Men's basketball primed for successful CAA Tournament
The Hofstra men’s basketball team had a season for the ages, filled with a 16-game winning streak, a place in the top scoring offenses in the country at No. 8 and a finale for one of the program’s all-time great players. The journey has been unforgettable thus far, but most importantly, it is unfinished. The Pride is determined to make sure that this is their year to do what players and coaches have dreamed of since the start of their careers.
Could this finally be the year? Since joining the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in the 2001-02 season, Hofstra has never won the conference tournament. This year, the Pride has its best chance.
Not only are they the deserving regular season champs, but they average eight more points per game than second place UNC-Wilmington (UNCW) and third place Elon University.
Leading the charge is Justin Wright-Foreman, who moved into No. 4 all-time on the Hofstra scoring list and is now No. 2 in all of college basketball in points per game.
But as great as he is, one man doesn’t make a team. If the Pride is to achieve their goals this season, in and beyond the CAA tournament, everyone on the team must play their part as best as they can.
“Everybody has their roles,” said Eli Pemberton in an article for the NCAA on Wednesday, Jan. 30. “Guys know that Justin is ‘the man’ on the team. He’s going to lead us, but we’ve got to help him out. That was the key this year, just to make everything easier for him.”
The Pride has the talent, the character, the toughness and the will to win that make them the favorite to conquer this tournament. Of course, one of the biggest keys to winning the home stretch of the season is the ability to overcome adversity. To do that, you must have togetherness. They do. Most importantly, they play together. They believe in and rally behind their best player.
“The real thing that’s going on here, is that these kids – and a lot of this is going to sound corny – really like each other. They genuinely like playing with each other,” said head coach Joe Mihalich. “This is really a cliché. They really play for each other, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
“We have a great brotherhood that’s going on around here,” Wright-Foreman said. “I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.”
Hofstra’s 16-game streak was once the nation’s longest winning streak this season, something that caught national attention. Andy Katz, a longtime college basketball analyst and yearly bracketologist, projected the Pride as a No. 12 seed in the NCAA.
“It gets contagious,” Mihalich said. “We’ve got these kids who genuinely have a will to win. They just don’t talk about it, they have it.”
Hofstra ranks No. 1 in the CAA in three-point percentage, field goal percentage and points per game. If they are to accomplish what they set out to do, they will make history. Hofstra’s NCAA tournament drought stretches all the way back to 2001, when several of this year’s team’s players were just infants and toddlers. The once in a lifetime opportunity that lies in front of them is something that very much weighs on their minds.
“That would mean everything to the University and Long Island,” Pemberton said. “I’m kind of [at] a loss for words about it. We know that we can, but it is far ahead, so it’s kind of a touchy subject to talk about.”
Gaining some local and national recognition for what has been brewing for a few years now would certainly be satisfying to the Pride, especially because of past heartbreak. In 2016, Hofstra lost in the CAA championship game to UNCW, something that hasn’t been forgotten and something that still serves as motivation for Hofstra to right the wrong.
“You never get over it. We had the ball at the end of regulation, but didn’t score, and I still remember the play we ran,” Mihalich said.
If the Pride is to be guaranteed a berth into the NCAA tournament, they obviously have to win the CAA tournament and earn the guaranteed bid that comes along with it.
Standing in their way, most notably, is Northeastern University, who the Pride narrowly beat by three at home, but also handed Hofstra one of their only two double-digit losses of the season. Northeastern also finished just a game behind Hofstra in the standings, so if these two teams do see each other down the line in the CAA championship game, it is sure to be an even matchup.
Hofstra also suffered a tough overtime loss to James Madison University, and survived a three overtime nail-biter to the College of William & Mary, as well as a double overtime game against Towson University, so the Pride’s road ahead is littered with potential tough games.
If Hofstra is to get where they want to go, they will have to take it one game at a time and play focused defense, which is something they did during their 16-game winning streak. They’ll have to maintain their offense. It does help to have someone like Wright-Foreman, who is a candidate for both the Haggerty Award, which is given to the All-New York Metropolitan NCAA Division I men’s college basketball player of the year, as well as the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award, which is given to the best collegiate shooting guard. The Hofstra Pride, with Wright-Foreman leading the way, have everything it takes. But the question is, will they execute when they need to and can they deliver on the expectations that they have of each other, both individually and as a team?
Only time will tell, but if the Pride fulfills their potential and wins the games they are favored to win, the end of the journey could very well be just as unforgettable as it has been up to this point.
Image Courtesy of Hofstra Athletics