Last week’s first-round Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament loss to the University of Delaware wrapped up what could only be described as a disappointing season for the Hofstra men’s basketball team.
The Pride finished with a 15-17 record, the team’s first time finishing under .500 since the 2013-14 season, which was Joe Mihalich’s first season as head coach. Hofstra lost 11 games in conference action this season, which mirrors the mark set by the 2013-14 team.
Of course, that team had been in the midst of a long stretch of losing seasons, with a first-year head coach in Mihalich after his predecessor, Mo Cassara, had been fired by the school after a season plagued by the dismissal of four Hofstra players charged in a string of campus burglaries.
This year’s Hofstra squad had just come off one of the most successful seasons in the program’s history, winning 24 games and the CAA regular season title before falling to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in the CAA Tournament championship game.
Unfortunately, last year’s team was led by one of the best players to ever suit up for the Pride, Juan’ya Green, and a strong supporting cast including Ameen Tanksley and Denton Koon.
All three of these players graduated, leaving a lot of holes in the lineup for Mihalich to fill.
That became clear from the get-go this season as – even in an opening-night win over Coppin State University – the Pride didn’t look as overpowering as people would have expected, especially against a team that was regarded as one of the weaker teams in Division I college basketball.
As the season went on, Hofstra struggled to keep opposing offenses at bay, surrendering just under 77 points per game. The Pride particularly had trouble in close contests, falling in multiple games by just a possession or two.
The Pride’s issues on the defensive end culminated in a shocking loss to Delaware in the first round of the CAA tourney.
One year after earning the top-seed and a first-round bye, Hofstra found itself on the losing end of the Friday evening eight-seed versus nine-seed game, a very long way to fall for Mihalich’s team.
But every year is a new year, and the Hofstra faithful have got a lot to look forward to for next season.
While this may have been a down year for the program as a whole, it also saw the emergence of Justin Wright-Foreman as one of the most lethal scoring threats in the entire conference.
As a freshman, Wright-Foreman barely cracked the Pride’s rotation.
The sophomore from Queens started this season’s opener, but only played 14 minutes, and found himself taking on more of a sixth-man role for the early half of the season.
While he did show flashes of greatness early in the season, Wright-Foreman really began to heat up when the Pride took on the University of Kentucky in Brooklyn.
Coming off the bench, Wright-Foreman scored 14 points, his first time in double-figures since playing Medaille College almost a month prior.
From there, Wright-Foreman simply exploded, never again scoring less than 10 points for the rest of the season. He had 15 20-point games – including a stretch of nine in a row at one point – and scored 30 points or more four times.
He’ll be back next year, and returning along with him will be freshman Eli Pemberton, who enjoyed a nice debut season of his own this year, averaging just under 13 points per game.
In addition, names like Hunter Sabety, Rokas Gustys and Desure Buie will be back in the blue and gold next season. The Pride will have to replace one of Hofstra’s all-time great three-point shooters in Brian Bernardi, as well as Deron Powers, the team’s point guard and second-leading scorer.
While this returning group brings a lot of promise and potential, there are also many questions that arise.
Two season ago, Gustys put the entire nation on notice, solidifying himself as a double-double machine, and finishing second in the nation in total rebounding.
While Gustys’ rebounding numbers were just as stellar this year, his scoring fell off and his free throw shooting – while never great – took a huge dive. Gustys dealt with injuries this season, and his backup, Sabety, emerged as a solid rim protector and shot-blocker, despite doing it in limited minutes.
If the Lithuanian big man could get his scoring numbers back to where they once were, that would be a huge step forward for the Pride, who played much of this season without a consistent post presence.
Arguably the Pride’s biggest question mark for next season is at point guard, where Powers departs after one season at the helm of the offense.
While he had huge shoes to fill replacing his predecessor Green, Powers had a very good season for the Pride.
He also logged the most minutes of any of Hofstra’s starters, due to the absence of a true backup point guard.
That role was expected to be filled by Buie, a sophomore from the Bronx who played a sizable role in the Pride’s rotation in his freshman season. However, he tore his ACL just eight games into the season and was lost for the year.
Buie will be back next season, but coming back from one of the most brutal injuries in sports will be no easy task.
It remains to be seen if Buie can not only get back to the level he was playing at before the injury, but if he can take his game to even greater heights.
With multiple offers out to point guards in the oncoming freshman class, it will also be imperative for Mihalich to find someone to back Buie up, or to take the starting reins themselves.
Hofstra has become accustomed to some pretty good guard play over the last few seasons, and as a team that primarily plays through its guards and wings, bringing in a few solid pieces for the backcourt could make a world of difference for the Pride.
Next season is still eight months away, but after a tough season like this one, it’s fair to assume Mihalich and his squad are already chomping at the bit to get back out on the court.