I want to be clear… this was not my intention. This was not my expectation. What are we even doing here? SportsChannel8? More like SportsChannelElon! I’m about to have a whole row of SportsChannel8.com stories all to myself.
On the one hand, I feel a little greedy. Look, I’m not gonna sit here and act like I believe that most of y’all actually care about this. I’m constantly feel torn about writing about Elon Hoops because there’s always a voice inside my head saying “but who’s gonna read it? No, Max. You have to write about it in a way that appeals to the ‘common person.'” I haven’t yet figured out a way to consistently create content for the common person, so mostly I just send my Elon thoughts into the void that is Twitter dot com and if people actually want Elon #content from me, they know they can find it there.
But tonight, Elon’s going to play in the daggum CAA semifinals for the first time ever. Let me write my words! And selfishly, if Elon does complete this run and win a CAA Championship, people are suddenly going to want to read up on the Phoenix. I’m tryna get my name out there, you know?
ICYMI, you can catch the interview here: https://t.co/od9VOO9mju
— Max Gongaware (@maxgongaware) March 9, 2020
Before Saturday night, Elon had only ever won one CAA Tournament game (in 2015). Now, Elon’s won two of them in the last two days. Going back even further, this is the first time Elon’s won multiple Conference Tournament games in a single season since 2008. That Elon team made it to the SoCon Championship game and lost to a Steph Curry-led Davidson team that was about to go on its famous run to the Elite Eight. So Elon being here right now – under a first-year head coach, led by a graduate transfer and a couple of freshmen – it’s improbable. And it’s not just that they did it. It’s the way they did it.
For approximately 37 minutes on Saturday night vs. JMU, things felt awfully familiar. Elon was gonna go out with a whimper and lose to a bad team. Then, Mike Schrage took over. I already wrote about that.
Last night, Elon played second-seeded William & Mary. The Tribe was certainly one of the favorites heading into the tourney, featuring two seven-footers in its starting lineup: CAA Player of the Year Nathan Knight and a smooth-shooting southpaw, Andy Van Vliet. Elon, meanwhile, doesn’t start a player taller than 6′ 6″ and one of its frontcourt pieces – Simon Wright – is currently unavailable because of a torn plantar fascia. The matchup did not look good on paper (not to mention, William & Mary had already beaten Elon twice during the regular season and the DC crowd gave the Tribe a virtual home game).
Enter Hunter Woods. The freshmen wing from California entered Saturday’s game a rugged 20-88 from 3-point land in CAA play. Yes, he was honored as a member of the CAA’s All-Rookie team this year, but he finished the year a bit quietly, averaging just 7.8ppg over the final seven games of the regular season. When Elon played William & Mary last Saturday afternoon, Woods played just 14 minutes, scored zero points, and grabbed just one rebound. But he’s been LOUD in the CAA Tournament. Last night, he tossed in five 3-pointers and grabbed an Elon D-1 record-tying 15 rebounds while going up against the William & Mary trees. Late in the game, he guarded Nathan Knight on a few possessions and made some huge plays – collecting a block, a steal, and a deflection during the crucial final stretch.
There were times this season when the freshman Woods got too sped up, made careless plays, and Mike Schrage would yank him from the ballgame. Now, in March, he’s played every single minute during both of Elon’s games. How’s that for a measurement of growth from your freshman? Look at him (#25) in that postgame locker room having a blast with his friends:
— CAA Basketball (@CAABasketball) March 9, 2020
The emergence of Hunter Woods is one of many novellas I could write about Elon. The most interesting man in college basketball – Federico Poser – has come out of nowhere to provide a big lift for the Phoenix too. But I’ll save that for another day.
Elon’s still got a long way to go if it’s going to earn the school’s first trip to the Big Dance, but boy does it feel good to be – as Fatboy Slim once wrote – “right here, right now.” This team has arrived and is well ahead of schedule. And since I’ve been avoiding the DC Metro at all costs, my hope is that I’m playing my role to keep the team ahead of schedule. Mike Schrage said it best in a postgame interview with Taylor Durham last night: “Why not us? I believe in our guys, so why not?”
Keep it going tonight, fellas. I believe too. Why not?
Elon. Northeastern. CAA Semifinals. 8:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network. It’d be neat if you joined me.