Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Is Exactly Why I Don't Bet On Sports

Imagine if some guy came up to you right before today's Gannon game at Clarion and whispered, "Psst -- buddy! Wanna make a bet? You can earn $50k easy. Here's the deal: You put in 50 grand and I'll put in 50, too. Winner takes all $100k. The cherry on top is that I give you Clarion plus 8 for today's game. It's a no-brainer, pal. You get the favorite plus 8 points."

While you're pondering the offer, the guy offers up these facts going into the game:
* The Knights have lost 3 in a row and 4-of-5, the only W at home over stinky Lock Haven. Clarion, meanwhile, has won two straight and 3-of-4. Their two most recent wins were at IUP (where Gannon was throttled by 20) and a 111-38 drubbing of Lock Haven. Clarion led that game 57-11 at the break. When Gannon played the Bald Eagles, GU struggled to earn a 2-point halftime advantage.

* Gannon is just 1-5 on the road this year. In each of their 5 road losses they fell behind by 17 points and struggled just to make the game competitive (except at Cheyney where the Wolves devoured them by 19). Clarion is riding an 11-game home win streak, a 17-of-18 stretch at the Waldo Tippin Gymnasium dating back to last year. One of those W's was a 19-point drubbing the Golden Eagles put on the Knights Jan. 16 last year.

* Look at the PSAC West head-to-head matchups this season:
vs. Edinboro: CU +10, GU -8; an 18-point Clarion advantage
vs. IUP: CU +5, GU -20 ; a 25-point Clarion advantage
vs. Lock Haven: CU +gazillion (actually +73), GU +27; a 46-point Clarion advantage
vs. Mercyhurst: CU -9 in OT, GU -4 in OT; a 5-point Gannon advantage but keep in mind Gannon played the 'Hurst at home while Clarion went on the road

The numbers, the stats, the trends -- they're all saying to lay down the $50k and you'll be getting double your money right after the game. Then the guy offers the clincher. "And the only way I can win is if the final score is in the form of a palindrome. What's it gonna be, buddy? You in?"

I hope you didn't take the bet. After Gannon's surprising 76-67 victory today, you'd be paying up. I can't figure it out either. I just hope the same thing happens Wednesday at Slippery Rock so the Knights stay in the PSAC West race.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mercyhurst Beating Gannon = Heartbreak Hotel

I don't have much to say about Gannon's incredibly disappointing 68-64 overtime loss to Mercyhurst Wednesday for one simple reason: I wasn't there. What could keep me away from one of biggest games of the year? A conference at this amazing hotel/resort in Maui, Hawaii that I had to attend. I actually followed the live stats poolside -- and nearly tossed my mobile phone into the water when the Lakers tied the game in the closing seconds. I can't imagine how frustrated John Reilly must be with a team that's better than last year's but achieving the same results. Let's hope they can right the ship Saturday at Clarion.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Kick In The Gut

I'm not going to say much about Gannon's 72-70 home loss Saturday to Cal. I will say that this one really hurts. I think I literally feel a pit in my stomach. Why?

* The Knights are now 1-3 in the PSAC West, good for 7th place. The only win in that streak is vs. hapless Lock Haven, and the first half of that game felt like a loss.
* This was a loss at home, which hurt doubly as bad because it's so tough to win on the road in this conference.
* GU has lost 4 of its last 6. The Knights are now 4-4 in January with games vs. first-place Mercyhurst and at dangerous Clarion next week. With the way the team's played as of late, splitting those games (resulting in 5-5 mark for the month) would be an accomplishment. Can you guess the January record of last year's mediocre Gannon team? 5-5. The way this year's team started, I can't fathom them being on the same level as last year's club.
* If Gannon loses its next two, they'll be 1-5 in the conference with 4 road games left to play.

All I did was share some facts with you about the state of the club and what could be looming on the horizon based on their recent results. Do you have a pit in your stomach now, too?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wake Up Call?

You can interpret the above headline two ways after Gannon's gut-wrenching, confounding 70-62 loss at Edinboro tonight:
1. Optimist: "The second half was a wake up call. After shooting just 22% in the first half, committing 14 turnovers, scoring only 17 points and giving up some open threes and dunks, the Knights came to life. Maybe they'll learn from this and play faster and extend their defensive pressure the rest of the year. This could be an excellent learning experience for the coaches and players."
2. Pessimist: "Can somebody please give these guys a freaking wake up call before the game instead of at halftime? How many road games do we have to endure where they get down by 17, feverishly rally to get within a possession, and then let the game slip away? We're 14 games in the season and have followed this pattern like a half dozen times. Can the booster club buy 15 giant alarm clocks for the players so they'll wake the heck up already!"

Other thoughts on the game, from a hopefully less schizophrenic perspective than the comments above:
* I was happy to see Gannon make offensive adjustments in the second half. Instead of just running the motion offense, GU set double screens for Kelvin Agee and tried isolating Travis Brannen inside. As a result, they scored 45 points, hit half of their field goal attempts, committed only 5 turnovers and got to the free throw line 15 times in the second stanza. If Gannon can do that for 40 minutes, they'll ... you know how I was about to finish this sentence, but I'm tired of typing it after nearly every game this season.

* I'm not going to take the time to break down the first half play-by-play, but Gannon hit 5 of its first 8 field goals and then had a 1 for 20-something stretch for the next 15 minutes of the first half. It was excruciating to watch.

* You're not going to win many games when your off guards go 2-for-15 -- Agee 1-for-7, Danard Crouch 1-for-6, and Kareem Brown 0-for-2 -- and commit 8 turnovers.

* Stephen Battle continues to impress me. While rest of his teammates struggled tonight, he was consistently excellent: 19 points on 7-of-11 field goals and 5-of-5 free throws, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, only 1 turnover in 35 minutes. His only real flaw of the night was an ill-advised three-pointer ... and then the kid scrambled to corral the offensive rebound. He's a special player.

* Take away Battle's 7-for-11 performance and the Knights were 14-for-59 from the field for just 28.5%. Yech.

* Stephen is still not the best Battle to play at McComb. Former Scot Land Battle continues to have that distinction. (Note: Any time I have a chance to mention "Land Battle", I'll take advantage of the opportunity.)

* Don't ever question Danard Crouch's commitment to the team. Right before a second half media timeout, Crouch badly dislocated the pinky finger on his left hand. Those sitting behind the Gannon bench had a clear view of it, but most turned their heads away in disgust. Crouch couldn't even bear the sight. He walked directly to trainer Danielle Mignemi and told her, "I broke my finger. My finger's broken." To undislocate a finger -- I'm sure that's not the correct medical term -- you have to really grab the sucker to force it back into place. Kudos to Brian Zimmerman, a physical therapist and the son of Gannon Assistant Athletic Director Doug Zimmerman, who came down from the stands to do the heavy lifting with Crouch's finger. As he was doing so, Mignemi grimaced while holding Crouch's right hand; you know it's bad when the degreed athletic trainer is wincing. After that painful experience, Crouch got the finger taped up and checked back into the game moments later. Again, don't ever question Crouch's commitment. I see that Danard's a senior Business Management major. Can somebody forward his resume to me please?

Friday, January 14, 2011

End Of An Era, Start Of Something Special?

Well, that was probably the last time Lock Haven's John Wilson Jr. will coach at the Hammermill Center, a 70-43 shellacking by the Golden Knights. The Central PA school has already announced that Wilson's contract won't be renewed after the season. Today was Wilson's 150th road game as LHU boss, and guess how many he's won? If you said 20, that's too many. Wilson is now a robust 19-131 away from Lock Haven's Thomas Fieldhouse, a stunning win percentage of only .127. I hope you had a chance to witness Wilson's woes while you could.

While the Wilson Era is ending, could Gannon's high-energy, high-scoring, defensively suffocating second half today be the start of an uptick for the Knights? During halftime, when Gannon held a slim 30-28 lead, Jim LeCorchick and I talked on the radio about what's been nagging the Knights the past few games, and we couldn't put a finger on it. The Knights have seemed in general to be low confidence on offense and a step slow on defense. But in the second half tonight, I saw something I hadn't seen in a few games: smiles. When Kareem Brown checked in late replacing Kelvin Agee, they exchanged a few words and a smile. It was nice to see this team loose -- enjoying themselves in the midst of a game.

I'm a big believer that you need to have fun in order to play well, not the other way around. The best team I ever played on, the 1989-90 Golden Knights, had fun everywhere all the time. Senior Andy Adams laughed constantly -- except when he was exchanging elbows in the paint. Darryl Freeman, who I hope will be inducted into Gannon's Hall of Fame in the near future, constantly rode his teammates. He'd walk into the lockerroom and proclaim, "All right -- who am I gonna crack on today?" We even laughed after three-hour practices when Mike Crawford would dress into his street clothes faster than a superhero. And I haven't been to many comedy clubs, but I doubt they'd be funnier than Gerald Blanks in the Gannon cafeteria.

Let's see how the Knights come out in the first half at reeling Edinboro Wednesday night. Are they tight and shaking their heads when things don't go as planned? Or are they loose and enjoying the atmosphere no matter what the situation? What we see could set the tone for the rest of the season.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sputtering Start

Well, that wasn't the way Gannon wanted to kick off PSAC West play -- an anemic offensive performance in a 65-45 loss at Indiana (Pa.). I only saw the second half of the game because that's when the IUP web TV broadcast started working. Coincidentally, that's when the wheels came off Gannon's offensive machine. The Knights trailed just 34-30 at the half, but scored a measly 15 points in the second half (thank goodness Kelvin Agee hit two threes in the final minutes). Gannon shot just 23% over the final 20 minutes (6-for-26). And you thought it was cold outside.

Gannon runs a motion offense that seems to have worked just fine this against average-or-worse teams, but against the good ones like IUP, the offense seems very predictable and ineffective. Tonight the ball rarely entered the post and the ball movement and screens produced very few good opportunities for Gannon. Almost everything came off dribble penetration with the shot clock winding down. The result was oftentimes an off-balance, contested midrange jumper or a layup attempt among a crowd.

Gannon fans can't feel too bad giving up 65 points to a team that finished second in Division II basketball last year and returns almost every key player. But I'm guessing Gannon Hoops followers will get a pit in their stomach after seeing these numbers:
L vs. IUP -- 45 points, 31% FG, 4-of-15 on 3-pointers, only 15 points in the second half
L vs. Cheyney -- 36% FG, 0-of-4 on 3-pointers, only 26 points in the first half (while allowing 45)
W vs. Wayne State -- 61 points, 42% FG, 4-for-14 on 3-pointers, only 25 points in the first half
L vs. Urbana -- 24 points in the first half, 36% FG in the first half, 5-for-17 3-pointers
L vs. Central State -- 30 points in the first half on 38% FG, 7-for-24 3-pointers for the game

I'm concerned that quality opponents have figured out Gannon's offensive pattern, and the result is low percentage shots for extended periods of time. I'm hopeful the coaches will adjust and make some changes that throw the defense off balance and get the Knights more open looks during the second half of the season. I'd like to occasionally see some designed double screens for Agee and Brown, isolation plays (like 4 players on the baseline) for Agee and Clagett, high-low post play, back doors, and quick hitters like that. I'm not saying ditch the motion offense. But I think the Knights need more variety when they have the ball. Or they'll be handed more stinging losses like the one they suffered tonight.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Righting The Ship

Whew, am I ecstatic Gannon won at Shippensburg today, 85-72, snapping an 8-game road losing streak which included a 3-game skein this year. I was beginning to worry that Canadian Clinton Springer-Williams, the only non-American on the GU roster, had developed xenodochiophobia (fear of foreign hotels) which had mutated into a domestic, contagious strain and infected all his teammates.

The Knights got well in a big way against the Raiders, racing out to a 22-point first-half lead and cruising from there. This game is a perfect example of why I don't bet on sporting events. Today, GU buries 7 of its first 9 three-point attempts. Just yesterday, Gannon went 0-for-4 on threes at Cheyney on their way to a 19-point drubbing that wasn't even that close. Meanwhile on Saturday, Shippensburg was handling previously unbeaten Clarion, 69-63. If you had to select a point spread before the Gannon/Ship game, no way would it have been Gannon +13. I can't begin to explain how such a turnaround for both teams could happen in a scant 24 hours. Did the Ship players celebrate their win too hard Saturday night? Was Gannon simply "due" for a breakout road game? Was there a new gameplan for either team? Was it just matchups?

You can imagine the Ship coaches talked before the game about Gannon's long distance ineptitude at Cheyney. And you can also bet that 15 minutes into the game today, after 7 treys had rained down on them, they were slamming their clipboards in frustration and asking, "Why us?"

I can't explain what happened, but I'm glad it did. Heading to IUP Wednesday with a 9-game road losing streak and 0-4 mark this year wouldn't be the right mindset for the Knights. Maybe they'll focus more that IUP won its home crossover games by narrow margins to ordinary teams this weekend -- 74-68 vs. Kutztown and 78-72 vs. East Stroudsburg -- and feel that the Crimson Hawks could be vulnerable at home, despite winning 28 straight at Memorial Fieldhouse. Or maybe it's a sign that IUP should win by 50. Your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Road Kill

I'm not shocked that Gannon lost at 9-2 Cheyney this afternoon, but I'm blown away that the Knights got blown away for the third time in three road games this season. I know the final margin of GU's first two losses were by 9 points and 4 points, but they had to rally from near 20-point margins to make those close. At Cheyney, the Knights trailed by as many as 34 points in the second half. I can't comprehend that a team this talented and on a five-game win streak fell behind 28-7 just 12 minutes into the game. I also can't fathom that Gannon attempted only four three-pointers vs. the Wolves after averaging nearly 20 three-point attempts per game coming in. I'm not angry at anyone; I'm just completely perplexed.

Hopefully Coach Reilly and crew can right the ship before they face the Ship (Shippensburg) Sunday. The stats aren't in their favor:
* GU is 0-3 on the road this season
* Shippensburg is 4-1 at home
* Earlier today, Ship beat previously undefeated Clarion, 69-63

UPDATE: Now I'm even more confused. Wayne State, who Gannon handled a little over a week ago, trounced #1 Findlay today, 91-68.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Points Aplenty

You might be expecting me to write at length about the officials from Gannon's 96-86 victory over West Chester Wednesday. The refs certainly caught the ire of the Golden Knight faithful for calling 52 fouls on the night, none of them charges against the Rams. I never saw a home crowd watch their team win by 10 and still end the game booing the zebras off the floor. I think I even saw official scorer Rick "Stats" Klapthor put on his jacket (covering up his black-and-white striped shirt) during the final seconds of the game, just for his own safety. I'm going to take the high road and resist saying anything derogatory about the crew of Don Gambridge, Paul Skirtich, and Mark Tortorella. I think they just had a different perspective than the rest of us. I won't perpetuate an argument than any one of them is the worst referee ever.

Let's talk basketball. We learned vs. West Chester that the Knights now possess a multdimensional offense. First, they obliterated West Chester's zone defense with a flurry of first-half threes by Kareem Brown and Kelvin Agee. The Rams had no desire to play man-to-man (the 96 points will attest to that) but were forced to when Brown scored 11 points in span of just 1:45. Nine of his tallies came from behind the arc. Meanwhile, on the other wing, Agee torched West Chester with 33 points of his own. I agree with Jim LeCorchick's assessment after the game that what made Agee's scoring figure even more impressive was that he didn't force the issue. Nearly every one of his 18 field goal attempts (he made 12) were layups or jumpers after his feet were set. If Agee wasn't at the top of every Gannon opponent's scouting report before, he's there now.

Another new dimension we saw from Gannon was the ability of supersub Anthony Clagett to penetrate and score (15 points, 9-of-12 free throws in 26 solid minutes). Part of the struggles for last year's Gannon team was an offense that had to create everything off the pass or in transition. Steve Piotrowicz is more of a ball-control PG than a break-you-down-off-the-dribble guy. All night long Clagett squared up on his man and blew by him at will. You know how Gannon gets into offensive ruts on occasion? Well now John Reilly can insert Clagett and in the context of the offense have him set up teammates or score off the dribble. When I played with Darryl Freeman (1989-91) at Gannon, we'd use him that way frequently to salvage possessions. We'd work the ball and get nothing for half a minute, then give it to Darryl who could always get by his man and either finish or draw a defender.

All that said, the Knights have an opportunity this weekend to add another even more important dimension to their repertoire -- the ability to win away from the Audi. Road games at Cheyney (8-2) and Shippensburg (4-6) could be turning points for the Knights as they step closer to PSAC West play.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Feeling The Pressure

Millersville might own the nickname "Marauders", but Gannon did all the pillaging and raiding Monday night at the Hammermill Center. MU withered under GU's defensive pressure in the second half -- taking bad shots and committing a dozen turnovers -- as the Knights broke open a close game to win 74-52.

I didn't hear the announcement before the game, but apparently Millersville will self-destruct in exactly 26 minutes. At that juncture of the game, Gannon held a slim 42-41 edge and the 'Ville was shooting over 50% from the field. Just 10 minutes later, Gannon's up by 18. If we could go back and watch the tape (I'd actually like to but I don't think MU coach Fred Thompson would), you'd see during that juncture that Millersville had difficulty getting the ball to the wing let alone into the basket. When MU did score, it was often on a broken play after a Gannon deflection or a loose ball scramble.

I'd like to point out one guy who turned up the pressure, but that's not the case with the Gannon defense. The entire team pushed Millersville's perimeter players 25-30 feet away from the basket and flooded the paint when the ball went inside. Millersville turned the ball over 25 times and shot just 2-for-18 from three-point range. You'd do that to if for the previous 20 seconds of the possession you had to run for your life away from an aggressive defender (or two or three). I hope tonight was the beginning of a trend where Gannon dominates the second half because of their defensive pressure.

* West Chester, Gannon's opponent Tuesday, was pistol-whipped at Clarion Monday, 98-72. Let's hope that trend continues as well for one more day.
* It's PSAC crossover season. Keep track of all the results by checking out the PSAC men's basketball web page here.
* Millersville is one of my all-time favorite GU opponents. The 1987 East Regional final is still, in my opinion, the best game ever played at the Hammermill -- former Knight Jim Rocco aptly called it, "40 minutes of noise." Some of my all-time favorite Marauders include bespectacled big man John Fox, muscular Eric Yankowy, wide body Jon Dunmeyer, long-distance threat Lance Gelnett, muscular guard Mike Monroe, Strong Vincent grad Matt Harris and coach John Kochan. If you want to walk down Millersville's memory lane, click here for the MU media guide.