Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sickening Conclusion To A Special Season

Tim Rohrbach photo compliments of Gannon University
That's the best way I can sum up Gannon's 66-58 loss at top-seeded East Stroudsburg in the second round of the NCAA tournament. I debated saying "sad" instead of "sickening" and replacing "season" with "semester," but I think the current headline is most appropriate. "Sickening" appropriately describes not just the feelings of despondent Gannon fans but also the physical state of many Golden Knight players over the weekend. I've heard from multiple sources that a stomach flu or possibly food poisoning hit some members of the team, most notably C.J. Oldham. Add to that Adam Blazek's reported injury -- I've heard knee problem and hernia, but either way he was clearly not 100% -- and you can't help but shake your head over the timing of these maladies.

The reason I considered "semester" instead of "season" in the headline is that Gannon was ordinary in the first semester (just 6-7 and drawing the ire of many Gannon Hoops commenters) but brilliant in the second semester, posting an incredible 14-3 mark. But I think the first 13 games of the season are what truly made this campaign special. Winning 82% of your final 17 games is great, but doing that with the same roster after a sub-.500 start provided the context for a truly remarkable achievement.

I wish the season could have lasted a couple more weeks and ended only after a long run in the NCAAs, but that's just being greedy. Deep down, I'm thrilled that this team -- especially the seniors -- finished in their typical give-it-everything-you-got-then-give-a-little-more fashion. Think about the story C.J. Oldham can tell to prospective employers. First, he posted the highest grade point average among all student-athletes at the PSAC Final Four. Maybe more importantly, even when he was miles under the weather, he sacrificed himself, gave until it hurt, and willed his team to victory in their biggest game of the season. "I'll do the same for your team," he can tell the interviewer, who would have to be impressed.

I wrote Saturday about Jabs Newby and him persevering despite less playing time than he had been accustomed to. Roger Livramento and Brandon Emmitt can also for the rest of their lives tell the story about how they busted their tail for the good of the whole, performing their role to the best of their abilities whenever called upon. As I've said here before, that high-character behavior is more important than your winning percentage or assist-to-turnover ratio.

In the years these four seniors played at Gannon, did you ever see them saunter, mope, or not battle? Sure they made mistakes, but did you ever question their effort? I think that's a credit to those young men and the Gannon coaching staff who got the best out of this roster. If you don't believe me, watch the video of them taking the #2 team in the country to the wire despite illness and injury ... and some deplorable officiating. (Brief digression: East Stroudsburg's post defense was floptastic, often throwing themselves backwards when the Gannon big men made their moves. Late in the game, the GU post men froze when they got the ball on the block because the banging that had been allowed all year was suddenly an offensive foul. I rarely criticize officiating on this blog, but some of the calls Sunday were preposterous. Digression over.)

One of my proudest moments as a Gannon fan occurred just over 20 years ago -- March 11, 1994 -- when Bob Dukiet's Knights battled region #1 and nationally ranked California (Pa.) on the road in the NCAA tournament. Gannon was clearly out-talented but hung with the Vulcans for 39 minutes and 55 seconds. An off-balance, 16-foot bank shot by Cal in the closing seconds proved to be the difference in the 65-64 final score. I was so proud because that Gannon team worked incredibly hard all year, respected the game and every opponent, and more than fulfilled its potential.

I can say the same thing about this year's team. I was overjoyed when they fought past Charleston (W.V.) Saturday and filled with pride Sunday as I watched a patchwork lineup whittle a 19-point deficit to 5 in a hostile environment.

I'm disappointed with the loss, but I'm not sad. I'm appreciative of everyone in the program and thankful they gave us reason to be proud. This was a special season indeed.

60 comments:

  1. #2 West Liberty leads #3 IUP at the half, 32-29, IUP led for the first 19 minutes until committing some careless turnovers. The Hawks are really milking the clock on offense, basically holding the ball for 20+ seconds before starting to run anything.

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  2. IUP's Marcel Souberbielle hits a left corner three with two guys draped all over him with 3.4 seconds left to send the Indiana/West Liberty game into overtime, tied at 65.

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  3. Souberbielle does it again. He drains a contested left wing three with 24 seconds left in OT to send the game into a second overtime, 71-71. West Liberty made a 14-footer that was disallowed because it was released after the first OT buzzer.

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  4. Make it TRIPLE overtime for IUP and West Liberty, tied at 75. Both teams are running out of energy while their nervousness is increasing. IUP will play the third OT without Brandon Norfleet (18 points) who picked up his 5th foul in the closing moments of the second OT.

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  5. West Liberty finally wins. Gannon will start a little after 8:00 by my calculations.

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    1. IUP trailed by 7 in the 3rd OT, then rallied within two. They got a stop, committed a quick turnover, got another stop, then were fouled with 1 second left. The IUP player made the first then, after a WLU timeout, left the second free throw short. West Liberty escapes, 86-85, in 3 overtimes. It will be impossible for Gannon and Stroud to top that one.

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  6. Particularly against the No 1 seed on their home court and without Blazek(rumor is he hurt his knee on Saturday) and Oldham who is still sick and in fact was in the ER all day with an IV. Not a lot of hope. Let's see what happens. Gotta admire the players for trying.

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  7. Give the Knights credit ... Our Player of the Year possibly hobbled, our defensive player of the year sick, on the road against a 29-1 team, a game not called to our liking (our big guys back in, Stroud player crumples to the ground ... Charge), but they hung in there and made a game of it.

    What a fun ride it was! Always tough when it ends, but we did not expect it to end here early last January.

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  8. Great season. Heck of a turn around. Credit to Reilly for finally switching some things up with line up changes, added more defensive options, and grinding out Ws. If blazek and oldham are at 100% I think gu wins that game by 8 instead of losing by 8, even with the questionable officiating. Next years squad looks good and should set high goals for next season, such as hosting PSACs, and NCAAs. Depending on who comes back, the redshirts we have, and any transfers and new recruits GU could be very good next year.

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  9. Good comeback from a season that started very slow. I was just wondering do you think 38.5 minutes a game finally caught up with a player? I noticed the ESU did not have anyone averaging over 30 minutes a game.

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    1. Obviously a valid question when you go from playing 2 games a week to 2-3 games in a 4-5 day period. However, from what I've heard, the initial trauma to the knee was prior to the game on Saturday and was quite significant but he played through it.

      Another valid question could be about nerves... that was everyone of those players' first time playing in that kind of atmosphere and in that kind of a situation with everything on the line. Orchestrating a 15-3 run (or whatever it was) obviously takes nerves and the ability to play in different scenarios, however, is nowhere near the intensity of a National Tournament game. They had nothing to really lose when it came to the big turnaround. With the way they started, if their run would have fallen short and they may have missed PSAC's, or lost early or not made NCAA, then it would have matched the start of the season. But with the tremendous run, they almost put more pressure on themselves to keep it up and that is hard to keep up in that spotlight.

      Heck of a season and nothing to be ashamed of or even disappointed about. Obviously losing is hard and when a season ends it's even harder, but Gannon could not have done more than they did (besides running the table). They battled game in and game out, they hustled every minute, they dove after the loose balls, they banged the boards hard, they starting treating the ball like a baby rather than a bomb, coaches made changes that were clearly effective, players stepped up when they needed to and, most important of all, they played as a team the entire season. Never once did we see a player go on a tangent and try to be "the man" rather than use teammates and we never saw tantrums on the bench like we have in previous years. Well done fellas, Well done!

      Jabs, CJ, Brandon, Rogerio - thank you for a great two seasons as not only Golden Knights, but as Gannon University students and representatives. You not only wowed us on the court, but off the court (most notably CJ's Scholar Athlete Award), as well as in the community. Through adversity you helped keep this team on the right path and you all were involved with a season that was a national championship short of miraculous. You will be missed, but not forgotten. Best wishes in all of your future endeavors.

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  10. This team exceeded my expectations both in the second half vs East Stroudsburg and in the last 2 months of the season. Considering all the things that were going against them-Blazek limping, Oldham sick, Talley not there (anyone know what happened there?), and yes, the officiating (classic case of why getting the Regional at home is so important- #11 is a great player but was allowed to hand-check and reach all night, but if you put one hand on him, the whistle blew immediately, and let's not talk about under the hoop-resembled an Olympic diving competition at times), GU really sucked it up and put forth an incredible effort right until the end. Proud of the players and coaches as well.

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  11. Forgot to mention, while I agree that playing Blazek that much all season was unwise, his troubles on Sunday were unrelated to fatigue. He supposedly got cheap-shotted vs. Charleston and hurt his knee.

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  12. Thanks to all the Gannon players. You have brought me the joy I have in watching a team playing with heart and determination. Congratulation to all the Seniors. Keep believing.

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  13. How many Division II schools can boast of having both men's and women's teams reach the Regionals? Congratulations to both Knight squads and looking forward to more success next season!

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  14. Well, at least two others in our own region. West liberty and glenville st.

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    1. Charleston did as well. The Atlantic Region was an anomaly in that is had four teams make both the men's and women's tourneys.

      Of all nearly 300 Division II schools, 14 (by my count) had both men and women make the NCAA's and Gannon was one of them. Very impressive.

      And Gannon was one of only six schools to have both men and women make the second round. Others are Tarleton State, Central Missouri, Tampa, Cal St-Chico, and Drury. Drury is the only school to have both teams in the round of 16.

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    2. official count of schools that sent both mens and women's teams to the NCAAs this year.

      limestone
      st marys
      tarleton state
      texas a and m international
      midwestern state
      harding
      delta state
      st leo
      tampa
      indianapolis
      new haven
      bloomfield
      chico state
      cal poly pomona
      charleston
      gannon
      west liberty
      glenville state

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  15. Congratulations to the Edinboro women. They beat Bloomsburg 82-77 to win the Atlantic regional and advance to the Elite Eight. Hippo with 23, Majewski with 20 to lead the way.

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  16. Three others in: Bentley, Limestone and Nova Southeast.

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  17. Nice job by Boro. It seems like a different player leads them every game. They have a lot of weapons and will be a tough out in the Elite Eight, especially since it's 20 miles from their campus. They are fortunate to make the Elite Eight the year that Gannon is the host team.

    In our Elite 8 this year, we so far have Limestone (SC), Nova Southeastern (Fort Lauderdale, FL), Beneley (MA), and Boro. Drury (Missouri) is up big in their round of 16 game. Edinboro plays the winner of Cal Poly Pomona / Montana St.- Billings

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  18. My Golden89's best bet winner in the Elite 8 so far is Drury over currently-undefeated Bentley by at least 15.

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  19. Sorry for clogging up the board, but Jodi Kest's Akron Zips are the 13-seed in their first NCAA tournament. They play Purdue at 1:30 on Saturday (ESPN2) at Purdue. Will be a tough game for them, especially on Purdue's home court.

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  20. Further welcomes to Erie extended to West Texas A&M (Canyon, TX) and Concordia St-Paul (an 8-seed!).

    Distances to Erie Insurance Arena for Elite 8 teams:

    Limestone 616 miles, West Tex A&M 1,427, Concordia St-Paul 852, Nova-Southeastern 1,275, Edinboro 24, Bentley 335, Drury 868.

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  21. Elite Eight schedule, opening day....
    Noon- Limestone vs. West Texas A&M
    2:30- Concordia/St. Paul vs. Nova South East
    6:00- Edinboro vs. Cal Poly
    8:30- Bentley vs. Drury (perhaps game of the week, definite marquee matchup first day)
    Plan accordingly.

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  22. A fitting post above to the end of a really fulfilling season.

    As far as the final game: ESU is very very good, no doubt. Their guard, Whis Grant can play at a lot o D-1 schools and do very well. He can shoot the lungs out of the ball, he can create whenever he wants to, and he plays with supreme quiet confidence.

    He also pushes off most of the time when he has the ball in his hand. Very crafty. Create space by extending an elbow at precise moments when it can't be seen.

    The funny thing is : I watched the #1 team and although I was impressed, there exists a very fine line. What I'm saying is that our squad can compete with them, and did so. Our start was flat, and, it cost us. Playing catch-up to a team like ESU is very hard to do, and, our team accomplished that. ESU KNEW during the 2nd half that they were in a dogfight. If memory serves me correct, we were down by 5 two times in the game, with the ball, and had empty possessions. It happens.

    After watching this contest, I do not know the difference between a block, a charge, or a clear FLOP. I hope the video Jim provided above shows some of the flops. I was 15 feet from them. It seems laws of physics were re-written a couple of times.

    -----------------

    It's interesting to look back from the days of January and see all the posts. All well and good: Like I've stated, that is the beauty of a blog.

    All I'm wondering is that some posters were able to have it both ways: Post freely opinions at 6-7, then, go silent now that a successful season was completed........with a fantastic stretch run, a post- season NCAA bid, an NCAA WIN versus a very good team, and a loss in which the winning team was given a pretty stiff test to advance.

    This group took many punches this season, held strong, and played through to the end. I was within earshot of complete strangers in authority who complimented this team not only for their effort on the court, but, more importantly, their behavior off it.

    This entire group had "The Right Stuff".

    Hats off to them!!



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    1. I think the best quote to sum up this season...

      "Our system works."

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  23. Was it worth having Blazek play the most minutes in the PSAC only to have him limping down the stretch? If his injuries included hernia, that doesn't account for any alleged cheap shots to his knee. This isn't a case of bad timing but an unfortunately inevitable result of overplaying Blazek.
    Congratulations to the players for a great effort on the season

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    1. Where'd you get your kinesiology degree from? Inevitable? Meaning it was absolutely going to happen due to your diagnosis? Your use of the word "if" kind of takes some of the steam out of "inevitable".
      You may be absolutely correct, and as it is your opinion, totally entitled to it.

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    2. Gannon hadn't played in a week and had played just two games in 21 days leading up to the regional. The players, including Blazek were more game-rested than ever.

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  24. Overall the guys had a HECK of a season. After starting 6-7, they turned it around and they went out fighting in the NCAA's to a very good team. Nothing to be disappointed about.

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  25. Jeremy: I see you're back to trolling this site. Where have you been?

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  26. Stroud's dream season is over. West Liberty crashed their NCAA party tonight, 89-82. ESU missed a ton of four-footers down the stretch. It's WLU's fourth consecutive regional championship.

    Funny how match-ups work in post season play: Charleston beat West Liberty, Gannon beat Charleston, Stroud beat Gannon, then West Liberty beat Stroud.

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  27. Four Atlantic Regional championships for WLU's Jim Crutchfield.

    ZERO for all other Atlantic region coaches. All other Atlantic Region coaches are obviously incompetent, clueless, and cannot relate to the players. Some of them yell too much.

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  28. How about the West Liberty senior class? They made the Elite Eight in each of their four years of college hoops. Wow!

    Four #1 seeds make the Men's Elite 8. One eight-seed made the party (Tuskegee). Five #1 seeds made the women's Elite 8. The women's Elite 8 has two seven-seeds (Limestone, Concordia-St. Paul)

    Both Drury men and women were #1 seeds and both are in the Elite 8. Drury and WLU face off in the Elite 8.

    Not that I'm predicting it, but based on results and experience, Drury men and women have a realistic shot at winning both championships. Has that ever happened before?

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  29. Doesn't take a medical degree to know that overuse of a player is going to expose him to a much higher potential for wearing down his body.

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    1. from what I've heard, the initial problem was knee. Tweaked it in a practice and then got hit in a game and it further injured the knee and, because of the intensity of the hit, possibly may have done damage elsewhere in the body. He is the one who opted to play Sunday. It's not like he was begging not to play and forced to play... he said he was playing.

      Also, note that before he got hit in Saturday's game he didn't do much up to that point anyways. So obviously something was wrong beforehand. He made 1 FG in 2 games and totaled 6 points?

      This has nothing to do with overuse... he got hurt. It's something that can happen to any athlete, even someone who never touches the court.

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    2. Agreed. It was inevitable that your previous post would cause some raised eyebrows. Always enjoy the give-and-take.

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  30. Ex-Gannon Assistant Coach John Ruby and his wife, Lynne attended Saturday's game, and, were impressed with the total Gannon effort!

    By the way, he is still in the coaching ranks (along with teaching 11th grade history): He is an Assistant Coach for Class AAA #3 ranked Susquehanna Township.........still alive in the PIAA playoffs, reaching the finals with a win last evening over Central Valley, 42-31.

    In typical "Rubes" fashion, he simply stated that his team is "pretty good"!!

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  31. MERCER 78

    DUKE 71

    Well, we know for sure some folks who might know how to create a "Fire Coach K" website, right???

    Congrats to the Mercer Bears!!!

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    1. As well as Thad Matta and Cronin from cincy.

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  32. But a degree in kinesiology would lead you to different results regarding overuse.
    By that logic KD and Melo should be injured far more frequently...
    They lead NBA in mpg...
    Injuries happen, ask Westbrook - if he was struggling to move his feet on "D", or off on his shot, then he could have 'tired' legs. A contact knee injury is an ACCIDENT, his ligaments wouldn't have magically stretched if he hadn't been playing as much.

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  33. Women's Elite 8 starts at noon tomorrow! Should be a long, but exciting day!

    My picks:

    Quarterfinals:

    West Texas A&M over Limestone
    Nova Southeastern over Concordia-St. Paul
    Edinboro over CP-Pomona
    Drury over Bentley

    Semifinals:

    West Texas A&M over Nova Southeastern
    Drury over Edinboro

    Finals:

    Drury over West Texas A&M

    The only sure-fire pick is that it's going to be an incredibly great event. I was at the ERIE-na today and everything is set up. Even though the arena was empty, you could sense the excitement and anticipation. The Gannon staff is going a great job preparing. You can see how much they care that this goes off without a hitch.

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  34. One thing that I also always do before a local team is in the Elite 8 is to log the records of past coaches in the national quarterfinals and beyond (at least since the 1980's).

    Men's: Gannon is still the only men's team to make the NCAA quarterfinals. Edinboro has yet to win a regional. Mercyhurst has yet to make the NCAA tournament in men's basketball.

    Tom Chapman: 2-2
    Bob Dukiet: 0-1
    John Reilly: 0-1

    Women: All three local schools have made at least one Elite 8:

    Cleve Wright: 1-2
    Stan Swank: 0-1
    Jim Webb: 0-1

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  35. Golden: While you are at it, and, I know you have done this before, but can you please post Gannon coaches' NCAA tourney records??

    Thanks!

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  36. Cal poly ransacks Edinboro in a brutal showing and Bentley outlasts Drury to demolish the repeat. As of now id pick Bentley all the way.

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  37. Edinboro got absolutely destroyed. They had no answer or Jada Blackwell -- 35 points and nine rebounds. She is big and athletic.

    After going 18/26 in two games against Gannon, Edinboro hit their first three three-pointers and proceeded to go 1/15 the rest of the way. If Boro can't hit their threes, they are in big trouble.

    I'm picking West Texas A&M and CP-Pomona. I have no idea how Bentley will stop Blackwell.

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    1. I agree Blackwell is a force, but I think Bentley has the better all-around team and if they can make it a close game, the "hack-a-Shaq" theory could benefit Bentley.

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    2. Anyone who was at the quarterfinals: How do you think that Gannon would have fared against the seven non-PSAC teams yesterday? My thoughts:

      Gannon is big underdog: WT A&M, CP-Pomona. Way too many weapons on both of these teams. Pomona seemed to always make the correct decisions. Jada is big, athletic, and a very smart player.
      Gannon is slight underdog: Bentley. Still not 100% sold on Bentley. Gannon would match up well, but Bentley is too balanced, and seems to make good decisions every time.
      Even game: Nova SE, Drury. I may upgrade Nova SE after tonight. It seems like they did not play as well as they could have. They also made a ton of mental errors. Not sure about Drury. Their 6-7 player (Amber Dvorak) averages 17 points per game and 19 minutes per game, but she was atrocious last night.
      Gannon slight favorite: Concordia-St Paul. They had 14 blocks against Nova SE. But they are vey slow and plodding. Our shooters would get open and Nettie and Theis would give them problems.
      Gannon heavy favorite: Limestone. For cryin' out loud, how the heck did they make the Elite 8? Limestone would be about the 5th or 6th best team in the PSAC. Gannon, Boro, Bloomsburg are clearly superior, and I think that Cal is also better. They would be ranked with teams like IUP or West Chester. Maybe it was their opponent, but Limestone looked clearly outclassed by all seven other teams there.

      One of the coolest things about the quarterfinals was how different each team was. The contrast in styles of play was extremely fun to watch. One of my favorite things about basketball is the fact that there are many ways to play the game and be successful. Nowhere was that evident more than at Erie Insurance Arena on Tuesday.

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    3. Given that Gannon along with the 7 non-PSAC teams play their 'A' game, my "lines" would be:

      vs. Limestone: GU -15
      vs. Concordia-St. Paul: GU -10
      vs. Nova Southeastern: GU -5
      vs. Drury: GU -1
      vs. Cal Poly Pomona: GU +3
      vs. Bentley: GU +8
      vs. West Texas A&M: GU +10

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    4. After watching tonight's performances, I would have to say that I agree with those picks. Maybe the C-StPaul game would be a little closer and I would still list us as a heaver underdog against CP-Pomona. Bentley did a great job containing Blackwell. She had 22 points, but six of them on threes (she can do it all). She did not dominate the inside game.

      Nova SE is fast, but they turn the ball over. Their point guard, who leads the nation in assists had her second 7-turnover game in Erie. She averages about four turnovers a game, too many for a point guard.

      Should be a great game, but I give WT A&M the edge. Bentley may pull off a 2007 Patriots ... win them all and lose in the finals.

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    5. Perfection is the hardest thing to complete!

      I agree GU vs. Concordia-St. Paul would probably be a little closer, but I still think Gannon would just barely be an underdog to Cal Poly Pomona. As good as Blackwell is, and as versatile, it appears to me that if she doesn't dominate inside... the opponent's chances of winning go up tremendously. And with Gannon being a pretty solid inside defensive team, I think they would throw Blackwell off her game and be in it the whole way.

      I honestly have no thought as to who I'd pick in the game if it came to betting, however, based on experience alone... I'd give it to Bentley. They are very well-rounded, fundamentally sound and the program itself seems to always be competing for a National Championship. Other than that, I think it'll be a good game either way.

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  38. Best moment of the tournament was at the end of the second game.

    The kids who the teams visited yesterday were at the game today to form a cheering section for their respective team. After winning game 2 today, Nova Southeastern went up into the stands to thank the kids who were cheering for them. Classy move.

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  39. I was just checking the DII men's basketball Elite 8 scores on the link below, and saw that page also had links to the just-announced DII All-American teams. I thought, "I wonder if any Gannon opponents made it," then clicked on the NABC All-American link. I almost fell off my chair when I saw the first name on the list: Adam Blazek, Gannon, 6-1, Junior, Guard, Erie, Pa.

    Only 16 players made the NABC team, 12 of them seniors. Blazek was one of just 4 juniors named NABC All-Americans. What a great honor for him -- well deserved and certainly earned through hard work!

    http://campus.mst.edu/athleticarchives/hoops/d2basketball/d2hoops.html

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  40. After trailing at halftime 36-34, West Liberty erupted for 51 second half points and eliminated defending DII national champ Drury, 85-75. WLU advances to the Final Four.

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  41. A few more fun notes:

    This is Bentley's (and coach Barbara Stevens') 13th appearance at the Elite 8. They have never won the championship and have reached the finals only once (in 1990).

    Barbara Stevens is all time winningest coach in Division II (915 wins). Only five D-I coaches have 900 wins.

    Bentley is trying to become only the second undefeated team to win it all in women's Division II (North Dakota State, 1995).

    This is West Texas A&M's first appearance in the championship game. Their coach is in his first season at WT A&M.

    This is the fifth appearance in the final game for the Northeast (or East) region in the past nine years. I can't quite tell which teams were in the South Central region, but they have at most two appearances in the last nine years.

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  42. Atlantic Region champion West Liberty will play for the national championship on Saturday. WLU nipped South Carolina-Aiken Thursday night, 86-83. Keep in mind that the last team the Hilltoppers lost to was Charleston (WV), and days later Gannon beat UC.

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  43. who do they play in the final?

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  44. They will play Central Missouri State, the team the knocked Gannon out of the Elite 8 back in 2009. The Mules shocked national #1 Metro State Thursday night. This URL will give you all the info you want/need on DII hoops:

    http://campus.mst.edu/athleticsarchives/hoops/d2basketball/d2hoops.html

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