Saturday, January 28, 2012

"If It Starts Right ...

... it finishes right." If I had a dollar for every time I heard Bob Dukiet say that sentence, I'd have enough money to buy popcorn for everyone at the IUP game on Wednesday. Coach Dukiet's aphorism proved true during Gannon's 80-49 lambasting of winless Lock Haven Saturday. The Knights raced out to a 14-2 advantage at the outset and, much to the surprise of many GU fans, didn't hand over that lead.

I'm encouraged the GU defense continues to improve. I know LHU is hapless, but to hold any team without a field goal for 11 minutes and 25 seconds is impressive. Earlier this season when the defense was porous, I'd count to see if the Knights could get five stops in a row. I rarely got to three or four. Gannon just couldn't sustain a consistent defensive effort. Now they can.

PSAC Freshman of the Year Adam Blazek (yes, I've already given him the award) continues to excel, producing a stat line of 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Darrell Blanton (10 points, 9 rebounds) didn't have his biggest game of the year, but he was still productive.

I'm waiting for a third scorer to emerge on this team. Brandon Belt had 16 and Oscar Macias totalled 11 vs. Lock Haven; I'd like to see that more often. Let me state that a little stronger: the Knights will remain a .500-ish team until they establish a reliable third scorer to replace the injured Stephen Battle. I don't know if it's a matter of running some set plays for Belt and Macias or just waiting for these first-year Division II players to get comfortable, but they've got to get it done. Wednesday evening vs. IUP would be the perfect time for Belt and/or Macias to put together a second consecutive double-digit night.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No Comment

I have to admit, I missed Wednesday night's game due to a family commitment. I'll let you guys carry the weight analyzing yet another depressing loss. I'll just sit back and sigh.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ironmen Challenge

I'm not sure what to say after Gannon's 18-point drubbing of Clarion on Saturday, 81-63. Have you ever heard the saying, "Been down so long, don't know which way is up"? Because of Gannon's three consecutive torturous losses, I was in that state of mind even with a 20-point second-half lead vs. the Golden Eagles. When Clarion cut the margin to 15 on a three-pointer with 4 minutes to play, I have to admit I thought "here we go again."

But the Knights responded with an Oscar Macias layup off a perfect backdoor feed from Darrell Blanton to push the lead to 17. An Adam Blazek steal, his fourth of the afternoon to help his keep his PSAC lead in that statistic, helped melt 30 more seconds off the clock, and the Knights won going away. It was satisfying to see Gannon post a resounding win in a game they needed to have. Ordinary teams fold in this situation, but GU played with increased intensity.

There's been lots of talk on this website about the Knights being tired. Did you see any of that yesterday? I didn't, even though John Reilly opted to not substitute during the entire second half. In his radio interview with Jim LeCorchick after the game, Reilly made it clear the lack of subs wasn't an oversight. He said, "When you play with media timeouts every four minutes, to me, it's impossible to get tired. ... People think we practice too hard which is ludicrous. It's basketball -- we're trying to learn, we're trying to get better. We're not fools. All the coaches have played."

First, you have to love his conviction. Second, I have to agree with him. Remember what college basketball was like prior to media timeouts for all games? The regular season games breezed by with little interruption, and then when the NCAAs (and media timeouts) showed up, the game really dragged because of all the stoppages. Now we fans are accustomed to the media timeouts and think coaches still need to rest players just like the good ol' days -- even though they get 8 minutes of stopped time each half with official timeouts.

Here's my personal perspective on this topic and why I think resting players during games is fairly overrated (when your team doesn't full-court press):
* During offseason pickup games, there are no media timeouts or free throws, and winner stays on. We'd play first to 8 field goals, which is essentially a quarter of a typical basketball game. Nobody ever, ever asked for a sub, even if you were in your fourth consecutive game.
* A few years ago, I helped organize an AAU-type all-star team called the Erie Red Storm. For one Saturday, we had only five players and had to play three games. We must have lost all three games without subs, right? And the third game was probably a ragged affair because the players' legs were shot, right? Nope. It seemed like the club got better with each game and we won all three.
* When I played at Bethel Christian High School, we didn't have a JV team, so I was on the varsity all four years. In about 70 career games, I was on the bench for a total of eight minutes -- and most of that was the six minutes I sat during a blowout of Portersville Christan School. When you're in your teens or early 20s, you have energy to burn. (Side note: I may hold the Guinness World Record for biggest playing time differential between high school and college.)

All that said, if I was a college coach, I'd still rotate eight or maybe nine players just to keep guys happy and to be prepared when a starter gets hurt or picks up fouls. And I'd have a pre-stated rotation so the players didn't have to wonder how much PT they'd get going into a game. As I recall, that's how Tom Chapman worked his lineup. The rotation was set prior to the game and would only get altered if a player had a hot streak or picked up two fouls in the first half. Then Chappy would implement situational substitutions in the closing minutes of the game.

We can argue all we want about subs, but Reilly's plan -- which none of us would have endorsed prior to the Clarion game -- certainly worked.

Knight Knotes:
* I'd like to know the thoughts of Clarion coach Dr. Ron Righter when he looked at the stat sheet and saw T.J. Wilson's line: 20 points, 9 rebounds, 7-for-9 on field goals, and 6-for-10 on free throws. Wilson entered the game averaging 2.3 ppg and 1.9 rpg.

* How about Mercyhurst trouncing #10 IUP Saturday, 71-47? And Slippery Rock trashed visiting Edinboro, 85-57. Quite a wacky weekend in the PSAC West.

* For all Gannon Hoops followers experiencing difficulty viewing comments, the solution seems to be abandoning Internet Explorer and switching to the Firefox web browser. Click here for a free download of Firefox.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Open Letter To The Basketball Gods

Some of you faithful Gannon Hoops followers might recall my Open Letter To George Johnson after the Gannon sharpshooter quit the team in November 2009. I don't know if Johnson read the letter (but the final comment on the post seems to reveal that a supporter of his certainly did), but George rejoined the team shortly afterwards and led the Knights in nearly every offensive category. I'm hoping that tactic works again with this open letter to the basketball gods. They've been messing with us Gannon fans and I want it to stop now.

Dear basketball gods:

Most letters start out real friendly and all, but this isn't one of them. Stop jerking us around. The past year has been sheer torture for us Gannon fans. Let me recap in case you forgot. Here's what the Knights have endured over the past 365 days:

* Not qualifying for the playoffs last March. Of course, the NCAAs, but Gannon didn't even make the PSAC playoffs. The Knights missed out on being a top 4 team in a 7-team conference. OK, technically it's 8 in the PSAC West, but did 1-26 Lock Haven really count? (Speaking of "counting" and "Lock Haven", check out the giant crowd they drew for a recent home game by clicking here.)

* A 14-13 overall record. I remember years ago when Gannon printed its pocket schedule, the last three lines gave the dates for the Elite 8 in Springfield, Mass. Everyone expected the Knights to advance deep in the NCAAs. Now I'm planning to spend the weekend of this year's regionals in North Springfield at Peggy Gray Candies off Route 20 West.

* A 10-7 mark at the Hammermill Center. Opponents used to fear playing in the Audi. But burned into my brain from the past year is Seton Hill celebrating its Porreco Cup title and Daemen advancing to the Gary Miller Classic finals while the Knights slinked back to their locker room. (By the way, Seton Hill is just 1-6 since their wild win over Gannon while NAIA Daemen is just 7-6 since shocking the Knights.)

Seven losses at the Audi in one calendar year! I just looked in the Gannon media guide and saw that in my 4-year career at Gannon we lost 11 total games at the Hammermill, an average of less than 3 a year. And those weren't even the glory days. In his final 7 years at Gannon, Jerry Slocum lost just 14 games at the 'Mill. And those weren't even the glory days!

* Here's the kicker that really has me fed up with the basketball gods: 10 of Gannon's 13 losses have been by 4 points or fewer. And in the the 6-point loss at Cal a week ago, Gannon trailed by just 1 with under 2 minutes to play. And don't get me started on the 3 overtime losses, including 1 in double OT. I thought the 5 nailbiting losses in late-January and February last year were excruciating, and then you serve me up a half dozen already this season. The topper was Wednesday's 62-61 heartpulverizer at Mercyhurst, which won't go away no matter how much Mylanta I guzzle.

Is it my fault? I know I made a deal with you 20 years ago when you helped a freckle-faced 145-pound guard with poor ballhandling skills and a line drive jumpshot make the Gannon roster. But if I had known it would have resulted in this, I might have just tried out for the cross country team instead.

My request to you is to give this Gannon team two additional successful possessions per game. They don't have to be anything spectacular like a Darrell Blanton dunk or an Adam Blazek whirling dirvish layup. Just two more good possessions -- 4 more points each game. If I'd have asked for this before the season, our Knights would be something like 13-2 instead of, sigh, 8-and-stinking-7.

On behalf of Gannon fans everywhere, especially those on the floor in the fetal position, thank you for considering this request.

Irritated in Erie

P.S. BYU-Hawaii advanced to the DII national championship game last year after starting its season 5-4. If you could give me that deal, it would be really sweet. Thanks again.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Where Has All The Offense Gone?

The engine that powered the Knights' high-octane offense in the first 12 games of the season is now sputtering. In Saturday's 65-59 loss at California (Pa.), GU scored a season-low 59 points, 27 below their average. They shot just 22-of-53 from the field (41%) and 5-of-18 on threes (28%). Combine that with Gannon's 27-for-70 field goal chart (38%) vs. Edinboro, and you can see that Gannon's offense needs a tune-up. It's interesting to see how this team's personality has flip-flopped like a politician. At the start of the season, they handled the ball confidently and scored easily but allowed nearly as many points. Now they've tightened up the defense but stopped making shots.

So where has all the offense gone? Nobody can say for sure, put I'm speculating some Gannon fans will say it's John Reilly's fault for running the team too hard in practice. I think it's probably more of what Tom Chapman taught his players at Gannon: the first half of the season, you'll score on your first option. Then, after teams have you scouted, you'll need to score on your second or third option. GU's first option has been transition basketball -- score quickly before the opponent gets set. Now that teams are making Gannon swing the ball and score in half court, the offensive productivity has waned.

The Knights need to make some adjustments or this will end up another season described as "disappointing" and "mediocre." Gannon fans expect the NCAA playoffs every year. They don't have a second option.

Knight Knotes:
* I felt bad about Gannon's loss but what made me feel worse was Reilly saying after the game, "Steve (Piotrowicz) probably won't be back" after missing Saturday's game due to injury. Piotrowicz, who has battled a hip injury for months, is a heart-and-soul kind of player the Knights will miss in practices and games. And beyond the intangibles, he's the only other PG the Knights have besides Adam Blazek. Piotrowicz's absence will hurt Gannon's offense for sure.

* The Knights are now a 8-6 overall. I checked out the rest of the region, and 14 teams have better records than Gannon. I didn't research their in-region and vs. Division II opponents records which carry the weight in the regional ranking, but here's where those 14 teams currently stand overall:
-- The PSAC boasts 7 teams with more stellar records: IUP (12-2), Bloomsburg (12-3), Clarion (11-5), Edinboro (9-5), Mercyhurst (9-5), Slippery Rock (9-5), and Kutztown (9-5).
-- In the WVIAC, 4 schools have better marks than GU: West Liberty (14-1), Alderson-Broaddus (12-2), Charleston (12-4), and Wheeling Jesuit (9-5).
-- The CIAA seems to be having a down season, but Shaw (12-2), Winston-Salem (11-2), Bowie State (10-3) still have better records than our Knights.
Even if the Knights catch fire these next 2 weeks, don't anticipate them being ranked in the region when the first Atlantic rankings are released later this month. There are several teams in GU's way before they break into the region's upper echelon.

* Interesting that Cal spent $59 million for their new 6,000-seat convocation center but drew only 257 for Saturday's game.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Helter-Skelter Season Melter

For us fans of Gannon hoops, it doesn't get much more disappointing than what we saw at the Hammermill Center Wednesday night, a 76-62 loss to Edinboro. The Knights opened PSAC West play sputtering on offense, flailing on defense, and blowing a 13-point second half lead, which led a home loss (GU's third already this year) to a local rival. Even worse is the damage the result has on Gannon's postseason hopes.

I don't want to overreact here; I'm not saying the season's over. But, as my brother Rob asked me recently, how many losses can Gannon absorb before they're eliminated from NCAA playoff contention? Nine? Maybe 10 at the outer limit? Mercyhurst was 20-7 last year and didn't receive an NCAA bid. Slippery Rock got in with 10 losses because they racked up 20 wins, many of them thanks to a late-season surge. At 8-5, the Knights are already halfway to 10 Ls and they still have to go on the road to face IUP (11-2, 8-1 PSAC), Clarion (11-4, 7-2 PSAC), and Slippery Rock (9-4). There's also the home-and-home with Mercyhurst where nothing's guaranteed (except that thousands of Catholic fans will swear at each other in the name of Christian fellowship). If the Knights keep their pace of winning half their road games (GU is 2-2 away from the Audi) and two-thirds of their home games (6-3 currently), Gannon will finish the regular season 15-11 or 16-10 and be on the bubble for the PSAC tournament.

Again, I'm not saying the season's over. I'm just highlighting that the Knights need to pick up the pace before the Lake Erie snow flurries finally show up, or Gannon's special season will never come to fruition.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fight Club

Of course I was thrilled that Gannon scored two wins in the final weekend of PSAC crossover play, blasting Bloomsburg Friday, 81-67, and then manhandling Mansfield Saturday, 74-54. What had to make GU fans ecstatic beyond the double-digit victories was that the Knights did it playing their best defense of the season. The stats tell the first part of the story:
* Entering the brace of games, Gannon was allowing 77.7 ppg. They allowed only 60.5 ppg vs. the Huskies and the Mounties.
* Opponents were shooting 46.3% from the field prior to Friday. Mansfield shot 31% while Bloom had to catch fire in the second half to produce a 42% shooting chart.
* The Knights were outrebounding opponents by +8 per game, a John Reilly staple, but they cranked it up a notch vs. Bloom (+11, 41-30) and then vs. MU (+16, 48-32).

What the Knights are doing beyond the box score has me even more excited about their prospects entering PSAC West play. They are outworking and outfighting their opponents for every loose ball and on nearly every defensive possession. They've been relentless even when the game wasn't on the line. Leading Mansfield 71-52 with about 2 minutes to go Saturday, Dmitry Martynenko was positioned on the weak side with a Mansfield defender between him and the basket, but he muscled his way inside to earn Gannon's 16th offense rebound of the night. Next, off Martynenko's missed FT, Brandon Belt lost some skin on his knees diving after the loose ball in front of the Gannon bench. About 20 seconds later, Adam Blazek lept out of bounds after a deflection and slammed the ball off an MU player so the Knights could earn possession of the ball.

Why do the Knights play this way? Two key reasons I think. First, Reilly has recruited players with a mindset that meshes with his system. Anybody who saw Blazek play at Prep knows that he didn't begin to learn hard work and extra effort in college. The second reason is something that some commenters here have slammed Reilly for: he works this team like crazy and continually pushes them for greater effort. For example, with Gannon leading Mansfield comfortably late in the second half Saturday, the Knights committed a foul on a transition layup. No big deal, right? Not when you're teaching Bob Dukiet defense. Reilly took two steps toward midcourt and yelled at his team in Jerry Slocum style, "Hey! Hey! NO JOGGING!"

I'm not sure how many more games Gannon will win this season. We were reminded at the Porreco Cup that crazy things can happen to good teams. But seeing that the Knights finally have the mindset to outfight their opponents for a full 40 minutes gives me hope they'll be battling to host a PSAC playoff home game 6 weeks from now.

Knight Knotes:
* I hear that Battle will be out of the lineup another 2 or 3 weeks. As one fan mentioned to me yesterday, this could be a long-term blessing for the Knights because it allows them to play Shameel Carty and develop more bench depth.
* You don't have to watch the Knights for very long to understand that Brandon Belt is a pure shooter. But his athleticism literally jumped out to me this weekend. Not only was he quick to the ball, but he soared over everyone to block 2 shots Saturday.
* Bloomsburg PG Trevon Johnson entered Friday's game vs. Gannon as the Huskies #2 scorer at 10.7 ppg, and he was averaging only 2.6 turnovers per game. But against GU, Johnson produced more TOs (6) than points (4). A frustrated Bloom coach succinctly (and loudly) explained why when he yelled, "He's trying to match that (expletive deleted) kid," referring to PG counterpart Adam Blazek, "instead of just playing!" Saturday night at Clarion, Johnson carried Bloom to victory, scoring 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including the game-winning jumper with 3 seconds to play.
* Click on think link for video highlights and interviews from this weekend's games. Gannon SID Dan Teliski has done a tremendous job utilizing multimedia to give us full coverage of the Knights.