Thursday, December 30, 2010

Knights Rock Wayne's World

I'm doing everything in my power to avoid the cliche "defense wins championships" after Gannon's 61-52 Porreco Cup championship win over Wayne State. But what else can you say about a team who wins despite shooting just 43% from the field, 4-for-14 on three-pointers, and committing 18 turnovers? You can win games doing that when your defense forces opponents to 35% shooting, 6-of-20 threes, and 17 turnovers of their own. So, I know you want me to say "defense wins championships," but my mom (an English teacher) would be mortified if I used a cliche.

The best part about the defensive effort is, man, did it require a supreme effort! It wasn't like Wayne was small, slow, passive, weak, young, or tired. They pushed; Gannon pushed back. Wayne dominated the boards early; the Knights ended the game with a 39-33 rebounding advantage. I don't want to overreact and extrapolate that the Knights are now PSAC contenders. But you have to be impressed that Gannon has the ability to go bicep-to-bicep with a team like Wayne and come out on top.

Other thoughts on the game:
* Does anybody know what the deal was with Wayne's Mike Hollingsworth Thursday night? Until the Porreco championship, he'd started all 10 contests for the Warriors, ranking second on the team in scoring (15.9 ppg). But he didn't play a second against GU. I think we was sitting on the bench the whole game but never took off his warmup.

* I was OK with Chris Giles from third-place Seton Hill earning Porreco Cup Outstanding Player honors. There wasn't any one player from either team in the finals that stood out more than Giles did. Kelvin Agee had 22 points vs. SHU, but he was just 2-for-11 for 8 points against WSU in the finals.

* I'm not sure if Gannon's defense is special or East Stroudsburg's is woeful. The Knights gave up just 67 points to Seton Hill and 52 to Wayne; ESU gave up 98 to Seton Hill and 82 to Wayne. Overall that's a difference of 61 points.

* Defense wins championships. There -- I said it. Sorry mom.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blunderful Victory

Two parts to this post:

Part 1: Wednesday's 71-67 win over Seton Hill in the opening round of the Porreco Cup had its share of errors. Most obvious was that Gannon needed Kelvin Agee had to catch fire down the stretch to produce team shooting charts of 14-for-28 on free throws and 7-for-20 on threes.

But in my view the most egregious error of the contest was made by Seton Hill coach Tony Morocco during the final minute of play. After a turnover by SHU's Kellen Holmes with 44 seconds left, Morocco had a quick decision to make: with his team trailing by 3, should he foul immediately or play normal defense in hopes of getting the ball back for one final game-tying shot? In most games, I think the strategy has to be to foul quickly and stretch the game as long as you can. With the way the Knights were drop-kicking -- er, shooting -- free throws Wednesday, the obvious choice was to foul and just make sure you get the rebound.

Instead of choosing one those two options, Morocco got swept up in the emotion of the game and chose neither. The Griffins overextended their man defense but didn't foul, leaving the basket wide open for Agee's game-sealing layup with 15 seconds left. There were a ton of mistakes made by players on both teams prior to that point, but I really felt like the Seton Hill coaching staff blew it by not being prepared for that final minute. And I hope you don't feel like I'm being a Monday Morning Quarterback (or in this case Thursday Morning Quarterback). Once Gannon's Anthony Clagett came up with the loose ball with 44 seconds left, I looked up at the clock, did the math to see Gannon could hold the ball until the 9 second mark, and said aloud to myself, "Foul. You gotta foul."

Part 2: That was a great gut-check for the Knights and Agee last night. One of the many things I love about the game of basketball is that momentum and the mental factor is so important. The Knights had many chances to fold yesterday -- especially when trailing by 6 with less than 6 minutes to play while only amassing 53 points by that juncture in the contest. What had been a consistently productive offense all season was sputtering, frustrating everyone in the building who wasn't rooting for Seton Hill. (Side note: There were exactly 4 people in the Hammermill rooting for Seton Hill.) Instead of imploding, Agee hit a three, the Knights got 4 stops and 4 scores over the next 6 possessions, and the Knights advanced to the Porreco championship. It wasn't a thing of beauty, but it showed this team has mettle. That's more important that one night's shooting percentage.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

My family usually talks some Gannon hoops over Christmas dinner. But because the Knights have played only 5 games this year, we kind of ran out of things to talk about before the fruitcake was served. So my brother asked, "How's the Salem International women's team doing this year?" You might recall that Salem had lost 56 straight games -- most of them lopsided affairs -- before a season-ending win over Ohio Valley last year.

Did that positive momentum carry over into this season? Not exactly. Click here if you want to see the details of Salem's 2010-11 season. If you want to spare yourself that pain, just check out these lowlights:

* 0-13 overall. I don't have their league record because athletics at Salem are so putrid that the WVIAC kicked them out of the league this year.
* They're being outscored an average of 84-40. Their closest game was an 81-52 loss at Virginia State. Their ugliest game (that's saying a lot) was a 123-45 stinker at Davis & Elkins. D&E led 66-16 at the half.
* Our Fighting Tigers are pretty consistent shooting from the field. They hit 25% of their overall field goals at 24% of their threes. Keep chuckin' those treys, ladies!
* They're being outrebounded 51-32 on average. They've collected only 234 defensive rebounds while opponents have hauled in 279 offensive rebounds.
* Only 7 players are listed on the SIU stat sheet. If you look at the roster page and team photo, there are 12 players. I'm not sure what happened to the other five, but I'm sure none of them graduated. The roster is comprised of freshmen only.
* I wanted to read up on their head coach, but this is where the SIU website points me. That's appropriate.

We'll keep an eye on SIU for their remaining 12 games of the season. They've lost 69 of their last 70, but I have a gut feeling they'll turn things around soon. Or maybe that's just the fruitcake still digesting.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Making A List, Boxing Out Twice

Tis the season for making lists, and based on Gannon's performance in their pulsating 70-68 win over Urbana, John Reilly had a list of his own entering Saturday's game:

Don't give up easy shots inside the three-point line. I don't know a lot of things, but I know Bob Dukiet's defense after watching and playing it in practice for three years. He called it "tough and slough" -- tough on the ball and helping in the paint on dribble penetration and post-entry passes. The weakness to that defense is that you can give up three-pointers. But if you have to give up something, you give up the shot that teams usually hit only 30% of the time. The Knights looked vastly improved playing Dukiet's D against Urbana. You might laugh at this, but my favorite defensive play of the game was when Danard Crouch helped out to tip away a UU post-entry pass. That tells the other team "you're not coming in here." Again the Achilles' heel of the defense is giving up threes and Urbana hit 16-of-31 (51%). Despite that stat, Reilly said in the paper Sunday that it was Gannon's best defensive effort of the season. Though I didn't see the road games, I agree that it's the best defense GU's played in their three home games. They didn't give up many layups and they kept Urbana out of the post. That will win you a ton of games.

Win the battle of the boards -- everybody's going to the glass. I saw Reilly's Brescia teams play a few times, and they looked like 6-foot-4 piranhas when the ball hit the rim. The Knights resembled those Brescia teams last night. Outrebounding Urbana 41-29 was impressive, but the stats inside of that are even better. GU had 16 offensive rebounds which allowed them to attempt 9 more field goals than Urbana (63-54). Four different players had 5 or more rebounds: Kelvin Agee 11, Travis Brannen 7, Anthony Clagett 6, and Stephen Battle 5. Combined with the Dukiet defense that I mentioned earlier, that kind of effort on the glass will win you a ton of games.

Get the ball inside every chance you get. When Steve Piotrowicz brings the ball up the floor he usually looks like he's crossing the street, scanning the court from one sideline to the other. Last night on a few occasions he put his head down and charged toward the basket like a team of reindeer after a giant carrot. In their first several games, the Knights settled for outside shots without even considering getting a shot in the paint. The emphasis Saturday was drive by your guy or try to throw the ball into Brannen before looking for a three.

Gannon's 40-2 points in the paint advantage was not a coincidence. If the Knights can keep teams on the perimeter, own the boards, and get shots in the lane consistently, they'll -- say it with me -- win a ton of games.

Related notes:
* The officials made the right non-call on the final shot of the game. If the contact on the shot is created by the shooter, it's not a foul. Imagine if that wasn't the rule. Basketball would be nothing but players attempting a shot fake, throwing up slop in the general vicinity of the basket, and then going to the free throw line.

* I made the comment earlier about how the lone weakness of Dukiet's defense is giving up three-pointers. Imagine how effective that defensive scheme was before the advent of the three-point line? Click here and scroll to page 6 to see the scores when Duke was the head coach at St. Peter's (NJ) College in the early 80s. My favorite is beating Duquesne in the second round of the NIT, 34-33.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Schedule Scuttlebutt

By popular demand (that's marketing-speak meaning "one person asked for it"), I'm starting a thread about Gannon's schedule this season. I don't have much to say on it because Dan Teliski, GU's Super Sports Information Director, wrote me an eloquent email the he asked me to share with the Golden Knight faithful. I think his explanation is reasonable and I hope it quells the furor raised in the comment section of the Dec. 6 post. Take it away, Dan.

Let me clear up some confusion on your blog about scheduling. The NCAA reduced the maximum number of games played in a season to 26 games. The PSAC gives us a schedule with 14 PSAC West games and four more crossover games. That brings us to 18 games and leaves us with eight to schedule. The Gary Miller Classic and Porreco Cup takes up four more games which brings us to 22, leaving us four more games to schedule.

So, in the long run, we have four games to play with this year. Everything else is set and out of our control. We elected to play a home and home with Central State because we wanted the competition. Regardless of what anyone wants to say, Central State played in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional last year and we all know how difficult that region is since we played in it for so many years. Currently, they have six teams in the top 25. In addition, the lost to Bellarmine by only four points in the first round. Bellarmine is currently the No. 1 team in the country. And you know how hard it is to make it into the tournament as an independent, so we want to play them and as an independent, they could only fit our second game in during February.

So, that leaves us two games left. And we needed one of those two games right after finals to get the team back into game mode.

That’s the schedule wrapped up in a ball. As for the other schools playing more right now, basically everyone in the league will have played 7-8 games by the end of December. So, the question is, would you rather loaded up early, then sit the entire last half of December out and go cold turkey into the conference schedule. Our spread it out and play on the 18th, the 29th and the 30th – and be in the flow already for conference play. We seem to believe the latter is the better way to go as conference play is what makes or breaks your season. Back logging a schedule to December also helps student-athletes achieve their academic goals best until Finals – which ironically are this week. The NCAA only mandates student-athletes be eligible at the beginning of each YEAR. At Gannon, we mandate our student-athletes to be eligible at the beginning of each SEMESTER. So, the first semester is much more important to Gannon student-athletes academically than 95 percent of the schools in the country.

Of the schools mentioned …
Edinboro – 15 days off before conference play (but they also played two exempt games in early November that are allowed to be played once every four years)
West Chester – 23 days off before conference play
Mercyhurst – 19 days off before conference play
Mansfield – 23 days off before conference play
Shippensburg – 27 days off before conference play
Kutztown – 23 days off before conference play
Bloomsburg – 23 days off before conference play
Indiana (Pa.) – 16 days off before conference play
Lock Haven – 26 days off before conference play
Gannon – 3 days off before conference play

I think you get my point. We play three games in two weeks after Finals, and turn around and open PSAC play four days later. Different philosophy, but one we feel works instead of taking 20-30 days off and heading into PSAC play without any recent game action.

As for home games ... we only have two non-conference road games and six non-conference home games. We feel that’s a pretty good ratio.

Finally ... as for the afternoon doubleheaders. We have three, but they are not randomly placed. The January 15th doubleheader against Lock Haven is needed because the Burger King Classic is in the Hammermill Center that Friday and Saturday night. The January 22 doubleheader against Cal is needed because it’s our Hall of Fame day with the Hall of Fame banquet that night immediately following the games. And the February 5 doubleheader against IUP is our Annual Pink Zone game and the afternoon starts fits better for all the kids, cancer survivors and other groups that attend that day.

And one side note ... full PSAC crossover play begins next year. So, the 2011-12 schedule could be even more interesting. As I mentioned the NCAA max right now is 26 games. The 2011-12 PSAC schedule includes 22 games. Add the Gary Miller Classic and Porreco Cup for the other four games – and we will have zero regular non-conference games next year.

Hope I was able to clear everything up,

Monday, December 6, 2010

Trying My Patience

So, how should you feel when your team has already lost two road games this early in the season? The good news is that both the games have gone down to the wire. The bad news is that you're giving up nearly 80 points per game in those losses. Should you press the panic button? Here's what I predict will happen: the team we're talking about will once again win the PSAC and the Region and maybe even get back to the Division II national championship game.

Sorry to confuse you, but I wasn't talking about Gannon in that lead paragraph. I was describing pre-season top 5 IUP, who is now 3-2 after losing at West Virginia Wesleyan Dec. 7.

There's no reason for anyone in Indiana or Erie to panic, even if our Knights just lost at Central State. Opponents are averaging 74 points per game and are close to outrebounding the Knights (GU holds a slight 35-34 edge). John Reilly's history shows that he can teach his teams to play defense and to rebound. His history also shows that he needs more than 6 weeks to do that. So, I'm not panicked at 2-2 because the Knights still have 23 more games to get better. But if GU is 7-7 in mid-January, then you might have to talk me off the catwalk at the Hammermill Center.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

First Loss Blues

I don't feel like I have the right to say much about Gannon's 79-70 loss at Urbana Saturday. First, I didn't see it and, second, I still feel like I barely know this Gannon team. The only obvious recommendation I can make is next time don't get down by 17 points in the first half on the road.

I'm disappointed that the Golden Knights lost their first of the season to the Blue Knights, but there seemed to be some bright spots:
* As Coach Reilly said in the postgame interview, this team proved they have guts by coming back on the road down by 17
* Good to see Kareem Brown pour in 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including 5-for-10 on threes
* Stephen Battle (8 points, 3 rebounds) and Kelvin Agee (15 points, 12 rebounds) continue to impress as freshmen

Urbana -- or UU as they call themselves occasionally -- comes to Erie on Dec. 18. I'll go out on a limb and say that Gannon's defense will be improved over the next couple weeks, and GU won't allow UU 79 points. I'll also predict that Urbana won't have a 24-3 edge in foul shooting as well.