Sunday, November 16, 2014

New Season, New Focus

Yesterday's recap of South Carolina's Men's Basketball win over North Florida marks the start of the TENTH season for the College Hardwood. This blog started in December of 2005 and somehow, SOMEHOW, it makes it to a tenth season.

If you told me ten years ago that my site would outlive the Mid Majority, I would have told you "No way."  But the Mid Majority is no more.  As much as I lament the passing of the Mid Majority, there are other many independent blogs and web sites where you can get your daily fill of college basketball coverage, like terrific sites such as Big Apple Buckets and A Daly Dose of Hoops.

And the College Hardwood is also still here.

Over the past ten seasons we've seen CAA NCAA Tournament snubs, George Mason over Hofstra, turn into a Final Four appearance for the Patriots.  We've seen two NCAA Tournament Regionals in Raleigh, North Carolina. In the first, Steph Curry had his coming out party in wins over Gonzaga and Georgetown.   In the second, we saw Mercer make it through "the meat grinder", upsetting Duke in the second round in this season.  We saw VCU grow up before our very own eyes in the 2010-11 season, as they made their own run to the Final Four, which happily resulted in Jay Bilas eating crow.  And there were the fifty eight mid major games I covered in 2011-12 for my site and the Mid Majority.

We've seen a lot, but we've slowed down too.  We now make our home in South Carolina, which has been my place of residence for over two years.   The local trips to Hempstead (Hofstra), New Rochelle (Iona) and Stony Brook have been replaced by the Colonial Life Arena, Davidson, and Spartanburg (Wofford and USC Upstate), albeit not as much.

Life has changed here in the College Hardwood.  I coach both of my sons now in Little League Baseball and the season runs from February to November (two seasons really, spring and fall).   The posts are not as frequent as they used to be.  So if you're wondering why there was no recap of the first day of the NCAA regional from Raleigh, it's because I was coaching and umpiring baseball all day the next day.

Ten seasons is a long time covering college basketball.  This season, the College Hardwood wanted to do something different. As I mentioned, in 2011-12, The College Hardwood had covered fifty eight Division I men's games in a season in conjunction with the Mid Majority's 800 Games Played Project.  But I don't have the time to do that now.

So entering the tenth season, I was looking for some different.  After seven seasons of mid major basketball (men's and women's basketball) and the last two seasons of covering mostly South Carolina men's basketball, with some mid major basketball sprinkled in, I was looking for something else.   And I found it.

The last couple of years being down here in Columbia, South Carolina, I have become quite enamored with the play of the University of South Carolina's Women's Basketball team, coached by Dawn Staley.  The team's play mirrors their coach; a tough minded, extremely talented, defensive oriented team.

When you enter Colonial Life Arena, there are two extremely large posters by each entrance to the seats.  One is of Frank Martin, the Men's Basketball Coach and the other is of Dawn Staley.  Staley has done such an outstanding job that she has put the Women's Basketball team on equal footing with the men, regularly getting crowds over 10,000 (last night's game vs. USC was no exception).

And it's clear when you see the Women's team play of why their crowd's match the men's crowds.  I have seen several USC women's games at Colonial Life, and outside of the men's team's upset of Kentucky last season, the arena has been most alive at the women's games.  And it's easy to see why, in all those games, Staley's team exuded energy through stalwart defense, talent and solid team basketball principles.  

A couple of years ago, the Gamecocks played the Cardinal of Stanford in one of the best defensive college basketball games I ever saw.    Then there was last season's mid November game against my dear friend Tony Bozzella's Seton Hall Pirates, where the Gamecocks pulled away in the second half after only being ahead by two at halftime.   Finally, there was the "Think Pink" Breast Cancer Awareness game where South Carolina used its size advantage to down Florida.

Last season was a great season for South Carolina. The team won the SEC Regular Season Championship, then was the #1 seed in the West Region, where they lost in the Regional Semifinals to North Carolina,   But this season's team looks to be even better than the team from last season.

It's an experienced and talented team that returns all their starters from last season; Aleighsa Welch, Tiffany Mitchell, Khadijah Sessions, Alaina Coates and Elen Ibiam, along with key reserves Tina Roy and Asia Dozier.   What might put the Gamecocks over the top is the addition of A'ja Wilson, one of the most talented high school players in the country.  With all that talent, it is no surprise that South Carolina is ranked #2 in the nation currently.

So when I was given the chance to get USC Women's Basketball Tickets, I jumped at the chance.  And the Gamecocks started their season strong last night, rallying in the second half, winning 70-61. Coates and Mitchell each had eighteen points.  South Carolina played their usual strong defense, holding USC to thirty three percent from the field and out-rebounding the Trojans 42-33.

Alas, I wasn't there to witness their first game last night.  As I previously noted,  life has changed here in the College Hardwood over the past ten seasons and a little more than seven years ago, my younger son hadn't been born yet.  But on November 17, 2007, he was born and yesterday we held a birthday party for Jonny, which included a good number of his baseball teammates.   So Dawn Staley's team took a backseat last night.

But come this Thursday, November 20, I will be seating in my new season ticket seats, along with my partner in basketball mayhem, my color analyst, my older son Matthew.   I very much look forward to watching this Gamecocks Women's team play on a regular basis and providing coverage of the team on a regular basis.

For those of you I call "The Few, The Proud," aka the loyal readers of my site, don't worry. There will still be plenty of men's college basketball games that the College Hardwood will cover, including Tuesday's ESPN 24 Hours of Hoops Game between Baylor and South Carolina.

But in large part, the focus will be the South Carolina Women's Basketball Team.  This season's motto is "One", which is a very accurate description of how they play.

Perhaps "One" will also mean at the end of the season "One" as in "One National Championship".

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