Saturday, March 29, 2014

The World Is Flat

That's my conclusion upon the conclusion of the Division II men's basketball season. Central Missouri rallied past Atlantic Region champ West Liberty this afternoon, 84-77, in the DII championship game which was televised live on CBS. After watching tons of Gannon games this year plus several Atlantic Region NCAA tournament contests and many minutes of the Elite 8, I can say that the distance between teams like our Golden Knights and best in Division II is slim. Very slim.

Not only do I think my claim passes the eyeball test but I think the stats also back up my assertion. I know comparative scores can be misleading, but when you stack these four data points together, there's a trend that's hard to deny:
1. WLU vs. the World: West Liberty was victorious in its first two Elite 8 games and very well could have won today's championship tilt had they not misfired on some key threes in the closing minutes. That would prove the Atlantic is a strong region, competitive with Division II's best teams.
2. GU/UC/WLU: On March 9, Charleston (W.V) defeated West Liberty 63-60 in the Mountain East championship on a neutral floor. Six days later, also on a neutral floor, Charleston lost to Gannon, 66-64. And it wasn't like either team played out of its minds to win those games.
3. WLU's Closest Call: Until their loss in the finals, West Liberty's toughest test of the NCAAs was an epic 86-85 triple overtime loss to Indiana (Pa.). IUP missed a free throw to extend the game to a fourth OT, so flip a coin who is the better team.
4. GU > IUP: When comparing Gannon and IUP, you can keep the quarter in your pocket. The Knights were 2-0 against the Crimson Hawks this season and looked better for the vast majority of the 85 minutes those two clubs tangled this year. IUP finished with a better record, but in February and March, Gannon was the better team.

I'm not saying Gannon is the best team in the country, but they are less than a full step behind the elite. I recall past seasons watching the DII finals and thinking, "Sheesh! Gannon couldn't compete with those guys. They're too quick. They fly all over the place. We'd get killed." That thought never crossed my mind today. In fact, as the teams exchanged easy baskets at times, I'd say to myself, "A John Reilly team would never give up that play. Go over the screen or hedge on it! Put a body on somebody!"

Does it seem to you that the Knights are one player -- just one player -- away from having a great chance to play on national TV a year from now? The Knights should have four starters returning (guards Adam Blazek and Girbran Smith, forwards A'Darius Porter and Raphell Thomas-Edwards), Matthew Dogan a year older and wiser, plus proven Division II performer Rich Austin eligible and in the rotation.

If even just one of Gannon's redshirt guards proves to be a solid ballhandler/defender and the Knights can sign an immediate impact juco or Division I transfer small forward, they'd have to be preseason PSAC West favorites and top 3 in the region behind annual power West Liberty and East Stroudsburg, who was loaded with underclassmen this year. To bring this post full circle, we saw today that if you're among the best in the Atlantic, you're among the best in the nation.

UPDATED 4/1/14: A co-worker of mine shared this photo of his son with Adam Blazek Friday night at the Erie Insurance Arena. Gannon's men's and women's teams hosted a youth basketball clinic in conjunction with the Women's Elite 8 that evening. I'm really proud of this Gannon team not just for how they perform on the floor, but also for actions like this. Blazek is an All-American, but he's not "too good" to teach kids -- in this instance the son of a Slippery Rock grad no less -- the finer points of basketball.

9 comments:

  1. Shippensburg beat California PA who beat Gannon who beat Charleston who beat West Liberty. So is Shippensburg, despite a 3-23 record, just a step away from being an elite team?

    I saw the championship game too and didn't think Gannon would beat either West Liberty or Central Missouri. Not that Gannon would get embarrassed but they wouldn't win. My other impression is that Gannon is miles behind these teams offensively. In this day and age no team is going to the elite eight by winning 52-48 ballgames. Just ask Syracuse and Pitt how that worked for them in DI.

    Gannon needs to recruiter just one player. All he has to be is better than Blazek. Then Gannon would have two All-Americans. And then we'll talk national championships.

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  2. I'd easily put my money on Gannon over West Liberty. With Gannon's stifling defense and power on the boards mixed with the way WLU likes to fire shots early in the count... I'd even give WLU probably 4-5 points to start with. West Liberty did not impress me at all in any of the NCAA tourney games I saw (and I think I saw all but one of their games). Central Missouri could've and probably should've beat them by about 15+ if they wouldn't have gotten so sloppy in the final 8 mins. Additionally, WLU has no "big" guy. They have tall guys but they're all essentially oversized shooting guards. CJ, RTE, Rog, Porter - WLU would've had nothing on them inside. I think only way WLU would have beat Gannon is if they nailed 20+ threes. It's great to have 7 guys averaging 10+ ppg but not when only 2 of them hustle, have good ball handling skills and essentially none of them play anything close to defense.

    Now, Gannon vs. central MO... All the way Central MO. They are a fundamentally sound team with a bunch of athletic, solid players (offensive and defensive). I'd predict something like 68-56 CM over GU.

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  3. Jim, don't tell any of the Riley haters as this directly goes against their agenda but 13 of the 16 players on Central Missouri's roster, the 2014 Division II NCAA champion, are transfers. And they only have 3 freshmen. Compared to Gannon's 5 freshmen and 9 transfers.

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    Replies
    1. And those that attended the women's Elite 8 saw their fair share of D-I transfers. You saw players from marquee schools such as Arizona, Minnesota, NC State, St. John's, etc. And there were plenty more from smaller programs, including two for Boro -- Youngstown State (Jackson) and Buffalo (Majewski).

      Eventual champ Bentley didn't have any D-I transfers that I can remember, but most other schools did.

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  4. In order to win the national championship, a team has to be good enough to win six games in a row against increasingly difficult quality competition. A team has to be able to win against various styles.

    Was the 2013-14 Gannon team good enough to win six games in a row against increasing difficult quality competition? No. Was this team good enough to have a chance against any Divison II team it could have played against? Yes. We haven't been able to make that statement since 2009.

    And sometimes you need some breaks. Had Livingstone's attempt at the buzzer against Stroud gone in, Gannon would have likely gotten to face WLU in the regional final, a game that GU would not have been favored, but a more winnable game for the Knights compared to playing Stroud on their home court. And had the Charleston women's team made their final shot against Boro, we would have seen GU vs. Bloom in the regional final and GU would have been favored to advance to their own Elite 8.

    So to advance in the NCAA tournament, you clearly have to be good enough, but at times, some luck comes into play as well.

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  5. Former Duke PG Steve Wojciechowski was named Marquette's head men's basketball coach. Wojo was always one of my favorites because of his intensity and his love for the game. It's really odd to now see his name on the list of all-time Marquette head coaches along with Bob Dukiet.

    Al McGuire 1964-77
    Hank Raymonds 1977-83
    Rick Majerus 1983-86
    Bob Dukiet 1986-89
    Kevin O'Neill 1989-94
    Mike Deane 1994-99
    Tom Crean 1999-08
    Buzz Williams 2008-14
    Steve Wojciechowski 2014-

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  6. Thanks for Gannon Hoops follower JRD for the heads up on this:

    Hiram Names Chris Kibler Next Head Men's Basketball Coach

    HIRAM, OHIO -- The Hiram College Athletic Department has appointed Chris Kibler as the next Head Men's Basketball Coach. Kibler replaces Steve Fleming (Hiram '94) after eight seasons at the helm.

    Kibler returns to Hiram having spent three years as an assistant coach with the Terrier program (2010-13). He spent the 2013-14 season as an assistant coach at NCAA Division II University of Charleston (W.Va.) and helped the Golden Eagles claim the inaugural Mount East Tournament Championship and make a third appearance in nine seasons in the NCAA D-II National Tournament after posting a 21-9 overall record. In his previous stint at Hiram, Kibler was part of a coaching staff that led the Terriers to two appearances in the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament.

    "I am excited to be here and for this opportunity to lead this program as well as being a part of this community," said Kibler. "I'm excited about building on the good work Steve did for his alma mater. I'd also like to thank my wife, Carey, and my entire family for their support."

    Prior to joining the Hiram coaching staff in 2010 as an assistant, Kibler spent a year at Lakeland Community College. He has also had coaching experience at Baldwin Wallace University for eight seasons (1996-98, 2003-09) and also spent five years at NCAA Division II Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania prior to his tenure at BW.

    A 1994 graduate of BW who earned his master's degree in Sports Administration at Kent State University in 1998, Coach Kibler helped BW to a 123-69 record, including four Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament titles and three NCAA Division III Tournament appearances, in addition to helping coach Gannon to a 107-37 record during his five years and four straight NCAA Division II Tournament appearances.

    In addition to coaching at B-W and Gannon, Kibler served as an assistant coach at Centenary College in Hackettstown, New Jersey during the 1996-97 season. That season, he helped lead the Cyclones to a 16-9 record and the school's only NCAA affiliated post-season appearance. Coach Kibler also served as the Assistant Athletic Director.

    "Becoming a head coach has been a childhood dream of mine," added Kibler. "It's not a job, it's a lifestyle and I couldn't have gotten to this point without the help of former and current head coaches who I have worked with in the my career including Jerry Slocum at Youngstown State, Terry Bowe at Lakeland Community College, Dwaine Osborne at the University of Charleston (W.Va.), most notably, my mentor, Steve Bankson at Baldwin Wallace and of course, Coach Fleming."

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  7. http://www.gannonsports.com/news/2014/4/10/MBB_0410140507.aspx

    Congratulations to Jen Papich and Adam Blazek for their being named to the PSAC Top 10, which recognizes success in both the classroom and on the court.

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  8. A longtime Gannon fan shared news about this women's basketball signing with me, so I wanted to share it with you. This is from the Youngstown Vindicator:

    Six Mahoning Valley high school athletes inked national letters-of-intent on Wednesday for college scholarships. Signing were McKenna Shives of Struthers (basketball), ...

    Shives, a four-year letterwinner who helped lead the Wildcats to a 19-6 record, played on teams that compiled a 77-22 record. A part of three sectional and district championship squads, she will attend Gannon University in the fall but is undecided on a major. A three-time league first-team pick, Shives finished with 1,148 career points.

    “It wasn’t until our district game with Streetsboro that Gannon came into the recruiting picture,” Shives said. “I was considering Baldwin-Wallace, Mount Union and Alderson-Broaddus College. “When I took my visit, I was impressed with the coaching staff and really loved the location of the campus.”

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