Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Knights Beat Seton Hill, Win PSAC West, Likely Get NCAA Berth

As a tribute to the Clarion men's basketball team, who has a history of mailing it in for the final game of the regular season -- including Wednesday night's 101-66 laugher at IUP -- I'm going to give minimal effort for this final blog post of the regular season. No organization. No research. Minimal editing. Maybe I'll run spell check. Maybe I win't.

Look at the headline of this article. I use bland verbs like "beat", "win", and "get", which is the ultimate in weak/vague verbs. Also, I should have focused on one thought in the headline instead of three, but it's the last game of the year. Who's going to remember my pathetic effort next season?

Back to Clarion for a second. I'm thinking you, me, and the next three people you bump into could have played better defense than the Golen Eagles (no D of course) did during the first half at Indiana. At one point the Crimson Hawks made 14 consecutive field goals. There's bad defense, there's NBA All-Star game defense, and then there's that. IUP isn't the highest octane offense in the conference, but they already had 56 points by the break. They scored that same amount for the entire game Dec. 6 at Gannon, and that one went into overtime.

Let the random thoughts begin:
* I haven't even mentioned the final score of the Gannon/Seton Hill game yet. It was 58-45. SHU's zone took away Gannon's post game and turned the contest into a grind-it-out slog.

* Before the game, I was talking to longtime Gannon fan Dan Carneval near where the seniors and their families were lining up for the pregrame ceremonies. Adam Blazek's mother introduced herself, said she recognized my photo from this website, and told me she enjoys reading what I write. She also said that Adam patterned his game after my Gannon career and that he wouldn't be what he is today if it wasn't for me. That last sentence is completely false. I'm not just mailing it in; I'm making things up.

* About the Blazek family ... if at dinner time at their house a meatball rolls off the table, I imagine the entire family scrambles from their seats and dives onto the floor to get the meatball. Then whoever gets it, the rest of the family swipes at the meatball until they knock it away or the person eats it. That's pretty much how Adam has played his four years at the Hammermill, right?

* If I was trying, I not only wouldn't have told that ridiculous made-up story about the Blazeks and meatballs, but I would have included the link to the Gannon/Seton Hill game summary, box score, and video in the first paragraph of this post. Here it is.

* Senior night games are always strange to some extent. The players are either so fired up they play out of their minds (e.g. Steve Moyer's three-point assault vs. Wayne State) or they have too much "jump" at the start of the game due to the stress of playing in front of family members, some for the first time as collegians. Gannon's seniors fell into the latter category, launching off-target jumpers and generating several turnovers in the opening minutes. The defense was unaffected, stifling Seton Hill from the get-go.

* Related to that last comment, I now know where A'Daruis Porter gets his energy from. It's a maternal thing. His mother and grandmother (and I believe his aunt and sister or niece) were the happiest fans I've ever seen in the Hammermill. Not only were they completely decked out in maroon and gold, but they waved homemade signs and their arms above their head every time Porter made a positive play. I wouldn't be surprised if they had to rush to UPMC Hamot after the game for MRIs on their shoulders because Porter dominated between the blocks with 13 points and 15 rebounds.

* Random thought: Did you know that if you rearrange the letters in PSAC you get CAPS?

Tim Rohrbach photo courtesy Gannon University
* I'll tell you 5 guys who never mailed it in: the Gannon seniors pictured on this page. I won't reflect on their careers completely here -- hopefully their season has another month to go -- but I can't think of another group that had such a combination of ability, camaraderie, and intensity. These guys are the reason we have games to look forward to in March.

* Did you know that PSAC also stands for the Portmarnock Sub Aqua Club in Ireland and Puget Sound Agricultural Company in Washington? 

* The PSAC playoff schedule -- that's for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference -- is set. For the West on Tuesday, Gannon will play the winner of Edinboro at Slippery Rock while Mercyhurst will face the UPJ/IUP winner. Tuesday tips off early at 7:00 at the Hammermill.

* As far as the region goes, I don't see a scenario that Gannon doesn't make the NCAAs. The PSAC and CIAA tournament champs get automatic bids (the Mountain East gets an auto bid in 2016), and even if two wild cards outside the top 8 win those spots, I don't see Gannon dropping out of the top 6. Slippery Rock lost twice last week and only dropped from #6 to #7 this week. Also, two wild cards winning would mean that everyone in the top 8 would suffer a loss, so Gannon wouldn't be the only one with an early-March blotch.

* By far and away the most important thing related to Gannon's chances of making the NCAA tournament is ... nevermind. Time for a nap.

Regional Rankings / Upcoming Schedules

UPDATED 2/27/15 at 9:20 PM. Rankings reflect in-region records as of Sunday, 2/22/15. 

#1 West Liberty [23-2]: W vs. #9 Glenville St., Sat. at Wheeling Jesuit
#2 Indiana Pa. [22-5]: W vs. Clarion, Sat. PSAC 1st round, Tue. PSAC quarters 
#3 Gannon [19-8]: W vs. Seton Hill, Tue. PSAC quarters
#4 Mercyhurst [20-7]: Tue. PSAC quarters
#5 Bowie State [21-7]: W vs. Chowan, L vs. Livingstone (CIAA semis)
#6 Fairmont State [18-9]: Sat. at Shepherd
#7 Slippery Rock [16-9]: W vs. California, Sat. PSAC 1st round, Tue. PSAC quarters
#8 Concord [18-8]: W vs. Davis and Elkins, Sat. at UVa-Wise
#9 Glenville State [17-9]: L at #1 West Liberty, Sat. vs. WV Wesleyan 
#10 Wheeling Jesuit [17-8]: W vs. WV Wesleyan, W vs. WV State, Sat. vs. #1 West Liberty
Virginia State [18-7]: L vs. Fayettville State  
East Stroudsburg [18-8]: W vs. Kutztown, Tue. PSAC quarters
Charleston [17-9]: W vs. Notre Dame (Oh.), Sat. vs. WV State
Winston-Salem [16-9]: W vs. Shaw, W vs. Fayetteville State (CIAA semis), Sat. CIAA finals 
Livingstone [16-9]: W vs. Lincoln, W vs. #5 Bowie State (CIAA semis), Sat. CIAA finals

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Logical Argument: Cheyney Should Be A #1 Seed

Why Cheyney (PA) University, a 2-24 Division II men's basketball team, should be considered for a #1 seed in the 2015 men’s Division I basketball tournament.

1. Cheyney (2-24) beat Mansfield (PA)
2. Mansfield beat Le Moyne
3. Le Moyne beat Gannon
4. Gannon beat Indiana (PA)
5. Indiana (PA) beat University of the Sciences (PA)
6. University of the Sciences (PA) beat Drexel
7. Drexel beat Cornell
8. Cornell beat Mass-Lowell
9. Mass-Lowell beat New Jersey Tech
10. New Jersey Tech beat Michigan
11. Michigan beat Syracuse
12. Syracuse beat Lousiville
13. Lousville beat Pitt
14. Pitt beat Notre Dame
15. Notre Dame beat Duke
16. Duke beat Virginia … who is 25-1 and ranked #2

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Clutch Austin Wills Knights To PSAC West Title

Like pretty much every other PSAC game this season, Gannon was pushed to the limit Saturday at California (Pa.). And, just like pretty much every other PSAC game this season, the Knights figured out a way to win, securing a 59-57 overtime victory, earning gutty GU the West division championship.

Reserve forward Rich Austin was thrust into the spotlight with senior starter A'Darius Porter missing the trip due to illness. Austin, getting just his second start of the campaign, probably made himself sick with his offensive play. The normally reliable post man -- he entered the game shooting 60% from the field -- was just 1-for-8 on the evening and actually hadn't put the ball through the hoop because his one score came on a goaltending call. But like he's done all season, Austin's energy gave Gannon a lift when the team needed it. With the score tied at 57 and the shot clock off in overtime, Adam Blazek missed a shot but Austin snared his first offensive rebound of the contest. Austin was fouled on his putback with 5 seconds left and went to the line with an opportunity to give Gannon the division championship. Austin hit both, Cal missed on its final attempt, and now we can all salivate that the Hammermill may host the PSAC tournament in two weeks.

We haven't talked a ton about Austin this season -- the other four seniors get lots of attention, and deservedly so -- but you have to hand it to a kid who hasn't sulked despite fluctuating playing time. Austin never takes a play off and no matter how long he sits on the bench, he always comes in ready to play. Maybe that's because he's loose from frequently cheering on his teammates from the sidelines. Former Gannon coach Bob Dukiet used to preach that "sooner or later" your opportunity will arrive, and Austin seized his moment in the clutch tonight.

I'm sure Austin felt the pressure on him for those free throws, but there was more riding on those shots than he imagined. Gannon, #4 in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Region, kept pace with #3 Indiana (2-0 this week), #5 Mercyhurst (2-0 this week) and #7 Bowie State (guess what their record was this week? Yep, 2-0). If Gannon lost to the Vulcans, the Knights might have dropped all the way to #7 in the region, likely needing to advance to the PSAC finals to earn a tournament spot.

With the win, Gannon could move up to #3 because #2 Fairmont State lost earlier this week to #10 Concord. Fairmont is now 18-9 in the region while Gannon is a game better at 19-8. Here are the results from around the region as of the date and time listed below:

UPDATED 2/23/15 at 9:15 PM. Current regional records are listed [in bold] at the far right.

#1 West Liberty (22-2): W at WV Wesleyan, W vs. #8 Glenville State [24-2]
#2 Fairmont State (17-8): L vs. #10 Concord, W vs. UVa-Wise (98-54!) [18-9]
#3 Indiana Pa. (20-5): W vs. #6 Slippery Rock, W at UPJ [22-5]
#4 Gannon (17-8): W at Le Moyne, W at California [19-8]
#5 Mercyhurst (18-7): W at UPJ, W at Seton Hill [20-7]
#6 Slippery Rock (18-7): L at #3 IUP, L at Clarion [18-9]
#7 Bowie State (19-7): W at Virginia State, W at Elizabeth City State [21-7]
#8 Glenville State (17-8): L vs. Wheeling Jesuit, L at #1 West Liberty [17-10]
#9 Charleston (16-9): W at Urbana [17-9]
#10 Concord (16-8): W at #2 Fairmont State, W at Shepherd [18-8]
Virginia State (17-6): L vs. #7 Bowie State, W at Lincoln [18-7]
Winston-Salem (15-8): W vs. Johnson C. Smith, L at Livingstone [16-9] 
Wheeling Jesuit (15-8): W at Bluefield State, W at #8 Glenville, W vs. WV Wesleyan [18-8]
East Stroudsburg (16-8): W at West Chester, W at Mansfield [18-8]
Livingstone (14-9): W vs. St. Augustine's, W vs. Winston-Salem State [16-9]

P.S. As the accompanying graphic shows, today John Reilly became the winningest coach in Gannon history with 180. Good things happen to good people!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bigger And Better

Gannon has had so many nailbiting games this season, I don't know how to react after back-to-back blowouts. The Knights followed up their 30-point shellacking of Pitt-Johnstown Saturday with a 70-49 harpooning at Le Moyne tonight. I watched the game via video feed and for most of the contest it looked like the varsity vs. the JV's (or "jayvees" as Jack Polancy used to write). I know Le Moyne was hampered without leading scorer Nate Gause (21.8 ppg), who scored a team-high 14 when the Dolphins beat Gannon 47-45 back on Nov. 28 at the Hammermill. But I often felt sorry for them because the Knights were bigger, badder, better, and brawnier at every position.

This was a dangerous game -- a non-conference affair on the road in mid-February when conference play is the focus -- but Gannon wasn't distracted in the least and trampled Le Moyne for a 41-21 margin 21+ minutes in. After allowing a couple soft offensive boards early, Gannon held Le Moyne to just 4 offensive rebounds for the game, on their way to a 39-24 rebounding margin.

I don't have any whiz-bang insights to offer other than Gannon is clearly better than Le Moyne, and the Knights were mentally prepared for this one. If they can maintain this level of play through the weekend, they will clobber Cal -- who (for crying out loud!) lost at home to last place Seton Hill tonight, 63-62 -- and earn the PSAC West crown.

Regional Rankings
The first official Division II Atlantic Region rankings were announced this afternoon; fourth is about as high as Gannon fans could have hoped for with their early-season struggles. I will update the results for you when the games are complete:

UPDATED 2/19/15 at 11:15 PM

#1 West Liberty (22-2): W at WV Wesleyan, Sat. vs. #8 Glenville State
#2 Fairmont State (17-8): L vs. #10 Concord, Sat. vs. UVa-Wise
#3 Indiana Pa. (20-5): W vs. #6 Slippery Rock, Sat. at UPJ
#4 Gannon (17-8): W at Le Moyne, Sat. at California
#5 Mercyhurst (18-7): W at UPJ, Sat. at Seton Hill
#6 Slippery Rock (18-7): L at #3 IUP, Sun. at Clarion
#7 Bowie State (19-7): W at Virginia State, Sat. at Elizabeth City State
#8 Glenville State (17-8): L vs. Wheeling Jesuit, Sat. at #1 West Liberty
#9 Charleston (16-9): W at Urbana, Sat. vs. Notre Dame Oh. 
#10 Concord (16-8): W at #2 Fairmont State, Sat. at Shepherd
Virginia State (17-6): L vs. #7 Bowie State, Sat. at Lincoln
Winston-Salem (15-8): W vs. Johnson C. Smith, Sat. at Livingstone  
Wheeling Jesuit (15-8): W at Bluefield State, W at #8 Glenville, Sat. vs. WV Wesleyan
East Stroudsburg (16-8): W at West Chester, Sat. at Mansfield 
Livingstone (14-9): W vs. St. Augustine's, Sat. vs. Winston-Salem State

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Let's Get Physical

Exactly one month ago, Pitt-Johnstown hit 9-of-16 three-pointers in an 8-point victory over Gannon, sophomore A.J. Leahey tallying 27 on 7-of-11 shooting from downtown. John Reilly's game plan for today's rematch was straightforward: We are not going to allow that to happen again. No way. We will exert our will on them.

A fired-up GU squad executed that plan to near-perfection, slugging UPJ by 30, 66-36, in no doubt Gannon's best performance of the year. Leahey finished the game with just 5 points (2-of-5 from the field) in 22 minutes of action mainly because the Knights ran at him and bumped him every time he touched the ball on the perimeter. Even if Leahey dribbled around his onrushing defender, that was OK; he wasn't going to get any standstill looks.

Leahey wasn't the only Mountain Cat who was uncomfortable. Reilly had Adam Blazek (and later Marcus Jones) pick up the UPJ point guard full court to throw off the offensive rhythm. And when UPJ worked the ball around the perimeter, the Gannon defense scrambled to make sure no opponent could hold the ball without a Knight breathing on them. The result was just 6 points allowed in the first 11 minutes of play, a 41-21 halftime lead, and a despondent Pitt-Johnstown squad.

As great as the defense was, Gannon showed even more muscle on offense. In the first meeting, Gannon shot just 36% from the field -- missing jumper after jumper -- so Reilly cured that by shooting exclusively at close range for the first 15 minutes. A seemingly rejuvenated A'Darius Porter (8 points), Raphell Thomas-Edwards (8), and jumping jack Rich Austin (2) accounted for 18 of Gannon's first 25 points with nearly all of those scored 5 feet and in. UPJ was intimidated and frustrated by that point, so they began doubling the post man after he received the entry pass. Blazek then scored 11 of Gannon's next 13 points, three of his field goals from behind the arc, none of them touching the rim. The Knights shot so well in the in the first half (68%, 17-of-25 on field goals), I thought they might stay on the court during halftime to be inducted into the Gannon Athletics Hall Of Fame along with the 1989 men's soccer team.

Maybe the Hall Of Fame quip is overstating things a bit, but this isn't: If Gannon could maintain this level of play, they will not only win the PSAC and make the NCAAs, but they will have an opportunity for a deep postseason run.

Knight Knotes:
* I'll get confirmation on this later from Gannon SSID (Super Sports Information Director) Dan Teliski, but to win the West, I believe Gannon has to win only one of its final two remaining PSAC games (at Cal or vs. Seton Hill). At 16-4 and holding tiebreakers over Mercyhurst (15-5) and IUP (14-5), GU essentially has a mulligan in its pocket to win the division. UPDATED 2/16/15: Gannon needs one win or one loss by IUP and Mercyhurst to win the PSAC West.

* Due to some crazy finishes and unthinkable upsets, there was an incredible amount of upheaval among the teams with the best records in the Atlantic Region. In the next CoSIDA poll, the Knights are poised to jump into the top 6 I think. Here are the results from this week:
#1 West Liberty (22-2): W at Shepherd, W vs. Fairmont State
#2 IUP (20-5): L at #9 Mercyhurst, L OT at Edinboro (IUP tied the game on a desperation three at the end of regulation, but were outscored 9-7 in OT)
#3 Bowie State (19-7): L at Virginia Union (VUU is now 8-15 on the season), W vs. Chowan
#4T Glenville State (17-8): L at Urbana (75-42; talk about the wheels falling off!), L vs. Notre Dame Oh. (90-89, Notre Dame nearly blew a 17-point lead)
#4T Fairmont State (17-8): L vs. Wheeling Jesuit, L at West Liberty
#6T Charleston (16-9): L at Concord, L vs. UVa-Wise (77-75, more on this game below)
#6T Virginia State (17-6): L at Chowan, W vs. Elizabeth City State
#8 Slippery Rock (18-7): W at Edinboro, W vs. Seton Hill
#9 Mercyhurst (18-7): W vs. #2 IUP, W at Clarion
#10 Gannon (17-8): W at Clarion, W vs. Pitt-Johnstown
East Stroudsburg (16-8): L at Southern Connecticut State, W vs. Cheyney
Livingstone (14-9): L at Fayetteville State, L at Johnson C. Smith (108-106, Livingstone outscored JCS 65-59 in the second half; 5 players scored 17 points or more for JCS)

In likely the biggest upset of the day in all of college basketball, UVa-Wise shocked host Charleston, 77-75. Wise entered the game 1-22 overall and 0-18 in the Mountain East. When the two teams tangled less than a month ago, UC trampled Wise by 37, 85-48. Wise's only prior win this season came Nov. 14, so today's W snapped a three month long losing streak. And of course they had to win in dramatic fashion. Trailing by 3 with under a minute to play, Brian Sydnor produced a four-point play to give Wise a 71-70 advantage. With 5 seconds to play and leading by just 1, Wise turned the ball over but Charleston missed the ensuing layup and put the biggest of black eyes on its NCAA tournament resume.

* Believe it or not, the 0-2 week for the Livingstone men was a dream compared to what happened to that school's women's program. According to the Twitter feed of Winston-Salem Journal reporter John Dell, Livingstone used an ineligible player most of this season, so instead of being 22-0 they will forfeit nearly all their games, making their official record 4-18. Dell said the Livingstone compliance director has been fired and the athletic director has been placed on probation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Back In Control! Knights Hold Off Clarion While Mercyhurst Shocks #16 IUP With Late Three

Just days after it appeared the chances of winning the PSAC West were bleak, Gannon had a perfect Wednesday night and is now just three victories away (against teams with a 23-32 combined league record) from earning the right to host the PSAC tournament. The Knights took care of business at Clarion, 78-71, while Mercyhurst stunned #16 Indiana (Pa.), 58-55, on a Jean Onana three-pointer with two seconds to play. As you can see in the updated standings on this page, IUP is a half game behind Gannon, but my understanding is that the Knights hold the tiebreakers over the Crimson Hawks by virtue of GU's two wins over the Lakers.

Before we take a quick look back at tonight's game, let's look ahead. Gannon's final three PSAC regular season games are Saturday vs. Pitt-Johnstown, then at California and vs. Seton Hill. The Knights have already lost to UPJ and Cal and held on for dear life at last-place Seton Hill, so don't start printing those playoff tickets for the Hammermill yet. But you have to like the opportunity in front of the Knights. If I would have told you in the preseason that you could give me $100 for Gannon to be in this spot in mid-February, you'd have forked over that cash and maybe even left me a tip.

I could only follow the game via live stats on my phone -- and to be truthful, down the stretch I was looking at the Hurst/IUP game as much as the Gannon game -- so I can't offer lots of insights. But a few items on the box score sure jump out:
* Gannon won the rebounding margin by a comical 47-18 advantage. On the offensive glass, Gannon held an 18-3 advantage.
* The Knights shot 52.5% for the game, including 58% (18-for-31) in the first half. Raphell Thomas-Edwards was the most consistent shooter, hitting 9-of-13 field goals in just 22 minutes of action.
* How in the world did Gannon win by only 7 despite those statistics I just cited? Well, GU was just 1-of-8 on threes while Clarion was 7-for-17 on treys and 20-of-29 at the foul line.
* It's great to see Matthew Dogan provide an offensive spark: 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field and a 5-of-6 performance at the line. I've said all year when bench players like Dogan and Rich Austin (10 points in 19 minutes) produce, this team goes from very good to special.

As high as I am tonight about the results, I know -- and I know John Reilly knows better than I know -- that everything could come crashing down again Saturday afternoon. The Knights should enjoy their bus ride home, but they need to get back to work Thursday during practice to keep PSAC West title hopes in their control.

UPDATED 2/12/15 11:00 PM: Other regional games of interest from Wednesday and Thursday (numbers denote most recent Atlantic Region CoSIDA rankings). It was a disastrous night for the CIAA leaders; Mountain East results will be updated after their games Thursday over half of the top 10 plus the clubs just outside the CoSIDA list. Taking hits in the past 24 hours were teams ranked #2, #3, #4, #4, #6, #6, plus PSAC East leader Stroud and CIAA South leader Livingstone. Record-wise, WLU and IUP are the top clubs in the region. It's a free for all from 3 on down:

#1 West Liberty: W at Shepherd
#2 IUP: L at #9 Mercyhurst
#3 Bowie State: L at Virginia Union (VUU is now 8-15 on the season)
#4T Glenville State: L at Urbana (75-42; talk about the wheels falling off!)
#4T Fairmont State: L vs. Wheeling Jesuit
#6T Charleston: L at Concord
#6T Virginia State: L at Chowan
#8 Slippery Rock: W at Edinboro
#10 Gannon: W at Clarion
East Stroudsburg: L at Southern Connecticut State
Livingstone: L at Fayetteville State 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Season On The Brink

Gannon's 64-54 loss at #18 Indiana (Pa.) Saturday night felt like Andrew McCutchen swung and hit me in the gut with a 2-by-4. If the Knights had won, they would have been 15-3 in the PSAC West, a game-and-a-half ahead of IUP while holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Crimson Hawks, and very likely to host the PSAC tournament. Also, I think Gannon would have moved up a notch in the soon-to-be-released regional rankings, separating themselves from the 12 other Atlantic Region teams with 6, 7, or 8 in-region losses.

Instead Gannon is now 14-4 in the West, looking up at 14-3 IUP. Of Indiana's remaining 5 games -- at Mercyhurst, at Edinboro, vs. Slippery Rock, at Pitt-Johnstown, and vs. Clarion -- I feel the only realistic loss could occur vs. the Lakers. Gannon's final four PSAC games are at Clarion, vs. UPJ, at Cal, and vs. Seton Hill. It looks like to win the West and host the PSAC playoffs, Gannon needs help from Mercyhurst and has to run the table ... against a schedule that includes two teams they've lost to already (UPJ and Cal). Insert jumping over tall wall metaphor here.

As far as the region, according to the most recent Atlantic Region Performance Indicators (click here and scroll down for the chart), Gannon dropped to 7th on Saturday. Additionally, the Knights have a Feb. 18 game at Le Moyne which, because the Dolphins are in an adjoining state, counts as a regional game. In case you forgot, Gannon dropped a 47-45 Gary Miller Classic contest to Le Moyne in late November, so this second game is going to be a monumental challenge for sure. Adam Blazek might have to learn how to do this to jump over that tall wall.

The way I see it, at 15-8 in the region, Gannon has to win 4 of its 5 remaining regular season games and at least 1 PSAC playoff game to finish 20-10 and have any shot at the NCAA playoffs. Two regular season losses would mean the Knights would have to get to the PSAC finals if not win the whole shebang to qualify.

Had Gannon won at IUP, we'd be on the brink of hosting the PSAC playoffs, which historically has been a smooth path to the NCAAs. Instead, Gannon is on the brink of elimination.