Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November Knight Knotes

* Gannon has officially announced the early signing of West Middlesex senior Matthew Dogan, which Gannon Hoops talked about Nov. 20. In the same press release, the Knights said they have signed New Castle senior guard Brandon Domenick (pictured here). Plus the New Castle News reported the signing, so it's really official. I have to admit, I was scratching my head a little bit on the Domenick signing because he's not physically imposing (5-foot-9, 160) and his scoring stats aren't eye-popping (9.1 ppg for his career). It wasn't until I saw this online scouting report on Domenick that I understood why John Reilly signed him early. "Outstanding defensive skills," the report says. "Has faced several D1 prospects and shut them down on offense and defense. Described as a 'pest' on defense. Fearless, does not back down, gets into opponents head. Always on opponent’s hip. Quick to read and exploit weaknesses." And I'm assuming Reilly also likes this quality: "Extreme work ethic. Plays entire game usually running full-court presses." Excellent -- I'll take all the tenacious defenders/hard workers you've got!

* The press release I mention above also included some statistical tidbits on this year's Knights. Gannon SID Dan Teliski writes, "Gannon is 4-0 for the first time since the 2008-09 NCAA Division II Elite Eight squad rolled off nine consecutive wins to begin the season. The Golden Knights won the 29th annual Gary Miller Classic championship last weekend with victories against NCAA Division II provisional members Roberts Wesleyan (66-45) and Daemen (65-46). The defensive effort resulted in consecutive opponents being held under 50 points for the first time since January of 1992, when Jim Roddy was a senior benchwarmer for the Knights." OK -- Dan didn't exactly write it that way, though it's true.

* PSAC teams continue their choppy play before conference games tip-off this weekend. Cal lost at home to NAIA Wilberforce (Oh.), 90-88. You have to love how the stats team crushes Vulcan Quentin Harding the box score, going out of their way to mention, "Harding (CAL) missing first of three free-throws with 0.2 seconds remaining." The next time Harding shoots free throws at home, we should look to see if folks at the scorer's table are coughing and making choking gestures. Give the kid a break!

* Only three PSAC teams will enter December undefeated. Can you name them? Answer below.

* Clarion finally grabbed a win after losses to two Division III squads (Thiel and LaRoche). The Golden Eagles knocked off DIII Houghton, 77-67, at Waldo Tippin Gymnasium. The win isn't all that impressive, though. Roberts Wesleyan drilled Houghton, 60-44, on Nov. 20.

* The spotless PSAC squads are all in the West: Gannon (4-0), Indiana (4-0), and Edinboro (3-0). The Knights host Kutztown (who just lost at home to Holy Family, 91-75) and Stroud this weekend while the Crimson Hawks and Fighting Scots are on the road. IUP travels to Cheyney and West Chester while EUP goes to Mansfield and Bloomsburg. Click here for complete PSAC standings, schedules, results, and statistics.

* As I finished typing this entry, my wife called me to the kitchen table to watch this video on her iPad. Do you think she's trying to tell me something?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Knights Win In "Uncomfortable" Fashion

Bob Dukiet had a lot to say about defense, but there was one foundational principle he preached the most: "Make them uncomfortable." In their 65-46 drubbing of Daemen in the Gary Miller Classic championship Saturday night, the Knights made the Wildcats uncomfortable from the outset. The defending Miller Classic champs, Daemen entered this year's tourney averaging nearly 90 points per game. At the half, a clearly frazzled Wildcat team had scored only 15 points, committed 9 turnovers, and made just 7-of-24 field goal attempts including an 0-for-7 chart on three-pointers.

Heck, even halftime was arduous for Daemen. I walked by their lockerroom on my way to the men's room on the west end of the Hammermill Center, and the team was still congregated in the hallway. Coach Don Silveri, who spent the first minutes of halftime at the scorer's table pleading his case to the officials, loudly asked, "Who has the key to the lockerroom?"

Daemen doubled its scoring output in the second half, but finished the game making only 33% of its field goal attempts and 3-of-16 threes while turning the ball over 21 times. The anguish on their faces was evident. Dribblers couldn't get to the basket and outside shooters had everything contested. Forwards in the paint were swarmed by two, three, or four ballhawking defenders. The Knights were too big, too fast, too quick, too strong, too smart, too aggressive. And Daemen was too uncomfortable to compete.

If the folks at the scorer's table would have selected "Team Defense" as the tourney MVP, I wouldn't have had a problem with that. I'm also OK that Adam Blazek earned MVP honors even though he needed 13 field goal attempts and made just 1-of-7 threes to score 13 points. His 5 steals -- the team-high on a 14-steal evening -- helped keep Daemen out of whack all evening.

Other thoughts on the evening:
* For you pessimists who are still down on the Knights because of their sputtering offense, remember where we were a year ago after the Daemen game. I used the phrase "resoundingly disappointed" and I still stand by it. Now at 4-0 after a dominant victory over a team that was 8-2 coming in should make all Gannon fans feel good about this season's prospects.

* I love Gannon, but can I still feel bad for Daemen guard Casey Sheehan? A year ago, he lifted his team to the Miller Classic title and hoisted the tourney MVP trophy with a 24-points-in-just-23-minutes effort in the finals. Tonight he was scoreless in 18 minutes, leaving at the 14-minute mark with an injury to his left leg.

* Saturday might have been Oscar Mascias' best game in the Gannon uniform. Not only did he score 9 points on a 3-of-4 shooting chart, he was rarely beaten off the dribble by the quick Daemen guards. Mascias was a surprise starter this evening for big man Roger Livramento, who played just 7 minutes.

* I love how John Reilly gets everyone -- even guys who have been with his program for just a few months -- to sacrifice their bodies. Every Knight, even the new players, willingly take charges and get floor burns. One player (I can't recall who) hustled after a loose ball in the second half and landed in the lap of former Gannon great Mel Witherspoon. So, double kudos to Reilly for getting Spoon to finally take a charge!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gannon Performs Blunderfully In Roberts Win

Even if I could, I wouldn't watch a second time Gannon's 66-45 home opener victory over Roberts Wesleyan in the first round of the Gary Miller Classic Friday. The Knights committed a whopping 29 turnovers against just 14 assists. GU was a dreadful 1-for-6 (16.7%) on three-pointers but that was actually a better percentage than Roberts, who was 2-for-16 (12.5%). Gannon's opening night jitters actually lasted all night, the team never finding an offensive rhythm. I won't take time to check this on the play-by-play, but I'd be surprised if the Knights scored on consecutive possessions. It sure didn't feel that way. The coaching staff was even off its game a bit. Darrell Blanton committed his fourth foul at the 9:40 mark, but play started before the Knights could substitute for him. At least six possessions took place -- Blanton swiping at a ballhandler and attempting a blocked shot on two of them -- before Gannon's leading scorer got to the bench.

So the game was filled with blunders but it was wonderful at the same time. After nine months away from the Audi, it was great to see again: Adam Blazek dribbling while sliding on the floor, a la the Harlem Globetrotters; Blanton dunking after a series of quick passes, which caused Roberts to abandon its half-court trap; T.J. Wilson attempting to front a guy four inches taller, then hurling himself into the front row to save a loose ball; and coach John Reilly flailing his arms during timeouts, imploring his squad to get a stop and a rebound.

I'm not panicking over this performance because it was just one early-season sloppy November basketball game. I like all the new players. Roger Livramento (10 points, 6 rebounds in just 15 minutes total and just 4 minutes in the second half) is long, battles hard, moves well, and has a nice shooting stroke. Robert Wilson (8 points, 6 rebounds) didn't post big numbers, but you can see that he's strong, aggressive, and possesses a wealth of offensive gifts. Brandon Emmitt is a nice backup point. He's quick, can handle, and shoots jumpers like you'd teach at a basketball camp. Starting PG Jabs Newby is quick, strong, and quite the ballhawk on defense.

All that said, these talented players wearing maroon and gold need to perform better Saturday, or Daemen (an 82-66 winner over Virginia Union) will head back to Buffalo with their second straight Gary Miller Classic championship trophy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Knight Knotes

While counting down the minutes to Gannon's home opener Friday ...

* Gannon hasn't made an official announcement, but according to the Erie Times West Middlesex junior Matthew Dogan (pictured here) has committed to play for the Golden Knights next year. The Times says, "Dogan is a 6-foot 6-inch guard who can play inside and out but his strength is handling the ball and creating offense." According to the Pittsburgh Basketball Report, he's one of the top 10 guards in the Pittsburgh area. If anyone's seen him play, please comment below.

* Lots have folks have been talking in the previous post here on Gannon Hoops about player transfers. In response, I received this email from a GU fan who wishes to remain anonymous: "I find it strange that you have so many comments concerning transfers, but today Gannon announces a high school signing and there have been no comments whatsoever. Also, how long does John need to be part of the program before people know how to spell his name?" It's R-E-I-L-L-Y. I'm predicting a future comment will say "Jon Reilly" and make us all scream.

* Here's some other good Gannon news you might want to talk about. Several Knights participated in National Young Readers Week by volunteering to read at local schools. This press release from Gannon has all the details. Next year they can print this blog and read it to the kiddies. Wouldn't that be fun!

* Roberts Wesleyan will enter the Gary Miller Classic with a 1-1 mark after handling the hapless Houghton Highlanders tonight, 60-44. The Knights will need to stop Devin Grimes who will arrive at the Hammermill averaging 19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds a game for Roberts. (Editor's Note: I reserve the right to call Houghton "hapless" based on their 69-64 home loss to Penn State-Greater Allegheny on Nov. 16.)

* Jim LeCorchick gave me the heads up that former IUP All-American Gerald Brooks has resurfaced at Slippery Rock after three years away from the game. Click on this page from the Indiana Gazette for details. (Parental discretion is advised.)

* LeCorchick also pointed me towards the current IUP team photo. Click on that link and see if any player stands out to you -- literally. Wearing #33 but listed as #11 is Blake Vedder, a 7-foot-3, 235-pound transfer from Division I Rhode Island. He's one of five DI transfers on the Crimson Hawk roster, and I'm sure he has the most difficulty when they travel. Here's some video of Vedder if you can't wait until Dec. 8 when Gannon and IUP square off.

* Happy Thanksgiving! Before the leftovers are gone, we'll have two home games under our belt. If we can still fit into our belt.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mystery Men

So the Knights are off to a promising 2-0 start after Saturday's 91-65 drubbing of host Ohio Valley at the PSAC-WVIAC challenge. I'd like to say it was an "impressive" win, but can I make that claim if I've never seen the team play? It seems strange to have the Knights begin the season so early and far away from Erie. It also seems strange to say, "I can't wait to see them play ... in a couple more weeks."

One conclusion we can draw from examining Saturday's stat sheet is that Gannon can be balanced offensively. Four players hit for double figures, including first-year Knights Robert Wilson (20 points plus 9 rebounds) and Jabs Newby (12 points on 6-for-9 shooting). And, not to forget about the returning players, if there was a tournament MVP award for the weekend, you'd have to give it to Darrell Blanton. Or you could set the trophy on top of the bankboard and he could jump up to snatch it. Blanton totalled 40 points and 18 rebounds while hitting 68% of his shots (17-for-25) in the two Gannon wins. He played defense, too, recording 4 blocks and 4 steals.

Other thoughts on the weekend:
* If you rearrange the letters in "PSAC WVIAC," you get "wasp via CC." I knew you were wondering.

* A Gannon fan who attended the games emailed me to say, "Ohio Valley was everything we expected it to be. Facility makes Behrend's Erie Hall look like a palace. About half their uniform numbers were different from the program." That led the the erroneous conclusion by some stat-sheet observers that OVU's Ashton Brown, who scored 43 Friday against Millersville, was held scoreless by GU. That's what the stats say, but the reality is that Brown scored 17 on 3-for-10 shooting. For some reason his statistics are credited to Robert Smelser on the box score. Smelser-Mania will have a to wait a little longer.

* Gannon will be a heavy favorite when they visit Millersville Dec. 18. MU lost to Ohio Valley 93-92 Friday while the Knights shellacked the Fighting Scots by 26 the next day. Also, the Marauders lost by 10 to Glenville State Saturday, the day after Gannon beat Glenville by 3. What also makes me feel confident that Gannon will be a favorite over Millersville is that statistician Nate Silver is picking the Knights while Karl Rove and Dick Morris are both guaranteeing the 'Ville to win by double digits.

* I really feel bad for Brandon Belt, who transferred to Millersville after one season at Gannon. His new team goes 0-2 while his old club finishes 2-0 in the same gym versus the same opponents. Belt scored 21 points in his two games, but was only 8-for-27 from the field including 1-for-13 on three-pointers.

* I'm the only one keeping track of this stat, but I wanted to share it with you. Newcomers Wilson, Newby, and Algeron Torrence have already passed me on Gannon's all-time scoring list. Torrence (16 points) did in 17 minutes what I struggled to accomplish in four long years. Sigh.

* Looking ahead to the Gary Miller Classic, defending champ Daemen is already 6-1 after annihilating several Canadian teams. The Wildcats play two more games between now and their first-round contest vs. Virginia Union. VUU is 0-1 after a 71-69 loss to King College. Roberts Wesleyan, Gannon's first round opponent, is both undefeated and winless. The Redhawks have two games before tipping off at the Hammermill.

Friday, November 9, 2012

New Year, Old Habits

The last couple seasons, it seems like every Gannon game comes down to the final possession. For one stretch, 10 of 13 games were decided on the final possession or in overtime. (The fans at the Hammermill aren't actually all octogenarians; they just look that way from the stress.) Why should this year be any different? The Knights held off Glenville State, 70-67, in tonight's season opener, avoiding OT when a Pioneer three-pointer that banked in was ruled too late. We're just one game in and I already need to take nitroglycerin. Better refill my prescription, or I'll be out by the Gary Miller Classic.

The stat sheet bore some similarities to past games as well:
* Gannon outrebounded Glenville, 40-23, a staple of John Reilly teams
* I hope it was opening night jitters, but the Knights committed 25 turnovers. Nine of them came in the first 10 minutes of the game when Gannon fell behind 24-11.
* After a slow start, Darrell Blanton turned the Ohio Valley gymnasium into the Jammermill, soaring for 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting while also securing 7 rebounds.
* Adam Blazek led Gannon's first half comeback. He finished the contest with 11 points and a game-high 9 rebounds before fouling out.

As far as new players, the starting lineup included Jabs Newby (4 points, 5 assists), Robert Wilson (10 points, 7 rebounds), and Rogerio Livramento (6 points). Algeron Torrence led bench players with 9 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the line. No minutes for returning big men Tanner Furno (injured) or Dmitry Martynenko.

I'm not sure what the slogan will be on this year's team poster, but I'd like to suggest this: Gannon Basketball -- Never Boring!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Looking Forward

I was going to hold off until next week to preview Gannon's opening set of games against Glenville State (Friday, Nov. 9) and Ohio Valley (Saturday, Nov. 10), but I couldn't wait because I'm already excited to learn about these teams. By the end of this post, we actually might know more about the opponents than Gannon, who added 7 players this off-season. By the end of next weekend, we'll have a really good gauge if the new Knights have a chance to be better than last year's 14-12 edition.

Let me look way ahead first -- 17 months in the the future. Gannon will host the 2014 Women's Division II Elite 8 at Erie Insurance Arena (aka Erie Civic Center or Tullio Arena). When I received the press release in my email inbox yesterday, I first thought the City of Erie was giving the Gannon women's team an award for their NCAA run last year. But then I read it more carefully and was pleasantly surprised to read "Gannon and City of Erie Awarded 2014 NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Elite Eight." We all remember when GU hosted the Atlantic Region in 2010 before a full house at the Hammermill. Can you imagine an NCAA championship game with 6,000 screaming fans on hand? However it turns out, that will be a fun week.

Now back to the present day. If the Knights don't come home next weekend with a pair of wins, several Gannon Hoops fans will hit the panic button. Out of 15 teams in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC), Glenville was 12th in the preseason poll while OVU was dead last. Glenville was 7-20 overall last year and 6-16 in the WVIAC. Ohio Valley (8-18, 8-14) is actually predicted to finish behind Bluefield State, a woeful 1-26, 0-22 last season.That's like asking a girl to the prom and her replying, "I'd actually prefer to go with that kid standing in the corner, eating his own boogers." It's like offering a recruit a full scholarship and he says, "No thanks. I think Lock Haven is a better situation."

Friday vs. Glenville State Pioneers
We can say with certainty that Gannon won't be the biggest game of the week for the Pioneers. On Tuesday, Glenville travels to West Virginia University to face coach Bobby Huggins, big man Deniz Kilicli, and the Mountaineers, who have made 5 consecutive NCAA tournaments. Glenville returns three starters from a season ago: junior G Kevin Gray (16.6 ppg, 79 threes), sophomore G Andy Dollman (8.9 ppg, 32 threes), and soph. G Jamel Morris (14.7 ppg, 68 threes).

Glenville might already lead all of Division II in turnovers. An incredible 12 new players, 8 of them freshmen, have been added to the Pioneer roster this year. Junior newcomers include 6-foot-7 F Lamar Mallory, who was first-team all-conference at Miami (Oh.) Middletown community college, Lamont Cole, a 6-foot-1 guard who averaged 12 ppg at Edison Community College, and J.J. Vasquez. The only info I could find on Vasquez is that he's 6-foot-5 and from Boston. I also found this J.J. Vasquez online, but I don't think he's the right guy.

Saturday at Ohio Valley Fighting Scots
I'm not sure about the quality of the OVU roster, but the quantity is overwhelming. I had to count twice to make sure I was right -- 21 players in all, only 2 of them seniors. OVU lost its top 6 scorers who generated 92% of the team's offense a season ago. The current roster accounts for only 2 of the team's 181 three-pointers from last season.

The most productive returnee is 6-foot-7 Lithuanian soph. F Osvaldas Gaizauskas (4.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg), who only played 12 games last season and is sure to cause Gannon radio man Sean Amicucci fits. Evan Jamison (2.8, 1.5), a 6-foot-6, 230-pound sophomore, averaged 10 minutes a game in 24 contests as a freshman. A 6-foot-7 senior from Canada, Mustafa Helal (2.6, 1.3) played in 24 games last year for the Scots.

Expected to lead the backcourt will be 5-foot-9 senior Ashton Brown, who left Division II Texas A&M Kingsville last season despite being the leading scorer (14.3 ppg) for the 12-16 Javelinas. Brown hit 38% of his threes (43-for-113) and an amazing 96% of his free throws (124-for-129), which led all DII players last season. I couldn't find why Brown, a native of Randolph, NY, left Texas after one successful season, so I'm left scratching my head. Also helping will be G Chris Baker, 5-foot-10 transfer from DII Missouri Southern State. Baker, who did not play at MSSU last season, averaged 1.6 ppg in 7 games for the Lions in 2010-11, who finished 26-3. (Side note: Brown's bio and Baker's bio on the OVU site have room for improvement.)

Go Knights!