I'll Be Quirky: After Historic 2-Year Run, Hofstra Eyes Another CAA Crown

Hofstra Athletics

In a parallel universe, you would have been reading many of these words sometime on the afternoon of March 16. Whether you are a Hofstra fan or a fan of the CAA in general, you would have (hopefully) clicked the link to check out the recap of the Pride’s championship-winning run through the league tournament, its preparations for the school’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2001 and the first-round game against Villanova and head coach Jay Wright, whose last game as Hofstra’s head coach was a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament in…2001. Oh yeah. The selection committee was gonna make that happen.

Except, of course, there was no next game for Hofstra, even though the Pride won the CAA title and accompanying automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time with a 70-61 win over Northeastern on March 10. Roughly 43 hours later, the news everyone feared was coming officially arrived in the form of a breaking news alert on our phones: Due to the surging coronavirus, the NCAA Tournament was canceled. Hofstra was one of 11 schools to clinch an automatic berth before the shutdown.

In the days after the cancellation, it was hard to comprehend the idea of next season, or what it would look like. Next season is finally here, and with the pandemic still raging, it’s still hard to comprehend what it will look like.

But Hofstra began the first phase of its championship defense Sunday, when the Pride fell to Rutgers in a second attempt at a season opener (Wednesday’s game against Monmouth was canceled because of a positive coronavirus case within the Monmouth program). Hofstra, of course, hopes to reign again. But the CAA simply getting to crown a champion in Washington, D.C., in March and send that team to the NCAA Tournament thereafter would make the season a success.

It’s cliche to describe this as a season unlike any other, but also accurate. And my goal here each week or so at I’ll Be Quirky will be to try and put Hofstra’s ups and downs (and championship defense) into historic context while having some fun along the way.

A quick refresher on me and I’ll Be Quirky: I’ve been passionate about following and covering Hofstra basketball since I arrived on campus as a transfer student in the fall of 1993. My apartment has A LOT of old Hofstra basketball media guides, boxscores, and knick knacks.

I’ll Be Quirky actually debuted at my Hofstra blog, Defiantly Dutch, in the fall of 2016 and was inspired by my friend Eric Hornick, who is the statistician for the New York Islanders and authors “The Skinny,” a collection of news, notes and stats about the Islanders, after every game.

I liked Eric’s distinctive name for his feature and got the idea for “I’ll Be Quirky” from The Simpsons episode “Hungry Hungry Homer,” when everyone’s favorite buffoonish cartoon Dad figures out the Springfield Isotopes are moving to Albuquerque. After being told by Bart that he spent the previous night yelling at the swing set, Homer says “You know me, occasionally I’ll be quirky,” before realizing “I’ll be quirky” sounds an awful lot like “Albuquerque.” In other words, as I said last year, hope you all like Simpsons references!

And if you want even more arcane sitcom references (as well as deeper dives about the Flying Dutchmen, err, Pride), check out my blog prior to every Hofstra game Thanks as always for reading, stay safe out there and let’s watch some basketball, shall we?

FINALLY!

The CAA title drought ended in cathartic fashion last season for Hofstra, which went 14-4 in league play to win the outright regular-season title for the second straight year before beating longtime rivals Drexel, Delaware, and Northeastern to finally win the league tournament. The Pride finished 26-8, one win shy of tying the school record for wins set in 2018-19. Obviously, the 53 wins over a two-season period were also a school record, besting the previous mark of 50 wins recorded by the back-to-back America East champions in 1999-2000 and 2000-01.

The 26 wins were tied for eighth-most in the nation and made the Pride one of just eight teams to win at least 26 games in each of the last two seasons.

PARITY PARTY

Hofstra became the sixth different school to win the CAA in the last eight seasons. Only six CAA schools won the CAA between 1993-94 and 2011-12.

THE ELEVEN

As noted earlier, the Pride were one of 11 teams to win their conference tournament and earn an automatic bid before the NCAA Tournament was canceled. Here is the full list, with the date the team won the automatic bid.

  1. Belmont (Ohio Valley, Mar. 7)
  2. Utah State (Mountain West, Mar. 7)
  3. Liberty (Atlantic Sun, Mar. 8)
  4. Winthrop (Big South, Mar. 8)
  5. Bradley (Mountain Valley Conference, Mar. 8)
  6. East Tennessee State (Southern, Mar. 9)
  7. North Dakota State (Summit, Mar. 10)
  8. Robert Morris (Northeast, Mar. 10)
  9. Hofstra (CAA, Mar. 10)
  10. Gonzaga (West Coast, Mar. 10)
  11. Colgate (Patriot, Mar. 11)

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF…SORT OF

Believe it or not, last March didn’t mark the first time a Hofstra men’s basketball team won a conference tournament without playing in the NCAA Tournament. The then-Flying Dutchmen went 9-20 yet won the final East Coast Conference tournament title in March 1994, but the six-team ECC did not qualify for an automatic bid and folded following the school year.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS ARE LASTING

The Pride became the third preseason favorite in the last four seasons to win the CAA Tournament. Since 2001-02, nine teams have won it all after being picked first in the preseason.

  1. 2002 UNC Wilmington
  2. 2003 UNC Wilmington
  3. 2005 Old Dominion
  4. 2009 VCU
  5. 2010 Old Dominion
  6. 2015 Northeastern
  7. 2017 UNC Wilmington
  8. 2018 Charleston
  9. 2020 Hofstra

A CHAMPIONSHIP EXIT

Desure Buie, Eli Pemberton, and Connor Klementowicz became the first Hofstra players to graduate off a championship since the spring of 2001. Buie emerged as the Pride’s best player last season, when he earned All-CAA first-team honors by averaging a team-high 18.5 points and 5.9 assists per game in the regular season before winning Most Outstanding Player honors in the CAA Tournament by averaging 14.7 points and 5.3 assists in the three games. 

Buie scored a game-high 20 points in the title game, including 10 in the final four minutes. Pemberton was named to the All-CAA second team after averaging 17.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game during the regular season before being named to the all-tournament team. Klementowicz, a walk-on for three-plus seasons who earned a scholarship for his final semester and became a cult hero at Hofstra, appeared in 11 games last year.

BACK FOR MORE (part one)

The Pride return three starters in junior forward Isaac Kante and senior guards Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn. Kante (11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season) was named to the preseason All-CAA first team while Coburn (10.8 points per game last season and Ray (11.8 points per game last season) were each listed among the honorable mentions.

BACK FOR MORE (part two)

Hofstra was again picked first in the preseason poll. The Pride is the first defending champion to be picked to repeat since UNC Wilmington topped the preseason poll in 2016-17. The Seahawks went on to win the CAA, becoming just the third defending champion to repeat after being named the preseason favorite. UNC Wilmington also did it in 2002-03, as did Old Dominion in 2010-11.

KENPOM PONDERINGS

The Pride enters the season as the CAA’s top-ranked team at KenPom.com. Hofstra is ranked No. 152 today, one spot up from its preseason place. The Pride is 13 spots ahead of Drexel.

FARRELLY’S DEBUT

Mike Farrelly, who spent the previous seven seasons as the top assistant to head coach Joe Mihalich, will serve as the acting head coach while Mihalich is on a medical leave of absence. Farrelly has been an assistant alongside Mihalich since 2011, when the two worked together at Niagara. 

Mihalich is 406-295 in 22 seasons as a head coach, including 141-92 at Hofstra. He ranks fifth on the school’s all-time win list.

FOR OPENERS

The Pride began the season Sunday, when it trailed wire-to-wire in a 70-56 loss to no. 24 Rutgers. The defeat was the second straight in a season opener for Hofstra, which is 48-37 all-time in season openers. 

COMING UP

Coronavirus-permitting, the Pride is scheduled to play two games this week.

Hofstra hopes to get right into the back-to-back swing tonight with its home opener against Fairleigh Dickinson. It will be the first meeting between the schools since the 2013-14 season, when they actually opposed each other twice and split the meetings. Mihalich earned his first win at the helm on Nov. 10, 2013, when the host Pride rolled to an 80-58 win. The Knights returned the favor in New Jersey on Jan. 5, 2014, with an 86-67 victory. Hofstra leads the all-time series 17-4.

The Pride is lined up to greet a Hall of Fame coach Saturday, when Rick Pitino and Iona are scheduled to visit Long Island. The schools haven’t met since Dec. 29, 2011, when Hofstra beat visiting Iona, 83-75. This is the first game of a planned three-game series in which Hofstra will have home-court advantage thanks to a victory in a rock/paper/scissors battle between the school mascots. The all-time series is tied at 20-20.


Jerry Beach has covered Hofstra sports since arriving on campus in the fall of 1993, when Wayne Chrebet was a junior wide receiver wearing No. 3, Butch van Breda Kolff was the men’s basketball coach for the East Coast Conference champions and Jay Wright was a little-known yet surely well-dressed UNLV assistant coach. Check out Jerry’s book about the 2000 World Series here and follow him on Twitter at @JerryBeach73.

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