Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Regionally Relevant

Gannon PG Jabs Newby
Photo courtesy Gannon University and Joe Mattis
The first official rankings for the Atlantic Region won't be released until much later this season, so we're left to our own devices to determine who's in the running for an NCAA bid. Good news for Gannon fans; the Knights have one of the best winning percentages in the region.

1. West Liberty (WVIAC) 10-0, 4-0 1.000
2. IUP (PSAC) 8-1, 3-1 .889
3. Livingstone (CIAA) 7-1, 0-0 .875
4. Gannon (PSAC) 9-2, 3-2 .818
5. Winston-Salem (CIAA) 8-2, 0-0 .800
6. East Stroudsburg (PSAC) 7-2, 4-1 .778
6. Lincoln (CIAA) 7-2, 0-0 .778
6. Charleston (WVIAC) 7-2, 3-2 .778
9. St. Augustine (CIAA) 7-3, 0-0 .700

Not far behind this pack is a half dozen 6-2 squads: Edinboro and Slippery Rock of the PSAC and Alderson-Broaddus, Shepherd, Pitt-Johnstown, and Concord of the WVIAC. Of course all this will be changed by the evening of Jan. 5 after all these teams will have played at least two more games. The Knights could creep closer to the top at 11-2 or crash back to earth at 9-4 (and just 3-4 in the PSAC).

To give some perspective how few losses a team can suffer and still make the NCAAs, look at last year's Atlantic Regional field. Wheeling Jesuit was the non-conference tournament winner with the most losses (21-9) followed closely by West Va. Wesleyan and Winston-Salem (each 21-8). Maybe the bogey is higher for PSAC schools, because IUP was 23-5 but was seeded #7.

Regardless, I'm just happy we can have this conversation and Gannon still be in the mix in the New Year. The Knights were 7-4 at this juncture in 2011-12 when they ended 14-12 and 8-3 in 2010-11 before sliding to a final record of 15-11. In 2009-10, when GU finished a woeful 13-15, the team was 5-6 through 11 games.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Joy To The World, The Knights Have Won!

Gannon's sweep of their two-game PSAC road swing, capped by Wednesday's 66-58 win at Shippensburg has really put me in the Christmas spirit. Click here for an audio link (you'll adore the accompanying photos, too), crank up the volume on your computer, and sing along.

It will be a Merry Christmas,
It will be a Merry Christmas,
It will be a Merry Christmas,
Gannon is 9 and 2!

Good defense we bring and pull out a win,
We will take the PSAC West and the NCAAs!

Now three cheers for Darrell Blanton
Now three cheers for Robert Wilson
Now three cheers for Adam Blazek
oh that's right he's hurt.

We like Emmitt -- his three-pointers
C.J. slashing team turnovers
Macias defensive rover
and a guy named Jabs.

We best make the PSAC playoffs
Or Knight fans will be all ticked off
We hate hearing Coach Manchel scoff
so beat Mercyhurst.

Happy Holidays to all Gannon Hoops fans. Thanks for making 2012 so entertaining, and here's looking forward to an even better 2013!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Millers-villians

Some quick thoughts after Gannon stole a huge 69-52 win at Millersville Tuesday night (quick because the Knights turn around and play at Shippensburg Wednesday):

* Remember how in the Dragnet movie Tom Hanks would exclaim, "Thank God it's Friday!" I'm sure John Reilly was saying at halftime yesterday, "Thank God we have Oscar!" Macias was perfect in the first half -- 5-for-5 from the field including a trio of threes plus a pair of free throws -- and the Knights needed every one of his 15 points because they trailed the Marauders by one at the half, 27-26. If Macias hadn't been hot, the Knights would have been in a huge hole.

* Optimist's reaction to the win: Wow! We ended Millersville's seven-game win streak, and did it in their own building. This is a win you can really build on! Pessimist: Millersville wasn't that good, and even though the Knights are winning games, they're going on break and we'll lose all this momentum. And did you see the PSAC standings? We're still tied for last place in the West because everybody and their grandmother is 2-2, including Lock Haven. You tell me our program and all its resources is on the same level as Lock Haven? And while I'm asking questions, why do so many people have all those stupid lights on their houses this time of year?

* Many Gannon fans, myself included, have seen Jabs Newby's incredible athleticism on tape and were wondering when he was going to maximize his athletic abilities on offense. Maybe we don't have to wonder anymore. Newby erupted in the second half for 14 points in 18 second half minutes at the 'Ville after a scoreless first period. Newby attempted 10 field goals (making 5), by far a season high.

* In case you haven't seen the Gannon/Millersville box score, former Knight Brandon Belt led Millersville in scoring with 11 points. He was 4-of-8 from the field with a pair of three pointers in 28 minutes. The Marauders other starting guards, Larry Grant and Anthony Coleman, were harassed in to a combined 4-for-23 shooting performance.

* I felt confident at halftime even though Gannon trailed 27-26. Darrell Blanton was just 1-for-8 from the field and I figured that couldn't repeat itself over the final 20 minutes. Blanton finished 4-of-14 from the field for 13 points. (Note: I tried coming up with a Jammermill-like nickname for Millersville's Pucillo Gymnasium but couldn't.)

* Speaking of 13, Robert Wilson grabbed that many rebounds Tuesday night. Plus he was 3-of-4 from the field, a perfect 3-for-3 at the foul line, and handed out a team-high four assists. Gannon's 40-30 advantage in rebounds was key to Gannon's win; Millersville had been dominating their opponents on the boards heading into the game.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Knights Win Tourney In "Uncomfortable" Fashion ... Again

I know I wrote just a few weeks ago that Gannon won the Gary Miller Classic because their defense made Daemen uncomfortable in a 65-46 victory. The Knights took it a step further in the Porreco Cup title game. Virginia State was downright distressed as GU suffocated them 67-42. As Golden 89 mentions in the comments below, the 42 points ties a 45-year old Porreco Cup/Gem City Bowl record for fewest points allowed. In the first half, Gannon allowed just 13 points; the Trojans didn't score their first field goal until 4:30 into the game and didn't hit double figures until 18:34 in.

Those stats are impressive, but they still don't do justice to just how flustered Gannon made Virginia State. Let me add some details that I observed sitting behind the Trojan bench:
1. During pre-game and early game timeouts, head coach Darryl Jacobs controlled the entire conversation. Halfway through the first period, two coaches and a reserve player desperately pleaded with the five on the floor to make something happen on offense.
2. On back-to-back possessions late in the first half, State rushed down the floor hoping to catch the Knights off guard before setting their defense. Instead, an alley-oop pass was thrown so high even a Bud Light Daredevil couldn't snag it and the ball sailed way out of bounds. The next pass, down the left sideline, skipped into the concession stand.
3. Even when a State player dunked to make the score 34-13, only 4 players on the Trojan bench could muster the energy to applaud.

The defense was as good as ever, but the most improved aspect of the Knights' game was their offense. Cup MVP Darrell Blanton was Superman Friday vs. Notre Dame (Oh.) with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and several resounding dunks, but his passing out of double-teams really opened up things Saturday. Blanton had only 12 points but a team-high 4 assists, leading to an 18-point outing for Oscar Macias and a 14-point night for all-tourney member Robert Wilson.

Speaking of Wilson, when the Knights are back in town after the new year, watch him hold his position on the defensive boards -- especially if you're a youth basketball coach. Wilson's form is textbook, and it's matched by his desire to secure the rebound. The junior transfer from Urbana didn't shoot lights out for the tournament (8-for-22), but he deserved to be on the all-tourney team for his box outs alone.

Speaking of the all-tourney team, I came across a comment on the Gannon Athletics Facebook page related to that topic. Here's what some guy named David Sheridan wrote: "I don't know who the idiots are that voted for the all-tourney team, but voting two players on from the 3rd place team was just plain stupid. Oscar had a great game tonight and deserved to be on the all-tourney team. Give me a call, and I'll be happy to vote and clue the rest in about how it should be done."

I agree with David that Macias was outstanding Saturday and deserved all-tourney consideration. But to call the all-tourney selection crew "idiots" and using the word "stupid" is completely uncalled for. But since David brought it up, let's do a blind statistical comparison between Macias and all-tournament selections Noah Cottrill and Kelsey Williams of third place West Virginia Wesleyan:

vs. Notre Dame (Oh.)
PLAYER A: 34 min, 26 pts, 10 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk, 1 TO, 11-of-15 FG, 1-of-1 3FG, 3-of-4 FT
PLAYER B: 31 min, 8 pts, 3 reb, 0 ast, 0 stl, 0 blk, 5 TO, 1-of-4 FG, 0-of-3 3FG, 6-of-6 FT
PLAYER C: 32 min, 31 pts, 9 reb, 3 ast, 0 stl, 0 blk, 2 TO, 10-of-14 FG, 8-of-10 3FG, 3-of-3 FT

vs. Virginia State
PLAYER A: 37 min, 20 pts, 10 reb, 1 ast, 0 stl, 3 blk, 5 TO, 8-of-13 FG, 4-for-7 FT
PLAYER B: 39 min, 18 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl, 2 blk, 1 TO, 5-of-10 FG, 4-of-8 3FG, 4-of-4 FT
PLAYER C: 40 min, 16 pts, 4 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk, 5 TO, 5-of-13 FG, 5-of-11 3FG, 1-of-2 FT

So, without applying any bias, which two would you put on the Porreco Cup all-tournament team? If you chose the guy with 46 points and two double-doubles (Player A - Williams) and the guy with 47 points and Porreco Cup record tying 13 three-pointers (Player C- Cottrill), then David Sheridan thinks you're a stupid idiot!

Macias was outstanding -- he's playing his best ball ever in a Gannon uniform -- but you can't deny the Wesleyan duo deserved trophies for their tremendous performances. If you disagree, then I think you're ... entitled to your opinion.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Furn-tastic!

I had the honor of working as the radio play-by-play man for Gannon's 81-66 win over Notre Dame (Oh.) in the opening round of the 2012 Porreco Cup. I pride myself on being prepared -- some would say overprepared -- for each broadcast. For example, did you know that that Notre Dame reserve forward Kalomo Figueroa-Jackson attended Africentric Early College in Columbus, and their team nickname is the Nubians, a people of Sudan? And did you know the best-known Nubian is the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat?

I had all that info in my game notes, but here's the only data I had on Gannon senior forward Tanner Furno: "Ankle surgery -- out until January." Furno proceeded to thrill the Knight faithful not just because he suited up, but because he looked smooth scoring 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field and a perfect 5-for-5 chart from the free throw line. Radio color man Jim LeCorchick and I suspected that since the Porreco Cup was moved up to mid-December, Furno coordinated his rehab with the GU schedule and arrived early as well.

As great as Furno and soon-to-be Porreco all-tourney team member Darrell Blanton (26 points, 12 rebounds, several Jammermill moments) were, there were some low points for Gannon. Coming off finals week, the Knights trailed 36-34 at halftime. During the break, which is the only time the play-by-play guy gets to think during the game, I started contemplating the fallout if GU lost to the sub-.500 Falcons. The 594 fans in attendance might have thrown their popcorn and dentures on the court (unless they were already celebrating Prep's state championship victory).

Instead, the Knights erupted for 47 second-half points while stifling Notre Dame for the first 12 minutes of the second stanza. If Gannon can stay healthy, keep Blanton out of foul trouble, cut down on their turnovers (20 vs. NDC), and make some threes (just 1-for-12 Friday), expect the Knights to raise some hardware tonight.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bump In The Road or Here We Go Again?

I'm not quite sure how to feel after Gannon's 72-65 loss to IUP Saturday afternoon. Option A: Feel good that the Knights competed with the #22 team in the country despite not having injured Adam Blazek, arguably their best all-around player. Option B: Feel like a two-game home losing streak is the beginning of another right-around-.500 season.

The season certainly isn't lost, even though the Knights sit at 1-2 in the PSAC West, tied for last place with doormats Lock Haven and Clarion. The remaining four games on the 2012 Gannon schedule are all winnable even with Blazek sidelined: Notre Dame of Ohio (2-5), Virginia State (2-3) or West Virginia Wesleyan (4-2), at Millersville (3-0, 7-2 but with losses to teams Gannon has beaten), and at Shippensburg (0-3, 2-5). So GU could be 9-2 heading into the long Christmas break. 

Who wouldn't want an .818 winning percentage after 11 games? Maybe the answer to that question is longtime Gannon fans. The vibe I'm getting from the folks who still attend games (more on that next paragraph) is that they are starving for a 20-win season, not a fourth consecutive campaign with double-digit losses. The Knights are just 46-40 over the last three-plus seasons, winning just 10 of their last 19 games at the Hammermill. Gannon fans are used to two home losses in a season, not in the span of one week.

I think longtime fans are also down more than they should be because the atmosphere at the games has declined as well. Only about 1,000 fans attend each game, and they sit scattered throughout the Audi. It's a myth that every regular season Gannon game was sold out during the Chapman years, but more often than not you had to tuck your winter coat under your legs because most of the bleacher seats around you were taken. I used to feel sorry for the Metro League players and fans who played in a gym with the bleachers 75% empty. Now I'm feeling sorry for myself.

Let's hope the Knights can sweep the rest of 2012 and beat some quality teams in January. That's my wish not just because I want the team to do well. I'd also like the Knights to bring the Hammermill back to life.

Other thoughts after the IUP/Gannon game:
* What could give Gannon fans hope for a better tomorrow is that Robert Wilson -- who torched the Knights during his days at Urbana -- hasn't hit his offensive stride yet.Wilson is just 4-for-17 on threes this year and looked visibly frustrated/disgusted/angry Saturday afternoon. The Knights will need Wilson more than ever with Blazek on the sidelines for an expected 4-6 weeks.

* You have to tip your fedora to Indiana coach Joe Lombardi who has turned the Crimson Hawks into a perennial national contender. Organization is a big part of that. For the game, he had a team manager sit directly behind him with a dry erase board. Each full time out, the manager's job was to move the coach's chair to the center of the huddle and hand him the dry erase board. A second manager tended to the needs of the players, who sat in order on the IUP bench.

* IUP's Blake Vedder was listed at 7-foot-3 in the program and that was no exaggeration. He stood head, shoulders, and armpits above everyone else on the court. Vedder's appearance brought up the name of another 7-foot-3 Gannon opponent, St. Michael's Michel Bonebo. Bonebo and guard George Daway make the Purple Knights a force in the MECC in the mid-1980s. They still rank as two of my favorite Golden Knight opponents.

* Members of Oscar Macias' family attended the Gannon/East Stroudsburg game and unfortunately saw him go scoreless against the Warriors. Imagine his phone call home to them after his 17-point outing (15 in the first half) against IUP. They'd either beam with pride or call him a fibber. It was fun to see Macais play with so much confidence and energy against the Crimson Hawks.

* On a couple possessions vs. IUP, Gannon didn't play man defense. I don't think I've seen John Reilly do that in several seasons. One possession appeared to be a standard 1-2-2 while another possession appeared to be an "upside-down" 1-3-1 with Darrell Blanton at the top and diminutive Brandon Emmitt under the basket. The Knights also ran a couple new offensive sets, showing that Reilly is willing to tweak his standard game plan. I know the anti-Reilly faction who follows this site will say, "Yeah, but they still lost," but you have to understand that losing doesn't mean you did everything wrong and winning doesn't mean you did everything right.

* Despite Gannon's loss to IUP, longtime GU supporter Chuck Campagne had a great week. Not only was he named a Gannon Athletics Hall of Famer, he won Saturday's Gannon Booster Club 50/50. I saw Chuck bring his winning ticket over the to scorer's table and tell the booster who tried award him the prize, "Keep it." Well played, Mr. Campagne.

* I'm not hopeful for a large crowd at Friday's Porreco Cup opener vs. Notre Dame (Oh.) because the game will go head-to-head with Prep in the AAA state championship game. What could draw people to the game is that I'll be doing the game on the radio, so regular Gannon hoops listeners may head to the Hammermill just to avoid listening to me.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

News Flash: You Can't Win If You Don't Score

It doesn't take a John Wooden or a Dean Smith to figure out that a sputtering Gannon offense cost the Knights today against East Stroudsburg, 52-46. I'm not going to overreact and crush the team or the coaching staff, and I'm not going to press the panic button even though PSAC West favorite (and defensive dynamo) IUP is Gannon's next opponent. The Knights simply need to get better offensively. I don't know what the answer is -- I haven't seen the team for one minute in practice -- but here's what I'm guessing the coaching staff has to choose from:

1. Add some wrinkles to the new offense. A half dozen games into the season, the Knights have averaged only 67 ppg primarily because their half court game takes time off the clock and produces too many turnovers (just under 20 a game). Think about it: if the guy dribbling across midcourt quickly puts up a shot, your chance of a turnover is basically non-existent, but your shooting percentage will be pathetic. The Knights, who are hitting 48.5% of their field goal attempts, need to find a happy medium between quick shots and too many passes. All five players on the floor need to look to make a play at times instead of just looking for another player on the perimeter to pass to. The coaching staff could help by adding in a few quick hitters while the new motion offense gets up to speed. I think I still have Tom Chapman's playbook somewhere in my basement ...

2. Gain offensive confidence. In the four games I've seen this year, Adam Blazek, Darrell Blanton, and Alvin Tucker look like the only three Knights who are confident they'll make a positive play when they have the ball. The other players frequently look side-to-side or seem to be just "running the offense" instead of executing the offense while looking for or creating cracks in the defense. An example is Gannon's point guards. Jabs Newby is strong and quick and I think could wreak havoc one-on-one. But from what I've seen he hasn't penetrated quite as often as he could, and when he has he's looking pass first. I'm not saying he has to be All-American Javar Cheatham and finish in the paint, but Newby could channel his inner Camara Mintz to muscle inside and get to the foul line more often (only 14 times in 155 minutes of action). Backup PG Brandon Emmitt has a great-looking perimeter shot, but it seems like he uses it only as a last resort. He's attempted only 8 three-pointers this year (making 4), an average of 1.5 per game. Last year at Erie Community College, Emmitt averaged about 5 three attempts a game. I'm not saying Emmitt should engage in Operation Chuck It and shoot at will, but I'd rather see him shoot an open 20-footer early in the shot clock than some of the attempts Gannon was forced to take today.

3. Develop the bench. Today was a glaring example of the bench not putting enough points on the board. In 51 combined minutes, GU's subs tallied only 7 points (Tucker 4, Emmitt 3). Against Kutztown they contributed only 9. This lack of production is partially a byproduct of little playing time for the reserves, but they could still contribute more when they're on the floor.

The upside to this problem is that it's early. There's tons of time to start running the new offense better, to gain confidence that you can play on this level, and for individuals to improve their skills. Lots of teams are dreadful on offense this time of year -- just ask Georgetown and Tennessee, who played an ug-ug-ug-ugly 37-36 game last week. Fans need to be patient with this team. And this team, who is brilliant defensively, now needs to make strides on offense.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Now That Kutztown Is Out Of The Way ...

I'm glad Gannon wasn't looking past Kutztown today, because I was. The Golden Knights pounced on the now 1-5 Golden Bears at the outset and never looked back on their way to a 67-56 victory at the Hammermill. This sets up the first real test of the season: 4-1 East Stroudsburg, the 2012 PSAC playoff champs and NCAA qualifier plus this year's PSAC East favorite, at undefeated Gannon (5-0). Stroud handled host Mercyhurst today, 67-62.

Should the Knights win, they will take control of the PSAC West because -- make sure you're sitting down -- league favorite IUP fell today at Cheyney, 64-60. The Wolves were picked dead last in the eight-team PSAC East, but are now tied for first at 1-0.

I'm too distracted about Sunday's showdown to assemble a cohesive article on today's win, so I'll just offer some random thoughts and observations:

* Gannon won today's game in the first five minutes, racing out an 11-point lead (the final margin) by causing 7 Kutztown turnovers. Oscar Macias, Adam Blazek, and Robert Wilson all hit threes during the game-opening spree.

* If the Knights had lost today's game, the headline to this article could have been "(Free) Throwing It All Away." Gannon ended the game 12-for-24 at the charity stripe, but only because of a late-game free throw hot streak by Darrell Blanton. The two teams combined for a dismal 3-for-11 chart in the first half, GU 2-for-7 and KU 1-for-4.

* Wow -- I still can't believe IUP lost to stinking Cheyney. That leaves only two perfect teams in the PSAC, and both of them are from Erie County. Edinboro moved to 4-0 today with a 66-65 win at Mansfield. Scot Bryan Theriot hit a hook shot with 10 seconds on the clock for the EUP victory.

* Kutztown wasn't bad, but they had no answer for Blanton. The senior carried Gannon with 27 points and 8 rebounds on 10-of-12 shooting from the field. And I thought the Gannon guards still could have done a better job of feeding Blanton in the post.

* In back-to-back games like this weekend, many coaches choose to stretch their bench in the opening contest. Not John Reilly. Four Knights logged 30 minutes or more (Blanton 33, Blazek 32, Wilson 31, and Macias 30) while former starter Roger Livramento and fellow big man Algeron Torrence each played just four minutes.

* I've heard and seen a lot when I sit behind the opponent's bench, but I experienced two firsts today. During an early timeout, Kutztown point guard Micah Fraction asked me for a towel. He must have known how good I was at that when I suited up for the Knights. At the start of the second half, longtime Golden Bear coach Bernie Driscoll turned around while taking off his sportcoat, made eye contact with me, and offered me a stick of gum. I said no; he was in a much more stressful situation than I was. I'll bring my own gum Sunday, Gannon's biggest game of the early season.