April 19, 2008

BU Basketball 2007-2008: A Season In Review

I know it's late, but I've had more time to reflect on this years season and really collect my feelings about what I predicted would be a championship season. Almost everybody did. In most preseason polls, including the AEC coaches poll, BU was picked to win the conference. I thought this would be the year - they had the returning personnel and what seemed to be a promising big freshman in Will Creekmore.

To me, when the season started, I thought Creekmore would make the biggest impact of the freshmen. He was like a slightly bigger Scott Brittain and I thought the two of them, down low in AEC play would be like the Twin Towers of San Antonio - Duncan/Robinson.

That turned out to be very wrong.

I had to miss Midnight Madness because of a prior commitment in a wedding - so I never got to enjoy Matt Killen doing the Soulja Boy.

The first game of the year was nothing short of magical. BU opened their season against St. Bonaventure and Case never looked so crowded to me. I thought that this year could be special in that Case could be that crowded every game. The Terriers won a game they should have, without real question. It was an exciting environment and seemed to hold promise for the upcoming season. Something that I really didn't realize until I looked up the box score - Creekmore never played. John Holland was the second leading scorer for BU with 12.

Mind you the Terriers got a victory without last season's RotY - Tyler Morris, and a banged up Ibrahim Konate.

This would be a high point in the first semester. After the Bonnies, BU dropped consecutive games to George Wasthington, St. Joe's, Northeastern, Marshall, Pitt and Manhattan. What was even worse in this stretch was rumors swirling about problems between coach Wolff and Corey Lowe; Corey didn't make the Marshall-Pitt roadtrip. It was truly a rough patch of the season for BU, and coming so soon really didn't make anyone feel good about the remaining 20 games.

The attendance was downright awful at the Manhattan game. Yes, there was the BU-BC hockey game an hour prior to the end of the basketball game - but athletics really didn't handle that well at all. There was no cross promotion and there was no incentive to go to the basketball game (especially with the teams 1-5 record at the time). And you know what, people didn't go. It seemed like a women's basketball game - Jesus and I were the only ones standing in the student section. And after loosing to MANHATTAN I was utterly depressed. Is this what BU basketball had become?

BU got their first win in 7 attempts on November 4th against Harvard but there seemed to be bigger things to worry about - Will Creekmore. And coming with that Dennis Wolff's abilities to keep players at Boston University. Creekmore's final game as a Terrier came against Manhattan - 3 points in 11 minutes. In total Creekmore played in 4 games, 50 minutes total, 11 points, 10 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 steals, 4 turnovers, 6 fouls, and 5/6 from the stripe. Not exactly impressive numbers, but good enough for Will to decide he was better than BU/Coach Wolff. I believe the exact date I knew for certain that Creekmore was leaving BU was December 8th, when I heard it from his mouth.

On one hand I took the "whatever" attitude - the, fine, you're loss, buddy [Creekmore]. Then on the other hand, I began to question Coach Wolff's likability and the way he handles himself with players and fans.

I think everyone who follows any amount of AEC basketball knows that Coach Dennis Wolff isn't the most lovable fellow. I think most people know that his players often times have trouble getting along with him - and some of these players showed their disapproval (see Will Creekmore, Etienne Brower, Tony Gaffney to name a few.) by leaving. Furthermore - Wolff with fans. You know, the coach is the figurehead of the team. Just like the dean is the figurehead of the school.

I look at BU's dean, Dean Kenneth Elmore, and then I look at BU's basketball coach, Dennis Wolff, and they couldn't be more different. Besides the bald part, they are completely different.

Dean Elmore is the most personal person I have ever met. He takes a genuine interest in the study body and shows that he cares. While a basketball coach doesn't have the same responsibilities as a dean, a coach should still be personal. He should still interact with the fans who show up and support the team more than anyone else. He should show he cares in some way. And I can't remember Dennis Wolff ever showing me he cares about me. His players do. The women's basketball team does. Basketball/Athletic Administration does. Coach Kelly Greenberg does. But Dennis Wolff has never said anything to me. I sit here and I think about this, and it makes me want a change.

It makes me want a coach like Hartford's Dan Leibovitz. I say his name for a couple of reasons - Leibovitz is a stand up guy. He's very personal with the fans, friendly, from Temple University and the John Chaney school of goonage/basketball, and seems outgoing.

My brother, father, and mother went to Regional NCAA tournament games in Denver. My brother wore a BU basketball shirt, because, well, that's how he rolls. Who other than Dan Leibovitz approaches my brother and asks him his affiliations with America East basketball? What ensued was a 15-minute conversation about how my family knows about the America East schools and the conference in general. With the Hartford coach.

Now I take this scenario and substitute some variables. I ask myself, would Dennis Wolff ever approach a 17 year-old wearing a Hartford basketball t-shirt? The answer is no.

And you know what - this is just my opinion. Wolff may be the nicest of individuals, but I don't see it, and I don't hear about that either.

I'm not trying to say that a team needs a friendly coach. I'm just sayin' that it could be nice. The team might actually enjoy playing. Possibly.

Alright, that was a deep rant, and we now come back to the lowest point in the BU basketball season - the conclusion of Out of Conference competition. After beating Yale, without Creekmore, BU lost another 3 in a row - @ Delaware, @ UMass, and @ Holy Cross. I was at all those games with Jesus and with a depressing/different BU team. I had to imagine this was just an out-of-conference thing. We'd get our act together and be the team everyone thought we would - undefeated in conference play. Look at me, I'm talking like I'm playing on the team. At that point Tyler was healthy, but didn't really show anything in his return, the team's defense looked stingy, and scoring seemed to be a major factor.

However, one player who was consistently stepping his game up was Carlos Strong. In OC play he was the second biggest scoring threat behind Corey. He proved that he could drop 20 in any game. Unfortunately, his scoring didn't produce victories as BU entered conference play a mere 3-9.

I was defeated - I was hoping that a 6-6 OC record was feasible. This 3-9 didn't bode well with the rest of the conference. It really didn't look like the early season #1 finish the team was projected to grab would hold up by any stretch.

AEC play didn't start well at all. A 20-point loss to Binghamton left me scratching my head. There wasn't anything good about BU basketball at that point in the year.

In what was the best game of the season up to that point, BU seemed to gain a little bit of control when they beat beat UNH 82-72. I wish I had been there because Corey dropped 30 and Dennis Wolff won his 250th career game. I wonder if there was any type of celebration/balloons? I would've thought balloons at the very least.

A loss to Hartford in a game in which the Terriers never really had any control followed UNH. The next AEC game featured the reigning conference champs, coming to Case in what would be the first game that students were back for conference play. It was "White Out Night" and the most heavily promoted BU sporting events I had ever seen. BU Athletics should be commended for the effort they put forth in getting students to fill an entire side of the stands. Too bad it was the side the NESN cameras were on so it never really appeared like the gym was more than half full on TV. BU didn't get a win, but it did produce one of the best pictures I saw all year:
Yeah, at least the dance team was performing well, and at every game in January. Nothing else seemed to be clicking.

BU came back with a victory their next game against perennial America East win Stony Brook. Nothing impressive because, really, there shouldn't be any question that BU will beat Stony Brook. They're like the Merrimack of basketball.

Back to back home losses against Vermont and UMBC led me to make an early (late) season conclusion - BU basketball sucks. The positive about these games - the only thing I took out of it - a new and improved look to basketball games at Agganis. It was promising to see a curtained off section and a tarped off section behind the baskets, with raised bleachers. This was a great move by Athletics if they have any intentions to play home basketball at HAA.

Where was I? Oh right, BU basketball sucked. Yeah, well I (kind of) ate my words, but at the time, you have to understand how I felt. BU was 5-14 and looked in no shape to make any type of noise in any tournament, anywhere. They were utterly embarrassed on their home court against UMBC and worst of all - Corey Lowe had sat out with a nagging knee injury. At that point I had pretty much written off the team. Where was our savior? I mean, I thought it was Corey but he was slowly but surely finding a way to escape the picture/mess BU bball was becoming.

And then he returned. In a most unusual fashion. Three special things occurred in BU's next game against Maine in Orono. First the savior returned - Corey, who made the trip and was not expect to play decided to suit up at the last minute. I mean this really wasn't expected at all - he had to wear #14 because BU didn't even bring the #13 jersey. Secondly, Scott Brittain dropped a career high 20 points and finally, this victory against the Black Bears started the winning streak the team so desperately needed. And in each game this team was looking better and better.

UNH was the next victim - things were coming together a little bit. Everyone started producing and started filling the duties of their given roles.

An ugly 4-point win over Stony Brook was still a win. Then came the game that I believed really changed BU's season. Binghamton, February 12th - a day that will forever be known as Tunday.

The Binghamton game was the best game I had ever been to. EVERYTHING was AWESOME. Every facet of the game - BU won by 26, John Holland began to look unstoppable with 25 points, MAX GOTZLER had a career high 13 points, everybody but Killen played. AND TUDNE AGBOOLA SCORED. That is why February 12th will forever be known as Tunday. With a 9-14 record I was actually starting to believe in this team. I think they started to believe in themselves too. On top of that they were all healthy, for the first time all season. Maybe I was too quick to write the team off.

Two nights later, on Valentine's day, the Terriers gave BU fans a little treat - on TV! BU beat UVM in what was, for me, the most gut-wrenching game of the year. I was nearly sick, watching the Terriers grab a 10-point lead then squandering it in the remaining minutes only to win because of a Mike Trimboli miss at the last second. Nonetheless, BU was 10-14 and climbing the AEC standings.

That Sunday BU traveled to UMBC. It would be a telling game for a couple of reasons - was this BU team for real? How good is UMBC? What's the deal with John Holland?

In a game that was basically ping pong with 10 players (back and forth and back and forth), BU lost by 3 points to end their 5-game streak. Questions were answered - BU was for real, UMBC was that good, John Holland has skillz but, still, he's no Corey Lowe.

The loss to the #1 team in the America East really didn't slow BU down. They came back hard against Maine with a 19-point win with 23 from Holland and then stole a game in their Brakcetbuster matchup against St. Peter's.

The season home finale was BU saying thank you to the fans who stuck with the team the whole way, or just jumped on whatever bandwagon there may have been. Against the beloved Dan Leibovitz, among many others, John Holland declared himself the America East Rookie of the Year, right there. Holland dropped a league high 38 points and WOWed the crowd.

Also, dance team member singing the National Anthem = instant victory. It happened twice. Just sayin', you might want to look into that for next year, Case.

Anyways, BU pounded Hartford in a 97-66 W. The most disappointing part - the bench couldn't get three points in three minutes. It kind of felt like a loss because of that.

The Terriers played themselves into potentially the #2 seed, heading into the last Sunday of America East basketball. Unfortunately, a loss to Albany (the 7th loss in a row to the Danes) dropped BU all the way to the 6th seed. A 6th seed finish in the America East (although the same record as the 4/5 seed) was not what I was expecting. But there was nothing to do about it. BU drew the Great Danes in the first round of the conference tournament, which was really the worst possible draw for them.

I'm convinced I died during that game. I've never been so exhausted from not playing a sport or running. I got tired from cheering and screaming. Does this mean that I'm fat?

I'm talking of course about the first round America East playoff game against the Great Danes of Albany. BU went down early, clawed their way back, took a lead, and didn't look back. Until there were 14 seconds left. With 14 on the clock Jon Iati nailed a 3 ball which sent the game into overtime. BU somehow found a way to take down the Danes and move onto round 2. I was ecstatic. It felt like we had won something that really mattered - but we had won nothing yet.

At 2 pm the next day the Terriers played their last game of the season. The entire game SUCKED. I went into it thinking that BU could own Hartford for the second straight game. But, it was fairly difficult, nay impossible, without John Holland IN THE GAME. Instead, BU played, but never really played in the game. Hartford killed the Terrier season with a final record of 15-16.

After a God-awful start, I accept this record. I accept what this team did in the face of coaching problems, a transfer, a very injury-prone team, and inconsistency.

BU got to the same place in the tournament they were the year before and that's frustrating for everybody. They finished with a better record than the 06-07 season, but with little difference in the tourney.

There's little to say. It was fun. It was certainly a roller coaster, and if anything I grew much more fond of the team and college basketball this season. I hope that next year will be better than this year. I think that's a given. I don't see how BU won't be picked to finish first again. If they were picked last year, shouldn't they be picked again? They lose no one and everyone has just gained a year of playing with each other.

I take that back - BU is losing Max Gotzler to graduation. Even though he's listed as a Junior with one more year left of basketball eligibility, Max has senior standing, creditwise, and will pursue a career once he graduates in May.

Another (kind of) question mark I have is Corey Lowe. I know it's all rumors and speculation, but I couldn't confidently tell you whether or not I think Corey will be playing for Dennis Wolff next year. He is a tremendous player with great talent. I want him to stay, but sometimes it doesn't work out and these players want to do what's best for them. I can't get in the way of that - I just support whoever plays in Scarlet and White.

Thanks basketball team, for the ups, the downs, the smiles and the frowns. Let's make a bigger difference, next season. I know we can. Thank you for reading my (now edited!) BU basketball novel.

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