Southeast Missouri 65, Saint Louis 49(story) - When you have a defensive club that has trouble scoring points, you'll still end up beating a few teams. When your defense goes missing and you still can't score points, everyone will beat you. This is the story of the Billikens, whose lost season (2-9) continued last night with a home "L" against an Ohio Valley school that won four conference games last year. SEMO (4-6) shot 52 percent, held St. Louis to 18 first-half points, ran out to a 26-point second-half lead before letting up late, and joyfully exited the building with a $45,000 check (I'd like to imagine it was an oversized golf-tournament check, but it wasn't). "You always expect a team at home to make a run, but they never did," said Indians coach Gary Garner afterwards. In-yo-face, weird white Dr. Seuss-lookin' thing!
And what urge? When the Billikens (and Charlotte too) bolt from the "structurally improved" C-USA next season to join the Atlantic 10, there's a good chance they'll be sliding down the conference RPI ladder.
WAC: Fresno State 79, Hawaii 78(story) - Speaking of Urge, few teams have it as bad as Fresno State: they can play Violation Bingo with the best of them. The Bulldogs were kicked to the curb by most preseason pundits, and rightly so - they're down three scholarships, their projected 2004-05 point guard is off defending a murder charge, and the team has to dress nine freshmen. But whaddyaknow, they're a surprising 7-3 and knocked off previously-undefeated Hawaii at home last night. One of those fresh faces (6-4 guard Donovan Morris) had 20 points, and another (small forward Chris Berry) hit the winning free throws with seconds to go. Rainbow senior forward Jeff Blackett missed a three at the buzzer, and the Bulldogs escaped their league opener with a "W." So is Fresno State an early contender for feel-good story of the season? Ummm, err, look over there! It's a huge blue chicken!
Maryland-Baltimore County 66, Delaware 56(story) - The St. Louis squad has a friend in the Delaware Fightin' Blue Hen, should they want to have a nice group cry about the anguish of seeing normally-solid defense unravel against inferior competition. The Hens (4-7) should stick around the middle of the pack once they get to Colonial play, as they have a talented and mobile big man (Harding Nana, who had 25 and 11 in the losing cause), and their smart starting pointman Mike Slattery should return soon from a hand injury. UMBC's five victories heading into the America East season are likely about as many as they'll have in March, but at least they'll have their memories. The Retrievers' road-warrior heroics on this evening came from a frosh backup guard named Brian Hodges, who transcended his normal game and hit four threes. Like the backs of their warmup t-shirts say, "Whatever It Takes."
Results of note from various faux tournaments: I mentioned yesterday that Santa Clara made the mistake of choosing Central Connecticut over Yale as their opening-round opponent in their Cable Car Classic, but it didn't matter. They lost to Yale too, in the consolation game by an 80-74 count. And elsewhere in the Bay Area, at something called the Shamrock Office Systems Classic, Radford became the latest Big South school to lose to a not-quite-Division-I team, getting beat by provisional UC Davis, 67-63. That makes three relative giants slain by the Ags so far this year.
The college basketball blogosphere is filled with virulent anti-Furman sentiment this morning. Ken Pomeroy calls 'em out, and Hoops Junkie simply titled his post "F*ck Furman" (without the asterisk). Why? In the words of their official site, they "blasted" Virginia Intermont 126-33 last night. Add this to a "rough up" of Newberry 110-58 and a "roll" past Greensboro College 110-42, and you've got yourself one fearsome Division III-creamin' machine. They will likely finish in the middle of the SoCon South - but you know that some team, somewhere will keep their starters in the whole game even when they have the Paladins down, if only to avenge this triple injustice against Hoop God. Who will it be?
Those little yellow dots all over the schedule at the right can only mean one thing, and it's not some weird case of the mumps. Yes, conference season is beginning to spread across the land like a brilliant sunrise after a long night. Fairfield and Niagara jockey for early-season position in the Metro Atlantic, and reigning MMBOW Paul Millsap'sLouisiana Tech Manly Techsters travel to Tulsa to view firsthand what's left of the Golden Hurricane. Four-fifths of the Big West meets in league play this evening, highlighted by a middle-of-the-pack matchup between California-Irvine and California-Santa Barbara.
The baseball powers-that-be hold fast to their increasingly porous argument that teams need new facilities to "survive," but there's no doubt that the building's the thing in college basketball. Recruiting, television, getting into that nicer conference you've always wanted to be in - see, a good arena is really important. So Wisconsin-Green Bay will be aided immeasurably in their future continued ascent through the Horizon League ranks when a sparkling new 4,000-seat event center is completed, and the students will take on $15 million in additional fees to make it happen.
Earlier this month, I picked the University College of the Cariboo Sun Demons to win the 38th Annual Wesmen Classic up in Canada. I'll admit, I know absolutely nothing about Canadian university basketball, and I just liked the cool name. In yesterday's semifinals, the Sun Demons blew a 12-point lead and ended up losing to hosts University of Winnipeg by three. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies await them in the final game, and the Wesmen will try to win their own tournament for the first time in a decade. That's exciting, right?