ATHENS, Ohio -- As was noted in this kind piece
by the newspaper I spent my college career wishing I could work for, next week marks the beginning of what we're really here for, what this is really all about. The conference tourneys mark the third of the four
seasons within a season in college basketball, and by far the most wonderful. The NCAA Tournament is okay enough, if ultimate glory is your thing -- but this will be the last time we'll all be together, when each and every team in Hoops Nation still has a chance to be champions (well, except for Harvard, Brown and the other laggards of the Ivy).
To emerge victorious from the Ohio Valley, or America East, or Big Sky, to carry the league's flag to the national bracket, that is a remarkable accomplishment. To emerge from the long grind of 16 or 20 games, then play lossless and near-perfect basketball in a tense single-elimination event, that is what we celebrate here. These are the titles we reference continually on The Mid-Majority, the "league champion" tags that are afforded winners of banners that may not achieve the proper respect outside these digital walls. A week later, to most, they'll just be double-digit seeds.
Conference tourneys have always been the centerpiece of this mission, even before there was a website to promote it. A decade ago, I would spend long March weekday afternoons in Philadelphia's Spectrum, watching the Atlantic 12 field winnow itself down to one, then started making road trips to the MAAC event in Albany and Trenton when just one wasn't enough. In 2004, the "exploratory" year for what you currently see here, I drove to the MAAC, NEC, Patriot, MEAC, Colonial, A-12, C-USA, Big Ten and MAC tourneys: a total of 25 games in 10 days. It was the most fun week of my life up to that point.
A large part of what's done here this time of year is to urge you to discover that fun for yourself. If one of Hoops Nation's 23 conference tourneys in your area this year
, even one for a league you know absolutely nothing about, please go. The prices are reasonable, it's a lot of basketball for the money, and it's the most reliable method of entry into the world of mid-major madness that we've fully inhabited these last five years. By the time the winning team's fans storm the court, you'll be rooting for teams and players you'd never heard of before (and as always, we urge you to run out there and join them... I do!). Every time those schools roll by on the ticker next season, you'll take notice. You'll have emotional involvement with this level of basketball; you'll care.
Lots of folks have asked me lately which events Bally and I will be attending in the next two-plus weeks. And like every season so far, there's a carefully-planned route cut through the constantly-shifting map of conference tourneys. I apologize if I won't be able to swing by yours this time around, but here's the full 21-game list for 2009. Thanks again to the fine donors
who made all this nutty travel possible.
|Atlantic Sun Quarterfinals |
|Atlantic Sun Quarterfinals |
|Missouri Valley Quarterfinals |
|Missouri Valley Semifinals |
|Missouri Valley Final|
|Hot Springs, AR|
|Sun Belt Semifinals |
|Hot Springs, AR|
|Sun Belt Final|
|Southland Quarterfinals |
|Mid-American Semifinals |
If you're going, and I hope you are, please stop by and say hello. And if you have a story about a great conference tourney experience you've had, please send it along through The Formâ„¢
. Not necessarily the one about that great time when your team blew everyone out and you ended up passed out at a local bar you can't remember the name of with your pants off... if you've discovered a deeper connection with mid-major basketball at one of these things, I'd love to post it to get folks amped up for what's coming next week.Random Announcements
While we're not likely to go eight hours again, tomorrow is yet another Mid-Majority chat. Come by at 3 p.m. Eastern and we'll talk one-seed battles, conference tourneys and go off-topic a lot more than was allowable at the other place. If you're having the same kind of to-do list issues that are going on at TMM Mobile HQ and need an e-mail reminder, you can sign up for one.
Just another quick reminder that the first-ever Bally auction is open until Saturday. You also have until tomorrow to enter this week's contest, in which we're looking for a plea to the Selection Committee on behalf of your team to the tune of a Tom Petty song. One word of warning on that, though: it's going to have to be really good in order to reach the final five. Weird Al has nothing on the song-parody stylings of this readership.
Colonial: We were in lovely Harrisonburg, Va. yesterday evening for James Madison's Senior Night. And while outgoing Dukes hero Juwann James gave a performance the fans will always remember him by (19 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including some vicious two-point dunk shots), the rest of the team only hit eight baskets between them, allowing VCU and Eric Maynor (18 points and a bucket short of the school scoring record) to romp 71-52 and maintain a one-game lead with one to go. No clinch yet, because Northeastern (12-5) kept its tiebreaker-aided hopes alive with a 49-48 escape at Drexel, stunning if only because the Dragons shot just 30 percent. One-point games were the order of the night, as fellow second-placers George Mason eked out a 53-52 decision at UNC Wilmington. Old Dominion kept pace with a 64-63 victory over William & Mary. Litos has the tiebreaker scoop, as always... warning: the scenarios run 22 paragraphs long.
Atlantic 14: While the CAA was doing all that, the A-14 was getting its overtime on. In a thrilling back-and-forth G!O!T!N!, Rhode Island officially declared its NCAA intentions with a 93-91 OT winner over Dayton. The Rams starters each had at least 13 points a piece, and there were three with 19 -- that's some balanced scoring. URI is now just a half-game out of the league lead at 10-4 behind 10-3 Xavier, with five straight wins and a relatively easy road to Atlantic City (at Duquesne, home vs. UMass). X, on the other hand, has to play at Saint Joe's tonight and defend against a ticked-off UD squad next week. Then there's Temple (9-3, W5), which has to play four games to make up the scheduling slack. URI most likely needs the autobid, but they'd be in super position for it with a No. 1 seed in the tourney.
Also, congratulations to American for clinching its second consecutive Patriot League regular-season title with a 64-59 win over Navy, and the spot in a reputable national postseason tournament that accompanies it. The Eagles have joined Weber State (Big Sky), Siena (MAAC), Radford (Big South) and Gonzaga (WCC) as one-seed winners.
U'useless Stat of the Day
Because power-conference schools usually beat programs south of the Red Line for quality big men, we need great backcourt play down here. Lots of it. So it's not surprising that of the nine teams that get at least three-quarters of their scoring from players 6-4 and under, eight are from our side. Figures are up to and including Wednesday's games.