Saturday, March 26, 2011

Knights Crowned National Champs!

This was the day we've all been waiting for -- the Knights won the Division II national championship today in Springfield, Mass. Too bad it was the Bellarmine Knights from Louisville and the GLVC.

Other thoughts and facts for you to ponder:
Bellarmine won the title, but can Gannon make a case for being the best team in the nation? Check out this series of events from this season:
- Bellarmine won national championship (3/26)
- Ky. Wesleyan defeated Bellarmine (2/19)
- Indianapolis defeated Ky. Wesleyan (2/12)
- Urbana defeated Indianapolis (11/20)
- Gannon defeated Urbana (12/16)

If Gannon gets off to a slow start next year, here's one reason not to panic. BYU-Hawai'i, who narrowly lost to Bellarmine in the DII final today, started its season 5-4 before catching fire to finish 17-8 in the regular season.

Butler advanced to the Division I Final Four today. During the Bulldogs current 13-game win streak, they've defeated the following teams/coaches/conferences: Florida/Billy Donovan/SEC, Wisconsin/Bo Ryan/Big 10, and Pitt/Jamie Dixon/Big East. Who is the last coach and team to beat Butler? Jerry Slocum and Youngstown State on Feb. 2. If you don't believe me, watch the game highlights here.

According to the Williamsport Sun Gazette, the three finalists for the Lock Haven coaching job are former LHU and IUP head coach and current Penn State assistant Kurt Kanaskie, Shippensburg assistant coach Mike Nestor and Goldey-Beacom head coach Chuck Hammond. Kanaskie is the only guy I recognize. He was Lock Haven's head coach for 3 years, IUP's boss for 8, and then coached DI Drake for 7 seasons. You have to love this line from Kanaskie's Wikipedia page: "Under Kanaskie, Drake posted the two worst records in the history of the school, 2-26 in 1996-97 and 3-24 in 1997-98. During those 2 seasons, Kanaskie was 0-36 in Missouri Valley Conference games." My guess is those details were left off his current resume. Then again, they might be a selling point if Lock Haven wants to continue its losing tradition. UPDATED 3/30/11: Mike Nestor has been named Lock Haven's new head coach. Click here for details.

UPDATED 3/30/11: Longtime Findlay coach Ron Niekamp announced his retirement this week. Thanks to Gannon Hoops follower JRD for this link to the article from the Findlay newspaper. Kudos to Niekamp for consistently winning with class (which is infinitely more valuable than simply winning). The GLIAC rivalry I missed the most was Gannon/Findlay. Even the losses were doozies.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Where Are They Now? Postseason Edition (UPDATED)

What's a Gannon fan to do during the postseason? I guess we can check out what's going on with former GU players and Golden Knight opponents. Here goes:

Last summer there was tons of chatter on this site about a potential Gannon recruit named Dwayne Soders, who was better known by his social media handle MR. WALK LIKE JORDAN. We weren't sure if the guy actually existed, but it turns out he does -- and he had a stellar season. Soders was the third leading scorer for Division II University of Texas of the Peramin Basin, better known at UT-Peramin Basin. The Odessa school finished 15-11 overall, 8-4 in the Heartland Conference where they advanced to the tournament championship before losing there. Soders averaged about 12 points and 7 rebounds a game, leading the Falcons in scoring 8 times. I know a lot of what was said about Soders on the Internet were strictly rumors, but the junior's stats this year are actual facts.

Larry Swann enjoyed an excellent season at NAIA Divsion II Dakota Wesleyan. His team was ranked 18th in the country, advanced to the second round of the national tournament, and he earned second team all GPAC (Great Plains Athletic Conference) honors. Here's what DWU's postseason summary says about Swann: "Swann only played one season for Dakota Wesleyan, but made an immediate impact on the Tiger program and played a big role in their success this season. The Columbus, Ohio, native transferred to DWU from Gannon University for his final collegiate season, and was a catalyst for DWU’s offense and defense. He averaged 12.2 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Heading into the national tournament, he has 366 points, 71 rebounds, 60 assists and 30 steals. Swann was named the GPAC Player-of-the-Week after an 18-point performance against No. 8 Briar Cliff on Jan. 26 and a 25-point performance against Midland Jan. 29. He also scored 28 points against USF Feb. 2."

George Johnson excelled at Division II power Augusta State, leading them in scoring at 16 ppg while earning first team all-region honors. The Jaguars (26-3 overall, 15-0 at home) are #1 in the Southeast Region and begin hosting the NCAA tournament there today. UPDATE 3/13/11: Augusta State advanced to the Sweet 16 tonight, and Johnson carryied them there. He posted 22 points in the Jags' opening win and exploded for a game-high 31 tonight on 8-of-14 shooting on three-pointers. UPDATE 3/20/11: Johnson was named to the regional all-tourney team, but Augusta lost in OT at home to Anderson, 75-73, in the regional finals. Johnson scored 18 points in 43 minutes of action.

Anthony Simmons played in 29 games, starting 19, at Xavier (La.), one of the top teams in NAIA Division I play at 26-4. Simmons' stats of 9.8 ppg and 6 rpg don't looks stellar on the surface, but he's the #2 scorer and #1 rebounder for the Gold Rush, who use an 11-man rotation. Xavier opens play in the national tournament March 17.

At Missouri S&T, Filmore "Mook" Bouldes earned 7 starts, averaging just 1.3 ppg. He also registered 41 assists, 29 turnovers, 11-52 FG (21%), and was 2-20 on threes. The Miners were 3-15 in their conference and 7-18 overall, dropping 15 of their last 16 contests.

Daren Dexter started 20 games at Division III Greensboro College, helping them to a 12-15 season. Dexter led the team with 15.6 ppg and 6.8 rpg before he missed the final 7 games.

Jerell Sanders played only 7 games (starting 4) at GLIAC regular season champ and NCAA qualifier Ferris State before disappearing from the stat sheet.

UPDATED 3/20/11: James Bryant played 14 games at Division III William Patterson University in Wayne, NJ. He started 6 games, averaged 4.6 ppg, committed 36 turnovers, dished out 23 assists, and shot 42% (including 3-of-10 on threes) for the Pioneers. It looks like he joined the club after the first of the year. At that point, WPU was 7-4; they ended the season 12-13 after dropping 9 of their final 10 games. When I first saw Bryant, I thought he'd be a special player for the Knights on the DII level. I'm shocked that he's now just a contributor on a mediocre DIII team.

UPDATED 3/20/11:Isaac Reid is reported to be part of the men's basketball program at Division II St. Joseph (Ind.), a member of the GLVC. Big thanks go Gannon Hoops follower Billly for the info on Bryant and Reid.

As far as Gannon's independent opponents, only Cedarville and Wayne State advance to postseason play. Cedarville (20-13) fell in the opening round of the NAIA Division II tourney while Wayne State (22-8) lost in the first round of the Midwest Regional to Ferris State. Wayne was the #3 seed in the region after beating Ferris last week to capture the GLIAC tourney title. Central State (Oh.) was 14-12, Urbana was 9-17, Northern Michigan was 9-17 (a crummy 4-15 in the GLIAC North), while Seton Hill was 10-20, losing 12 of their last 14.

What's a Gannon fan to do now?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Transfer-mania

Longtime Gannon fan John Deluca gave me the heads up on this insightful article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer titled "College athletes turn to transfers in search of playing time." Are they talking about Gannon? Nope. It turns out that leaving a program is trending up everywhere. If you want to read the entire article, click on this link. Here are some interesting excerpts:

* According to the most recent NCAA data, the rate of men's basketball transfers into four-year schools is trending up, even as the transfer rate for all sports at those schools is trending down. From 2003-04 to 2008-09, transfers for all sports at four-year schools decreased, from 7.3 percent to 6.5 percent. During that same time, men's basketball transfers at those schools increased, from 9.4 percent to 10.6 percent.

* Last season, Ohio State had one player transfer out and one in; Kent State lost two and gained one; Cleveland State lost three transfers and replaced them with freshmen. Akron had four transfer out, three transfer in. At Cleveland State, coach Gary Waters had no 2010 scholarships available at the beginning of last recruiting season, yet -- anticipating departures -- he still signed two early recruits, and later a third.

* Ohio University coach John Groce has seen his roster turned upside down by transfers. In 2009-10, Groce led the Bobcats to the 2010 Mid-American Conference Tournament title and the NCAA Tournament bid that went with it. But in his two-plus seasons, his roster has turned over with 13 recruits and/or transfers. He has lost players who were homesick; others who were jettisoned for violating team rules; one who quit to begin a rap music career, and one who quit because he no longer had a passion to play the game. Groce said the player movement mirrors the "instant-gratification society" we live in. "In the past, a player would see the chance to play behind a junior for two years, then start for two years, as an opportunity," Groce said. "Now, if they are not at least playing a lot as freshmen, there are issues."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

And You Thought Gannon Had Heartbreakers

I almost fell off my chair when the Atlantic Region field was announced just now for the men's Division II tournament. Check out the bracket:

1 West Liberty
8 Slippery Rock

4 Shaw
5 Winston Salem State

3 Bowie State
6 Mansfield

2 IUP
7 West Va. Wesleyan

Notice anybody missing from that list? Mercyhurst. Despite a 20-7 overall record, the Lakers missed out on their first-ever NCAA bid in school history. How quickly Mercyhurst crashed from the basketball penthouse.

Heading into the Gannon game on Feb. 16, the Hurst was 19-3 overall, #3 in the region, #17 in the country, undefeated in the PSAC West, and two games ahead of IUP for hosting the conference tournament. The Knights outworked the Lakers, 79-71, which started a season-ending streak where Mercyhurst lost 4 of its last 5.

If I was as big a Laker fan as I am a Gannon fan, I would be puking my guts out right now. Or punching myself in the face. Or both. Even if you're a Laker Hater, you have to feel awful for them.

In the Midwest Region: Wayne State, who Gannon squeaked past in the Porreco Cup, won the GLIAC tournament earlier today and earned the #3 seed in the Midwest Region. The shocker in the Midwest was Findlay not being selected for the tournament. You can tell the Oilers are outraged based on the details in their press release about not making the tourney. It's a real slap in the face to the GLIAC that 24-4 Findlay is snubbed in favor of a 19-8 GLVC team (Univ. of Indianapolis).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Slocum Six Years Later

A longtime Gannon fan made me aware today of an article in the Youngstown Vindicator that isn't exactly complimentary of Jerry Slocum, the Youngstown State basketball program, and the school in general. The headline is "Like it or not, Slocum will return." I've pasted the article in this post and I'll share my thoughts after the article:

After finishing last for the fifth time in 10 seasons in the Horizon League, it’s easy to view coaching the YSU men’s basketball team as a no-win situation. That’s ridiculous. A 10-win situation, maybe. Five at the worst.

Since joining the Horizon League in 2001-02, the Penguins have averaged four conference wins each year and eight wins overall. It’s been a little better under Jerry Slocum than John Robic, just as the weather in February was a little better than January.

Slocum has inched the program forward in his six-year tenure, making YSU more competitive and more respected around the league. But he’s also failed to produce even one winning season and, over the past two winters, has won a combined four league games.

The 2009-10 season was particularly disappointing since YSU returned a strong core of players and finished just 2-16 in the league. But this winter has had its share of frustrations as the Penguins started 4-1, then lost 17 of the next 21 games, with two of those wins coming against NAIA teams.

Slocum has an option year left on his contract and YSU has every intention of picking it up. Given the school’s current financial commitment to the sport — worst in the league, lower than Akron spends on women’s basketball — this is understandable.

YSU has plenty working against its basketball program — a poor recruiting area, a weak tradition and a 10-member conference where only two other schools have football, and it’s non-scholarship football — and Slocum has done a commendable job fielding a competitive team in the country’s 11th-ranked basketball conference. For proof, all you have to do is look at Saturday’s overtime loss to Milwaukee, where the Penguins took a team playing for the tournament’s top seed to the brink.

But it’s also hard to argue that Slocum is the school’s long-term answer. He makes no effort to build relationships with fans or boosters — something Robic, as prickly as he was, at least tried to do — and he’s even worse with the media. He’s particularly bad after losses, where his press conferences often last less than 90 seconds and he sneers at questions he doesn’t like.

He’s also struggled to keep players. Six have left in the last 12 months, with another, Devonte Maymon, likely to leave after this season. If you make the argument that most of them needed to go — something I’ve heard — well, who recruited them in the first place?

At 59, Slocum isn’t going to change. He’s a solid game day coach who won’t get outcoached and won’t embarrass the university. He’s not a rising star but he’s not a fallen one, either. Athletic director Ron Strollo isn’t satisfied with winning 25 percent of the Horizon League games every year but he also doesn’t want to make a change just for change’s sake.

The school has increased its financial commitment to football in the past year and, with a budget crisis looming, there’s nothing extra for basketball right now. Maybe there will be in a year or two, particularly if the football team starts winning big again, but not now.

More surprising, there doesn’t seem to be any outrage from fans, boosters or school officials about the sad state of the basketball program. Until enough people speak up and the school decides to make a strong financial commitment to fielding a competitive basketball team, the Penguins will continue to pay rent in the Horizon League’s basement.

But hey, the news isn’t all bad. After all, spring football starts in three weeks.

Joe Scalzo covers YSU men's basketball for The Vindicator. Write to him at scalzo@vindy.com.


My thoughts:
* As negative as the author is, he does shine some bright spots on Slocum's performance. First, he talks about the team's competitiveness, which is the first step to becoming a winner -- and has been hard to come by at YSU for a few decades. I still recall our 1991-92 Gannon team watching a tape of Pitt-Johnstown whipping Youngstown State in Youngstown. The next night we throttled the Mountain Cats. YSU has been that bad for that long. Also, the author calls Slocum "a solid game day coach who won’t get outcoached and won’t embarrass the university." I don't know anyone who'd disagree with that.

* I think I've interviewed Slocum at least 30 times after losses -- some of them the crushing, season-ending type -- and he was usually very upset after them. What do you expect from any coach let alone a guy whose entire MO is intensity? Slocum always gave Steve Bohen and me the time we asked for and answered all of our questions. When a strong Gannon team lost to Hillsdale in the NCAAs on a terrible block/charge call that went against the Knights, Slocum still came out of the lockerroom and talked with us. He was as angry as I've ever seen him, but he still took time with us. Bohen and I weren't stupid enough to ask him inappropriate questions that would set him off like a time bomb. Maybe the Youngstown media is less sensitive.

* How about Jerry losing 6 players in the last 12 months when he lost basically nobody during his years at Gannon? Maybe all the players leaving Gannon isn't just a Reilly thing. Maybe it's the less restrictive transfer rules. Or maybe kids are less loyal or less likely to endure discipline. Or maybe their parents won't control the kids either.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PSAC Parity

What a wacky quarterfinal night in PSAC men's play. IUP was the only higher seed/home team to win tonight, and they had to survive a 4-point play in the closing moments to hold off Cal, 73-68. Here are the other results:
* #3W Slippery Rock 51, #2W Mercyhurst 45. The Lakers scored only 14 second half points.
* #4E Cheyney 77, #1E Mansfield 75. The Wolves scored the game's final 6 points, including a pair of free throws with :02 on the clock, to steal the win.
* #3E East Stroudsburg 83, #2E Kutztown 70

UPDATE - 3/4/11: It will be an all-PSAC West championship this year. Slippery Rock clipped Cheyney, 82-73, and IUP held off East Stroudsburg, 81-72. That puts Slippery Rock in decent shape to get an NCAA bid even if they don't beat IUP.

For more details, click here for the PSAC website.