PHILADELPHIA - The holidays, then. In the distant past, this was a time to gather around fires, which was important enough for physical and psychological survival that people would rearrange birthdays just for the excuse to do so. Over the centuries, this time of year became a giant magnet that pulled in love and joy and sharing and commerce and bad music that can't help replicating itself endlessly, until it became Everything-Everything, all human needs and desires crystallized at one great intersection. It's a lot to ask of a month, much less a person living in it. All those obligations and expectations, all over a little tilted earth.
One thing about the holidays is how sudden they come up. Christmas creep doesn't prepare one much for what we just went through, which hides innocently at the end of a short week. Wednesday is routine, and Thursday is that. And then, after Black Friday and Awkward Family Saturday, it's over. Bang, bang. This is the hardest Monday of any of the fifty-two. Thanksgiving isn't just a weekend, it's a bomb that goes off in a cold month.
It's not just you. The different-ness of the experience, the annual system shock and removal from normal context, affects a lot of people. The steady turn soft, and the strong become compromised. Or, at least, a little bit vulnerable. Guard goes down, defenses slip just a bit. In Our Game, there is a code for this. Three letters, spelled out in burning trees.
R. L. U.
Red Line Upsets
Since we spoke last, there have been no fewer than 16 victories for the Other 25 against the larger seven. In the past week, the number has doubled, to 49. It's at the point of the season when documenting each one is an impossible job. Thanksgiving weekend is usually an explosion of upsets: a combination of neutral-site tourneys with sparse crowds, the Holiday Mindset, and general disorientation. Last Wednesday, VCU beat UCLA by four points in the dreamland that is Madison Square Garden, in the Preseason NIT consolation game. Murray State, the OVC champions, overcame Stanford 55-52 in a tight, low-possession, low-shooting percentage game. Utah State crushed Utah by 17. And the weekend hadn't even started yet.
Jacksonville 69, at Auburn 55 [Sat.] - These Tigers of the SEC have, rightfully, become one of the season's early punchlines. They are a very bad basketball team. They might even be well-served to change their name. But they play in a glimmering, shimmering new arena, and have decided to spend their early season buying teams for evenings and bringing them in. Problem is, UNC Asheville and Samford and Campbell and Jacksonville have all beaten Auburn there now. You know where this is going. The combined athletic budgets of those four schools is $35 million, and Auburn has spent approximately $300,000 (estimated) on these buys. Auburn can afford this, because it has an $85 million athletic budget. But the team is 1-4. The crazy thing is that this still makes more sense than most of the theories being floated about the economy at the federal level.
Harvard 82, Colorado 66 - The only RLU on [Sun.] was an Ivy-over-Big 12 job, and the first win for the Crimson over that conference in program history. But this is a program that had three RLU's in three years during the Jeremy Lin era, so it's not like people freaked out or anything. Harvard never trailed. And there were a bunch of scouts in attendance to watch the visiting Colorado guards, so ha ha. The Boston Globe'sreview: loved it!
Richmond 65, Purdue 54 [Sat.] - This was, perhaps, the largest of the RLU's this weekend. At least in terms of the number of "national columnists" who saw fit to take breaks from providing virtual executive hand relief to the Duke Blue Devils and comment on the game's relevance. In the final game of the Chicago Invitational Challenge, which was actually held in Chicago, the Atlantic 14's surging Spiders took out a highly ranked team from the Big Ten. It was a big deal. Richmond (6-1) took control of the game early and held off the inevitable second-half run, flashed a defense that smothered Purdue to the point that the Boilermakers were only pulling .78 points out of each possession, and generally showed mass superiority. One guy, Kevin Anderson, actually hold on...
MMBOW #2: Kevin Anderson, Richmond
Mr. Anderson, who was the 17th Mid-Majority Baller of the Week during Season 5, had 28 points on 9-for-20 shooting in Saturday's big win over Purdue. He hit a pair of #superhoops, made eight of his 11 free throws, and had eight rebounds too. His fantastic defense was barely quantified by his single steal. A day earlier, against Wright State on that neutral court in Chicago, the 6-foot Atlanta native went 5-for-11 from the floor for 15 points, chipped in five assists and four rebounds. Earlier in the week, in a Tuesday double-up against Southern University of the SWAC, he played half the game and scored 11. All in all, not a bad week. Let me rephrase that: best week of anybody in the Other 25. That's why he's the second MMBOW of the season.
Richmond made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team last season (losing to Saint Mary's in the first round), but is a valid contender for the autobid this year. The Spiders feature a great combination of hot shooting (hovering around 51 percent all season), great defense (26.6 percent allowed from the perimeter) and will not yield the ball on offense (16.7 percent turnover rate, 36th in Division I). You can win against just about any team with numbers like that, and what do you know, Richmond beat Purdue. They will beat many more teams from now until March, and will probably beat teams then too. And their senior leader is Kevin Anderson, a gutsy guard who averages 15.9 ppg and makes 40 percent of his threes. Great team, great player, MMBOW.
Game! Of! The! Night!
Robert Morris at Cleveland State H. J. Goodman Arena - Cleveland, OH 6:00 EST
The big news out of the Horizon League is that Butler lost to Evansville. At home. No really, this happened. Obviously, anything that the Bulldogs (now 3-2) do will be more important than anything else that happens in the ex-MCC this season, but it's worth pointing out that there are a pair of teams that are undefeated but probably wouldn't be expected to be. Loyola, who we'll be seeing this weekend, is 7-0. So is Cleveland State. Halfway ironically, Cleveland State looks like the kind of ball control/defense team that Butler was last season, and it would be fully completely ironic if this team wins the Horizon autobid. (No really, get accustomed to the idea.) The Vikings have beaten both Kent State and Akron of the MAC, two proud programs with a lot of recent championships, as well as an Iona team that might end up winning the MAAC.
Gary Waters' team goes for its eighth tonight against NEC champions Robert Morris. Mike Rice, who led the Colonials to two straight titles, took his services to Rutgers, where he's already felt the warm glow of the RLU. There are some familiar names on the roster, like Karon Abraham, the 6-0 sophomore who went nuts in the first round game against Villanova last year with his fearless freshman #superhoops. Like Cleveland State, this team has been putting up strong defensive numbers, but under new coach Andrew Toole, the offense has sputtered and suffered. RMU lost to that same Kent State team, and owns a pair of wins against Duquesne and Saint Peter's. So, 2-2. And against a schedule so far that's only included one higher power (Pitt), the team's shot 34 percent. That's in the bottom 10 of the entire country, but facts are useless in emergencies.