By Joe Pantorno, Assistant Sports Editor
If you looked at the first six games of the Hofstra men's basketball season, seeing a 3-3 record would not really surprise anyone. It was expected that the squad would have a hard time in the Honda Puerto Rico Tip Off, though it put on a strong show against Western Kentucky University after being thumped by the University of North Carolina.
What some may consider the most difficult part of the schedule over, Saturday's matchup against Towson University brings a new challenge to head coach Mo Cassara and the Pride: conference play.
Every game played between two Colonial Athletic Association sides is a do or die match.
Yes, the CAA is a mid-major conference that is often overlooked, but if you look at the top 25 teams in collegeinsider.com's mid-major poll, there are three teams from the CAA on the list (Old Dominion no. 1, VCU no. 6, George Mason no. 9).
With no more than two bids given to CAA teams in the past decade, conference games are some of the most heated in the nation come the middle of February.
Some believe that the CAA deserves more bids to the big dance. Their loudest arguments came in 2006 when Hofstra beat the soon to be Cinderella team of George Mason twice, once in the conference tournament. The Pride finished that season 26-7 and were only given an NIT berth while Mason went on one of the most improbable runs in NCAA tournament history.
It will be interesting to see how Cassara's young team will react to the pressures of CAA play as every game has huge implications to their season.
The game against Towson will give critics a good idea of how Hofstra will fare in conference play for the season. Towson, picked to finish tenth in the conference standings is an easier test to expose to a fairly inexperienced roster.
Hofstra had a difficult time transitioning from non-conference to CAA play last season. Starting 7-5 in non-conference play including two huge games against #1 ranked Kansas and #12 UConn, the Pride entered conference play and went 2-7 in its first nine games. The early hole it dug for itself resulted in a relatively unsuccessful year, by Hofstra's standards, at 19-15 and an early exit from the College Basketball Invitational post-season tournament.
It is crucial for Cassara to not let his team fall into the same trap the Pride experienced last year or it will be another disappointing year of Hofstra basketball. If he is able to steer his team to a win against Towson and get hot at the right time, Cassara and company can put together a squad that could surprise a lot of people.