CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Let's get this out of the way first: the Atlantic 14 owned this weekend. Pwned it. The A-14 was in yr weekend, steelin yr basketballz. This conference put such a stamp on the last two days that the second weekend in December should be a three-day hoops holiday, by proclamation of Myles Brand and Mayor McCheese. I can't underline or overstate this enough.
Ask the CAA, Valley or MAC what a short string of huge wins over BCS teams can do for a league profile. Actually, don't, because none of those leagues have anything like that this year. But look at this: UMass playing Kansas on a neutral court and unleashing Dribble-Drive Motion Jr. on the national champions, holding the Jayhawks to 34 percent shooting in a one-point squeaker
. Temple destroying
Tennessee on the boards and on the scoreboard. And finally, on Saturday evening, the X expanding its dominance over the Queen City with a second-straight scratch/claw job
over the eponymous team that used to rule Cincy.
That's all it takes, just three gigantic wins and you're back on the map.
Let's get a few things straight, however. UMass is not going to get an at-large based on one huge victory, any more than Temple is going to ride the win over Tennessee straight to the Big Dance. Both have taken their lumps in the early season. The A-14 is not a power league itself (test: do you lead the Weekly Watch
when you beat Temple? Not yet you don't), is still 15-23 against conferences above the Red Line, but that's not the point. The message of this weekend is that this conference is bad-ass, that almost any team in this league is capable of knocking off a power-conference school on any given weekend. Until the bracket is picked by robots -- something they're moving away from anyway
-- the threat a league presents has a March impact on every team in that league.
Now we anxiously await the regular season, and see if the Great A-14 Bloodbath of 2008 repeats itself. If there's any tiering and separation whatsover, I'm sticking with my four-bid prediction from Friday
. But when it comes down to it, the ultimate statement about this weekend was made by loyal and brilliant reader Douglass from Indianapolis, who broke the conference in pure mathematical terms.
Killswitch, Watching the Xavier-Cincinatti game and remembering what you said about the A-14 in the ESPN chat on Friday, I just thought up a formula to calculate how many tournament bids the A-14 will get this season: A = x + y where A = the "A-10", x = Xavier, and y = the number of teams that beat Xavier.
Nothing I have said for the past five years is as true as this.Red Line Upsets
Aside from the three mentioned previously (due to parity in basketball budgets, we don't count A-14 wins over the MWC or C-USA), there were six more RLU's over the weekend to bring our annual total to 74. With nonconference chances winding down due to finals and the holiday season, and assuming that current trends hold true, it looks like we're going to top last year's 11 percent win rate over the Big Six and the two money leagues by a couple of percentage points. It's currently at .138, which is better than the 9-12 range of past years but not quite "parity" just yet.Illinois-Chicago 66, at Georgia Tech 60
-- Lost in the A-14 party was a very solid win by the Horizon League, a conference putting itself in borderline two-bid position with a strong December showing. Butler may have come close
to a second straight upset of Ohio State, but UIC finished the job out at the house of the ACC's Ramblin' Wreck. Scott Vandermeer
, a solid big who doesn't get his due, had 19 points and 7 rebounds to complement Josh Mayo's
17, and the Flames cracked open a win late. UIC has also beaten Vanderbilt
, and should not be overlooked in the HL.Niagara 70, at South Florida 55
-- Most -- actually all -- of the early MAAC talk was Siena this and Siena that, but it's time to sound the alarm on the Purple Eagles. After a virtually effortless second half and domination on the boards, Niagara is 7-2 (1-0 MAAC) and a real threat to make the Dance. While last year's version could be boiled down to "get Charron Fisher
the ball," this team has a three-headed scoring monster of Tyrone Lewis
and two Big East transfers. And yes, they play defense now. Only 15 teams defend the arc better (26.9 percent), and teams are shooting just 38 percent from the floor against them. Watch out, Saints (first meeting: Jan. 24).
Other wins included Saint Mary's over San Diego State
; the Gaels really needed that one after the UTEP and Arizona drops. Especially because WCC leaguemates San Diego were out beating Oregon
. And Southland stalwart Lamar was the latest Texas mid to take down Texas Tech
, while the WAC got a rare Red Liner when New Mexico State outhooped
that same UTEP team that topped SMC earlier in the year at the Anaheim Classic.They Came Close
at Arizona State 59, IUPUI 58 (OT) -- There was the Butler loss, but IUPUI's overtime drop to Arizona State stung harder in Indy. The Sun Devils are 8-1 against a schedule full of teams from our level, and this would have been sweet comeuppance Badlands Conference-style. Ooey-Pooey led throughout until Arizona State caught them at the end, as their seven-man team was stronger than IUPUI's. Still, the Jaguars outshot their hosts 48-43 percent, and took great care of the basketball, turning it over just 11 times in 45 minutes.
U'useless Stat of the Day
There were some great handle-fests this weekend that fell under the radar, speaking of taking care of the ball. As I often like to say, not turning it over is the greatest weapon that mid-major teams have. Power-conference schools can beat you on the boards and throw three or four McDonald's All-American shooters at you, but if you don't cough it up, those extra chances can keep you close.
When it comes to mid-on-mid action, superior ball control can be the difference between an NCAA bid and a fifth-place league finish. Coaches get fired because of their players' turnovers all the time. So why don't they have more ballhandling drills in practice?
On Saturday, Long Island of the NEC hosted the America East's representative from New Hampshire. It was one of those evenly-matched games that we here at TMM love, because any fans who show up (in this case, 815) are treated to a good, close game. But there was something beautiful hidden in the host Blackbirds' 76-72 win... they only turned the ball over five times.
In a month's worth of games, just 15 teams have had five-turnover games. Ten have coughed it up just four times, and four have registered only three. But a single team has committed just a single turnover. In a Nov. 17 glorified exhibition against something called Champions Baptist, Prairie View A&M of the SWAC had just one in a 90-39 Baby Dome bash. And it didn't even make the AP story! But Christopher Jones, I'm sure, got extra laps for that single TO.
Not that it always works out, mind you. The low so far this year in an all-D1 game is South Carolina-Upstate's two against a much more talented Mercer team on Dec. 2, allowing them to keep the margin within 10. And look at Drexel's tilt up at Fairfield yesterday. Just like Long Island, the Dragons turned the ball over just five times all game (a 7.2 percent turnover rate), but the problem was that they only shot 32 percent. But all those prolonged possessions kept them in the game, and they lost by only six, 66-60. You still have to make your shots, though.