Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Oh. My. God. It's #TheJanice!



Phoebe: Janice? You called Janice?
Chandler: Yes, Janice. Why is that so difficult for you to comprehend?
Ross: You remember Janice, right?
--Friends, “The One Where Mr. Heckles Dies,” Season 2

Let’s be clear about one thing: The CBI sucks. I mean, really, really sucks.

It’s not just that the Flying Dutchmen are 0-2 all-time in the CBI. Hofstra is winless in the NCAA Tournament, too, and has a losing record in the NIT, but I’d do cartwheels if we ever get back to one of those tourneys.

It’s that the CBI is Calvinball, on the floor and behind the scenes. This is a tournament that is bracketed for the first two rounds but then shuffled for the semifinals before the last two teams play a best-of-three championship series. What’s next? Games declared ties if teams are tied at the end of regulation? Or overtime consisting of duck-duck-goose?

The CBI is run by the Gazelle Group, which, ahem, has made no friends with the equal parts ruthlessness and incompetence with which it operates the CBI as well as its preseason tournaments. I thought Hofstra learned this when the Flying Dutchmen traveled to the Evansville on less than 24 hours notice to play a game in a Division II gym in the 2011 CBI, or when the Dutchmen were sent to Purdue instead of Villanova to open a Gazelle Group tournament bleak in November 2012, but I guess not.

The CBI is a joke, and something we should laugh at, even as Hofstra inexplicably participates in it for a third time tonight, when the Dutchmen host former North Atlantic Conference/America East foe Vermont at 7. I’m just an unfrozen caveman blogger, but if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that the CIT was interested in Hofstra and awarded bids to CAA foes James Madison and UNC Wilmington.

But whatever. The CBI is here, and the logo I imagine Hofstra is footing the bill for is on the court as I type, so we must make the best of this hate-watching experience.

We must call the CBI by its new name, The Janice. As in Janice Litman Goralnik, who was one of only three non-core characters to appear on every season of Friends. (thank you Wikipedia)

She was loud, shrill, annoying and generally awful. Nobody liked her and everybody made fun of her. You know, kind of like the CBI.

Yet Chandler kept hooking up with Janice, and Ross even bedded her once.  We are now Chandler and Ross, going back to play in a tournament we’re embarrassed to be a part of because, well, we all get lonely and maybe we panicked while CBI and CIT bids were being bandied about last week.

Regardless of how we got here, we are here, ashamed to be in the CBI, certain we’ll be making fun of it later. So why wait? Let’s make fun of it in real time. Beginning right now, please refer to the CBI not as the CBI but as #TheJanice.

Now that we’re treating #TheJanice with the reverence it deserve, there’s only two things left to do.


And after winning the whole (TV edit) thing, let the Flying Dutchmen find their Monica or Rachel, and let us never speak of or partake in #TheJanice ever again.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

We don’t sleep, we dream



Well, it’s too late to turn back now. It was one thing to get in the car Friday afternoon and drive roughly 227 miles over nearly five interminable hours, all the while finding promising signs on the radio that made us imagine what it’d be like to have to figure out a way to get back to Baltimore if the Flying Dutchmen made it to Monday night.

(Have I mentioned we have to go back Sunday night? I’ll save that story. It’s a good one)

But to actually see the Dutchmen rout James Madison 74-57 in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon? We could say all the right things about simply being satisfied in getting to the semifinals for the first time since 2011, or about the challenge that awaits the Dutchmen in today’s semifinal game against William & Mary.

We could even just heed the words of Moussa Kone, the lone four-year member of this year’s Dutchmen roster, who boiled Saturday’s win down to its most basic form.

“Means we can stay here and not go home,” said Kone, who continued playing like a senior trying to stave off going home for good by leading the Dutchmen with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

But no. It’s too late for caution, too late for tempered optimism. We are all damn in. All or nothing.

That’s how good the Dutchmen looked Saturday, when they dominated a James Madison team that outscored Hofstra by 29 points over the final 61:02 the two teams played against each other in the regular season.

On both ends of the court, this was a clinic in a coach realizing what didn’t work the first two times, and players implementing adjustments.

The Dutchmen took almost as many 3-pointers (61) as shots from inside the arc (64) in the regular season games against James Madison but drained just 19 from long range.

“First time we played them, we shot a lot of threes,” Ameen Tanksley said. “We got into that rhythm of just chucking threes and trying to find a way to make them.”

On Saturday, the Dutchmen were 7-of-20 from 3-point land but a whopping 24-of-33 from inside the arc. Kone set the tone on the first basket of the game, when he put back a miss by Juan’ya Green. Kone and Rokas Gustys finished with 29 points, on 14-of-18 shooting, and 16 rebounds in 40 minutes as the Dutchmen outscored the Dukes 46-28 in the paint and dominated the second chance points by a 25-12 margin.

Tanksley had 16 points on just 5-of-15 shooting, but a pair of individual 5-0 runs sparked the decisive turns of momentum in each half. In the first, Tanksley’s five straight points tied the game at 20-20 and began a 19-4 run that gave the Dutchmen the lead for good. In the second, his five straight points spanning the midway point of the half extended the lead to 13 points and started a game-ending 23-14 run.

Defensively, the duos of Kone and Gustys and Dion Nesmith and Malik Nichols ensured a far better outcome than in the regular season games. James Madison shot better than 50 percent (49-of-97) in the first two contests but just 37 percent (20-of-54) on Saturday.

After allowing James Madison to shoot better than 50 percent (49-of-97) in the regular season games, the Dutchmen held the Dukes to 37 percent shooting (20-of-54). Ron Curry, who torched the Dutchmen for 45 points in the regular season, had 18 points but was worked to exhaustion, a la Charles Jenkins in 2011, by the combination of Nesmith and Nichols.

“Our battle cry all week was we had to be a better defensive team,” Joe Mihalich said. “I thought, clearly, we were.”

Most encouraging of all, the Dutchmen played with poise and purpose that was often missing this season. A miserable first half at the free throw line—the Dutchmen were 3-of-10 from the so-called charity stripe—kept the game closer than it had to be.

James Madison whittled a 13-point deficit to six in the final 3:20 of the first half, during which the Dutchmen missed six of their final seven shots, including three putbacks in the final three seconds. But the lead never fell below eight following Kone’s layup to begin the second half, when the Dutchmen shot 56 percent (15-of-27).

“Today, toughness showed through,” Mihalich said. “We haven’t been tough every game this year, and that’s on me. But we certainly were tough today.”

You bet everyone else noticed. The buzz downstairs at the Royal Farms Arena was over the danger the Dutchmen could pose over the next two nights. We spent much of the game with some William & Mary fans, who acknowledged they’d rather see James Madison win.

Nobody took more notice of what happened Saturday than the Dutchmen themselves.

“We don’t think we should have had as many losses in conference,” Tanksley said. “As coach said, every game, we didn’t come out playing hard. I believe if we came out playing hard every game. we would have had two losses. At most.”

Now we begin to believe the Dutchmen can hand out two more losses in the next 40 or so hours. Even blinded by newfound belief, we know William & Mary didn’t trail for a second in sweeping the Dutchmen in the regular season. The Tribe have the Player of the Year in Marcus Thornton and the Defensive Player of the Year in Terry Tarpey.

William & Mary played terrific defense of its own in a 72-59 win over Elon earlier Saturday and played like a team that knows its window of opportunity to end the 322-year NCAA Tournament drought slams shut after this season.

But we also know the Dutchmen lost the first game this season to William & Mary by 21 points, and the second by two points. We know Juan’ya Green scored “just” 10 points on Saturday, though he added eight assists. We know the Dutchmen won by 17 on a day in which Brian Bernardi was scoreless from 3-point land until the final minute.

As good as Saturday was, it can get better. It will get better, today. Sure, such an approach sets us up for heartache, and for the agony of realizing just how long a road it is to get back to a chance to even play for a berth in a conference title game.

It’s OK. We’re willing to take that risk.

“It’s a very good team,” Mihalich said of William & Mary. “There’s a lot of things we have to do—how much time we got? [A reporter] wants to know how to beat William & Mary. I need a good 45, 50 minutes.”

We’ll take 40 today. Then 40 more tomorrow. It’s too late to turn back now.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I'm driving the Dutchmen Express


Kix will no longer be the first thing we think about Baltimore come Monday night!

The first full song we heard in the car Friday afternoon after leaving my wife’s school and hitting the road for Baltimore was “Come Dancing” by The Kinks.

(Honest to God true story: The song that was on when I turned the ignition was “Highway to Hell.” Nope. Not going to Richmond!)

At the rest stop in New Jersey, I saw a guy wearing an alumni sweatshirt from La Salle, the alma mater of Flying Dutchmen head coach Joe Mihalich. Somewhere between New Jersey and Delaware we saw an RV with the words “DUTCHMEN EXPRESS” painted across it. And the first song we heard upon hitting the Baltimore city limits was “Dance With Me” by Orleans (GOOGLE IT CRAIN).

So by the time I took a seat at Royal Farms Arena (think Nassau Coliseum, except older but with nicer seats, a crapton of Major Indoor Soccer League banners hanging from the rafters and probably less asbestos hanging from the roof), I was already wondering where we could storm the court on Monday night and imagining the Flying Dutchmen forming a euphoric pile of humanity at center court.

(Oh and within my first hour in the Arena, I managed to win a bottle of Buffalo Wild Wings sauce in a ring toss game at the Buffalo Wild Wings booth, which is the closest we get to Buffalo Wild Wings at the Arena despite Buffalo Wild Wings being a sponsor of the CAA Tournament. #ThatsSoCAAHoops)

Of course, it never takes me much to fully invest in the possibilities of March magic, even and especially when the numbers don’t support a deep CAA Tournament run by the Dutchmen. Which, let’s face it, has been the case every year since at least 2008, and if we’re honest with ourselves, none of us were surprised when the 2007 team was one-and-done, either (FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST GREG KICK THE BALL OUT TO ANTOINE AGUDIO).

And none of us will be surprised if the Dutchmen are on I-95 north by the time Northeastern and Delaware tip off in the final game of Saturday’s quarterfinal quadruple header. The Dutchmen played two good halves in getting swept this season by James Madison. As we’ve noted, teams that win the two games in a regular season series win a tournament re-rematch pretty often.

But…for the first time since this sporadically updated blog was founded (ca. 2008), it is equally easy to imagine the Dutchmen playing on Monday, and beyond. Bless the unprecedented parity in CAA Hoops (which you can read about here) for giving us all a reason to believe.

But…the 0-2 teams are red-hot lately. Elon and College of Charleston both vanquished regular season sweeps Friday night in beating Towson and Drexel in the out bracket games. In last year’s semifinals, William & Mary shrugged off a pair of regular season losses to Towson to knock off the Tigers.

Plus, Joe Mihalich wins March tournament games. Dating back to his days as the head coach at Niagara, Mihalich’s teams have won their conference tournament opener 13 times in 16 tries. He’ll have them ready to play today.

Of course, presuming William & Mary beats eighth-seeded Elon at noon today—and I don’t think the Tribe, which is trying to end a 322-year NCAA Tournament drought, is going to be caught overlooking anyone after the Drexel debacle last weekend—the task will only get taller if the Dutchmen beat James Madison.

I mean, at least the Dutchmen have led the Dukes this season. William & Mary led wire-to-wire in both wins over the Dutchmen. And the Tribe can match the Dutchmen’s high-octane offense, but thanks to Terry Tarpey, it can play some pretty good defense too.

But the Dutchmen only lost 80-78 against the Tribe on Feb. 22, when Hofstra completely erased a 10-point deficit in the final four minutes before Marcus Thornton hit two free throws in the final five seconds. All the pressure will be on the Tribe, whose entire season has been about getting back to the title game and giving Thornton a chance to drain the game-winning shot he missed against Delaware at the buzzer last season.

And who will be hotter than the Dutchmen if they get to Monday night? Only two teams seeded lower than fourth have made the CAA Tournament final since 2000. Advance to the Monday and it’s going to be difficult to beat the combination of momentum and adrenaline possessed by Hofstra.

As much as I try to remind myself little to none of this is actually going to happen, I can also, for once, find some people sharing my blind optimism. The computers and the wise guys love the Dutchmen, because the raw numbers are good (seriously, how did this team rank third in the CAA in opponents points per possession?). Our friend John Templon joins Ken Pomeroy in giving the Dutchmen a 36 percent chance of reaching the finals and a 21 percent chance of winning it all. The gambling website Covers has the Dutchmen’s odds of winning the tournament at 9/4, tied with Northeastern for second-best behind William & Mary.

Everything’s aligning. The music gods are on our side, the number-crunchers are behind us and Vinny in Vegas is going to pay for his buffet dinners with his Hofstra winnings the next three nights. And I’ve got a bottle of Buffalo Wild Wings barbeque sauce, for some reason.

The Dutchmen Express is on the road and won’t leave Baltimore until Monday night. Climb aboard.

So why did the CAA throw such a parity party this season?


The mascots for this season and this weekend?

By any measure—statistical or the eye test—the 2015 CAA regular season was the most unpredictable and parity-ridden in at least 10 years.

There was, as we all know, a four-way tie for first place at 12-6—the first three- or four-way tie in league history and just the third four-way tie at the Division I level in the last six years.

The four-way tie did not include Hofstra, which was the last unbeaten team in league play at 4-0 yet finished alone in fifth at 10-8. The Dutchmen edged out Delaware, which opened up 0-10 in non-conference play—the worst start ever by a defending CAA champion—and lost its first three CAA games before finishing 9-9.

The regular season ended last Saturday with William & Mary and UNC
Wilmington taking the court five hours apart and knowing a win would give them the regular season title. Yet the Tribe (Drexel) and Seahawks (Elon) were routed by teams that played in the out bracket games last night.

Those wins by Drexel and Elon helped the bottom half of the CAA finish 12-38 against the top half. The .240 winning percentage is the highest by the bottom half of the league against the top half since at least 2005-06.

“You never know, when you check the scores after a CAA night, who’s going to win,” Elon coach Matt Matheny said during the CAA’s weekly conference call on Tuesday. “And you can never be surprised, because anybody can beat anybody.”

The team with the longest active winning streak entering the CAA Tournament is Elon, which won its final three games to finish 5-13 in league play. The Phoenix stayed hot last night, when it edged Towson 74-69 in overtime.

So yeah, the league is more wide-open than ever, which gives everyone hope heading into the tournament (alas, that hope has already expired for Drexel and Towson—we pour out a bottle of iced tea for our fallen ECC comrades).

But why? In keeping with the theme of the season, there’s no consistent explanation. Here are three possibilities, with comments from league coaches gleaned from Tuesday’s conference calls.

--Conference realignment has robbed the CAA of its superpowers. VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion combined to win eight of the first 11 championships following the CAA’s expansion in 2001-02, including the final six before VCU (Atlantic 10) exited following the 2011-12 season. Old Dominion (Conference USA) and George Mason (Atlantic 10) left after the 2012-13 season.

Those three teams also finished in the top half of the CAA in each of the seven seasons in which the league had 12 teams (2005-06 through 2011-12).

Not coincidentally, the CAA’s three best seasons featured the largest divide between the top and bottom halves of the league. In 2012, when VCU won the tournament and Drexel was relegated to the NIT despite going 16-2 in league play, the bottom half went just 4-58 (.065) against the top half.

In 2006, the year UNC Wilmington won the tournament, George Mason made the Final Four as an at-large (grr) and Hofstra was robbed of a third bid (grr), the bottom half went 4-56 (.067) against the top half. And in 2011, when the league sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament for the first time and VCU went from the “First Four” to the Final Four (yay!), the bottom half was 7-53 (.117) against the top half.

But this year marks the second time in the last three seasons a team picked to finish next-to-last in the preseason poll ended up second. Towson was picked 10th in an 11-team CAA in 2012-13.

“Before all the major league changes around the country, there was often that one or two teams that were maybe a step above everybody else,” William & Mary coach Tony Shaver said. “I thought the bottom 80 percent has always been very balanced. I said back in the fall at media day I don’t think this league this year has that one or two great teams.”

--Injuries evened the playing field.

William & Mary played five games in February without Daniel Dixon. Drexel lost Major Canady to a broken ankle in the preseason and Sooren Derboghosian to knee surgery after eight games. Rodney Williams played in just 22 games due to a stress fracture in his foot and Player of the Year runner-up Damion Lee suffered a season-ending broken wrist against Northeastern on Feb. 21.

UNC Wilmington’s Freddie Jackson didn’t miss a game, but was hobbled for weeks by an ankle injury he suffered at Hofstra on Jan. 17. James Madison lost preseason first-teamer Andre Nation when Matt Brady finally kicked him off the team on Jan. 14 following numerous suspensions over the last two-plus seasons. Hofstra’s two big men, Moussa Kone and Rokas Gustys, each missed several games with leg injuries.

“A lot of it has to do with injuries,” Shaver said. “Drexel, obviously, really tough start to the year. They got healthy and won five or six in a row. I think for us, for example, (for) three-quarters of the season we were healthy and really good—at times a dominant team. And then we played our last seven games without one of our starters and we’ve been a little different.”

--A unique mix of experience and inexperience, both lot of inexperience, on the floor and on the sidelines. Half the CAA’s head coaches have either been at the helm for four years or less or are new to the league this season (Matheny is in his sixth season at Elon). The other five have all been with their schools for at least seven seasons.

Among the CAA’s top 10 scorers this season were four seniors, only three of whom (Marcus Thornton, Kyle Anderson and Addison Spruill) played four years in the league. There were five juniors in the top 10, but three redshirted last year (Lee and Hofstra’s Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley). Freshman Elijah Bryant of Elon was the lone underclassmen in the top 10.

For most of the season, Hofstra’s starting lineup featured four players—Green, Tanksley, redshirt sophomore Brian Bernardi and junior college transfer Malik Nichols—who didn’t play for the Dutchmen last year.

“I think there’s a great balance between a few teams that have got some seniors (and) the young guys in this league (that) are very, very talented,” UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts said, “And when you have, when you’ve got that balance , you can have some inconsistencies between teams. On any given night your young guys can be great and on certain nights they just play like young guys. So you get the chance to win some games and you get a chance to lose some games.”

In addition, defending champion Delaware lost its top four scorers (three to graduation, one to dismissal) while Towson, which finished second in the regular season and lost in the tournament semifinals, graduated its top four scorers.

:If you look back at who lost a lot from the year before—Towson was very senior-dominated and Delaware had a lot of seniors,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. “So the teams are more even from top to bottom. There’s no team that you look at and say ‘Oh wow, those guys are really dominating the league.’”

So was this season merely a cyclical hiccup, or the new normal? The next few years will determine that. In the meantime, spend the next three days wondering if the unpredictability can wreck havoc with a tournament in which only four teams seeded lower than third have reached the title game since 2000.

“This year, you can go one through six, one through seven or whatever you want,” Delaware coach Monte Ross said. It’s going to be a wild and crazy CAA Tournament.”

Friday, March 6, 2015

Just The Facts 2015: CAAT rematches of regular season finales


Can The Terminator get the real Guns N' Roses back together?

The Flying Dutchmen will see a familiar foe Saturday, when they open CAA Tournament play against James Madison at 2:30 PM. The Dutchmen’s regular season ended last Saturday with an 82-73 loss to the Dukes.

So that, of course, got me thinking not only about how a team fares when facing in the tournament an opponent that swept it during the season, but how teams fare when playing each other in the CAA regular season finale and then again in the first game of the CAA Tournament.

Welp, more bad news for the Dutchmen: There have been 13 such rematches in CAA history, and the team that won the regular season finale won the tourney game 10 times. James Madison and Hofstra have accounted for half of those victories: The Dukes swept the regular season finale and CAA Tournament opener three times (1992, 1993 and 2013) while the Dutchmen did it in 2009 and 2010.

Hofstra and James Madison have also been involved in the three times a team lost the finale but won the CAA Tournament rematch. The Dutchmen ended the 2001-02 season by losing to Towson before beating the Tigers in the tournament. James Madison knocked off Drexel in 2010 and was victimized in the tournament by Navy after beating the Midshipmen in the regular season finale way back in 1991.

So as you can see, this has only further muddied the already-confusing waters. Success! Below is the complete list of regular season sweeps and tourney rematches (or re-rematches).

1984-85
George Mason vs. UNC Wilmington
FINALE: George Mason 99, UNC Wilmington 88
TOURNEY: George Mason 70, UNC Wilmington 67

1990-91
James Madison vs. Navy
FINALE: James Madison 106, Navy 86
TOURNEY: Navy 85, James Madison 82***

1991-92
James Madison vs. William & Mary
FINALE: James Madison 98, William & Mary 77
TOURNEY: James Madison 77, William & Mary 53

1992-93
James Madison vs. George Mason
FINALE: James Madison 75, George Mason 59
TOURNEY: James Madison 60, George Mason 49

1993-94
Old Dominion vs. William & Mary
FINALE: Old Dominion 94, William & Mary 70
TOURNEY: Old Dominion 83, William & Mary 58

2001-02
Towson vs. Hofstra
FINALE: Towson 61, Hofstra 60
TOURNEY: Hofstra 72, Towson 52

2005-06
VCU vs. William & Mary
FINALE: VCU 77, William & Mary 59
TOURNEY: VCU 62, William & Mary 59

2008-09
Hofstra vs. UNC Wilmington
FINALE: Hofstra 88, UNC Wilmington 81
TOURNEY: Hofstra 79, UNC Wilmington 66

2009-10
Hofstra vs. Georgia State
FINALE: Hofstra 87, Georgia State 74
TOURNEY: Hofstra 68, Georgia State 67

James Madison vs. Drexel
FINALE: Drexel 67, James Madison 64
TOURNEY: James Madison 77, Drexel 65

2010-11
Drexel vs. Towson
FINALE: Drexel 66, Towson 63
TOURNEY: Drexel 75, Towson 69

2012-13
James Madison vs. William & Mary
FINALE: James Madison 69, William & Mary 67
TOURNEY: James Madison 72, William & Mary 67

2013-14
Northeastern vs. Drexel
FINALE: Northeastern 54, Drexel 52
TOURNEY: Northeastern 90, Drexel 81

***Navy played non-conference foe Army in its regular season finale in 1990-91.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Just The Facts 2015: Going 0-2 against a tourney foe


I saw this movie at a drive-in. GOOGLE IT DRAGONS SPEAK!

Hello and welcome to the 2015 edition of “Just The Facts,” the sorta-annual pre-CAA Tournament series in which I dispense with my usual witty verbiage (snort) and present to you the key data in a Hofstra-related topic. We’ll stick with the Terminator theme, since the Flying Dutchmen won a tourney game with it last year!

Anyway, there’s a few topics to sink our teeth into this year, so let’s get right to it. On Saturday, the Flying Dutchmen will open (but hopefully not close) CAA Tournament play against James Madison. The Dukes swept Hofstra this season, so that of course got me wondering about a familiar storyline at this time of season: How does a team fare when it’s facing a team it has already beaten twice? Or, in this case, lost to twice?

The news is not good for Hofstra, but it might be getting better. Since the CAA expanded to include the America East four in 2001-02, teams that went 0-2 in the regular season against a tournament foe have gone just 14-39 in the third game. That’s a winning percentage of just .264. Welp.

However, an 0-2 team has won the last three re-rematches, including two last night, when Elon and College of Charleston beat Towson and Drexel in the out bracket games. Whoo hoo!

Here are the results, with the 2-0 team listed first. Mostly because I’ve done this when Hofstra is the 2-0 team and I already had the data presented as such.

2015: Towson loses to Elon, Drexel loses to College of Charleston
2014: Hofstra beats UNCW, Delaware beats Hofstra, Delaware beats Northeastern, Delaware beats W&M, Towson beats JMU, Towson loses to W&M
2013: Delaware beats Hofstra, JMU beats W&M, Northeastern beats GMU, JMU beats Delaware
2012: Delaware beats Towson
2011: Drexel beats Towson, Delaware beats Northeastern, Hofstra beats W&M
2010: Drexel loses to JMU, ODU beats Towson, ODU beats W&M
2009: Hofstra beats UNCW, VCU beats Georgia State, JMU beats W&M, Drexel loses to Towson, GMU beats Towson
2008: VCU loses to W&M, UNCW loses to GMU
2007: VCU beats Georgia State, VCU beats GMU, GMU beats JMU, ODU loses to GMU, Drexel beats Northeastern, Northeastern beats Delaware, W&M loses to Georgia State
2006: VCU beats W&M, Northeastern beats JMU, Towson loses to Georgia State, UNCW beats Delaware
2005: VCU beats Delaware, ODU beats W&M, Drexel loses to Hofstra
2004: VCU beats Towson, VCU beats ODU, GMU beats UNCW, UNCW beats JMU
2003: Mason loses to Delaware, UNCW beats Hofstra, UNCW beats Drexel, UNCW beats Delaware, JMU beats Towson
2002: VCU beats ODU, GMU loses to Hofstra, W&M loses to JMU, UNCW beats JMU

However, the news is a bit better when simply discussing Hofstra’s experience as the team that was swept during the regular season. The Dutchmen, as noted above, have accounted for two of the 12 wins by 0-2 teams and are a solid 2-3 in these tourney re-rematches since joining the CAA.

Dating back to their days in the ECC, the Dutchmen are 3-9 (.333) when facing a team in a conference tournament that swept them during the regular season. The full list:

CAA
2014: Lost to Delaware
2013: Lost to Delaware
2005: Beat Drexel
2003: Lost to UNCW
2002: Beat George Mason

AMERICA EAST/NAC
1998: Lost to Delaware
1995: Lost to Drexel

ECC
1989: Lost to Bucknell
1988: Lost to Lafayette
1987: Lost to Lafayette
1986: Beat Bucknell
1985: Lost to Lehigh

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Senior Night: Moussa Kone


Moussa Kone was perfectly positioned to transfer from Hofstra following his sophomore season in 2012-13, a campaign in which the Flying Dutchmen plumbed the lowest depths in school history on and off the court before head coach Mo Cassara and the assistants who recruited Kone were fired.

Kone could have surveyed the landscape, found a program that wasn’t staring at a complete rebuild, used his redshirt season to refine a still-maturing game and emerged as a key force down low for someone in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

But the only time Kone thinks about transferring from Hofstra is when others ask him why he didn’t.

“I decided to stay and recognize that the coaching staff is one thing that I loved, but the Hofstra community is another thing that I love,” Kone said Monday, two days before his final regular season home game at Hofstra Arena. “That’s what I’ve really enjoyed about the whole situation. I just realized that this is the best place for me to stay.”

Kone was further emboldened after his first meeting with Joe Mihalich, the famous (or infamous) one in which the new coach gathered what was left of the 2012-13 team in a room in the basement of the University Club shortly before his introductory press conference on Apr. 10.

“He wanted me to realize that he wanted me to be a leader on and off the court,” Kone said. “That’s one thing that built my confidence up. I wanted to make him a happy coach, as far as making sure everything was correct, as far as being a good teammate on the floor, off the floor, encouraging my teammates and being energetic.”

Winning and retaining Mihalich’s approval off the court was no problem for Kone, whose character and gentle demeanor immediately impressed athletic department staffers upon his arrival in the fall of 2011. Kone evoked memories of Charles Jenkins by immersing himself in student activities—he is a member of the Student-Athlete Advocacy Committee—and becoming a staple at sporting events on campus.

Meeting Mihalich’s standards on the court was a bit more challenging—particularly handling the adjustment from Cassara, who relied on positive reinforcement to try and keep the undermanned Dutchmen afloat while they went 17-47 during Kone’s first two seasons, to the demanding and rarely satisfied Mihalich.

Kone has come back from a knee injury suffered in the season opener against Jacksonville to average 8.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in 16 CAA games for the Dutchmen, whose nine league wins are three fewer than Kone enjoyed in his first three seasons.

But winning and displaying consistent improvement—Kone averaged 5.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game over his first three years—is often not enough for Mihalich.

“Sometimes he does look at me with a puzzled look, as if to say ‘Why do you want more? We’re doing pretty good right now.’ And he’s not used to that,” Mihalich said. “Like I said to Jeff Hathaway: This is how I want to be. We have 18 wins, knocking on the door of 20 wins, and we’re not happy.

“But that’s how you want to be. That’s the biggest adjustment for him, is that realization—he’s still learning that that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Mihalich has spent plenty of time this month praise Kone instead of pushing him. Kone has scored in double digits three times in six February games and twice came within a rebound of a double-double.

Kone had the best game of his career on Feb. 15, when he scored 23 points—on 10-of-10 shooting from the field—and pulled down nine rebounds in an 81-57 rout of Drexel.

On the bus afterward, Mihalich informed Kone that he was just the seventh player in CAA history to make at least 10 field goal attempts without a miss in a single game. Among the first six: Hall of Famer David Robinson.

“In the beginning of the game, if they get me going with a couple dump-off passes and I get a couple dunks in and I get three or four layups and I’m feeling good about myself, then they’ll continue to feed me,” Kone said. “And that’s basically what happened against Drexel. They just kept feeding off me and I was just getting great looks and I just couldn’t miss, I guess.”

The February surge is nothing new for Kone: Of the 21 times he has scored at least 10 points in a game for Hofstra, eight have come in February including both his 20-point efforts. That’s a good trend for a team that will have a legitimate chance at advancing deep into the CAA Tournament for the first time in Kone’s career.

While Kone is thinking about the remaining games he has to play, he’s also begun to reflect upon the circuitous path he traveled at Hofstra and how the struggles of his first two seasons are impacting the payoff he’s enjoying as a senior.

“I had to mature from the first two years and being on a team where a lot of people probably wouldn’t have stuck it out,” Kone said. “But I was mature enough to be patient and just stay around, stick it out, just be confident in the team and in the organization. The athletic director down to the coaches and managers that we have on the team. I just respect them to the fullest.

“I just wanted to come out here and stick it out. Looking back on it, I just feel like it was a great decision that I (made). I wanted to come in here and finish up and it’s turned out pretty well for me.”

And as demanding as he could be of Kone, Mihalich will always have a soft spot for the lone Cassara-era player to complete his eligibility under the new coaching staff.

“The negative things that happened, the losing, all that stuff, and he’s really the only one that stuck around,” Mihalich said. “And now he’s here and not only is the culture different, but he’s a big part of why it is. So it’s remarkable that he’s been able to do that.”