- Ralph Waldo Emerson
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - It's actually surprising it doesn't happen more often to me, especially in a fairly densely populated state like Connecticut.
Unfortunately, real life got in the way (first day back to school after vacation), so I got a late start heading toward the America East opener between Binghamton and Hartford, two teams that aren't expected to be anywhere near the top of the standings, but at 0-0, everybody has a chance, and both clubs have reason to believe that this season will be better than last
. (Of course, some of that - especially for Binghamton - is that there's not much further down to go, but I digress.)
I got to the Hartford
city limits only to be alerted by a sign: "ACCIDENT, Right Two Lanes Closed, Exit 28 and 29 ahead". I tried to think of ways to dance around it to get to the University of Hartford campus by tip-off, but my brain came up empty on alternate routes. So I sat there and waited impatiently. Fortunately, I have a little more composure in such situations after the last couple of weeks.
Alas, my calmness was rewarded, when the accident cleared after 10 minutes or so, and I had a real shot of keeping my streak alive of not missing a single second of any game I've covered this season for TMM. I rolled into the Chase Family Arena parking lot, sprinted to the ticket window ($5 marked the cheapest regular price I've paid this year), and saw the lights of the gym just as the teams were about to jump.
I looked around, though, and didn't see many friendly faces. I also didn't see many hostile faces. There weren't many faces at all, a couple hundred at best for the conference opener. Sigh. Oh, well. At least these guys were trying.
The three-point shot, or #superhoop
as we call it here at TMM, actually started as an NCAA experiment in 1980 (at 22 feet) before being fully adopted in 1986,
which was not a slam dunk to use a hideous pun. Many coaches hated it, decrying it as a gimmick, joke, or much worse.
Personally, I thought it was the best idea ever. As a 5-foot-8 guard, I had but one skill in my short-lived basketball career and that was to shoot. Once while playing intramural basketball at Syracuse, we cut a deal while playing the far, far superior football team that they would let us shoot a three-pointer if we let them dunk at the other end. We lost something like 114-80, but I hit something like 10 #superhoops.
For weaker teams, the #superhoop
is an equalizer, but can you lean too much on it? The math tells us that shooting 33 percent from behind the arc equals 50 percent inside, but it rarely works exactly that easily.
For better or worse, Hartford coach John Gallagher is a believer. In his situation, he has to be. Unless he gets extremely fortunate, he's not going to be able to recruit the guys that are going to dominate in the paint. This year's Hawks feature underrated sophomore Mark Nkawamma, a legitimate, albeit undersized post presence. After that, basically a bunch of guards and shooters.
Yet although Nkawamma's 5.4 rebounds per game leads the squad by a wide margin and the Hawks came into Wednesday's game just 318th in the nation in total rebounds (and similar in rebounding margin), the Hawks were enjoyed one of their best non-conference campaigns in recent memory at 7-6.
It creates an odd dilemma for opponents. Do you let them shoot, or try to defend them more from the outside, maybe opening up the middle. Three-point defense is a controversial subject among stat nerds like Ken Pomeroy (and I mean that as a compliment, kind of). Pomeroy basically believes that it doesn't exist
, it's a luck thing that will always regress toward the mean over time.
I'm not entirely convinced, and neither is first-year Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey, who raised some eyebrows by coming to Binghamton from Rider. It was a matter of buying a stock low, though, although the Bearcats - still trying to dig out from the Kevin Broadus disaster- went 2-29 last season, they do have a decent sized mid-major fanbase in a somewhat sturdy market.
One of the benefits of getting to the gym late is listening to the pregame show, and Hartford did a good job by having both coaches on. Dempsey said the biggest key was three-point defense, which would surely make Pomeroy cringe. Or throw something at the radio. I know as an amateur coach, we worked on three-point defense, and I do believe in it, although the data is quite compelling. For the record, Gallagher actually quoted Pomeroy, but in reference to his team being the 17th youngest squad in the nation.
Apparently, defending the three-point line means coming out in a 2-3 zone, but that meant only one thing:
Hartford attempted 35 field goals in the first half. 23 of them were #superhoops. So 65.7 percent of the Hawks' shots were from behind the arc. They only made five and Binghamton had a 26-23 lead at the break.
But a funny thing happened to begin
the second half. Nkawamma, saddled with foul trouble in the first half, scored 11 seconds in. On a layup, with Gallagher clapping his hands. Hartford's full-court pressure gave Nkawamma six more points. As it turned out, Hartford's first 15 points of the second half came from inside the paint (or at the free throw line) as it surged ahead.
But Binghamton came back, using - you guessed it - the #superhoop. Senior Jimmy Gray, a loyal soldier
through plenty of crap in the program, finished 6-for-7 from behind the arc and the game was tied at 53 with seven minutes left.
Perhaps the biggest play of the evening happened 30 seconds later, when Nkawamma combined everything into a solitary play. Nkawamma got the ball on the right side of the court and the Bearcats dared him to shoot the #superhoop. He stutter-stepped, thought about it, and let fly. It rattled around and dropped, giving the Hawks a 4-point lead they would not relinquish.
Nkawamma finished with 23 points, and although he had only four rebounds, Hartford actually won the battle of the boards 33-30, with 16 of them coming on the offensive end.
In the end, Hartford finished 10-of-38 on #superhoops, a number Gallagher decried as too many in the postgame saying they needed to get inside more.
But for a program that hasn't had a 20-win season since 1973-74 and has had back-to-back winning seasons only once in nearly three decades as a Division I program, what's wrong with the #superhoop?
Shoot away, I say.
And if they keep winning games, maybe the fans will follow, too.