Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hofstra Bias Primer!

Think about how technology has impacted your life.

Alright, since we both know you’re NOT going to think about how technology has impacted your lives, let me share a quick story with you.

After joining Twitter a few years ago, I started following someone named “Defiantly Dutch” because he was a Hofstra fan with a quirky sense of humor, not to mention being quite the writer. It turned out we are both hardcore fans of the most underrated band of the early 1990’s, Extreme. We formed a friendship only Twitter could spawn (literally).

Fast-forwarding a bit, DD invited me to come up to NY in January 2011 to watch Hofstra host Old Dominion in basketball with him and his wife. Of course, the most logical thing to do was to hop in my car and drive hundreds of miles from Baltimore to Hempstead, just to meet someone who (for all I knew) was a serial killer that preys on fans of other CAA schools and "eliminate" them. How could I turn down that offer?!?

But I made the trip, Jerry Beach and his wife were fantastic hosts, and it was a fantastic experience.  It helped that ODU won, and hopefully I was not too obnoxious about it.  I was also introduced to another fan (Gary Moore) that I started following on Twitter. I had read his blog years before but didn’t know until afterwards that I was meeting the author of said blog, The College Hardwood. I discovered his site years ago when I was Googling CAA basketball, and he had written a very thorough preseason prediction. Bookmarked and saved!

Frank Hassell (21) and Darius James (3) escaped Hempstead with a win against a tough Hofstra team last January.

I really AM trying to keep this introduction as short as possible, but I share all of this to make the reader realize how AMAZING the time we’re living in. If not for Twitter (let alone the entirety of the World Wide Web), the chances of me making the acquaintance of two people residing in New York whose writing I admire were non-existent.

Meeting Jerry and Gary and reading their work inspired me to get off my arse and finally start my own blog last summer. VBR Productions has existed less than a year, yet it’s been nothing but a good time. We have written about sports a lot, and will pick up writing about music/TV/entertainment again once baseball season starts, but people will always be the priority in our lives. With all this said, and in open acknowledgement of sounding way too sappy, CAA basketball is what it is in large part because of good people like these two.

(That electronic funds transfer you both promised me for writing that last sentence hasn’t arrived yet. I’m still waiting…)

This Saturday Old Dominion hosts Hofstra in their only regular season contest. I had asked Jerry and Gary if they could lend their expertise and experience with the Dutchmen/Pride program, and they were kind enough to oblige. I admit to stealing the idea of seeking input of other writers from Ben Moore of, but I thought it would add a different flavor to get input from multiple, knowledgeable Hofstra fans and display their opinions simultaneously.

I’ll be covering the game for, so I’ll share my story after the site owner posts it. To avoid confusing points of view, Gary’s answers always appear first since he responded before Jerry did. Wait for it…


1. To give the readers some background, what are some of your earlier favorite memories of Hofstra basketball (i.e., pre-CAA)?

Gary: My earliest vivid memories of Hofstra basketball was the Jay Wright teams with Speedy Claxton, Jason Hernandez and Norman Richardson. My friends and I went to the Garden to watch them win the 1999-2000 Holiday Festival. That season, I had a conference the weekend of the America East Championship, so I couldn't attend the championship game. But I snuck out of the conference and ended up watching the championship in my hotel bar. I remember all too well the bartender asking me where's Hofstra located.

The 2000-01 season was just awesome. Again, I went to the Holiday Festival where they barely lost to Penn State and the Crispin brothers in the championship game (Penn State made the Sweet 16 that season I believe). Then came the dominant season in the America East and of course the championship game again at the Mack Center.

In that championship game, Delaware started out strong. If i remember correctly, Jay Wright was so upset at his team, he yanked all five starters. It got the message across and the Dutchmen steamrolled the rest of the way to another America East championship, which would be the last time they were in the America East.
God Bless America.

Jerry: My Hofstra basketball memories date back to 1993-94, my first year on campus. Ex-NBA head coach Butch van Breda Kolff was the coach and we played in something called the East Coast Conference, which Mike Litos is positive exists only in my own head. It was this piecemeal conference of six teams--from actual ECC teams Hofstra, Buffalo and Central Connecticut State to decidedly un-east coast schools Troy State, Chicago State and Northeastern Illinois--that had no other place to call home and wanted to at least have a conference to play in while they searched for a real long-term home. HU went 1-4 during conference play but won three in a row in Buffalo to win the conference tournament with a sterling overall record of 9-20. Alas, there was no automatic bid to be won, which was actually pretty cool since VBK got to finish his career with a win and Hofstra got to disprove the notion that it always ends with a loss.

That was a cool memory, though a bittersweet one since I passed up the opportunity to go to the ECC Tournament in favor of going to see Bryan Adams at Madison Square Garden with a bunch of my friends from home. Idiot!!!

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: VBR Productions assumes DD meant "Extreme" when he typed "Bryan Adams" in the above paragraph, but is leaving the post as it was submitted to ensure journalistic integrity.) 

As for in-person memories, nothing will top Hofstra winning the America East championship game over our rival, Delaware, at home in 2000 and 2001. While the first year was incredible b/c we hadn't been to the tournament in 23 years, the second year might have been more satisfying b/c everyone was gunning for HU and we won 18 in a row to end the season when a loss in the AEast tourney would have negated all we'd accomplished. My future wife and I went to both NCAA Tournament games, and while we lost both, the second one was more entertaining b/c it involved us boarding a bus at Hofstra, taking it to North Carolina, watching HU lose the second game of the four-game Thursday session, get back on the bus (after reprehensible Duke fans walked by us and condescendingly noted how sad we looked) and go home. Entire trip took about 25 hours.

The 2000-01 season was just awesome. Again, I went to the Holiday Festival where they barely lost to Penn State and the Crispin brothers in the championship game (Penn State made the Sweet 16 that season I believe). Then came the dominant season in the America East and of course the championship game again at the Mack Center.

In that championship game, Delaware started out strong. If I remember correctly, Jay Wright was so upset at his team, he yanked all five starters. It got the message across and the Dutchmen steamrolled the rest of the way to another America East championship, which would be the last time they were in the America East.

2. How would you describe the style of play Mo Cassara wants to employ at Hofstra to someone who hasn't seen the Pride play this season?

Gary: On defense, it's pretty simple. Mo Cassara and Wayne Morgan were influenced by Jim Boeheim and they like to employ a 2-3 matchup zone. On offense, it really starts with the point guard, which has been Dwan McMillan creating opportunities for shooters Mike Moore and Nat Lester, or inside opportunities for Hofstra forwards Stephen Nwaukoni and David Imes.

Jerry: I think Mo would prefer to play an up-tempo game at both ends of the floor, but that's working better on defense than on offense. The Dutchmen (no Pride here!) lead the CAA in possessions per game but have averaged less than one point per possession in nine of 17 games. Defensively, the Dutchmen have had some success with a three-quarters press defense and the 2-3 zone, but without fail, they have not been able to get a late stop in the heartbreakers they’ve lost. Northeastern scored on 17 of its last 20 possessions Wednesday night, which still boggles my mind.

3. Who amongst the upperclassmen have stepped up as leaders following the graduation of Charles Jenkins?

Gary: I think Dwan McMillan has stepped into the leadership role for the Pride. During the second half of the game against Northeastern, while he was on the bench, McMillan was barking out instructions to the team. He has really improved his game this season and he stepped up as a leader as well.

Jerry: Dwan McMillan is the Dutchmen’s vocal leader and has earned the starting PG spot with Stevie Meija hobbled by a hamstring injury. Hofstra really needed him b/c neither Mike Moore nor Nathaniel Lester, the other seniors, are the vocal type, a la Jenkins.

Programs that graduate winners like Charles Jenkins typically do not recover overnight.

4. Mike Moore leads the team in scoring (CAA-best 20.4 PPG), Nathaniel Lester leads in rebounds (7.2/game) and Dwan McMillan is the clear leader in assists (79). What player(s) do(es) things to help the team that don't show up in the boxscore?

Gary: I think the player who does the most that doesn't show up in the boxscore, well outside of rebounds, is Stephen Nwaukoni. He has played so hard lately that he earned the starting forward position. He has averaged ten rebounds per game the past four games and he just works his tail off.

Jerry: Moore has gotten better at not forcing shots when double-teamed and getting teammates involved. He had a career-high five assists Wednesday night. Lester has been far better on offense in the second half, when teams begin focusing on Moore, and has played really well on defense, especially in the paint. And as Gary notes, sophomore power forward Stephen Nwaukoni has dramatically improved his game in just the last two weeks, during which he has 38 rebounds. He was incredibly raw when he arrived here and I thought his ceiling was serviceable CAA big man, but now I think he can be a legit starter and contender for the rebounding crown by his senior year.

5. Do you have a favorite basketball memory against ODU?

Gary: My favorite ODU - Hofstra basketball memory actually comes from the 2005 CAA Quarterfinals in the afternoon session. It was really the first time that Hofstra had a large student contingent for the CAA Tournament. Late in the second half, the Monarchs were easily ahead of William and Mary. The Hofstra students showed up since Hofstra was playing the next game vs. Drexel. Most of them sat behind where I was sitting, waiting for the ODU game to end, so they could take their spot at the basket.

Well the Pride had just upset the Monarchs at the Ted a few days earlier. So the Hofstra students and the ODU students started trading chants back and forth. Both sides were very creative and it was fun to listen to. Finally, the ODU student section started a chant "Drexel's Gonna Beat You". Now Hofstra hadn't beaten Drexel since both teams went to the CAA, which was an eight game losing streak, so it was a pretty funny chant and even the Hofstra students laughed about it. I just remember it being all in good fun. And we finally beat Drexel that day and played ODU tough in the semfinals before losing.

There is also of course Auremius Kieza's buzzer beater to defeat ODU at the Mack on February 2006, which is still on YouTube. And then I will always remember the all CAA NIT quarterfinal a month later at the Mack. It was the Colonial's way of sticking it to you C.M. Newton and the boys who thought they were going to have a St Joseph's- Maryland quarterfinal.

Even though Hofstra lost to Old Dominion in that game, I remember talking to several ODU fans as we left who were more than cordial and appreciated the all CAA quarterfinal moment as well . There was a mutual respect among both teams. It was such a great season for the CAA.and I think the fans for both teams understood the big picture.

The Hofstra-ODU games are usually pretty close and competitive. I expect no less on Saturday. I just wish Blaine Taylor still had his Lou Brown look. I miss the 'stache.

Jerry: My favorite ODU memory, by far, is Aurimas Kieza’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give HU a 65-63 win at Hofstra Feb. 2, 2006. Hofstra Arena went berserk. There may have even been accidental court stormage by the kids in the student section. It was the first sign that maybe this was going to be a magical season. Of course, it wasn’t, thanks to Tony Skinn and Tom O’Connor (yes, I can even turn an interview with an ODU blogger into a rant against Tony Skinn and Tom O’Connor) and that season ended with a gut-wrenching loss to Old Dominion in the NIT quarterfinals at Hofstra, where I’m pretty sure the Dutchmen missed their last 200 shots. Stupid ODU defense. At this point, with Hofstra skidding so badly, I think a win tomorrow would become my favorite ODU memory. Make it happen Mo!
Bonus points if you can spot Jerry or Gary in this photo.

(VBR Productions extends its thanks and appreciation to Jerry of Defiantly Dutch and Gary of The College Hardwood for their contributions to this post.)

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