OMAHA -- You know what I don't understand? Hubris. How anybody could believe that they're the center of the universe, or better than everybody else, or the owner of unassailable opinion, has always been beyond my comprehension. Walking the world demands humility, and is full of reminders why our lives are anything but charmed.
Take this past Saturday, for example. I made it to Cleveland's airport by 5 a.m. for a 7 a.m. flight to Omaha, confident that I'd be able to make tip of a Creighton-Drake game at 1 p.m. CST. I made it through security on time, the plane left when it was supposed to, the transfer at Chicago Midway went as scheduled, and the arrival was timely as well. But one of my bags wasn't on the baggage claim carousel at Eppley Airfield.
This happens every once in a while, sure. I spent an hour in a small office as they unravelled the mystery -- it had fallen off a cart in Chicago and would catch up with me sometime in the late afternoon. By then, I'd realized that I'd checked the most important part of my trip -- the Missouri Valley "golden ticket"
issued to journalists that's helped me through my frequent journeys to the midwest. I can tell the sports information director that I don't need for them to print me a credential. It's also good for the environment.
Which is what I did for this game, and once I had strapped on a suit in an airport bathroom and arrived at Qwest Center 20 minutes late, all the lady at will call had for me was parking passes. I tried calling into the arena a few times, but Creighton SID Rob Anderson was busy with the game. So I did what I did before I was a credentialed journalist, when I did this from the seats
, and I stood in line.
The Qwest Center is a huge facility, larger than just a basketball arena or a concert venue worthy of Celine Dion
. It also contains a convention center and restaurants, and is the crown jewel of not only Omaha, but all of eastern Nebraska. This weekend, the building hosted the Midlands International Auto Show
, and so I bought a ticket.
I skipped the "Dinosaur Revolution" and the classic cars and the new Corvette. Instead, I stood slurping an empty fountain drink, staring at a American economy car that had apparently had its front end beaten with an ugly stick during production. Its lights were set as high rectangular ovals like sad eyes, with black speaker-grill venting interrupted by long, thin chrome bands. It was the worst-looking car I'd ever seen, and I was transfixed. All I could think about was how many times Avis or Hertz will issue it to me in 2010. Then I went to see a matinee of Frost/Nixon
, and later picked up my bag.
So that's why I didn't go to a basketball game, the first time in over a year I haven't spent a winter Saturday in a suit and tie, sitting in the front row at an arena. Instead, I spent the weekend enjoying a pleasant state of ordinariness.Conference Calls
Before we begin, a hearty and temporary congratulations to the teams that have effectively broken open their league races. Butler's 78-48 dismantling
of second-place Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a clear signal that in the Horizon, there's a one-team undefeated upper division (9-0) and an eight-team detachment. (And Cleveland State's Friday night loss
at Youngstown State slams a coffin nail in that whole two-bid thing -- the preseason favorite Vikings are 4-5 in the league.) And Siena's destruction
of Niagara in Saturday's G!O!T!N! means that the regular-season race in the MAAC is over. The Saints are 9-0, three games clear of the pack. And then there's Davidson, which is 9-0 and incapable of being defeated in the SoCon.Bizarro Valley: I suppose I could have waited until the end of that Creighton game to sneak in -- after building an 11-2 advantage and leading Drake by six at halftime, the Bluejays shot in the low 20's all second half and lost 74-62. A lot of the fans at the Qwest Center at the two-minute mark. There is still that crystalline clarity in the league though: Northern Iowa (8-1) has won eight straight now, having dispatched Missouri State 78-69 on the road at the sparkling D. Warbucks Centre in Springfield. The Panthers will play both current second-place 6-3 teams in the next eight days: Illinois State at home (on Wednesday) and Bradley on the road. A sweep there, and UNI might as well sew a regular-season championship banner.
Colonial: Those brilliant CAA schedulers DeLoreaned into the future last summer, got a copy of Grays Sports Almanac, and upon return set up a nice little round-robin between the teams destined to be the league's three best. Previous league-undefeated George Mason (7-2) put up a fight but became the 0-2 team out, losing at VCU 76-71 on national TV (and yes, we heard about the signs). Now the Rams will advance to the ultimate showdown-throwdown with fellow 8-1 Northeastern, which will take place in Richmond tomorrow night. This isn't for any championship, but shouldn't there be a prize? The Litos Cup, perhaps?
Mid-American: Buffalo kept popping up in our State ratings in December despite a not-quite-eyepopping 8-4 nonconference record. Now the reasons are coming clear: the Bulls are an efficiency-nerd's dream. While they do have to improve the defensive intensity a bit, something we noticed two weeks ago at Akron, Buffalo is the MAC's best team in floor percentage, which measures the number of possessions that result in at least one point (53.9 percent in league games). Add low turnovers (10.2 per game), and you have the tough East's only 4-1 team. It all came together in a 76-64 win at Miami, Buffalo's fourth straight W.
Patriot League: I've long considered Holy Cross the Chicago Cubs of mid-majordom -- the 1947 champions have waited 56 long years since winning a game at the NCAA Tournament. The Crusaders' somewhat unlikely march towards another shot at the Dance took a leap forward on Saturday with a 71-62 victory over title-holder American made possible by good ball control (or rather, Bally control). HC is 9-11 overall, but is a healthy 4-1 in the Patriot and in first place. American and Navy (76-71 losers in the Army-Navy tilt that isn't the Star Game) have three wins apiece.
Sun Belt: It's been a minute since we checked in on the B.E.L.T., hasn't it? East and West leaders sustained strange losses to interdivision foes on Saturday: Western Kentucky (7-2), a team with the league's biggest wins and most inconsistent profile, lost by four out at Denver in a mile-high shootout that was sealed by the Pioneers' superior free-throw advantage. Arkansas-Little Rock, the strongest West division team we've seen for a few years, shot just 34 percent against the 3-point barrage of Troy and lost 63-58.
Tomorrow: OVC, Southland, MEAC and SWAC.
I'm currently "in talks," whatever that means. I don't know what will come out of this, if anything, but I've always kept you posted and will continue to do so.
Also, I'm happy to announce that there will be a women's version of Basketball State that will be ready for the 2009-10 season, which is going to be an exciting new challenge. Horrible about Kay Yow.
U'useless Stat of the Day
Hidden behind the Colonial's spectacular rock/sock battle at the top is UNC-Wilmington (5-16, 2-7 CAA), which has truly redefined "defensive indifference." The Seahawks rank 343rd and last in points allowed per possession, yielding a truly generous 1.15. UNCW is also the nation's worst in field goal defense (51.7 percent) and two-point FG defense (59 percent), and are giving up 88.1 points per game. There's a certain point where it makes more sense to just put five chairs out there.
But what's more fascinating to us is the number of triple-digit games the Seahawks have been involved in. UNCW beat Towson at home on Saturday 103-98, its seventh game of the year in which at least one team scored at least 100. There were teams in the late-Nineties NBA that didn't hit the century mark that often.
There's one other team that's been involved in seven 100+ point games this season, and that's VMI. The difference between the Keydets and Seahawks is that VMI wins -- 16 times so far, including this 92-85 win over High Point on Saturday. VMI appeared in 22 such games in 2006-07, the first year of the Baucom System, and for all we know that's an all-time record. (Edit: brilliant reader JC reminds us that Loyola Marymount was 21-2 in hundredplus'ers in 1987-88, and played 29 of them in 1989-90.)
But the club in this category that's been lost in the mists of time is the Long Island Blackbirds of 1997-98. That team appeared in 18 games with triple-digit scores, losing in the NEC championship (to Fairleigh Dickinson, 105-91) and earning an invite to the NIT due to their 21-10 record. They couldn't make 100 at Dayton, and lost in the first round 95-92.