January 9, 2009 11:20 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
BIRMINGHAM -- First of all, there's a chat today over in the ESPNet SportsZone at 4 pm Eastern. With 2009 and conference play now well-entrenched concepts, we shouldn't have too little to talk about. Please join us, won't you?
More importantly, this is a wonderful morning here on The Mid-Majority, as dawn breaks on one of the three high holidays of our local calendar. We used to celebrate Football Independence Day when the professional turd-tossing season came to a close, but that's become more a public exercise in defiance. Last year, we made it all the way to Tuesday, Feb. 6 without knowing the score. (Thanks, Valpo.) This time around, we're gunning for Thursday.
I've been approached several times by cunning, whip-smart entrepreneurs about extending the Basketball State brand to include a college gridiron edition. Here are a few things I'd rather do instead of spend a summer thinking fake gladiator combat for 16 hours a day: gnawing off my toes one by one without novocaine, injecting lye in my urethra, and renting out the Hollywood Bowl with my own money for a 20th anniversary showing of "C.H.U.D. II: Bud The Chud."
American-style football is the worst game ever invented -- it's violence without violence, a dim-witted celebration of the kind of career specialization that's killing our nation's competitiveness in the global economy, and a sport with more rules of conduct than Communist China. At the risk of repetition, we've made our definitive sound-bite statement two years ago. "At its very core, football is a game for confused, maladjusted, passive-aggressive sissies."
But before the college season disappeared once again, leaving fans confused as to what actually happened and who the best team was, the 2008 American university football season exacted one last measure of revenge on us. Last night's game between Samford and Furman was moved up two hours in order to accommodate folks who wanted to rush home and watch the BCS title tilt, despite the fact that the only thing local about the contest was that Oklahoma shares the same time zone.
This is a slippery slope. First, they move basketball games. Then Americans start taking the day off. After a while, the corporate community will get involved, marketing around BCS parties and BCS-themed products. Soon, it'll be just as big as the Super Bowl or Christmas. We can't let this happen.
We had received a press release about the Samford-Furman time change a few weeks ago, but I'll be the first to admit that I spaced it. So it wasn't until yesterday afternoon, when I was making a routine check of the game slate, that I noticed the game sticking out like turf toe on the schedule. Crap. I abandoned the article I was working on, got in the rental car, drove like Jehu, and made it to the Pete Hanna Center with a half-hour to spare. Damn you again, American-style football, damn you to hell.
Big Sky: With nine teams and plenty of bus travel across two time zones, teams in this conference haven't played the same number of games until the season is over (and sometimes, not even then). For example, Portland State has played four league contests (including this epic 4OT battle with Northern Arizona), while Weber State has only played two. I mention those two squads because the first major upheaval in the standings occurred last night: Weber traveled from Utah to Oregon to dump the Gonzaga-beating Vikings 80-66, and are 2-0. Portland State fell to 3-1.
Western Athletic: The Big Sky has nothing travel-wise on the WAC as far as mileage goes, but the league that stretches from Honolulu to the Bayou gets to take advantage of air travel. Utah State (2-0) won its ninth straight by taking out Louisiana Tech 50-37 on the road. Nevada lurks at 1-1, making up for a loss to Idaho with a roadie OT win at longtime nemesis New Mexico State. Luke Babbitt, extremely good at basketball despite being a frosh, scored 22 with 12 boards in 43 minutes of Pack action.
Sun Belt: At the beginning of nonconference play, the two Arkansas teams (State and Little Rock) put up respective strings of impressive wins. Both are tied atop the West with twin 3-1 records, each winning a close game last night against a division opponent. In the East, traditionally the conference's power center, preseason fave Middle Tennessee is 4-0 after a 59-57 squeaker over Florida Atlantic. Western Kentucky, a trendless team you should never put money on, lost at Florida International in a close shootout and is now 3-1 with a 9-6 overall record.
Badlands Conference: Most of the former Summit League was in action last night, and North Dakota State scored an important statement win against IUPUI to open up a half-game lead at 4-1. The other Dakota, SDSU, pulled away late from previous league-unbeaten Western Illinois (3-1).The other one-loss team is three-time champion Oral Roberts, which has struggled to a 5-11 mark so far. Last night, the G'Eagles rocked IPFW behind a double-double by 6-9 New Mexico State transfer Kevin Ford.
U'useless Stat of the Day
Not pictured in the Sun Belt roundup was South Alabama's walkover win over Louisiana-Monroe. It was notable for an outstanding performance by senior Brandon Davis, a heat-seeking missile of a 6-6 forward who converts an impressive 63 percent of his shots. Against the Warhawks, he scored 30 points on 11-for-11 shooting. (The ex-Jacksonville Stater knows exactly where to take them... he's only put up nine 3's in his career.)
So far this season, Davis is the only sub-Red Liner to go perfect from the floor in a game with 10 shots or more. (Corey Raji of Boston College, in a Dec. 23 game versus Maine, is the only other player in Division I to accomplish this.) This is a rare thing -- five players pulled it off last year, nine the season previous, and just four in 2005-06.
But most of these performances have been turned in by guards who just got into the zone and stayed there. Only a subset of six within that timeframe made it a double-double. Last night, Davis added 10 rebounds to his statline, and threw in a few more crooked numbers for good measure: two steals and a pair of blocks.
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