PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- This is the last Stardate until 52-20101229 (a Wednesday), at which time we'll turn our attention from Red Line Upsets to conference play. There will be a Chat Block on Christmas Eve at 4 pm Eastern, and if there's anybody around, we'll talk about whatever you want to talk about. But this is the time of year when everything stops in Our Game, when we all go back home and ponder stuff: what's "really important?" And when it's over, when the tree comes down and the holiday songs stop, there's going to be a lot more basketball. So that kind of answers that question.
It was like a big holiday party. All our favorite guests where there, like Georgia Tech (taken out 62-57 by Siena), Wyoming (a 68-62 loser to Green Bay), and former Stendhal victim Air Force (lumberjacked by Northern Arizona, 74-63). There were even some surprise guests, like recent RLU regular LSU, crushedby 20 in North Texas head coach Johnny "The Jet" Jones' emotional return to Baton Rouge, where he is still beloved after his Tiger playing days.
And then there was South Florida. Cleveland State's 69-62 win over the Bulls represented the sixth RLU yielded by the Big East's worst team. This now moved USF into an all-time tie with Wyoming 2010, Marshall 2007, and East Carolina, Southern Mississippi and Tulsa from 2006. If you want to go all Big Six on thaddaz, South Florida is now the first non-Conference USA, non-Mountain West team to show off their six-pack. Sadly, the record will not be broken, as this team will move directly into Big East play. But congratulations to Southern Miss, UCF, Florida Atlantic, Kent State, James Madison and now Cleveland State. It's history.
Wait, there's more! Furman blew out South Carolina by 16 for an emphatic SoCon-over-SEC triumph. Out in Hawaii, Butler took out Utah by 12 in the Diamond Head Clasic. Dayton roared back from a 14-point halftime deficit to take out the Big East's Seton Hall, 69-65. Seattle, which had already beaten Oregon State, took out another orange team -- this time, it was Virginia of the ACC. The Cavaliers routinely pay ridiculous amounts for each victory (in 2009, $718K per, based on a $7 million men's hoops budgets and 10 wins), but they not only lost in their shiny new building, they had to pay the visiting team for stopping by.
And finally, perhaps the most gratifying RLU of the night was Northern Iowa's 67-61 win against Indiana in Las Vegas. Sure, it's a little personal after that horrible game last week with all the trash-taunting and bird-flapping, but whatever. The Panthers caught the Hoosiers at the beginning of the second quarter, and held the defenseless Big Tenners underwater for the remainder. Kwadzo Ahelegbe, the quiet hero of the Sweet Sixteen run last year, had 24 points to lead all scorers. The Other 25 tends to get its revenge. Somehow, somewhere, it will come.
There's little doubt about the Owls' legitimacy, even though there were plenty of those back in late November after Temple lost to Cal and Texas A&M on a neutral court in Orlando. Wahh, wahh, what's wrong with the Atlantic 14. The Fightin' Dunphies are six-for-December, with two RLU's over Georgetown and Maryland and four wins over Temple's football buddies in the MAC. The primary strength is defense: 39.4 percent on two-pointers allowed and .84 points yielded per opponent possession.
The non-conference schedule has been mid-table, and there are two Mountain West losses, but the Gaels are destroying opponents by an average of 22 points. Perhaps the best combination of shooting (50.4 percent) and rebounding (61.3 percent of availables) in the Other 25, and 6-foot-6 former San Diego Torero Rob Jones has fit in perfectly, leading the team with 14.2 ppg/19.4 points per 40. 3. Old Dominion (Colonial), 99.943, 8-2 (0-1 CAA)
After VCU's meltdown against UAB the other night after leading by 20, ODU is the clear front-runner in the CAA... for now. Everybody crashes the boards on this team, but that's nothing new -- it's been forward-heavy for a while in Norfolk, but it hasn't been a problem at all. If there are enough league wins to make people forget the odd Delaware loss the other week, the Monarchs will be fine. RLU opportunity coming next Thursday at Missouri.
The Spiders won the Black and Blue city game against VCU, but lost to ODU and Georgia Tech this month. But the perimeter defense is still solid, the ball control still stingy, and there's all that senior leadership: Anderson, Harper, Geriot. Serious RLU watch in the coming week: at Seton Hall, and then a home date with one of the worst ACC teams in recent memory: Wake Forest.
There will be a Butler-Cleveland State game at Hinkle on January 7. We will be there. In the meantime, the Bulldogs have edged back ahead of the Vikings on the O25 power meter with a 33-point RLU home win against Stanford and a late-night Mountain West KO over Utah in Hawaii. Matt Howard, who was virtually invisible last season except for a handful of games, is averaging 18.4 ppg and 7.9 rpg, and scoring 25.7 points every 40 minutes, tied for 27th in the country.
6. Utah State (Western Athletic), 98.540, 14-2 (0-0 WAC)
The Blue Aggies of the WAC are doing what they usually do this time of year: kicking a lot of ass, and taking names -- names of 15-win teams. The two losses are to Georgetown and BYU, and there's an RLU over Utah back there, but this is all about preparing for league play, where they'll run into a lot of competition with similar quality to Western Michigan, Idaho State... even Cal State Bakersfield. A fun part of the new calendar year will be seeing if they can go undefeated in conference.
The Vikings won their first 12, then put in an effort at West Virginia that may have been aided by rogue whistles (foul difference: 11). But a good bounceback with an RLU win over South Florida last night. It's pretty much between Norris Cole and Matt Howard for Horizon player of the year; all the 6-foot-2 Cousy Award-finalist senior has done is rack up 21.5 ppg (25.7 pp40) and raise his average five points.
Central Florida has caught the nation's attention thanks to an easy media hook, but there are other C-USA teams that are pretty good too. The Golden Eagles are 8-1 against a top 100 schedule, and the only loss is a five-pointer against Ole Miss, plus there are a couple of RLU's against South Florida and Cal. USM is likely the third best team in the league (ahead of Memphis), but there's a great combination of efficient offense, ball control and rebounding here.
These days, everything in the Other 25 seems to either be Golden or some kind of humanoid. UCF has both! To be freakishly honest, a lot of the 11-0 record has come at the expense of lesser opponents, and that's what the strength of schedule indicator is good for measuring (SOS: 238); for every RLU over Sunshine Staters from the power-conferences, there are blowout wins against Southland and SWAC teams. But hype is about the little picture. Still a fantastic team that should prove itself against C-USA's best with strong shooting, defense, and interior strength.
The Bears are the best team in the Valley right now, but they, like water, have found their level: big wins against equal or lesser competition, and a zero-RLU yield in games against the SEC, Big 12 and C-USA. Like the almost-great mid-decade SMS and MSU teams, these guys can shoot the lights out, and have the added advantage of hardly giving up turnovers (16.5 percent TO rate). No NCAA since 1999; it would be a great story if Missouri State, which missed out on the 2000's Valley fun, opens the new decade with a return to the Dance.
The Next 15: 11. Belmont (Atlantic Sun), 91.099; 12. Texas-El Paso (Conference USA), 90.550; 13. Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), 90.159; 14. George Mason (Colonial), 89.289; 15. Murray State (Ohio Valley), 89.170; 16. Dayton (Atlantic 14), 88.783; 17. Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun), 87.878; 18. Princeton (Ivy League), 87.622; 19. James Madison (Colonial), 87.566; 20. Valparaiso (Horizon League), 86.343; 21. Portland (West Coast), 86.272; 22. Charleston (Southern), 85.788; 23. Marshall (Conference USA), 85.696; 24. Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial), 85.570; 25. East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), 85.336.
Game! Of! The! Night!
South Carolina State vs. Longwood Las Vegas, NV (Neutral Court) 2:30 EST
Christmas is a time to remember the less fortunate. So instead of making our final G!O!T!N! before the break some kind of TV-worthy thing sponsored by a dealer of bloodstone trinkets, we're sending the invisible camera crew to the Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, where they'll capture a matchup of two also-also-rans. (And then they'll spend the holidays in a drunken stupor at the Bellagio.) South Carolina State is 4-7, but those four wins have been against Anderson, Carver, Allen and Vorhees -- not quite RPI counters. The Bulldogs have lost all seven of their Division I games, including the 10-point loss to The Citadel on Wednesday. It's a program that has a lot of history in the MEAC, and has rebounded from some weird adversity with two straight winning seasons both overall and league. But this 2010-11 team is bad, and features some of the worst #superhooping in the country (28 percent from three). One bright spot: they grab 59 percent of available boards.
There are no bright spots at all for independent Longwood. After peeking over .500 two years ago -- the best an indie can do these days -- a proud and upwardly mobile central Virginia school is back to constant struggle and sorrow. The Lancers are 3-11 on the season, with a single D-I win over Columbia, and are currently on a nine-game losing streak against a tough schedule. Of particular note is the worst field goal defense in America (52.5 percent allowed). Longwood ($6.4 million athletic budget, 316th out of 344 reporting schools) had its opportunities to join conferences, even the Great West, but there's always been talk around campus about holding out for the CAA. That's one Christmas wish that isn't coming true anytime soon.
Basketball State Preview/Box P.S. The holiday surprise is going out to Season 7 Members in the next week. What we didn't tell you was that the holiday is the beginning of conference season, and that it will be useful until next Christmas.