April 1, 2019
Here is part of what I wrote at the start of the Hofstra Men’s 2018-19 basketball season. “The 10/28 Newsday headlines blared away ‘HOFSTRA TARGETS NCAA: WRIGHT-FOREMAN KEY TO MAKING MARCH MADNESS.’ I disagree. Wright-Foreman and defense will send Hofstra to the Promised Land. The backcourt, led by superstar all-American candidate JWF, may be able to carry the club and overcome any deficiencies upfront…and this will be determined as the season goes forward.”
Well, what about the players this year? Superman (Justin Wright-Foreman) emerged as a star. My discussions with 7 NBA scouts suggest that he has a 25% chance of making it. His major drawback: physical size and body strength. I like his chances for two reason: backcourt drafts are preferred and JWF has continued to improve with each season. The rest of the team? Buie and Ray also continued to improve and Coburn was the most pleasant of all surprises. To top it all off, Taylor, the center transfer from Purdue, improved significantly as the season progressed; he proved a more than adequate replacement for Rokas with his shot blocking and stellar defensive play, as well as his ability to make layups and foul shots. The team appeared unbeatable midway through the season.
And, what about the team’s performance this year? I’ll make this short. The club had what I would consider a turn-around year. They won the CAA Championship but failed to win the tournament, losing to Northeastern in the finals following a lackluster performance in their previous 5 CAA games. They closed the season out with a loss to a quality opponent in the first round of the NIT…an ultra-solid game in which they played great and could have won with a couple of breaks.
It is fair to conclude that the personnel was there for the team to go further. Here’s my analysis of reasons on why they didn’t.
- How many teams that made the Sweet 16 played zone defense? If you answered hardly any, you’d be right. And, there is a reason why the better teams do NOT play zone defense. Over the years, only Syracuse’s zone has withstood the test of time, but they too have fallen by the wayside in recent years as more well-coached teams have figured out how to destroy this defense. Hofstra, once again, committed to a zone defense this season and that, more than anything else, lead to their limited success. Case in point: During the CAA championship game between Hofstra and Northeastern, Mary (my wife) kept questioning why Northeastern was getting so many easy open shots while Hofstra struggled to get a good shot. I explained what happens when a team plays zone defense. Accept it – nothing can replace the intensity of an in-your-face man-to-man defense. NOTHING!!!
- I keep repeating this after each season. You are inviting trouble when you commit to a 7-man rotation, with 5 players rotating around 4 positions. A successful team needs season-tested layers not only when players are in foul trouble but also at tournament time when confronting either a 3-game/3-day or 4-game/4-day schedule.
- Coach Mikalich and his staff have done a superb job in recruiting — when it comes to offensive players. But defense is as important as offense, right? All coaches agree with this irrefutable statement, but few do anything about it. Bottom line: Recruit for defense as well as offense.
- The object every season for any club in a mid-major conference is to win their tournament, NOT their conference. Iona College, with essentially mediocre seasons, has won the MAAC tournament the last 4 years in a row. Does Tim Cluess know something that other coaches don’t know? I believe he has figured out that the corrupt NCAA has stacked the deck against mid-major teams, and the only way to survive and prosper is to win their tournament. Bottom line: Play to win the tournament, NOT conference games during the season. How does a team do this? I discussed this very topic in the 2nd edition of my “Basketball Coaching 101” book.
I also noted earlier that this might be a do-or-die season for Hofstra since the club is top-heavy with seniors and only one freshman along with two sophs. But things have changed. My spies have informed me that Buie has been granted another year of stay (eligibility) and Jalen Ray – who continues to grow (physically) – has become as a quality guard/small forward with some defensive skills. Add to this that Pemberton, although short at times on defensive output, will emerge next season as a scoring machine. Also add to this the performance of Coburn this past season. I’m good at math and it seems that they will have an excellent starting 4 that may be devoid of a center. Hopefully, one of the transfers or one of the freshmen or a new recruit will fill this void. Bottom line 1: a quality center could bring another CAA championship next year. Bottom line 2: playing man-to-man may insure 1. In any event, I’ve changed my mind and now believe that 2019-20 will be another good year.
I return at the start of next season.
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