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The first meeting of the season between Hofstra and UNC Wilmington promised to be interesting when the CAA preseason poll was released on Oct. 9 even though Hofstra was picked first and UNC Wilmington ninth.
The intrigue surrounding the game didn't diminish last week, when the Pride edged Northeastern in its only game of the week to improve to 4-1 in league play and the Seahawks lost to William & Mary and Elon to fall to 0-6.
And then things really got interesting Monday, when UNC Wilmington fired head coach C.B. McGrath and replaced him on an interim basis with Rob Burke.
That infused a wrinkle into a familiar formula — the Seahawks always playing well at home against the Pride — and lent an additional air of uncertainty to tonight’s game at Trask Coliseum.
Hofstra is a healthy favorite — KenPom.com predicts a 75-66 victory for the visitors — and the records for each team are indicative of the seasons they’ve had thus far. The Pride doesn’t go deep, but all five starters are averaging in double figures for an offense whose efficiency ranks 83rd.
UNC Wilmington, which has lost 11 straight overall and hasn’t won since before Thanksgiving, is one of just 19 teams nationwide ranking in the 300s in both offensive efficiency (321st) and defensive efficiency (309th).
The Seahawks’ roster, depleted by the exits of graduate student Carter Skaggs and sophomore Kai Toews, has combined to play just 299 games for the program, fewer than Hofstra guards Desure Buie, Eli Pemberton and Jalen Ray have played for the Pride (322).
But who knows how UNC Wilmington will react to the dismissal of McGrath — just the fifth in-season coaching change in CAA history and the first since Old Dominion fired Blaine Taylor in February 2013? For what it’s worth, the previous four teams went 2-2 in their first games with a new coach.
Another notable wrinkle: The most recent loss absorbed by a CAA team playing its first game following a midseason coaching change was absorbed Jan. 30, 2010 by UNC Wilmington, which fell to Towson 58-53 three days after a 93-54 loss to Hofstra led to the firing of Benny Moss and the promotion of Brooks Lee.
While it remains to be seen how the Seahawks perform under Burke, recent history suggests it’s a good idea to chuck the records out the window when they oppose Hofstra. Counting tournament play, UNC Wilmington went just 14-32 in CAA play under McGrath but 3-2 against the Pride, which is 33-12 in league action since the start of the 2017-18 season.
In addition to recording a 6 vs. 3 upset in the quarterfinals of the 2018 CAA Tournament, the Seahawks won both of their regular season home games against Hofstra with McGrath at the helm. Last Feb. 16, in front of a senior night crowd treating the game like an NCAA Tournament clash, UNC Wilmington recorded an 87-79 upset of the Pride, which entered the game 12-1 in the CAA.
Of course, the flip side to the Seahawks’ three unexpected wins over the Pride in the last 23 months is Hofstra won’t lack for motivation either tonight, in a game that, regardless of result, promises to be interesting and compelling despite the vastly different fortunes of the teams involved.