Thursday, December 31, 2009

The CAA, A Third of the Way Through Review

First, Happy New Year to Everyone! 2009 was a very rough year for me personally. My younger son's surgery, then my good friend's dad, who I was very fond of, passed away. Then my mom passed away, then my wild and strange car accident, then I found out today another friend of mine's mom passed away today suddenly.

I know it was rough for many of you as well. But as someone I admire greatly recently wrote in a note to me, "It's our response to adversity that defines us (basketball wise and in real life)." His note reminds me of that great scene from the last Rocky film as Rocky advises his son about life. It really is how you have to handle life. I have been told by someone I used to consider a dear friend that "Moores don't give up easily." And I know I don't. And neither do the rest of you. Here's to not giving up and making 2010 our year. As Rocky says, "Go out and get what you're worth!"

I had to share the following with you as well. My friend Jeremy, otherwise known as Dr J, put the following on his status line on Facebook;

"saw an MSNBC story about a woman named Marijuana. She's a college counselor and there's a sign in front of her desk that says "Sit here if you are waiting for Marijuana". He won't comment - he's just going to let that one speak for itself."

So I had to reply with this;

"And I am pretty sure she has a sister named Tequila. Her mom was overheard saying "I first had Marijuana then I had Tequila."

Hope you enjoyed that. :-)

The title of my article is based on the fact that after two months, the CAA really starts their first half of conference play on Saturday (yes, there already has been one conference game for all teams). To me the season is based on thirds. The first third is non conference games. The second third is the first half of the conference season. Then the last third is the second half of the conference season.

Technically, by number of games each of the teams has played (11-13 on average), it's really more like 40 percent of the games played. But you can't really say "The CAA, 40 Percent of the Way Through". Doesn't sound right. You could also say that's it really a quarter through, with the last quarter being the conference tournament. But to me, the conference tournament is another animal altogether, so I will stick with the "Third of the Way Through Review".
The first two months of the college basketball season have been great for the CAA. You have one team, William and Mary, picked by the CAA Coaches to finish tenth in the CAA have a 9-2 record, with road wins at Wake Forest and Maryland. The preseason coaches favorite, Old Dominion, has once again beaten highly ranked Georgetown on the Hoyas home court for the second time in three years and destroyed Charlotte, a team that won convincingly at Louisville, by 38 points. You have the defending champion, VCU, also with a 8-2 record, who has a win over nationally ranked Oklahoma and has given Rhode Island their only loss on the season. Finally, you have two teams, the Mary and VCU in the top 20 in the country in RPI.

There have been teams with several nationally ranked close misses - Hofstra had #13 UConn on the ropes, up nine in the second half before losing late. George Mason led #6 Villanova the entire way until a Wildcat three pointer with 28 seconds resulted in a Patriot loss. And Drexel was up five on Rhode Island with 39 seconds left before they melted the lead away.

So with the battle for the four first round bye spots starting Saturday, let's take a look at all twelve teams in the CAA, based on three different levels - the Elite, the Middle of the Pack, and The Rear of the Bus.

The Elite

These are the teams that I think will certainly finish in the top three. Two of them are not real surprises. But the team that occupies the #1 spot is absolutely a surprise, a very pleasant surprise. These three teams are either very good with the ball, shoot the ball well, defend very well and have a lot of depth.

1) William and Mary (9-2) - This team has been amazing. Road wins at Wake and Maryland. A home win over Richmond and VCU. The Mad Bombers of the CAA, given that name by me due to the fact that they have 63 more three point FG attempts then the next team in the CAA (James Madison), are a scoring machine. They lead the CAA in scoring offense, field goal percentage, three point FG percentage, free throw percentage, assists and assist to turnover ratio.

Their only losses were a single digit loss at #13 UConn and a heartbreaking loss at 9-3 Harvard on a Jeremy Lin three pointer at the buzzer in OT. What's really amazing is that this is basically the SAME team as last year's disappointing 10-20 team. Think about it, they are one win away from matching their season total of last year with the same roster. It's due to the fact that Quinn McDowell, David Schneider and Danny Sumner have all elevated their games. And the credit has to go to Tony Shaver, the most underrated coach in the CAA.

It will be interesting to see how the Mary do against solid CAA defensive teams like ODU and Hofstra, who they will play at Hempstead on Saturday. Also, the Tribe are dead last in the CAA in offensive rebounding. Again, teams like ODU, Hofstra, and UNCW will provide a good test for William and Mary. Can't wait to see Saturday's game at Hofstra.

2) VCU (8-2) - No Eric Maynor. No problem for the Rams. The wins against Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Richmond, albeit all at home, show that they have been able to spread the ball around and win without the now Utah Jazz star. They do it with offense, second in the CAA in scoring offense, fourth in FG percentage and three point FG percentage. And they do it with defense, first in the CAA in steals, fourth in blocks and third in three point FG percentage defense.

It's a collective group as far as Rams scoring. VCU has eight players that score 7.5 points or more per game led by Larry Sanders's 14.8 ppg (he also averages 8.5 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks per game). The Rams are ten deep now, with the additions of Wake Forest transfer Jamie Skeen and Terrance Saintil back from injury, which will come in handy come CAA Tournament time.

The Rams still need to prove themselves on the road, as they are only 2-2. They have an interesting home test vs. UNCW on Saturday. The Larry Sanders - John Fields matchup will be a dandy.

3) ODU (9-4) - The Monarchs started the season 4-0 against cupcakes, then lost three games in a row before winning five of their last six, including the win at Georgetown. The win at the Hoyas home gym, the only game GTown plays there during the season, was a big at large resume builder. However, the 33 point win over Charlotte typlified the Monarchs style of play. They outrebounded the 49ers 45-24 and the CAA's best scoring defense team held Charlotte to 30 points under their scoring average.

Gerald Lee, the preseason co CAA player of the year, is having another solid season scoring nearly 14 points per game on 51 percent shooting. And the Monarchs are also their typically deep selves, as Coach Blaine Taylor has nine players that average 10 minutes or more per game.

The concerns for ODU are still there. The backcourt is still suspect, though as the team as a whole shoots only 32 percent from three. Trian Iladius has been a three point threat off the bench but Darius James must improve on his 33 percent overall shooting, otherwise teams will collapse on Lee, Ben Finney and Frank Hassell. ODU has a big game at George Mason at noon on Saturday.

The Middle of the Pack

I think these teams right now are vying for one first round bye spot. Right now I have these teams in order of how I think they are playing. Can one of these teams finish in the top 3? Perhaps any of the teams rated #4-#6. After that, it's a stretch. But you can make a case that any of these teams can finish in fourth. There's not much separating these teams right now.

4) Hofstra (8-5) - The Pride have played well for the most part the first 13 games of the season, but they could be so much more. As noted, they had a 54-45 lead with nine minutes left against UConn. Then they had a lead for a good part of the game against Charlotte before falling 80-72. Then they were ahead of St John's 59-54 with six minutes left before the roof caved in.

For the Pride, it starts all with co CAA preseason player of the year, Charles Jenkins. He is averaging 19 points per game on 46 percent shooting and nearly matches that FG percentage from three (45.8). After Jenkins, the next leading scorer is Nathaniel lester at 10.6 points per game.

And therein lies the problem, the Pride at times struggle to score. Lester had not scored in double figures in five straight games until their win over Florida Atlantic on Tuesday. Cornelius Vines, the second leading scorer last year is averaging 4 points per game less than last season. The leading frontcourt scorer for the Pride is freshman Halil Kanacevic at 7.7 points per game. An inside game is necessary for Hofstra succeed.

Still it's defense that Hofstra "prides" itself on. First in the CAA in FG percentage defense at 38 percent, first in blocks, first in rebounding offense. And what has improved for Hofstra is their assist to turnover ratio, due to in large part freshman Chaz Williams who has a 2-1 assists to turnover ratio. The Pride's defense will be tested when the Mary, the Mad Bombers of the CAA, come to town Saturday.

5) George Mason (6-6) - When you have a relatively young team like the Patriots, you can expect inconsistency. And that describes George Mason's season in a nutshell - inconsistency. The same team that came within a whisker of beating both Dayton and Villanova can also get clocked by George Washington and Radford.

Mason has loads of talent, they just are mostly underclassmen. There is only one senior, forward Louis Birdsong , two juniors, guards Cam Long and Isaiah Tate and the rest are all sophomores and freshmen. Long has struggled this season. His points per game are around the same, but his FG percentage has dropped from 46 percent to 37.5 percent as well as his three point shooting from 40 percent to 28.9 percent. The team as a whole is shooting 40.8 percent as opposed to 44.8 percent last season. There are other areas of concern as Mason is dead last in rebounding margin and assist to turnover ratio.

Still Mason is very talented with Ryan Pearson (10.9 points per game) , Mike Morrison, Kevin Foster, Luke Hancock (10 points per game) etc. And they have the potential to improve and battle for one of the four first round bye spots. A good barometer of the Patriots will be their home game Saturday at noon vs. Old Dominion

6) James Madison (6-5) - My CAA sleeper of the year's season started off roughly with the loss of star sophomore guard Devon Moore to a torn ACL. Then they lost by 28 points to both Ohio State and Murray State. Then the Dukes rattled off four wins in a row, before losing two in a row again, one to Georgia State at home before winning two of their last three.

One thing is for certain, JMU is certainly a different team now with the addition of Denzel Bowles. Bowles, a 6 foot 10 transfer from Texas A&M has been a difference maker, averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds and nearly 3 assists a game in the four games he has played with. Combine Bowles with sophomore sensation Julius Wells (15 ppg, 6.5 rebounds per game) and JMU has a dynamic frontcourt duo.

Madison needs to improve their three point FG percentage, next to last in the CAA. They have played solid defense though, fourth in the CAA. Don't be surprised if the Dukes make a serious charge for one of the four bye spots. Bowles is a force to be reckoned with. But evening their record at 1-1 won't be easy when they travel to Northeastern for a Saturday afternoon clash.

7) Northeastern (5-7) - The Huskies won the Cable Car Classic in impressive fashion defeating host Santa Clara the first night, then defeating Kent State 61-58 last night. Matt Janning had a solid tournament scoring 34 points on 5 of 9 shooting from beyond the arc. The Huskies have now won three in a row after a 2-7 start.

But the reason they won the Cable Car Classic is they played good defense. They held Santa Clara to 29 percent shooting from the field and Kent State to 40 percent from the field. This is under what Northeastern has allowed for the season, 44 percent, which is tenth in the CAA. In fact Northeastern is dead last in three point FG percentage defense at 38.6 percent.

Janning though has brought his A game this season. He had a disappointing 2008-09 season where he saw his statistics drop across the board from the year before (he should have not been a first team All CAA member). But this year his scoring is up nearly 2.5 points per game and his shooting percentage is up to 43.7 percent. Janning will need to continue his A game performances against the dynamic JMU duo of Bowles and Wells on Saturday.

8) Drexel (6-7) - The Dragons managed to blow a five point lead with 39 seconds left against Rhode Island. All was needed a foul, a missed front end of a one and one free throw, and a turnover and Rhode Island escapes with an 80-79 win.

This seems to describe the Dragon season so far. They had a late lead against St Joe's to start the season only to see the Hawks tie the game with 23 seconds left in regulation, then win in overtime. Rutgers defeated them with a putback with 1.4 seconds left. But this is not surprising when you are last in scoring offense and last in free throw percentage.

What keeps the Dragons in games is their defense. They are third in scoring defense and third in turnover margin. Jamie Harris has taken over the scoring load for the Dragons, averaging 14.4 points and 3.8 assists per game. Sharpshooter Chris Fouch, a redshirt freshman due to a torn ACL last season, has come alive late, scoring 23 points vs. Rhode Island including 4 of 7 from beyond the arc. Getting Leon Spencer back soon would help too. The Dragons look to go 2-0 in the CAA when they face old America East rival Delaware at the Bob Carpenter Center on Saturday.

9) Georgia State (7-6) - The Panthers have slogged their way through their first 13 games, as they average only 61 points per game on offense. But defensively, they are outstanding. Second in the CAA in scoring defense, second in three point FG percentage defense and third in rebounding margin.

Joe Dukes is their go to guy. The problem has been the go to guy's three point shooting has gone and left the building. Dukes shot 34.7 percent from three last season. This season, it's 21.6. Yikes. His assists to turnover ratio is now 1 to 1, where last season it was 1.61 to 1. Dukes has picked up his shooting the last three games going 19 of 37 from the field.

However, Dukes has had help from Trae Goldston, who has picked up his game this season. Goldston is shooting 43.8 percent from the field (up from 39.8 last season) and is shooting 40 percent from three (33 percent last season). As long as Goldston and Ousman Krubally continue to contribute and the Panthers continue to play smothering D, the Panthers will be competitive. Towson may find out the hard way Saturday evening.

10) UNCW (4-7) - Next to William and Mary, this may be the most improved team in the CAA. So why do I have them tenth? Well, it's due in large part that a) they were the worst team in the CAA last season, so to be in the pack is an improvement and b) their ball control leaves a lot to be desired.

The Seahawks are dead last in turnover margin in the CAA and eighth in assists to turnover ratio in the CAA. However, the Seahawks have seriously improved on the defensive end. Last season, they were dead last in practically every defensive category. This year, first in the CAA in three point FG percentage defense, second in blocks, sixth in FG percentage defense.

Much of the credit is due to freshman Keith Rendleman and junior transfer John Fields. Rendleman comes off the bench and averages five and half points and nearly six rebounds a game in 18 minutes, while Fields averages 13.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. Chad Tomko leads the Seahawks in scoring at 15.5 points per game and 5 assists per game. Tomko however nearly averages four turnovers per game.

UNCW has a win over Penn State and has been very competitive though losing to South Florida, Miami, Wake and George Washington. If UNCW can be more careful with the ball, more wins will be in store for the faithful at the Trask Center. And by the way, having seen two UNCW games on TV already, Fields is very enjoyable to watch.

The Rear of the Bus

The reason that Towson and Delaware occupy the rear of the bus in the CAA is that neither plays defense. Delaware is next to last in scoring defense and Towson is dead last. Same for FG percentage defense. Towson is dead last in rebounding. When you can't defend and can't keep the opposing team off the glass, it's a sure recipe for losing.

11) Towson - That run in the CAA Tournament was now definitely a fluke. How they could play two terrific games and then come back this season and play swiss cheese defense, is just stunning. If Lou Brown was watching this team, he would say "Kennedy (as in Towson Coach Pat Kennedy), what's with this ole bull__!" Yeah, it's that bad.

The one good thing for the Tigers is their assist to turnover ratio. You would think that Troy Franklin is responsible for that. But despite averaging four assists per game, Franklin averages three turnovers per game. It's Brian Morris, who is averaging 5.4 assists per game and only 2 assists per game that gives them that good assist to turnover ratio.

Towson does have "The Handful" Calvin Lee, who averages 13.6 points per game. Josh Thornton is right there with 13.5 points per game and is shooting much better from three lately (14 for his last 31 from three). The big surprise is Robert Nwankwo who averages 11 points and 11 rebounds per game. Someone had to take over the CAA double double responsibility since the graduation of Marc Egerson.

Towson has a tough test Saturday as they travel to Georgia State for a 6 pm start. The question will be if they can get the score in the seventies. If so, they have a chance, otherwise, they will start conference play 0-2.

12) Delaware - The injury to Brian Johnson. The loss of two incoming freshmen. The 4-8 start is not surprising except for maybe the fact that it's amazing Delaware has four wins. Outside of Egerson, their frontcourt was weak last season. Now without Egerson, they are next to last in scoring defense and FG percentage defense. The Dead last in blocks. Next to last in defensive rebounds. The frontcourt looks like the 2008-09 UNC Wilmington frontcourt. And combine all that with next to last in assist to turnover ratio and you have the recipe for last place.

The lone bright spot. Jawan Carter. Nearly 17 points, 3 assists and nearly 5 rebounds per game. Delaware has won two of their last three games including a road win at Vermont (9-5) so there is some fight in the Fighting Blue Hens. The question is, can their lackluster frontcourt keep them in games vs. ODU, Hofstra, VCU and Northeastern. Well, Drexel at home provides their frontcourt with a good test.

The New Year is upon us. Conference play in all leagues are upon us. Teams that have struggled now have the chance to be reborn. Hope always springs eternal at the College Hardwood.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Mary!!!...And Oh Yeah, Hofstra Won Last Night

If you read my earlier article from today which featured my latest Mid Majors Baker's Dozen, I stated "A win tonight at Maryland and depending how they do in what is shaping up to be a tough Colonial Conference, you can seriously start considering the Mary for an at large bid." Well, William and Mary went to the Comcast Center and put an absolute beating on Maryland winning 83-77. And no, the game was nowhere as close as the final score.

The Tribe were up nine at the half, 39-30. Then they went up twelve, 48-36 on a Sean McCurdy three pointer. Then the Mary spent most of the second half up by double digits. In fact after a David Schneider layup, the Tribe were up sixteen, 70-54 with 4:58 left in the game. The Terrapins only got the lead into the single digits in the last 30 seconds of the game.

The Tribe at one time were shooting 7 of 14 from three (they ended up only hitting 1 of their last 9 shots from beyond the arc), and shot 47 percent from the field. They also shot 25 of 31 from the line. And the Mary was able to hold Maryland to 4 of 25 from beyond the arc.

Imagine how quiet 16,000 Maryland fans were tonight (the attendance was 16, 418 and I figure the 418 were the William and Mary fans). That gives the Mary now nine wins in a row and road wins over two ACC teams now; Wake Forest and Maryland, plus a home win over Richmond. And of course their conference home win over 8-2 VCU.

And one last thing to think about. The Mary recently won at Radford. George Mason tried to do the same thing tonight..they lost by TWENTY SEVEN. Radford 80 George Mason 53. Think the Mary are still a fluke?

Like I said, if they finish in the top three of the CAA with say 13 conference wins and win a couple of games in the CAA tournament, that will put them with 24 wins (plus there is the bracketbuster). They will have to be taken seriously come selection time if that all pans out. Perhaps John Feinstein was right. Maybe there will be at least two teams from the CAA in the Dance this year (and ODU is making a case for three teams after beating Duquesne tonight in typical Monarch fashion 63-54).

And finally, I can't say this enough. The job Tony Shaver is doing so far this year with basically the same Tribe team that finished at the bottom of the CAA last season is amazing. He is an outstanding coach.

Well the Mary have a big CAA road game on Saturday against my home base, Hofstra. The Pride ended their two game losing streak by holding on against Mike Jarvis' Florida Atlantic squad for a 67-63 road win. I was having dinner with a friend, so for one of the extremely rare times, I was not by computer listening to the WRHU internet feed. Jerry Beach and Defiantly Dutch has a good recap of this.

I will say this, there are two keys for Hofstra the rest of the way. One is finding a consistent second scoring option to Charles Jenkins. Perhaps Nathaniel Lester has woken up from his coma. He had 17 points last night, 14 in the second half when Charles Jenkins was on the bench with four fouls. Jenkins had 17 as well last night, but 15 came in the first half. Before last night, Lester had not scored in double figures in the last five games.

Lester, who is averaging a career high 10.6 points per game on 43 percent shooting (also a career high) needs to stay aggressive and drive the lane and when need be hit short jumpers. When Lester is scoring double figures, the Pride are much more difficult to beat.

The other key for Hofstra is getting good games from their post players. Greg Washington had 13 rebounds and four blocks last night. When Hofstra holds their opponent to 38 percent shooting like last night (and their 38 percent FG percentage defense leads the CAA) and is rebounding like they normally do (among the top teams in the CAA rebounding), they are a difficult team to beat.

We'll see what happens when the irresistible force, William and Mary, meets the immovable object, Hofstra, Saturday at 4:00 PM in the Mack Center. I will be there of course, with live updates on this blog.

The Last Mid Majors Baker's Dozen for 2009 and Top 5 Disappointments to Start the 2009-10 Season

It's time for the last Mid Majors Baker's Dozen for 2009. Remember, it's A-10 free.

1) Northern Iowa (10-1) - The Panthers remain at the top spot after winning impressively at sold out Creighton last night. Remember it's never easy to win a road game in the Valley, especially at a sold out Quest Center in Omaha.

2) Gonzaga (9-3) - The Zags have a New Year's Eve home date vs Oklahoma, then a road game at Illinois before WCC play. And talk about those first three conference games - at Portland, at Saint Mary's (mark Thursday January 14 on your calendar, I am) and at San Diego.

3) Butler (8-4) - Have played a brutal non conference schedule which should make them Horizon ready. But the Bulldogs really need to get Matt Howard going, otherwise Wright State might be the team to beat in the Horizon. Howard is down in most major statistical categories from last season (11.4 ppg as opposed to 14.8 last season, 5 rebounds per game as opposed to 6.8 last season and 42 FG percent as opposed to 55 percent last season).

4) St Mary's (12-2) - Loss to USC not so bad after USC dismantled nationally ranked UNLV in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. Right now with Portland's road troubles, WCC looks to only be a two team race again. January 14 vs. Gonzaga is huge but they need to play two road WCC games first before meeting the Zags.

5) Missouri State (11-1) - Needed to show something on their three game road swing and despite a close loss to Arkansas, the Bears made up for it big time with double digit wins at St Louis and in league play last night over Evansville. A double digit win on the road in the Valley is very impressive indeed.

6) William and Mary (8-2) - A win tonight at Maryland and depending how they do in what is shaping up to be a tough Colonial Conference, you can seriously start considering the Mary for an at large bid. Road win at Wake and home win over Richmond are particularly impressive. Very big conference road test at Hofstra on Saturday.

7) Cornell (10-2) - Can you feel the love for the Big Red?! I do. 3-0 vs. the A-10. THREE AND ZERO. Damn. How many schools feel really stupid now about passing over Ryan Wittman?! Seriously. Cornell continues its non conference schedule January 6th at...Kansas. Could we see Cornell, an Ivy League team make the second round of the NCAA Tournament this season? Absolutely.

8) VCU (8-2) - The return of Jamie Skeen and Terrance Saintil makes an already talented VCU even deeper. Good comeback win vs. East Carolina at home. That would have been a bad loss on the resume. CAA conference play resumes with a home game vs. much improved UNCW. Looking forward to the Larry Sanders vs. John Fields matchup.

9) Old Dominion (8-4) - A new team in our standings and deservedly so. The win at Georgetown was absolutely huge. ODU played very well against the Hoyas, even though Georgetown played a very sloppy game. Then they add to that an absolute 39 point thrashing of Charlotte, who previously thrashed Louisville in Freedom Hall. That's serious at large resume street cred for the Monarchs.

10) Western Carolina (10-2) - Don't be fooled by that final score against Clemson. They were only down five, 56-51 with eight minutes left. They are currently the only team in the Southern Conference with an overall record that's more than two games over .500. It's a three team in race in the Southern - Western Carolina, Charleston, and Davidson - Catamounts, Cougars and Wildcats - oh my!

11) South Alabama (9-4) - The best of the Sun Belt is a newcomer to the list. The road win vs. Florida sealed their inclusion in the Baker's Dozen. Jaguars look ready to pounce on the rest of the league and start with the FIT, otherwise known as Florida Isaiah Thomas (ok, it's Florida International).

12) Siena (8-4) - They're back!!! Was there any doubt? The Saints have absolutely dismantled their last two opponents, Rider and St Joe's by 22 and 17 points respectively. Three conference games occur before the first rematch of the 2009 Tournament championship with Niagara at home on January 9th.

13) Louisiana Tech (12-2) - The first WAC member of the year. The Bulldogs get in on the strength of their home win over Murray State but more importantly, their impressive road win over Conference USA member Houston (who defeated Oklahoma earlier in the season). Saturday's home game vs. Nevada should be very high scoring. Both teams average over 80 points per game.

Honorable Mention - Murray State, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Wright State, Kent State and Akron.

Top Five Disappointments So Far This Season

1) Northeastern (4-7) - With two wins in a row, hopefully the Huskies are starting to come out of their funk. However, picked to finish 2nd in the CAA by the coaches and first by me, Team Enigma is truly again, Team Enigma. It seems like they never really fully recovered from the end of last season where they lost five of their last six games in conference.

Stat That Stands Out - Well there are several. Tenth in the CAA in scoring offense. Tenth in CAA in FG percentage defense at 44 percent. Dead last in three point FG percentage defense at 39 percent and dead last in the CAA in rebounding defense. Combine all that together and there is serious concern for the Huskies.

2) Creighton (5-7) - Had such high hopes for the Blue Jays. One of the last teams left out of the NCAA Tournament last season, a team coming off 27 wins and a first round NIT win (they blew a lead against Kentucky at home in the second round). They should be so much better. But I guess they miss Booker Woodfox a lot. The reason for the bad start - lack of defense. Next to last in the Valley in scoring defense and dead last in defensive rebounding. Teams are killing the Blue Jays on the glass.

Stat That Stands Out - This was the year that P'Allen Stinnett would step out of the shadows of the now graduated Woodfox. Well, when he stepped out, he forgot to bring his game with him. Stinnett is down in scoring (three less points per game than last season) and his field goal percentage is down 41 percent as opposed to 44 percent last season.

3) Miami Ohio (3-9) - The Redbirds are 3-9. Seriously? Yes, they have a one point win over Wright State and they have played their usual brutal non conference schedule with close losses at Kentucky, Dayton, neutral site to Louisiana Tech, at Cincinnati and at Xavier. But to lose to Towson? Mind you they only have won on average 18 games a season since 2002-03, but they have made the NIT several times along with one NCAA appearance and they are always competitive. The Redbirds should be better.

Stat That Stands Out - Kenny Hayes is down in several shooting categories, especially three point shooting (from 53 percent last season to 35 percent this season) and overall field goal shooting (from 46.6 percent last season to 42.8 percent this season). Now you can't expect Hayes to shoot 53 percent from beyond the arc, but there is room for improvement.

4) UCLA (5-7) - Remember this is not Mid Major Hoops anymore, so we occasionally now talk about the big boys (though not often) , so UCLA is included in our Top Five Disappointments List. Last season, second round loss to Nova in the NCAA Tournament. Before that, three years in a row in the Final Four. Yes, they lost several players due to graduation/leaving early. Yes, it's difficult to replace four of your top five scorers. But this is UCLA?! The Wooden history etc etc.

But their fall from grace is a flat out free fall. This season, the Bruins started out the year losing at home to Cal State Northridge in OT. Then had a streak where they lost six out of seven at games. Yes UCLA has won three in a row to get to 5-7, but those were all cupcakes. Their best non conference win is over Pepperdine. Ok, and you're starting off in conference against Arizona State on New Year's eve. Not good.

Stat That Stands Out - The Bruins have played one road game the entire season (loss at Notre Dame) and yet are 5-7. They are 5-2 at home and 0-4 on neutral site games. Uh oh.

5) Portland (7-5) - Yes they are the only team on this list with an over .500 record. But the results have not matched the early hype. Early on, the Pilots looked like they were making a case for a three bid West Coast Conference after knocking off UCLA (which doesn't look so impressive now) and then #16 Minnesota (still a good win) in the 76 Classic. The problems have occurred after the 76 Classic; a four point home loss to Portland State, then getting smoked on the road by Idaho, Washington and Nevada. Not good.

Stat That Stands Out - Not a very good road team. 1-3 and have given up an average of 78 points in road games, 8 more per game than their overall average. You can't be successful unless you win road games. And you can't win road games without playing defense.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Big Red Are For Real

Almost a week ago, on December 23, as I was heading into work after dropping my kids off, I was listening to WFAN here in NY. Craig and Boomer were off that morning and Adam the Bull was substituting for them. He got on the subject of St John's and how long it's been since they have been good. He continued on how they were starting to get votes in the Top 25 and had beaten Hofstra and they were playing in the Holiday Festival Championship. And then he went off on how they lost to Cornell in the championship and how disappointing it was for them to lose to Cornell. He said "Cornell?!!" and something to the effect of "Cmon".

As I heard this, I nearly stopped the car as I did when Billy Packer, when on Mike and the Mad Dog back in April 2006, stated that there was no statistic that could show why George Mason was in the Final Four was (how about they were in the Top 10 in Scoring Defense in the country, Mr. ACC!). Or when Michael Kay compared Stephen Curry to J.J. Redick before Curry went pro (baseball expert trying to be a college basketball expert). Once again, a radio sports personality/expert shot off their mouth and didn't do their homework.

I waited to post this article until Cornell had won another big game, just to show again that the Big Red winning the Holiday Festival was not a fluke. Just like the win at Alabama, which #4 Purdue barely accomplished having to comeback from 15 points in the second half to win. Just like the win at UMass, something Memphis couldn't accomplish. Just like the road win at Drexel, something Northeastern couldn't accomplish.

Well, the Big Red did it again. They held on this afternoon for a 78-75 win at LaSalle. That makes it two A-10 road kills for Cornell and three wins against the A-10 overall (defeated St Joe's at home earlier in the season). The Big Red are 6-1 on the road and have won eight in a row. They have the #24 overall RPI in the country. Their strength of schedule (SOS) is 33rd in the country. And by the way, they have made the NCAA Tournament the last two years.

And they are talented and they have basketball pedigree. Remember Randy Wittman, star shooting guard/forward for the Indiana Hoosiers, a member of the 1981 NCAA championship team, a first round NBA draft pick for the Hawks and played for the Hawks and Pacers? Well guess who is the star guard for Cornell? Randy's son Ryan, who only had 34 points on 11 of 21 shooting including 4 of 9 from beyond the arc in the win over LaSalle today.

And it's not like Wittman is small, which was the bugaboo with Curry (whose Dad is former NBA great Dell Curry) and why larger schools didn't recruit him either. Wittman is 6-6, 210 pounds. So how do schools like Davidson and Cornell see things that other schools don't in two kids who have a family pedigree of accomplishment?

What's funny is that the NY Times recently had a great article about why New York City is no longer the center of the college basketball universe. And in the article, coach Tom Pecora of Hofstra noted the following;
"It’s become not only a national game but a global game, so everyone’s better at it. Now there’s rural kids who are outstanding basketball players. The game has broadened and there’s a much more level playing field.”
So how come Pecora missed a Minnesota kid with the pedigree of Wittman's? How did other "higher level" schools miss a shooter of such capability, a finalist for Mr. Minnesota Basketball in his senior year? Well, their loss is Cornell's gain.

But like I said in my earlier article on Cornell, it's not just Wittman. They have an outstanding center in seven foot Jeff Foote and another solid sharpshooter in Chris Wroblewski, two other players the higher level schools missed.

So Adam the Bull, next time you make a statement, make sure to do your homework. The Big Red are for Real. Just ask the coaches at Alabama, UMass, Drexel, St Joe's, Davidson, St John's and now LaSalle.

Not the Post I Was Intending For Today

So I was planning to have a nice detailed article on the Iona Lady Gaels game from last night vs. Saint Francis. As I was heading to New Rochelle train station to pick up Tieff, I took my usual route to Iona games, the Hutch north. About 1/4 mile from Exit 3E, Pelham Parkway, I was driving in the middle lane. All of sudden, BAM, some young guy in a minivan comes from the right lane and broadsides me.

Now he says he hit me from behind to avoid being cut off by someone in front of him, but I don't think so. I felt he came in from the right lane into the middle because he didn't see me. Well what happened next was that he spun me out from the middle lane across the right lane into a grass embankment. It was like something out of NASCAR, only I was playing the part of Tony Stewart. Thankfully it was grass or it would have been a lot worse.

NYPD was there on the scene quickly and by the way, the guys at the 45th precinct and the tow truck driver who checked on me couldn't have been nicer. The guy in the minivan admitted to the police officer that he was the one who hit me and that it was his fault. Here's the kicker, his car was more damaged than mine. He had to have his towed, while I was able to drive mine home.

And the amazing thing, I wasn't hurt whatsoever. Shaken up? When you are hit completely by surprise and then spun out at 55 mph on a major highway at rush hour, hell yeah, you're shaken up! And to boot, outside of backing into my neighbor's car six years ago, I had never been in a real accident before where I was the driver. Ever. I don't think that's what they meant by "remembering your first time".

So instead of pictures of my friend, Coach Tony Bozzella and his game last night, you get pictures of my damaged car. Tieff took the train from New Rochelle back home (though he could have got a taxi, rode to Iona, and I am sure Bo would have given him a ride back to his car at Manhasset, or wherever he parked it).

As for Iona, they played their best game of the season, a thorough 85-51 pasting of St Francis. The win broke a three game losing streak for the now 4-7 Lady Gaels. The Lady Gaels shot 65 percent in the first half as they shot out to a 55-18 lead. Anna McLean was a perfect 8 for 8 from the field for 16 points in only 13 minutes to lead four Gaels' scorers in double figures. All fourteen Lady Gaels played, with ten players playing more than 10 minutes. They forced 23 turnovers and had 21 assists. The Lady Gaels next play their first conference game at home vs. Loyola on Sunday at 2:00 pm before heading on a three game conference road trip.

The game of the night in men's college basketball had to be UNC Wilmington vs. Richmond. It was a game of two halves. The first half was incredibly low scoring as Richmond led 18-13 at halftime. The second half was a complete polar opposite of the first half as both teams combined to score over three times as many points as the first half combined point total. The Spiders extended their lead to 26-18 as they looked to remain undefeated at home (going into the contest, Richmond was 6-0 at home).

However, the Seahawks would go on a 18-8 run and take the lead 36-34 on a Jeremy Basnight three pointer with 11:36 left. The Seahawks would extend the lead to ten 54-44 and were still up eight, 59-51 with three minutes left. This was due in large part to the rebounding advantage UNCW had for the game 45-25.

Yet Richmond would come back and win this game. So how does a team like UNCW blow an eight point lead with less than 3 minutes left? Simple. Turnovers. In the span of a minute and five seconds, the Spiders forced four Seahawks turnovers. The culmination of which was a David Gonzalvez steal which resulted in a three point play for Gonzalvez after the made free throw on the foul when he hit his layup. The 10-0 run put the Spiders up 61-59.

Afterwards, the Seahawks would tie the game twice, the last of which was two Chad Tomko free throws tying the game at 63. But Kevin Anderson would hit two free throws to put the Spiders back in front 65-63. After another Seahawk turnover, their fifth in the last 3 minutes of the game, Gonzalvez made one of two free throws, to put Richmond up 66-63. The Spiders smartly called timeout after Gonzavlez made the second free throw. They then fouled Tomko before the Seahawks had a chance to shoot a game tying three (how many times do you see teams NOT do that). Tomko made the first, then missed the second on purpose but Richmond got a rare rebound and the game ended 66-63 Richmond.

Anderson had 24 points to lead all scorers, including going 10 of 11 from the free throw line (the rest of the Spiders only shot 10 of 21 from the line). Gonzalvez was the only other Spider in double figures with 12, but he struggled on the night, going 0 of 6 from beyond the arc and only 4 of 8 from the line. Tomko and Basnight each had 12 points while John Fields continues his rebounding prowess with 13 rebounds. Tomko also had 8 assists but he had 5 of the Seahawks 20 turnovers. UNCW is definitely improved from last year, but for them to continue improving, they need to cut down on the turnovers, especially Tomko.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Correction and USC

I want to thank Evan Jones for pointing out that the Big Ten Network is part of Optimum's IO digital package (it does also offer ESPN Full Court as does Fios). ESPNU and NFL Network are not though.

ESPNU replayed last night's USC-UNLV Diamond Head Classic championship game. USC again played hard nosed defense and shut down UNLV. USC now has wins vs. Tennessee, St Mary's and UNLV under their belt. And during the time that both point guard Mike Gerrity and forward Leonard Washington got their eligibility, the Trojans have won six in a row. They're not the highest scoring team around as they don't quite score 61 points per game but when you average giving up only 50 points per game in your last six games, chances are you going to win a lot. They start PAC-10 competition New Year's Eve vs. Arizona, so we'll see if the defense holds up during conference season.

Everyone's Home For The Holidays, Thus Very Little Basketball

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and if you don't celebrate Christmas, Happy Festivus. It's been a quiet last few days in the college hardwood world. There were no games on Christmas Eve, only four games yesterday for the Hawaiian Diamond Head Classic (only two of which were televised), and today you have West Virginia vs. Seton Hall, the first game this season in the Big East Conference. It's the brief time of the college basketball season where either you can unwind for a few days with a break from basketball or desperately crave college hoops like a junkie needs a fix. I happen to be the latter and thankfully, I got my hoops fix yesterday.

I was over at my wife's Uncle Frank's house and I have to give my wife's Aunt Joanne major props. Every room in the house is decorated with a different tree and different motif. It's like my mother in law's brother was married to Martha Stewart (thankfully she is a hell of a lot nicer than Martha). My two sons were the only kids there, so they ended up retreating to my wife's uncle's spacious bedroom, which was almost as big as my old apartment in Seaford. Frank was kind enough to turn on the TV for my kids, but they were too busy playing with the cars they brought, or chasing each other around the bedroom and the den in the next room.

So I got to take over the bedroom TV and immediately turned on ESPN2 for the third place game in the Diamond Head Classic - St Mary's vs. Hawaii. Now the first two days of the tournament, December 22 and December 23 were for the most part on ESPNU (they took off yesterday for Christmas Eve). Had ESPN stuck with that formula, I might have been suffering severe withdrawal symptoms.

Now locally here in Long Island, you can only get ESPNU on Verizon Fios (which I have) or if you have Direct TV or Dish TV. It's not on Cablevision/Optimum, which Chelle's Uncle Frank has. Thankfully, since the only sports played on Christmas were the NBA (shown on ESPN and ABC) or NFL (shown on the NFL Network another channel Cablevision doesn't have), ESPN2 needing programming, showed the consolation game and the championship game (UNLV vs. USC).

I always laugh at the Cablevision response commercials to FIOS where they try to challenge Fios' claims about being faster (which Fios is - I have had both cable modem services- I switched to Fios from Cablevision) among other things. All you need to know is this - 1) Fios has ESPNU, the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network. Cablevision has none of these. 2) Cablevision is run by the moronic Dolans who have run the Knicks, the Rangers and Newsday into the ground and are responsible for killing the Jets' West Side Stadium hopes (a discussion for another time). As much as I am not a big fan of Verizon, Cablevision is run by even worse slugs and having access to ESPNU is huge for me when covering hoops, especially the CAA.

Ok, now that I am off my soapbox, let's get back to the game in hand - the Gaels and the Rainbow. I was very disappointed by the St Mary's performance in losing to USC on Wednesday. The Gaels did not get Omar "Enter the Sandman" Samhan involved and the guards had a difficult time getting shots off against the Trojans' defense. Apparently Coach Randy Bennett was not happy with the Gaels performance either.

Well, last night, St Mary's found their "Inner Samhan" and got the ball often to Omar. And Samhan was aggressive with 24 points on 7 of 17 shooting and he got to the foul line often, going 10 of 10 from the charity stripe. The play that most exemplified Samhan's aggressive play was when he stole the ball at the top of the key and drove the rest of the court for a thundering duck. Pretty impressive for a 6 foot 11 265 pound center, who also had four blocks as well.

Now what I was really impressed with the Gaels was that unlike their game against USC, they took the ball to the basket against the Rainbows (who were minus their leading scorer Roderick Flemings due to a bruised knee). St Mary's had only five 3 pointers, three of which came from Mickey McConnell (17 points). Ben Allen was particularly impressive. When Samhan sat down with his third foul 18:25 left, the score was 41-34 Gaels. Allen would score nine points over a five minute span as St Mary's actually extended the lead with Samhan on the bench to 55-40.

The Rainbow, despite 36 points from Dwain Williams, would never get any closer than six points the rest of the way. Allen would in fact score all his points in the second half and end up with 15 on the game. Clint Steindl and Matthew Dellavedova each had 12 as all Gaels scored in double figures.

USC (8-4) would upset UNLV (12-2) in the championship game 67-56, which now makes St Mary's loss to USC not so bad (by the way, I was too tired to stay up to watch the Rebels-Trojans and besides I already got my fix). The Gaels are now 11-2, while Hawaii is now 6-6. The enigmatic Northeastern Huskies finally won a game in the Diamond Head Classic Tournament defeating SMU 73-62 in the seventh place game. Matt Janning led four Huskies' players in double figures with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Western Michigan edged Charleston in the fifth place game 66-63 as David "Super" Kool had 16 points to lead the Broncos.

Slowly things turn back to normal for me with eleven games scheduled for tomorrow and then fifty games Monday (I will be at Iona for the Lady Gaels game with Saint Francis). Now that I am done with this column, I can return my festivus pole back to the store for a refund. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Upon Further Review

You might think from the title of this article that this is about last night's games and part of that's true. But the gist of this article starts in the eighth paragraph about my recent article on expanding the NCAA tournament and Kyle Whelliston's absolutely terrific Mid Majority article last night about Dayton. But first, continue reading on about yesterday's action.

Earlier in the day yesterday
, I talked about how Oral Roberts might pull the "trifecta" of beating Stanford, Missouri and New Mexico. Well, the Golden Eagles did it, a convincing 75-66 win over the previously unbeaten Lobos. Juco transfer Michael Craion led four Golden Eagles' scorers in double digits with a double double of 18 points and 13 rebounds. Oral Roberts led from the beginning and had as large as a fourteen point lead before settling for an eleven point halftime lead, 38-27. It took 27 plus minutes of game time before New Mexico came back to take the lead 46-45 with 12:24 left. The teams exchanged leads several times over the next six minutes before Warren Niles' jumper with six and half minutes left gave the Golden Eagles the lead 59-58, a lead they would not relinquish again.

The Golden Eagles held the Lobos to 37 percent shooting including 5 of 19 from beyond the arc. The 7-6 Golden Eagles have had an interesting season so far. They have knocked off now New Mexico, Missouri and Stanford. They have also lost road games to struggling teams like Virginia and UALR, but have also lost to a possible Mid Majors Baker's Dozen member in Sam Houston State, as well as at Louisville and 8-4 Indiana State. They certainly don't shy away from competition.

The Golden Eagles are one of the unknown gems in mid major basketball. Before their struggles last season (finished 16-15 and were eliminated in the first round of the Summit League Tournament), Oral Roberts had been to three straight NCAA tournaments and three years ago knocked off nationally ranked Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. Perhaps this means a return to The Dance for the Golden Eagles.

Also in yesterday's action, Michael Litos and I were slightly off in our predictions for the Old Dominion-Charlotte game. Litos had ODU winning by two, and I thought Charlotte's back court would be the difference in a close game. Um, no. ODU came out from the gate at the Constant Convocation Center and jumped on the Niners. The Monarchs' nationally ranked scoring defense only allowed 13 first half points enroute to an 81-48 shellacking of Charlotte. ODU shot 53 percent and had four scorers in double figures led by Gerald Lee's 16 points on 8 of 10 shooting. The Monarchs, simply dominated the glass, outrebounding the 49ers 45-24. The ODU frontcourt held the Charlotte frontcourt combination of Shamari Spears and Chris Braswell to 18 points combined, which is Spears' average on the season. So much for that "great matchup of front courts". Good job Gar.

It turns out I was unable to watch the ODU-Charlotte game, even though I was able to pay for a monthly fee to watch the live video of the game on the ODU athletics web site. I had some last minute Xmas shopping to do, pickup my kids presents over at my sister's and I dropped by a good friend's house to drop her present off.

But before that, I did watch the St Mary's - USC Hawaiian Diamond Classic Tournament game on ESPNU yesterday (and before that, I watched the end of the Western Michigan - Northeastern game where the Broncos dismantle the enigmatic Huskies - Northeastern is now 2-7 on the year). The Mary simply didn't play well against a quicker USC team and lost 60-49. The Gaels shot 6 of 24 from beyond the arc (way below their season average ) and Omar Samhan was held to nine field goal attempts. USC did a good job of collapsing their bigs on Samhan, forcing the Gaels' guards to look elsewhere. What made St Mary's so good last year was that Patty Mills had the quickness to penetrate and create his own shot. St Mary's guard tandem of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova don't have that same quickness. This may cause trouble for the Gaels down the road.

Now for the gist of this article. In the beginning of this article, I talked about Kyle Whelliston has written a terrific article about Dayton's love of college basketball. In the article, Kyle talks about how "no other city would bring over 10,000 basketball fans to watch an eliminator between the NEC and the SWAC", which is the play in game for the NCAA tournament or as Kyle calls it the "P.I.G".

Now as I mentioned in the first paragraph as well, I recently wrote an article about how the NCAA should expand not to 96 teams, but to 68 teams. Then, eliminate the 64-65 P.I.G. but have two P.I.Gs with at large teams at Dayton and two more at another site. My reasoning was that the current 64-65 P.I.G. is not fair because those two teams won automatic bids and deserve to play in the round of 64.

But after reading Kyle's article, including his above comment, I have second thoughts. The P.I.G started in 2001 and has been at Dayton since the beginning. For the 64-65 teams, it is their chance for the national spotlight. For one night, they have the college basketball world to themselves. I didn't realize that they get 10,000 to see the NEC and SWAC play.

Kyle was referring to Mount St Mary's play Coppin State in 2008 - actually the attendance was 8,464 but my guess was that it felt like 10,000 for Mount Saint Mary's and Coppin State. After their win over Coppin, I was in Raleigh and got to see live Mount St Mary's play North Carolina in Raleigh. I wrote about the experience Mount St Mary's had playing the Heels. I noted in the article that the Mountaineers "weren't intimidated" by North Carolina and put 41 points up on the Heels in the first half. And I even noted that the Mountaineers showed that the Heels were "not a very good defensive team", which really showed in the national semifinal game vs. Kansas.

However, Kyle is right, they did get 10,00o plus attendance for the P.I.G this past tournament. The attendance for the game in March for Alabama State vs. Morehead State was 11,346. However, in 2007, it was 8,257 for Niagara vs Florida A&M (by the way, Niagara did not deserve to play in the P.I.G). In 2006, it was 7,764 for Monmouth vs. Hampton. So, was this past season an aberration or a trend. Hopefully a trend.

Now did the win in the P.I.G game help the Mountaineers' confidence against North Carolina? Perhaps. Did it help the other teams that won? Perhaps as well. But if there is going to be expansion of the NCAA tournament, I still say expand it to 68 teams and remove the 64-65 play-in game (but definitely have one of the two P.I.G regionals at Dayton).

If you look at the history of the P.I.G, a MEAC and a SWAC team have been there each four times. Is that fair that a team from either conference which has won an automatic bid has right now a 45% chance of playing in the P.I.G? No, it's not. Those teams deserve the right to not have to "play-in" the tournament. They won the auto bid to the tournament. They deserve the right to play in the first round of the tournament more so than at large Power 6 conference team that didn't even make their semifinals of their tournament.

Here's a question. Do the Mount St Mary's players that played in the 2008 NCAA Tournament talk more about the win over Coppin State or the 41 points they put up on the Tar Heels in the first half at Raleigh? I bet the latter. How about the eight teams that lost the play-in game? Would they have rather played the P.I.G in front of a national audience or the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I guarantee the latter. Give them the right to play in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Even if you don't expand to 68 teams or more, change the play in game to be the 64-65 at large game, where two teams that were on the bubble prove which one belonged and which one didn't.

Now Kyle's article was really not about the P.I.G. It was really about Dayton's love affair with college basketball. It's about how they sell out the Dayton arena even if the Flyers were 3-7 at the time. Or how Wright State, and my favorite mid majors coach Brad Brownell get such good attendance in a "large airport hangar" of an arena in the Nutter Center.

The answer lies in what Bill Daniels, the South Park Tavern owner in Kyle's article, says about Dayton "It's really all we've got." Kyle goes further discussing how Dayton's population has dropped over the years, due to failing Ohio industries, the economy etc. Those people are there trying to hold onto their lives, their houses and college basketball provides them with hope, the chance that the little guy can beat the big guy.

I know all about Ohio and the troubles it's facing. I wrote about this in my baseball blog, Ninety Feet from Home, when I traveled to see two Ohio major league baseball teams, Cleveland and Cincinnati. If you read about my trip to Cincinnati, further down the article, I talk about why the Great American Ballpark wasn't even half full that night. We drove by a closed GM plant on the Interstate. It's hard to go to even a baseball game, when you are out of work.

I even noted in a previous article about the Indians-White Sox game about how the Ohio highway system is still ticket taker based with toll booth attendants. No Easy Pass system. It's like you were transported back into the 70's. It fits right along the lines of the rest of the state, married to the auto and manufacturing industries, most of which are gone now. But perhaps the reason they still have their highway ticket system in place is that it provides sorely needed jobs.

One thing is for certain now. Somehow, someway, I am going to plan a road trip to see Dayton play in UD arena, or perhaps to see my favorite coach, Brad Brownell and Wright State play in Nutter Center. And I plan to go into the South Park Tavern for some beer and handcrafted Pizza. Hopefully, I will get better service than Kyle did. Maybe I will bring Bally. The chicks dig Bally.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What to Look For Tonight

Long Beach State is giving Kentucky all sorts of fits right now. Currently it's all tied at 49 with about 14 minutes left.

Tonight you have some tasty games going on. At 5:30 in Hawaii, it's Saint Mary's and my boy, Omar Samhan vs. USC. At 7:00 PM tonight, if we can find it anywhere on the internet, you have a dandy as 7-4 Old Dominion, fresh off their road win over Georgetown hosts 9-1 Charlotte, who has their own Big East road kill in Louisville. It's a great matchup of front courts as the Monarchs Gerald Lee, Frank Hassell and Ben Finney face the 49ers' Chris Braswell and Shamari Spears. It may come down to the teams' backcourts and I'll give the edge to Charlotte on that.

ESPN2 has #6 West Virginia hosting #21 Mississippi. And in the trap game extraordinare, undefeated #12 New Mexico goes to Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles have picked off Stanford and Missouri this year, so will the Lobos be the trifecta?

And if you want a couple of quick CAA predictions - James Madison beats Fordham by 20 and Villanova is going to take that loss to Temple out on Delaware in a very very bad way just like they did to Fordham. The point spread of 29 will likely not be enough.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Big Red Wins the Holiday Festival and Some Random Thoughts

There might be a new favorite team at the College Hardwood, the now 9-2 Big Red of Cornell. Even though I didn't see an entire game of theirs over the two days of the Holiday Festival, they really impressed me. I caught most of the second half and the entire overtime in their win over Davidson. Then I watched the first half of their win over St John's (when I left, the Big Red were down 36-31).

First, they can shoot the lights out. Against Davidson they shot 13 of 29 from three (45 percent). Against one of the best defensive teams in the Big East, St John's, Cornell shot 57 percent from the field, including 11 of 18 from three. Damn. And it's not just leading scorer Ryan Wittman, who shoots 41 percent from three, 46 percent overall. Chris Wroblewski is shooting 45 percent from three, Geoff Reeves is shooting 55 percent overall and 47 percent from three. Finally, seven footer Jeff Foote is shooting 57 percent from the field.

Second, I was so impressed with their passing. It was truly fun watching them move the ball around the court against St John's. Foote is a terrific passer for a big man and he had a great game against the Johnies - 19 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks and 3 assists. And now I can see why Louis Dale averages 5 assists per game. He totaled 12 assists in the two Holiday Festival games, because he can pass and he has weapons to pass to as well.

And if you are wondering whether their win over St John's is a fluke, it's not. They have road wins over Alabama, UMass (Memphis couldn't pull that off) and Drexel (something Northeastern couldn't do). Also, Siena and Temple couldn't beat St John's on a neutral site. Cornell did. The Big Red's only losses were at Syracuse and at home to Seton Hall. There's a reason why they are currently in my Baker's Dozen and they will be pulling a Jeffersons - they will be moving on up!

Finally, my boy is getting some love. Omar "Enter the Sandman" Samhan was named on Tuesday the Mid Majority's Baller of the Week for Week #6 (MBOW for those of you who know the site). And it's about time! Samhan is a walking double double machine, averaging 21.5 points an 11.6 rebounds per game. Against the solid frontcourt duo of Northeastern's Manny Adako and Nkem Ojougboh, Samhan had 19 points and 8 rebounds to lead St Mary's to a 78-67 win.

Speaking of Northeastern, the 2-6 Huskies are truly the enigma. Yes, there is no shame in losing to the 10-1 Gaels. But there is a reason why they are off to a poor start. They find new interesting ways to lose. They shot the ball really well against St Mary's as Adako, Ojougboh and Matt Janning combined for 57 points on 24-44 shooting (as a team they shot 50 percent overall against the Gaels). But they went 0 for 8 from beyond the arc, including an 0 for 4 by the "sharpshooter" Janning. The Huskies are last in the CAA in three point field goal attempts, averaging 13 per game. The Huskies have the lowest number of three-point field goal attempts in the CAA with 103. In fact the Huskies have 61 less three-point attempts then the next closest team, George Mason (164).

With no real outside game, the Huskies are going to be in a lot of close games. Speaking of Northeastern's propensity for playing close games, the loss to Saint Mary's was the first game the Huskies played that was decided by double digits (and the game was close for the most part until the very end). Northeastern's other games were the following - loss at Siena by six; win at home over Utah State by three; loss at Boston University by five in overtime; win at home over Wright State by three; loss at home to Providence by four; loss at Drexel by two; loss at Rhode Island by three.

Now you can say they played a tough schedule, which is true and Basketball State gives them some love by ranking them 31st in the State of the State Ratings. But this goes to show you that statistics/ratings are often not accurate. If the Huskies are so good, how come they have no road wins to speak of whatsoever? Sorry, but you have to beat Drexel, (listed as #95 in the State of the State Ratings) on the road. Cornell was able to win at Drexel. And sorry, you have to beat Providence at home. Hell, Iona beat them on the road.

Now you might be thinking "Gary, you must hate Northeastern". Oh contrare, I like Northeastern, in fact, I had them as my preseason favorite to win the CAA. And I am a big Manny Adako fan. I just think they should be playing better. A whole lot better.

Yes, once the Huskies start CAA competition, they will likely win just about all their home games and they should win some road games at Delaware and Towson, the likely bottom feeders in the CAA. But right now, I wouldn't bet on them in other CAA road games like at UNC Wilmington or Georgia State. They need to develop an outside game soon or my preseason preview is going to look awfully bad. And it's already really bad for predicting William and Mary to finish at the bottom of the CAA. But then again I did say that ratings, or in this case, rankings are not accurate.

Speaking of the Mary, how about another huge road win, this time at Radford, the defending Big South Champs. The Williamsburg Bombers shot 15 of 35 from beyond the arc (you know, it would take Northeastern three games to shoot 35 three point FG attempts). Quinn McDowell had 27 points for the Tribe. The Mary are now 8-2. Amazing.

Michael Litos just recently wrote on where some of the CAA teams are in the RPI. VCU was #19, Hofstra was #40 (yet Basketball State has them at #84 - go figure!) and ODU #56. But the best of all - the Mary at #14. William and Mary with the fourteenth best RPI in the country! Awesome!

The rest of the week for the column looks like reviewing tournaments/games on TV. Monday, I will be at Iona, for my first Lady Gaels game of the season vs. St Francis. And also next week, I am going to have my "CAA, A Third of the Way Through Review" and as promised, my "Atlantic 10 - Thy Conference is Not Mid Major" column. Yes, a little Shakespeare reference. But as Rodney would say in Back to School, "Hey, folks, it's on me! Shakespeare for everyone!"

Day Two at the Holiday Festival - McKillop Comes Full Circle

I was at MSG last night for day two of the Holiday Festival. The consolation game featured two mid major teams that I am quite fond of - Hofstra and Davidson. The teams also share a common bond beside my fondness for them. That bond is one Bob McKillop, a Long Island native and head coach of Davidson.

McKillop played at Hofstra and is one of Hofstra's all time great players. After playing at Hofstra, McKillop would coach at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville then later on at Long Island Lutheran High School, where he would make the school a major power winning five state championships. And then there is a third bond between the teams. At Long Island Lutheran in 1984, McKillop would hire current Hofstra coach Tom Pecora as an assistant coach, where Pecora stayed for three years.

McKillop would then of course take the head coaching position at Davidson. McKillop has led the Wildcats to five NCAA tournaments and four NIT appearances in 20 seasons. But he is most well known of course for leading the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2008. Of course he had one Stephen Curry and also a great point guard in Jason Richards. But it's McKillop's style of play that allowed Curry, Richards and the 2007-08 Wildcats to realize their potential. Ball screens, back door cuts, solid fundamentals. Watching Davidson is a thing of beauty. It's old school basketball at it's finest.

So in the consolation game last night, McKillop's Wildcats took on his alma mater, the Hofstra Pride. Davidson lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Cornell on Sunday 91-88 due to Ryan Wittman's 30 foot three pointer at the buzzer. Meanwhile in the second game on Sunday, Hofstra was up five with less than seven minutes left before St John's finished the game on an 18-1 run to beat the Pride 72-60.

It was a defensive struggle early on as one of the best defensive teams in the CAA, Hofstra clamped down on Davidson's outside shooting as the Wildcats only shot 3 of 14 from beyond the arc in the first half. However, McKillop had a defensive game plan of his own - swarm Charles Jenkins on his drives to the basket and force other Hofstra players to score. The plan worked well the entire game but especially in the first half as Jenkins was only 1 of 8 from the field. Chaz Williams would keep Hofstra in the game with 9 points in the first half as Davidson led only 23-20 at halftime.

The second half was a different story. Davidson made a concerted effort to drive to the basket and score inside. It also resulted in the Pride fouling..a lot. In fact, Hofstra fouled so much, the Davidson fans starting chanting "Hofstra Football", a reference of course to Hofstra recently ending the school's football program.

The day before, Davidson's failure to hit free throws down the stretch resulted in Cornell tying the game late and sending the game to overtime, where Wittman won the game with his 30 footer. Last night, Davidson made Hofstra pay for their fouls by going 14 of 17 from the charity stripe in the second half. That would be the difference in the game. Hofstra had more field goals than Davidson 23-20 (though Davidson had more three pointers 5-3). But Davidson was 16 of 20 from the line while Hofstra, which came into the game first in the CAA in free throw shooting, was only 3 of 5.

Meanwhile Hofstra seemingly came out in a fog and allowed Davidson to outscore the Pride 21-11 over the first 12 minutes to go up 44-31. The lead would be 53-41 before Hofstra went on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to five, 53-48 on a Charles Jenkins three point play with 2:27 left. However, the Pride, who never led at any point during the game, never got closer than five the rest of the way.

The play that sealed Hofstra's fate was when down five 57-52 with 51 seconds left, the Pride failed to foul Jake Cohen, who struggled in his free throw shooting the night before, in the back court. Cohen would get the ball back and was ironically fouled by Jenkins as he hit a layup. Cohen's free throw would put the Wildcats up eight, 60-52 and the game was over there.

Cohen had a very solid second half scoring 12 of his 18 game leading points, six of which came from the charity stripe. Williams would finish with 14 points to lead the Pride. But the freshman, who came into the game with a 3.2 to 1 assists to turnover ratio, had 6 turnovers but no assists, by far his worst game as a point guard. Jenkins had a better second half and finished with 11 points. But Davidson's constant harassment of Jenkins resulted in a 5 of 15 shooting night, his second worst shooting night of the year (he was 3 of 14 against Manhattan but the Pride won that game).

So at the end it was the teacher, McKillop, teaching the pupil, Pecora, a lesson in how to win a game. On the offensive end, work the ball inside, draw fouls and go to the line. On the defensive end, shut down the drive penetration of the opposing team's two best players and force the opposing team to find other scoring options.

In the end, McKillop learned a lesson himself last night. You can go home again. And win.

By the way, there is another common bond between Davidson and Hofstra. McKillop's #1 assistant coach is Jim Fox, whose brother is Jeff Fox, a reserve player on Hofstra's back to back NCAA Tournament teams in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 (which Pecora as Wright's top assistant was of course a part of as well). I happen to know Jeff relatively well because Jeff is also a 2004 graduate of Hofstra Law School (where I work), and that's how I first found out his brother worked for McKillop. I got a chance to say hi to Jeff at the first day of the Holiday Festival. I never got a chance to ask Jeff who he would have been rooting for last night.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Weather Outside May Be Frightful, But the College Basketball Inside is So Delightful

Neither snow blizzard, nor canceled babysitter as a result of such, could keep Tieff and me from our appointed duties of seeing college basketball today. First a very huge thank you to my real true love, my wife, Chelle, who was kind enough to bring the kids with her to work today. Apparently where she works at an assisted living home (where she is the recreation director), they have a nice movie theater and the kids were able to watch their favorite DVDs.

Now speaking of the big kid, I was now able to go to the Foot Locker Holiday Festival. It used to be hosted by Aeropostale, who now would rather sponsor the Holiday Classic featuring teams like Duke and Gonzaga. But that's ok, we got to see three very solid mid major teams and an up and coming St John's team. Tieff had to shovel himself out and picked me up late (I had been up since 5:30 am shoveling, so I was all done by 9:00 am, with a little help from my neighbor and his snowblower). Thus we got there for the Cornell-Davidson game in the second half with 10 minutes left.

The Big Red and the Wildcats made up for our lateness over the next 15 minutes (I just gave away partly what happened here). The Wildcats had just made their way back from a thirteen point halftime deficit within the first few minutes we got there, in large part due to the play of freshman forward Jake Cohen. Cohen, J.P Kuhlman (4 of 5 from beyond the arc) and Brendan McKillop combined to score 52 of the Wildcats 88 points.

The Wildcats would take the lead for the first time in the game it turns out at 63-61 with 6:23 left. And the rabid Davidson fans, who made up most of the nearly 6,000 paid attendance (but it seemed less than that, say 4,000 due to the weather), let their Wildcats know their appreciation. After the lead changed hands several times, Kuhlman nailed a three to give Davidson the lead 74-73 with a little over a minute left. Davidson held Cornell on the next possession but Cohen would only hit one of two to give the Wildcats a two point lead. After the Big Red threw away the ball, again Cohen was fouled. This time he missed BOTH free throws and Cornell made him pay with as Louis Dale hit a layup with less than a second left to tie up the game at 75 and force overtime.

It was all you could ask for in a game - dueling three pointers, seemingly crushing turnovers, equally as crushing missed free throws and then again big shots. Then things got even crazier in the overtime. Cornell jumped out to a 86-82 as Cornell's leading scorer Ryan Wittman (and yes, that is former Indiana Hoosier star Randy Wittman's son) nailed a three pointer to put up Cornell by four with 1:25 left.

But Davidson came back on a Kuhlman three to cut it to one. Then it was Cornell's turn to miss free throws. Dale missed both free throws and Kuhlman only made of two on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 88. Then when it seemed we were headed to a second overtime, Wittman got the ball from Big Red Center Jeff Foote and buried a 30 footer at the buzzer, to set off the Big Red frenzy shown above. Cornell wins 91-88.

Davidson shot 50 percent from the field, 35 of 70, but only 8 of 15 from the line, which ultimately doomed them. Cornell shot 33 of 72, but 12 of 15 from the line. Both teams shot well from three - Davidson shot 10 of 22 while Cornell shot 13 of 29. Wittman led all scorers with a game high 29 and he is almost as good a shooter as his dad was. Seven footer Foote added 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Big Red.

I always find it funny that after the first game is over in a tournament, fans from both teams, whether the winning team or the losing team decide to leave. Yes, I know we're in New York City and if you're from western North Carolina or upstate New York, you might want to be a tourist, especially around the Christmas season. But wouldn't some of you want to watch the next game, just to see what your opponent is like. I guess that's just me.

Anyway, the remaining fans got to see another good game in the second half of the Festival as Hofstra took on St John's. The Pride had won the last four games from the Red Storm, including their last meeting in the Holiday Festival in 2006. Hofstra had also won five of the seven games in the decade vs. St John's, which shows how much Hofstra has improved and to be honest, how much the Johnies have declined.

Now one of the things you can clearly see when watching mid major teams vs. power conference teams is the difference in size. And I am not talking about height, especially since Cornell has a seven footer in Foote and Hofstra has 6-10 Greg Washington. I am talking about more muscular, bigger, stronger players. And this was very evident in the difference between St John's and Hofstra. Washington is 6-10 but 200 pounds while St John's Dele Coker is 6 -10 but 253 pounds. The Pride's Halil Kanacevic is 6-8 and 245 pounds (seems less to me) while the Red Storm's Sean Evans is 6-8 and 256 pounds (seems more to me).

This size differential would come into play immediately as St John's jumped out to a 10-2 lead, as the Pride simply could not keep the Johnies off the glass. The Pride would come back thanks to juniors Charles Jenkins and Greg Washington and freshmen Halil Kanacevic and Chaz Williams. Hofstra cut the lead to 12-11 and the game would be very close for the rest of the first half, as the teams traded runs - St John's would go on a 7-0 run, Hofstra would respond in kind. This was due in large part to the Jonnies woeful free throw shooting (3 of 8 from the line) offsetting their clear advantage on the boards (29-20 rebounding advantage).

Dwight Hardy had a very solid first half for St John's scoring 11 points. D. J. Kennedy had 8 points and Evans had 7. Hofstra was surprisingly very balanced. Jenkins had 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting (including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc), Washington had 9 points on 4 of 9 shooting and Williams had 8 points (including 2 of 2 from the three point line) and 5 assists.

So with the score 37-36 at halftime, Hofstra came out with the lineup I have been wanting to see starting all season - Williams, Jenkins and Nathaniel Lester at the guards, Washington and Kanacevic at the forwards (perhaps coach Tom Pecora has finally tired of Miklos Szabo's ineffective play). And the lineup came through with an 8-0 run and Hofstra was up seven, 44-36.

When Hofstra plays well, it's often due to good ball movement, initiated by Williams. He is incredibly quick, sees the court extremely well and passes very effectively. Williams had seven assists in the game and only one turnover. That's his most impressive stat, his assists to turnover ratio is 3.2 to 1, which is terrific for a freshman.

However, there was a key point in yesterday's game that changed the face of the game. Williams picked up his fourth foul with about seven minutes left and headed to the bench. The Pride then became one dimensional with Jenkins running the point and the team seemed like it did often last year, no one moving around and waiting for Jenkins to do something. And thus the Pride's 59-54 lead with less than six minutes left would eventually disappear.

And give the Johnies credit, they took advantage. Not that they shot any better from the field in the second half (38 percent in the first half, 38 in the second half) but they drove the lane and worked it inside and drew fouls. Lots of fouls. Greg Washington, who had no fouls in the first half, had five in the second half alone. The Red Storm shot 15 of 21 from the free throw line, as opposed to Hofstra who only shot 3 of 8 from the line in the second half.

The bigger Johnies simply wore down the Pride in the second half. The Red Storm guards and forward Justin Brownlee swarmed over Jenkins, who only shot 3 of 11 in the second half and had several shots blocked by Brownlee (5 blocks) and Kennedy (3 blocks). When Williams did come back into the game with four minutes left, he too found himself swarmed by St John's defense.

Combine the rebounding advantage (53-41), swarming defense and the solid free throw shooting and you had the makings of a St John's run. A big run. Try an 18-1 run to end the game as the Johnies won 72-60. Yes, the Pride scored one point over the last five plus minutes. Now I know why St John's is 9-1 and has beaten Siena, Temple and now Hofstra (with their only loss a respectable nine point defeat at Duke). It's due to great defense. St John's will be very competitive in the Big East.

Kennedy led the Red Storm with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Hardy added 17 and Brownlee also had a double double with 10 points and 13 rebounds (Sean Evans also had double figures in rebounds with 10). Jenkins would have 24 points but down the stretch he was shut down. Williams had 14 points but again, he too was shut down at the end. Kanacevic would only have 4 points on 2 of 12 shooting but he did hold his own on the glass with 11 rebounds.

So, Monday's Holiday Festival action will have Davidson vs. Hofstra at 7 pm and the championship game will be a very festive color - The Big Red of Cornell vs. the Red Storm of St John's at 9:30.

So we left MSG but our trip was not done yet. We were heading to Storrs to supposedly see our friend Tony Bozzella's Lady Gaels vs the #1 ranked Lady Huskies of UConn. Our trip to Storrs started later than we thought thanks to the Cornell-Davidson overtime game running over. We both thought the game was a 7:00 pm start. As we were at least 30 minutes outside of Storrs at around 6:45 pm, for some reason I decided to check the Iona web site on my cell phone, where I had stored it as a favorite. I saw the link for the game and it said 19:55 left in the first half with no score.

Huh? I refreshed it again. Still same thing. Then I checked it a third time.

UConn 43 Iona 18 with less than two minutes left in the first half. Uh Oh.

Then we found out. The game started at 6:00 pm. Why a game starts at 6:00 pm is beyond me? But that's what it was, a 6:00 pm start. The game was probably at half time now. We would be lucky to see the end of the game after finally getting there, then parking and walking to the arena. We decided to turn back. I texted Bo and told him what happened. I felt horrible.

It had been a day of disappointments. First Hofstra led most of the second half until a combination of St John's defense and bad offensive execution resulted in a St John's win. Second, the Jets, the girl that always breaks my heart, leads most of the game against the Falcons, only to see the Falcons finally score a touchdown on their last possession beating the Jets 10-7 and ending any chance Gang Green has of going to the playoffs. Now this.

How do you make up for a day of disappointments? Well, it so happens we were near New Haven, which happens to be the home of the original Frank Pepe's Pizza Place on Wooster Street in the Little Italy section of New Haven. Frank Pepe's is the BEST pizza I ever had. We went to the Frank Pepe's in Bridgeport in February before the Hofstra-Fairfield Bracketbusters game. As noted in that article, it was first recommended to me by my friend Bob Sugar, the equipment manager at Post through Hofstra Sports Information Officer Jeremy Kniffin. Again, we had the chicken and pepperoni large pie. And we were so stuffed, we wrapped the rest of ours up to take home.

But being the good husbands that we are, we each got another small mozzarella pie for our wives. Our way of saying thanks for letting us go to the games today. Since we both married italian girls, it should be interesting to see what they think of Frank Pepe's.

But we weren't done yet. If you are a dedicated reader of this site, you know that there is a tradition with Tieff and me. Whenever we are on the road, we try to find either a Waffle House or a Dairy Queen. Tonight, we decided to search for the latter. Thanks to Tieff's built in navigation system on the Durango (known otherwise as "The Big Red Machine"), we found two Dairy Queens in New Haven. Unfortunately, the first one was out of business. Then we had hope for the second one since it was near I95. Alas, it was closed too.

So we had to settle for McFlurries at the next door Mickey D's. Acceptable, but nowhere near as good as a Blizzard (a DQ Blizzard that is). Then I noticed something out the car door window and I took this picture.

I don't know if you will be able to see in the picture, but the sign below the DQ says "Closed. See you in March." See you in March? You know, March is our favorite month of the year here at the College Hardwood. It just goes to show you that despite a day of disappointments, hope always springs eternal. Isn't that what it's all about?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Spiders, Shockers and Monarchs, Oh My! And A Dandy at Hinkle

It's been a wild day all around. There is a major snow storm that has hit the mid atlantic states and is now POUNDING Long Island, home base of the College Hardwood. Here, in North Bellmore, NY, there has not been much else to do but watch college basketball all day. God I hate what snow storms force us to do. However, I can not rejoice too much because the storm is threatening to snow under my plans for the Holiday Festival at MSG tomorrow.

So the day started out with the dandy at Hinkle which pitted Xavier, recent conquerors of Cincinnati vs. Butler, who just slayed the Buckeyes of Ohio State. Though the game was on ESPN2, the boys at Bristol sent their A1 team of Brent Musburger and Bobby Knight. Musburger, Knight and all of America that watched were treated to a great game.

The game did not start out looking like a classic. Butler came out with a barrage of three pointers and early on, Xavier looked like they were going to be buried by the trifecta avalanche (yes there will be a lot of snow storm references in this posting, so you have been forewarned). The Bulldogs hit four three pointers in the first seven minutes and went out to a 20-6 lead.

Butler's lead looked like a snow drift at 32-17 with 6:43 left in the first half as Gordon Hayward had thirteen points in barely over the first thirteen minutes. However, Xavier's Brad Redford would drill two three pointers to help the Musketeers to cut the lead in half to 39-32 at halftime.

Xavier would extend the end of the first half momentum into the first four and half minutes as the Musketeers went on a 15-2 run, forcing four Bulldog turnovers. Jason Love and Jordan Crawford combined for 13 of those 15 Xavier points.

So what was a 39-32 Butler lead was now 47-41 Xavier with 15:34 left in the game. And the Musketeers would hold that lead for nearly eleven minutes until Ronald Nored's two free throws tied the game at 60 with a little over four minutes left. Xavier would regain the lead as Crawford and Love scored six of the last eight points the Musketeers would score.

Shelvin Mack would hit two free throws to cut Xavier's lead to one, 68-67 with 36 seconds left. Then the last 36 seconds would turn into the Gordon Hayward show. First Hayward would force a jump ball which turned the ball over to Butler since they had the possession arrow. Then Hayward would rebound a miss by Mack with 32 seconds left to setup the Bulldogs' final possession. Then after Willie Veasley missed a shot and lost the ball, Hayward scrambled to pick up the loose ball and put in a layup with 1.2 seconds left to put Butler up 69-68.

Then the most bizarre ending to a game that I have ever seen took place. Xavier called time out after the layup and the referees reviewed to see how much time was left on the clock. During this time,the ball was knocked away and Mack picked it up in the Bulldogs backcourt. Around 14.7 seconds left when Mack picked the ball up, the game clock stopped for about a second or so, then started again.

The refs then decided to use a stop watch while reviewing the replay to see how long the clock had stopped and then to see what time really was left on the clock, if there was any time. Well, they used the stop watch and they came to the conclusion that the Hayward layup counted barely, but that there was no time left in the game. The referees said the game was over. Needless to say that Xavier coach Chris Mack was furious at the decision and the Xavier team stormed off the court losing 69-68. Truly truly bizarre.

But the game was a coming out party for Gordon Hayward. The Bulldogs forward had 22 points on 6 of 11 shooting, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc and pulled down 14 rebounds. More importantly Hayward was huge in the second half. Every loose ball that Butler got , it seemed it was Hayward coming up with it. Truly an outstanding performance. Jordan Crawford was almost as good for Xavier. Almost.

The wacky ending at Hinkle Fieldhouse was just the beginning to a wild day full of bizarre occurrences. In Florida, Richmond was coming off a loss to South Carolina where the Spiders were up on the Gamecocks 32-24 at the half, before giving up 52 second half points eventually losing to South Carolina by 18 points.

Well Florida went out to a first half lead against the Spiders. Guess what the score was at the half? 32-24 Florida. So guess what happened? Yup, Richmond came out and shut down the Gators in the second half, limiting Florida to 21 points and David Gonzalvez had four 3 pointers to lead the Spiders to a 56-53 upset victory. Florida was held to 26 percent shooting in the second half, including 1 of 9 from beyond the arc. Richmond is now 8-3 and has a signature road win on their resume come tournament time.

Speaking of resume wins, Old Dominion had one three seasons ago when they last made the NCAA Tournament in 2007. That season, the Monarchs went on the road to Georgetown and knocked off the eventual Final Four member Hoyas 75-62. It was the only game that Georgetown played that season in the McDonough Arena on campus (they play all their games at the Verizon Center), So a little over three years later, there were the same two teams again at the only game played this season at McDonough Arena.

Could history repeat itself? Yes, it did.

The game turned out to be shown here locally on SNY, so I got to watch the upset unfold. Before the game started, I honestly thought this was a bad matchup for the Monarchs. ODU's strength is their frontcourt and Greg Monroe and Julian Vaughn certainly were a formidable matchup for Gerald Lee and Frank Hassell. I thought this was come down to the backcourts and I thought Georgetown's was superior.

But ODU's guard/forward Ben Finney set out to prove me wrong. ODU came out in the first half on fire, and Finney was the spark. Finney scored 10 first half points as Old Dominion went out to an eleven point halftime lead, 32-21. The Monarchs would extend the lead in the second half to sixteen 47-31 with 13:53 left.

A lot of this was due to a smart game plan by the Monarchs. Drive the lane and kick to the open man underneath for an easy layup or find Finney or Trian Iliadis for the open three. Finney and Illiadis combined to shoot six of eight from beyond the arc (the rest of the Monarchs, who struggle to shoot the three, were 1 of 8 combined). The Hoyas got snowed under due to eighteen turnovers (many of which were due to ODU's defense and many of which were due to sloppy play by Georgetown), the Monarchs had thirteen more FG attempts. And ODU cashed in, shooting 45 percent overall.

The Monarchs had to hold on at the end as they nearly blew their sixteen point lead, but they won 61-57. ODU now has beaten a ranked Georgetown team again on the Hoyas homecourt for the second time in three years and gave GTown their first loss on the season. And the Monarchs now have their own signature win for their NCAA Tournament resume.

Finally, another team put a signature win on their Tournament resume as Wichita State held on at home to knock off previously undefeated and ranked Texas Tech 85-83. The Shockers went 28 of 34 from the line to help plow the road and seal the deal for their tenth win in eleven games. Clevin Hannah and J.T. Durley combined for 44 points in the win.

As I see the snow mount up in my front yard, I am wondering if I will get to see the Holiday Festival tomorrow. My guess is that the games will go on. I just wonder if I will be able to get there to see them live. Stay warm and stay safe tonight.