Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tons Of Answers, Still Some Questions

Gannon outlasted a talented Northern Michigan team tonight, 79-68, to win the Gary Miller Classic. Entering the weekend I had a million questions including basics such as, "Which guy in the layup line is Kelvin Agee?" With two impressive wins (and a combined 163 points in 80 minutes of play), we had many of our questions answered. But I still have a few:

Did you honestly think with so many high-scoring guards now on the roster that Danard Crouch (17 points tonight) would lead the Knights in scoring? Crouch, who at times last year played like the Tazmanian Devil hepped up on a 5-hour energy drink, was completely under control when he had the basketball tonight. With the Knights up by just 3 with under 10 minutes to play, Crouch doubled the lead with a nothing-but-net trey. Northern never got any closer the rest of the night.

Do you recall a year ago on Day 2 of the Miller Classic when Crouch went to the line with GU up 2 with less than a minute to play vs. Northern Kentucky? Crouch tossed a rock that nearly bent the rim. Tonight, he made 5-of-6 foul shots, hit 5 of his 9 field goal attempts, and dished out 4 assists.

Do you recall the final score of that GU/NKU classic a year ago? It was a mind-numbing 40-38. The two teams tonight combined for more points by halftime (44-35 Gannon).

How good was NMU big man Jared Benson tonight? He poured in a career-high 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field. Tanner Furno was so ineffective again Benson that John Reilly kept his super sophomore on the bench for the stretch run.

Will Reilly rotate 10 players this season like he did tonight?
Unlikely if you heard his post-game radio interview with Jim LeCorchick. Reilly said he likes everyone who played, but he needs to establish a more consistent rotation. You know how it goes -- if you split time among 8 guys, the few who stay on the bench are unhappy. If you split time among 10, then nobody's happy.

Could Reilly rotate 10 players if he wanted to? Yes. This team doesn't have a superstar on it (though Agee looks spectacular in bursts) and is as deep as I've seen a Gannon team in many years. Even if a Knight or two gets injured, there are capable reserves to pick up the slack.

Can this team win on the road? We'll find out Saturday at Urbana. The 1-6 Blue Knights have had an equally depressing and interesting season. On Dec. 2 they will make their home debut against Mercyhurst. Their early season road games have taken them to North Carolina (vs. Pfeiffer and Catawba), Kentucky (for the Ky. Wesleyan tournament), Cleveland State, and Kent State. Their only win is against the Univ. of Indianapolis.

Indy must stink, right? Not so fast. On Nov. 8, Indianapolis won at nationally-ranked Division I Tennessee, 79-64. Twelve days later they lose at home to Urbana by 11 points. Meanwhile, Tennessee is beating #7 Villanova by 10 to win the preseason NIT. No wonder coaches go insane.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fresh(man) Start To The Season

Gannon's 2010-11 regular season is off to a grand start after an 84-71 whipping of Cedarville in the first round of the Gary Miller Classic. After the game I couldn't help but look waaay ahead with excitement to the 2012-13 season. Yes, I know that's totally jumping the gun -- thinking ahead 2 years after just 1 game -- but the quality performances of GU freshmen Kelvin Agee (17 points, 7-for-13 FG, 3-for-7 3FG) and Stephen Battle (13 points, 6 rebounds, 6-for-8 FG with one of them a resounding slam) was the highlight of the evening for me.

Agee has a smooth stroke plus athleticism, isn't afraid to shoot, and can even finish inside. He worked hard on both ends of the floor all evening long, harassing Cedarville's leading scorer Matt Harner into a 5-for-17 shooting night. Battle is strong with two pogo sticks for legs. He frequently skied above everyone else on the floor to grab rebounds and contest shots. He even hit a 19-footer from the top of the key and showed a decent mid-range jumper. Two years from now, Agee and Battle will be juniors while Tanner Furno will be a senior. That's a pretty good nucleus to build a program around.

It will be interesting to see how Gannon's 8-man rotation performs Saturday night in the championship game vs. old GLIAC foe Northern Michigan (3-1 this season despite being outscored by their opponents 300-295). Both GU and CU were dragging down the stretch in tonight's game, and I'm sure the Knights will be sore at shootaround tomorrow. I don't care how hard they've been practicing the last few weeks. There's nothing quite like the game's intensity ... and the morning after.

Other thoughts on the Gannon/Cedarville game:
* Of course the Knights weren't perfect, but they looked like they were in control most of the game, executing their motion offense and rotating correctly on defense. Last year, especially in the early season, everything was helter-skelter. I thought guards Steve Piotrowicz, Kareem Brown, and Anthony Clagett did a nice job handling the ball and making sure the Knights got good looks.
* How about I've already mentioned six guys who played well for GU, and I haven't even talked about the solid evenings by seniors Travis Brannen (15 points, 6 rebounds, 7-for-12) and Danard Crouch (8 points, 5 rebounds, 3-for-3 FT, and just 1 TO). The 8 who played for the Knights looked like they will compete in the PSAC this year.
* This was the first-ever game I've attended with my Droid smart phone and, to quote former GU broadcaster Steve Bohen, "Wow!" does that enhance the game experience. I logged onto the live stats for the game periodically to stay updated on the details of the game.
* Because of that, I was stunned when I saw in the final stats that the Knights outrebounded the Yellow Jackets 38-30. I know when I looked at some point in the second half, GU was being outrebounded by 5. They really dominated the boards down the stretch.
* John Reilly is a really classy guy. I shook his hand before with game -- with just 7 minutes left in warmups -- and he engaged me in a conversation about my family, Bud Elwell, Bob Dukiet, and this year's team. He's clearly focused on winning, but that doesn't interfere with friendships.
* Speaking of classy coaches, I was told that former GU boss Jerry Slocum, whose Youngstown State Penguins are off to a fast 3-1 start, drove in to Erie today to pay his respects to the family of Bud Elwell at Brugger funeral home.
* I have a really sweet Northern Michigan long-sleeve T-shirt in my closet. Should I bust it out for the championship game just to mess with some people?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks For The Memories, Mr. Elwell

We all know former Gannon player, coach, and legendary athletic director Howard Elwell as "Bud," but I never called him that when talking with him. He was (and always will be) "Mr. Elwell" to me. Even though he and I developed a friendship over the years -- he'd wryly say "Jimmeeee" instead of "hello" when our paths crossed -- I had too much admiration and respect to call him anything but "Mr. Elwell." He passed away at age 76 on Tuesday due to complications from a heart operation a month earlier.

I want to express my condolences to his wife Nancy and the entire Elwell family. They have been fixtures at Gannon games over the past decade. I also want to share some Elwell stories that I'm very fond of:

* In February 1989, four months into my freshman season as a Gannon walk-on, I was in the lockerroom about 45 minutes before practice began lacing up my sneakers with my back to the door. Mr. Elwell walked in and asked me for some towels. I looked in the lockers around me and said, "I don't know where any are." He replied, "What do you mean? I just gave you about 20." Startled (and a little panicked) I turned to face Mr. Elwell and said, "Um, I didn't get any towels," to which he responded after looking me in the eyes, "Oh -- sorry. I thought you were Boone (team manager John Boone)." I knew I wasn't showing up on any opponent scouting report, but I thought at least the AD from my own school knew who I was!

* My first three years at Gannon I worked as the sports editor at the Gannon Knight student newspaper. Our annual April Fool's edition was 16 pages of made-up stories and fake names, and for one of those issues I had written (what I thought was) a doozy. In the late 80s, there was lots of talk of Gannon moving to Division I, so I took it to the absurd and wrote an April Fool's story about Gannon deciding to jump over Division I and right into the professional ranks. Also, earlier that year, Mr. Elwell had broken his leg chasing some miscreant teenager from his backyard. He'd made things worse -- and received jabs from many in the athletic department -- when he fell down the athletic department steps in the Hammermill one afternoon. Tying all that together in my story, I attributed this quote to athletic director "Thud Felwell": "It's always been my dream for Gannon to have professional teams. But then again, I have this recurring dream where I'm running naked through a pool of green Jell-O while being chased by Santa Claus, so maybe my dreams aren't applicable here." That was hilarious in my head, but when I saw it in print I thought, "Holy crap! I just insulted my athletic director ... and I don't think I've ever seen him smile!" That week I saw Mr. Felwell -- er, Elwell -- in the athletic offices and he called me over to his desk. "I saw your story," he said without a smile before pausing. "Pretty funny." From then on, whenever I visited the sports information office, I'd say hello to Mr. Elwell and we'd talk about journalism and glory days of Erie sports.

* When I was an upperclassman I ran into Mr. Elwell about a half hour before a practice. I was getting in some pre-practice jumpers at the Audi when he said, "Drug test today, Jimmy," which meant everyone had to pee in a cup before practice. "Ugh," I replied. "I just used the bathroom." I figured I'd have to drink a gallon of water before practice to produce a sample for the NCAA to enjoy. But Mr. Elwell came to my rescue. "Hell, you won't even drink a beer," he said. "Skip this one. I'll take care of it." I hope sharing this story doesn't bring NCAA sanctions against Gannon ...

* When the 1989-90 Gannon team made its run to the Elite 8 in Springfield, all home playoff games for the MCC (Mideast Collegiate Conference) tournament and NCAA were broadcast live on local TV. By the time the regional final came around, Mike Gallagher and Brian Duffy had already interviewed every decent player on the team, so they kind of had to do a story on me. Or Gumby. The thing I recall most about that piece came after right after the segment. Gallagher added during the live broadcast, "Gannon athletic director 'Bud' Elwell added that Jim Roddy is quote 'one of the classiest players in the history of the Gannon program.'"

As you know already, I was ecstatic just to be a minuscule part of the Gannon basketball program, so to hear that compliment on TV thrilled me to no end. Heck, 20 years later I'm still beaming about it. But the best part of all was that those words were from one of the finest gentlemen in the history of Gannon University, Mr. Elwell.

Feel free to share your comments on Mr. Elwell below or click here to leave a condolence for the Elwell family through the Brugger Funeral Homes website.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Getting Ugly Early

The season is very young, but the PSAC has already suffered some ugly losses. Shippensburg was thumped 84-71 at Goldey-Beacom, not exactly a Division II powerhouse. West Chester lost a snoozer (45-42) at University of the Sciences, who was 7-20 a year ago. And you know how the DII schools usually kick the crud out of the tiny Penn State branch campuses (like Penn State-Greater Allegheny)? Well, Penn State Wilkes-Barre turned the tables on Bloomsburg by a 73-70 count.

But guess who laid the biggest egg of the early season? Our good friends at Lock Haven University. Click here to read the game story and click here for the box score. When I first saw the score on the PSAC website, I thought it had to be a typo. But, no, coach John Wilson has taken the Bald Eagles to new depths, losing by 106 points in their second game of the season. Some of the highlights from the stat sheet:
* Turnovers: LHU 34, WL 8
* Steals: WL 25, LH 5
* Assists: WL 40, LHU 7
* Players in double figures: WL 9, LHU 1
* WL had 21 three-point field goals, Lock Haven had 18 total field goals
* FG%: WL 68%, LHU 29%
* WL started the game on a 38-3 run
* WL scored its 100th point with 14:17 left in the game
* LH scored 48 points for the game. WL had 48 points 10 minutes in.

Remember how last year Gannon started its season with a 30-point loss to Urbana? That game was awful. Now add 76 points to UU's total and try to imagine how that tastes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

All Eyes On Cedarville

While the Golden Knights are still trying to figure out each other, their opponent for the opening round of the Gary Miller Classic is already raising a trophy. Cedarville is 2-0 after defeating host Rio Grande, 85-78, in the championship game of the Rio Grande Bevo Francis Tournament Saturday. Here are some stats on the Yellow Jackets you might find interesting (thru 2 games). Please keep in mind that two games doesn't exactly make a trend, but it does shed some light on the club:
* Two seniors and two sophomores average double figures -- Matt Harner (15.5), Austin Foote (14.0), Brian Hecker (13.5), and Derrick Hannon (13.0)
* The Yellow Jackets are 25-of-55 on threes (46%) and 74-of-129 (57%) from the field overall. Good shooters, right?
* Well, maybe that's only when they have a hand in their face. They're only 10-for-21 from the foul line, a paltry 47%. Harner has made 7-of-9 threes but he's 0-of-4 from the charity stripe.
* Opponents are shooting 50% from the field against them.
* They've outrebounded opponents an average of 38-25.
* The attendance for the championship game was 340. I've had bigger parties at my house. Apparently the Yellow Jacket fans don't travel well, but they support their team like crazy on campus.

Before heading to the Hammermill Center, Cedarville -- who is ranked #14 in NAIA Division II -- will play two more important games in their division. They host #24 Indiana Wesleyan as well as preseason #1 and defending national champion Saint Francis (Ind.) on Nov. 19-20 in the 33rd Annual Cedarville Invitational. (We'll provide updates on those games on the Gannon Hoops website. And if you think I'm the only one blogging about Cedarville basketball, guess again.)

I'm trying to get a gauge on how good Cedarville is, but I'm not sure if I should be impressed that they beat Bluefield (W.Va) by 23 to open the season. I don't know anything about Bluefield -- not even their team mascot. CU was 26-9 last year with one of those losses by 17 at Urbana (88-71). Then again, they shellacked Urbana at home 97-75. Other W's came against Roberts Wesleyan, Daemen, and Taylor (Ind.), who GU held off for a two-point home win last year. Everyone else on their schedule from a season ago sounds like a high school (St. Xavier), a bank (Huntington), or a merger between a blood-pressure drug and a rural church (Trevecca Nazarene).

Update #1: (11/16/10) Cedarville led at halftime, 45-39, but lost at Findlay tonight by a 94-75 final. The Oilers are preseason #3 in Division II play.

Update #2: (11/20/10) Cedarville lost at home Friday night to NAIA Division II #24 Indiana Wesleyan, 70-65. The Jackets shot just 41% from the field in front of a nice-sized crowd of 1700+.

Update #3: (11/21/10) Cedarville fell to 2-3 overall after their 100-84 home loss to NAIA Division II #1 St. Francis (Ind.). Cedarville was just 4-of-12 from the foul line, making them an even 50% for the season (25-for-50) on charity tosses. I'm perplexed how a team that shoots it so well from three-point range (40%, 50-for-125) can be so abysmal when uncontested. I also can't understand how St. Francis, the patron saint of animals, could be so mean to Yellow Jackets.

Update #4: (11/24/10) Cedarville ended its three-game losing streak with an 87-75 home win over Ohio Christian. The game was close throughout. CU jacked up 35 threes (making 11) and shot 59% from the foul line, bringing their season FT percentage to 53.2%.

Geez, I think we know more about Cedarville than we do our own Knights. We'll learn a lot Nov. 26-27. And so will coach John Reilly.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Where Are They Now?

Want to know where some ex-Gannon players have gone? Me, too. Here's the latest, courtesy of a Friend of Gannon Hoops:

- George Johnson is at Division II power Augusta State. They have an exhibition game Thursday at the University of Georgia. Please -- no jokes about him quitting the team after they lose that game.

- Filmore "Mook" Bouldes transferred to GLVC member Missouri S&T. They've had 2 exhibition games so far, but Bouldes has yet to play in either.

- Daren Dexter is at Division III Greensboro College (N.C.). In their 103-60 exhibition game loss to DI Elon, Dexter was the leading scorer with 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals in 30 minutes of action.

- Jerell Sanders is in the GLIAC now, suiting up for Ferris State. Sanders started in the Bulldogs' 69-39 exhibition game victory over Aquinas, but he did not score in 20 minutes of play. I'm sure he and combustible assistant coach Ed Douma will get along famously. UPDATE #3: Sanders had 9 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in FSU's overtime loss at Indiana. No, not Indiana (Pa.) -- at freaking Indiana University in Bloomington. Sanders hit what would have been a game-winning shot as time expired in regulation, but it was ruled just after the horn.

UPDATE #1 (thanks to Coach Corey)
- Anthony Simmons has landed at NAIA Division I Xavier (La.). In first game against Webber International, Simmons started and was 6-for-8 from the field for 12 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 turnover in 22 minutes playing time. I think the biggest shock here is that there's a Webber International University and they have an athletic program.

UPDATE #2 (thanks to an anonymous emailer)
Larry Swann has landed at NAIA Division II Dakota Wesleyan University (S.D.) . Swann has started and hit double figures in each contest for the 4-0 Tigers. He hasn't exactly found his shooting stroke yet, hitting on only 12-of-36 field goals attempts including just 3-for-12 from three-point range. The coolest thing of all is that DWU's home arena is the Corn Palace.

If you know anything about Isaac Reid's basketball situation, please let me know.