Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Pioneering Way to Spend Part of a Saturday and Notes from Other Saturday Action

My friend Bob Sugar is the equipment manager of C.W. Post university here on Long Island. Occasionally I visit Bob at Post and we catch one of the Post men's basketball games together. Yesterday, both Tieff and I visited Sug and stayed for a half of Post's 81-42 drubbing of St. Thomas Aquinas. The game was basically over when Post was up 42-17 with less than two minutes left in the first half.

C.W. Post is a Division II school and last year, the Pioneers made the NCAA Division II Elite Eight after hosting and winning the Division II East Regional. In a typical act by the No Clue At All (NCAA), the NCAA Division II Tournament committee seeded the regionals in a very bizarre way. How bizarre? Well they seeded it so that the #2 ranked and undefeated Pioneers played the #1 ranked and also undefeated Findlay Oilers in the quarterfinal round. Huh? That would be like putting Michigan State and Magic Johnson vs Indiana State and Larry Bird in the 1979 Midwest regional final.

And to make even it look more stupid than it was, this quarterfinal matchup took place despite the fact that going into last season's tournament only three teams had ever won the Division II title with perfect records. Give the NCAA credit for having no sense of history. Findlay would defeat Post in overtime 89-79 and go onto win the NCAA Division II championship, making it the fourth team to win the DII title undefeated. You can catch highlight video of the Findlay win over Post here.

Now in his third season, Coach Tim Cluess has done a terrific job with the Pioneers. Before coming to Post, he was the head coach for Suffolk Community College, and was the head coach of St Mary's in Manhasset, which won several NY State championships. I noted in an article last year that his very good friend and the assistant coach on those St Mary's teams is John Mateyko, the coach of St Joseph's College in Patchogue. Coach Mateyko, who I did a feature article on in 2008, led St Joseph's to their first Division III Tournament bid ever after winning the Skyline Chanpionship last season.

Cluess is in retooling mode after most of his players graduated last season. The team is 8-4 now and is predicted to win the East Coast Conference. He still has guards Gilberto Montalvo and Roberto Macklin, who combined for a highlight reel dunk in the first half of yesterday's game. He added Division I transfer Nemanja Dokic, who played at Division I Detroit the past three seasons. Dokic led Post with 20 points on 8 of 10 shooting.

The team plays an uptempo style offense, with lots of ball and player movement and terrific spacing. On defense, it's a very press and trap oriented defense. They held Aquinas to 30 percent shooting from the field, forcing 24 turnovers. If Post should win their third consecutive ECC title, there is definitely the possibility that a Division I school with a vacant head coaching position will come a calling on Coach Cluess. We will see.

There was a lot of action going on yesterday, 136 DI games in total, since of course it was a Saturday. In the Missouri Valley, two teams seem to be distancing themselves from the rest of the pack. Northern Iowa (14-1, 5-0 MVC) is clearly the best team in the Valley and arguably the best mid major in the country. And they made a statement by thoroughly dominating Illinois State on the Redbirds home court 59-44. Jordan Eglseder and Adam Koch, two of the top ten scorers in the Valley combined for 31 points on 12 of 19 shooting. Meanwhile the Panthers clamped down on Redbird star Osiris Eldridge, holding him to 10 points on 4 of 14 shooting from the field.

Wichita State (15-2, 4-1 MVC) easily handled Creighton 70-58 in front of 10,506 faithful Shocker fans (ok, so maybe there were a few disheartened Bluejays fans there too). I caught the first half on ESPNU and it was never a contest. The Shockers were up 11-1 before you could blink an eye and the closest the Bluejays got the rest of the way was eight. Wichita State, led by Graham Hatch's 17 points, shot 45 percent from the field, 41 percent from three and 15 of 17 from the line.

In the CAA, you have four teams tied for first place in the CAA at 4-1. I saw the second half of Hofstra-ODU at the Ted on MSG. The good news for the Pride. Charles Jenkins got out of his shooting rut with a dominant second half, scoring 10 of his game high 18 points in the first six minutes and 15 seconds of the second half to cut the Monarchs' lead to 35-34. The Pride would get no closer though as ODU (12-5, 4-1 CAA) ended the game outscoring the Pride 22-12 to win 57-46.

The Pride are fortunate that the margin was only eleven points. ODU had an absolutely dismal day at the free throw line, hitting on only 14 of 34 attempts. However the Monarchs forced 21 Pride turnovers (11 combined by Chaz Williams and Charles Jenkins), outrebounded the Pride on the offensive glass 18-9 and held Hofstra to 33 percent shooting from the field, including an ugly 2 of 16 from beyond the arc. Keyon Carter led the Monarchs with 14 points.

In all of its first four games in conference play, the outcome of William and Mary's games were decided by one point. So it stood to figure that when the Mary traveled to Drexel in a battle of two 3-1 teams in the CAA, a close game was bound to happen. Uhhh, no. The Tribe (12-3, 4-1 CAA) completely extinguished the Dragons 73-48. Drexel got off to a good start, using a 12-3 run to go up 17-12 with 12 minutes left. The problem was Drexel forgot how to shoot from the field, missing 15 straight field goal attempts until Jamie Harris hit a layup with 2 seconds left in the half, and amazingly the Dragons were only down 28-24 at halftime.

But the Mary came out blazing in the second half shooting 65 percent from the field. And it wasn't their usual three point blitzkrieg. William and Mary only attempted 11 three point attempts in the game, hitting five. Instead, it was an inside game for the Mary. Forward Steven Hess scored 16 points, shooting 7 of 8 from the field as William and Mary outscored Drexel 32-18 in the paint. Meanwhile the Mary held Drexel without a field goal for the first five minutes of the second half as Drexel shot 24 percent for the game. The trio of Jamie Harris, Chris Fouch and Samme Givens, who had been shooting so well in the Dragons' recent games, shot a combined 8 of 36 from the field. David Schneider led the Tribe with 20 points.

Meanwhile at Georgia State, the babies raced out at halftime, but Matt Janning and Northeastern (9-7, 4-1 CAA) raced out at the start of the second half of the game. The Huskies went on a 20-5 run in the first seven and a half minutes of the second half and never looked back as they went on to a 66-54 win over the Panthers.

Janning had 12 first half points to keep Nor'easter up by two at the half 24-22. Then Janning had a three point play and a three pointer during that critical second half run that won it for the Huskies. Chaisson Allen added 13 points including keeping his torrid outside shooting going with a 3 of 5 performance from beyond the arc. Joe Dukes led the Panthers with 15 points and Xavier Hansbro added 13 for GSU.

Finally, George Mason (9-7, 4-1) beat UNCW at their own game Saturday afternoon, as the Patriots outrebounded one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the CAA in the Seahawks 13-4 on the offensive glass (and 37-22 overall). Mason would go on to a 59-46 win over Wilmington. Ryan Pearson was a human stat machine for the Patriots with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks. Mike Morrison led GMU with 15 points. Ahmad Grant led the Seahawks with 12 points and Chad Tomko had a good day distributing the ball with 7 assists and only 1 turnover. GMU won its 16th consecutive home CAA conference game.

In other CAA games, VCU defeated Delaware 77-64 and James Madison kept Towson winless in the CAA, holding on for a 69-66 win.

Finally, I got to watch just about all of the late night Gonzaga-Portland game on ESPNU (and I wonder why I am always so tired). It was a very entertaining game won by the 18th ranked Zags on the Pilots homecourt 81-78. Matt Bouldin led four Gonzaga scorers with 20 points while Portland's Robin Smeulders led all scorers with 24 points on 9 of 10 shooting from the field.

Both teams shot the ball well from the field (Portland 50 percent, Gonzaga 49 percent) but the difference was Gonzaga (13-3, 1-0 WCC) got to the charity stripe nine more times than the Pilots (and hit on eight more free throws). And once Gonzaga took an 8-7 lead on an Elias Harris jumper with 15 minutes left in the first half, the Zags never trailed again.

But give the Pilots credit. When the Zags went up eleven, 51-40 early in the second half, it didn't seem like Portland (9-6, 0-1 WCC) could stop them on the defensive end. But in front of a sold out crowd of 5000 Chiles Center fans, the Pilots came back with an 11-2 run to make the score 53-51 with 11:13.

Again, Gonzaga would extend the lead back to thirteen, 68-55 with five minutes left. But again, Portland came back, eventually cutting the lead to four 77-73 on a three pointer by Jared Stohl (18 points) with 27 seconds left. Bouldin would score the last four Zags points on three pointers. But after Bol Kong missed two free throws, the Pilots couldn't get over the hump as Stohl's three pointer to tie missed.

I will be back tomorrow with a brief post about the Butler-Detroit game I watched on the Horizon Network online today, which was another great game to watch.

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