Jackson State at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (SWAC)
Mid-American: at Kent State 74, Western Michigan 73 -- He did not! He came straight out of the roof to pound that baby down! Rodriguez Sherman's and-one 2PDS ("Oooooooooh!") put the exclamation mark on one of the finest contests in recent MAC memory, and Kent (14-7, 5-2) is now clearly the front-runner for the league's single bid. The Golden Flashes and Akron are tied atop the East at 5-2 (Kent has a 17-point win in hand, with the traditional final-game matchup looming on Mar. 5). WMU, which is the strongest team the West has to offer, fell to 3-4. Someone's got to win that No. 2 Cleveland seed... 5-2 Central Michigan (12-point winners at Bowling Green), perhaps?
Big South: at Winthrop 67, Coastal Carolina 64 -- Despite the relatively separate fortunes of these two programs, this has been a great in-state South Carolina rivalry over the years. Man, Greg Marshall and Buzz Peterson used to get after it. So a rebuilding Winthrop team (11-10, 7-4) knocking off the current first-placers (19-4, 9-2) is pretty huge, and a warning that the once perennial champs from Rock Hill might have a say in this bid race. This was a defensive shutdown, with CCU shooting just 37 percent.
And now, the weather.
The southeastern part of Hoops Nation really got walloped with a winter storm over the weekend, with icy roads and drivers who aren't used to such conditions (memo from a Northeasterner: pump your brakes, don't slam on 'em).
So there were six Saturday contests postponed until Sunday; the affected area stretched from Norfolk State and North Carolina A&T in the MEAC, to Austin Peay and Tennessee State in the OVC, to UNC Asheville in the Big South and the CAA's William & Mary. All the games were played on Sunday, and it looks like everybody got home or to their next game okay. And if any of y'all are still digging out, it looks like there's going to be nice weather today. Just a little rain in the Southland and lower A-Sun is all.
Never build a building 'til you're fifty, what kind of life is that? When I was in Nashville recently, I was reading about the Signature Tower. It was designed as the tallest skyscraper outside of New York or Chicago -- 1,030 feet tall -- and was supposed to break ground two years ago. But the FAA said it was too tall and would impede air traffic. Then last May, the recession forced the architects to shrink it to 50 stories, and two months later the developers went into massive default. Now, nobody knows where the tower is. These mid-major winning streaks are towers to the sky too, more real and tangible than the Signature Tower.
Jacksonville. I shortchanged the Dolphins early last month, based mostly on their poor December performances against the teams that were atop the Atlantic Sun at the time. Mistake! Both Campbell and defending champs East Tennessee State have faded a bit, and Cliff Warren's squad (13-8, 9-3 A-Sun) has bolted to the head of the ex-TAAC class with a 10-game win streak. The senior-laden team, which hoops junkies may remember from getting destroyed in two consecutive A-Sun title games, is getting big production out of fourth-year guard Ben Smith (19.7 ppg), and is building the best defense in the conference. The Dolphins haven't allowed more than a point per possession since a loss to Mercer on Jan. 2... which was their last loss!
Murray State. Murray (20-3, 11-0 OVC) -- the most historically decorated of all Ohio Valley teams (13 NCAA appearances) -- and defending champs Morehead State, were one-two in the OVC and separated only by the Racers' win over Morehead earlier in the season. And they're both MSU's from Kentucky who wear blue and gold, so it's hard to tell them apart sometimes. But now there's a little more separation, since Morehead lost one of those "weather" games on Sunday, on a late 3 by Austin Peay freshman Justin Blake. Murray keeps rolling along on a 10-game streak and are two clear; some eerie parallels with the 2006 championship team going on, with six Racers within one ppg of each other (9.8 to Ivan Aska's team-leading 10.7). Unselfish!
Pacific. I've believed that the Tigers (14-6, 7-1 BWC) have been the best team in the Big West for a while now, even as the standings were muddy. That's because Pixelvision don't lie, friend! Pacific is on a five-game streak, and wrapped up a weekend SoCal roadie with wins at Irvine and Riverside. The latter was a convincing 15-point win over the Highlanders that just so happened to be broadcast on ESPNToo. Did anyone watch it? Could you see the Orange and Black Attack? We love ball control, and Pacific is one of the premier teams in the nation in keeping hold of the rock -- just 9.8 turnovers per game, fourth best in Division I.
Utah State. The WAC hasn't exactly been WAC-tastic lately. In fact, there are some teams at the bottom of the league that have been SWAC-tastic. But the previously league-undefeated La-Tech Bulldogs have been going through a slow coming-back-to-earth process (14-point loss at New Mexico State, for instance), and the U-Aggies have stepped up to help fill the power vacuum. Stew Morrill's club (16-6, 6-2) opened the lague season by losing at both of the teams they currently share first place with (NMSU and La-Tech), but they've won all six since... and have outrebounded 'em all. And the 3's are flying! A full 44.6 percent are falling in WAC play. It's about flippin' time, too, since all they really lost from last year's WAC champs was league POY Gary Wilkinson. Plus, they're all, like, 26 years old.
Game! Of! The! Night!