College Basketball Nation: Hofstra Pride

Zeke UpshawJim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsZeke Upshaw & Co. have already won as many games this season as Hofstra did in all of 2012-13.
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Hofstra lost a game Saturday afternoon, but the program appears back on the winning track.

Joe Mihalich’s undermanned Pride led Northeastern for all of the first half and nearly halfway through the second, before the Huskies snatched control and salted the game away 70-57.

It may look like a setback, but it was actually another step in the right direction -- despite what a despondent Mihalich had to say immediately after the game.

“We let a great opportunity slip away today,” Mihalich said. “It’s very disappointing.”

[+] EnlargeJoe Mihalich
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyJoe Mihalich has himself to thank for Hofstra's surprising turnaround thus far.
Despite Saturday’s loss, Hofstra already has as many wins (seven) as it did all of last season, and remains above .500 (3-2) in the Colonial Athletic Association. Not bad for a team picked to finish in last place, that had just four scholarship players when Mihalich was hired away from Niagra back in April.

Why just four players? In case you’ve forgotten, Hofstra endured a hellish 2012-13 season, during which six different players were arrested -- including four for campus burglaries. The Pride finished 7-25, third-year coach Mo Cassara was dismissed, and Mihalich was brought aboard -- with nearly an empty cupboard.

What’s happened so far in 2013-14 is nearly unbelievable. Hofstra is holding its own with essentially eight players (plus a couple of walk-ons), in a very competitive conference, with perhaps the most unlikely leading scorer in the country.

Zeke Upshaw, a 6-foot-6 swingman from Chicago, averaged 1.6 points per game in three seasons at Illinois State. But this season at Hofstra, Upshaw is averaging 18.8 points per game -- ranking him among the top 60 scorers in Division I.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” Upshaw said, following the loss. “Obviously not tonight, but in general, I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”

Upshaw elected to stay close to home after graduating from high school, but couldn’t crack the rotation in three years with the Redbirds, never averaging more than 7.4 minutes per game. After completing his undergraduate degree a year early, he decided to take advantage of the NCAA’s free transfer rule, and went looking for another school where he could take graduate classes and use his final year of athletic eligibility immediately.

Mihalich was desperately scouring the country for players, and got a tip on Upshaw from a scout in Chicago. Upshaw had never even heard of Hofstra. “I probably had five or six choices,” Upshaw said. “Once I did research on the program here at Hofstra, and I saw how many guys had left, I felt like there was a better opportunity here.”

He has certainly made the most of it. Upshaw went off for 37 points in an overtime loss at Richmond in November, and 31 points in a three-point loss at Tulane on Jan. 2. He’s posted eight more 20-plus point games, and tied a Hofstra record by knocking down seven 3-pointers in a win over UNC-Wilmington.

Upshaw has exceeded his own expectations, and his new coach’s. “Absolutely,” Michalich said. “And he’s not just scoring -- he’s having a really good year across the board.”

[+] EnlargeMcDermott
AP Photo/Stephen HaasUnable to crack the rotation in his three years at Illinois State, at 18.8 ppg Upshaw (right) is Hofstra's leading scorer.
Hofstra’s second-leading scorer is a graduate student transfer, too. Dion Nesmith had an even more roundabout route to Hofstra. The 6-foot point guard from New Jersey began his college career at Northeastern -- as a quarterback on its football team. When Northeastern cut its football program, Nesmith transferred to Monmouth, where he got much more playing time than Upshaw did at Illinois State -- he was a two-year starter, averaging 8.4 points and 1.9 assists per game. Still, he’s upped his averages to 12.9 points and 4.1 assists this season.

With Upshaw and Nesmith leading the way, and solid contributions from the four holdovers, plus a couple freshmen, Hofstra had won three straight conference games heading into the matchup with Northeastern. But the Pride appeared to run out of steam in the second half against a Huskies team that went 10 deep.

Nesmith did his best to keep the game close, scoring a team-high 18 points. Upshaw chipped in 12, but had an off-shooting night, shooting 3-for-13.

“I don’t know what was worse, our defense or our offense,” Mihalich said.

Losing clearly hasn’t gotten any easier for Mihalich, despite the trying circumstances he’s working under this year. But the future looks bright. Two double-digit scorers from his last Niagra team came to Hofstra along with him and will be eligible next season. He also has a talented transfer from SMU, and a promising young point guard from Puerto Rico.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Mihalich said. “It doesn’t feel like it right now, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

But this season is important to him, too.

“I truly believe we’re gonna get this turned around,” Mihalich said. “And what I hope is, in the years down the road, that people will look back and say, you know what, I don’t know how much they won that year, but that was the first group who really got everything turned around. They changed the culture, that group. That guy Zeke Upshaw, and that guy Dion Nesmith ... they were the ones that got us headed in the right direction.”

They’re off to a great start.
1. Creighton's Doug McDermott is nowhere near close to making a decision on whether to declare for the NBA or return to the Bluejays, his father and coach Greg McDermott said. Greg McDermott said Doug will take this call down to the NBA's April 28 deadline -- the only one that really matters. Doug McDermott isn't feeling any pressure about the April 16 NCAA deadline -- and that's good, because that one means nothing. The NCAA doesn't put out a list on that date and neither does the NBA. The only deadline that produces an early-entry list is the April 28 deadline. A player could say he's returning to school next week and then declare 12 days later without any issue. Doug McDermott has one of the toughest decisions of any player, because if he decides to leave his dad will face a difficult season in the Bluejays' first season in the new Big East. If Doug stays, Creighton has a chance to contend for the new league's title.

2. New Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said Wednesday that the timing was right and he just had a feeling that he needed to move after 15 years at Niagara. Mihalich is trading one set of problems for another. Niagara, north of Buffalo, N.Y., isn't exactly in fertile recruiting territory, but Mihalich has made it work and competed for league titles in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Hofstra, on Long Island, is in a fertile recruiting area but is in rebuilding mode. The MAAC and the Colonial Athletic Association are typically one-bid leagues at this juncture. Mihalich has had other opportunities to leave but chose to stay. He said every time he considers one, the same two questions come to mind: Who is the president and who is the athletic director? Mihalich felt comfortable with current AD Jeff Hathaway, who previously held the same position at Connecticut, and president Stuart Rabinovitz. Hathaway wanted a sitting head coach and stayed true to his goal in the search.

3. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin praised the "mature decision" by junior Sean Kilpatrick to return for his senior season. Cronin is convinced Kilpatrick will work on his game enough to be a draft pick next year. Kilpatrick will have a new backcourt mate with Cashmere Wright gone; those in the running to replace Wright will include freshmen Kevin Johnson and Troy Caupain and junior Ge'Lawn Guyn.
1. Minnesota coveted VCU’s Shaka Smart, but his former boss, current Golden Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague, couldn’t convince Smart to come to the Twin Cities (he should know Smart is loyal to VCU) for the head-coaching job from which Tubby Smith was just fired. According to sources, the Gophers have now turned their attention to Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and Butler’s Brad Stevens. We’ll see, but I’ll be shocked if either were to go to Minnesota. Hoiberg is the Mayor in Ames (it's his alma mater) and has Iowa State in a good place after back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. If Hoiberg were to leave for Minnesota, the NBA's Timberwolves, not the Gophers, would make more sense. I can’t see Stevens bolting, either, with how much he loves the Butler way and working for AD Barry Collier. Stevens can have a lifetime contract at Butler, much like Mark Few has at Gonzaga. If they can't convince either of these two, the Gophers may make a play for Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin. But Cronin is from Cincinnati and loves his gig, too. The only reason he might listen is if he sees the need to go to a school in a more stable conference.

2. NC State has made it clear that coach Mark Gottfried hasn’t heard anything from UCLA. Athletic director Debbie Yow also is quick to remind everyone of the $3.75 million buyout in Gottfried’s contract, which she terms non-negotiable. Much as he got many in the Research Triangle to warm to NC State, Gottfried would fit at UCLA. But it would be too hard for UCLA to pry him out of Raleigh. Multiple sources continue to think the Bruins may have to go with an NBA coach. But there are other options out there -- Washington’s Lorenzo Romar, a former UCLA assistant, hasn’t been contacted; apparently neither has Colorado’s Tad Boyle, who has recruited Los Angeles well. USC, meanwhile, might end up going with a quality coach, albeit not a huge name. Remember, Oregon didn’t get its first choice, but did land a big-time talent in Dana Altman. It can be done.

3. Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway has made it clear he wants a current head coach for its vacancy, according to sources, making it seem more realistic he would lean toward coaches like Iona’s Tim Cluess and/or Tom Moore of Quinnipiac. Quality openings like Old Dominion and Siena remain. Meanwhile, sources close to former UCLA coach Ben Howland anticipate he’ll sit out next season rather than take a job.

Observations from Saturday afternoon

February, 9, 2013

Kansas coach Bill Self was in the postgame handshake line after his team’s 72-66 loss to Oklahoma when he looked up and saw hundreds of students rushing the Lloyd Noble Center court.

His lips didn’t move, but as he tilted back his head and rolled his eyes, it was obvious what Self must’ve been thinking.

“Are you serious?”

A victory over Kansas hardly seems like a big deal these days -- or at least not monumental enough for a court-storming. Saturday’s setback against the Sooners marked the third consecutive loss for the Jayhawks. And it came just three days after a defeat against last-place TCU that some are calling one of the biggest upsets in decades.

KU certainly played better Saturday than it did against the Horned Frogs, but this is still a team that looks mentally frazzled and out of sorts, which is almost unthinkable for a Self-coached team. Point guard Elijah Johnson missed a pair of easy layups in the waning minutes, and small forward Travis Releford shot a 3-pointer that barely nicked the front of the rim.

Even worse was that a KU squad known for its defense allowed a good-but-not-great Oklahoma team to shoot 45 percent from the field. Because of it the Jayhawks -- who have won eight straight Big 12 titles -- are now toting three losses in a row for the first time since 2005.

[+] EnlargeGeron Johnson
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsGeron Johnson's 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists led Memphis to its 14th win in a row.
Things won’t get any easier for Kansas on Monday, when No. 13 Kansas State visits Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats 59-55 in Manhattan on Jan. 22, but the two programs have gone in opposite directions since then.

Here are a few other observations from Saturday’s afternoon games:

1. It might be time to consider putting Memphis back in the top 25. Josh Pastner’s squad picked up a huge victory Saturday by defeating Southern Miss on the road 89-76. The Golden Eagles are considered the second-best team in Conference USA behind Memphis, which hasn’t lost since falling to Louisville on Dec. 15.

The Tigers are 20-3 overall and 9-0 in Conference USA. I realize Memphis doesn’t have a ton of quality wins. But Pastner can’t control what league his team is in -- and at least the Tigers haven’t lost games they’re not supposed to lose, like seemingly every other team in the country. There’s something to be said for avoiding upsets, especially when everyone is gunning for you as the top team in your conference. Memphis’ only three losses are to Minnesota, VCU and Louisville. The Tigers host the conference’s other top team (UCF) on Wednesday.

2. The teams that pulled the two biggest upsets in the country this week didn’t exactly capitalize on the momentum. Arkansas, which whipped No. 2 Florida 80-69 on Tuesday, got embarrassed at Vanderbilt, 67-49. Three days after toppling Kansas, TCU was back to its old ways in a 63-50 home loss to West Virginia.

3. Georgetown coach John Thompson III doesn’t get nearly enough credit. The Hoyas’ 69-63 victory over Rutgers marked their seventh win in their past eight games. Included in that stretch are wins against Notre Dame and Louisville and two victories over a red-hot St. John’s squad.

Each year, Georgetown seems to lose stars to the NBA draft or seasoned veterans to graduation. But Thompson always responds. He always has guys ready to step in. Heck, this Georgetown team lost its second-leading scorer and rebounder (Greg Whittington) to academics midway through the season -- and the Hoyas got better. The man is an excellent coach, plain and simple.

4. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan needs to send Ben Brust a thank-you card -- or, at the very least, he could ease up on him during the next round of conditioning drills.

Brust’s desperation 3-pointer from just past half court forced overtime against No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, and the Badgers capitalized with a 65-62 win. Brust also saved Ryan from what would’ve been a slew of criticism for not fouling on the previous possession with the score tied. Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. made the Badgers pay with a 3-pointer that made it 60-57 with less than three ticks remaining. Wisconsin had fouls to give. If the Badgers would’ve lost that game, Ryan would’ve been crucified.

But Brust saved his coach moments later with the heave that gave his team new life. Wisconsin has now won four of its past five games. Its past two victories have come in overtime. Another great stat: Wisconsin has won six of its past seven home games against top-five opponents. Amazing.

5. Texas point guard Myck Kabongo will take the court for the first time Wednesday after a 23-game suspension for illicit dealings with an agent. At this point I’m not sure Kabongo will make much of a difference for a Longhorns squad mired in its worst season in recent memory.

Rick Barnes’ team shot just 39 percent from the field in its 72-59 home loss to Oklahoma State and missed 17 of its 18 attempts from beyond the arc. Texas also went 12 of 21 from the foul stripe. Barnes has been questioning the Longhorns’ effort all season, and it will likely take more than the return of Kabongo -- who was mediocre as a freshman -- to get things right.

At 10-13 overall and 2-8 in the Big 12, Texas is almost certain to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in Barnes’ 15 seasons.

6. Less than 48 hours after losing at Texas A&M, Missouri turned in its best performance of the season in a 98-79 victory over Ole Miss.

My initial reaction is, so what?

The Tigers have been winning home games all season. But they’ve looked like a completely different team on the road, where their lack of toughness and poor decision-making (particularly by point guard Phil Pressey) have been alarming. Losses at LSU and Texas A&M are flat out inexcusable considering the talent gap between Missouri and those two teams.

Still, I saw things Saturday that made me think the Tigers’ victory over Ole Miss was more than just another home win. Three players (Pressey, Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell) scored 20 or more points, and Oriakhi had 18 rebounds against a Rebels squad that spanked Missouri less than a month ago in Oxford. Missouri had only nine turnovers and shot 47 percent from the field.

If Bell becomes a bigger contributor and if Pressey (only one turnover Saturday) turns the corner, we may look back on Saturday’s Ole Miss win as a pivotal moment in Missouri’s season. Frank Haith’s squad should be high on confidence after this one.

7. During his time at Kansas and North Carolina, Roy Williams has rarely had teams that built their reputation on defense. But the 2012-13 Tar Heels have been particularly bad on that end of the floor.

Miami shot 54.4 percent from the field in Saturday’s 87-61 victory and went 15 of 26 from 3-point range.

North Carolina has allowed an average of 79.6 points per game in its seven losses. In five of those games, the opponent scored more than 80 points. The Tar Heels need to get tougher.
1. Hofstra coach Mo Cassara said Sunday he was still “heartbroken” and was finding it “really hard,” to deal with the aftermath of four players being arrested for thefts on campus. The Pride then went out and got smoked by SMU. Hofstra has had a tough season already, being displaced for weeks by the Presidential debate, and then dealing with Hurricane Sandy and the after effects of a power outage, and now a devastating legal mess with the team gutted by four arrests.

2. Providence coach Ed Cooley said Sunday night he will know the extent of the injury to leading scorer Bryce Cotton. Cotton played only nine minutes in a win over Mississippi State Saturday before injuring his knee. The Friars have won four in a row despite having a depleted roster that could be down to just five scholarship players as well as walk-ons.

3. Memphis coach Josh Pastner was reminiscing Sunday about being involved in two of the late Rick Majerus’ most significant coaching moments in the past 14 years. Pastner coached against Majerus in the NCAA tournament last March in what turned out to be his last win. Saint Louis lost the next game to Michigan State. Pastner was also a walk-on at Arizona when Majerus deployed a brilliant triangle-and-two in 1998 to shut down the favored Wildcats in the Elite Eight in Anaheim as Utah advanced to the Final Four. Arizona was denied the chance to win consecutive national titles after claiming the 1997 championship. Pastner, like so many coaches in the game, called to talk about Majerus, his coaching, the man and overall just what he meant to the game.

3-point shot: NCAA bracket principles

November, 20, 2012
1. Expect the NCAA tournament selection committee to change its bracketing principles for the first two rounds that protects teams in the same conference. Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski, who is the 2013 chair, said that the latest round of conference alignment is yet another indicator that the rules will have to change. Bobinski said this has already been discussed. The ACC could have 15 schools in two years while the Big Ten is expected to match the SEC with 14 members. Keeping those schools separate would almost be impossible. Bobinski said there will likely be instances where two teams from the same conference may not have played each other more than once so another time in the NCAA tournament wouldn't matter.

2. Hofstra coach Mo Cassara and athletic director Jeff Hathaway were trying to get out of playing in the 2K Sports Classic over the summer even though the Pride were hosting three games (UDC, Marshall and South Dakota State). Hofstra viewed the games as too tough and the Pride weren't pleased about opening at Purdue instead of playing at Villanova. Hofstra lost the first two games before winning all three home games, including a double-overtime victory over Marshall. "It pissed us off but we sai, 'Let's go win them,'" said Cassara. "Now we have two great wins for our conference." Cassara said he discovered he may have the player of the year in the CAA in freshman Jimmy Hall. Cassara was also piling on the praise on South Dakota State's Nate Wolters. "I would pay to watch him play,'' said Cassara. "He's a pro. He's a first-round pick.''

3. New Mexico almost never left the Pit for significant nonconference games in the '90s. The Lobos under Steve Alford are willing to go on the road quite a bit. Taking the Paradise Jam is yet another example. The win over UConn Monday night will have quite a bit of shelf life for the Lobos and give UNM plenty of confidence going on a road trip to Saint Louis and Cincinnati.

Hofstra had a pretty great week

November, 19, 2012
Hofstra did not have a conventional October, and November was bound to be strange.

In early October, preparations for the Hofstra-hosted second presidential debate uprooted the Pride for two weeks before, and one week after, the actual debate itself. (The Secret Service doesn't play.) Two weeks later, Hurricane Sandy battered Long Island -- coach Mo Cassara, who lives on the beach, kept us posted from his office turned dog-kennel/storm bunker -- stranding at least one player off-campus in Brooklyn and causing Hofstra to miss another wave of practices in the midst of recovery.

That was among Hurricane Sandy's least-important effects, of course, but it was an effect all the same. With all that preseason turmoil, it was fair to wonder whether Hofstra would be able to make a go of it early in the 2012-13 season. If they stumbled in the first month, it wouldn't be hard to understand why.

In the first week of the season, that appeared to be the trajectory. Hofstra's 91-62 opening loss at Monmouth was an abject disaster. (Monmouth isn't a bad team, but that's a straight blowout.) On Nov. 11, Hofstra again lost by 29 points, though at Purdue that kind of loss was at least far more forgivable. Either way, after two games Cassara's team had been outscored by 58 points, and it was shaping up to be a long basketball November in Hempstead.

And then, Hofstra went ahead and did something like last week ... and totally redeemed itself!

The Pride didn't just bounce back with a win or two. They went 3-0, with wins over quality outfits. The first came against South Dakota State, which features walking college basketball fandom litmus test (I knew him before he signed a major label deal) Nate Wolters, who besides his relative obscurity also happens to be an excellent, potential All-American-type basketball player. The third came against Marshall, in a 103-100 double-overtime thriller, in which the Pride scored 1.13 points per trip on 91 possessions and somehow got the win despite DeAndre Kane's insane 33-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple double. Kane headlines a team that very much believes it should be in the NCAA tournament this year -- Marshall was just outside the bubble for much of last season, was no easy out, and comes with a very tough nonconference schedule this season -- and a win over the Herd is not something any Hofstra observer could have rightfully expected even a week ago.

So, yeah, it was a pretty impressive week by Hofstra. Given the wacky preseason, it's even more so.'s Colonial preview

October, 25, 2012
Before we get to team-by-team previews for the Colonial Athletic Association, here is Dana O'Neil's team-by-team analysis of the nonconference schedules in the CAA. For in-depth previews of all 11 CAA teams, check out Blue Ribbon's breakdowns: Insider

Drexel Insider Free
George Mason
Georgia State
James Madison
Old Dominion
UNC Wilmington
William & Mary

Nonconference schedule analysis: CAA

October, 9, 2012
This week, is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. We started Tuesday with the A-10 and Big East and now it's off to the Colonial Athletic Association ...


Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23), at Duke (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Temple (Nov. 25), at Villanova (Dec. 16)
The rest: at Lafayette (Nov. 28), Radford (Dec. 4), Delaware State (Dec. 8), Penn (Dec. 21), Rider (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale: 8 -- Kudos to Monte Ross for giving a fairly veteran Blue Hens team a schedule to truly test its worth. Delaware is trying to make inroads in this tough league and the best way to do that is to play big-boy teams. If the Blue Hens can beat Penn in the NIT, they'll most likely play at Virginia with a chance to advance to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals. It would be a huge spotlight for the program.


Toughest: Anaheim Classic (Nov. 22-25), Saint Joseph's (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: at Kent State (Nov. 9), Illinois State (Nov. 15), at Princeton (Dec. 8 )
The rest: at Penn (Nov. 17), Rider (Dec. 1), Tennessee State (Dec. 4), Fairfield (Dec. 16), Davidson (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale: 3 -- Really? After missing out on the NCAA tournament last season because of their lack of nonconference schedule strength, this is the best the Dragons could come up with? For a team that should be favored to win this league? They'll open with tough Saint Mary's in Anaheim, but the field out there is just not that strong. Kind of like this schedule.


Toughest: Virginia (Nov. 9), Paradise Jam (Nov. 16-19), vs. Maryland (Dec. 2 in Washington, D.C.), at South Florida (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: at Bucknell (Nov. 13), Boston U (Nov. 24), Northern Iowa (Dec. 8), vs. Richmond (Dec. 22 at Richmond Coliseum)
The rest: at Rhode Island (Nov. 28), UMBC (Dec. 4)
Toughness scale: 8 -- This could get even better if the Patriots make their way through the Paradise Jam and square off against UConn (the opener is against A-Sun favorite Mercer). As it is, it’s pretty darned good anyway, what with the likes of the three big six tourney contenders at the top and some decent mid-majors filling out the middle.


Toughest: at Duke (Nov. 9), at BYU (Nov. 13)
Next-toughest: Southern Miss (Dec. 18), at Rhode Island (Dec. 22)
The rest: Monmouth (Nov. 19), Tennessee State (Nov. 20), South Alabama (Nov. 21), East Carolina (Nov. 26), Louisiana Tech (Nov. 30), at Liberty (Dec. 2), Southern Poly (Dec. 8), at Troy (Dec. 15), at Georgia Southern (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 7 -- Ron Hunter didn’t take long to put his stamp on the Georgia State program, leading the Panthers to the second-most wins in school history. This team might have a hard time matching that number with a schedule like this (opening at two of the toughest places to play in the country), but recognizing the value of playing people for a mid-major, Hunter built a good foundation for the Panthers this season with this nonconference slate.


Toughest: at Purdue (Nov. 11)
Next-toughest: Marshall (Nov. 18), at LIU-Brooklyn (Dec. 8 )
The rest: at Monmouth (Nov. 9), District of Columbia (Nov. 17), at Manhattan (Nov. 21), at George Washington (Nov. 24), SMU (Dec. 1), Wagner (Dec. 4), Wright State (Dec. 15), vs. Tulane (Dec. 22 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), at Florida Atlantic (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale: 4 -- Mo Cassara is trying to get things back on track at Hofstra and has a fairly young roster, so a little wiggle room is understandable. Still, for a team that has its share of talent to call on in the form of Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Taran Buie (who were suspended for the first two games of the season), you’d kind of hope for and expect more.


Toughest: at UCLA (Nov. 15)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Dec. 8), at Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 24)
The rest: at Duquesne (Nov. 19), vs. Youngstown State (Nov. 20 in Pittsburgh), vs. North Dakota State (Nov. 21 in Pittsburgh), George Washington (Nov. 28), Winthrop (Dec. 1), East Tennessee State (Dec. 5), UNC-Greensboro (Dec. 16), vs. San Jose State (Dec. 22 in Las Vegas), vs. San Diego (Dec. 23 in Las Vegas), at Hampton (Jan. 7)
Toughness scale: 7 -- Nothing like two cross-country trips from Harrisonburg, Va., to make life fun, especially when one includes a stop in Westwood. There are some opportunities here for a roster that includes three returning starters -- and getting Richmond and GW at home is nice.


Toughest: at Princeton (Nov. 13), Massachusetts (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: Boston U (Nov. 9), Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 21-24), La Salle (Dec. 8), UNC Asheville (Dec. 18)
The rest: Vermont (Nov. 17), Maine (Nov. 28), at Central Connecticut State (Dec. 21), at UAB (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 3 -- Besides home games against A-10 sleepers UMass and La Salle, not much here to get terribly excited about, not when the rest of the league is putting some name-brand games on the schedule. Maybe a second-round game against Belmont in Anchorage?


Toughest: at Murray State (Nov. 24), VCU (Dec. 7), vs. Virginia (Dec. 22 in Richmond)
Next-toughest: at Cleveland State (Nov. 17), Richmond (Dec. 4), UCF (Dec. 14), at Charleston (Dec. 18)
The rest: Holy Cross (Nov. 10), UTSA (Nov. 11), VMI (Nov. 21), Fairfield (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 7 -- In his last go-round in the CAA, Blaine Taylor has a good schedule that is both meaty and winnable, the perfect combination of games that might catch the committee’s eyes but aren’t impossible mountains for his team to climb.

Toughest: at Georgetown (Dec. 8), at Temple (Dec. 12), at Oregon State (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: at Charleston (Nov. 9), at Vermont (Dec. 5)
The rest: vs. Radford (Nov. 16 in Richmond, Ky.), at Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 17), vs. Kennesaw State (Nov. 18 in Richmond, Ky.), vs. Cincinnati Christian (Nov. 19 in Richmond, Ky.), at UMBC (Dec. 1), North Dakota State (Dec. 15), Coppin State (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale: 5 -- After the Tigers finished 1-31 a season ago (the one win came in conference play), there are plenty of games you can go ahead and put in the L column, including those toughies on the road in December. But Towson should be improved enough -- and a few opponents bad enough -- that a repeat of the one-win nightmare is highly unlikely.


Toughest: at Ohio (Nov. 16), at Purdue (Nov. 21), at Davidson (Dec. 15)
Next-toughest: UNC Asheville (Nov. 11), at Richmond (Nov. 13), at Marshall (Dec. 1), at Georgia Tech (Dec. 8 )
The rest: Wofford (Nov. 24), Hampton (Nov. 25), Coker (Dec. 5), UNC-Greensboro (Dec. 19), at Campbell (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 6 -- Buzz Peterson still has work to do in Wilmington, so a schedule that doesn’t kill his team makes sense. But Coker? Really? That said, there's quite a road gantlet here -- one that includes stops at Purdue, Ohio, Davidson, Richmond, Marshall and Georgia Tech. That should be fun.


Toughest: at Purdue (Dec. 29), at Vanderbilt (Jan. 2)
Next-toughest: at Wake Forest (Nov. 23), at Richmond (Nov. 28)
The rest: Hampton (Nov. 9), at Liberty (Nov. 12), at High Point (Nov. 17), Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 21), Howard (Dec. 6), at Radford (Dec. 8), Salisbury (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 4 -- This is the all-name schedule. Purdue, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest have the national recognition, but none of them will exactly be at their best this season -- although each will be heavily favored over the Tribe. For a program that has struggled so much lately, though, there are some winnable confidence-builders mixed in.
1. Being on the NCAA tournament selection committee has become a bad omen for athletic directors or commissioners keeping their jobs, with a third member losing his day job while on the committee. Last year, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe was fired and had to step away from the committee; he was ultimately replaced by Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione. Then, UConn athletic director and chair Jeff Hathaway was forced to “retire.” He had to take a faux consultant job with the Big East to stay on the committee. Hathaway is now the athletic director at Hofstra. The latest to lose his job is SMU AD Steve Orsini, abruptly fired Thursday. Chair Mike Bobinski of Xavier and new NCAA vice president Mark Lewis will now have to huddle to find a replacement for Orsini on the committee. If they stay in the Big East/Conference USA area, they should look at USF AD Doug Woolard, Big East associate commissioner Dan Gavitt or East Carolina AD Terry Holland.

2. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Kentucky’s Anthony Davis -- the consensus No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft -- brings shot-blocking, something the U.S. Olympic team may need this summer in London. Davis’ chances have risen due to the injury to Orlando’s Dwight Howard. Krzyzewski said Davis isn’t “trying out” for the team; rather, Davis is now in the pool of players who may be selected. Krzyzewski said it would be good to get Davis indoctrinated right away into USA Basketball. “He’s a great talent and a good kid," Krzyzewski said. “Hopefully we don’t get any more guys hurt."

3. Organizers for the Battle 4 Atlantis -- the top non-conference tournament -- won’t decide on the bracket until August for the November event. The event, at the Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, could put all eight teams in the NCAA tournament. They are: Louisville, Duke, Stanford, Missouri, Minnesota, Memphis, VCU and Northern Iowa.

Mo Cassara can drain his free throws

December, 16, 2011

Do you guys remember free-throw contests? Growing up in Iowa, our local Knights of Columbus always held a regional free-throw shooting contest. It was always the best gym day of the year. If you made the most free throws out of 25 in your class, you moved on to "regionals," whatever those were. (Free throw "regionals" were a little like the "regionals" on "Glee." Or if you're into good television, "Community.") In any case, it was a cutthroat competition, the pinnacle of pressure at the age of 12. I loved it.

Maybe that's why I find the College Insider "Shots From The Heart" competition to be so very awesome. It's a free-throw contest that, rather than featuring 12-year-olds, features college men's head and assistant coaches. The coaches face off in two separate 64-man brackets, shooting each other out of the bracket and slowly advancing to the Final Four, all for the sake of raising awareness of heart disease and benefiting the Skip Prosser Foundation and the American Heart Association. They're even talking a little trash along the way.

Hofstra coach Mo Cassara is participating and documenting his free throw shooting efforts via YouTube, and while watching a coach shoot free throws in an empty gym doesn't sound exciting, it actually kind of is -- especially as Cassara, who makes his final 19 free throws and 23-of-25 overall, gets hot down the stretch.

Twenty-three free throws apparently wasn't enough to get Cassara that much-desired childhood free throw trophy, but if he shoots like this -- especially in the later shots, which are weighted more heavily in the scoring -- he just might make a deep run. Cassara dropped Creighton coach Doug McDermott in the first round, and he'll advance to play Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos in the round of 32. Patsos' first-round victim? None other than Kansas coach Bill Self.

Let's give some credit to the coaches involved. There's a lot on the line here. For one, it's competition with rival colleagues. Bragging rights are everything. And if a coach shoots particularly poorly at any point, he could stand to lose that vague sense of corrective superiority he wields when he forces his players to run extra sprints after missed free throws at the end of practice.

In any case, this field [PDF] appears to be wide open. Why? New Mexico coach Steve Alford, a lifetime 89.3 percent free throw shooter in college, is nowhere to be found in this field. With Alford out of the way, surely this is anyone's competition. Perhaps even Cassara's.'s CAA preview

October, 26, 2011
Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Colonial Athletic Association, here is Eamonn Brennan's one-minute wind sprint through the league:

Blue Ribbon breakdowns of all 12 teams in the CAA:

George Mason
Georgia State
James Madison
Old Dominion InsiderFree
UNC Wilmington
William & Mary

More CAA content:
For the rest of the week, will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen different leagues. On Tuesday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Wednesday, we continued with the Big East and the Atlantic 10 and now wrap up the day with the Colonial Athletic Association ...


Toughest: at Villanova (Nov. 18), Temple (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: at Boston U. (Nov. 30), La Salle (Dec. 19), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: at Radford (Nov. 11), Cornell (Nov. 22), Lafayette (Nov. 26), at Penn (Dec. 7), at Delaware State (Dec. 10), at Howard (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Blue Hens do have a pair of big challenges -- or, put more appropriately, big opportunities -- in the form of a trip to Villanova and a home game against Temple. The strength of those games alone is enough to nudge them above some of their other conference mates. But if those opportunities are lost, Delaware won't have many chances to impress.


Toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 18-21), Princeton (Dec. 10), Fairfield (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: at Rider (Nov. 15), at Saint Joseph's (Nov. 30), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: at Niagara (Dec. 13), Bradley (Dec. 17), at Binghamton (Dec. 22), St. Francis-Pa. (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Much of this schedule's toughness will weigh on how far Drexel advances at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. If the Dragons can get past Norfolk State and Virginia/TCU in the second round, they could come up against a ranked Marquette team (or Ole Miss). If that game doesn't happen, at least Drexel has games against good mid-majors in Fairfield and Princeton. There's also a TBA road BracketBusters opportunity in February.


Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 14-25), at Virginia (Dec. 6)
Next-toughest: Rhode Island (Nov. 11), at Florida Atlantic (Nov. 19), Bucknell (Nov. 30), Duquesne (Dec. 21), at Charleston (Dec. 30), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: at Radford (Dec. 10), Manhattan (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Credit the Patriots: They were able to convince some decent opponents, including Rhode Island and Duquesne, to come to Fairfax this season. But really, this schedule's main feature is the NIT Season Tip-Off -- which will pit Mason against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg assuming GMU can get past FIU and Tech beats Monmouth. If the Patriots survive that game and seeds hold, they would likely meet Syracuse in Madison Square Garden, followed by a game against probably either Stanford or Oklahoma State. Regardless of what happens, getting the state's two bellweather schools -- UVa and Va Tech -- on the schedule is extremely meaningful to Mason fans.


Toughest: at Washington (Nov. 12)
Next-toughest: vs. Portland in Seattle (Nov. 13), vs. Florida Atlantic in Seattle (Nov. 14), Rhode Island (Dec. 10), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: McNeese State (Nov. 18), at Samford (Nov. 22), Liberty (Nov. 26), at South Carolina State (Nov. 29), Florida International (Dec. 1), at Utah Valley State (Dec. 17), Georgia Southern (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- First-year coach Ron Hunter's regular-season debut comes at Washington in the Basketball Travelers Invitational. It's an arrangement so brutal it makes you want to grant the Panthers some measure of schedule clemency. After the trio of games in Seattle are done, though, the rest of Hunter's schedule isn't all that fearsome. But to be fair, this is a struggling CAA program with a new coach, scattered fan interest and a walk-up gym. Its schedule shouldn't be tough.


Toughest: at Oregon State (Nov. 16), at Rhode Island (Nov. 25), vs. Boston U. in Kingston, R.I. (Nov. 27), Iona (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Long Island (Nov. 11), vs. Cleveland State in Kingston, R.I. (Nov. 26), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: St. Francis-N.Y. (Nov. 19), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 22), at Wagner (Dec. 6), Manhattan (Dec. 10), Binghamton (Dec. 17), Colgate (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Hofstra may get some so-so matchups out of the TicketCity Legends Classic, the "tournament" in which it travels to Oregon State on Nov. 16 and makes a three-day stand in Rhode Island late in the month. And the Beavers can be tough in Corvallis. But the rest of Hofstra's schedule -- and this is probably a good thing, given the loss of star Charles Jenkins to the NBA draft this summer -- offers little to get excited about, except for perhaps a home BracketBusters matchup.


Toughest: Kent State (Dec. 6), UCF Holiday Classic (Dec. 29-30)
Next-toughest: at La Salle (Nov. 19), vs. Rider in Philadelphia (Nov. 25), at Penn (Nov. 26), at George Washington (Dec. 22), at East Tennessee State (Jan. 30), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: Canisius (Nov. 13), Robert Morris (Nov. 22), The Citadel (Dec. 19), Hampton (Jan. 9)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Make no mistake, this is hardly a murderers' row of opponents. What is it? A decent-but-hardly-great assemblage of games against decent-but-hardly-great squads. La Salle, Robert Morris, Rider, Kent State, George Washington -- none of these is a marquee opponent, but taken together, JMU's schedule doesn't look so bad. And down in Orlando, Fla., the Dukes will face Rhode Island and possibly homestanding UCF in the second game.


Toughest: at Maryland (Nov. 13), at Dayton (Nov. 19)
Next-toughest: Marshall (Nov. 22), at Wake Forest (Dec. 21)
The rest: Davidson (Nov. 26), at Toledo (Nov. 30), at Illinois State (Dec. 3), at Liberty (Dec. 6), Campbell (Dec. 19), Furman (Dec. 30), at BracketBusters (road)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- It's not really the opponents that make this schedule tough. It's the travel. Wilmington opens on the road at Maryland and follows it with a trip to Dayton. A sneaky tough Marshall team will be waiting for the Seahawks upon their return, and beginning on Nov. 30, UNCW will spend the next two weeks on the road (with a conference opener at VCU mixed in). That's a lot of road work, and it could result in some tough losses before the New Year arrives.


Toughest: at St. John's (Nov. 26), at NC State (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Boston U. (Nov. 11), at La Salle (Nov. 30), Princeton (Dec. 18), at Vermont (Dec. 30), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: at UMass (Nov. 14), Southern Illinois (Nov. 19), at Bradley (Dec. 6), at Louisiana Tech (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Similar to Wilmington, the opponents might not merit a high score, but the logistics do. Of the Huskies' 10 nonconference games, only two (Southern Illinois, Princeton) will be played at home (in addition to the February BracketBusters game). The rest require constant travel and hostile crowds and, yes, taking on some solid teams in big, unforgiving environments. Like, say, Madison Square Garden. Maybe you've heard of it?


Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff (Nov. 19-20), at Richmond (Dec. 20), Missouri (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Nov. 12), Long Island (Nov. 14), at Fairfield (Dec. 9), at UCF (Dec. 17), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: Howard (Nov. 16), Vermont (Nov. 23), East Carolina (Nov. 29), VMI (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- This might be the toughest schedule in the CAA this season, and it's tougher than it looks on first glance. The Hall of Fame tournament in Connecticut will begin with South Florida, and if that's a win, mighty Kentucky almost certainly awaits. Combine that tourney with the games at Richmond and Fairfield and home tilts with LIU, UNI and that huge opportunity with Missouri, and you get a schedule worthy of ODU's designs on consistent NCAA tournament competition.

Toughest: at Kansas (Nov. 11), at Michigan (Nov. 14), vs. Belmont in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Nov. 19), at Virginia (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: Oregon State (Nov. 26), at UMass (Nov. 30), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: Virginia State (Nov. 6), vs. UNC Greensboro/Middle Tennessee in Murfreesoboro, Tenn. (Nov. 20), La Salle (Dec. 7), UMBC (Dec. 10), at Coppin State (Dec. 14), Manhattan (Dec. 20), Vermont (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Towson's early November slate -- part of the qualifying rounds of the EA Sports Maui Invitational -- includes trips to Kansas, Michigan and Belmont, a three-game road stand you wouldn't wish on any team, let alone one that finished 4-26 last season. Ouch.


Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), at Alabama (Nov. 27), Richmond (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: at Western Kentucky (Nov. 23), vs. George Washington in Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center (Dec. 4), UAB (Dec. 20), at Akron (Dec. 29), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: Saint Francis-Pa. (Nov. 11), South Florida (Nov. 30), at UNC Greensboro (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The road to another miraculous March run begins in earnest on Nov. 17, when VCU will face Seton Hall in the Charleston Classic. Depending on each team's performance, the Rams could face either Georgia Tech or Saint Joseph's in the second round, followed by a meeting with either LSU, Tulsa, Northwestern or Western Kentucky. That's not the most loaded tournament field of all time, but combined with VCU's other nonleague home tests (Richmond, UAB) and that trip to see former coach Anthony Grant at Alabama, it's a solid schedule overall.


Toughest: at St. John's (Nov. 7), at Missouri (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Nov. 30), Iona (Dec. 21), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: at Hampton (Nov. 12), Liberty (Nov. 14), vs. Lehigh in Lynchburg, Va. (Nov. 18), vs. Eastern Kentucky in Lynchburg (Nov. 19), at Liberty (Nov. 20), at Howard (Nov. 26), Wesley College (Dec. 15), at Miami-Ohio (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Tribe get a bunch of their nonconference work from the 2K Sports Classic, in which they'll play St. John's and a handful of so-so opponents in Lynchburg, Va. There are other challenges here, as you can see, with a trip to Missouri looming especially large. The Tribe will have to make the most of their biggest games, especially those at home versus Richmond and Iona, to make waves in what could be another down season.
The excellence of four-year Hofstra star Charles Jenkins -- complete with mythical Chuck Norris-style awesomeness -- is nothing new to college hoops fans. Sure, Jenkins wasn't always a household name. He didn't have the chance to shine under the bright lights of an NCAA tournament, and though the CAA was as solid as any mid-major conference in the country last season, it doesn't get the full-frontal national media treatment frequently. But if you follow college hoops, you at least heard of Jenkins.

The NBA general managers currently examining the 2011 crop of prospective draft picks lack even that level of familiarity. Few teams will have the kind of detailed scouting data on Jenkins as they will for most potential first-round picks. Perhaps it's a surprise, then, that GMs seem to consider Jenkins a first-round pick in the first place. But maybe he should be taken much higher than that.

That's the conclusion SI's Luke Winn reached in this piece, in which Luke uses Synergy Scouting Data to identify the biggest sleeper in the 2011 NBA draft. That sleeper, you might have guessed, is Jenkins. Why?
On numbers alone, he's more impressive than any other scoring guard who's in contention for the first round, because he offers the rare combination of high efficiency in both ISO and spot-up situations. [...]

As the focal point of the Pride's offense, he was rarely left unattended -- 63.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities came with a man in his face -- yet showed an ability to make tough jumpers. His efficiency on guarded shots off the catch was 1.3898 PPP, which ranked 15th nationally among players with at least 50 such possessions. And while Jenkins shoots right-handed, he can go left off the dribble better than anyone in the draft: He had a national-best efficiency of 1.3261 PPP on left-hand drives, which he did 59 percent of the time.

Jenkins is also a rare master of the mid-range game, which has largely disappeared from college hoops as teams run offenses focused on threes and layups. At 1.2069 PPP, Jenkins was the most efficient mid-range player scorer in the nation last season; the runner up was Ohio State's William Buford -- who could be a 2012 first-rounder -- at 1.0333 PPP.

Essentially, Jenkins does it all on the offensive end, and in each of the categories you'd like to see from a ball-dominant, score-first guard -- not that that's all Jenkins is, of course -- he does it all very, very well, much better than many of the guard prospects picked to precede him in the first round of this year's draft.

Of course, the NBA doesn't draft on production. That's essentially what these numbers measure: production. Relating that performance to the NBA game is remarkably difficult. Defenders are taller and faster and more athletic. Decisions must be made that much quicker. Close-outs are much harder to shoot over. And so on.

Nor is Jenkins necessarily still a budding prospect. Already 22, he's already older than 2011 league MVP Derrick Rose. These are major strikes in a league that all too frequently discards current talent and drafts on potential, youth and the possibility of greatness.

Still, the numbers don't lie. Charles Jenkins was really, really good. You probably knew this already. Hofstra fans certainly did. But NBA general managers would do well to familiarize themselves with the notion shortly. If they don't, Jenkins, like spiritual ancestor DeJuan Blair, will slip to an intelligently run franchise like the San Antonio Spurs. The rest of the league will look mighty dumb in the process.

Charles Jenkins had a very good night

February, 16, 2011
Hofstra's Charles Jenkins might be the best college basketball player you've never heard of. (Especially since Cleveland State's Norris Cole put himself on the map with that insane 40-20-9 line versus Youngstown State Saturday.) Jenkins is averaging the fifth-most points per game (23.5) of any player in the nation this season, and he adds assists (4.9 per game) and rebounds (3.5). More importantly, Jenkins also happens to be the second-most efficient player high-usage in the nation, according to KenPom; among players who use more than 28 percent of their team's possessions, Jenkins' offensive rating trails only Arizona's Derrick Williams. Dude is really, really good.

And yet, Jenkins has gone unheralded for much of the season. For much of his career, actually. But that might be about to change.

On Tuesday night, Jenkins delivered a YouTube-sensation-worthy performance against William & Mary. The guard hit a last-second 3 to send the game into overtime, and then finished off the Tribe with a crazy 35-foot buzzer-beater at the end of OT to give Hofstra the win. And, yes, there is video, and yes, the video is awesome (hat tip: The Dagger):

This isn't the first time Jenkins has gotten noticed this year. Last week -- right around the time Jimmer Fredette fans were executing the most hilarious Facebook comment thread of all time (and making awesome Antoine Dodson parodies) -- Jenkins fans were building out their own Facebook tribute in an open group called "Charles Jenkins Facts." Step aside, Chuck Norris, because "Charles Jenkins knows only one meaning of pain: french bread," and "McDonald's gives Charles Jenkins two extra McNuggets in his 20-piece meal."

In other words, Hofstra and the rest of the Colonial are aware of Jenkins' brilliance. It's high time the rest of the college hoops world joined.

The only bad news here? Jenkins and Hofstra will have to win the CAA tournament to go to the Big Dance. That would mean, depending on Hofstra's conference tourney seeding, fighting through red-hot George Mason, likely at-large inclusion Old Dominion, and former conference favorite Virginia Commonwealth, not to mention Drexel, James Madison and the rest of the deeper-than-you-think Colonial. In many years, a singular talent like Jenkins would be enough to win the CAA and get to the tourney. This year, the Colonial is almost too good. But we'll see if Jenkins has saved a few more heroics for single-elimination season. You'd be a fool to count him out.