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Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich: 'Why not us?'

Hofstra's No. 31 Moussa Kone and No. 3

Hofstra's No. 31 Moussa Kone and No. 3 Zeke Upshaw talk with their teammates during the second half of a game against NJIT. (Dec. 30, 2013) Credit: James Escher

How can an eighth seed with a 9-22 record expect to prevail in the postseason tournament? Hofstra need only check its own history for the answer. The university's 1993-94 basketball team went 6-20 before winning three straight to capture the East Coast Conference title for retiring coach Butch van Breda Kolff.

What better way to celebrate the 20th anniversary than by doing it again under first-year coach Joe Mihalich in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament?

The stakes are higher nowadays. Twenty seasons ago, the ECC had no automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. This time, three victories would get Hofstra to the title game and a shot at the automatic bid.

Hofstra meets UNC Wilmington, also 9-22, on Friday at Baltimore Arena. Hofstra beat UNCW twice in the regular season. A victory would send Hofstra against top seed Delaware.

Zeke Upshaw, the graduate student from Illinois State who led Hofstra in scoring (19.6), said, "The big exclamation would be going to the championship game.''

What an achievement that would be. "Obviously, we can lose to every team in the tournament,'' Upshaw said, "but we feel like we can also beat every team in our league, so we just have to go into every game thinking that we can win and being confident and playing as well as we can play.''

Hofstra was 5-11 in CAA play, with the average margin of loss just over three points a game. "I said it's a new season, it's all about attitude and spirit,'' said Mihalich, who foresees an upset winner somewhere in the country during these conference tournament games. "I said somebody's going to do this. You're going to see some conference -- I don't know what conference it's going to be -- why not us?"

Mihalich has his team buying into it. "We just have to go and play our game, regardless if people feel we can win or not,'' said Dion Nesmith, the team's assist leader (4.25) and second-leading scorer (13.2). "The only people that we need to know that think we can win is ourselves. This group wants to be remembered for the hard work we put in this year and we don't want to be remembered for all the losses during the regular season, so we want to make a big name for ourselves in this tournament.''

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