PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- When do Red Line Upsets happen? Well, one timeframe when they don't is January and February. That's when everybody's playing conference games. So that means we are closing in on the end of rooting for the little guys, surprise @RedLineUpsets alerts on Twitter, and all of the other things that give the first six weeks of the college basketball season and get us through the holidays. They'll resume, of course, in March, when it will mean much more.
As of today, there have been exactly 600 completed games between teams from the biggest and best seven leagues and the 25 Others (with all results involving Xavier, Gonzaga and Memphis thrown out on financial principle). There are 206 more that are regularly scheduled. Based on previous experience with these numbers, we can assume that there will be approximately 50 more: a combination of unscheduled matchups in late December mini-tourneys and postseason eliminators. So unless there are magical runs and March heroics, we're going to see a dip in mid-vs.-major games. There was an increase from 865 in 2008-09 to 908 in 2009-10, and so we'll end with around 850 for 2010-11. And considering that Conference USA moved to our side of the Red Line last summer, a trend we've discussed in the past continues. Teams from top conferences are playing each other more often (on television, most likely), granting Others fewer opportunities to play them, and the Red Line that separates I-A and I-AA gets thicker.
But no, really, when do Red Line Upsets happen? We've put together a series of super-geeky charts to show you. For one, there are more opportunities at the very beginning and very end; the data shows that there are more games in the first two weeks, then a dip, then more in mid-December. Because every school schedules separately, we have to move into the world of conjecture, speculation and subjectivity to consider why. My guess is that there are all those early-season showcase TV tournaments, and that power leagues schedule so-called "creampuffs" early on to build confidence. Then it picks back up during winter break, because any self-respecting Big Ten or SEC school wouldn't want to schedule a marquee game when the students are away, and therefore relinquish home-court advantage.
And so this is peak RLU time, and it has been for years. These are the "trap games." Interest is flagging, arenas are more empty, and the Other 25 is hungry for wins. But others have their own theories.
One last thing: there were a lot of questions about one-day records over the weekend after the smashing eight-RLU day on Saturday. I thought that the number was 14, but I was probably thinking of former Towson Tiger Gary Neal. The real record is 10. November 24, 2007 happened early in Season 4 (still my favorite of the six completed ones), and was the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend -- another great time to strike. It was all properly documented.
Brown 73 Northwestern 67 North Carolina A&T 96 DePaul 93 Nebraska 62 Creighton 74 New Orleans 74 Tulane 67 Montana 59 Air Force 57 Western Kentucky 73 Michigan 69 Iowa 62 Utah State 75 Wyoming 63 Wichita State 75 Indiana 65 Xavier 80 Texas Tech 71 Butler 81
Jacksonville 71, at Florida 68 (OT) -- It was Jax's first win over Florida since 1994. Florida came into 2010 with plenty of vim and moxie, expecting to contend and challenge and return to glory. And the Gators have the strongest schedule in the nation and all that, but they made the mistake of scheduling Jacksonville of the Atlantic Sun on a Monday afternoon in December. This ensured that the Red Line Upset the Dolphins dropped on them got an extra few news cycles, and led the 6 o'clock sportscast.
We saw Jacksonville up close last week, and they were in control of their roadie at Saint Louis until the big home team run 35 minutes in. Yesterday, they played 45 minutes of relentless ball. As noted then, it's not a big team and can't match up with a front line like Florida's. But the Dolphins (7-3, 2-0) pushed the tempo to an uncomfortable and sustained level, limited turnovers, and made enough shots that Florida never got up by more than a couple of baskets. This is a great sign for the championship prospects of Cliff Warren's bunch, but don't forget that everybody in the A-Sun plays that way. We still believe it's a Lipscomb-Belmont kind of thing next March, but this is a team that's going to be right there, at or near the end.
Jacksonville's win pushed the Atlantic Sun's non-conference record to 33-47. While winning 41 percent of non-league games isn't very good, consider that the ex-TAAC won 30 percent last season (30-68) and had just three non-Conference USA Red Line Upsets (1, 2, 3). Two ACC wins this year, and nearly an even break (4-6) against the SEC. I waxed super-rhapsodical about the league being Division I's adorable halfway house in One Beautiful Season, but the improvements and accomplishments are clear. That's a better story.
Game! Of! The! Night!
Valparaiso at Oakland Athletics & Recreation Center - Rochester Hills, MI 7:30 EST
Not on your regular schedule, but an expected eventuality, is this intriguing little matchup between former Mid-Continent Conference pals. It's the championship game of the Lou Henson Award Tournament. What's the award? Here's a hint: it's like a long, sharp scoreboard. And both teams need wins. It's not as if the homestanding Golden Grizzlies (7-6, 2-0 Badlands) are going to get into the NCAA Tournament on the basis of their credentials, what with a 1-4 record against the RPI's top 50. But that single win was a December shocker against Tennessee, which alerted the nation at-large what we Other 25'ers have known for a while: Oakland's pretty good. Especially on the glass. Led by 6-foot-11 NBA scout magnet Keith Benson (18.3 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 3.4 bpg), the double-G's grab 56.4 percent of available rebounds (44th in Division I) and are 21st nationally in blocks per game at 5.5. And it's not just Benson: senior Will Hudson, at 6-foot-9, is chipping in 13.4 ppg and 6.8 rpg as well.
The Crusaders of Valparaiso, whom last played Oakland back in 2007, are positioning themselves as potential sneaker-spoilers in a Horizon League that is developing a very solid midsection. There are no RLU's or accomplishments to match those of Cleveland State or Butler, but there was that 25-minute hang with Purdue a couple of weeks ago. And there's an 8-4 (2-0 HL) record against a top 100 schedule. It's a team with balanced scoring -- four average in double figures, led by point guard Brandon Wood (14.7 ppg, 2:1 ATO, 4.5 rpg). If there's anything wrong with the Crusaders, it's that they take too many threes and miss too many (Wood, for instance, is 15-for-53 on the year), and they top out at 6-foot-8, so they're going to get outrebounded a lot, especially by a team like Oakland. If they can somehow hold on to the ball tonight and get a few extra possessions, they might keep it close.