Navy Notables 11/25/14

The Navy men’s lacrosse 2015 schedule was announced this past weekend.  The Midshipmen have a challenging slate of 13 games, including the first game against Air Force in over a decade.  Five of Navy’s opponents finished in the top 20 last season and 4 of them played in the NCAA tournament.  Navy will open at home with traditional opponent VMI before welcoming in-state rivals Maryland to NMCMS on February 14th.  Navy’s other OOC games will be a home tilt vs. Towson and an away game against Johns Hopkins on March 7th.  Opinion incoming: call me crotchety, but I think the lacrosse season is getting going way too early.  Navy will play four games in February and their season will be more than half way over by March 10th.  That’s a bit ridiculous.

For those who came up in the dark ages of Navy football, it never gets old to read commentary that shows just how much the program has grown since the option renaissance took root in 2002.  South Alabama coach Joey Jones spoke to this point when addressing the media ahead of the Friday afternoon game: “Getting a program like Navy to come here is a big deal…We want to play teams like that.”  That Navy has gone from a winless team to one that is bringing a national brand and cachet into away stadiums is something else.  As Bill Wagner of the Annapolis Capital Gazette writes, Navy needs to lock up a bowl bid with a win in Mobile.  If there is no solid back-up plan for the Poinsettia Bowl committee, a 5-6 Navy could be locked out before the Army-Navy game.

Quick Hits:

Navy Notables – 11/24/14

Navy men’s basketball got their first win of the Season on Sunday vs. Binghamton in the consolation game of the Tip-Off Tournament.  Though they lead by one at the half, Navy found themselves down 53-42 with less than 14 minutes left in the game.  Over the course of the next 9 minutes, Navy hit 8-of-10 shots from the floor, including two Brandon Venturini three-pointers, to tie it up at 60.  Venturini hit his 4th three of the game with 3:15 left to give the Mids the lead for good.  For the game, Ventrini was 9-of-13 from the floor and a perfect 4-of-4 at the free throw line to lead the team with 26 points.  The men return home for a Thanksgiving-eve match-up with Penn State Harrisburg.

This week’s football opponent, South Alabama, kept it close with South Carolina in the first half before dropping the contest 37-12.  Twice in the 1st half the Jaguars got inside the Gamecocks’ 5-yard line, but had to settle for field goals.  There is an air of uncertainty around the quarterback position at South Alabama heading in to Friday afternoon tilt, with three different quarterbacks having played in the past 4 games due to injuries and ineffectiveness (two QB’s have combined for 8 interceptions in the past 3 games).

As anyone who has set foot in Alumni Hall and has seen the banners knows, the women’s basketball team has had an amazing run of success.   But now the ladies find themselves going through a bit of a rebuilding year, returning just one starter from last year’s Patriot League regular season champions.  On Thursday night, the team rallied from a 3-point halftime deficit against Division III Mary Washington to prevail 79-59.  But there would be no such rally on Saturday vs. Penn.  Trailing by 12 at the break, Navy was only able to gain back three in the 2nd half and ended up falling 60-51.

Quick Hits:

  • With a win this past Saturday, Western Kentucky became the 8th bowl eligible team Navy has played in 2014.  Temple has the potential to become the 9th such team if they can win one of their final two games of the season (vs. Cincinnati, at Tulane).
  • The Senior Bowl has a nice Q&A with Navy long snapper Joe Cardona, just the 3rd Mid to be selected to the prestigious event.
  • Water Polo ended its season with a 3rd place finish at the CWPA Championship this past weekend.
  • Wrestling finished 8th at the Navy Classic with 5 place-winners, but was shut out of an individual championship for just the 4th time in the 37 year history of the meet.
  • Navy cross country runner Steve Schroeder finished in 182nd place at the NCAA championship.  Despite a strong start, Schroeder was hampered by back spasms for the final 5000m of the race.
  • Navy volleyball’s season ended with a 3-set loss to Lehigh in the Patriot League tournament.  The season ends with Navy having its first winning record since 2008 and the first sweep of Army matches since 2005.

Navy Notables – 11/21/14

Navy men’s basketball dropped their third consecutive game, 88-51 at the Providence Friars on Thursday night.  After opening with a 5 point home loss to Michigan State, Navy has been outscored by a combined 180-104 by Providence and Notre Dame.  Perhaps the most telling stat of the game was the dichotomy in shooting 3’s.  Providence was 11-21 from beyond the arc, while Navy was struggled to 4-17.  But before we get too worried, let’s remember that this is the a Providence team that won the Big East last year and returned several key contributors, while Notre Dame is in the top half of the extremely deep ACC.  Navy heads to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn to face a the CAA-favorite Northeastern Huskies on Saturday night.  The Huskies are fresh off a win at Florida State and looking to push their record to 3-0.

On the women’s side of the hardcourt, Navy blew past Mary Washington in the 2nd half last night to notch their first win of the season.  Trailing by three at the break, Navy opened the 2nd half on a 21-4 run en route to a 79-59 victory.  Contributing to the dominant performance in the game was Navy’s out-rebounding the Eagles 33-14 in the 2nd half.  But there is certainly room for the team to improve as the ladies shot just 4-of-21 from three and 23-of-40 from the free throw line.  Navy continues a 6 game home stand on Saturday night against the Penn Quakers.

It was announced earlier in the week that two Navy football players have been selected for leadership roles for the second semester.  Linebacker Joe Worth has been chosen to lead the Brigade of Midshipmen as the Brigade Commander.  He becomes the first football player to hold this position since Zerbin Singleton served in the role in 2008.  Additionally, safety Shakir Robinson has been selected as First Regimental Commander for the spring.

Quick hits:

Navy Notables – 11/20/14

Glass half full vs. empty test – senior forward Worth Smith is going to miss the next 6 weeks of basketball due to a dislocated kneecap suffered in the first half of the Michigan State.  Given what it looked like when he went down, this is probably the best case scenario.  It is anticipated that Smith will be able to return by the time Patriot League play starts in late December.  This is the 4th major injury of the season for the Navy basketball team, joining Tim Abruzzo (ACL), Michael Brown (broken jaw), and Kendall Knorr (tendinitis).

Austin Grebe was named the ECAC special teams player of the week for his performance against Georgia Southern.  He was perfect from the field against the Eagles, connecting on all 7 extra point attempts and converting his only field goal attempt (from 36 yards).  Grebe, who won the kicking job before the VMI game, has yet to miss.  For the season, he’s 23-23 on extra points (yes, Navy has scored 23 touchdowns in the last 4 games) and 4-4 on field goals.

If you were at the football game on Saturday, you would have seen the Varsity Offshore Sailing Team recognized for their season on the water, which included many regatta victories.  But the single most notable moment of the season wasn’t marked with the raising of any silver in victory.  It was the successful recovery of a man overboard during the Annapolis Yacht Club Fall Series.  The crew, firmly in the lead of a distance race, reacted swiftly when a lifeline broke on an opposing boat and recovered the person in the water in a scant 4 minutes, averting possible disaster.

Quick hits:

THE DAY ANNAPOLIS WAS THE CENTER OF THE BASKETBALL UNIVERSE

I don’t take vacations as often as I should. Not that I’m a workaholic or anything, but my wife has a weird schedule that doesn’t sync up very well with mine when it comes to taking time off. The problem with never taking vacations– other than the obvious– is that on the rare occasions when we do take one, we feel a lot of pressure to make sure we’re packing in as much fun as possible. Every second just has to be filled with excitement, and we can’t miss out on anything our destination has to offer since we don’t know when we’ll be able to take another trip. Ironically, the pressure to have fun ends up adding a layer of stress that makes everything less fun.

The same thing happens to me when I make it up to Annapolis. I don’t go anywhere near as often as I should; the last time I attended a home football game was against Central Michigan in 2010. I was determined to go to a game this year, and considered San Jose State since my class was having our reunion that weekend. Then the Veterans Classic was announced, and after that the choice was obvious (sorry, ’99). This was an event I had to see, and by the time last week rolled around I could barely contain my excitement for it. But as my trip grew closer, I started wondering: was I setting myself up for disappointment? Was I putting too much pressure on myself to have fun at this event? Was there any chance the Veterans Classic could possibly live up to the expectations I had built up in my head?

As it turns out, it blew them away.

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Veterans Classic – a Navy experience like none before

I was born in Durham, NC and grew up on Tobacco Road (seriously – we had tobacco fields right behind my childhood home). My parents went to Duke, my dad spent some time as an adjunct at Wake Forest, and my brother graduated from NC State. Cliques formed around ACC basketball school fanbases in schools to the point that the different colors could have been mistaken as gang colors. I might like to talk about football around here, but I was raised on basketball.

The Quicken Loans Veterans Classic would have fit right in with the basketball culture that rules North Carolina. And much like the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor, Alumni Hall provided an intimate evening for nearly 6,000 fans to watch Navy play host to Michigan State, VCU, and Tennessee.

The first matchup of the evening saw VCU, lead by Shaka Smart, open up an early lead on Tennessee that was not relinquished. There were some kinks with the shot clock early on, and a scary moment when VCU guard JeQuan Lewis went down hard and appeared to have a seizure on the court. But the real story was that Smart’s Havoc is real and it is spectacular. VCU seemed to swarm the court on both ends, creating opportunities on offense and confusion for Tennessee on defense. Oh and the VCU pep band is extremely fun. Anyone who has 7 tubas shaking it in the aisles gets a big thumbs up from this former band nerd.

But enough about VCU-Tennessee. Let’s talk about the amazing experience that was Navy vs. Michigan State.

First up: the crowd. I have never heard Alumni Hall sound like that. The Mids in attendance were loud all game long, being relentless when Navy needed to get stops and giving plenty of love for great offensive play. It was something to see when compared with the relative quiet of the mandatory fun Army-Navy games. I can only imagine what Halsey Field House was like when David Robinson was on his way to becoming the Admiral, but I would guess that Friday night came pretty close to matching that intensity.

And the Sparty fans that were around were a lot of fun. Everyone I met was eager to talk, swap stories, and offer up opinions on the event and the play on the court. Granted, they were doing their best impression of Ohio State fans at the Horseshoe in 2009 – quiet consternation and a general “is this really happening” feeling oozing from their clenched hands.

And the consternation was well deserved, because Navy played a complete game and took Michigan State to the wire. Let’s be perfectly clear, this was not a case of Navy hitting miracle threes to keep it close and entertaining. Navy simply went toe-to-toe with Michigan State, capitalized on MSU mistakes, and made a run when they had to. And they did this all with Worth Smith leaving the game with a knee injury in the latter parts of the first half, after already racking up 7 points and a pair of steals and rebounds.

Sure, Michigan State had the highlight reel plays. On a few occasions, Sparty got odd-man breaks on a turnover or steal and shook the court with some high-flying alley-oops. But Navy was never intimidated. We joked about taking pictures of the scoreboard when the Midshipmen held leads early in the game. We were all happy when it was a seven point game at the half. And when Michigan State went on a run to open it up to a 13 point lead in the 2nd half, we all seemed to sense the inevitable blowout upon us. Before the game, I asked Mike if we could keep it to 20. Seemed pretty prescient at the time.

Then Navy went on a 10-0 run to close it right back up.

From there on out, Navy couldn’t get closer than three. But Michigan could never open it back up, either. Over the course of the 2nd half, Navy outscored Michigan State by 2 and held their own on the boards (losing the rebound battle by one). Perhaps the most shocking stat of the game was that Navy’s bench outscored Michigan State’s by a 17-16 margin.

It should be noted that Navy got over 100 minutes of play out of plebes and youngsters. Ed DeChellis has struggled through his first 3 seasons for consistency and depth. But after one game, it looks like the Midshipmen may finally have some. For my money, the Navy player of the game was Edward Alade. He led all Navy players with 12 points on 5-of-6 from the field and a couple of free throws. He went against the trees of MSU under the basket and held his own.

There were multiple stories to come out of Friday night. That Navy took a nationally ranked team to the final minute of the game was the biggest. But right behind it was the quality of the even and the bright future for the Veterans Classic. Some of the biggest names in the country are clamoring to attend (John Feinstein reported on Saturday that Notre Dame will play Navy next year while North Carolina and Temple face off in the other game). With another 3 years left on the current contract, it looks like CBS and Navy have a winner on their hands.

If you passed on the event this year, don’t make the same mistake in 2015. This event matched the energy I’ve felt in attendance at ACC basketball games. It reminded me of the pure fun of watching Tobacco Road teams square off. And it let the nation know that there is a great new event taking place every November in Annapolis. And it let me know that I need to get to more Navy basketball games this season (and write about them). You should come out, too. Looks like it’s going to be a fun year.

Postgame Haiku, Vol. 84

In option battle
Navy football reigns supreme
Seniors out on top

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