LOGAN, Utah -- It's the final day of the year, the end of the holidays, and a bad day to buy a calendar (they'll be 50 percent off tomorrow). Here in college basketball world, the ringing out of the old has more to do with crossing the bridge between nonconference and league play -- happily so -- and we made all our resolutions two months ago. Regardless, The Mid-Majority will take the day off tomorrow, primarily because history indicates that there will be nobody around to read it.
Now, back to our mystery. To recap, 2008-09 has seen a precipitous drop in the number of mid- versus major games, down by over 300 and 20 percent from last year -- despite an increase in the number of overall games played (due to D-I expansion). Additionally, the percentage of games involving at least one team from the 23 conferences below the Red Line is down from 78 percent to 73 percent from last year. Where have all our chances at the top dogs gone?
Longtime reader and brilliant logician Matt M. has a theory.
I think that the individual conferences are discouraging their teams from these games. And I think there is going to be a push to separate the "haves" from the "have-nots" even more, kind of like football has. That's right, D-1 and D-1A college basketball baby!!! Wow, would that suck.
From 1956 to 1972, the NCAA divided up its membership in two sections: the "University Division" for major colleges, and the "College Division" for small schools. When you go to places like Evansville, you can still see banners from the 1950's and 1960's that celebrate "College Division National Champions." In 1973, the governing body split the world into the three strata we still see today -- Divisions I, II and III, and divided football into I-A and I-AA five years later. Three decades on, the NCAA changed those two hyphenates to politically correct tags "Bowl" and "Championship."
All Division I teams will always be eligible for the same basketball national title as Kansas and Florida, but this emerging trend is putting a whole new spin on the idea of "championship subdivision." The number of games between the top eight conferences and the rest is dwindling even as the number of total games is increasing. The subtextual numbers are clear: during non-conference play, the teams in the Big Six, the Mountain West and Conference USA are now scheduling amongst themselves more often
Which is exactly what most college basketball fans want. More games between big-time teams in the big-time leagues mean that more fans can be peeled off from football during bowl season, which can result in big-time ratings. And the increasing number of television slots is helping make this happen -- a few years ago, there was no CBS College Sports or Big Ten Network or 1,000 games a year on the Worldwide Leader's growing list of properties, and there was no ESPNU. Nowadays, there are college basketball games on every night during November and December.
If you're a power conference or individual Big Six school in a troubled economy, and you're given the choice between an ESPNU date with a similar-level team on one hand, and a $100,000 payout to a mid-major or potentially embarrassing loss to a Valley or Horizon team on the other, which will you choose? Total no-brainer: you get to save money as well as face, gain some national exposure too. I'm not sure that there's anything resembling mass collusion that's causing BCS schools to scale back on games against our teams, it's all just market forces and logic.
But what about us? There are over 300 fewer chances for sub-Red Line schools to make statements against the big-ticket teams, and all signs point to further shedding next season. It's becoming more crucial that we win these games and capture these fewer opportunities. And this is not to say there isn't a good side to this: fewer guarantee games (and we can only figure this anecdotally, since no official records are kept) mean fewer boring 40-point blowouts, fewer burnt-out student-athletes questioning their love for the game, and it may Darwinize programs out of Division I that can't hang without prostituting themselves. It gives the opportunity for leagues like the MAC, CAA, Horizon and Valley the chance to schedule among themselves more, and build league strength together.
However, there's a wall slowly and invisibly going up between the haves and the have-nots, a virtual "D1" and "D1-A." The incentives for the upper crust to play teams from this strata are disappearing, and so too are the games. Final question, and you have two days to think about this: what's the solution?Red Line UpsetsVermont 84, Colorado 59
-- One day after the Buffalo sent the Buffaloes to the loser's bracket at the Rainbow Classic with a last-second tip-in, Vermont dealt them a more devastating blow to claim the event's bronze medal
. The Catamounts built a comfortable lead in the first half, but put the game away with a 10-1 run in the second. Senior guard Mike Trimboli
shot 8-for-9 for 24 points, and the team as a whole shot 57 percent. It was Vermont's first-ever win over a team from the Big 12, and a rather convincing one too. Top that, Brennan!San Diego 64, at Mississippi State 61 (OT)
-- This was supposed to be a great year for the Toreros, with everybody back from a team that made the Round of 32 with an upset over UConn. Injuries and suspensions have broken up the bunch, and San Diego has a 7-7 record with a tough WCC slate looming. But this win in SEC country
brings back fond memories of last year's upset victory at Kentucky, as San Diego came back from four down in the last two minutes to force OT, then squeaked by with key buckets in the extra five. De'Jon Jackson
, who's been out for seven games with a knee problem, came back to give USD 13 points.at Santa Clara 89, Texas-El Paso 88 (OT)
-- UTEP is one of the small handful of teams with a fighting chance to unseat Memphis at the top of C-USA, so this WCC win over the Miners (a former TMM team from its WAC days) is impressive indeed. Besides, leaguemate Saint Mary's couldn't beat them
. In the championship of the Cable Car Classic, Santa Clara overcame a 10-rebound disadvantage, outshot UTEP 50-40 percent, and fended off a late comeback to win a basket-trading contest in overtime.
Slim Sexy John Bryant
had 33 points and 17 rebounds, which is a lot of goodness.Conference CallHorizon League: Life in this year's top mid-major conference just got more complicated. In last night's G!O!T!N!, Wright State clamped down on Syracuse-beating preseason favorite Cleveland State 72-61 to send the Vikings into a 1-2 hole. The three remaining undefeateds are 2-0 Butler (off beating UAB in a minor Red Line Upset) and Green Bay. Your surprise conference leader is 3-0 Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which posted an impressive 71-66 win over Illinois-Chicago last night.
U'useless Stat of the Day
Last night, Savannah State managed just 29 points against the MEAC powerhouse that is Bethune-Cookman (Well, not really, but the Wildcats are 6-6, which is impressive for a team from that guarantee game-addled league at this point). In accumulating their 29, the Tigers converted just nine field goals to shoot just 26 percent. That gap of three is rather astounding.
Which brings up a question: can a team shoot a higher percentage number than its point total?
It does happen... we've logged 71 instances in the past five seasons. Here in 2008-09, this phenomenon has occurred three times. In most cases, it happens to road teams in losses, like Sacramento State's Nov. 18 drop at UC Riverside. The Hornets shot 54 percent, but fell 61-49. Aforementioned San Diego lost its city game to San Diego State 57-46, and converted on 48 percent of its shots. Then there was Valparaiso's 62-50 loss at Miami (Oh.)'s Millett Hall, where the Crusaders shot 51 percent from the floor.
Most games like this involve really bad free throw shooting, or very few trips to the line. But then there's this freaky BracketBuster from 2007. Evansville shot 70 percent against Samford and earned 69 points... but won by four because of a super-slow pace and superior rebounding. You don't get games like that very often.