LOUISVILLE -- This week marks the one-month milepost of the 2008-09 season. Most of the action we've seen has consisted multi-team tournaments of questionable merit or importance, early league games, and power-conference teams beating the snot out of mid-majors. While we've made a lot of the significant increase in our success against the big boys (from 11 percent to 14 percent), the power structure has generally held fast.
Twelve of the 31 Division I conferences currently own positive records in non-conference play, mostly because that's where you can find the teams that can afford to "buy" teams to come into their buildings and take whoopins. The Big Six major leagues can be found in the top seven in this category, led by the Big East with a 93-20 (.823) mark against others. The Mountain West is at No. 6 with a 46-18 record, good for .719 -- just ahead of the Pac 10 (.667). I usually bring this up when folks ask me what I mean about the MWC being a "money league."
Conference USA, a somewhat less successful money league, has won 55.7 percent of its games, just behind the Missouri Valley (.591), which pioneered and perfected the art of smart scheduling -- teams in the Valley don't get bought, and don't take on games that are too easy or too hard. The Atlantic 14, consistently getting better with its scheduling, is at .531 (51-45), and the out-of-whack WAC is just above water at 26-25.
That's 11 leagues, so which could the other be? Prepare to be shocked, surprised and perhaps a little appalled.
The 12th conference with a winning non-league record is one that has never sent a second team to the Dance, one that hasn't won a game there in four years and has one of the worst NCAA records in the country (6-29). It's a league that's traditionally been an RPI afterthought, mired in the 20's. Ladies and gentlemen, at 31-30 for a winning percentage of .508, I present to you the America East
A-East teams haven't shown up in your Upset Club e-mails (until this weekend -- see below), but the conference's collective low-key approach has been as simple and direct as the Missouri Valley's: schedule winnable games. The league has played just nine games against the eight top conferences (1-8), and has spent most of its time picking on teams its own size, within its own geographic footprint. Witness a 9-1 record against the Ivies, 4-2 against the Patriot League, and a 4-5 virtual draw against the NEC.
The America East's conference RPI is now at No. 13. I'm not going to lie to you and say that this league is edging into two-bid territory, because it's not. (The State's No. 23 conference ranking is much more representative of current strength.) But what the league has shown us is a brilliant model for the future.
Play games you can win. Play as few as you can that will result in 40-point blowouts, even if it means less money for your athletic programs. Don't get bought.
Winning matters. If this trend continues, and two or three schools in the league become strong and are able to knock off the odd power-conference team, that will help lift the conference as a whole. In a few years, maybe a two-bid America East won't be such a crazy idea after all.Red Line Upsets
Saturday was another good day for the little guys, as teams from the ACC, Big Ten and Big East went down to squads from one-bid leagues. While on the A-East theme, Binghamton improved to 4-2 with a surprising 10-point shutdown
win at Rutgers' RAC, highlighted by superb ball control (only 11 turnovers to the Scarlet Knights' 23). As these teams had never played before, it's safe to assume that Binghamton got a check for making the trip as well as a road victory.
The RLU that received the most national attention (and even made the CNN ticker) was the America's Team that is Davidson avenging last year's ARRRGH
loss to N.C. State with a 72-67 squeaker
. Stephen Curry
dropped 44 on Bally's alma mater
, and the Wildcats' two main bigs combined for 19 rebounds. Next Curry showcase: this week at Madison Square Garden versus West Virginia.
Western Kentucky's problems with offense are but a distant notion, as five Hilltoppers scored in doubles and managed season-high 57 percent team shooting to take down C-USA middleweight Tulane on the road by 15 points
. Temple rebounded from its tough loss to Miami (Oh.) with a nice 65-59 win
at football school Penn State. And the Mountain West's gaudy non-conference record was slashed somewhat by two wins to western mids: the Big Sky's Idaho State beat Utah
, and Boise State knocked around hapless Colorado State
.They Came Closeat Providence 66, Rhode Island 65
-- One thing you have to know about Rhode Island, my home: it's by far the largest of the 50 states, it just looks tiny from a distance. Seriously, try walking across it. The northern half, the urban section, is plastered with billboards for the Big East school's basketball team, and you can watch Providence play on TV in "Friartown," announced by famed Red Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo. Despite having a bigger budget, a nicer building and more recent success, URI is tucked away downstate and doesn't get many mentions in the papers up north unless they're playing PC. Conference affiliation is everything, after all.
This has been a fantastic series, alternating back and forth between Providence and Kingston with the home team winning the last six. In front of 12,000 fans at the faded old "Dunk," PC won an instant classic
as the two teams drew even, trading runs and never delivering a knockout. The difference was 3-point shooting ace Jimmy Baron
held without a basket for nearly the entire second half, and two free throws at the end.U'useless Stat of the Day
As if the lead item wasn't U'useless enough (after all, this segment's namesake plays in the America East), here's something else for you. This weekend, two teams failed to make a foul shot in a game, the first pair of squads to go oh-fer all season. It happened only nine times in 2007-08, so it's a rare feat indeed.
The College of Charleston is off to a fast start, winning seven of its first eight games as well as its first two league matchups in an early December SoCon preview. On Saturday afternoon, the Cougars went into UNC Greensboro's Fleming Gym and was granted 11 chances at one-point shots. They made none of them. Turns out CofC didn't need stripe-related charity; the team took great care of the basketball and won by 15
The following day at Oakland (Mich.), Toledo managed something even more impressive: they didn't get to the line at all. In a 67-58 loss
, the Rockets only drew 10 fouls, and went a perfect zero for zero from the line. The last time that happened in a game was Feb. 25, when Presbyterian was blanked
at South Alabama.