofstra teams used to have is now gone.  He now goes with a four guard lineup, yet laments that "You can't let them beat you up on the offensive glass".  The Rams are DEAD LAST in the A-10 in scoring defense, allowing seventy nine points per game.  They are also dead last in field goal percentage defense, allowing teams to shoot forty six percent from the field.  The Rams also allow teams to score fifty two percent of their two point field goal attempts.

I think this last quote about Pecora when there is a question about his team's effort sums it up best  
"Oh, without a doubt, and I think that's been an issue for us throughout the season. There's been two major issues in my mind: One is getting that kind of team effort for 40 minutes consistently..." 
That comes down to one person and one person only.  The coach.

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