Hofstra and Drexel may not play the CAA’s game of the year Saturday afternoon, when the two longtime rivals meet on Long Island. But there’s a good chance the latest matchup between the Pride and Dragons will be the game that most embodies the utter chaos that is the CAA this season.
Both teams will be in near must-win mode — and almost surely in a rotten mood — Saturday following equally frustrating yet wholly different Thursday night defeats in which both teams stared into the CAA’s funhouse mirror. Hofstra fell at home to Delaware, 73-71, while Drexel hit the road and endured an 85-52 defeat at the hands of Northeastern.
The losses dropped Hofstra and Drexel into the four-way gaggle of 5-3 teams — along with Northeastern and Towson — jostling for position behind William & Mary and Charleston. Whomever wins Saturday will momentarily steady itself and stay on the periphery of the race for the no. 1 seed. The loser will be far more concerned with avoiding the outbracket round of the CAA Tournament and the longest possible road to an NCAA Tournament berth — winning four games in as many days, which has never been done in CAA history.
That’s the CAA as the schedule hits the halfway point — a flip of the coin is the difference between the best-case and worst-case scenarios. And while Hofstra and Drexel aren’t the only teams symbolizing the unpredictability of the league, they might be its loudest advertisements.
“I said it to the guys before the game started: It’s like a one-game season every time you play a league game,” Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich said Thursday night.
The two-point game Thursday was the fourth straight played by Hofstra, which beat Northeastern at the buzzer on Jan. 9 and previously winless UNC Wilmington with a last-second basket Jan. 16 before falling to Charleston in the final seconds last Saturday, when Sam Miller put back a Grant Riller airball with fewer than 10 seconds left, and watching Kevin Anderson go coast-to-coast to hit the game-winning layup with :0.3 seconds left Thursday night. It’s the first time since the 1978-79 season Hofstra has played four straight games decided by two points or fewer.
Anderson’s basket capped a chaotic game in which both teams went on extended first-half runs (Hofstra had an 18-0 run and Delaware had a 14-0 spurt) and squandered double-digit leads.
Delaware scored a go-ahead basket earlier in the final minute Thursday on another put-back of an airball — this one by Justyn Mutts off Anderson’s miss. If Riller and Anderson hit iron, the Pride might corral the rebounds, produce the game-winning points on the other end and head into Saturday tied for first place with William & Mary.
Instead, Hofstra — the CAA’s preseason favorite and the owner of the league’s signature win, an 88-78 upset of UCLA on Nov. 21 — is left wondering why one of the most veteran teams in the country (the Pride ranks eighth in experience at KenPom.com) is still playing incomplete basketball more than two months into the season.
“We weren’t tough for 40 minutes tonight,” Mihalich said. “We had stretches of toughness. We came out soft and we had some soft stretches in the second half. The game honors toughness. This game honors toughness. And if you’re not tough, you’re not going to be successful.”
In the Pride’s parallel universe, Hofstra would be tied for first place this morning thanks to Drexel, which handed William & Mary its lone loss thus far by knocking off the Tribe 84-57 last Saturday.
The 27-point margin of victory was tied for the most lopsided in the CAA this season along with William & Mary’s 88-61 win over Hofstra on Jan. 2 and the Pride’s 102-75 victory over Elon two days later.
That’s right: The team that suffered the most lopsided loss of the CAA season matched that margin of victory in its next game. And now Drexel has taken the reverse path.
“Every game’s the same — last week we played a team that was 0-7 and had to make a play at the end of the game to win,” Mihalich said. “And then Drexel plays William & Mary. Wasn’t surprised they beat them (but) they beat them by 27 points. It’s the way the league is. You’ve got toe be ready to go strap it on every night. And if we’re not tougher on Saturday, we might be feeling bad again after the game.”
Drexel, which fell to 2-7 away from home on Thursday, was surely feeling as bad as Hofstra after absorbing a loss that reminded the Dragons, much like the Pride, haven’t come a far as they’d hoped.
By early Saturday night, someone is going to feel much better after salvaging a 1-1 weekend. And someone is going to feel much worse after an 0-2 weekend dropped it into a potentially unrecoverable hole. But what else would you expect in the CAA, the league of one-game seasons?