Hofstra Basketball CAA Tournament Preview

Publishedoncampuspsorts.com March 5, 2014

Hofstra graduate guard, Zeke Upshaw. Jeff Lansky

2013 Record: 9-22 (5-11 CAA)

Conference Tournament Champions: Hofstra has never won the CAA Tournament. East Coast Conference Tournament Champions-1976 and 1977. American East Conference Tournament Champions-2000 and 2001.

The year so far: The regular season was a rough beginning to the Joe Mihalich era. The regular season went as expected for a rebuilding program, but there were some bright spots. The Pride played their first road game of the season against the defending National Champion, Louisville Cardinals. Hofstra went on 18-8 run to start the second half to cut the lead to five before losing 97-69. The Pride struggled in conference play as they went on a five game losing skid towards the end of the season.

The (pleasant) surprises: One of the most encouraging surprises has been the play of freshman guard, Jamall Robinson. Robinson earned five Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week awards. Robinson is also the first true freshman to start every game for the Pride during the regular season since current assistant coach, Craig “Speedy” Claxton, in the 1996-1997 season.

Hofstra freshman guard, Jamall Robinson. Jeff Lansky

The bad and the ugly: Hofstra was fortunate to stay healthy and out of trouble after a season full of suspensions last year. One of the low points of this season was when the Pride blew a 13-point lead in the season opener to the Monmouth Hawks who finished ninth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).

The man: My pick for regular season MVP is graduate guard, Zeke Upshaw. Upshaw has led the Pride with 19.6 points per game and 84 three pointers. He is second in the CAA in scoring and thirty-third in the NCAA.

On the line: As Hofstra is in the first year of a rebuilding process they will be playing for pride. The Pride experienced a nightmarish season last year after the arrest of four key players after a string of campus robberies. The suspension of another troubled player soon followed. Hofstra was faced with the tough decision to let go of three-year head coach, Mo Cassara. New head coach, John Mihalich, was optimistic about a team that only had five returning players from last season. Mihalich brought high expectations to Hempstead himself after fifteen successful years as the head coach of Niagara.  He guided the Purple Eagles to NCAA Tournament appearances in 2005 and 2007. Hofstra looks avenge their early exit from the CAA Tournament last year. The Pride lost their first round game to Delaware 62-57. The addition of two new teams to the CAA has resulted in an extra game between the seven and eight seeds. A step in the right direction for the Pride would be to win their opening round game against UNC Wilmington.

Next opponent: The eight seed Pride will play the nine seed UNC Wilmington Seahawks at 7:00 p.m. on Friday at Baltimore Arena. Hofstra swept the season series against the Seahawks, winning both contests. The Pride won the first game 69-64 as Zeke Upshaw led the way with 27 points. Hofstra won the second meeting 61-52, as Upshaw was the star again with 16 points. Hofstra needs to see strong efforts from their big three: Upshaw, Robinson, and Dion Nesmith. On the defensive side, the Pride will have to contain Freddie Jackson and Chris Dixon. Jackson averaged 11 points in both games against Hofstra this season. Dixon led the Seahawks with 15 points in the first meeting between these two teams. The main keys to victory for the Pride are to create scoring opportunities for Upshaw and Robinson. Upshaw’s three-point shooting ability could cause major problems for the Seahawks if he gets hot. If the results of the regular season are on Hofstra’s side then it is likely that they will move on to play the one seed Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens on Saturday.

Tournament favorite: I believe that the tournament favorite is the one seeded Delaware Blue Hens. The Blue Hens finished with a record of 22-9 and 14-2 in the CAA. Delaware dominated the CAA, only losing to Towson and Drexel. The Blue Hens also played impressively against powerhouse teams in Villanova, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. They narrowly lost all three of those contests. The tournament should be smooth sailing for the Hens, as they look for revenge in a potential rematch with Towson. Delaware-Towson is my pick for the CAA Championship game.

Dark horse (or two): Even though they are the two seed, Towson is my dark horse to win the tournament. Towson has completely turned around their program in two years. The Tigers set a Division 1 record with a 41 game losing streak that ended on February 25, 2012 with a win against UNC Wilmington. The Tigers hadn’t won a game since December 29, 2010 at La Salle. The Tigers are one of two teams that beat tournament favorite, Delaware in conference play this year. The Tigers could give the Blue Hens a run for their money if they meet in the CAA Championship game. The Tigers had a 75-69 impressive win against NCCA Tournament regular, Temple. The Tigers could definitely make some noise in the CAA Tournament.

Prediction: I predict that Hofstra will defeat the UNC Wilmington Seahawks in their first round game on Friday. I believe that the Pride will make it a close game with Delaware, but unfortunately fall short. Hofstra played the Blue Hens well in two loses this year. They lost a four point heart breaker to Delaware in their second meeting. I expect Zeke Upshaw to continue his hot streak on the offensive end. I expect Jamall Robinson will steal the show on larger stage for the whole conference to see his bright future. Robinson has a tremendous upside to his game and it is exciting to see where he will take this program in the coming years. I predict that Towson will beat Delaware in the CAA Championship game. A NCAA Tournament bid would show that the Tigers have significantly grown from their embarrassing losing streak two years ago.

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