Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Knights Winless Versus PSAC's Best

I received an email from a Gannon fan earlier today that basically said, "What is Gannon's best win? What have we done against the 'elite' teams in the PSAC?" I was hoping to email that fan back tonight and say something snarky like, "I'd say this Slippery Rock victory is pretty darn impressive. How about you?" Instead, the Knights got handled by the Rock, 69-56. Even more surprising than the final was Gannon being outrebounded, 39-26.

I'm not going to say anything more about this disheartening loss. I'll just expand on the emailer's point and look ahead at the rest of the season. Considering Ws and Ls (not scoring margin), Gannon has no great wins and no bad losses this season. Click here to look at the schedule and tell me the best team the Knights have defeated. Millersville (14-6)? Daemen (22-5 NAIA)? Edinboro (13-6)? Virginia State (9-9)? GU's four losses are to PSAC East leader East Stroudsburg (16-2), East #2 West Chester (14-5), West leader IUP (16-2), and West #2 Slippery Rock (14-4). Nothing to be ashamed of there, but the best you can say is, "We're number three! In our conference. Well, one division of our conference ... that only had two teams in the NCAAs last year ... who both got drubbed in the first round."

If 16-4 Gannon holds to form the rest of the regular season by beating the also-rans (Lock Haven twice, vs. Clarion, @ Cal, @ Mercyhurst, and vs. Edinboro) and falling again to the better teams (at IUP and vs. Slippery Rock), they'll enter the league playoffs 22-6 and earn the #3 seed in the West. They'd have to win two PSAC tourney games -- one at home vs. a mediocre #6 West seed then one at a neutral court against either IUP or Slippery Rock -- to get to 24-7, which still might not get them into the NCAAs because of their strength of schedule. And that PSAC second-round win would be their first of the season against an upper echelon Division II team.

There's a ton of conjecture in that last paragraph, but it does make clear that to enjoy March Madness to any extent, Gannon has to hold serve against lesser teams; and stealing a win vs. IUP or Slippery Rock would be a gigantic boost. If the Knights misstep at any point in February, I think they'll have to win the league tournament to earn an NCAA bid.

I'm sure all this is the furthest thing from John Reilly's mind right now. He's still smarting over tonight's humbling road loss, giving up 69 points, and getting outrebounded by 13.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blazek's Binge Boosts GU Into Second Place

For fans of a Division II club like Gannon, road games like Saturday's 65-53 win at Clarion are strange to stay in touch with because you can't stay glued to the TV for every play. There's the radio broadcast and live stats, but you get pulled away from them by real life. Around 9:00 p.m. when I went upstairs to tuck my daughter into bed, the Knights were clinging to a three-point lead, 42-39, with just under 8 minutes to play. By the time I came downstairs to my tablet and refreshed the live stats, the Knights were in command by 10, 55-45, with just over 4 minutes to play and coasted the rest of the way to the 12-point victory.

While I was saying "good night" to my daughter, Adam Blazek was saying "lights out" to the Golden Eagles. The super sophomore keyed Gannon's streak that broke the game open. Blazek had a hand (pun intended) in all of Gannon's 13 points during that stretch: 
7:52 Blazek field goal, GU 44-39
7:25 Blazek layup and free throw, GU 47-39
6:07 Macias three off a Blazek assist (after a Clarion three), GU 50-42
5:34 Blazek three, GU 53-42
4:19 Blazek layup (after a Clarion three), GU 55-45

Over 32 minutes into the game, Blazek had posted a pedestrian 4 points. But during that 3 1/2 minute blitz, he accounted for 10 points and the Knights sealed their 12th win in 13 games, their 7th win in 8 road contests.

With a record of 16-3 overall and 10-3 in the PSAC, Gannon is guaranteed to post its best record in four seasons -- 14-12 (12-10) last year, 15-11 (6-8) in 2010-11, and 13-15 (8-6) in 2009-10. Would you have predicted that before the season? Would you have picked an .842 winning percentage after Blazek broke his hand in December?

Gannon's victory sets up the PSAC Game of the Week Wednesday night at Slippery Rock. Both teams are tied for second place in the West with 10-3 marks after SRU stumbled this afternoon at Edinboro, 62-59. The Rock is reeling after blowing a 54-43 lead late at the Boro despite EUP missing big man Bryan Theriot once again. The Knights were nearly in a three-way tie for first after this evening's PSAC action. Indiana held on for a 57-54 home win vs. Mercyhurst, nearly losing an 18-point second half lead to the Lakers.

The line between the men and the boys in the conference is becoming clearer. IUP, Gannon, and Slippery Rock rule the West. Edinboro and Mercyhurst, each 7-6, are three games behind third place while also-rans Cal (6-7), Clarion (3-10) and Lock Haven (3-10) will fight for the final playoff spot. In the East, Stroud (12-1) West Chester (10-3), and Millersville (9-4) are feasting. Cheyney is three games back at 6-7, but the Wolves are ineligible for the league playoffs due to a self-imposed probation. So three of these pathetic teams will make the PSAC playoffs: Bloomsburg (3-10), Mansfield (3-10), Kutztown (2-11), and Shippensburg (2-11).

Final note: If you haven't seen this video featuring Darrell Blanton's dunks from this season, check it out right now. He's a rare combination of intense, athletic, and consistent in his performances. And it's just plain fun to watch someone nearly break the rim off the backboard.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Board Out Of Their Minds

With rivalry games, everyone says, "You can throw the records out." But for tonight's Gannon/Mercyhurst game you may need to throw in the record book. The Knights thoroughly dominated the glass on their way to a 56-42 thrashing of the Lakers. The final rebounding margin was 34-11, but the first half rebounding stats are among the most incredible I've ever seen.

Gannon 20, Mercyhurst 3

How many times have we seen a team gather three rebounds on one 30-second possession? Mercyhurst couldn't do that tonight over the span of 20 minutes. I looked up online "fewest rebounds in one half" for a college basketball game and couldn't find anything. But we know the Lakers were no more than three rebounds away from the futility record.

Here are some other ridiculous rebounding numbers:
* For the game, Darrell Blanton had as many offensive rebounds (3) as the entire Mercyhurst roster.
* Tanner Furno played only 11 minutes but had just one fewer offensive board (2) than the Lakers.
* Gannon shot 49% for the game (20-for-41), a perfect 11-for-11 from the line, and totalled 13 offensive rebounds. Mercyhurst registered only 8 defensive rebounds. So when Gannon attempted a shot, 84.6% of the time something good happened. It either went in or the Knights secured the rebound.

We won't see numbers like that again any time soon, but I'm sure we'll see more of this stifling defense from a team that's looking more impressive every outing.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Good To Great

I think it was Bill Parcells who said, "You are what your record says you are." Well Gannon is now a stellar 14-3 after pummeling California (Pa.) this afternoon, 82-59, so that must mean our Knights are pretty darn good. What enhances that record is how GU is winning games as of late. These aren't squeakers:
* vs. Cal, 82-59
* at Edinboro, 86-63
* at Cheyney, 85-70
* vs. Mansfield, 88-64
* vs. Bloomsburg, 81-55

If you didn't know anything about a team, saw on the stat sheet they've won 14 of 17 games with the last several in convincing fashion, you'd think they were a juggernaut. That seems to be what John Reilly has constructed this year. Still not convinced? Here are some more stats Gannon SID Dan Teliski dug up on the Knights:
* Gannon has shot 50% or better during the second half in six consecutive games, including a second-half chart over 60% during four of those six contests. Gannon shot 64.7% during the second half vs. Cal, hitting 11-of-17 shots.
* Overall, the PSAC's top shooting team has shot over 50% for the entire game during 5 of its last 6 contests. The Knights entered the week as the 13th-best shooting team in NCAA Division II.
* The Golden Knights have out-rebounded 10 consecutive opponents, including seven of those by double digits. Gannon crushed Cal on the glass, 43-25. 

I said last post don't get too high because the PSAC can bring you back down to earth next game. But marvel for a minute (or two) this stretch which we haven't seen in a few years. And then say a prayer that it continues Wednesday vs. Mercyhurst.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Torrence-ial Downpour

Prior to Wednesday’s Gannon/Edinboro game, much of the attention was focused on one big man, 6-foot-9, 300-pound Bryan Theriot. After the game, an 86-63 Gannon runaway, the big man buzz was all about Golden Knight Algeron Torrence. In just 18 minutes off the bench, Torrence scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and a 6-of-6 chart from the foul line. His three blocked shots not only thwarted Edinboro scoring threats, they provided momentum which sparked the Knights emotionally.

Compare that stat line with Torrence’s production in his three previous games combined: 2 points in 17 minutes. How much time do you think Edinboro coach Greg Walcavich talked to his team about Torrence in his pregame scouting report? I’m guessing basically zilch, which was completely reasonable. Then the kid goes out and dominates your team from multiple angles, showcasing abilities Gannon season ticket holders hadn’t seen until Wednesday.

When Torrence began his scoring blitz in the first half, I joked with my brother that the junior has one move. Catch the ball on the block, try to back down the defender (and hopefully not travel), fake to the right, spin back to your left (and hopefully not travel), explode to the basket, and bank in a short shot. Turns out the joke was on me because Torrence showed in the second half he could score in transition, above the rim, on the offensive glass, with a reverse layup in traffic, and from the foul line.

I don’t want to overstate the significance of this victory over a depleted Edinboro team, but as a Gannon fan you had to walk out of McComb Fieldhouse thinking the Knights are significantly stronger than what we’ve seen to date. Not only is Torrence now a legitimate threat off the bench but Adam Blazek, despite playing basically with one-and-a-half hands, looked stellar despite missing nine games.

Let’s not get too high on this win. As we’ve seen in the PSAC, your next game is the only thing that matters.

Knight Knotes:

* I’ve whined repeatedly on this website about TMT (Too Many Turnovers), so it seems only right that I heap praise on the Knights when they handle the ball well. GU committed only 8 turnovers vs. the Scots, fueling the 86-point output.

* If you had asked me before I looked at the box score how many points Darrell Blanton scored, I’d have said maybe 8. That may be the quietest 18-point, 8-for-10 performance I’ve seen.

* If Blanton was quiet, Scot guard Isaiah Price was loud, attempting 18 field goals (making 8) to get his 17 points. When Gannon opened its lead in the second half, Prince initiated Operation Chuck It, shooting the ball nearly every time he touched it. On many of those possessions, he didn’t even consider passing, either quickly launching a shot or immediately dribbling around the court before forcing an off-balance attempt.

* I can’t believe how well Blazek played with that contraption on his right hand. It clearly affected his ballhandling and passing, but his shooting – 15 points, 5-of-12 from the field, 3-of-6 on threes – was on target. I’d like to reaffirm my belief he should come off the bench for the forseeable future because of the mid-game spark he provides.

* With Torrence and Blazek going off, C.J. Oldham (19 minutes) and Oscar Macias (20 minutes) had their playing time reduced. But instead of sulking, the pair was cheering for their teammates during Gannon’s thundershower of second half point.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Knights Burned Playing With TMT

You knew this was going to happen sooner or later. During its 7-game win streak, Gannon was careless with the basketball but hot shooting, intense defense, and rugged rebounding overcame that glaring weakness of Too Many Turovers (TMT). But those strengths weren't enough Saturday night as Gannon lost a big lead before falling at West Chester, 66-64.

It's difficult to definitively say why a team lost a game when you didn't see one second of the action, but look at the game's stats and you tell me if you think turnovers made the difference:
* 2-point FG: Gannon 48.9%, West Chester 45.5%
* 3-point FG: Gannon 46.2%, West Chester 30%
* Free throws: Gannon 14-of-23, West Chester 13-of-19
* Rebounds: Gannon 38, West Chester 24
* Turnovers: Gannon 25, West Chester 13
* Field goal attempts: West Chester 55, Gannon 45

Basketball is complex, but if you consistently give the other team more field goal attempts than you -- the Rams shot 22% more FGs than Gannon -- prepare to hang your head after the game. 

The thing about turnovers is there's no known cure. If you stink at shooting, you spend more time in the gym putting up shots. If your defense is terrible, you give the scout team the ball for all of a two-hour practice and then coach up the D. But turnovers?

The best way I know to get better is to make valuing the basketball part of every conversation, drill, scrimmage, and game. During my playing days, Bob Dukiet brought a $100 bill to one of our practices and asked, "How tight would you hold onto this if I gave it to you? Treat the basketball like a $100 bill." The rest of the practice, and for several future practices, Duke would say after every turnover, "Juan, you just lost $100 ... Todd, you just gave away your $100."

I hope John Reilly has some effective words of wisdom for his team regarding turnovers. Or we'll be talking about TMT after a close loss again very soon.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Knights Winning, Skepticism Fading

I'm usually an optimist about Gannon basketball, but I've been more of a glass-half-empty guy this year, mainly because of the last few seasons' stumbles. But after Gannon's 85-70 manhandling of Cheyney today -- moving the Knights to 12-2 on the season -- I'm starting to believe this team isn't just beating up on a subpar PSAC East. After all, Cheyney  may only be 3-5 in the conference, but two of their wins were in West gyms (at Edinboro and at Clarion) with the third at home vs. West favorite Indiana.

What also has me increasing my confidence in this Gannon team is their consistency. They outrebound everybody (30-26 vs. the Wolves) and harass every opponent into a low shooting percentage (CU was a dreadful 6-for-28 in the first half, 41% for the game) while getting their own good looks. The Knights shot 63% today on the road after scorching the nets at the Hammermill last week vs. Mansfield (58%) and Bloomsburg (59%). The previous weekend Gannon made 46% of its field goals at Shippensburg and 50% at Millersville. GU is 4-0 on the road this year and, in case you lost count, has now won 7 straight.

Another fan confidence-builder is looking at the PSAC standings in mid-January and seeing Gannon sitting on top of the West. Stroud won at Slippery Rock tonight, 84-72, handing the Rock its second league loss. IUP and Gannon are also 6-2, the Crimson Hawks dominating at Ship tonight, 72-48.

Saturday night should be a dandy. West Chester moved to 6-2 in the league as well with a 68-66 win over Mercyhurst. The Rams won it when Troy Hockaday ruined Gary Manchel's day with a layup as time expired. Let's hope that's the only game West Chester smiles about this weekend.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

If You Like The Blog, You'll Love The Book

The roles I've played at the Hammermill Center over the past three decades have included player, benchwarmer, practice player, benchwarmer, broadcaster, benchwarmer, statistician, benchwarmer, and fan. On Feb. 16, I'll add two more titles: author and cancer fundraiser. I'll be part of Pink Zone 2013, the cancer fundraiser coordinated each year by the Gannon women's basketball team. I will sign copies of my book Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer with $5 from each sale being donated to the American Cancer Society.

Here's some background on the book: When I was a young manager, I thought I understood the importance of hiring top-notch people. Then, at age 32, I got cancer. Being forced to step away from my co-workers for an extended period of time (with one of the options being stepping away forever) made me realize that the people you hire truly make or break your business. In Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer, you’ll read short, easy-to-digest chapters filled with detailed examples and time-tested best practices that you can implement immediately at your organization. The lessons I learned when cancer knocked me down helped build me up as a hiring manager, and I apply those lessons aggressively every time I interview a potential employee.

I'm looking forward to the book signing and the games. Go Knights!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wilson ... Wilson ... Wilson!

No, the headline isn't intended to quote Tom Hanks from the movie Castaway. It's what I believe Mansfield head coach Rich Miller muttered to himself the whole bus ride home after Gannon junior Robert Wilson torched the Mounties for 29 points as the Knights cruised to an 88-64 victory Saturday night. Just under 15 minutes into the game, here's how the stat lines looked:
* Mansfield: 12 points, 4-for-30 FG
* Wilson: 14 points, 5-for-5 FG

In the first half, when Gannon raced to a 46-28 lead, Wilson tallied 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting including a 4-for-6 chart on threes and 3-for-3 from the foul line. Wilson went off in part because Mansfield doubled-down on the Gannon post players early and often. The result was often turnovers (GU had 24 for the game, 14 in the first half) but when the Knights did move the ball, it resulted in open perimeter looks.

Gannon, now 11-2 overall and 5-2 in the PSAC, can be scary good at times, especially when Wilson and Oscar Macias (14 points, 5-of-8 FG) are on target. They will get their looks if opponents keep doubling Darrell Blanton on the blocks. And if clubs let Blanton go one-on-one, expect him to have some monster nights to go along with his monster dunks.

In the first semester games, Wilson appeared to be pressing, trying too hard to play well. That can work on defense, but players can't be uptight when they have the ball. Against Mansfield, Wilson was a cool customer. For example, he allowed himself to get frustrated for just a split-second after a hard Mountie foul, but quickly gathered his composure then walked down the floor to hit his free throws. He's influencing his teammates as well. T.J. Wilson tried arguing a second-half foul call against him, but Robert Wilson pushed him away from the official, told his teammate to calm down with a slap on the shoulder, then beckoned the Knights to huddle up. John Reilly loves that stuff, and so should all Gannon fans.

The Achilles' heel for this Gannon team appears to be playing with TMT: Too Many Turnovers. The Knights are averaging a staggering 18.7 per game, and that's before they've faced the heart of their PSAC West schedule. At 11-2, you'd think Gannon would be thumping opponents in every statistical category. That's the case for shooting percentage (49.6% vs. 36.7%), three-point percentage (35.3% vs. 30.0%), free throw percentage (74.8% vs. 64.9%), rebounds (38.2 rpg vs. 28.5 rpg), assists (189 vs. 146), blocks (40 vs. 31), steals (99 vs. 85), and of course points (70.9 ppg vs.56.9 ppg). However, GU has committed 243 turnovers while opponents -- despite an aggressive Gannon defense -- have committed only 212.

Knight Knotes:
* Wilson isn't the only Knight who's playing more relaxed. Jabs Newby was brilliant this weekend with 11 assists vs. Bloomsburg and 10 points and 8 assists against Mansfield. In the first semester games, Newby was content to "not screw up." He'd bring the ball over the timeline, throw it to the wing, and then move the ball side-to-side. Against the Mounties he not only moved the ball well, he made some spectacular moves to the basket and finished them strong. His fake behind-the-back pass before finishing with a right hand layup in the first half thrilled the GU faithful.

* I felt bad for Mountie coach Miller, and not just because after every road game he has to go back to Mansfield. It was obvious he stressed doubling Blanton in shootaround, the morning walkthrough, and in his pregame chat. Then on Gannon's first two possessions, Blanton scores on the left block then with a half-hook on the right block. Miller quickly called a 30-second timeout and reminded his team what they heck they were supposed to be doing.

* The Knights' next three contests are on the road (1/11 at Cheyney, 1/12 at West Chester, 1/16 at Edinboro). One stat I'll be interested to see after the next home game (1/19 vs. Cal) is attendance. The last four games at the Hammermill have drawn fewer than 1,000 fans. When's the last time GU attendance registered only three digits for four consecutive games?

* Something to ponder this week: Whenever Adam Blazek returns to action from his broken hand, how about Gannon uses him in a Jose Davis super-sub role? Davis was a hotshot guard for Edinboro in the late 80s and did all his damage off the bench. If the Scots started fast, Davis came into the game to make them even better. And if the Boro struggled, Davis would pop off the bench and give his club a spark. I think Blazek could handle this role, and him being a super-sub wouldn't hurt the confidence of any current starter.

(Robert Wilson photo courtesy Gannon University and Joe Mattis.)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Gannon 81, Bloomsburg 55

Due to an illness in my family, I was unable to attend Gannon's convincing 81-55 victory over Bloomsburg tonight, so your comments will have to carry the day. It is nice to be halfway to 20 wins on January 4th.