Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dream Crushers: Loose Rock Stuns Nervous Knights

As I write this, it’s been about 24 hours since Gannon’s numbing, devastating, season- and era-ending 65-57 loss to Slippery Rock in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Last year when Gannon lost a tight game to East Stroudsburg in the second round, I felt bad. But this year is multiples of that awful feeling. In 2014, the Knights rallied from a 6-7 start to crash the postseason and exceed everyone’s expectations. This year, after soaring to a #2 seeding, the PSAC tournament championship, and winning 12-of-13 entering NCAA play, our expectations were above-the-gray-clouds-over-Erie high. Before the PSAC semifinals, a co-worker asked me how far Gannon could go. “They could win the national championship,” I replied without hesitation. (He responded with a laugh, “So I guess they’re favored against Kutztown?")

I felt uneasy Saturday watching shaky Gannon struggle with nothing-to-lose Slippery Rock early, and I got sick to my stomach as they fell behind in the second half. The second-best defensive team in the country gave up 36 points in a 15-minute span and, even shakier on offense, missed several shots at point-blank range. The game seemed out of sync from the opening possessions, except for when The Rock would get nothing but net on a three-pointer late in the shot clock. I texted my brother 10 minutes into the game saying, “This is the only kind of game Slippery Rock can win.”

I always feel depressed after Gannon basketball season ends. For months I’ve been engaged in 30+ GU games plus I keep a close eye on the rest of the PSAC and Atlantic Region. Then, just when you think the Knights have “the team” to extend the season into late March, it’s over. I hadn’t felt like this since 2009 when the 30-3 Knights ran into Central Missouri’s buzzsaw and lost a 12-point lead in the NCAA Elite 8. I can’t believe I’ll never watch Adam Blazek strip another unsuspecting big man. I’ll never see Girbran Smith nail another clutch jumper. Raphell Thomas-Edwards, who played not just with an injured wrist but a broken one most of the season, will never delight the Audi crowd with a one-hander in the lane. And we’ll never see A’Darius Porter or Rich Austin let out a primal scream to celebrate an old-fashioned three-point play.

So why in the name of Jerry Slocum am I smiling right now?

A couple things snapped me back to reality and made me recall maybe the most important aspect of college athletics. After avoiding basketball for a few hours after the Gannon/Rock game – I can’t take watching other teams play when Gannon is already done – I saw the score of the MAC championship between the University of Buffalo and Central Michigan was a close one, so I turned on ESPN2. I noted a player for UB looked a little like Chris Bosh … and then had that feeling of déjà vu. It wasn’t my imagination – I had actually seen 6-foot-8 Xavier Ford before.

Joe Mattis photos courtesy Gannon University
Ford attended Gannon’s Senior Day Feb. 25 to support Thomas-Edwards, his former UB teammate. As you probably know, RTE hails from England, so he wouldn’t have any family in attendance for the Senior Day festivities. Ford lifted Thomas-Edwards’ spirits by not just watching the game, but walking Thomas-Edwards to mid-court then breaking into hilarious poses for the senior’s photos. Instead of attempting to describe Ford’s moves, I’ve included the photos here. After trying to figure out exactly what moves Ford was busting, look at the expression on Thomas-Edwards’ face. Tremendous!

Watching Ford in the MAC title game (he led the Bobby Hurley-coached Bulls to the NCAAs with a game-high 18 points) and recalling his exploits at the Hammermill, my attitude changed. Yes, the Blazek Era is over which is too bad for us Gannon fans. But nobody – not Slippery Rock, not the referees, not the lid on the rim – can take away the camaraderie and friendships this team developed over the past two years. The end of the season is the beginning of real life for these guys, which is eons more important than who wins the Atlantic Region.

I never cried more after a sporting event than 25 years ago when my sophomore season ended with Gannon losing a heartbreaker to Morehouse (Ga.) in the Division II Elite 8 in Springfield, Mass. We never played again as a unit, but a quarter century later, I’m still part of that team. I regularly exchange emails with Chris Hollan (mostly about Gannon hoops – big surprise). We’re also connected on Facebook with Andy Adams. My LinkedIn connections include David Callahan and Gregg Blair. And for two of the last three soccer seasons, I’ve coached Jim Toohey’s son Declan.

You might think I’m applying my 45-year-old perspective to this situation and that the players won’t appreciate the special bond they developed until years from now. But Thomas-Edwards confirmed my thinking (and tugged at my emotions) with his early Saturday evening tweet. “People cry at the end but forget to smile at the JOURNEY,” he wrote. “Didn’t end how I hoped but I wouldn’t want the journey to happen any other way.” #GUMBB

Nationally syndicated sportswriter Norman Chad called this Gannon club a "team of destiny" many times on Twitter. They still are.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Scouting Slippery Rock -- Sort Of

A little less than a year ago, I published a fairly comprehensive (though completely unofficial) scouting report on Gannon's first round opponent in the 2014 NCAA Atlantic Regional, the University of Charleston. UC was a member of the Mountain East, a conference we PSAC folk had heard little about and seen even less of.

I'm not going to detail a scouting report on Gannon's first round opponent for 2015 because that would be akin to me typing out the alphabet for you. You already know what the alphabet is, so no reason for me to follow that up with A, B, C, D, E, F, cut it out already!

Gannon fans are well aware of Slippery Rock because they've faced the Knights three times this season, including twice at the Hammermill Center. If you need me to tell you SRU fights to dominate the boards all game long while coach Kevin Reynolds works the referees even longer, you're probably on the wrong web site. (Usually I insert a "go to the Mercyhurst basketball blog joke" here, but they deserve more respect now that they've finally made the NCAA field.)

If you would like to dig into Slippery Rock more and relive some of the moments from the 2015 season, click away at these 6 links:
1. Gannon 64, Slippery Rock 51 (Nov. 19, 2014 - Erie, PA)
2. Gannon 74, Slippery Rock 71 (Wed., Jan. 18, 2015 - Slippery Rock, PA)
3. PSAC Quarterfinal: Gannon 71, Slippery Rock 45 (March 3, 2015 - Erie, PA)
4. Slippery Rock season schedule/results and team box score
5. This article is the only data I could find related to former starters Kelvin Goodwin (#11) and Cornelius Brown (#30) not being with the team. Neither has played since early February, but who knows if they could make an appearance in the NCAAs.
6. If you really want to dig deep into The Rock, here's the TV broadcast of their Jan. 24 win at California (Pa.).

I hope Gannon fans aren't still caught up in the PSAC shellacking of Slippery Rock a week ago and think a fourth matchup with IUP in the NCAA second round is a sure thing. Don't underestimate this team of fierce competitors. Forget about this year's PSAC quarterfinal and think more of last year's double-overtime slugfest.

Yes, Gannon should be a heavy favorite Saturday because they've been playing at such a high level lately and SRU is depleted. But the NCAA tourney highway is littered with high seeds who took their opponents for granted. Gannon is going to have to play well to survive and advance.

UPDATED 3/11/15: We've come a long way baby ... from 2-4 to the national rankings. Gannon is listed among others receiving votes in the latest NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) Division II poll. The poll is for entertainment purposes only, but it's fun to be included. Atlantic region top seed West Liberty is ranked #5 while IUP is 25th.

* The unanimous #1 in the poll is Florida Southern, which features two former Golden Knights in its starting lineup. Seniors Stephen Battle (13.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Bubby Johnson (5.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) have led the Mocassins to a glossy 30-1 mark. If you're looking ahead -- waaaaaay ahead -- Gannon and Florida Southern could meet in the DII finals. That would be both awkward and awesome at the same time.

* If you'd like to send off the men's basketball team before they hit the road to West Liberty, get to the Hammermill Center at 7:30 Thursday evening. Click here for details from the Gannon athletics website.

* Looking back at the Gannon schedule, three of the first four opponents the Knights faced this season
qualified for the NCAAs. GU faced Glenville, Slippery Rock and Mercyhurst between Nov. 14-22. The University of Charleston, who was ranked in the region until a late-season swoon, was the fourth opponent.

* Alderson-Broaddus, who Gannon lost to in the Gary Miller Classic Nov. 29, won the GMAC Conference tournament, but did not receive an NCAA bid. The GMAC will receive an auto bid next year. It warmed my heart to see that A-B beat regular NCAA cheater tourney powerhouse Kentucky Wesleyan.

* Speaking of Kentucky Wesleyan, they did not qualify for the NCAAs this year. Other typical postseason stalwarts and former national champions missing from the field are Findlay, Southern Indiana, Barton, Winona State, and Virginia Union. I know we've had some seasons that disappointed the Gannon faithful, but let's appreciate and enjoy this tournament run while we can. Several great programs are sitting on the sidelines.

UPDATED 3/13/15: Gannon's Adam Blazek has been named to the Daktronics All-Atlantic Region first team. Anybody want to argue with that? I didn't think so.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Knights Earned, Deserved PSAC Championship

I've written over 500 posts on this Gannon Hoops blog, so you'd think I'd have this down cold by now. But I honestly don't know what's the right thing to say after the Knights rallied past Indiana (Pa.), 69-66, to earn the PSAC Tournament Championship in one of the most intense, well executed, and memorable games in Hammermill Center history. Part of me wants to just stop writing now and watch Girbran Smith's ultra-clutch totally-contested high-arching game-winning three-pointer 50 more times.

It seems almost insulting to those who participated in a game of this magnitude to talk about tactics, strategies, and miscues. Can you believe in the biggest game of the season Gannon was outrebounded, 27-26, including allowing 10 offensive boards? Why did IUP stop pressing and attacking after they took a 66-61 lead with 3:32 to play? Those questions seem inconsequential and don't capture the essence of this game.

So let's not talk about what happened between the lines. What I saw from this team after the game was an outpouring of genuine emotion, not for themselves but for each other. Instead of showboating to the crowd after the win, reserve Rich Austin -- who sacrificed more playing time and shot attempts when he transferred to Gannon from Lake Erie College -- broke down in tears. His teammates hugged him and he certainly hugged them back. Before the PSAC administrator handed Austin his plaque, the senior wiped tears from his face. Austin played only 17 minutes vs. Indiana, but his 10 points were decisive.

I thought to myself before this weekend's games that I felt this special group of Gannon players deserved to win the conference tournament. The only way you're remembered as a special team (vs. a very good team) is to win a postseason championship, and I felt this team deserved that. They've played harder and more cohesively than any other squad I've watched closely over the past 30+ years. They've never acted like knuckleheads and never taken a game off. The starters, the key reserves, and the bench guys have pulled for each other all season long. I felt they were a special team, but they needed to earn their place in Gannon basketball history. They certainly did that, and in memorable fashion.

More observations from a great day of Gannon basketball:
* First and foremost, the NCAA tournament awaits for the Knights March 14 and hopefully March 15 and 17 in West Liberty, WV. The bids were announced just after 10:30 PM, and I have to admit my head is still spinning from who Gannon will face in the opening round of the Atlantic Regionals:
    #1 West Liberty (host) vs. #8 Livingstone
    #2 Gannon vs. #7 Slippery Rock
    #3 Indiana (Pa.) vs. #6 Glenville State
    #4 Fairmont State vs. #5 Mercyhurst

When I had listed my predictions for the field, I had four categories: Locks, Very Likely In, Likely In, and Pretty Much Hoping The Committee Gets Drunk And Submits The Wrong Team. After getting obliterated by Gannon, 71-45, in the PSAC quarters and stumbling through the month of February with two starters suspended, there was no way I thought Slippery Rock was going to receive a bid. They were already on the bubble at #7 in the region with an 18-10 mark, and #5 Bowie State had advanced to the CIAA semifinals before ending its year 21-7 in the region. I guess this is a compliment to the PSAC West that their fourth place team makes the NCAAs ... or maybe the committee actually was drinking Yuenglings all day long.

Imagine if you're Bowie State. The week started with you sitting at #5 in the year's final regional rankings with your conference tournament complete. A team two spots behind you gets smashed in its only game of the week ... and they move ahead of you.

* It was fitting that the game ended on a deflection by PSAC West Defensive Player of the Year A'Darius Porter and ended up in the hands of four-year starter Adam Blazek. After Porter caught a piece of IUP's long inbounds pass, Blazek secured the ball and held it near the Gannon logo at midcourt and 20 feet in front of his parents who have watched him play about a hundred games at the Audi.

* I wonder if IUP will receive any grief from the PSAC for not being on the floor to accept their second place trophy. PSAC West Player of the Year Devonte Chance walked off even before shaking hands. Maybe it's not a big deal, but the poor IUP manager who accepted the trophy will never be booed that loudly for the rest of his life.

* The situation led to a great line by a Gannon fan sitting behind me. Because IUP coach Joe Lombardi left his coaching box several times during the game to argue calls, the fan said, "He was on the floor the whole game but he can't come onto it now when he's supposed to?"

* Lombardi has questioned his team's mental toughness publicly, not just once but at least twice after facing Gannon, and I wonder if he's doing that privately now after his team's late collapse Sunday. The Crimson Hawks had riddled the Gannon defense all afternoon, but seemed afraid to win after taking 5-point lead with 3:32 to play. Here are IUP's final possessions:
    2:31 Turnover
    1:59 Missed three-pointer
    1:21 Missed layup
    0:15 Turnover
The long gap between the final two possessions was due to an allowed offensive rebound.

IUP is an excellent basketball team, but multiple times this year they've struggled to close the deal. However, if both the Knights and Crimson Hawks take care of business in the NCAAs, IUP will have a chance to make up for today's devastating loss.

* Girbran Smith went nuts in the first half, scoring 22 points from all angles. He was stymied in the second half thanks to a switching IUP defense and foul trouble that limited him to 13 minutes of action. Smith left the game at the 6:19 mark with his fourth foul, and when IUP made its move on its ensuing possessions, I tried using mental telepathy to get John Reilly to put Smith back onto the floor. I'm glad I don't have that superpower because Riles was right to save Smith for the stretch.

* I mentioned last post that I've been tracking points allowed by Gannon in 5-minute increments. Today's second half was especially telling. GU allowed just 5 points in the first segment which enabled them to maintain their 7-point halftime advantage despite cold shooting. During the next two segments they allowed 9 and 12 points, causing them to lose the lead. IUP tallied 5 more in the first 90 seconds of the final segment, making their lack of execution down the stretch even more puzzling.

* Norman Chad, the stepfather of Gannon freshman Isaiah Eisendorf and nationally syndicated sports columnist, watches his "Division II Team Of Destiny" via video feed every game. Shortly after today's thriller, he sent a Tweet to 53,000+ followers calling Smith "the Bahamian Reggie Miller." Quite appropriate!

* I'm sure on Monday this team will get back to business and focus on the NCAAs, but I'm glad they got to enjoy a celebration on their home court. Everyone wearing maroon and gold was downright giddy. I snapped this picture on my phone of a longtime Gannon supporter getting a moment with game hero and PSAC tournament MVP Girbran Smith. The senior has been knocked around quite a bit in that gymnasium. It was great to see him get a moment with someone's arm around him.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Overlooked Starter Proves A (Tou)pane In Kutztown's Neck

When the PSAC awards were announced earlier this week, Gannon starters Adam Blazek, Girbran Smith, Raphell Thomas-Edwards, and A'Darius Porter all received various accolades. If there was a vote based only on Gannon's 69-56 whipping of Kutztown in the PSAC semifinals Saturday, ignored starter Jean Yves Toupane might have earned MVP honors.

Despite being matched up against PSAC East defender of the year Tyler Brooks, Toupane started aggressive and spotted Gannon an early lead on his way to a game- and season-high 17 points. When I looked at the live stats on my phone partway through the second half, Toupane had more points that PSAC first-teamers Blazek and Smith combined. Kutztown knew they would need Gannon's stars to misalign to have a chance to win, but because Toupane started scorching the nets, KU had no chance in this one.

While Toupane did the job on offense, stellar team defense as usual carried the Knights. The last few games, I've tracked how many points Gannon has allowed in 5-minute increments to see if they are allowing opponents and comfortable stretches. Here's what today looked like:
   20:00-15:00  3 points (7-3 GU lead)
   15:00-10:01  4 points (11-7 GU lead)
   10:00-5:01  3 points (25-10 GU lead)
   5:00-0:00  8 points  (32-18 GU lead)
   20:00-15:01  6 points (39-24 GU lead)
   15:00-10:01  6 points (49-30 GU lead)
   10:00-5:01  6 points (57-36 GU lead)

The Knights allowed a shocking 20 points in the final 5 minutes, but by that point the Golden Bears were extending the game through fouling and finally made a couple threes. (They were 0-for-9 heading into the final five minutes.) Ignoring that final 5 minutes, look at the consistency of that defense! And this was against a team that averages 76 points per game -- or 9.5 points every 5 minutes.

I could share many more thoughts about the PSAC semis, but as I write this the championship game is just hours away, so I'll just share 2 more of my cents with you:
1. When you combine the second half of IUP's win over East Stroudsburg (outscoring ESU 50-27) and Gannon's first half versus Kutztown (GU with a 32-18 advantage), that means the PSAC West outscored the East 82-45 over a 40-minute stretch.
2. Congrats to walk-on Cory Bailey for scoring his first points on the season. When the North East product connected on a 1-and-1 in the final minute of the game, the Gannon bench and most of the crowd erupted for the hard-working junior. With his work ethic, perseverance, and team-first attitude, Bailey will go far after graduation.

For the PSAC Tournament Central web site, click here.
For Gannon's web headquarters for the PSAC Final Four, click here.


Regional Rankings / Upcoming Schedules

UPDATED 3/7/15 at 10:05 PM. Rankings reflect in-region records as of Sunday, 3/1/15, and rankings that were announced 3/4/15.

#1 West Liberty [25-2]: W vs. Shepherd (MEC quarters), L vs. #10 Glenville State (MEC semis)
#2 Indiana Pa. [24-5]: W at #4 Mercyhurst (PSAC quarters), W vs. East Stroudsburg (PSAC semis), Sun. at #3 Gannon (PSAC finals)
#3 Gannon [20-8]: W vs. #7 Slippery Rock (PSAC quarters), W vs. Kutztown (PSAC semis), Sun. vs. #2 Indiana (PSAC finals)
#4 Mercyhurst [20-7]: L vs. #2 Indiana (PSAC quarters)
#5 Bowie State [21-7]: No games scheduled
#6 Fairmont State [19-9]: W vs. Notre Dame (MEC quarters), W vs. Wheeling Jesuit (MEC semis), Sun. vs. #10 Glenville (MEC finals)
#7 Slippery Rock [18-9]: L at Gannon (PSAC quarters)
#8 Concord [20-7]:  L vs. Wheeling Jesuit (MEC quarters)
#9 Charleston [17-9]: W vs. WV State, L vs. #10 Glenville State (MEC quarters) 
#10 Glenville State [18-10]: W vs. UVa-Wise (MEC first round), W vs. #9 Charleston (MEC quarters), W vs. #1 West Liberty (MEC semis), Sun. vs. #6 Fairmont (MEC finals)
Wheeling Jesuit [19-9]: W vs. Urbana (MEC first round), W vs. #8 Concord (MEC quarters), L vs. #6 Fairmont State (MEC semis)
East Stroudsburg [19-8]: W vs. Millersville (PSAC quarters), L vs. #2 Indiana (PSAC semis)
[CIAA AUTO BID] Livingstone [19-9]: No games scheduled 

Locks (4): West Liberty, Indiana, Gannon, Livingstone
Likely In (3): Mercyhurst, Bowie State, Fairmont State
Fighting For The Final Spot: Glenville State
Hoping For Mercy From The Committee: Slippery Rock, Concord, Charleston, Wheeling Jesuit, East Stroudsburg

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Overmatched And Overwhelmed, Not Overtime

After consecutive years of stomach-acid producing overtime PSAC quarterfinal home games vs. Slippery Rock, I was ready tonight for a cocktail of Prilosec, Zantac, and Pepcid washed down with cherry Mylanta. Sure, Slippery Rock hasn't been the same since two starters were suspended from the team a month ago, but history said buckle in for a sure to be bumpy ride.

What we got instead was a near perfection by the Knights, who out-everythinged Slippery Rock on the way to a 71-45 thrashing. The stat that jumped out at halftime was Gannon's 7-for-7 shooting chart on three-pointers. But it wasn't just hot shooting by Girbran Smith and Adam Blazek that keyed the win.

I noted that when Slippery Rock began making substitutions, the Knights led just 8-5. Over the next several possessions -- until exasperated SRU head coach Kevin Reynolds called time out -- GU outscored the Rock 12-5 with the opponents notching just one field goal. With two starters gone, the first subs for Slippery Rock were essentially their 8th and 9th players, a terrible spot for a school with just 5 scholarships from what I understand.

Slippery Rock had a chance to make a move in the final 4:33 of the first half when Adam Blazek picked up his second personal and joined foul-plagued Smith, A'Darius Porter, Rich Austin, and Matthew Dogan on the bench. At that juncture Gannon was up 34-18 and I wasn't the only Catholic in the building praying for the reserves to keep the margin in the teens.

Why was I fretting? The best Gannon player on the floor was Raphell Thomas-Edwards -- a guy essentially playing with one hand. The second best player was Jean Yves-Toupane who averages less than 6 ppg. Joining them were little-used Tony Boykins (1.5 ppg) and freshmen Daniel Kaigler (2.1 ppg) and Adam Holm-Weber (0.5 ppg), all seeing their first Division II playoff action. Instead of squandering the lead, that crew expanded it, closing the half with a 10-4 run to produce a 44-22 margin at the break.

The Knights sealed the contest when they emerged from the lockerroom a focused group. On offense they worked the clock and the boards, then gave up just three points in the first five minutes of play. They allowed on 12 points over the next 10 minutes of action, causing the Slippery Rock students to head for the exits.

I'm sure the Knights will be focused (and excited) to host the PSAC tournament this weekend, starting off with Kutztown Saturday. The Golden Bears, seeded third in the East, surprised #2 West Chester on the road tonight, 90-79, in overtime. I'm not into predictions, but I'll wager that Kutztown scores fewer than 90 against our Knights this weekend. Kutztown boasts some outstanding athletes including super-quick Cal transfer Tynell Fortune, super sophomore Josh Johnson, and hard-to-guard senior Tyler Brooks.

Sheesh! Gannon posts one of its most impressive performances in playoff history, and I'm already looking ahead? I'm sure John Reilly is doing the same thing. They didn't hand out a trophy after tonight's game -- just an opportunity. Let's hope the Knights make this a special weekend.

For the PSAC Tournament Central web site, click here.
For Gannon's web headquarters for the PSAC Final Four, click here.


Regional Rankings / Upcoming Schedules

UPDATED 3/6/15 at 8:45 PM. Rankings reflect in-region records as of Sunday, 3/1/15, and rankings that were announced 3/4/15.

#1 West Liberty [25-2]: W vs. Shepherd (MEC quarters), Sat. vs. #10 Glenville State (MEC semis)
#2 Indiana Pa. [24-5]: W at #4 Mercyhurst (PSAC quarters), Sat. vs. East Stroudsburg (PSAC semis)
#3 Gannon [20-8]: W vs. #7 Slippery Rock (PSAC quarters), Sat. vs. Kutztown (PSAC semis)
#4 Mercyhurst [20-7]: L vs. #2 Indiana (PSAC quarters)
#5 Bowie State [21-7]: No games scheduled
#6 Fairmont State [19-9]: W vs. Notre Dame (MEC quarters), Sat. vs. Wheeling Jesuit (MEC semis)
#7 Slippery Rock [18-9]: L at Gannon (PSAC quarters)
#8 Concord [20-7]:  L vs. Wheeling Jesuit (MEC quarters)
#9 Charleston [17-9]: W vs. WV State, L vs. #10 Glenville State (MEC quarters) 
#10 Glenville State [18-10]: W vs. UVa-Wise (MEC first round), W vs. #9 Charleston (MEC quarters), Sat. vs. #1 West Liberty (MEC semis)
Wheeling Jesuit [19-9]: W vs. Urbana (MEC first round), W vs. #8 Concord (MEC quarters), Sat. vs. #6 Fairmont State (MEC semis)
East Stroudsburg [19-8]: W vs. Millersville (PSAC quarters), Sat. vs. #2 Indiana (PSAC semis)
[CIAA AUTO BID] Livingstone [19-9]: No games scheduled 

There are a couple of very interesting matchups in the Mountain East quarters with #10 Glenville facing #9 Charleston and #8 Concord tangling with red hot Wheeling Jesuit (#10 last week) on Friday. Those could very well be play-in games for the 8-team Atlantic Region NCAA tournament.

Locks (4): West Liberty, Indiana, Gannon, Livingstone
Likely In (2): Mercyhurst, Bowie State
Fighting For The Final Two Spots: Fairmont State, Concord, Glenville State, Charleston, Wheeling Jesuit, East Stroudsburg. Kutztown and Millersville would need to win the PSAC tourney.
Hoping For Mercy From The Committee: Slippery Rock, Concord, Charleston

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 2/28/15 at 10:55 PM. Rankings reflect in-region records as of Sunday, 2/22/15. 

#1 West Liberty [23-2]: W vs. #9 Glenville St., W at #10 Wheeling Jesuit
#2 Indiana Pa. [22-5]: W vs. Clarion, W PSAC vs. UPJ (PSAC first round), Tue. at #4 Mercyhurst (PSAC quarters) 
#3 Gannon [19-8]: W vs. Seton Hill, Tue. vs. #7 Slippery Rock (PSAC quarters)
#4 Mercyhurst [20-7]: Tue. vs. #2 Indiana (PSAC quarters)
#5 Bowie State [21-7]: W vs. Chowan, L vs. Livingstone (CIAA semis)
#6 Fairmont State [18-9]: W at Shepherd
#7 Slippery Rock [16-9]: W vs. California, Sat. W vs. Edinboro (PSAC first round), Tue. at Gannon (PSAC quarters)
#8 Concord [18-8]: W vs. Davis and Elkins, W at UVa-Wise
#9 Glenville State [17-9]: L at #1 West Liberty, W vs. WV Wesleyan, Tue. vs. UVa-Wise (MEC first round)
#10 Wheeling Jesuit [17-8]: W vs. WV Wesleyan, W vs. WV State, L vs. #1 West Liberty, Tue. vs. Urbana (MEC first round)
Virginia State [18-7]: L vs. Fayettville State  
East Stroudsburg [18-8]: W vs. Kutztown, Tue. vs. Millersville (PSAC quarters)
Charleston [17-9]: W vs. Notre Dame (Oh.), W vs. WV State
Winston-Salem [16-9]: W vs. Shaw, W vs. Fayetteville State (CIAA semis), L vs. Livingstone (CIAA finals) 
[CIAA AUTO BID] Livingstone [16-9]: W vs. Lincoln, W vs. #5 Bowie State (CIAA semis), W vs. Winston-Salem (CIAA finals; 106-91!)

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