Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bracketbuster Dreaming

Tomorrow evening, the 2010 Televised Bracketbuster matchups will be announced. Ninety eight teams are in the Bracketbuster pool. In the past six years, on average fifteen teams who played in the Bracketbusters went onto to play in the NCAA tournament that season. No surprise that the 2006 Bracketbusters had the most teams make the NCAA Tournament, nineteen. And no surprise, that last year's Bracketbusters had the fewest teams make the NCAA Tournament, twelve.

My first taste of the Bracketbusters was back in 2006. Unfortunately that year, there were too many good home teams, so you had Hofstra hosting Siena, while George Mason, one of the few good road teams got to face Wichita State. I really believe that might have been the difference between George Mason making it and Hofstra not.

I remember that day vividly because it was the day of my 40th birthday party. In the afternoon, I watched Hofstra have a huge second half and storm past Siena 76-62. Adrian Uter had the best game of his Hofstra career 27 points and 4 blocks, one of which he literally ripped the ball away from one of the Saints players as he went for a layup. I also remember the game for Siena coach Fran McCaffrey AND his wife both getting tossed from the game. Of course I wrote about the game and the bizarre happenings.

Then I went home for my party and I remember sitting in front of the TV watching the Mason-Wichita State game. I was telling all my friends about George Mason and Wichita State and how both teams were very good. Little did I know that I was going to see a preview of a Sweet 16 matchup (and eventually one of the Final Four teams).

What will this year bring? Well based on the home and road teams and a little known statistic called RPI, here's what I think we'll see as the top five matchups;

1) Siena vs. Butler - This is the marquee matchup since both Northern Iowa and Butler are home teams and Northern Iowa has already defeated Siena this season (in a return matchup from last season's BracketBuster game). The Saints, who have won a first round NCAA Tournament game two years in a row, take on the nationally ranked Bulldogs, a team that has made the NCAA Tournament three years in a row. It's Ubiles, Franklin, Rossiter and Jackson vs. Hayward, Howard and Mack. Definitely a contrast in styles as the up tempo Saints face the half court ball movement of the Bulldogs. A potential classic.

2) Old Dominion vs. Northern Iowa - The first of what I believe will be at least two Colonial vs. Valley matchups. Though William and Mary might be a nice choice considering their Cinderella story, the ODU win at Georgetown makes the Monarchs the better choice here. Very similar teams- very defense oriented, very frontcourt oriented - the ODU law firm of Hassell, Finney and Lee vs. Egsleder and Koch. A slugfest in the fifties and should be a dandy

3) Wichita State vs. George Mason - It's back to the future here. A rematch of the 2006 Bracketbuster won by Mason (and the rematch in the Sweet 16 of 2006 also obviously won by Mason). Greg Marshall has done a terrific job with the Shockers while Jim Larranaga has done a marvelous job with a team that only has one senior. You could also very well see Wichita State vs. Kent State here, since the Golden Flashes are the best team in the MAC (and Mason's RPI is somewhat lower than Kent's)

4) William and Mary vs. Murray State - I think this could be a high scoring affair as the Tribe face a really an underrated Racers team that is 11-0 in the Ohio Valley. The Tribe are one of the major cinderella stories of the year with wins at Wake and Maryland (plus a nice win over Richmond too). Charleston might be here instead of W&M.

5) Louisana Tech vs VCU - Another Colonial team vs the best available WAC road team, Louisiana Tech. Should be a track meet between the Rams and the Bulldogs. You could also see Charleston vs. VCU here as well.

Other potential matchups - Charleston vs. Kent State, Western Carolina vs. Iona, Akron vs. Northeastern, Drake vs. Green Bay, Creighton vs. Drexel (there's a little bit of history with those teams as well).

I know it's a little Colonial heavy but if you look at the RPI (at least the ESPN version), the Colonial has three teams in the Top 65(Old Dominion, William and Mary, and VCU), plus George Mason is in first in the Colonial. And ESPN is all about name recognition. Hey, if I am wrong, I am wrong.

Well we'll know tomorrow at 6:30 PM what the matchups are. Should be interesting.

Jenkins and the Frosh

At the Mack Center yesterday, a crowd of over 4,000 saw Hofstra hold on to defeat Delaware 77-67. Hofstra would lead the entire way, but it wasn't easy. The Pride moved to 4-7 in the CAA and 11-12 overall. But more importantly Hofstra Coach Tom Pecora is now fully aware of who he can count on to carry the offensive load. The given, Charles Jenkins, and the freshmen, Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic.

The game started off with Jenkins looking sharp from the outside by hitting two threes to put Hofstra up 6-0. But in the span of a minute, Jenkins picked up two quick fouls. The first question was "Would Pecora put Jenkins immediately on the bench? "The answer was yes as Nathaniel Lester came in for Jenkins. The second question now was, "Who was going to do the scoring for the Pride?"

The answer was Williams and Kanacevic. The two freshman would join forces and score 18 of Hofstra's 33 first half points as Hofstra would go up at the half 33-26. For the second straight game, the Hofstra defense had come out of hibernation, holding Delaware to 28 percent shooting. Jawan Carter was almost solely responsible for keeping the Blue Hens in the game, shooting 4 of 8 from the field including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc for 12 points. The rest of Delaware shot 3 of 20 from the field in the first half.

Hofstra would have a similar boxscore in the first half. Jenkins, Kanacevic and Williams combined to shoot 9 of 18 from the field. The rest of the team, 2 of 10. But for Hofstra to be up seven at the half while Jenkins only played four minutes speaks volumes of how well Kanacevic and Williams played in the first half.

The second half both offenses came alive. First it was Hofstra early as the Pride outscored Delaware 11-5 in the first four minutes for a 44-31 lead. But the Pride could not run away from the Blue Hens as Carter, Adam Pegg, and Alphonso Dawson combined for 31 of Delaware's 38 second half points.

As I was telling my friend Tieff throughout the second half, that Delaware was hanging around, the Blue Hens were doing that, usually just six or seven points down for a good part of the half. You just knew Delaware was about to make it interesting And a Dawson jumper with 5:47 did just that as it pulled Delaware with one, 56-55 .

But Hofstra's Jenkins, Williams and Kanacevic combined for 37 points in the second half and would not allow Hofstra to lose the lead. It was a really dominant second half performance by Jenkins that sealed the win for the Pride. Jenkins would have 21 second half points on 6 of 11 shooting and 8 of 9 from the free throw line.

After Dawson cut it to one, Jenkins drove the lane, got fouled and hit two free throws to put Hofstra up three 58-55. After Carter and Jamelle Hagins each hit a free throw to cut the lead back to one, 58-57, Jenkins hit a jumper and Kanacevic hit two free throws to put the Pride back up five, 62-57. However, the Blue Hens would not go away. Two free throws by Alphonso Dawson with 26 seconds left would cut the Pride lead to 70-67. However those were the last points scored by Delaware. Jenkins and Williams, who else, would score the last seven Hofstra points on free throws 77-67.

Jenkins led all scorers with 27 points on 8 of 14 shooting. Williams had 18 points on 6 of 10 shooting from the field and 6 of 6 from the line. Kanacevic added 16 points, and was 5 of 11 from the field, though he struggled a little bit from the line, going 6 of 10 from the charity stripe. Carter led the Blue Hens with 22 points, while Pegg had 11 points and Dawson added 10 (both players had all their points in the second half). Delaware was held to 35 percent from the field.

Hofstra shot 43 percent from the field (48 percent in the second half). As you can see from the previous paragraph, Jenkins, Williams and Kanacevic combined to shoot 19 of 35 from the field. Unfortunately the rest of the team - Greg Washington, Miklos Szabo, Cornelius Vine, Nathaniel Lester, David Imes and Yves Jules combined to shoot 4 of 18 from the field (22 percent).

This reminds me of the 2003-04 team that was starting to transition from the post scoring of juniors Wendell Gibson and Kenny Adeleke to the backcourt scoring of freshmen Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera (and a year later Antoine Agudio). No longer are Vines and Lester the second and third scorers. Insert now Williams and Kanacevic as the two secondary scorers.

Thankfully for Hofstra there is one constant. Charles Jenkins. As long as they have their defense and the junior Jenkins, the Pride should be competitive. But the frosh - Williams and Kanacevic are becoming a vital part of this team. Most likely the two will only improve and that bodes well for the final seven CAA conference games and the CAA Tournament, but also more importantly for the next several seasons.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another Close Game

Get out the pepto. Hof up six 68-62 with 1:20 left.

Hofstra Up Four

54-50 with 6:52 left in the game.

Delaware Hanging In There

Hofstra up six, 48-42 with eleven minutes left.

Pride Up Seven At The Half

Sorry for the blank posts. Pride up 33-26. Considering Jenkins didn't play most of the half for Hofstra due to fouls, Hofstra should be pleased. Jawan Carter has kept Delaware in the game, while Halil Kanacevic has played very well for Hofstra.

Pride Up Seven

27-20 with 4:45 left in the first half. Jawan Carter keeping it close for Delaware.

Pride Up Early

13-5 with 11:55 left first half. Charles Jenkins has six points. But he is also on the bench with two fouls.

Another Day, Another Game At The Mack

It's an old America East rivalry game as Hofstra hosts Delaware in CAA action. Updates to come.

Last Night, The Butler Did It and Miscellaneous Notes.

Before I get to the main feature of this article, some miscellaneous notes.

  • Tony Bozzella's Iona Lady Gaels won their school record eighth consecutive MAAC conference game with an 85-60 drubbing of the Broncs at Rider. Anna McLean led Iona with 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field. Iona is now 12-8 overall and 8-1 conference. The Lady Gaels trail Marist (16-4, 9-0 MAAC) by one game. The Marist vs. Canisius women's game, won by the Red Foxes, was on ESPNU last evening. During the contest, the color commentator noted the only team that could beat Marist in the MAAC, due to their size, was Iona. Here's hoping so.

  • After the Marist vs. Canisius women's game, there was the Niagara vs. Canisius game, also on the U. Canisius won the game in overtime 73-70. Niagara has been one of the big disappointments in college basketball this season. Last season, the Purple Eagles were 26-9 and made the NIT. This season, after starting out 8-4, Niagara has lost eight of their last eleven games. The Purple Eagles are now 11-12 and 4-6 in the MAAC despite returning three of their top four scorers from last year's 26 win team - Tyrone Lewis, Bilal Benn and Rob Garrison.

    Rob Kennedy, who does very solid color commentator work for ESPNU, along with the MAAC and NEC networks, might have hit the nail on the head on why Niagara has struggled. Late in the game, the Purple Eagles put up an ill advised shot and Kennedy noted that this is why Niagara is not winning by "putting up 26 footers instead of working the ball inside". And the stats back Kennedy's insightful commentary on the Purple Eagles' bad shot selection. Niagara's field goal percentage is down from last season and the Purple Eagles are averaging nearly five less points per game from last season. In fact the Purple Eagles are dead last in the MAAC in FG percentage with 39.5 percent. That very well might be enough to turn a 26 win team into a sub .500 team.

  • After my article on the Benny Moss "reassigning" at UNCW, I did a little more googling into the Brad Brownell- Mike Capaccio relationship while at UNCW, or more precisely lack thereof at UNCW. A year later, in March of 2007, the always very good Pat Forde wrote a nice article on Brownell after he lead Wright State to the NCAA and that talks about how well loved Brownell is in Wilmington circles. Around the same time, Dan Wetzel also wrote a good article around the same time and Brownell talks about how "some circumstances forced me to leave", which would explain why Brownell left one mid major program for another.

    Both articles though show how good a coach Brownell is. And two seasons later, Brownell's Raiders are 6-4 in the Horizon and 13-8 overall and are "wright" in the thick of things for second place and an automatic bye into the Horizon Semifinals.
Speaking of the Horizon League, the feature game on ESPNU last night was Butler traveling to Wisconsin Green Bay to battle the Phoenix. The Bulldogs came into the game undefeated in the Horizon at 9-0 and 16-4 overall. The Phoenix came into the game in second place in the Horizon at 7-3 and 15-7 overall. Wisconsin Green Bay desperately needed a win to stay in contention for first place in the Horizon. A win by Butler would just about clinch the Horizon regular season title.

A couple of weeks ago when Butler needed overtime to defeat Detroit on the Titans home court, I noted that "Butler seems more vulnerable this season than last season". And that was due to teams keying on Matt Howard. Now mind you, Butler has still been a very good team this season, they are ranked #18 in the country and that's due to the fact they also have other talented players in Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack.

But the fact is the Bulldogs have struggled at times recently, winning very close games such as the Detroit game or the game at Loyola, where they barely escaped with a 48-47 win. In those two games, Howard had 16 points combined, which is barely one point more than Howard averaged all last season. Most of Howard's average numbers have dipped from last season. Apparently so much so that ESPNU's Mark Adams, providing the color commentary for last night's game, noted that he left Howard off his current All Horizon team. Last night's game was proof of how important Howard is to Butler.

In the first half, Howard got into foul trouble with two fouls the first six plus minutes and headed to the bench with four points on two field goal attempts and two free throws. The Bulldogs and the Phoenix would battle back and forth the rest of the half. Butler would take the lead late in the half on a Zach Hahn three and entered halftime with a 33-29 lead. But the Bulldogs were in a fight with the Phoenix as they struggled from beyond the arc shooting 6 of 16 in the first half.

Butler coach Brad Stevens must have told his team at halftime to get the ball to Howard because on their first possession, they got the ball to Howard and he scored. Next possession Howard assisted Hayward on a jumper. Before you blinked, the Bulldogs were on a 13-3 run capped by who else, Matt Howard, with a layup. Not even five minutes into the second half, Butler was up 46-32 and the Bulldogs had sucked the life out of what had been a raucous Resch Center in Green Bay.

The Bulldogs looked a lot crisper on offense in the second half, moving the ball around only the way Butler can do. On defense, the Bulldogs locked down the Phoenix as Green Bay missed six of their first seven shots in the second half. Butler did a really outstanding job on Phoenix guard Troy Cotton. Cotton, Green Bay's third leading scorer on the season with 12 points per game was held scoreless for the entire game. 29 minutes, zero points.

The lead was still twelve, 54-42 with 9:18 left when Howard put his stamp on the game. He first hit a layup to make the score 56-42. After Green Bay's Rahmon Fletcher hit a three to cut the lead to eleven, on the Bulldogs' next possession, the Phoenix collapsed on Howard as Shawn Vanzant brought the ball to the three point line. Realizing how open he was, Vanzant calmly sank a three to put Butler back up by fourteen and Green Bay would never get any closer.

Howard wasn't done yet. Over a period of five minutes, Howard would score eight more points and finish the game eight from ten from the field for 18 points. More importantly, Howard got a national apology from Adams. Adams noting that he had left Howard off his All Horizon team stated on the broadcast "Matt Howard, I was wrong."

Butler would win the game convincingly 75-57, but more importantly proved two points to a national television audience. First, they are one of the top sixteen teams in the country. Second, when Matt Howard is on his game, Butler is a really hard team to beat. Green Bay found out the hard way last night what many people knew already.

As Matt Howard goes, so goes Butler.

Friday, January 29, 2010

No More Moss Growing at UNCW

I didn't know that I was going to see history this past Wednesday night. And I am not talking about Charles Jenkins' eight point play, though that was damn unique. No, I am talking about seeing live the last game Benny Moss would coach at UNC Wilmington.

Moss was fired (or "reassigned") today as head coach of the Seahawks. Moss was in his fourth season at UNCW with an overall record of 41-74. His teams only won six games in conference the past two seasons and 14 games overall. Moss had been hired as head coach after Brad Brownell "left" Wilmington after the 2005-06 season to coach Wright State.

The game Wednesday night was no doubt the final straw for the UNC Wilmington administration. Wednesday's game received national attention for the Jenkins eight point play and the beat down that Hofstra gave UNCW overall. The game did show a lot of the flaws of Moss' tenure as Seahawks coach.

The past two seasons, UNC Wilmington was a very bad defensive team. How bad? This season, tenth in scoring defense, last in steals, last in turnover margin. (though first in the CAA in three point FG percentage defense). Last season, the Seahawks were dead last in just about every CAA defensive category - scoring defense, FG percentage defense at 50.8 percent per game (which is seriously unreal), three point FG percentage defense, rebounding margin and blocked shots. And the Seahawks were at the bottom of scoring defense in the CAA the two previous seasons under Moss.

Compare that with Brad Brownell's last season coaching the eventual CAA champions. The 2005-06 Seahawks were second in the CAA in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and three point field goal percentage defense. And Brownell's 05-06 team knew how to hold onto the ball, first in assist to turnover team and second in turnover margin.

And you could just see the lack of effort on defense on Wednesday. There was one play in the second half where Hofstra on offense got the ball inside to Halil Kanacevic who had posted up UNCW's Matt Wilson. Kanacevic dribbled and backed in on Wilson for what seemed to be at least five seconds before hitting a turnaround layup. Not one Seahawk came to help Wilson and double team Kanacevic. I turned to my friend Tieff and said "If Bruiser Flint saw that on defense for Drexel, he would call timeout and kill everyone that was on the court." And he would.

The lasting image for me, which I mentioned in my article Wednesday night, was noticing the total lack of UNCW fans at the game. During the high years of Brownell and Jerry Wainwright (the previous coach of UNCW before Brownell, who went to Richmond then later to DePaul, and also got fired by the Blue Demons this season), UNCW fans traveled very well to Hempstead and to Richmond as well for the CAA Tournament. But then again, that was during the run of three NCAA tournament teams in five seasons for the Seahawks.

There is already speculation online of Wainwright coming back home to restore the glory of the Seahawks. And I bet the success of Wright State under Brownell truly gets under the skin of the Seahawks faithful.

The circumstances behind Brownell leaving UNCW for Wright State back in June of 2006 were very interesting to say the least. At that time, I even wrote an article on my old site about it. There were shady dealings behind then AD Mike Cappacio's courting of coaches including Moss before Brownell even officially left UNCW for Wright State. A few months later, the Wilmington Star News Online wrote a detailed article behind the shady dealings.

Moss wasn't even the first choice for the UNCW job once Brownell "left" for Wright State. Capaccio had personally offered North Dakota State's Tim Miles the job despite the UNC Wilmington's search committee recommending Moss for the job. Miles was a rising star at North Dakota State having built a Division II power that had just moved into Division I, eventually joining the Summit League. After turning down the UNCW job, Miles would stay one more year with Bison, before leaving for Colorado State. The Bison would make the NCAA tournament last season under current head coach Saul Phillips.

Now you always hear about the power of boosters amongst college programs. And yes, there appears to be the power of boosters working UNCW Men's Basketball program. If you don't think so, here's a couple of examples. First, after the loss of Brownell, the controversy around Brownell leaving, Brownell's Wright State team making the NCAA Tournament and a 7-22 record in Moss' first year as coach, Capaccio was dismissed as UNCW's AD almost one year after Brownell "left" for Wright State.

Then there is today's news conference announcing Moss' "reassignment". Current UNCW AD Kelly Mehtrens announced Moss' reappointment and noted that the men's basketball team is the “lifeblood of our department.” In Dan Spears' article, he notes that "significant boosters" were part of the packed press conference. Do you think they had a say in Moss' "reassignment"? Is Brett Blizzard considered a legend in Wilmington, North Carolina?

This is has been a very harsh season for coach firings. In fact I can not ever remember a season where so many college basketball coaches got fired during the season. First, there was Dereck Whittenburg at Fordham. Then Glen Miller at Penn. Then Wainwright at DePaul (love the picture of Wainwright in that article). Hell, apparently even the Dartmouth team had a revolt and forced their coach, Terry Dunn to resign. Now Moss.

And you can't blame any of these coaches for being upset about being fired midseason. Perhaps Moss said it best in a prepared statement.
"Regardless of the current record, the team, coaching staff, and I deserved the opportunity to finish out the season and demonstrate the true potential of the team. The almost unprecedented decision to relive me of my duties as Head Coach in mid-season does nothing to benefit the program. It serves only as a mechanism to chastise and embarrass me personally.”
Yes, the Seahawks weren't playing well and certainly showed a lack of effort Wednesday night. But Moss is right, there is no benefit to firing a coach in midseason. You can't truly hire a new coach till the season is done. Why not just tell Moss that he will be let go at the end of the season and at least let him coach out the season? The boosters get what they want and Moss gets to keep his dignity.

Unfortunately for Moss, it wasn't precedented with all the other coach firings during this season. And those firings very well may have given Mehrtens the ammunition needed apparently for Moss' "reassignment".

It's just another example of what Kyle Whelliston calls the Sports Bubble, the need to win etc etc. College basketball is really now no different from the professional sports leagues. The talk of expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams. The need to have ESPNU announce the Bracketbusters on a special live Bracketbusters Announcement Show this Monday at 6:30 PM Eastern.

Mehrtens said the search for a new coach at UNCW would begin soon and that she wants to have her new coach in place shortly after the end of the NCAA Tournament. That would mean she would have to look at coaches during the current season. Don't get me started about the possible conflicts of interest for current coaches and assistant coaches on other teams of potential interest.

Hey, you have to do anything for "the lifeblood of our department." Benny Moss found that out the hard way today.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

For One Day, Hofstra Basketball is Number One

I normally don't like to talk about work. When you work in information technology, you know you will always be very busy and problems often occur. When I first started in IT, I was grateful to have a mentor, one Mark Kilarjian, a great systems manager and the author of the recipe "Kilarjian Chicken Parmigiana", which I often still make whenever I can. Mark once gave me advice about dealing with IT problems. He told me that you will only hear about the bad things not the good things. When you don't hear anything, that's when things are good. And if you accept that realization, you will do just fine.

Mark was so right and today was one of those days you heard about everything. It was the perfect storm. Anything that could go wrong, well, it did. Right now, Microsoft and Google are on my major hit list. It was a day of frayed nerves and no food. Yup, I didn't eat all day. It got to such a point that I closed my office door, put my head in my hands and seriously considered the monastery. I kid you not. I briefly thought about a profession that didn't use computers. Then two things changed that perspective. One, the picture above of my two wonderful boys and how I need to provide for them. And two, monks have become quite internet savvy.

So, considering my frame of mind, tonight did not seem like a good night to go see Hofstra host UNCW at the Mack Center. If you are a loyal reader of this site, you know how poorly Hofstra has played lately. For those who might be reading for the first time and are not well versed on CAA matters, Hofstra has lost five in a row and nine of their past eleven games. The team known for its defensive play had given up four 50 percent plus FG shooting percentage games in a row.

Hofstra has had a history with the team it hosted tonight, UNCW. The teams have had some battles over the years, including the 2006 triple overtime game at the Mack Center, won by Hofstra. That was a great day for Hofstra, but somewhat of an infamous day for me (see #6 on the list). Back then, I was always amazed at how many UNCW fans traveled to Hempstead, New York to watch their team play . And they should have traveled, considering how successful UNCW was in the midst of what would be three NCAA tournaments in five seasons.

However, UNCW has fallen on hard times. Last season, the Seahawks never got off the ground, won three games in conference all year and finished 7-25 by losing to the Pride in the first round of the CAA Tournament. This year, there has been some improvement, having won three games in conference already, one more than Hofstra had going into tonight's game, but still struggling with a 7-13 record. And the Seahawks struggles are more apparent by the complete lack of UNCW fans that traveled to tonight's game. Perhaps they knew what was going to happen tonight. My friend Tieff and I sure didn't.

Greg Washington's jumper 14 seconds into the game put the Pride up 2-0, a lead they would never relinquish. Keith Rendleman and Johnny Wolf tried to keep Wilmington close early as they were responsible for the Seahawks first seven points. The game at one time was 11-7 with 14:53 left.

Then Hofstra went on a run. A huge run. A 23-2 run over the span of five and half minutes. And it was a combination of good Hofstra offense and good Hofstra defense. During that span, Hofstra nailed three three pointers while holding UNCW to 0 for 8 from the field and forcing three turnovers. The only two points for the Seahawks were courtesy of two John Fields free throws.

The 23-2 run was capped by one of the most unique things I have ever seen in a basketball game. An eight point play. You read correctly. An EIGHT POINT play.

Here's how it happened. With 9:21 left Charles Jenkins went up for a layup. He made the shot but got fouled very hard by UNCW's Jeremy Basnight. The referee called an intentional foul on Basnight which incensed Seahawks' coach Benny Moss. This resulted in a technical foul called on Moss. Thus Jenkins went to the line to shoot FOUR free throws; two for the intentional foul and two for the technical. Jenkins hit all four free throws. Now due to the intentional foul, Hofstra got the ball back as well. Guess who hit a jumper five seconds later. Yup, Jenkins. Thus an eight point play.

The Pride went to the half up 54-25 as they shot 56 percent from the field, outrebounded the Seahawks 24-13, forced nine UNCW turnovers and blocked seven shots. What was impressive was the all around play of Hofstra. As I noted in a live update blog posting, I felt like I was in a parallel universe. This was a Pride team I hadn't seen since the beginning of the season. Good ball movement and ball handling, very good defense and smart shot selection.

After such a terrific first half, my friend Mal texted me saying "Is Hofstra playing the UNCW band?" Tieff responded "The UNCW Band would be better." And it turns out in the second half, it might have been.

Normally, teams that have such a big lead at the half let up somewhat in the second half. Not Hofstra. The Pride came out in the first six minutes with a 17-6 run to go up forty, 71-31 with 14:17 left. UNCW would outscore Hofstra by one point the rest of the way as the Pride would win handily 93-54. Hofstra and UNCW are now both 3-7 in conference.

Now it was free foam finger night at Hofstra as pictured by my son Matthew after I got home. The foam finger could have signaled Hofstra being #1 tonight or it could have represented the giant hand of Greg Washington as he blocked shot after shot tonight. He had three blocks in the first half, which mind you is good, but not earth shattering.

But, then in the second half, it was the Greg Washington Block Party. Washington had seven blocks in the second frame. As you can do the math, on the game Washington had more blocks, ten, than John Fields had points on the game, eight. Washington was mainly responsible for shutting down Fields. Fields, who entered the game shooting 54.6 percent from the field, only shot 3 of 9 from the field.

In fact, Hofstra held Fields and Chad Tomko to a combined eight points, nearly 18 points under their combined season average. Tomko, who averages over 14 points per game was actually held scoreless on the night. UNCW as a whole, only shot 33 percent from the field. Johnny "Teen" Wolf was the only player for the Seahawks who scored in double figures with 14.

Meanwhile, Hofstra had five players in double figure scoring. Jenkins led the way with 24 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field and 9 of 10 from the line. Cornelius Vines, back from Coach Tom Pecora's doghouse, added 15 points. Washington had 14 points and 8 rebounds to go with his 10 blocks. Halil Kanacevic had 14 points as well and Chaz Williams added 11 points.

So despite a really bad day at work, I found unlikely comfort in the play of Hofstra basketball. They may have had a unique night given their season. Or it may be a sign of good things to come. In either case, for one night, Hofstra Basketball was number one.

In other CAA action, UNCW didn't give up the most points on the night in conference. Towson got that honor as VCU put up triple figures as the Rams embarrassed the Tigers 112-53 at the Siegel Center. The Rams shot 63 percent from the field including, get this, 20 of 33 from beyond the arc. Towson's defense is so bad it's almost unreal. VCU's Bradford Burgess was 6 of 8 from three and had 22 points. Larry Sanders had a double double with 17 points and 14 rebounds.

There were also two stunners. First, James Madison went into Williamsburg and knocked off William and Mary 65-63 as both teams could not score a single point in the last two minutes and eight seconds of the game. JMU's Denzel Bowles had a great game, 21 points and 8 rebounds. The Tribe's David Schneider had a horrid game, 1 of 11 from the field, including 0 for 8 from beyond the arc, for three points. Quinn McDowell did his best for W&M scoring 23 points on 9 of 11 shooting from the field. A very bad home loss for a team considered a possible at large team. It's their second bad home loss for the Mary - they lost to UNCW earlier in the season. One bad home loss can be excused. But a second bad home loss can not be excused. W&M is now 6-4 in conference, while JMU is 3-7 in the CAA.

Drexel travel to Matthews Arena and ended Northeastern's eleven game winning streak on their homecourt, 61-48. Chris Fouch and Jamie Harris each had 13 for the Dragons. Drexel held Northeastern to 31 percent shooting from the field. The Huskies' Chaisson Allen, who had entered the game shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc, was held to 2 of 9 from three and 4 of 13 overall. His shooting performance matched Matt Janning's, who was held to 10 points, five under his season average. Northeastern is now 8-2 in conference while Drexel moves into third place in the CAA with a 7-3 record.

Finally George Mason handled Delaware 77-66. Cam Long led the way for the Patriots with 18 points while the Blue Hens' Jawan Carter led all scorers with 23 points.

How Does 36 Sound?

Hofstra Up 67-31 with 15:37 left in the game. This is the UNCW defense from last year. Good effort by the Pride, bad effort by the Seahawks.

A Parallel Universe At The Mack

Hofstra is up 54-25 at the half. Hofstra has played really well. And UNCW is playing really bad. More details later.

A 6 Point Play

I have never seen a six point play until tonight. Details later. Hofstra up 36-11 with 7:52 left first half.

Hofstra Up Early

24-7. Hofstra playing very well. UNCW not so much. 11:48 left first hal

Another Game At The Mack

It's Hofstra vs. UNCW. Live updates to follow from section 111.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Haves and The Have-Nots - The CAA at the Halfway Point

Yesterday morning, I was pretty sure I had the title of my article about the first half of the CAA season. But I wanted to see how things played out during the day . First at noon, I watched Drexel completely dismantle Hofstra 75-62 on MSG (trust me, the final score was not indicative of the game). Later in the afternoon, as pictured, I was at CW Post watching the Northern Boulevard Rivalry game between Post and N.Y.I.T. While I watched Post come back with a 15-0 second half run and hold on to win, I was checking up on the Northeastern-VCU and George Mason-Towson games on my phone. Finally last night, while at a friend's house making homemade hurricanes (which came out very tasty), I briefly checked up on ODU and William and Mary.

From all these games I learned one thing. Reinforcement is always good. Thus the title of this article is "The Haves and the Have Nots."

Not since the 2005-06 season have I seen such polarity between the top six teams and the bottom six teams in the CAA. You have six teams with over .500 records in conference and overall, and you have six teams with below .500 records in conference and overall. And right now, there is no evidence that I can see that tells me that any of the bottom six teams will come back and be part of the top group. None. Nada. Zilch.

And if you want evidence of that, how's this. In the first half of the season, the bottom half teams beat the top half teams twice - UNCW at William and Mary and Delaware defeated Drexel at home. Twice, that's it.

So you basically have six teams playing for the four first round bye spots at Richmond in the first week of March. And not since the 2006-07 season do you have the strong possibility that the CAA could have multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament. So let's review how the twelve teams are doing in current order of standing and then I will give out midseason awards.

The Haves

1) Northeastern (13-7, 8-1 CAA) after being one of my Top Five Disappointments to Start the 2009-10 season, is the hottest team in the CAA right now having won eleven in a row. My pick to win the CAA started this season 2-7 before the run of eleven straight wins. The formula for their win streak is simple - play good defense, get offensive balance and get good outside shooting. Let's see, second in the CAA in scoring defense and third in turnover margin. Check. Four players averaging about 10 points or more per game and first in the CAA in Field Goal Percentage at 45.6 percent. Check. Second in the CAA in Three Point FG percentage and Chaisson Allen shooting 26 of 44 from beyond the arc in his last eight games. Check.

Allen has been the difference maker for the Huskies. Matt Janning may be the leading scorer at nearly 16 points per game but Allen's deadly outside shooting since the start of the calendar year coincides with the Huskies' long winning streak. He is shooting 46.7 percent from beyond the arc. His torrid outside shooting opens the inside up for Manny Adako and Nkem Ojougboh, both of whom are shooting around 55 percent or higher from the field. His assists to turnover ratio is also very solid (1.7 to 1).

Allen and company will try to keep their torrid pace against a tough start to the second half schedule - home games vs Drexel and ODU, then road games at Hofstra and Delaware, then a home game vs. Georgia State, then road games at W&M and UNCW. They finish with their bracketbuster game, then at home with Hofstra, then potentially a huge road game at George Mason.

2) George Mason (13-7, 8-1 CAA). For such a relatively young team as Mason, to be tied for first place halfway through the season speaks volumes for the talent the Patriots have and the coaching of Jim Larranaga. The team only has one senior, Louis Birdsong (who barely plays) but they have not played like a young team in their past five games, winning all five, three of which were on the road. Grant you they were against teams with a combine CAA record of 11-34, but road wins are road wins.

Mason has been powered lately by the duo of Cam Long and Ryan Pearson. In their last three games, Long and Pearson have combined for 114 points, shooting 36 of 61 from the field (59 percent) including Long shooting 11 of 17 from beyond the arc and 28 of 38 from the free throw line (73 percent).

Mason has had a relatively easy schedule having played only two games vs. the other top five teams in the conference (win vs. ODU, loss vs Northeastern). The second half of the schedule also starts off light for the Patriots with home games vs JMU and Delaware, before a road game with Georgia State. Then the schedule gets interesting - at Drexel, home to VCU, at ODU, home to W&M, then their Bracketbuster game. Then it's at Delaware, then they finish the season home to Northeastern.

3) Old Dominion (16-5, 7-1 CAA). The team with the strongest at large resume in the CAA, due to the win at Georgetown, the Monarchs are coming off a big win at William and Mary last night, 58-55. It was accomplished in the same trademark way that ODU has won all season, terrific defense. The team that is first in the CAA in scoring defense and FG percentage defense held the Mary to 55 points (18 points below their season average) and 33 percent from the field (the Mary shoots 45 percent on the season). And of course the best rebounding team in the CAA , the Monarchs, outrebounded the Tribe 35-27.

Gerald Lee is having another solid season averaging 14 points per game and shooting 53 percent from the field. Lee, the tough defense and the rebounding are all givens for ODU, but the key to the Monarchs success may be the way they handle the ball. They are second in the CAA in both assist to turnover ratio and turnover margin and tied for first in steals. When you tend to play low scoring games, keeping a hold of the ball and forcing turnovers is key.

The Monarchs' second half schedule starts with a home game vs. Georgia State. Then the rough part of the schedule occurs; at Northeastern, home to the Mary, at VCU. It ends with three of the four games at home - home to Mason, then Towson, at Georgia State, then home to VCU. Here's what ODU fans should hope for - The Monarchs go 7-2 in the second half of the CAA season, win their bracketbuster game and at least make the CAA tournament semis. That should give them at least 24 wins. If that all occurs, I feel pretty confident in saying that with that win at Georgetown in their back pocket, the Monarchs will get an at large to the Dance.

4) William and Mary (14-5, 6-3 CAA). The Mary lost that heartbreaker at home to ODU last night. But losses have rarely been the case for the Tribe this season. Entering the start of the 2009-10 season, the Mary were picked to finish 10th in the CAA preseason poll. After two close losses to UConn and Harvard (the Crimson are a good team), the Mary reeled off ten straight wins. In those ten wins, William and Mary knocked off Richmond, then Wake Forest, VCU in the conference opener and put the cherry on top with another ACC road victim, Maryland. It has continued in CAA play, as the Tribe won five of their other eight conference games.

It's all about the offense with the Mary. Second in scoring offense in the CAA at 73 points, second in FG percentage at 45.5 percent, first in three point FG percentage and most importantly, first in assist to turnover ratio. David Schneider has made a strong case for first team all CAA averaging 17 points and nearly 6 rebounds a game. But it's not just Schneider. Quinn McDowell adds nearly 15 points per game.

The second half of the schedule has the Tribe playing five of their nine games on the road. Three of the first four games are on the road - at JMU, then home to Drexel, at ODU, then at Georgia State. Then home to Delaware and Northeastern, then at Mason. Next is the Bracketbuster game, then home to Towson and at UNCW to finish the regular season. Next to ODU, the Tribe have the best case for an at large bid. Thus, like ODU, they need to go at least 6-3 the second half of the season, win their bracketbuster game and make the CAA semis to make their case for an at large.

5) Drexel (11-10, 6-3 CAA). Having watched the Dragons dismantle the Pride yesterday, I can say that perhaps next to the Mary, they are the biggest first half surprise in the CAA. Everyone knows the Dragons can play defense, but their offense lately has really picked it up. In four of their last five wins, Drexel has shot at least 47 percent from the field. This is due in large part to the emergence of freshman sharpshooter Chris Fouch. In those four games, Fouch has shot 22 of 35 from the field. On the season, Fouch is shooting 37.5 percent from the beyond the arc.

Of course, it has not been just Fouch. Jamie Harris is the leading scorer on Drexel, averaging 15 points per game. Samme Givens has helped out on the boards, averaging nearly eight and a half rebounds per game, which is good for third in the CAA. And Givens just got some help. Leon Spencer has returned from a wrist injury to provide inside scoring and rebounding help. Spencer played well against JMU, with 9 points and 7 rebounds in 16 minutes. He didn' t play much against Hofstra, only playing 10 minutes, but my guess is that Bruiser decided to rest him during the blowout.

Drexel's schedule is somewhat difficult in the second half, five of the nine games are on the road. Two tough road games start the schedule off - at Northeastern, then at William and Mary. Then it's home to Towson and Mason, then at Hofstra, then home to Delaware. The Dragons end the regular season with home to Delaware at VCU, then a Bracketbuster game, then home to UNCW and finish the season at James Madison.

6) VCU (13-5, 5-4 CAA) - The Rams have been somewhat of a disappointment so far in the CAA. Barely above .500 for the defending CAA champs who returned four starters from last year's NCAA Tournament team (of course Eric Maynor was their fifth starter). But upon closer look, the losses aren't so bad - three road losses - William and Mary, Drexel and Northeastern, all teams in the top five in the CAA and a home loss to first place Northeastern as well.

Larry Sanders has certainly done his part for the Rams. Sanders is making a strong case for CAA player of the year, averaging 16 points 8 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks per game, while shooting 53.6 percent from the field. Joey Rodriguez has been a terrific sidekick, as noted in my preview of their game vs Northeastern yesterday. But if Rodriguez is shutdown, as he was yesterday vs Northeastern (3 of 13 from the field and only 4 assists, two under his season average), the Rams struggle. In games where Rodriguez has four or less assists, the Rams are 2-3.

VCU has a favorable schedule with five of their last nine games at home. The Rams start at home with Towson, then at Georgia State and at UNCW. Then its home for Old Dominion, then at Mason, then at James Madison. Then a home game with Drexel, a Bracketbuster game and then home to Madison again. Then the season finale at Old Dominion.

The Have Nots

7) Georgia State (9-12, 3-6 CAA) - Georgia State is one of those frustrating teams to watch. They play very good defense, third in the CAA in scoring defense, FG percentage defense and fourth in three point FG percentage defense. They have talent with Joe Dukes, Trey Hampton and Trae Goldston. The problem is they can't score, last in scoring offense in the CAA, next to last in three point FG percentage and last in assists. Most importantly, they are next to last to Wilmington in assist to turnover ratio.

Joe Dukes is a solid player, averaging nearly 14 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3 assists per game. However his shooting is down from last season, shooting 42 percent overall and only 23 percent from three (last year it was nearly 35 percent from beyond the arc). The Panthers are getting the ball more to Hampton, who has scored in double figures in each of his last three games while shooting 50 percent from the field.

If the Panthers want to get to .500, they do have a chance with five of their last nine games at home. But the start of the schedule is brutal. It starts at ODU, but the next three games are at home - VCU, Mason and William and Mary. Eek. Then it doesn't get any easier, at Northeastern, then at Towson. GSU ends the season at home to James Madison, then Old Dominion then they finish the season at Hofstra.

8) UNC Wilmington (7-13, 3-6 CAA) - Well, give the Seahawks credit. They improved their defense, as they are only tenth now in the CAA in scoring defense (hey, last year, they were dead last). They are first in three point FG percentage defense. But the reason they are still struggling on scoring defense is that they are DEAD LAST in turnover margin with a -4.63.

This is the main reason why Wilmington is sub .500 in the CAA. Despite being fourth in three point FG percentage and sixth in overall FG percentage, the Seahawks are dead last in assist to turnover ratio. You can't score when you don't have the ball and thus the opposing team will. The main culprit, point guard Chad Tomko (14.7 points per game). Though he averages 4.7 assists per game, Tomko also averages 3.5 turnovers per game. John Fields has been terrific for the most part, averaging nearly 12 points and 9 rebounds per game (second in the CAA). But Fields also gives up the ball, nearly 3 turnovers per game.

Wilmington has played a lot of close games this season and along with the win over the Mary, a recent two point loss at Virginia is an example of how competitive the Seahawks can be. There is room for improvement in the second half of their schedule. They start out at Hofstra, then home games with Towson and VCU. Then back on the road at Delaware and at Towson. Then home to Hofstra and Northeastern. The Bracketbuster game follows, then at Drexel and home to the Mary to finish the season.

9) Hofstra (9-12, 2-7 CAA) - The Pride started the season 7-3 and could have been 9-1 had they held second half leads vs. UConn and Charlotte. Then it all started to unravel at the Holiday Festival, losing both games to St John's and Davidson. Including the two MSG losses, the Pride have now lost nine of their past last 11 games. They have also lost five in a row, including yesterday's thirteen point loss to Drexel. Even their once CAA leading FG percentage defense has unraveled, as the Pride have allowed 50 percent or more field goal percentage in each of their last four games. Amazingly despite the last four games, Hofstra is still second in the CAA in field goal percentage defense and third in three point FG percentage defense, along with being first in blocks.

The problem is that when Hofstra does not play good defense, Hofstra does not have the offense capable of keeping up. Hofstra is next to last in FG percentage at 40.2 percent. Hofstra is also tenth in three point field goals made. This results in teams keying on Charles Jenkins, who still leads the CAA in scoring at 18.3 points per game. But Jenkins has seen his FG percentage go from 48.5 percent after the first ten games in the season to its current 43.5 percentage (likewise his three point FG percentage has gone from 48 percent after 10 games down to its current 36.8 percent). And with no consistent second scorer, the Pride often rely on Jenkins too much.

In fairness to Hofstra, the seven games the Pride have lost have been to all of the top six teams. But their only two wins came against last place Towson. Thus they have a lot of work to do with a somewhat easier second half schedule. It starts with two home games vs UNC Wilmington and Delaware, followed by a road game at JMU, then two home games vs. Northeastern and Drexel. They end the season with two consecutive road games vs. UNCW, Delaware, then a home Bracketbuster game. The Pride then travel to Northeastern and finish their season at home with Georgia State.

10) James Madison (8-11, 2-7 CAA) - Next to Hofstra, the Dukes have been the most disappointing team in the CAA. In fairness, they did lose star guard Devon Moore before the season with an ACL injury, and forward Andrey Semenov during the season with back problems. Still, when you can't shoot the three (1oth in the CAA at 30.2 percent) and you can't hold onto the ball (tenth in the CAA in turnover margin at -2.05), you're not going to win a lot of games.

Madison is led by the dynamic duo of Denzel Bowles and Julius Wells. Bowles would be leading the CAA in scoring at 21.5 points per game, in FG percentage at 59.3 percent and second in rebounding at 9.3 rebounds per game. However, he has not played enough games yet since he was not eligible until December 12. Wells averages 17 points per game and nearly 6 rebounds per game. A third scoring option in the backcourt would be nice. Freshman Darren White is averaging 10 points per game, but has not scored in double figures in the last three games.

The Dukes have a lot of home games left. They first start with a non conference makeup game with Radford, then host William and Mary. After a trip to Mason, they host Hofstra. Then its on the road again to Towson, then home to ODU and VCU. Then at Georgia State, then a bracketbuster game, then Longwood at home. The Dukes finish up at VCU, then host Drexel in the regular season finale.

11) Delaware (6-14, 2-7 CAA) - I have to give the Fighting Blue Hens some credit. I didn't even think they would win two games in conference all year after starting the overall season 1-6 with their sole win over lowly Penn. But they have been a semi respectable 5-8 since, including wins at Vermont, home to Drexel and most recently, an overtime win over Georgia State on Saturday.

Jawan Carter has been terrific. The current second leading scorer in the CAA (that is till Bowles has enough FG attempts to qualify) averages 17 points, nearly 5 assists and 3 rebounds per game. Alphonso Dawson makes a good sidekick, averaging nearly 13 points and 6 rebounds per game.

The Blue Hens have a tougher second half schedule which starts with two road games, at Mason and at Hofstra. Then followed by home games with Northeastern and UNCW. Two road games, at William and Mary and Drexel follow suit. Then it's home to Hofstra, Bracketbuster, home to Mason and at Towson to finish the regular season.

12) Towson (4-15, 1-8 CAA) - What can be said that hasn't already been said. Next to last season's UNCW team, this Towson team is probably the second worst defensive team I have ever seen. Just bad. Last in scoring defense, last in FG percentage defense, last in rebounding defense and rebounding margin.

Poor Robert Nwankwo, the only double double player in the CAA who averages 10 points and 10 rebounds per game. He has to average 10 rebounds per game because no one else rebounds. (ok, that was harsh, Calvin Lee averages nearly 6 rebounds per game, but it drops off from there). Nwankwo also leads the CAA in FG percentage at 56 percent (that is till Bowles qualifies). But the Tigers might want to get him the ball more. He doesn't even quite average eight field goal attempts per game. Geesh.

Towson will play out the season, and most likely Pat Kennedy's last season, starting with three tough road games - at VCU, at UNCW and at Drexel. Then it's home for three straight - JMU, UNCW and Georgia State. Road game at ODU follows, then comes the Bracketbuster game. Towson finishes up at the Mary, then home to Drexel.

Midseason CAA Awards

Best Team - Old Dominion. They do it their own way, defense and frontcourt scoring. The win at Georgetown is huge. Runner up - Northeastern. Really have saved their season. Great coaching job by Billy Coen.

Worst Team - Towson. DUH. Runner up, James Madison.

Most Surprising Team - William and Mary. Hands down. The preseason tenth place team has wins at Wake and Maryland, over Richmond and is in fourth place in the CAA currently. Runner up, Drexel. Really good coaching job by Bruiser Flint.

Most Disappointing Team - Hofstra. Hands down. Not even close. Madison had at least injuries. Hofstra has no excuse, especially after starting 7-3. Runner Up - James Madison

Best Player - Larry Sanders. Has been flat out dominant lately. There were eight scouts at the Hofstra game, including NBA legend Dick McGuire to watch him play and he didn't disappoint. Runner Up - Charles Jenkins. Jenkins gets very little support and is relied on so much. Amazing he still does what he does.

Most Surprising/Improved Player - Chaisson Allen. Has had an absolutely terrific first half of the season. Definitely the most improved player in the CAA this season. Runnerup - Quinn McDowell. McDowell has had a terrific season for the Mary, averaging nearly 15 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the field.

Most Disappointing Player - Chad Tomko. His scoring has decreased, though his field goal percentage is up. But it's the way he handles the ball, or to be precise, doesn't handle the ball that is disappointing. His assist to turnover ratio has dropped from last year and he averages nearly four turnovers per game. Not good for a point guard. Runnerup - Nathaniel Lester. Yes, his point production and FG percentage have improved from last year. But if you watch Hofstra games as much as Jerry Beach and I do, you will notice how often Lester disappears. He should be averaging double figures every night...easily.

Best Rookie - Chris Fouch - Drexel. Chaz Williams, Halil Kanacevic, Luke Hancock and Darren White are all talented but Fouch has become a deadly three point weapon for Drexel, as shown by his 29 points against Hofstra yesterday. He has a sweet shooting stroke. I think he has the chance before long to be very special. Runnerup - Williams. Has struggled the last month with his assists to turnover ratio, but has shown he has a good outside touch, especially from three (52 percent shooting from beyond the arc). Over time, he will make better decisions with the ball and will be a good point guard.

Best Transfer - Tie - John Fields and Denzel Bowles. Both have played extremely well Bowles is an offensive and rebounding machine for JMU. Fields is a defensive and rebounding machine for UNCW, who also is pretty decent on the offensive end.

Best Coach - Tony Shaver, William and Mary. To scrap your offense in the offseason and move to a completely different offense based on your talent, is gutsy. And to get the results Shaver has, speaks volumes for a coach who I still think had the best game plan against the VCU press I have ever seen. Runnerup - Billy Coen, Northeastern. To keep a team going after a 2-7 start and have them reel off eleven straight wins is a great coaching job.

Team Most Likely to Improve Second Half - VCU. Just too deep and talented to finish the second half of the season 5-4. Add a favorable schedule into the mix and I could very well see a 12-6 regular season record for the Rams. That might be enough for a first round bye. Runnerup - Hofstra. Very favorable second half schedule. If their defense comes out of witness protection, five wins in the second half of the conference season is possible.

Team Most Likely to Regress Second Half - George Mason. They got off to a terrific start but their second half schedule, especially their last six games, is not favorable. Also, they are at the bottom of rebounding margin and assist to turnover ratio. Throw in that they are a very young team and a 6-3 second half record is more than likely (which isn't bad mind you). Runnerup - Drexel. Also a young team, has a tough road schedule the second half of the season. They are also prone to game long shooting slumps (see games at ODU and home to W&M as proof).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Congratulations to Coach Bozzella

Congratulations to Coach Tony Bozzella who got his 100th win as coach of the Iona Lady Gaels as Iona won its sixth straight game, a 64-53 win over Manhattan. The Lady Gaels took the lead 20-17 on a Diana Hubbard three pointer with 3:42 left in the first half and never trailed again. The Lady Gaels were up by as many as sixteen, 57-41 with 6:51 left.

Thazina Cook led the Gaels with a double double 15 points and 10 rebounds. Milica Paligoric had 13 points and Kristina Ford added 11 for the Lady Gaels. Iona is now 6-1 in the MAAC and 10-8 overall. The second place Lady Gaels trail only Marist, undefeated in the MAAC 7-0. The Lady Gaels also have a two game lead on Loyola and Siena, tied for third in the MAAC.

Iona plays another home game vs. Niagara tomorrow at 1pm, before playing four of their next five games on the road.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Saturday Basketball Preview

There are 142 Division I games on tap tomorrow. Some are more important than others. Here's a brief glimpse at some of those games.

VCU (13-4, 5-3 CAA) vs Northeastern (12-7, 7-1 CAA) - This is the rematch from earlier this month won by Northeastern at the Siegel Center 62-57. Two years in a row the Huskies have won on VCU's home court. VCU now looks to return the favor in Matthews Arena. The focus might be on the frontcourt matchup of the Rams' Larry Sanders and Jamie Skeen vs the Huskies' Manny Adako and Nkem Ojougboh.

However a more important matchup will be VCU's Joey Rodriguez vs Northeastern's Chaisson Allen, two of the hottest players in the CAA right now. Rodriguez has been terrific in his last three games shooting 19 of 35 from the field while dishing out 23 assists to only 5 turnovers. Rodriguez leads the CAA in assists with 5.8 assists per game and in assist to turnover ratio with 2.5 assists to 1 turnover. Allen is third in the CAA in three point FG percentage at 44.6 percent. In his last seven games, all Noreaster wins, Allen is shooting 57 percent from the field (37 of 65) including 55 percent from beyond the arc (22 of 40). That's torrid shooting.

ODU (15-5, 7-1 CAA) vs. William and Mary (14-4, 6-2 CAA) - The CAA preseason favorite Monarchs look to keep their share of first place in conference vs the surprise darlings of the Colonial, the Tribe. ODU is looking for its seventh straight win, while William and Mary looks to bounce back after a beatdown at the hands of VCU.

It's a contrast in styles as the second highest scoring team in the CAA, the Mary, tries to score on the Monarchs, the CAA's toughest defense. ODU is first in scoring defense, first in field goal percentage defense and second in three point field goal percentage defense. The key to this game might be how William and Mary, ninth in the CAA in rebounding margin tries to cope with the best rebounding team in the CAA in ODU.

By the way, guess who are the four top teams in the CAA in assists to turnover ratio? William and Mary, ODU, VCU and Northeastern. No surprise that these are four of the top teams in the CAA. And once again, further proof that the best conference teams are the teams that are at the top of the assist to turnover ratio category.

BYU (19-1,4-0 MWC) vs. San Diego State (14-5, 3-2 MWC). If San Diego State wants to become part of the Mountain West NCAA Tournament discussion, the Aztecs absolutely need to hold serve tomorrow and defeat the Cougars. But it won't be easy as BYU is first in the MWC in scoring offense (79 points per game) and scoring defense (58 points per game). The Cougars' defense will get a test as the Aztecs lead the Mountain West in FG percentage at 47.6 percent per game (BYU is second at 46.6 percent).

The game should be a close one as both teams are close in a lot of MWC categories such as rebounding margin. For San Diego State to beat BYU, the Aztecs must defend the three against the best three point shooting team in the Mountain West (and the Aztecs are next to last in the MWC in three point FG percentage defense). And the Aztecs, one of the worst teams in conference in turnover margin, must keep their turnovers to a mininum against the Cougars, who are the best team in the Mountain West in turnover margin.

The Mountain West has never had four teams in the NCAA tourament. The most they have had is three teams on three occasions. UNLV and New Mexico are the other two Mountain West teams that are considered possibilities to make the NCAA tournament.

Rhode Island (15-2, 3-1 A10) vs Xavier (12-6, 4-1 A10). Another conference that could be looking at potentially four bids, the Atlantic 10's feature Saturday matchup is the Rams and the Musketeers. It's been a tough eight days for the Musketeers. Last Saturday, Xavier had to rally late to defeat Dayton at home. Then on Wednesday, the Musketeers lost a tough game at Temple. Now its Rhode Island.

The game promises to be very high scoring as the Rams average 79.6 points per game while Xavier averages 78.3 points per game. Rhode Island has been terrific on the road, winning six of their seven road games (only loss a two point loss at VCU). Xavier has been perfect at home with a 9-0 record. This is one of those something has to give games. The winner will be guaranteed at least a second place tie in the A10 when the day is done.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Wannabes

In high school, I was "part" of a crowd of smart kids, many of whom were also athletes. We were sort of the second level cool kids and often would make fun of what we considered were the dorks (though I really was a dork). You had the kid who was good at soccer and jokes, the kid who was the best track athlete in the school, the high school basketball player and shortstop, another baseball player, the lacrosse player and others. Then there was me. I was usually the butt of the jokes but they kept me around for some reason, possibly because I was good at intramural basketball and softball (and we had a slow pitch softball team that would play the jocks and win).

Even though I hung out with them,. I always felt like an outsider with that group and never felt really accepted. I lost touch with all of them after high school and it was probably the best thing for me. And I never really had an interest going back for any of my high school reunions to see how they were doing. I didn't want to be "a wannabe" anymore.

So what does this have to do with college basketball? Well, there are three conferences who aren't mid majors or don't consider themselves mid majors (they think mid majors are dorks). But they aren't the power conferences either, certainly not from a financial or reputational standpoint. I am referring to the Mountain West, Conference USA and Atlantic 10. They are "The Wannnabes".

I started talking about this on my January 8th article as a reply to one of my reader's comments about the Missouri Valley. The reader asked if the Missouri Valley could no longer be considered a mid major. And after giving some data that I thought proved to the contrary, I commented the following;
The Valley is still a mid major and will be until it becomes a consistent three bid conference. But it still wouldn't be a power conference. It would be like the A10, Conference USA and the Mountain West - "Wannabe Power Conferences". Mid Major doesn't sound so bad now, doesn't it?
The A10 (a misnomer for a conference with 14 teams), Conference USA and Mountain West have similar basketball budgets - A10 $2.5 million, CUSA $2.7 million and MWC $2.8 million. Compare that with the "lowest" power conference which is the PAC-10 at $4.3 million. That's quite a jump in budget.

Second, the A10, MWC and Conference USA have had similar histories as far as number of teams in the tournament the past ten years.

Atlantic 10 NCAA Tournament Teams

2000 - St Bonaventure, Dayton, Temple
2001 - St Joseph's, Temple, Xavier
2002 - Xavier
2003 - Dayton, Xavier, St Joseph's
2004 - St Joseph's, Richmond, Dayton, Xavier
2005 - George Washington
2006 - George Washington, Xavier
2007 - George Washington, Xavier
2008 - Xavier, Temple, St Joseph's
2009 - Xavier, Temple, Dayton

Mountain West NCAA Tournament Teams

2000 - Utah , UNLV
2001 - BYU
2002 - Wyoming, Utah, San Diego State
2003 - Colorado St, BYU, Utah
2004 - BYU, Utah, Air Force
2005 - Utah, New Mexico
2006 - Air Force, San Diego State
2007 - BYU, UNLV
2008 - BYU, UNLV
2009 - BYU, Utah

Conference USA NCAA Tournament Teams

2000 - St Louis, Louisville, DePaul, Cincinnati
2001 - Cincinnati, Charlotte
2002 - Marquette, Charlotte, Cincinnati
2003 - Marquette*, Memphis, Cincinatti, Louisville
2004 - Charlotte, Louisville, DePaul, UAB, Memphis, Cincinnati
2005 - Cincinnati, UAB, Louisville*, Charlotte
2006 - Memphis, UAB
2007 - Memphis
2008 - Memphis
2009 - Memphis

* - Final Four Teams

So here's the breakdown for the three conferences the past ten years.

A10 - Six years the A10 has had at least three teams, two years with two and surprisingly two years with one team (2002 and 2005).

MWC - Only three years has the Mountain West had three teams, six years they had only two teams and one year, they only had one (2001).

Conference USA - One year (2004) they had six teams, three years they had four teams, one year with three, two years with two and the last three years, one team (Memphis).

If you want to break it down even further as I did based on seeds the past ten years , here is the lowdown.

The A10 has had a #1 seed (St Joseph's in 2004), a #2 seed (Temple in 2000), a #3 seed twice (Xavier both in 2003 and 2008) and a #4 seed twice (Dayton in 2003 and Xavier in 2009).

The highest seed the Mountain West has had in the past ten years was Utah's 5th seed in the West bracket in 2009. Before that it was a #6 seed for Utah in 2005.

Conference USA has had three #1 seeds (Cinci in 2002, Memphis in 2006 and 2008), two #2 seeds (Memphis in 2007 and 2009) a #3 seed (Marquette in 2003) and two #4 seeds (Louisville in 2003 and Cinci in 2004).

Of the three Wannabe conferences, only Conference USA has had a Final Four team in the past ten years. Twice - Louisville in 2003 and Memphis, who lost to Kansas in the championship in 2008.

Of course the explanation for the drop off of Conference USA is easy. Louisville, DePaul, Marquette and Cincinnati all left to join "The cool kids", the Big East after 2005. And Charlotte and St Louis left for the Atlantic 10 after 2005.

And that's another reason for the A10 not being a mid major. You don't leave one conference to move to another as a step down (unless you're Temple and realize you stink in football and thus move from the Big East to the MAC - notice they made a bowl game this year!). In the case of Charlotte, you had a team that made the NCAA Tournament four times between 2001 and 2005. You are not going to step down to another conference. They saw the handwriting on the wall when the other four schools left for the Big East, and decided the A10 was the next best thing. Ironically, Charlotte has not made a NCAA tournament since their move to the A10 (and neither has St Louis).

I think the kicker is how the Mountain West has fared the last ten years. The number of teams on average that have made the tournament the past ten years in the MWC is very close to the Missouri Valley. The Valley has been more than a two bid conference twice in the past ten years, in 2005 and 2006 and six years it's been two teams and unfortunately, the last two years, only one bid. Valley teams on average spend $700,000 less per year than Mountain West teams with similar results.

And as noted, the Mountain West has had only one team seeded as high as fifth, and only two teams have made it as far as the Sweet 16 (Utah in 2005, UNLV 2007). Yet they spend more money for their basketball budget on average than the A10 or Conference USA.

Of course, these conferences have on average been much more successful than the mid major conferences, with the possible exception of the Missouri Valley compared to the Mountain West. But is it really a step up to go from a mid major to a wannabe? Just ask Charlotte and St Louis. They went from one wannabe conference to another. How's that worked out for them? The moral of the story. Be happy who you are and don't be something you're not.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quick Wednesday Notes

On January 9th, in my article entitled "Butler, Detroit and CAA Saturday", I talked about how George Mason's Cam Long needed "to step it up". Going into their game vs. UNCW, Long was only shooting 27.7 percent from beyond the arc. Well it took him one more bad game vs the Seahawks (which Mason still won) before Long did indeed step it up. In his last three games, Long is shooting 64 percent from the floor (20 of 31) and 7 of 14 from beyond the arc. Long has now raised his three point FG percentage to 32.2 percent. Long scored 27 last night vs. Hofstra and 24 the game before vs. Madison. Combine a streaking Long with the solid Ryan Pearson, and you have a formidable one-two punch for the Patriots.

One more tidbit. Starting next season, George Mason- Northeastern games will get a little more interesting to follow. That's because Northeastern has recruited 6 foot 10 Ryan Pierson to play for the Huskies. And of course, you have Mason's Ryan Pearson. Can't wait for those broadcasts. "Pearson with the layup!" Or is it "Pierson with the layup!" Or the best yet, "Ryan Pearson blocks Ryan Pierson's shot!" Glad I am not a statistician.

The big game in the CAA tonight pits William Mary at VCU. How seriously is VCU taking this game? How about you click here to find out. The Tribe defeated VCU by one at Williamsburg to start the CAA season. With a win tonight, VCU would pull within one game of William and Mary for the fourth and final first round bye spot in the CAA (I know I mention this often, but having a first round bye is HUGE in the four day CAA tournament). The Siegel Center will be rocking and the Mary will try to win their first game at Siegel since the first game the Rams and the Tribe played at the Siegel Center. Since then, VCU has won nine straight.

After watching Mason trounce Hofstra at the Mack Center, I got home in time to watch the second half of Northern Iowa - Wichita State on the U. After being up twelve at the half, Wichita State withstood a 10-0 run by Northern Iowa to start the second half and won 60-51. The Panthers got within two 29-27 after that 10-0 run, but never caught the Shockers. The turning point of the game was after Northern Iowa's Adam Koch hit a foul shot for a three point play to cut the deficit to six 48-42 with 3:25 left. Wichita State immediately went down the court and worked it inside to J.T. Turley for a two point layup to put the Shockers back out by eight, 50-42. By the time Northern Iowa got the score within five, it was about a minute left and the Panthers had to foul.

Wichita State (17-3, 6-2 MVC) handed Northern Iowa (16-2, 7-1 MVC) its first loss in sixteen games, its first loss in Valley conference play and probably knocked it out of the Top 25 (which might be better anyway, so the Panthers can continue to win under the radar). The teams have a rematch at UNI on February 3rd.

Finally, can someone explain to me why Xavier at #17 Temple is not televised nationally tonight but South Florida-Cincinnati is? Two teams that have made the NCAA tournament the last two seasons (and chances are they will again this season) vs. a game featuring the Big East conference doormat - the Bulls, whose last winning season was when they were in Conference USA (2002-03 15-14). Very simply put, it's the Big East power conference winning over the A10 wannabe.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Teams Heading in Opposite Directions

Early on in the CAA conference season, about a little over two weeks ago, two teams battled it out in the Patriot Center. George Mason would come from behind in the second half to defeat Hofstra 67-63. After the game, Mason was 3-0 in conference, Hofstra was 1-2 in conference. Based on the game and the preseason CAA poll, it seemed both teams would be competitive for a first round bye spot in the CAA Tournament.

But a lot can happen in two weeks. And in this case, it did. The Patriots would lose their next game against Northeastern but have not lost since and entered the game with a 6-1 record in conference. The Pride would win their next game vs. Towson, but haven't won since. They entered the game 2-5 in conference. Thus tonight, on ESPNU, you had the tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. And tonight's contest, only reinforced that tale.

Coming into this game, the two teams have developed somewhat of a rivalry since the 2005-06 season. That of course is the season where Hofstra swept Mason in the season series. This included the infamous semifinal of the CAA Tournament where Mason's Tony Skinn punched Hofstra's Loren Stokes in an oh so sensitive place after Hofstra had rallied back in the second half. The season where Mason made the NCAA tournament while Hofstra was snubbed. The season that Mason made the Final Four.

Since then, Hofstra won the next game in the 2006-07 season. only for Mason to upset Hofstra in the CAA Tournament Quarterfinals that season. Since then, Mason has won the next three regular season games as well. Which leads us into tonight's game on national TV.

Early on, it seemed like this game was a mirror image of the first game. It was close throughout the first half. However the pace was a lot different from the first game. It reminded me a lot of the VCU-Hofstra game from last Tuesday night, a high scoring pace. The first telltale sign was Mason hitting on three of their first five three point attempts against a team, Hofstra, that was second in the CAA in three point FG percentage defense at 26.6 percent. The second telltale sign was the score was already 22 all with 7:27 left in the first half. In the first game, it was 23 all at halftime.

Hofstra could not keep up with the pace as George Mason would outscore the Pride 16-8 the rest of the way and take a 38-30 halftime lead. After Charles Jenkins hit a layup to cut the lead to 25-24 with 6:13 left, Hofstra went into one of its typical scoring ruts. The Pride would only hit two of their last nine shots while the Patriots would hit five of their last nine shots. Mason would end up being 6 of 10 from three in the first half. If Hofstra wanted to win, they had to tighten up their defense.

Well, the Hofstra defense went from bad to worse at the start of the second half. Within the first three minutes, Long scored five of Mason's first nine points and the lead was 47-33 with 17 minutes left. If it wasn't Ryan Pearson having Halil Kanacevic for lunch on the inside, it was Cam Long putting on a show. During a slightly over four minute span, Long would score 10 points culminating in a three pointer to put Mason up 67-51 with 8:20 left.

The Pride would make a comeback with a 10-3 run to trail 70-61 with 5:34 left. But the Pride would get no closer, as Charles Jenkins' three pointer rimmed out with the Pride trailing by ten, 72-62 with 4:17 left. Once from there, Mason would score the next six points and the Hofstra fans headed for the exits in droves. The final score was George Mason 90 Hofstra 72.

In fact, a large contingent of Mason fans at the game started chanting the Goodbye song. You know "Na na na, hey hey goodbye". In all the years I have been at Hofstra games, I can't remember an opposing team's fans ever doing that at a Hofstra home game.

The Patriots scorched the CAA's leading FG percentage defense by shooting 18 of 24 in the second half. Long had 17 second half points going 5 of 5 from the field to lead all scorers with 27 points. Pearson had 11 second half points and ended up with 19 points and 9 rebounds and Andre Cornelius also had 11 second half points and ended up with 18 points. The Patriots shot 55 percent from the field for the game.

Hofstra had thirteen more field goal attempts than Mason due to outrebounding the Patriots 38-32. However, the Pride shot their season average 40.7 percent. Jenkins had a very good game with 26 points on 8 of 18 shooting and 10 of 12 from the line. Chaz Williams was 8 of 13 including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc for 20 points and Miklos Szabo had a double double with 14 points on 6 of 12 shooting and 12 rebounds. But the rest of the Pride shot an abysmal 5 of 24 from the field.

The effort by the Pride, especially on the defensive end was terrible. And Mason outhustled them on most loose balls. It was Hofstra's second consecutive poor Tuesday effort on ESPNU following last week's thirteen point loss to VCU. This outing was even worse as outside of Jenkins and Szabo, the Pride's veteran players gave poor performances. Nathaniel Lester is going deeper into a funk. Lester only attempted four field goals on the game. Cornelius Vines played so badly in his eleven minutes, he didn't even play in the second half. And Greg Washington had zero points in fifteen minutes. Combined scoring total of those three players - two points.

Hofstra is now 2-6 in the CAA and 9-11 overall, having lost eight of their last ten games. Meanwhile Mason looked terrific and had its highest scoring output of the year. The Patriots are now 7-1 in conference, guaranteed of a first place tie going into Saturday's action and 12-7 overall.

For Hofstra, a Saturday road game against their fellow former America East rival Drexel, currently 4-3 in the CAA, awaits them. Not an easy matchup for a team desperately needing a win. As for George Mason, they too are on the road on Saturday. But a much easier matchup awaits them - last place Towson.

The win for Mason was their fifth straight win against Hofstra. And there may not be much hope for Hofstra breaking the streak next season. The entire Patriots starting lineup returns next season and only one player, the now seldom used Louis Birdsong graduates.

It may not be much of a rivalry anymore. Such is the case when you have two teams heading in opposite directions.