In my ongoing quest to learn more about the opponents on the UD schedule, I brought in Jerry Beach and Vinny Simone this time around to talk Hofstra. Jerry (@JerryBeach73) runs a Blackburn-esque Hofstra blog over at Defiantly Dutch. A graduate of Hofstra University, Jerry still refers to his alma mater as the Flying Dutchmen, as any loyal fan should.
Vinny Simone (@VTSimone), a Quinnipiac graduate, covers college teams in the NYC metro area for NYCBuckets.com. Both were kind enough to take a few minutes to help you, the uneducated UD shmuck, learn a little more about what’s going on in Hempstead, NY, as well as what we can expect in Charleston on Thursday evening. Let’s get into it:
Sully: So first things first guys, no need to waste time here: Why did Hofstra change their mascot to the “Pride” in 2001? I think we can all unequivocally agree that the “Flying Dutchmen” is more a badass nickname.
Jerry: The university’s booster club is called the Pride Club and the school’s mascots are a pair of lions (pride = pack of lions). In the final years under former President James Shuart, the teams were known as either the Flying Dutchmen or Pride. The new president oversaw the usual corporate branding effort and by the mid-2000s, “Pride” was the only official moniker. Most fans prefer Flying Dutchmen, though, which is understandable since it was such an immediately identifiable nickname. People knew Hofstra = Flying Dutchmen.
Sully: Fair enough, feels confusing. Last week, Ball State had quite a short list of notable alumni. With Hofstra being in NYC, you guys don’t really have that problem. Give the UD fans your Mount Rushmore of alumni. “Pat from Heavyweights” would certainly be on mine.
Jerry: Wayne Chrebet tops the list, even if Hofstra doesn’t have a football team anymore. Hofstra assistant coach Speedy Claxton, of course, led HU to the NCAA Tournament as a senior in 2000.
Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal graduated from Hofstra and included multiple HU references on the longtime hit show. Actors James Caan and Christopher Walken and director Francis Ford Coppola all attended Hofstra but did not graduate, which is probably not the best advertisement for going to college.
Sully: *makes obvious joke* You probably didn’t have enough cowbell, Jerry. Ok maybe we should talk basketball. Let’s start with the program, since I doubt many UD fans know much about Hofstra hoops:
So Jay Wright pulls the program out of the large and vast dumpster that was created in the 90s. He splits to Villanova, Tom Pecora takes over in 2001, and then does the UNTHINKABLE and leaves for fucking Fordham (!!) in 2010 after marginal success on Long Island at HU. What was the feeling around the program when that happened?
Jerry: People were surprised Pecora left, because he’d often spoke of remaining at Hofstra until his son (currently a HS sophomore) could attend the school. The timing–Hofstra dropped football a few months before Pecora left–had people wondering if he knew something the rest of us didn’t, though HU has improved the basketball facilities and is paying Joe Mihalich a salary commensurate with the rest of his CAA peers. Pecora hated the Virginia-centric nature of the CAA and really wanted to coach in the A10. Fordham of course should not be in the A10and Pecora has since described taking the Fordham job as his midlife crisis.
Sully: You will not hear much argument from anyone on this blog that Fordham no longer belongs in the A10. Fordham is the mid-life crisis of college basketball, so I feel as though that is mostly accurate, well said Jerry. By the way did you know they beat VCU last year? Wild, I know.
Going off that, Mo Cassara tried his best to put Hofstra back in the dumpster before he was axed, and now it seems (at least from an outside perspective) that Joe Mihalich has turned the program back around. After putting together two 20+ win seasons back-to-back, what happened last year?
Vinny: Things have certainly improved since Mihalich entered the fold in 2013. His first year was a pure rebuild continuing the two-year slide from Cassara (’11-12 & ’12-’13), but since then the team has gone 59-41 (31-23 in CAA play) including the two 20-win seasons you mentioned in 2014 and 2015.
Last year was certainly disappointing in that the Pride posted a losing record of 15-17 (7-11 CAA), but it didn’t start out that way. Hofstra actually opened the year 9-5 with a couple of tough games against Kentucky and St. Bonaventure mixed in there. They won their first league game against Delaware, but then the wheels fell off and they lost their next 6 in-conference and the slide was on.
Really, last season was a transition year after the graduations of Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, who followed Mihalich from Niagara to Hofstra and were big reasons for those 20+ win seasons. Sophomore point guard Desure Buie also injured his ACL early in the year, and so fifth-year transfer Deron Powers had to hold down the fort in his lone season with the team. There were certainly bright spots, but overall the team just never hit its best stride.
Sully: With that in mind, what’s the expectation for this year? Seems like everyone is chasing College of Charleston in the CAA, although, they just got pole-axed by Wichita State on Monday. So maybe the league is wide open?
Vinny: There are a few veteran squads including Charleston, Elon, and Towson, but Hofstra absolutely belongs in the top half of the league. They were picked 4th behind those three in the preseason poll and boast a few all-league guys.
Charleston hasn’t looked like a juggernaut just yet, but Jarrell Brantley, a member of the All-CAA Second Team last season, has yet to see the floor, so I’m willing to give the Cougars a mulligan until they get him back. Simply put, the expectation is Hofstra should be competing for the league title this year.
Sully: What would you consider a “failure” for this season?
Vinny: It actually feels like Hofstra is flying under the radar a bit this season. Most of the attention around the league has gone to the three mentioned above, allowing the Pride to put their pieces together early in the year without much pressure. If the team failed to finish in the top four, I’d consider it a disappointment.
Sully: With the line at opening at UD -2.5 this afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that the great prognosticators are not overlooking Hofstra. That, or UD is comparable to a top-tier CAA team this season, I’ll let the loyal readers to decide.
Justin Wright-Foreman strikes me as a guy UD needs to worry about on Thursday. Last year in conference play he only dropped below 19 points twice, that’s incredible. Tell the UD fans what we can expect from him and how Hofstra game plans to get him the ball.
Vinny: Wright-Foreman has certainly emerged as the go-to guy for the Pride over the last calendar year, and his emergence came as a happy surprise to most. He didn’t get much action as a freshman in 2015-16 behind a loaded backcourt, but exploded onto the scene last season to lead the team with 18.1 ppg after averaging just 1.6 his rookie year.
He was named to the All-CAA Second Team at the end of last season and the preseason First Team this year. A threat from all points on the floor, Wright-Foreman can stroke it from behind the arc or drive to the basket, and he has a very good chance to be the CAA’s leading scorer by season’s end.
Wright-Foreman has really benefited from the return of Buie this season as well. The two entered the program as freshmen two years ago, and have already shown a great rapport in the first two games of this season. Expect the ball to flow around the backcourt between he, Buie, and sophomore Eli Pemberton, who is a great passer in his own right.
Sully: What’s been the general feeling of this team two games into the season? Seems like you’re on the right track to this point taking care of business against Army and Kennesaw State.
Vinny: The Pride gutted it out against Army on opening night, then had a much easier time of things winning 75-57 over Kennesaw Monday night. Neither Pemberton nor JUCO addition Kenny Wormley played in the opener due to a violation of team rules, but each got their first action of the season against the Owls.
The good news for Hofstra is this may be Mihalich’s deepest team yet after a short rotation really hampered the squad last season. There are six legitimate options in the backcourt, and freshman Jalen Ray has really benefited from a pair of starts to open the year.
Sully: Who else should UD fans be worrying about on Thursday?
Vinny: Rokas Gustys is the other player to keep an eye on Thursday. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior has been one of the nation’s leading rebounders each of the last two seasons. He was fourth in all of Division I last year with 12.1 rpg, and ranked second in the nation with 13.0 in 2015-16.
That sophomore season was a true breakout for Gustys, as he averaged 13.5 points to go along with his gaudy rebounding total. Although his scoring took a dip to 9.2 ppg last season, he battled through some injuries and leaves a lot of points on the table at the free throw line (38.5% FT shooter for his career). Gustys has already nabbed 12 and 13 rebounds in each of his first two games this season, so he should be very active on the glass this week.
Sully: I will certainly be looking forward to seeing Gustys and Josh Cunningham go toe-to-toe on Thursday evening, should be a good test for both.
You talked a lot about what they do well, but is Hofstra terrible at any one particular aspect of the game?
Vinny: I’m not sure I can pinpoint a weakness this early in the season, but defense has been the trouble spot for Mihalich’s teams over the years. Because they played such a short lineup last season, they had to play a lot of zone and struggled in all facets defensively, finishing 311th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency last season, according to KenPom.com. I expect the defense to improve with the added depth allowing for more man-to-man play, but Dayton will be Hofstra’s toughest test yet.
Sully: Who does Hofstra hate the most? Are there any rivalry-type games you get juiced for these days?
Vinny: William & Mary has been a nemesis the last few years, and was responsible for ousting the Pride from the CAA tournament semifinals in 2014-15 with a 92-91 2OT thriller. Hofstra made up for that by beating the Tribe in the 2016 semis before falling to UNCW in the finals in overtime, but the games against those two are usually very entertaining.
Aside from that, their geographical rivalry against Stony Brook has been resurrected in recent years. Since they’re the only two DI teams on Long Island, that matchup has picked up steam since the renewal in 2014-15, with Hofstra winning two of those three meetings.
Sully: What do you know about UD? Anything? Do people know things about us?
Vinny: I think everyone who follows college basketball is familiar with the Flyers’ Cinderella run to the Elite Eight in 2014. From there, they’ve put together a strong winning tradition and qualified for the NCAA Tournament each of the last four years.
I’m not sure what the expectations for the team are following the loss of a few starters and head coach Archie Miller, but Dayton has established itself as a top Atlantic 10 program, and I wouldn’t expect that to change overnight.
Sully: Mostly accurate, I think the feeling in the fanbase right now is to avoid (or at least minimize) taking steps backwards, since the program has tended to do that in our history. With that said, a new generation of fans has come in wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, and were spared from the mediocrity of the 90s, so in my opinion that has helped foster in this new feeling of optimism that maybe UD has turned the corner.
All right, we won’t let you out of here without a take: What’s your prediction for the game Thursday?
Vinny: I would expect to see good offense on both ends of the court, and curious to see how Hofstra does against this level of competition. I’m sure the Flyers are anxious to get back out there after remaining idle since their opening-night win over Ball State, and anticipate both teams to raise their game in this tournament event. KenPom predicts a tight game and a 73-72 Dayton win. Since I’m obligated to pick the Pride, I’ll flip that around and say Hofstra wins in a one-possession game. Good luck!
It didn’t work out so well for our first guest who came on BBR and picked against the Flyers, so here’s hoping our guest Q+A-doers go 0-2 on the young season. Thanks again to Vinny of NYCBuckets and Jerry Beach of Defiantly Dutch for giving us a good rundown of UD’s newest foe, the Hofstra Flying Pride Dutchmen. As a reminder: UD will play at 730p ET on Thursday, if they win they will play at 930p ET on Friday. If they fall to Hofstra we will see the Flyers at 7p ET on Friday evening.