Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Midmajor Coaches Perspective of Non Conference Road Games 12-30-2006

BYU takes on Seton Hall at the Marriott Center. The game is intriguing because Seton Hall has come all the way from New Jersey to play in the BYU Holiday Classic. How they ended up here is a mystery too me. The Marriott Center is only fractionally full and I land a seat about ten rows up next to Liberty Flames coach Randy Dunton whose team has just lost three straight games in the Holiday tournament. Needless to say he's not happy with the results. Having just lost to both BYU and Seton Hall I quickly ask him "who is going to win this game?"

"You kidding me? It's eight on five. BYU," he responds. I am not so certain as we both know Seton Hall has one of the top rated freshman in the country in point guard Eugene Harvey. He thinks I'm a BYU fan, but I correct him and say I'm just a basketball fan. He can tell as I actually know a few things about his Big South Conference and about schools other than BYU. I like Seton Halls quickness. Brown vs. Board of Eduction may have been decided decades ago, but it hasn't drifted to these two ecumenical schools. BYU has 10 white kids and two black kids while Seton Hall has 11 black kids and 1 white kid.

Seton Hall opens up an eight point lead and extends it to double digits in the second half. I tell Coach Dunton I think Seton Hall has better players and thats going to determine the game. He chuckles, and continues, "not in the Marriot Center they don't." His comments are mostly based on personal experience and he knows that with three Mountain West Conference officials doing this game BYU could pretty much beat anybody. I'm still skeptical, but as the one time coach of the year in the Big South Conference points out BYU is in the bonus less than five minutes into the second half. "That'll negate that quickness factor," he says.

We agree that Seton Hall is probably 20 points better than BYU on a neutral floor and I hold my belief that they will even be better tonight in Provo.

At the 12 minute time out in the second half Seton Hall has an 8 point lead. Coach Dunton announces during the time out that at the next time out (8 minute mark) BYU will be leading. The claim seems a little much and I'm skeptical.

At the eight minute time out the score is tied!

"Why does Seton Hall take a road game in Provo with Mountain West officials anyway?" I ask the head coach of the Flames.

"Simple, they get three games that count only as one on their schedule and with a new coach, they probably didn't have a schedule in place so they just needed games." Dunton replies.

Jerry Falwell could not have been more prophetic on his own evangelical network on this night. BYU cruises down the stretch to a 78-67 victory.

Tuesday I go back to the mortgage business, Coach Dunton has Florida next week. "We need the money." he says. So do I.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Albany Wins - Makes 0 Free Throws

Nonconference preseason games are often one sided affairs featuring a team from an obscure unknown conference against a home team padding it's early season record on it's quest for 20 wins. The officials are usually selected by the home team and often call the game accordingly. Utah's game against Albany was likely meant to be this sort of affair.

True, Albany won the American East Conference a year ago and did have preseason American East Conference player of the year in Jamar Wilson. A year ago the Great Danes played Connecticutt to a virtual standstill for 30 minutes of their first round NCAA tournament game. Against Utah, Albany took it a step further while staring straight in the face of difficult road officiating.

I left the floor, rising into the air, into the light and smoke, into the history of that night, into the death of time and the last game I would ever play. I rose up into the happiest, most glorious moment of my life, to take the shot I had awaited since I was a boy of ten. . . The VMI forward lunged wildly toward me, but I moved my left shoulder between him and the ball, braced myself for his impact, and spun the ball softly, gently against the backboard. I did not see the ball go into the basket, but I did not need to...

Going to the foul line, I lifted both arms to the crowd and the noise carried me again, entered each cell of my dazzled, inflamed consciousness, and I let it take me, seduce me . . . .I wanted my life to freeze at that exact moment, with my arms raised, the crowd on its feet, those thousands of human voices screaming out my name. The referees handed me the ball and I shot my free throw, watched the net shiver with the ball's entry. . . Pat Conroy.

Like Conroy's fictional win and shot by Will McLean against Virginia Military Institute in The Lords of Discipline, Albany won by one point only they did it without making a free throw or having the home crowd carry them. No, not just not making a free throw at the end of the game like Will McLean, but without making a free throw the entire game! The e-mail has already gone off to Ken Pomeroy to see if this has ever happened.

Certainly, in the modern game with huge contracts for coaches home nonconference games are the closest thing to "rigged" games as exist in sport and in beating Utah on Thursday, Albany overcame not only Stephen Weigh's 22 points and Utah's 16 made free throws of their own, they also overcame the home officiating that makes winning as a midmajor on the road so incredibly difficult. The final Albany 59 Utah 58.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

$7.00 Well Spent

Utah Valley State College, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, The New Jersey Institute of Technology, Longwood University, Chicago State University, Indiana Univerity-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Savannah State, Texas Pan American, UC Davis, and Winston Salem all have something in common with Army, William & Mary, The Citadel, Northwestern and St. Francis of New York. Whatis that? Since 1948 (largely considered the time the NCAA tournament passed up the NIT tournament as the most prestigious tournament) none of these schools has ever been to the NCAA tournament.

Utah Valley State College has only been a four year insitution for five years, that's the same amount of time that it's division I basketball program has existed. They don't have a conference affiliation, they don't have a big time booster club and like the other 12 schools on the first list play as an independent at the division I level. It is the equivalent of being a "walk on" in the division I world.

"'Walk-on' - this still remains the proudest word I can apply to myself. Walk-on--there are resolve and backbone in that noun." Pat Conroy on being a "walk-on." There is no automatic bid the NCAA tournament, Utah Valley has no hope at post season glory. The biggest game of their season is on December 9th at home against in state brethren Utah State. The word "rival" doesn't apply to this game, UVSC is a walk-on, you don't have rivals as a walk-on. What UVSC does have is a beautiful on campus arena that seats eight thousand people in Orem, Utah. It's almost as if the basketball program came before the University itself.

UVSC's coach - Dick Hunsaker, spends most of the game two to six feet out on the court, prodding his team. The David O. McKay Center is probably eighty percent full (half with Utah State fans) and everyone in the building knows a win in this game will legitimize UVSC's "walk on" status.

In the first half, Hunsaker's squad milks the shot clock down to below ten seconds on virtually every possession and Utah State's star, Jaycee Carroll, picks up two questionable first half fouls. He spends most of the half on the bench and is limited to six points by good UVSC defense and the fouls. At the half UVSC leads by a point 27-26 - Hunsaker's slowdown approach and home officiating is paying dividends. The crowd senses their legitimizing win is a possibility.

Incredibly, no one in the crowd gets up to go anywhere at half time. I am baffled by this. Until the "Grandma drill team" is introduced. In a creative marketing effort UVSC has comprised a drill team of 100 grandma's with over 1000 children and grandchildren to perform at halftime. The crowd's largest cheers of the entire evening (including during the game) are reserved for a 90 year old grandma - Jane Petty - who finishes the show with a Roquette style leg kick and two sets of splits and midcourt! It's easily the most anticipated event of the evening and the crowd goes bananas.

The second half tries to follow this act with the mid-majors 9th leading scorer finding ways to get to the basket. Carroll hits three straight runners and Utah State opens up a seven point lead. Hunsaker continues prodding his team and working the officials.

"If you do not think that contempt of home crowds does not file down the rough edges of a referee's psyche, then you know little of the game of basketball." Pat Conroy on home officiating. Carroll picks up a ticky tack 4th foul with just over five minutes left in the game and he is forced to the bench. Utah State has ten team fouls while UVSC has only four. UVSC gets a huge three point basket from Richard Troyer and it closes the gap to 64-63. It's as intense a basketball game as will happen at this point in the season. UVSC is trying to take their spot as a legitimate Division I team in Utah.

With under thirty seconds remaining and only four seconds on the shot clock everyone in the McKay Center is expecting Carroll who in spite of the foul trouble, now has 18 points on 9 of 12 shooting, to take one last big shot. Everyone, but Durrall Peterson, who for the second consecutive game (he previously hit a game winner against Utah on Wednesday night) hits a three pointer from the corner to put the Aggies up 67-63.

It is still not enough! David Heck answers for UVSC with a two pointer of his own. With under twenty seconds remaining UVSC is forced to foul, incredibly, UVSC still doesn't have seven team fouls and they are forced to waste time to get to seven. The seventh foul is committed against Peterson who goes to the line and sinks both free throws and UVSC's chance at legitimizing it's program.

Amazingly, the price of admission for all this - $7.00.