Saturday, February 25, 2012

Game Over

Not making the PSAC playoffs for the second consecutive season is a bummer, but I was extra disappointed how the Knights looked tonight during their 65-50 loss at IUP. I guess I was expecting a superhuman, last hurrah effort, but GU appeared to be playing out the string. The Knights floundered on offense (38% FG, 2-for-10 on threes) and gave up several wide open shots to the Crimson Hawks.

Watching on the Crimson Hawk Sports Network -- which thought Gannon's nickname was the Golden Eagles and GU's point guard was Adam BLAH-zek -- was surreal, and not just because of the amateurish announcers. The Knights appeared to be a step or two slow all evening. Part of the strangeness to me was Alvin Tucker receiving so much playing time. Tucker played 25 total minutes vs. IUP including the first 16 of the second half. I'm something of an expert on the DNP-CD (Did Not Play - Coach's Decision) statistic, and Tucker has had 9 of those this season. I'm just curious what changed the final three games of the season for him to see so much action.

So you can stick a fork in the 2011-12 season, and you can put a fork in the road for the Gannon program. What's next for the Knights? Is next year the breakthrough season for this group? We know GU will lose two players from the 12-man roster (seniors Shameel Carty and Steve Piotrowicz), but who else won't be back? Over the past two seasons the Gannon program has experienced a 60% turnover rate in its underclassmen (according to my count, 15-of-25 non-seniors left the team before their eligibility expired), so you have to figure at least one player will bolt.

I'm depressed talking about next year already. My annual hope for March Madness is to watch the Knights make a run for the conference title and compete in the NCAA tournament. I don't want to be sitting in the stands at Mercyhurst's home playoff game wishing on a star that Gannon will be part of the big dance a year from now. When Gannon was eliminated from playoff contention last year I wrote a post titled "I've Got That Crummy Feeling Again." That article included this excerpt: "I'm sure everyone connected with the program -- players, coaches, administrators, and fans -- will wonder all off-season what could have been if ________ (fill in one play from any of Gannon's incredibly disappointing league losses). That's a pretty crummy feeling."

I'm learning the hard way it feels even crummier the second time around.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Doesn't It Feel Good To Be Alive?

Random thoughts after Gannon's 80-73 win at Slippery Rock Wednesday night:

* Please click here to see how I'm reacting to Gannon's victory tonight and their PSAC playoff possibilities.

* The Knights need Cal to win at Edinboro and Clarion to wake up and win at Slippery Rock while GU needs to steal a victory at IUP Saturday. Collapsing Clarion has lost 5-of-6 including a 13-point L Wednesday night at Cal, 74-61. The Eagles only win in the last half dozen games was a come-from-behind home victory against hapless Lock Haven. I know it's asking a lot for Clarion to give a crap and show an effort Saturday and asking even more for them to win, but stranger things have happened.

* Speaking of strange things happening, did you see what happened at the Mercyhurst Athletic Center yesterday? I was stunned to see the EUP men choke the Hurst 73-64. But that wasn't the biggest shocker of the doubleheader. How in the blazes did the Mercyhurst women take down #2 and previously undefeated Edinboro in OT?

* The Gannon coaching staff haters will need to take another night off. Coach Reilly and company are pressing the right buttons now, and this team is hitting its stride. Slippery Rock was 10-3 at home and outreboudning opponents 45-34. The Knights drove down I-79, punched SRU in the mouth, and beat them on the boards 37-31.

* I can't believe Gannon has won four straight games on the road (at Lock Haven, Edinboro, Clarion, Slippery Rock). Finally some consistency in a roller-coaster campaign!

* Adam Blazek is guaranteed to be PSAC West Freshman of the Year. But could he sneak into the first-team all-PSAC West discussion? He's been amazing down the stretch, including Rocking SRU Wednesday with 26 points and 6 steals. He was 3-for-6 on three-pointers against the #1 three-point field goal percentage defense in Division II play.

* Gannon is the only Catholic school still on the PSAC playoff bubble. Please pray early and often the rest of this week.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mock Haven

I guess it's time for my annual rant about the Lock Haven men's basketball program, losers today at Gannon, 85-35, in a game that actually was not as close as the ridiculous 50-point margin. (For past comments on Lock Haven, click here and here.) This Bald Eagle team was especially deplorable in their talent level and aggressiveness on offense.

Back in 2004, current Harbor Creek High School head coach Jason Dolak and I put together the Erie Red Storm all-star basketball team to play in some spring AAU-type tournaments. The roster included Kevin Buczynski (Villa), Tywuan Thomas (Strong Vincent), Tyler Sekerak (Corry), Tony DeMichele (Prep), Robbie Fugate (Prep), Joe Jones (Prep), and Scott Veith (Fairview). That team of all local kids would have crushed winless Lock Haven today by double-digits. How can a full-time coaching staff work all off-season and come up with a team so small and unskilled? And they have some scholarship money to give. The Red Storm team had to pay tournament entry fees plus travel expenses before they took the court.

Lock Haven's offensive game plan in the first 20 minutes seemed to be: walk the ball over midcourt, throw it to the wing 40 feet from the basket, maybe throw it to the corner, dribble back out to midcourt, survey the defense, watch the shot clock tick down to 15, and then go 1-on-1 before either turning the ball over or forcing up a contested shot. On at least a dozen possessions in the first half, when LHU generated a pitiful 3 field goals (one tipped in by Gannon) and 0 assists, the Bald Eagles didn't even penetrate the three-point line.

I watched four basketball teams play today, and here's how I'd rank them in aggressiveness:
#1 Gannon
#2 Bumblebees
#3 Fireflies
#4 Lock Haven

The Bumblebees and Fireflies are from my daughter's kindergarten basketball game Saturday morning at First Alliance Church. Her game's highlights included one girl dribbling sideline to sideline with two hands for 30 seconds and a boy running with the ball toward the wrong basket. And that's still more aggressive than Lock Haven! LHU is now 0-23 on the year and just 2-58 in their past 60 games.

As far as the Knights, I was pleased to see them deliver the KO punch early. Every second Lock Haven stuck around would have chipped away at GU's confidence (which wasn't exactly sky-high entering the game). Actually, LHU didn't even stick around for one second, ceding the opening tip to Darrell Blanton. The official tossed up the ball, and Blanton was the only one who elevated. Gannon led 13-0 five minutes in and 27-4 at the 10-minute mark, erasing any thoughts Lock Haven might have for winning their first game of the season.

The downer of the day was Cal upsetting Mercyhurst, 61-56, on the Hurst's home floor. Had the Lakers won, Gannon and Cal would have identical 11-9 marks in the PSAC West with the Vulcans holding the tiebreaker. Now with GU still a game behind, the Knights need to win at Slippery Rock AND at IUP next week with Cal losing at home to Clarion and at Edinboro.

I can rant all I want about how deplorable Lock Haven is, but the bottom line is in a week Gannon will be sitting next to them watching playoff games from the outside.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vexed, Hexed, And What's Next

I'm dividing my reaction to Gannon's 68-65 home loss to Mercyhurst into three sections:

VEXED: I'm not sure if this is the most frustrating, exasperating season in Gannon basketball history or if it's the collection of the most exciting, pulse-soaring games I've ever witnessed crammed into four months. This was now the third consecutive game I've watched in person where on my ride home I didn't need to turn on the car heating system because my nervous energy kept me warm in 30-degree temperatures. Gannon Hoops is supposed to be a stress reliever for me but this year it's been a stress inducer pretty much every single game. Look at the GU schedule and see how many enjoyable, win-going-away games they've had (7) vs. nailbiters/losses (15). If John Reilly wasn't such a good guy and this team wasn't such an admirable bunch of hard workers, this strange campaign would almost be comical because of its absurdity.

HEXED: Daemen shoots 57% in the second half and Gannon's potential game-winning shot at the buzzer misses. West Chester rallies from 7 down late to beat the Knights in OT. Seton Hill's Oliver McGlade finds nothing but net after he chucks one up from midcourt at the end of the second overtime. Edinboro storms back from 13 down to win. A Gannon turnover while holding the lead (and the shot clock off) haunts them at Mercyhurst. Up 11, GU loses to surging Slippery Rock. The Knights watch as Chad Tipton's three in the final seconds gives Cal a one-point win. Wednesday after trailing by 17 to Mercyhurst, Gannon rallies within two and gets a steal with 17 seconds left, only to be whistled for traveling. And what do you think happened on Darrell Blanton's game-tying attempt when the Knights trailed by three? In-and-out. Of course.

WHAT'S NEXT: This team will play hard. They'll annihilate Lock Haven Saturday. They'll compete at Slippery Rock and IUP. On Feb. 25, Gannon's season will officially end, and everyone will be disappointed. Some of us will lash out at the coaches; some will lash out at each other. I'll have to delete some comments. Several fans will support the team and look forward to next year. We'll scratch our collective heads over an 8-7 home record. We'll wonder who will come back. We'll watch other teams in the playoffs, gnash our teeth, and wonder if we'll do this for a third year in a row.

Note: You're probably wondering what that photo is at the top of this post. It's what was leaning against my office door this morning at Jameson Publishing, my employer for the past 13 years. If you look closely, it's a dust pan with the Gannon pocket schedule on it. I didn't have to ask anyone where it came from. Dave Lanahan, a former standout at North East HS and Mercyhurst College basketball player, made me the gift to commemorate the Lakers' sweep of Gannon this season. I deserved it. Dave can pour salt in my wounds, but he can't take away my career 10-0 record vs. Mercyhurst when I suited up for GU. Unfortunately, that's all I got these days ...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What A Week!

Seven days ago, us Gannon fans were tossing daggers at the team, the coaching staff, and each other lamenting a season gone bad. Today the sun is shining on us (figuratively, not literally) after a 2-0 week capped off by Gannon's 91-80 victory at Clarion Saturday night. Who would have thought a club coming off two home losses (59-48 to IUP and 68-67 to Cal) could suck it up, get its scoring groove back, and stay in PSAC playoff contention?

About the PSAC playoffs: it's still going to be a longshot for the Knights. As Golden89 outlined in the comments below, the Knights have to win two more games than Cal over the final four games of the regular season. Let's set the scene for Gannon's playoff chances in the PSAC West:

1. IUP (15-3):
Last night's thumping of Mercyhurst pretty much locked up the #1 spot in the West.

2. Mercyhurst (13-5): Technically the 10-8 Knights could catch the Lakers, but that would require Mercyhurst to repeat last year's late season final five game epic fail. Remaining games: @ GU, vs. Cal, vs. Edinboro, at LHU.

3. Slippery Rock (12-6): The Rock got a big W last night at Edinboro to extend their win streak to 3. The Knights could catch Slippery Rock, but SRU's last game of the season is vs. Clarion, and we know they'll mail it in if their postseason chances are dashed by that point. Remaining games: vs. Cal, at IUP, vs. GU, vs. Clarion.

4. California (11-7): Cal is as hot as Slippery Rock, running its win streak to 3 win a hammering of hapless Lock Haven Saturday night. If Vulcan Chad Tipton hadn't nailed that three to beat Gannon, the Knights would be in the PSAC playoffs driver's seat instead of Cal. But Cal has the tiebreaker over GU, so Gannon needs to finish a full game ahead of CU in the final standings. Remaining games: @ Slippery Rock, @ Mercyhurst, vs. Clarion, @ Edinboro.

5. Gannon (10-8): Don't look now, but Gannon has won two straight and still has a game to play vs. winless Lock Haven. GU had better be 3-0 heading to IUP for the season finale; there's zero margin for error over the next 11 days. Remaining games: vs. Mercyhurst, vs. Lock Haven, at Slippery Rock, at IUP.

6. Clarion (10-8): The Eagles have lost three straight but should get well Wednesday vs. Lock Haven. I wouldn't bet money on them to finish the season on a win streak, though. Remaining games: vs. LHU, vs. Edinboro, @ Cal, @ Slippery Rock.

I agree with my main man Golden89 that Gannon still has less than a 50/50 shot at a PSAC playoff bid. Based on what we saw from the Knights this past week, you might feel confident. But this team's longest winning streak of the year is just three (back in Dec. vs Cheyney, Ship, and Malone), so it's hard to count on them ripping off 5 or 6 straight. And I guess I don't see a motivated Cal team dropping its final two games to Clarion and Edinboro.

Pessimism aside, I'm eager for a Hurst/Peach Street Kids classic Wednesday. This Gannon team hasn't produced the most wins in school history, but they've made nearly every game an adventure.

Knight Knotes:
* If Adam Blazek doesn't get PSAC West Player of the Week honors, I'd like to see the stats of the guy who does. In two key road wins, Blazek averaged 31.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3 assists, and 2.5 steals while shooting 21-for-33 from the field (63.6%), 6-for-8 on threes, and 15-of-16 from the foul line. UPDATED 2/13/12: Blazek was officially named PSAC West Player of the Week today.

* Press releases are usually pretty bland, but Gannon SID Dan Teliski had some golden nuggets in his Gannon/Clarion game summary: "The story Saturday night was about a Golden Knight playing his first career game at W.S. Tippin Gymnasium and another who was playing his 44th. Blazek won the match-up of PSAC Western Division Freshman of the Year frontrunners with Clarion's Winfield Willis by pouring in 37 points during his first visit to Clarion, equaling the 11th-highest single-game total in school history. The freshman guard became the first Golden Knight to total 37 points in a game since Shelby Chaney netted 37 points against Daemen on December 29, 2005. Meanwhile, Carty made his first return visit after playing three seasons (2008-10) for the Golden Eagles. The senior guard was held scoreless in the first half, before scorching the nets for 15 points in the second half."

* How would you like to be Clarion coach Dr. Ron Righter this morning? Your playoff chances are dealt a body blow, and one of the guys doing the most damage is a former player of yours. Ouch.

* BIG THANKS to everyone who reads this blog or participates in the comments section. You've helped made this an incredibly entertaining week. Over the past seven days, Gannon Hoops has received over 5,000 page views and in the month of January set an all-time site record with nearly 13,500 page views. Thanks again, and we'll see you at the Audi on Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Run, Adam, Run. Win, Gannon, Win.

It's difficult to select a top storyline from Gannon's come-from-16-points-behind, blow-the-lead, come-from-behind again, blow-another-lead-in-overtime, dodge-a-bullet 77-73 win at Edinboro. I thought what keyed the Knights' victory was their aggressive, up-tempo offense led by point guard Adam Blazek. We saw early in the season that Gannon is special in the open floor, and we've seen over the past six weeks that GU's half-court offense is ordinary. (We also saw Wednesday night that Gannon's press breaker may be shakier than Blessed Sacrament's. Oy.)

For the rest of the season I suggest John Reilly coach the defense as usual and then when the Knights secure the ball sit down have an assistant motion his arm like a third base coach waving a runner home while yelling "Push! Push! Push!" I'm not kidding. When Blazek was on his giddyup, the Knights kept Edinboro off balance and scored in bunches. After a quiet first half (4 points, 0 3-point attempts, 2 fouls), Blazek went to work in the second period. He made 6-of-10 field goals (many of them early in the shot clock), hit on all 4 of his 3-point attempts, and kept the tempo in Gannon's favor. A former Prep teammate of Blazek's was sitting behind me at the game, and said after the freshman's first trey, "He's feeling it!"

If the Knights can keep getting stops consistently -- which could lead to more breakouts and no opportunity for opponents to press them -- and Blazek continues to hesitation dribble, spin-move, and slash when he gets the ball, Gannon will pull out more victories like we saw at McComb Fieldhouse.

Knight Knotes:
* While Blazek earns the game's #1 star, T.J. Wilson get #2 or maybe even #1a. Wilson's first-half stat line was a dud: 20 minutes, 0 points, 0-for-3 shooting, and 4 rebounds. But when his evening was over (Wilson fouled out in OT), the energetic junior had racked up a Summors-esque 15 points and 16 rebounds. He also made 5-of-6 free throws to keep GU in the game and provided amazing energy. Before leaving the floor after fouling out, Wilson grabbed the jersey of his replacement Tanner Furno and implored his teammate to finish off the Scots. Then after the final buzzer, Wilson turned to the Gannon fans behind the bench, raised his arms over his head, and let out a primal yell. I love the kid.

* Heck, I love this entire team. They could have tanked it yesterday after falling behind big but instead chose to play with incredible positive emotion. And I'm not just talking about the guys on the floor. The GU/EUP highlight video on the Gannon website was shot from near the GU bench and you can see every guy on the roster imploring their teammate to win the game. In a season that would make some guys want to give up basketball altogether, this team has acted unselfishly and continued to play with intensity.

* Check out the box score when you get a chance. Lots of unusual numbers such as Gannon's 55-38 rebounding edge including 17-4 on the offensive glass, Brandon Belt 0-for-10, post man Darrell Blanton 6-for-17, and Scot Isiah Prince going 10-for-28.

* My brother Rob couldn't make the game but I knew he was following it at home. So when Gannon was down 16 in the first half, I texted this message to him, "Holy crap. Emphasis on 'crap.'" He replied, "Don't worry. We'll come back only to lose at the buzzer." What do you think was on my mind when Edinboro had the ball the final possession of regulation with the score tied?

* My brother also pointed out to me that Gannon had extremely balanced scoring at the half. GU's 18 points were divided this way: 4, 4, 4, 2, 2, 2.

* GU SID Dan Teliski has informed me that the Knights have played 4 overtime games in a season for only the second time in the program’s 68-year history. The 1987-88 team that advanced to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight also played overtime four times. Both times, the teams went 2-2 in those overtime games.

* I think John Leisering earned the Triple Crown this season. He did the PA at Edinboro for the Gannon game, subbed at Gannon earlier this season to handle PA duties, and sang the national anthem before the Gannon at Mercyhurst game this season. When does Behrend play next and will John be on the mic going for the Grand Slam?

* One more thought: Worst white out ever.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Help Me If You Can, I'm Feeling Down

I work at Jameson Publishing, and one of the benefits we enjoy is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The EAP provides a wide range of services including assistance with personal problems, family and relationship issues, wellness, and work/life balance. I bring this up because I'm requesting that Gannon starts an FAP -- Fan Assistance Program -- to help all of us struggling through this season. The Knights, who everyone expected much from this season, are now 10-10 overall and on the brink of PSAC playoff elimination after Saturday's sickening 68-67 home loss to Cal.

Even before the horrifying loss, Gannon fans were berserk. When I bump into fans at the Hammermill, I usually hear comments such as, "Blanton's great, but I still love Glen Summors more", "Blazek's better than I expected" and "the women's team is really starting to play well." But what did I hear prior to and at halftime of the Cal game? Comments like, "I'm sick of this" and "I can't take this anymore." If we had an FAP, I could point them to someone who could help. All I could say to folks is, "We've had so many close losses, there's no way this streak can continue." And then Cal sticks a three with 7 seconds left in the game to win by a point. Incredible.

I'm stunned how Gannon's offensive productivity has dropped off this season. After their 74-54 drubbing of Mansfield on Feb. 7, GU was flying high with a 6-2 PSAC mark and pouring in over 80 ppg. But against the real teams in the PSAC West this season (that's a nice way of saying don't count winless Lock Haven), the Knights are averaging only 64.4 ppg and have a pathetic 1-6 win/loss record in those games. I know several Gannon Hoops followers believe that's a result of physical fatigue, but I'm not so sure. I think offensive execution -- weak screens, little dribble penetration, predictable plays, poor three-point shooting -- is a bigger contributor.

And where I think this team is most fatigued is mentally. Intense college basketball seasons wear on your brain more than they do your back, and this season is a few weeks longer than normal because of the Knights' mid-October Canadian exhibition tour. Additionally of the 7 Knights who have played all 20 games this season, only one guy (Tanner Furno) has been through this before on the Division II level. Adam Blazek was in high school last year while rest of the crew played junior college ball, where defensive intensity isn't necessarily required.

I was really hopeful a week ago that the IUP game could be a turning point for the Knights. But two losses later I'm simply trying to find a place to turn for help.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mission Distraction

Gannon's enamel-grinding 59-48 loss to IUP has put me over the edge. I mentally can't handle the mounting disappointing losses, especially at the Hammermill. I know many of you feel the same way. To help all of us keep our sanity, let's try distracting ourselves from this latest loss:

* By popular demand, here's an update on former Knight Bobby Bossman. Someone just emailed me this complimentary article about Bossman.

* Jerry Slocum is having a solid year at Youngstown State. On the surface, a 12-10 overall mark and 7-5 league record aren't impressive, but the 7 Horizon wins are the most in school history and the Penguins still have 6 conference games remaining. Click here for the YSU schedule/results.

* We used to talk a lot on this site about the dreadful Hilbert and Salem International women's basketball teams. How are they doing this year? Hilbert is 3-17, allowing 64 ppg while scoring 43, a vast improvement from prior years. (Though they did just lose at Medialle 55-21 in front of 38 fans.) Salem is in a similar sinking boat with a 3-16 mark. They're being outscored 66-46 with the worst loss at Northern Kentucky, 75-19.

* My new team to keep an eye on is the Lady Knights of Crossroads College in Rochester, MN. Their website lists them with 0 wins in a lucky 13 games this season. It even lists them as losing their alumni game! Their site doesn't list scores, but I managed to track down a few: 80-15 vs. Faith Baptist Bible College, 75-15 at Moody Bible Institute, 62-22 vs. Emmaus Bible College, and 53-20 at Faith Baptist. They even lost 93-21 to now 1-15 Crown College. Can we get them in the Porreco Cup next year?