Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Looking Back at 2011-12 - What a Season It Was!

It took me some time to write this article.  In fact, I wrote most of this the day after Kentucky defeated Kansas for the national championship. However, I didn't finish it until today.  I decided I needed some down time, needing to decompress from a very busy and fun 2011-12 college basketball season.  Time away allows you to reflect on something special.    But I didn't realize it was going to be basically three months before I posted this article.

Back in the summer of last year, I made a commitment to write for the Mid Majority's 800 Games Project, as well as write for my site. This past season, I took it upon myself to go to as many mid major Division I games as I possibly could and of course, write about them.  The season was at times exciting, exhausting, frustrating and even disappointing.  But it was never, ever dull.

It started fittingly at Carnesecca Arena, where the trio of my friends Mal, Tieff and I went to see William and Mary take on St John's.  In a microcosm of their season, the Tribe led for a good part of the game only to see the Red Storm come back for the win.  Wins were few and far between for the Tribe this past season.

Then it was onto the Mack Center in Hempstead, where I saw Hofstra use a strong second half surge to defeat LIU.  I wrote two separate recaps for that game, one for my site and one for Mid Majority, the only time I did that this season.  Little did I know, it was only one of ten times that the Pride would win a game on the season.

A couple of weeks later, I made one of my only two overnight road trips on the season, a jaunt up to Rhode Island to see the Legends' Classic subregional in Kingston.   It was really a fun trip.  After watching two entertaining games on Friday, I spent Saturday morning walking through Newport on an uncharacteristically warm November day.  Then I watched Hofstra defeat another eventual postseason bound team in Cleveland State.  I was also one of the few people on the planet to see  Bryant Crowder actually play in a regular season game for the Pride before he left the team.

As my marines, aka the few, the proud, the loyal readers of my site know, my home base is Hofstra.  However, one of the things that was so great about this past season was that I got to see a lot of other mid major teams in the New York City area.  I was at several Fordham games and I made road trips to Manhattan's Draddy Gym and the Spiro Athletic Center for the nationally televised LIU-Wagner game.

New York City metro area basketball has undergone a resurgence the past couple of seasons. LIU, Wagner and Manhattan all stepped up this season.  St John's and Hofstra were very good in the 2010-11 season and should be again in 2012-13.   Stony Brook was on the precipice of making the NCAA Tournament each of the last three seassons and made the NCAA Tournament twice.  And, of course, there was Iona this season.

I saw a lot of Stony Brook this season.  In fact, the Seawolves were undefeated at home when I attended their games. Alas, I was not there for their America East Championship game loss to Vermont due to a work commitment.  Stony Brook was very enjoyable to watch due to their defensive style of play and hustle.

The Seawolves also have one of the best mascots in the country in Wolfie Seawolf and they have done their best to make their games very family oriented.   The Cotton Eyed Joe Kids' dance in the second half is a really nice touch.  I know my son Matthew had a lot of fun going to the Stony Brook games in 2011-12.

I went to eleven Iona games this past season.  One thing is for certain, the Gaels were exciting to watch.  Of those eleven times I saw Iona play, five of those times they scored over ninety points.  They are certainly disciples of the Paul Westhead system and it was great to see the Gaels make the NCAA Tournament.  

One of the unique things about this season was making sure to find time for good food on road trips.  Since Hofstra did not play Delaware on a Saturday this season, I made sure to make a special road trip to Newark for the Blue Hens Barbecue concession stand.   Before the Loyola Md - Fairfield game, we made sure to allow time for a trip to Frank Pepe's pizza in Fairfield.  My older son, Matthew, aka "my color analyst", will tell you the best soft pretzels are at Iona. 

But three things will stand out this season in particular.  Two things, will fondly stand out to me forever.  The third reminds me why I started this blog.

As my readers know, for as long as I have written this blog, I have always sat in the stands.  It's the perspective of a fan (hopefully a knowledgeable one), sitting with his son, his friends, sometimes even his entire family watching a game on Valentine's Day.  There are a lot of advantages to that.  You can get the fans' perspective on the game, full of fun comments.   I went to the Fordham-Xavier game at Rose Hill Gym and I ended up sitting in the Xavier section.  One fan called out Musketeer Center Kenny Frease for his lack of a vertical leap on one play, noting "How can you miss that?! You're seven-foot-twelve!"

For eight years, I had watched the CAA Tournament from the stands in the Richmond Coliseum. But this March, I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream for my ninth CAA Tournament.  The good folks at CAA Sports, Rob Washburn in particular, have followed my site for years and also follow me on Twitter.  I guess they figure I am semi coherent when it comes to covering CAA Basketball.  In late January, I decided to take the plunge and sent an email requesting media credentials to cover the CAA Tournament.  Within a few hours, Rob had granted my request.

After a road trip with Defiantly Dutch that would have made Steve Martin and John Candy proud, there I was on a Friday afternoon on March 2, sitting two rows from the court in my press row seat.  Rob had the good sense of  putting "The Statler and Waldorf of the CAA" next to each other, which made it more fun having the Dutchman next to me.

It was so much fun reading up on the media guides before the games.  It was also a lot of fun meeting new friends such as Rob Canady, Tom Block and Rob Russell to name a few.  It was good to see Brian Mull again, one of the best beat writers around.  Also, I got to see my good friend, Joe Suhoski, aka @VABeachrep, who was there covering the tournament for CAAZone.  Finally, I got to meet in person Mr. CAAHoops himself, Mike Litos.  You couldn't meet a nicer, more knowledgable guy.

The post game press conferences were for the most part wonderful.  Ron Hunter is one of the most honest, intense individuals you will ever meet.  But he couldn't have been more congenial with Dutch and me after his postgame press conference after his team's heartbreaking loss to George Mason.  Blaine Taylor was his usual blunt, funny self.  Shaka Smart had a hilarious comment about Drexel's Darryl McCoy during his press conference.

The two most difficult press conferences were Hofstra's after their resounding loss to Georgia State and Ron Hunter's after Georgia State's heartbreaking loss to George Mason in the Quarterfinals.  During the Hofstra press conference, I asked my only question of any of the three days' worth of press conferences I attended.  I asked Mike Moore and Nathaniel Lester of what they will fondly look back on their careers at Hofstra.  Both gave very thoughtful answers under a difficult circumstance.  Hunter's passionate talk at the beginning of his press conference showed how much he loved his team.

Also, you really don't get an appreciation of how loud a sold out Richmond Coliseum is until you sit on press row.  The evening quarterfinals session and the semifinals of the CAA Tournament were downright raucous, especially when VCU played.   It certainly was not a neutral site with VCU literally right down the road, but it was also certainly a great atmosphere.  With VCU now gone for the A-10, the CAA Tournament will be a completely different experience and likely in a different arena next season.

And there was a lot of excitement in the 2012 CAA Tournament.  There was Byron Allen's game winning shot in George Mason's quarterfinal win over Georgia State (which I recorded above).  ODU, behind Kent Bazemore living up to his giant cardboard cutout,  shot the lights out in their quarterfinal win over Delaware.  And there was the amazing George Mason-VCU semifinal.  The Rams went out to an unreal 32-4 lead only to see George Mason valiantly rally in the second half before ultimately losing.

But once again, I couldn't stay for the CAA Tournament championship game.  This time I was at 30,000 feet watching the championship game on a wireless feed.   More on that later in this article.

I didn't just see men's Division I games this season.  I was able to catch two of Division III St Joseph's, a team that finished with just four losses on the season and only two in conference.  They got their second ever NCAA Divison III Tournament berth with a well deserved at large bid.

There were a lot of women's Division I basketball games this season.  By my count, it was about fifteen games that I saw; four Hofstra games and eleven Iona games.  I even got to see the great Elene Della Donne of Delaware play against the Pride in what was an entertaining game.  Overall, I saw about seventy six Division I and Division III games.

I got to see several good NCAA Tournament teams this season;  Xavier, VCU, Iona and LIU.   It should have been five teams, but the NCAA Selection Committee and their infinite wisdom didn't think a twenty seven win Drexel team, a team that won nineteen games in a row, deserved an at large bid.  Having seen them in person four times, I couldn't have disagreed more.

Good teams also have good players.  To think that I got to see Iona's Scott Machado and Michael Glover on a regular basis was truly a treat.  I found a new appreciation for Drexel's Samme Givens and I was wowed by the athleticism of VCU's Juvonte Reddic, whose explosive drive to the basket against Delaware at the Bob I will remember forever.  But my favorite player, and my son Matthew's favorite player next to Mike Moore, was Stony Brook's Tommy Brenton.  I just love his hard work and his fundamentally sound game.

There were several last second game winning shots that I witnessed this season.  Several, unfortunately, were against Hofstra.  But the two most memorable were Emmy Andjuar's three point buzzer beater to cap a Manhattan 27-7 comeback to defeat Iona and Allen's last second shot against Georgia State.

In fact, here is a list of my top ten favorite games that I covered in person from this season from top to bottom;

But as I said, there are three things I will remember most about this season.  First, there was a reason I was 30,000 feet in the air the night of the CAA Championship game.  I was on my way out west for a finalist interview at a school that is a part of a major university.  Especially after how I felt from the interview, there was a good chance that my life was about to radically change.

Exactly two weeks later after that interview, I was sitting in the stands, along with my son Matthew and my best friend Tieff, about to watch UMass take on Drexel in the NIT Quarterfinals.  I just happened to check my email during a break in the game.  I found out, despite apparently giving a really good interview, I did not get the job I so dearly wanted.

I showed the email to my friend Tieff and he could see the disappointment in my face.  He did his best to cheer me up.  But in a little while, I was OK.  My long time friend/mistress, college basketball, was there to console me.  I got wrapped up in the great atmosphere of the DAC and what turned out to be a very exciting game.

UMass would rally to win that game.  Though it was disappointing to have seen Drexel lose for their first time on their home court this season, the fact that I was able to see a great live college basketball game eased the pain I had felt.  Once again, when I needed it, college basketball was there for me.

The other thing I remember the most this season is the countless number of games I went to with "my color analyst", aka my soon to be seven year old son Matthew.  His love of college basketball started on my birthday last year, the memorable Charles Jenkins buzzerfest vs. William and Mary.  Matthew was so eager to start this season, he started asking me about Hofstra basketball in July.

He picked up right where he left off from last season.  Matthew went to all the Hofstra home games and a significant number of Iona games.  He even went on road trips to Fairfield to witness the crazy, but fun Jimmy Patsos of Loyola Md  face the evil, black curtain that adorns Webster Bank Arena.   He was there for the first road trip to Drexel, where he got to see the Bucks County Bungee Jumpers at halftime of the Hofstra-Drexel game.  And he was there to watch one of his favorite players, Givens, play his heart out in the loss to UMass.

I can't tell you how wonderful it was having "my color analyst" there with me for so many games.  By my count, Matthew went to thirty three games this season with me. His view of a basketball game was the subject of one of my articles.  Matthew's powers of observation in basketball are truly amazing and he remembers everything.  His love of basketball perhaps even surpasses mine and I loved the energy he brought with him to every game.

And that leads to the third and most important reason, the reason why I started writing this blog in December 2005.  It was about writing on one of my favorite subjects, a game that I have loved since my early teens, college basketball.   Thanks to college basketball, I got to spend countless hours of quality time with my older son.

My focus this past season was truly a mid major focus.  Based on the Mid Majority's criteria, I saw live fifty eight straight mid major games (though don't get me started about the Atlantic-10, which is to me a wannabee conference).  In the end though, the last live game was a Power Six conference NIT semifinal.  It was an ironic, yet cruel twist of fate for my end of the basketball season.  And in a fitting bit of irony, I left that game at haltime, the only game this season I didn't see to its conclusion.

But yet, in the end, it was a triumph.  Including me, there were one hundred and twenty two writers who wrote for the Mid Majority site.   Though it got a little close at the end, we surpassed eight hundred games with recaps (several writers wrote recaps for the same games).  There were so many good articles by so many writers and it was great to have been a part of that project.

I will say this though - Spending my non work free time covering fifty eight Division I men's games, two Divison III games and fifteen women's games was exhausting.  After I got back from my interview trip, I simply crashed that weekend.  As much as I love college basketball, it requires a lot of time to write for two sites (and yes, there is added time editing/writing for another site, even if it's the same recap).   I spent a lot of late nights and very early mornings writing over sixty plus game recaps for both sites (including the Division III games and some women's games).  And I have a full time job, folks.  I'm not complaining, just telling you the facts.

After my final interview at that major university's school, I really thought I had got the job.  The next day, as I took the shuttle to the airport for my flight home, I listened to my music on my IPhone, reflecting on this season.  I had mapped out the number of Division I colleges within what might have been my new location.  There were only three schools and only one was a mid major.   Part of me wondered how much college basketball I could watch and whether I would be okay scaling down my writing.

You see, it's kind of funny, but until this past season I didn't realize how many local teams were within a four hour drive here in Long Island. There are teams whose home games I wanted to see, like LIU and Marist, to name two, that I didn't have a chance to do because of scheduling.    Heck, I was able to see three college games in one day; Fordham vs. Xavier, Georgia State vs. Hofstra and Manhattan vs. Iona, all with a Hofstra theme.  New York is still the mecca of college basketball, no matter what the standings are.

And perhaps, it was the college basketball gods that decided I should stay in New York and not have that job so far west, where football is definitely the king sport at that university.  Perhaps the basketball gods want me to be at the Palestra (hopefully it's the Palestra) next March to see Drexel finally get their well deserved NCAA berth that was denied to them this season.  Perhaps, fate wants me to bring my son Matthew to see Hofstra play in the CAA Tournament.

When it all comes down to it, it was my mistress, college basketball, who refused to let me leave her.  I think she is saying "Right now, where you are is your home.  It's the home of me, college basketball, the one besides your family, that you love so much.  I need you here to write about me."

Yes, that sounds a little crazy, but you see, I have never played with a full deck.

So once again, for the eighth season, I will be writing for this site.  I will say this though;  The College Hardwood will have a different feel this next season.  I can't get into all the details now, but let's just say there will be more coverage.  When the details are more concrete, I will let you know.

However, this past season was special.  I saw more live games than I ever did.  My appreciation of New York City metro basketball has never been greater.  Thanks to that, I have made new friends like John Templon of Big Apple Buckets and Jaden Daly of Daly Dose of Hoops.  And I have the best basketball buddy a father could ever want.

So thank you Jen Ahearn, Kyle Whelliston and all the folks who inspired me to cover fifty eight mid major games (I didn't get the Drexel-UMass game in on their site, but it's on mine). I wouldn't have done it without your inspiration.  It was really cool to be a part of a successful, fun project.

If you are interested, here's my page on Mid Majority's site with the fifty seven game recaps.

Special thanks to Tony Bozzella, Nick Guerriero, Mo Cassara, John Mateyko, Jim Fiore and Rob Washburn (and all the folks at CAA Sports) for all their kindness and generosity this past season.

Most importantly, for all of you who follow my site, my most heart felt thanks. Thank you for making this past season the best ever as far as page views for this site.  I truly hope you enjoyed the articles from the 2011-12 season.

What the 2012-13 season brings, who knows.  It's another challenge, another year of fun.  Won't you join me in November for all of that?  I know "my color analyst" will.

Till then, keep "Running Against the Wind".  It's all we can do.

Best Always,

Gary Moore
Author/Founder of the College Hardwood