When Hofstra was on the nation’s longest winning streak, it was only natural to think of possibilities. What if the team never lost again — until the final game of the conference tournament?
“I tell you what, it’s a moot point now. But you can’t help but start to think. You get ahead of yourself,” coach Joe Mihalich said long after the streak was stopped at 16 games. “I think even if we had gone 29-4, I don’t think we would have gotten an at-large bid. I really don’t. I think that the system, the process, is such that it favors the Power Five guys.”
Which is not to say that the system is awful. Mihalich actually happens to find the NCAA Tournament fascinating despite the fact that mid-majors, or teams outside the Power Five conferences, have little chance of getting onto the floor for The Big Dance if they don’t win their conference tournaments. That is the case in the Colonial Athletic Association, of which Hofstra is a member.
So the point is that regardless of Hofstra’s 25-6 overall record and its first-place finish (15-3) in the conference, the whole season rides on three days, starting on Sunday in North Charleston, South Carolina. There is no safety net in the CAA Tournament, which the Pride will open at noon Sunday against James Madison, which beat Towson, 74-73, on Saturday.
“Listen, I love the way it is, the charm of the tournament,” Mihalich, the CAA Coach of the Year, said of the NCAA. “One of those Last Four Outs is going to be controversial, everybody is going to talk about it, and that’s what we love.”
But of course, the Pride would love to be on the inside for the first time in 18 years. They would love to see that reward for Justin Wright-Foreman, one of the greatest players in school history (12 points short of third place on the all-time scoring list) and the CAA Player of the Year. They would love to have all of their players — such as CAA defensive player of the year Desure Buie — experience the heart of March Madness. They would love to be perfect through Tuesday.
This is part of the mid-major territory: Teams may not have quite the same pressures that major conference schools have all the way around, but they have no margin for error in conference tournaments.
Hofstra did struggle against Towson and James Madison recently, needing two overtimes at home to beat the former and losing in overtime against the latter on Senior Day.
But the Pride do have the advantage of a week’s rest, and they did finish strongly with a 92-70 win at Delaware last Saturday.
Plus, they know that no one else in the league has a player like Wright-Foreman. He was named this week as a finalist (the only one from a mid-major) for the Jerry West Award, presented by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the top shooting guard in the nation.
He enters the tournament having scored in double figures in 84 consecutive games. That is eighth-best all-time; this season, he surpassed Rick Mount, Tom McMillen, Dick Groat, David Robinson and, most recently, Pete Maravich.
“I’ve coached players who could really score a lot of points and you could tell they were thinking more about themselves than anybody else,” Mihalich said. “But Justin is trying to make his team win.”
Three more wins and the whole team will be in The Dance.