Hofstra is coming off a special men’s basketball season that saw a bittersweet ending.
For the first time since 2001, the Pride qualified for the NCAA Tournament. However, two days after Hofstra defeated Northeastern, 70-61, to capture the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament on March 12, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the cancellation of March Madness due to Covid-19.
“Nobody wanted to believe the decision to cancel the tournament was true,” Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich said. “Telling the guys was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
Hofstra, which won 12 of its last 13 games and finished 28-6 — one win shy of the program’s single-season record, returns three starters and other key pieces, is expected to tip off the 2020-2021 campaign around Nov. 25 against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
With Mihalich on medical leave, associate head coach Mike Farrelly takes over on an interim basis. Farrelly, who enters his eighth season with the program, is assisted by former Pride star Speedy Claxton and Colin Curtin.
“It’s great to get back on the floor,” Farrelly said. “We’ll miss coach Mihalich’s voice, but we’re not undergoing any huge changes and the message is still the same. Everyone is looking forward to competing and getting after it.”
The Pride, which opened practice Oct. 16, will surely miss standouts Desure Buie (18.2 ppg, 200 assists, 85% free throws) and Eli Pemberton (17.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) but returns three double-digit scorers to lead the pack.
Senior guard Jalen Ray, who scored 17 points in the CAA championship game, averaged 11.9 points and is primed to take another leap, Farrelly said. “He’s already done it from a leadership standpoint,” Farrelly noted. “Jalen will have the ball in his hands at crunch time. He can shoot it and he’s working on getting to the rim more.”
Another key piece to the backcourt returns in the form of senior guard Tareq Coburn, who averaged 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. “He’s shown growth in his game to compliment his shooting,” Farrelly said. “Just like Jalen, we need Tareq to take that next step. Teams are going to gameplan to stop them.”
At point guard, Farrelly said the Pride will begin the season with Shawdarius Cowart and Caleb Burgess sharing the workload. Cowart is a JUCO transfer from Pensacola, FL who had 20 double-digit scoring games last season. Burgess, a sophomore, appeared in 23 games off the bench for Hofstra. “It’s a competitive battle, and the good thing for them is they don’t have to worry too much about scoring,” Farrelly said. “We need them to run the offense and defend.”
A major target on offense will be junior big man Isaac Kante (6-foot-7, 240 pounds), who grabbed 15 rebounds in the CAA title game, started all 34 games and averaged 11.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and shot 65.5 percent from the floor. “Isaac’s a double-double threat every time out,” Farrelly said. “The way he developed last season was a big reason why we were so successful. He’s a great leader and our best post scorer in a long time.”
A pair of talented newcomers, true freshman David Green, and redshirt freshman Kvonn Cramer, will be counted on to make their presence felt in the frontcourt. Green comes off a tremendous high school career in the Orlando, Fla., area, while Cramer hasn’t played in an organized game since 2017 due to injury.
The Pride is rated at the top in the CAA preseason rankings. The conference schedule will once again include 18 games, but due to Covid-19, the format has been adjusted to limit travel and help ensure the health and safety of student athletes, coaches and staff. In lieu of a traditional, home and home round robin schedule, teams will play against the same opponent at the same site on consecutive days, primarily Saturdays and Sundays.
“It’s going to be interesting in terms of strategy,” Farrelly said of the back-to-back concept. “I certainly understand why we’re doing it. But for instance, we open with two games against William & Mary. If we match up in the tournament, we wouldn’t have seen them for two months.”
The CAA regular season will tip off Friday, Jan. 1, and conclude on Sunday, Feb. 28. Games impacted by the pandemic could be made up at various alternate dates.
As of now, Hofstra will not have fans at home games. “It’s going to feel strange,” Farrelly said. “We’re so used to having the Hofstra faithful behind us.”