Saturday, October 30, 2010

Around the World of the College Hardwood

Considering it's Halloween and considering my first subject in this article, I thought a proper Halloween motif was needed.  Thus my favorite clip from  "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." If you are one of the few, the proud, ie the dedicated readers of this site, you know that I am not the biggest fan of Kentucky Coach John Calipari.   Thanks to a line from Jayson Williams' book, I have dubbed Calipari "The Antichrist".  And without fail, it seems every college basketball presason, The AntiChrist is the center of controversy.   Last season it was JohnWall and his eligibility.  This season, it's Enes Kanter and his eligibility.

So leave it to The Antichrist to add fuel to the controversy.  In last Friday's Lexington Herald-Leader, an article noted the following;
"According to a transcript posted on Calipari's Web site Wednesday night, the UK coach said of the Kanter case, "I love what the NCAA did with Dee Bost. Dee Bost decided to put his name in the NBA Draft; stayed in the Draft — meaning he was then a professional and could not come back and be an amateur. Yet, they looked at it and said, wait a minute, common sense says, we're going to let him play, sit him out some games and let him play."
If you want to read the transcript, click here to read it on The Antichrist's own web site. Don't worry, you don't have to do any online signup in blood or have to "click here to accept giving your first born to us".  The transcript comes from an interview that the Antichrist did with Jimmy Dykes on ESPN's Big Blue Madness coverage.

Well apparently Rick Stansbury, the head coach of Mississippi State, was watching the ESPN coverage from Hades and was none too happy about the comparison.  At SEC Media Day, Stansbury commented on this comparison by saying about Bost - "He's not a pro...For any kind of comparison to be made, I don't think Dee is a good one to make it on."   Furthermore, Stansbury had the courage to say what many others, including myself have thought, about Kanter and Kentucky in general;.
"Everybody across the landscape of college basketball understands what that situation was," Stansbury said. "Everybody is probably waiting to see (if) Kentucky gets something, is it because, with Kentucky, something's maybe different than another school."

Wow!  Stansbury even went up to Calipari to talk about this at SEC Media day.  Well Stansbury's right, Bost did not EVER play in a professional league, as did Kanter.  Bost's only mistake was not realizing when the deadline was to pull his name from the NBA draft (and the deadline had been just moved starting this past season - still Bost should have had a clue).   That would be like comparing Katy Perry to Meryl Streep as an actress because Katy happened to have appeared on Saturday Night Live.  That doesn't suddenly make Perry "an actress", though the above spoof on her "left on the cutting room floor" duo with Elmo from Sesame Street was pretty funny.

In other college basketball news, it looks like conference plundering is in full swing, thus a little John Cleese pirate humor is in order.  After Utah and BYU stated their intentions to leave the Mountain West after the 2010-11 season (Utah for the PAC-10 and BYU going independent in football and going to the WCC in Basketball), the MWC had to act to keep their conference strong.  They had already added WAC's Boise State to the fold for the 2011-12 season.   Then the MWC struck at the heart of the WAC again by adding Nevada and Fresno State for the 2012-2013 season.

The Mountain West has a history of causing the WAC grief.  The Mountain West was formed in 1999 when eight teams left the one time sixteen member WAC.   NCAA basketball fans can thank the MWC for creating the dilemma of 31 automatic berth teams to go along with 34 at large teams.  Thus the creation of the Play In Game, otherwise known as the P.I.G., what was and still probably is the most unfair game in NCAA championship sports.

Right now the WAC would be down to six teams for the 2012-13 season, which would mean by rules, they would lose their automatic qualifier bid to the NCAA Tournament.  But don't cry for the WAC just yet.  The WAC is already looking to fill those voids.  Among the schools the WAC are looking at are Montana, Texas State, Texas San Antonio, Denver and Seattle.  Seattle is currently a DI  independent in basketball and Denver is only DI in basketball.   Montana and Denver seem like perfect fits.  The Grizzlies, currently members of the Big Sky, are looking to move into DI football.  The  Pioneers are by far the furthest western point of the Sun Belt conference and really don't fit into the conference's southeastern profile.

With the next topic, I thought it was appropo to have a YouTube link to the very recently deceased Paul the Octopus.   As you may know, Paul was very accurate in predicting World Cup games.  And, it's that time of year when prognostications for the NCAA Tournament actually begin.  Yes, in October.  Blogging the Bracket is already on board with their predictions for the Power Six conferences, as well as "The Other 25 Conferences".   First, I have to kind of laugh that there is this split.  ESPN is guilty of it too with their Bubble Watch.   But it's funny how Blogging the Bracket says "The Other 25" as if they are well, not worthy of mention in the first story.

Well, here at the College Hardwood, we do have separation as well, but we try not to make the non Power Six conferences feel like lepers.   Here's how it is broken down into three groups on this site,
  1. The Power Six  - ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, PAC 10, and SEC 
  2. The Wannabees - Atlantic 10, Conference USA and the Mountain West
  3. The  Mid Majors - America East, Atlantic Sun,  Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC,  MEAC, Missouri Valley, NEC, Ohio Valley, Patriot,  Southern, Southland,  Summit, Sun Belt,  SWAC, West Coast and WAC.
The Power Six and The Mid Majors are pretty obvious.  The Power Six are the large multiple tournament bid basketball/BCS football conferences.  The Mid Majors are the historically one tournament bid basketball conferences.  Where I differ with some people is "The Wannabees", which I talked about in an article this past January.  Those are the conferences that either are multiple bowl bid football conferences - Conference USA and Mountain West, or have been historically a multiple tournament bid basketball conference - The Atlantic 10.  

To break it down even further, if you are one of the few the proud, the readers of this site, you know that I believe the Atlantic 10 has never been a mid major conference.  This is due to the conferences significant NCAA Tournament history and either the basketball program or overall athletic program funding or revenue of several of the schools - Xavier, Dayton, Temple, St Joseph's and UMass for example.  Plus the A10 has shown a recent history of looking down at the term "Mid Major".  So, if you don't want to be a mid major and you're not a power six conference, you're a "wannabe".

Anyway, back to the point of tournament bid projections.   You will not see NCAA Tournament Bid projections in late October or November on this site (Hell, you won't see them here till February 2011). It's just way too early for conjecture.  Plus an octopus predicting world cup games is far more accurate than a basketball prognosticator in October. Finally, I think Blogging the Bracket missed one of the best "Other 25 Conference" teams in the country (go to the suggested link below in the next paragraph to see who I am talking about)

The only thing you will see is either my thoughts on two NCAA Tourmament teams from last season being possible Sweet Sixteen teams or the soon to be seen preseason Baker's Dozen Poll, the thirteen tastiest/best Mid Major teams in the country (and that's a poll the College Hardwood runs during the entire season).

Forget about NCAA Tournament projections in the Fall.  Just be happy that in about ten days or so, the NCAA basketball season starts.  Isn't that all that really matters?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hofstra Fanfest Results in a Pleasant Surprise

Saturday was Hofstra's Fanfest which featured team scrimmages for both the women's and men's basketball teams.   There were inflatables for the kids to play with, free food from Outback Steakhouse, season ticket holders could pick up their tickets and of course there was basketball.

Only a couple hundred fans were in attendance to see new Hofstra Men's Coach Mo Cassara mingle with the crowd or watch, in an even nicer touch, Hofstra Women's Coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey introduced her entire team to the crowd.  But I think those in attendance had a good time.

Tieff and I got there during the women's vs men's drill challenges after spending a late afternoon at Cozymel's for strawberry margaritas and mexican food.  Had we realized that there would be Outback catering the event, we wouldn't have eaten at Cozy's.  But the Outback catering was not the only surprise on the day.  The other big surprise was about to take place.

The women's team took the court for two eight minute periods.   After eight minutes we were surprised.  After sixteen minutes, we were damn impressed.  The Hofstra Pride Women's team has a lot of  talent.  They are led by All Preseason First Team CAA Shante Evans who was second team All CAA as a freshman last season.  That's right, she's only a sophomore.  She averaged 13 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

But here's the scary thought.  Though you could tell Evans is extremely talented, she was the fourth best player on the court on Saturday.  The best player on the court was junior point guard Candice Bellocchio, who is fluid and cat quick.  She averaged nearly 8 points and 5 assists per game in her sophomore season.   Bellocchio is extremely quick driving the paint, fearless and has a great touch on her passes to her teammates.

But for every point guard that can drive the lane, there has to be a deadly shooter the guard can kick out to for the open three.   The Pride Women's team seems to have that guard in junior Nicole Capurso.  Capurso averaged nearly ten points per game, led the team in threes with 58 and was eighth in the CAA in three point field goals per game with 1.7.   She buried several threes during the scrimmage and appears poised to improve on her statistics this year.

But the surprise for the women's team might be fellow junior Marie Malone, a 6 foot 2 forward who transferred from West Virginia two years ago.  She only averaged 4.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season.  But she looked very solid, showed good post moves and showed a nice touch on her baskets, which she had several.

Coach Kilburn-Stevesky has done a very nice job going into her fifth season as head coach of the Pride.  Her first season, 2006-07, she led the Pride to their best Division I record ever, 26-8, a win over #17 Michigan State and taking Hofstra to the quarterfinals of the WNIT beating Seton Hall and South Carolina.   After struggling in her next season with a 5-25 team, her team has improved the past two seasons.

In 2008-09 the Pride improved to 16-14, then 20-14 last season, which included a first round win over Penn State in the WNIT.   Her overall record at Hofstra is 67-61 and the Pride, which only has two seniors on the team, are picked to finish fourth in a very competitive CAA.  Last season, James Madison made the Women's NCAA Tournament, while Delaware, VCU, Old Dominion and Hofstra all made the WNIT.

After the women's scrimmage completed, it was on to the men's scrimmage.  I can honestly say, that with few exceptions, it was hard to say how talented this men's team is.  But I had the same feeling last season during last year's Blue and White men's scrimmage and that team won 19 games.

I did say there were exceptions though.  First, Charles Jenkins is, well Charles Jenkins. The reigning CAA Player of the Year plays just as hard in a scrimmage as he does in a CAA Tournament game.  Jenkins though was trying his best to get others involved.  Greg Washington's outside jumper was in midseason form.   But while the senior veterans Jenkins and Washington look ready to go, there are others that Hofstra needs to count on.

Every time Brad Kelleher drained a three, I wanted to rip my hair out due to the NCAA's completely unfair rulings on his eligibility.   Kelleher has simply a beautiful shooting stroke and everyone will unfortunately have to wait eight games to see it.  Mike Moore showed some flashes of his scoring ability.  JUCO Dwan McMillan seems decent enough to be the starting point guard at least until Kelleher is eligible.

And of all the freshmen, curiously enough redshirt Paul Bilbo showed the most work ethic and aggressiveness (and he looks much trimmer than last season).  None of the other four freshmen really stood out and yes, senior guard/forward Nate Lester was there, but did not play due to his torn quad muscle.   Apparently in about a month or so, they will know whether Lester can play this year or not.  If Lester can play, he would give them much needed depth.

But one player stood out the most in the men's scrimmage.  And if you were at the Hofstra Men's Season Ticket Holder reception a few weeks ago, this should not have come as a surprise.  At the reception, Coach Cassara singled out sophomore forward David Imes as someone who really impressed him during the initial practices.

Well guess who was the best player for the men's team during the scrimmage?  Yup, Imes.  He showed an outside jumper, improved mobility and definitely a new aggressive streak to his game.  Now Imes showed in limited time last year that he's a hard worker.   He seems to have improved his all around game to match that hard work.  A starting lineup of Jenkins, Moore, McMillan, Washington and Imes could be pretty good.  Depth is a serious question though.

Yes it was only two scrimmages, but to Tieff and I, there was a lot to be impressed about, especially the women's team.  Their first game is Friday, November 12 at home versus nationally ranked Virginia.  Tieff and I know what we are doing that Friday night.  Why don't you join us at the Mack Arena for some quality women's basketball?   Then join us Saturday for the first men's game of the season as Hofstra is home vs. Farmingdale.  Hey, it will be a weekend full of Pride.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Live Updates Today via Twitter from the Blue and White Scrimmage

I will be tweeting today from the Hofstra Blue and White Scrimmage.  Follow me for today only @gmoore21566.  After today, I will only be tweeting College Hardwood news at @collegehardwood.  Now go plan some road trips!

Plan Your Road Trips - Part I

Over the past several years of watching college basketball, nothing gives me greater pleasure than taking a road trip to see a game.  The memories you get out of a six hour drive to Richmond, spending a weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, or to witness history in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tourney in Raleigh are simply priceless.

It always helps to have a partner in crime, and I have two of them, my friends Tieff and Mal, who share my Hofstra season tickets.  Tieff has been with me on just about every road trip I have done, sans one.  That's when I traveled up to Worcester, Mass in November 2007 to see Hofstra play Holy Cross in a required return matchup of the previous season's Bracketbuster game.  Otherwise, Tieff and I have never missed a Waffle House that was in our path.

Mal has gone on a few CAA Tournament road trips with us in 2006 and 2007.  But the Golfman, as we call Mal, was instrumental in perhaps one of our greatest road trips, the trip to Raleigh, North Carolina in March, 2008 to see Davidson and specifically Stephen Curry, put on perhaps the greatest show ever seen in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  You couldn't ask for better college basketball, more perfect weather (got a round of golf in on the off day),  and great company.

But it's not just the long trip to Kansas to see Hofstra play in basketball mecca, or to Richmond, Charleston or Raleigh that are special. It's even the small trips to Fairfield for a televised ESPN Bracketbuster game and you stop along the way for a pizza at the famous Frank Pepe's.  Or getting very early to a  Bracketbusters game at Iona and going across the street and stopping at the Beechmont Tavern for a burger and a beer while viewing all the Gael memorabilia in the restaurant.

If you have ever got anything out of this blog, it's the idea of seeing a college basketball game LIVE!  It's not just the two hours of constant action, reveling in the great loud student sections when a college gym is sold out due to the home team hosting their first ever Division I postseason game.  But it's also the trip revolving around the game that's often equally as fun.

So as a public service, I am going to give you the first in a series of recommendations for road trips which includes actual game dates.

1) Puerto Rico Tipoff - San Juan, Puerto Rico - November 18-21 - I had seriously considered going but it would have meant leaving on my younger son's third birthday on November 17.  Now for the rest of you who don't have a child's birthday around that time, here's a great way to go see some quality college basketball.   Twelve games in three days with a break after the second day to go to the beach and enjoy the warm Puerto Rican sun.   And talk about quality basketball - North Carolina, West Virginia, Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Nebraska, Western Kentucky, Davidson and Hofstra are the eight teams here.   Three NCAA tournament teams from last season.   What else could you want?

2) Charleston Classic - Charleston, South Carolina - November 18-21 - Now Tieff and I did this trip two years ago when the Charleston Classic first started.  We had such great fun "doin the Charleston".  The Carolina First Arena is right smack in the middle of the College of Charleston campus, perfectly placed in with all the brick buildings the school has.   The College of Charleston was the host team for the first Charleston Classic Tournament, but strangely, they haven't played in last season's or this season's tournament (last season they chose Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic Tournament instead, not bad mind you).

This season, Georgetown, NC State and defending SoCon champ Wofford are the big three teams.  But you also have George Mason, Charlotte, East Carolina, Coastal Carolina and South Carolina Upstate, so the tournament has a definitive southern flavor to it.  And of course, you have the City of Charleston, with it all it's terrific classic southern architecture, great food and a terrific night life.  It's one of my favorite cities.

Recommendations - stay in town for the tournament (don't do what we did) and as for food selections, well Hyman's Seafood is the place to go.  And if you can plan it out, there's still plenty of golf in Myrtle Beach in November and you can get a hotel real cheap off season on the water (trust me it's still warm there in November).

3) MSG Holiday Festival - Madison Square Garden, NYC - December 20, 21  - This is a two day tournament that Tieff and I have gone to many times over the years.  Thanks to last year's Holiday Festival, we got to know how good a team the Big Red of Cornell was before their NCAA Tournament run.

Two teams from last year's Holiday Festival return, host St John's and Davidson.  Those two teams square off in a first round game while Northwestern plays St. Francis in the other game.  The first game features Steve Lavin in his first Holiday Festival as St John's coach vs. Davidson's Bob McKillop, one of my favorite all time coaches.   St John's is on an upswing, predicted to finish sixth in the competitive Big East.  Northwestern is coming off a 20 win season with a NIT appearance and returns their leading scorer, John Shurna.

The Holiday Festival is a perfect time to be in NYC.  Of course, I would highly suggest going to see the tree in Rockefeller Center.  As for dinner, you really can't go wrong picking a good place to eat in one of the great restaurant capitals in the world.  But since you are near midtown, I highly recommend Tony DiNapoli's.  Just make sure to book a reservation ahead of time.  Then when you are there, order the sangria and Tony's Chicken (order a family style portion!).  The cheesecake is also really good.  Trust me on this one.

4) Hofstra vs. Iona - New Rochelle - December 29 - OK, this is a local NY metro area trip I highly recommend.  Why?  First, I am giving you the scoop on what I think is a team that is going to do really well this season and is flying under the radar, the Iona Gaels. They have a new coach in Tim Cluess, whose C.W. Post teams played a fantastic uptempo style.  Combine this with a team that is returning seven players who averaged more than 12 minutes a game, including leading scorer Scott Machado.   Throw in two talented freshman in Sean Armand and Javon James, both of whom Jared Grasso first recruited for Fordham when he was interim coach (Grasso is now Cluess' top assistant at Iona).

The Gaels' opponent, the Pride, have the returning CAA Player of the Year, Charles Jenkins, who is simply a force of nature and a true treat to watch live.  It will be interesting to see how seven new players (five freshmen, a transfer in Mike Moore and Brad Kelleher free from NCAA suspension land) mesh together with Jenkins with a brand new coaching staff.  New coach Mo Cassara promises various types of offensive tempo depending upon the opponent.  So it could be very well a track meet on that Wednesday night in late December.

As I suggested earlier in this article, get to the Iona campus early on the 29th.  Park in the parking garage, then take the walk off campus across North Street to the Beechmont Tavern.  Have a burger and a beer and look over all the photos of past Iona athletes.   Disregard the Dolphins logo, as cool as it may look.  Then head to the Hynes Center and take in what promises to be a fun game.

5) St Josephs vs. Drexel - Philadelphia  December 1 -  Having been to the cozy gym known as the DAC, the place should be rocking that night with this inter Philly rivalry.  The DAC seats about 2300 of your closest friends and when full, is a truly classic college basketball experience.   Expect it to be full since it's still in semester and bragging rights are at stake.

Now of course, you are in Philly, so there's plenty of good cheesesteak to be found. You have Geno's , Pat's and Campo's among others.  Now if you are not in the mood for cheesesteak and you prefer Italian, I have one recommendation for you. Maggiano' Little Italy on Filbert Street.   Had a great Italian dinner after a classic Drexel- Hofstra game in 2006 that had an ending you couldn't believe unless you were there in person.

So there are my first five recommendations for road trips.  Part II will be in the next week or two.  Now go check your calendar, find a buddy to go with, get your wife's permission (good luck on that), go online and get some tickets, and make a plane reservation if necessary.  Trust me, even the planning for these trips is enjoyable.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CAA Media Day - Fun for the Crowd

Tuesday was Basketball Media Day for the CAA.   They announced the preseason polls for both the women and men's basketball leagues, as well as predicted their preseason players of the year, the preseason all CAA first teams for men and women, and most importantly, the CAA announced the TV schedules for both men and women.

The men's TV schedule is particularly impressive.  Yes, there are the 26 games on the various World Wide Leader (ESPN) channels plus a few other games on Fox College Sports.   But every other game is on some CAA team's internet site, whether it's Monarch TV, Mason All Access, or Hawkvision, just to name a few.   And if your CAA team is playing a non conference game on the road, chances are you can watch them on (when Towson plays at Buffalo) or Bobcat (when Delaware travels to Ohio U.) or Orange All Access ( when William and Mary travel to the Cuse.

You can say that there are a lot of bad things or wacky things about the Internet (click here for the link of the Rent is Too Damn High Party web site).  However the ability to be able to watch your team playing on the road from your computer at home (or wherever) is a beautiful thing.  Yes, you will mostly like have to probably pay to view online your favorite CAA team play on the road,  and you may even get a team's live feed site that isn't very good (memo to the folks at - It's called "Play by Play").  But you can tell your friends how hardcore of a fan you really are!

As for those twenty six games on ESPN and three games on FCS, many of them feature defending CAA champ and NCAA 2010 Tournament First Round winner ODU.  Between the WWL and FCS, the Monarchs will have eight nationally televised games.  But Old Dominion is not the only CAA team in the national spotlight.  George Mason has seven games and VCU has six games respectively on the WWL family of networks.

Of course CAA Media Day is not just about TV schedules.  It's about the preseason poll or hearing the coaches speak.   With my real full time job, I didn't have chance to listen to the live feed from, but thankfully some folks wrote their usual good takes about the day.  Brian Mull gives you his usual good nuggets of information.  And of course, Mr. CAA himself, Mike Litos has some great quotes from the coaches.  The really insightful ones I thought came from Hofstra coach Mo Cassara.  I'll let you read the article and judge for yourself.

As for the preseason poll, no shock that ODU is picked to repeat. With four starters returning from a team that won the regular season and postseason titles, then knocked off Notre Dame in the first round of the tourney, I have the Monarchs as the favorite for the CAA too.   And not surprised by the usual suspects of Mason and VCU as the next two in the poll.  Then comes James Madison, and that's no surprise really, given the ton of talent on that team.  Meshing it together, well that remains to be seen.

And despite losing two starters to transfer, you can certainly see Hofstra being picked fifth simply due to the fact that the reigning CAA Player of the Year and Preseason Player of the Year, Charles Jenkins is back for another season of havoc.  However, there appears to be a major dropoff on the rest of the league due to teams losing players to bad conduct (Drexel with Jamie Harris), significant graduation (see William and Mary and Northeastern) or injury (Delaware with Brian Johnson still hurt).

As for the CAA Preseason First Team, no surprise that Jenkins leads it.  The others listed are Denzel Bowles (defiinitely by far, the biggest threat to Jenkins for winning CAA Player of the Year), VCU's Joey Rodriguez,  Northeastern's Chaisson Allen and Mason's Cam Long.  The Preseason Second Team has ODU's Kent Bazemore and Ben Finney, James Madison's Julius Wells, William and Mary's Quinn McDowell and Delaware's Jawan Carter.

But I am going to give you a little sneak peek of my CAA Season Preview article and tell you five players you need to know about that are not on either the preseason first team or second team.

  • James Madison's Devon Moore.  Moore is returning from injury and will be the key to how successful the Dukes are this season.  I think he is much more first team material than Cam Long.
  • Hofstra's Mike Moore.  Transfer from Fordham who Mo Cassara notes as having an "uncanny ability to score in different ways".  If he lives up to his billing, Hofstra could have a deadly one-two punch they have been missing since the Stokes-Agudio days. 
  • Old Dominion's Frank Hassell.  When you are the second leading scorer from last season's team, you shoot 54 percent from the field and the leading scorer graduates, Blaine Taylor will be looking for you to score more. 
  • VCU's Brandon Burgess.  Burgess is capable of lighting it up.  In his first two seasons, Burgess has shot  48 percent from the field.  Shaka Smart needs a new scoring option with Larry Sanders gone, so look for Burgess to blossom.
  • George Mason's Ryan Pearson.  Look at the end of last season.  When Cam Long was basically a cast member on the TV show "Lost", Pearson was the Patriots' go to guy in the CAA Tournament.  With Gerald Lee and Sanders gone,  Pearson might be the best post player in the CAA.
What really happens this upcoming season, well for the most part, it's anybody's guess.  No one predicted last season that William and Mary would finish third in the conference and knock off teams like Maryland, Wake Forest and Richmond.  Nobody had any idea how good Denzel Bowles would be or that Larry Sanders would be taken with the 15th pick in the first round of the NBA draft.    

There are a few things for certain though this upcoming season.  First, the basketball in the CAA will again be good, especially with three veteran teams at the top of the league.  Second, without fail, recent history has shown that one of the four top regular season teams in the CAA will win the CAA Tournament.   And finally, once again, I will be having my share of Aunt Sarah's pancakes while in town for the CAA Tournament in Richmond in March.  As much as many things change, some things stay the same.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Loss of a Great Fan

Freddy SezIf you are a Yankee fan or like me, someone who loves baseball and has gone to their fair share of Yankee games over the years, chances are you ran into the man above, "Freddy Sez".  Fred Schuman was a long long time Yankee fan who would bring a sign, his trademark frying pan and his banging spoon to the game.  He would be regularly banging out a "Let's Go Yankees" chant, or let his fellow fans bang the pan for him.  He was at every Yankee game that I  can remember going to over the past 15 years.  My brother and I are convinced that the retired Bronx upholstery shop owner was a millionaire who was able to afford to be at every Yankee game for the last 20 years.

Sadly, Freddy Schuman passed away Sunday afternoon after a heart attack at the age of 85.  Schuman was such a revered Yankee icon that at tonight's Yankee game, they had a moment of silence for Freddy Sez.  Schuman has one of his trademark frying pans at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY as well as the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, NJ.

So what does Freddy Sez' passing have to do with college basketball?  Well, as this NY Daily News article notes, a lot. Freddy was a "die hard booster" of Fordham and Manhattan men's college basketball.  And sure enough, Tieff and I saw Freddy three times at Fordham and Manhattan games the past couple of years.  The most recent time was when we went to see Hofstra travel to Draddy Gymnasium to watch the Pride take on the Jaspers in 2008. And there was Freddy with his trademark pan, spoon and a sign rooting the Jaspers on. I told Tieff of my brother's and my philosophy of Freddy being a millionaire, and Tieff agreed.  I even took a picture of Freddy and his trademark pan at the game.  Alas, I can't find the picture of him.

Freddy will be sorely missed by many people.  He added a unique and fun element to Yankee and college basketball games. More importantly, he was a dedicated fan to two great sports.   Somewhere in heaven, Freddy is banging away at his pans, encouraging his teams on from above.

Friday, October 15, 2010

From Around the World of the College Hardwood

Lots of things are going on in the College Hardwood.  Some are well known.  Some, not so.  So let's start in the "Under the Radar" category (thus the love for "Radar Love"!), last week James Madison found out that junior transfer Anthony Hitchens will be eligible this season to play for the Dukes.  Hitchens, who was a member of the all MAC freshman team with the Zips, had the fourth best assistant to turnover ratio in the MAC last season at 1.84, averaging 8.5 points and 3 assists per game.  Hitchens was granted a waiver to play this season by the NCAA.

With the addition of Hitchens, this may mean that coach Matt Brady will move Devon Moore to the two guard position.  This would give the Dukes a formidable lineup of Hitchens, Moore, Andrey Semenov, Julius Wells and the one man double-double wrecking crew, Denzel Bowles.  Moore and Semenov were out for most of last season due to injury.   If Moore and Semenov stay healthy, the Dukes should contend for the CAA title.   The addition of Hitchens moves Madison up to third on my preseason poll for the CAA.

Also last week, In the "I Don't Think That's Quite Enough Punishment for the NCAA's Liking" category, the University of Connecticut admitted that the men's basketball program committed "Major" violations and put the team on a two year probation.  The men's basketball team will lose one scholarship for each of the next two seasons.  However, the University did not find enough evidence to find that Coach Jim Calhoun had "failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance".

Now let's take a look at UConn's "punishment".  First, losing one scholarship each season, meaning 12 scholarships instead of 13, really means that Jim Calhoun can't get that third backup point guard (who is probably better off being the starter at say Northeastern anyhow).   That doesn't seem like much like a punishment to me.  It's like telling a bank robber, "Ok, I caught you robbing the bank, but I am going to give you one month jail time."

Second, when the school acknowledges that the team's coaching staff exchanged 1,400 calls and 1,100 text messages during an over three year period with agent/business manager Josh Nochimson, who was a former team manager for UConn, folks that's not an atmosphere of  compliance by Coach Calhoun.  Think about that.  That's like three calls and 2 texts a day.  Hell I am lucky if I call my wife once a day (and she doesn't text).

Finally, Nochimson is certainly not a boy scout.  He is being sued by former UConn and current Detroit Piston star Richard "Rip" Hamilton of stealing $1 million during Nochimson's tenure as Hamilton's business manager. Nochimson was "representing" former UConn player Nate Miles who was expelled from UConn after being arresting for violating a restraining order for abusing a female student.  Nochimson has been accused of providing lodging, transportation and meals to Miles.   Since Nochimson was a former employee and an alumnus of UConn, he is considered "a representative of the institution's athletic interests" and thus would be in violation of NCAA rules for doing so.

So one scholarship each season and two years probation?  After the Josh Luchs' revelations, similar to what's going on with Enes Kanter, the NCAA is not going to look very kindly to this and I think they will impose harsher sanctions.

Now, mind you I haven't thought this all the way through, but  if I were responsible for imposing the sanctions, here's what I would do.   I would make it at least three scholarships for the next three seasons, one for each year of 300 plus calls and 200 plus texts.

But I wouldn't stop there.  For the next three seasons (starting this season would be too difficult), UConn can not play a home non conference game and can not be paid for taking a road game.  What would that mean?  Well for example, if it started this season, instead of playing Vermont or New Hampshire at Gampel or even Tennessee at the XL center in Hartford, the Huskies would have to travel to Vermont, New Hampshire and play Tennessee in Knoxville.  It's less money for the school and also makes season ticket holders very upset. Perhaps they will be "Howling Huskies."

There has to be a serious enough punishment and denying ticket holders the right to see several games, thus upsetting the school's fan base might be a good start.  Like I said, I haven't thought this through, but I think it would at least be interesting, especially for Vermont and New Hampshire fans who get to see a quality home game.

As for Calhoun and company, they are meeting with the NCAA today in Indianapolis to see if the school imposed punishment is enough.  Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall for that meeting?

Finally, give St John's coach Steve Lavin some props.  He has already signed three top 100 prospects for the 2011-12 season.  And yesterday, Lavin got St John's to hire his former mentor, former Purdue coach Gene Keady as an advisor.  Keady is a terrific coach who led Purdue to 22 postseason appearances in 25 years.  Pretty damn impressive.  Keady will advise Lavin on practices and staff meetings.

It's a great move by Lavin to get an experienced X's and O's coach involved.  With at least five new NYC metro area coaches - Lavin at St John's, Tim Cluess at Iona, Mo Cassara at Hofstra, Dan Hurley at Wagner and Tom Pecora now at Fordham, all of whom seemingly have talented current teams or teams with talented future recruits coming in.  Perhaps city basketball is back on the rise and thus why I am in a New York State of Mind.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Questions and Answers

While cursing myself and my netbook for not saving my "Plan Your Road Trips" article (memo to self - "Mr IT guy, make sure you have set your Word 2007 automatic backup for 2 minutes"), I decided to start my regular run of articles with "Questions and Answers".  I will have the "Plan Your Road Trips" article this weekend.

The questions are entirely mine, but I like to think many people might be thinking the same questions.    As for the answers, their mine too, but are they right?  As Asia would sing "Only Time Will Tell". Hey, any excuse to get a great 80's song via Youtube into the mix.  And yes, I went with an Asia with Greg Lake 83 Tour version.

Question - Is Butler on the verge of being "The New Gonzaga"?

Answer - Folks, they already are.

I submit to you the following, Butler's record for the past nine years as evidence.

2001-02 - 24-6 - NIT Second Round
2002-03 - 27-6 - NCAA Sweet 16 (defeated #21 Miss State and #13 Louisville, lost to Oklahoma)
2003-04 -16-14 - No Postseason
2004-05 - 13-15 - No Postseason
2005-06 - 20-12 - NIT Second Round
2006-07 - 29-7 - NCAA Sweet 16 (defeated ODU and #22 Maryland, lost to Florida)
2007-08 - 30-4 - NCAA Second Round (defeated South Alabama, lost to #6 Tennessee in a ridiculous seeding arrangement )
2008-09 - 26-6 NCAA First Round (lost to #20 LSU)
2009-10 - 33-5 NCAA Finals (defeated #25 UTEP, Murray State, #8 Syracuse,#7 Kansas State and #4 Michigan State lost to #1 Duke in final)

Overall Record Last Nine Years- 218-75 (74.4% Winning Percentage).  Five NCAA tournaments, one NIT.  One Second Round appearance, Two Sweet 16 appearances and one NCAA Finals appearance. A postseason record of 11-6 during that span (10-5 in NCAA Tournament games).  Overall Butler has made ten NCAA appearances with an overall record of 13-10.

Now, take a look at the other Bulldog mid-major darling, Gonzaga, during that same time.

2001-02 - 28-3 - NCAA first round (lost to Wyoming)
2002-03 - 24-9 - NCAA Second Round (defeated Cincinnati, lost to #2 Arizona).
2003-04 - 28-3 - NCAA Second Round (defeated Valpo, lost to Nevada)
2004-05 - 26-5 - NCAA Second Round (defeated Winthrop, lost to Texas Tech)
2005-06 - 29-4 - NCAA Sweet 16 (defeated Xavier and Indiana, lost to UCLA)
2006-07 - 23-11 - NCAA First Round (lost to Indiana)
2007-08 - 25-8 - NCAA First Round (lost to #23 Davidson - I was there for that game).
2008-09 - 28-6 - NCAA Sweet 16 (defeated Akron and Western Kentucky, lost to eventual national champion North Carolina)
2009-10 - 27-7 - NCAA Second  Round (defeated Florida State, lost to #8 Syracuse)

Overall Record Last Nine Years - 238-56 (81% winning percentage).  Nine straight NCAA appearances. Four NCAA second round appearances, Two Sweet 16 Appearances.  A NCAA postseason record of 8-9 during that time.  Overall, Gonzaga has made 13 NCAA appearances with a 15-13 record.

Though Gonzaga has a better overall record and made four more NCAA appearances than Butler during that same nine year period, the Hinkle Fieldhouse Bulldogs actually have the better NCAA postseason record during that time. Also if you look at the last four seasons, Butler's overall record of 118-22 compares quite favorably with Gonzaga's record of 103-32.

If that's not enough proof that Butler has reached the Gonzaga stratosphere, take a look at the ESPN Bracketbusters list of teams.   Notice a glaring omission from that list.  Yup, Butler.  Butler was the major attraction the last two Bracketbusters, winning a home game vs. Siena last season, and winning on the road vs Stephen Curry and Davidson in 2009.  In fact Butler had been in the past four Bracketbusters.

Finally, I submit to you the piece de resistance to my argument that Butler is on par with Gonzaga.  December 4th, Izod Center, Meadowlands.  The rematch vs. Duke on ESPN.   Then, there's another nationally televised game on December 18 at home vs. Stanford (and yes, there is the annual matchup vs. Xavier, this year a road game on December 9).  Finally, Butler heads to the Diamond Head Classic, where they get Utah in the first round, and potentially matchups with Florida State, Baylor or San Diego State, all NCAA tournament teams from last season.

Despite the loss of Gordon Hayward, the Bulldogs still have Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Ronald Nored back, plus a talented highly recruited freshman in Khyle Marshall, so they are still a very talented team.  And with a highly touted 2011 class coming in next year, plus the great coaching of Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs should be good for years to come.  But Butler will no longer sneak up on anyone thanks to their incredible run that was one Gordon Hayward bank shot away from winning it all.   The spotlight is firmly square on these Hoosiers, along with a tough schedule this season, to live up to the standard the other Bulldogs from Gonzaga have set for a longer period of time.

Question - Excluding Butler and Gonzaga, (and since we at the College Hardwood don't include A-10 teams as mid-majors), what other mid major teams that made the NCAA tournament last season are most likely to give us an Sweet 16 encore this season?

Answer - Old Dominion and Murray State

The Monarchs won at Georgetown, then won the very competitive CAA regular season and the CAA Tournament, coming from behind to knock off VCU in overtime in the semifinals, then ending the NCAA posteason hopes of William and Mary in the final.   Then as icing on the cake, ODU came out and knocked off Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, before losing to Elite Eight member Baylor in the second round.

Four of the five starters from that team return - guards Kent Bazemore and Darius James, guard/forward Ben Finney and forward Frank Hassell.  They did lose their best player, All CAA First Team, Gerald Lee.  But super sixth man, Keyon Carter now joins the starting lineup.   The Monarchs always have a deep team, with usually eight players averaging about 10 minutes or more per game.

Plus they have one of the best in game tacticians in Blaine Taylor, perhaps one of the most underrated coaches in the NCAA.   Under Taylor, the Monarchs have made the NCAA Tournament three times in the past six seasons.  The Monarchs have won 20 or more games in five of the past six seasons, with an overall record of 148-60 (71 percent winning percentage).  If Hassell can step up and fill the scoring void of Lee (Hassell did shoot 54 percent from the field last season), then the Monarchs have a legitimate chance of not only making the NCAA Tournament, but doing serious damage in it.  The home games vs. Richmond and Dayton, plus a road game at Missouri will be good indicators of how good this team is.

Meanwhile, Murray State last season nearly ran the table in the Ohio Valley with a 17-1 record.  They followed that up by winning the OVC Tournament.   Despite a 30-4 record, the No Clue At All gave the Racers a #13 seed which they took out on #4 seed Vandy, beating the Commodores on a Danero Thomas buzzer beater.   Then Murray State gave Butler its toughest test of the tournament, outside of the loss to Duke (sorry Cuse, K- State and Michigan State fans, it's true - Murray State played them better than your teams).   The Bulldogs had to rally late to knock off the Racers 54-52.

And here's the scary thought for the Racers' opponents.  Ten players averaged ten minutes or more per game for Murray State last season.  EIGHT of those ten players are returning, including their three top scorers - B.J. Jenkins, Isaiah Canaan, and Ivan Aska, each of whom scored over ten points per game.  But it's not just balanced offense.  The Racers led the OVC last season in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, three-point percentage defense and blocked shots.

The Racers and college basketball fans are going to find out very quickly how legit they are.  A road game vs. Mississippi followed later with three games in the 76 Classic. In the first round of the 76 Classic, the Racers face Stanford, followed by potential games vs. UNLV, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech or Tulsa.  Just one thing to note - Another mid major team cut their teeth in the 76 Classic last season before making a major NCAA Tournament run.  That team was the Butler Bulldogs.  Coincidence?  Well, I am just saying...

By the way, both Old Dominion and Murray State are again in the Bracketbusters game.  Both know you can never have enough exposure for that wonderful NCAA Tournament Committee.

Question - How does the Kanter Situation Play Out?

Answer - There is a good chance Kanter never sees the light of day with Kentucky and declares for the NBA Draft in 2011.

If you don't know by now, Kentucky and The Antichrist, John Calipari, recruited Enes Kanter, the #3 rated center prospect in the country who is originally from Turkey but played prep school basketball in California. He originally committed to Washington, then reopened his recruitment in February 2010 and two months later he signed a national letter of intent with the Ashley Judds.   Now if only Kanter had just played prep basketball in California.

Based on several news articles, we know with certainty that Kanter played in nine games for the Turkish team Fenerbahce Ulker in the 2008-09 season, four in Euroleague play, and five in the Turkish league.  In fact, my guess is that this was the reason why he had to leave two other prep schools - Findlay Prep in Nevada and Mountain State in West Virginia, because the other prep schools in the league refused to play them if Kanter was on those teams.

Now by current NCAA rules, if you play for a professional league, though you weren't paid, you have to sit 2 games for every one game you played (see the Brad Kelleher saga for details).  That means Kanter would sit 18 games, or a good part of his freshman season.

But if it were just that, then Kanter would be able to eventually play with Kentucky.  But whenever the Antichrist is involved, you know it's more than just that.  The general manager of Fenerbahce Ulker, Nedim Karakas, said the club had given banking and housing records to the N.C.A.A.that show Kanter "received more than $100,000 in cash and benefits over three years from the professional team."  But if that was not enough, Kanter has been "advised" by Max Ergel, who was described by a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article as "the agent" for former Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova.

Of course the Antichrist has been defending his signing of Kanter.  He is quoted as saying the following in a Sporting News article;
“You can’t have a contract before 18. You can’t be professional — you’re not allowed to be unless they’re violating FIBA rules,” Calipari said. “We know that, as in any other club, he received apparel. But there was no money, from what we’re seeing, what the kid is saying and the family, and what Nike is saying.  There’s a lot of misinformation out there. You’ve got people talking about it that don’t know, just heard a rumor.”
I guess the Antichrist considers Karakas a rumormonger.  But it sure seems like the club's banking records are not just for "apparel".   Also, if several prep school teams won't play teams that had Kanter on them, chances are those schools knew something fishy about Kanter's background.  And those prep school coaches do their homework on foreign kids.

The reason I think that Kanter won't see the light of day with Kentucky is that the last thing the NCAA needs is bad press about them ruling lightly on this situation.  Especially after the news came out about Josh Luchs' story on how he paid several college players a significant amount of money over several years.  In light of this, the NCAA has to crack down on anything suspicious and someone is going to pay the price for that.  Thus I think the NCAA will declare Kanter ineligible and he declares for the NBA draft in 2011.   Anything less and the NCAA will be hammered on this.

And in sort of fitting end to this last story, the Antichrist stated on Tuesday that he figures his team will lose a lot of games early in the season.   Needless to say that, outside of the Kentucky Blue fan base, no one will be shedding a tear for that.  Especially John Chaney.   However, Ashley, if you need a shoulder to cry on, I am sure plenty of guys, including Pat Forde are available.  Me?  Hey, my wife reads this column.