Part I: 10 questions for 2010

Now that the holidays are over, maybe you’re getting into the swing of the 2009-2010 Division III basketball season. Or maybe you’ve been following the season since the mid-November tip off and are trying to make sense of the results so far. Or maybe you’re just killing time waiting for the next bowl game to begin. Whatever the case is, here are 10 burning questions for the Division III basketball season as we enter 2010.

Northeast: Is Williams ready to return to prominence?

If you’ve only been following Division III basketball since 2005, you may wonder “what prominence?” The Ephs have been a respectable 83-46 the past five years, but are just five games over .500 in the NESCAC with one NCAA tournament appearance (1st round loss to Brockport State in 2008). But go back farther and Williams came within one shot of winning consecutive national championships. This years’ team has started 10-1 with the lone loss at undefeated No. 4 Randolph-Macon 79-74. In that game the Ephs had a 16-point second half lead before the Yellow Jackets rallied. Williams’ margin of victory has been impressive but just one of those wins come over a team with a winning record. The next big test comes in a visit from current No. 11 Amherst on January 9.

My two cents: The Ephs have started fast before. Let’s see what they do in the NESCAC.

Northeast: Can Amherst win the women’s title?

Speaking of Amherst, the No. 2 Lord Jeffs are 10-0 and the only team besides current No. 1 Illinois Wesleyan receiving first place votes. Look at the results to date and it’s easy to see why. Amherst went to the national semifinals last year where their talented but small guards struggled to get on track against Washington U. and TCNJ. This year’s team has a very balanced attack where all five starters score more than seven points per game and the leading scorer is reserve post player Lem Atanga McCormick. A deep NCAA tournament run isn’t a given with the depth of the NESCAC and the region as a whole but Coach G.P. Gromacki has a knack for leading his teams on them. Circle the games at No. 4 Bowdoin on January 29 and at No. 17 Tufts on February 6th for a preview of what the postseason has in store for the Lord Jeffs.

My two cents: They have the best chance of anyone east of Ohio, but I’d still slot them behind IWU, Wash U and Hope at full strength.

Atlantic: Can Richard Stockton repeat in the NJAC?

The Ospreys started last season in the middle of a pack of teams who were “also receiving votes” in the Top 25. But they finished it in the national championship game. This season the Ospreys were ranked No. 5 in the first poll but have slid out of the rankings with three loses, two of them coming at home. Just because Richard Stockton has had a different trajectory in the polls to this point doesn’t mean this season cannot end like last season. This year’s squad is a little different. Jerome Hubbard, an outstanding long-range shooter who stretched defenses, has graduated. DiAndre Brown, a transfer who averaged 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for Eastern Nazarene last year, has taken his place in the starting lineup. The Ospreys were picked as the overall preseason favorite in the NJAC and, despite the 0-1 start, playing in the weaker NJAC south should help them build momentum for the conference tournament. But the return of low post presence Abdoulaye Ouedraogo to William Paterson after spending a season at NAIA Georgetown (Ky.) makes the Pioneers another team to watch.

My two cents: The Ospreys win the NJAC south but fall in the tournament at home.

East: Who is the best team in the East region?

Coming into the weekend, you could have made a good case that Medaille (12-0) was the best team in the region after the Mavericks gutsy win at No. 9 John Carroll. But then Medaille squeaked by Mount Aloysius (4-5) and John Carroll got crushed by Bethany on Saturday, taking some luster off that upset. Still, there is a void atop this region. Rochester is the only team getting votes (or, to be more accurate, “vote”) in the Top 25 at 7-1. Plattsburgh has the same record pending their semester opening match-up with No. 7 Middlebury. St. John Fisher was the preseason favorite in the Empire 8 but lost to Hobart. Ithaca lost a lot to graduation but has a solid 8-2 start. Perennial Liberty League favorites St. Lawrence and Hamilton are just 7-10 to start the season. How about Oneonta State (8-1)? Looks like Upstate New York has a lot of upside for exciting conference races.

My two cents: On a hunch, I’ll say Plattsburgh State. We’re due for another surprising tournament run by a SUNYAC squad.

Mid-Atlantic: Who will win the inaugural Landmark Conference automatic qualifiers?

The stakes are higher in the third year of Landmark play as the Conference has completed its two year waiting period and now has an automatic qualifier. Scranton has won all but one of the titles – men’s and women’s, regular season and tournament, both seasons. On the women’s side, Scranton is always a good bet but not sure one. No. 19 Moravian defeated the Lady Royals at their place already. We’ll learn pretty quickly if Drew (8-0) is for real since the Rangers host Scranton and Moravian next weekend. The men’s side looks wide open. Want to make a case for Catholic because of Preseason All-American Jason Banzhaf? Go ahead. Favor Merchant Marine because of its 9-2 start? Fine. Defending champion Scranton scuffled through non-conference play at 6-5 but can get back on track in conference play.

My two cents: Scranton in women, Catholic in men.

    Part II comes tomorrow.

DIII Christmas List

Time sure flies when you’re taking finals. It’s been almost 3 weeks since I last checked in. At that time Gordon College had just lost a tough game to our rival Endicott College in the middle of the Redneck Doublewide portion of the season. It didn’t get any easier from there. We travelled to unbeaten MIT the next Saturday afternoon to take on the Engineers. After getting punched in the mouth 10-0 to start the game (this is becoming a pattern) we bounced back off the mat and played toe to toe with MIT the rest of the way. We held a slim 3 point margin with just under a minute to play when MIT hit a 3 to tie it. We battled into overtime but eventually fell by 5. It was a tough, hard fought game between two very strong New England region teams. While moral victories are not the type we are looking for this time of year, we can find one in having a chance to beat the #22 team in the country on their home floor. Unfortunately, the win column doesn’t show moral victories and we fell to 4-3. We closed the Redneck Doublewide with a good home win against Wheelock College. Wheelock had previously beaten 3 of our conference rivals, so to close the first half of our season with a win against them was encouraging. Needless to say 5-3 heading into Christmas is not where we expected, nor hoped we would be. (Yes, I did just make correct use of the word nor.) With that being said, we’re probably not the only ones who wish the Holiday season had gone a little bit differently. What?  Too soon?

Anyway, in order to see if Santa can help us, along with the rest of the teams looking turn things around after Christmas, I have compiled a DIII basketball Christmas list of what every DIII basketball player, or at least me, really wants for Christmas. (Okay, maybe not that)

1) Wins – This is an obvious one. Everyone is hoping Santa brings some wins this Christmas. I’m going to put a shout out to New York City Tech, Cazenovia, Bard, Kalamazoo, FDU-Florham, Bluffton, Eastern Nazarene, Maine-Presque Isle, Maine-Farmington, Schreiner, Methodist, Caltech, and Bethany Lutheran because I think they could use one a little more than most right now. (Unless they made the naughty list this year) Credit for this information must go to the D3hoops forum for updating this list.

2) Respect – This may be the top on most DIII basketball players’ wish lists. I know I’m preaching to the choir on this website, but there is some very good basketball played at the DIII level. Most people don’t get that.  When they hear DIII they think, “well that must be worse than DII ‘cuz 3 is worse than 2.” Little do they know that many teams at the Division III level could compete at the DII level on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, we are left to continue to defend our level of play and let our game speak for itself. Ok, enough sour grapes for one blog.

3) Sean Wallis and Aaron Thompson of Wash U to graduate – I mean, seriously guys. Come on! 2 National Championships aren’t enough? Even Michael Jordan went to play baseball for a while. Let’s let someone else have a chance. For the record, I’m rooting for Transylvania Tuesday night. That is all.

4) Restricted Area for Charges – I know that the charge/block call may be the most difficult one in sports. I get that. But how about making it just a tad bit easier on officials by giving them a line to designate the restricted area rather than a magic, make believe, imaginary, pretend area that is literally called “under the basket.” You can read for yourself, but you are considered “under the basket” if any part of the defender’s foot is “under the basket.” Really. So the referee, who has probably worked 5 other games that week and is exhausted from his 50 hour work week at his real job, now must make a split second decision as to whether any part of a man’s foot lies underneath a cylinder that is 10 feet above the ground all while the man is colliding with another man traveling at a high speed without the aid of a line on the ground. Yeah, that makes sense. Thanks NCAA. One more video for good measure.

5) Non-Fast Food on road trips – Hey, I love the McDonald’s dollar menu as much as the next guy (okay maybe not that guy), but a change of pace would be great. Our team was treated to Chipotle Burritos for the first time in my 4 years after our last away game. It was glorious. Let’s keep that up.

6) Fan Support – This is not a Gordon College wish. We are lucky. We have one of the best fan sections in New England and the best in TCCC. However, I’m guessing, based on some of the other schools in our conference, other teams are not as lucky. That is a shame. Playing DIII basketball is unlike any other sport at any level. For 6 months out of the year, players spend 3-4 hours every day practicing/preparing for games. This does not include time spent on road trips and away games. On top of that, there are no traveling tutors, no over generous boosters to “help” us through class, and even fewer professors who understand the commitment it takes to play a college sport. (There are no professors at Gordon College who fit this description. Absolutely none.) And we do it at some of the most demanding academic institutions in the country. Why, you ask? Because we love it. If there are any fans reading, do your classmates a favor, attend some games, paint your chest, and scream loudly, and cheer for your lab partner, he deserves it.

Finally, just like my mom always says, it’s not Christmas until Rasheed Wallace is singing Christmas carols.

Merry Christmas!