Over the past several years, I have been a supporter of the BracketBuster series. Yes, it's been mostly a marketing tool for the World Wide Leader to say that they give the mid-major teams a needed spotlight during the season. But some spotlight is better than no spotlight at all, which was the case for mid-major teams before the BracketBusters.
The BracketBusters have also often been an important factor in helping mid major teams get to the NCAA Tournament. In certainly two cases, 2006 with George Mason and 2011 with VCU, without their BracketBuster wins at Wichita State (how ironic is that?), those teams probably don't make the NCAA Tournament, let alone get to the Final Four.
I have often thought the way ESPN does the home and away team pools for the BracketBusters takes away from having more meaningful games for more teams. Such was the case for this year's series. You had seemingly too many strong home teams and not enough good road teams.
But what ESPN did this season finally put me on the other side of the fence. They rewarded several teams television games based on their RPI and not their record or standing in conference. Northern Iowa, who was in seventh place in the Missouri Valley with a 4-7 conference record when they were picked and Missouri State, who was third place in the Missouri Valley with a 6-5 conference record and a 13-10 overall record when they were picked, are two teams that immediately come to mind (both teams lost their BracketBuster games yesterday).
Meanwhile, George Mason, Stony Brook and Loyola (MD), three teams that were in first place in their respective conferences at the time of the BracketBuster selections, were denied television games. If you are not going to reward teams based on merit, why then have the BracketBuster series? By the way, George Mason and Stony Brook won their non-televised BracketBuster games, while Loyola plays theirs today.
Now let's get to the other over one hundred plus teams that are a part of the BracketBuster series due to their conference affiliations and don't get a sniff of a televised game. Based on ESPN's selections, those teams end up playing non conference home and home games with teams close to their regional area this season and next. In the case of Hofstra and Siena, the brilliant World Wide Leader folks decided to match these two teams for a SECOND time in the BracketBuster series.
I was at the Mack Center in 2006 EXACTLY six years ago to the day when Hofstra first hosted Siena in a BracketBuster game. Hofstra was snubbed out of a television game because AGAIN there were too many good home teams and not enough good road teams. The game was memorable for two reasons. One, Adrian Uter had probably his most dominant game with the Pride scoring a career-high 27 points and added four blocks in a 76-62 win over the Saints. Second, Siena head coach Fran McCaffery AND his wife were both tossed from the game.
So here we were exactly six years later. The game had much less meaning than the game in 2006. Then, Hofstra was one of the best teams in the CAA, fighting for a bid to the NCAA Tournament. This season, Hofstra only has two conference wins. You could say Hofstra and Siena were battling for the best team to have beaten Iona, a team playing a featured televised game at home against Nevada at the same time.
Though there was a crowd of 2,000 people, the arena atmosphere was very flat. The Hofstra Pep Band sounded worse than ever, and that's saying something. You're not supposed to hear a xylophone as clear as day with a brass section. There also weren't that many students in the Lions' Den student section, which was disappointing to this Hofstra alum. In fact, there was only polite applause when Hofstra honored Mike Moore for scoring his 1,000th career Hofstra point in not even two full seasons (he transferred to Hofstra from Fordham after his sophomore season).
And Siena decided to come out as flat as the atmosphere. The Saints had a turnover in each of their first four possessions, and nine turnovers in barely over five minutes. Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro had to call two timeouts in the first four minutes of the game. As a result, the Pride went up early 8-0.
But has been the case many times this season, Hofstra couldn't fully capitalize on all of Siena's mistakes. After taking the early eight-point lead, the Pride missed four out of five shots and committed two turnovers. This allowed the Saints to go on a 10-2 run and tie the game at ten with a little less than twelve minutes left in the half.
From there, both teams shot the ball very well the remainder of the half. Siena shot sixty five percent from the field while Hofstra shot forty five percent. The teams scored in different ways. In the Saints' case, OD Anosike was unstoppable in the paint, hitting all five of his baskets and scoring 12 points. Meanwhile, Hofstra had five three pointers in the first half, which is more than they average for an entire game on the season. Mike Moore and Steve Mejia combined for those five three-pointers.
The game was tied eight times in the first half. So it made perfect sense that the game was tied at 37 at the half. At halftime, my older son Matthew and I went over to say hi to Defiantly Dutch and his much better half, Michelle. It's become an annual game ritual to go over to see my two good friends at halftime and talk about the first half.
One of the things we talked about at halftime was the improved play of Mejia. In his previous three games, he scored twice in double figures and in the game against Drexel, Mejia had six steals. He was also starting to shoot the ball better and he had two three-pointers against Delaware.
In this game, Mejia had a strong first half and he continued with an equally strong second half. He buried another two three-pointers, giving him four on the game. He also had another two steals in the second half, also giving him four on the game.
The start of the second half was almost a repeat of the first half. The Pride scored 12 of the first 14 points and went up by 10, 49-39. But the Saints rallied, scoring the next eight points to cut the lead to two, 49-47. Siena would eventually take the lead, 59-57 with eight and a half minutes left. It looked like another game where Hofstra would have a second half lead only to see the other team rally and win.
But this time, Hofstra would not be denied. The Pride would score their next 12 points on three shots beyond the arc, two by Mejia, and one old-fashioned three-point play by Stephen Nwaukoni. Hofstra would regain the lead, but it would only be two points, 71-69 after Anosike hit another layup with a little less than four minutes left.
In many of the Pride's close losses, they failed to make stops down the stretch. This time was different. Hofstra would outscore Siena 10-0 the rest of the way. The Pride forced two turnovers and held the Saints to four missed shots in the last several minutes. Siena didn't even try to put up a last-second shot after Hofstra let the shot clock expire in the last few seconds. The fans gave the Pride a standing ovation at the end of their 81-69 win over the Saints.
Moore had even a better second half, scoring 16 of his 30 points in the final 20 minutes to lead all scorers with 30. Mejia had 16 points, while Nathaniel Lester added 15. Mejia and Dwan McMillan combined for 13 of Hofstra's 21 assists (with only 10 turnovers).
Anosike had a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Siena shot 58 percent for the game and out-rebounded Hofstra 36-23. But the Pride forced 21 Saints turnovers, and Hofstra shot 11-of-23 from beyond the arc, easily their best three-point shooting performance of the season. The bright side for Siena was neither Buonaguro, nor his wife were tossed from the game.
Hofstra was one of seven CAA teams to win a BracketBuster game yesterday and the only team in the bottom half of the Colonial standings to do so. With two games left in conference, against 10th place William and Mary and eighth place UNCW, the Pride have a chance to finish the regular season on a high note before heading into the CAA Tournament.
In 2006, the BracketBuster win over Siena started a six-game winning streak for Hofstra that lasted through the CAA Championship game, when they lost to UNCW. If the Pride keeps shooting the three like they did yesterday, the 2012 BracketBuster win over Siena might just start another win streak.
at HOFSTRA 81, SIENA 69 02/18/2012
SIENA 12-15 (7-9) -- L. Giles 6-8 2-2 17; O. Anosike 10-12 2-2 22; O. Wignot 5-8 0-0 10; K. Downey 8-11 0-0 17; E. Hymes 2-9 2-3 6; R. Poole 4-11 0-0 10; B. Walters 2-2 0-0 4; M. Hopper 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-53 4-5 69. HOFSTRA 9-20 (2-14) -- M. Moore 9-19 6-6 30; N. Lester 6-14 3-4 15; S. Mejia 6-11 0-2 16; D. McMillan 2-5 2-3 6; S. McLendon 2-5 2-2 7; S. Nwaukoni 2-4 3-3 7; M. Kone 0-0 0-0 0; M. Grogan 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 27-60 16-20 81.
Three-point goals: SIE 3-13 (K. Downey 1-3; O. Wignot 0-2; E. Hymes 0-4; R. Poole 2-4), HOFS 11-23 (N. Lester 0-1; S. Mejia 4-7; M. Moore 6-11; M. Grogan 0-1; S. McLendon 1-3); Rebounds: SIE 30 (O. Anosike 12), HOFS 23 (S. Nwaukoni 6); Assists: SIE 23 (K. Downey 9), HOFS 21 (D. McMillan 7); Total Fouls -- SIE 17, HOFS 12; Fouled Out: SIE-K. Downey; HOFS-None.