Hofstra has an opportunity to fulfill preseason expectations and win their first Colonial Athletic Association regular season crown.
The Pride’s 70-69 win over UNCW Thursday night pulled them into a first place tie with the Seahawks at 13-4 in league play. If Hofstra is able to get past Charleston on Saturday afternoon, the Pride would all but lock up the regular season title.
It would be Hofstra’s first regular season title since 2000-01 in the America East, their second of back to back titles under head coach Jay Wright which led to the program joining the CAA and Wright being hired to lead Villanova.
How They Got There
For the second time this season, Hofstra and UNCW were tied with less than half a minute to play. In the first meeting in Hempstead earlier this month, Juan’ya Green’s 3-pointer knotted the score with 20 seconds remaining before the Seahawks’ Denzel Ingram nailed a 3-pointer of his own to complete a 20 point comeback and give UNCW the 70-67 victory.
This time around, it was again Green who tied the score in the final minute, but the senior took it a step further and gave the Pride a one point lead with a pair of free throws with 27 seconds remaining. Hofstra held strong on UNCW’s initial possession, but the Seahawks forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play and found Ingram beyond the arc.
His shot circled the rim and out. Hofstra held on for the one point victory.
Ameen Tanksley, who matched Green with 18 points to lead all scorers, needed just 10 points entering Thursday to achieve 1,000 points in a Hofstra uniform. The senior became the 33rd player in program history to achieve the feat, following Green who accomplished it earlier this month and in the process joined one of the most exclusive clubs in college basketball.
Should the Pride win on Saturday, it would be their first regular season conference title, but not the first for Green, Tanksley, and head coach Joe Mihalich. The trio earned the MAAC regular season title in 2012-13 at Niagara before falling to eventual tournament champion Iona in the semifinals.
Following that season, Mihalich was hired as the head coach at Hofstra and his two players made the decision to follow their coach downstate. With Green and Tanksley forced to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules, the Pride struggled to a 5-11 conference record, finishing 8th of nine teams in the league.
The last place team that year? UNCW.
Since Hofstra knocked off the Seahawks 78-70 in that tournament-opening contest, both programs have enjoyed meteoric rises. The Pride have compiled a 41-22 record since Green and Tanksley became eligible, and after hiring Kevin Keatts prior to the 2014-15 season, UNCW has gone 39-21, enjoying one of the best turnarounds in the nation.
One of these teams will claim the CAA regular season crown Saturday afternoon, but Hofstra is in the driver’s seat. The Pride host Charleston at 4:00 in a contest produced by the American Sports Network and aired on delay locally on SNY starting at 5:00 while UNCW hosts Towson at 1:00.
So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance?
There does exist a scenario where the Seahawks could claim the regular season crown despite a Hofstra victory. Should UNCW, Hofstra, James Madison, and Drexel all win, the tiebreaker between Hofstra and UNCW would come down to which team has the higher RPI on Sunday.
Hofstra is currently ranked 61 in the RPI, while UNCW sits at 66. Although the Seahawks’ opponent, Towson, holds a better conference record than Hofstra’s opponent, Charleston, the Cougars are 131st in the RPI while the Tigers rank 148th.
KenPom.com gives UNCW a 79% chance to defeat Towson this weekend, James Madison a 70% chance to beat William & Mary, and Drexel just a 41% chance to take down Northeastern. The site also gives Hofstra a 75% chance to beat Charleston, who took down the Pride 72-61 earlier this year.
Hofstra will have the results of the UNCW/Towson game before they tip off, but JMU/William & Mary tip off at 2:30 while Drexel and Northeastern square off concurrent with Hofstra.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.