VALPARAISO, Ind. -- Now that January has reached double-digits, the slow transition is, in full essence, complete. It's conference season, and even the teams in the Ivy League are starting to play each other. This is definitely the second part of the beautiful season, the third best of the four. No more Red Line Upsets this and body-bag game that. For the next seven weeks, it's all fussin' and fightin' with the cousins and in-laws.
A quick note, in regards to various recent queries and concerns to The Form™: there are some leagues we'll get to multiple times per week, and we'll try to mention everyone regularly. As in previous years, we give immediate preference to races that are interesting and/or crazy. Some conferences, we'll do their weekend results on Tuesday. More than four or five per day leads to eye glaze for everybody.
Horizon League: Just start calling it the Bizarrizon. The weekend began with Butler's mind-melting blowout of previous league-undefeated Cleveland State, a 23-point job paced by the "Glue Sticks," mega-Caucasians Matt Howard and Andrew Smith. The next day, a crotch punch in the Detroit-UIC game. Sunday, more madness. The most historically invisible and anonymous program in the conference, Youngstown State, nearly knocked off Butler at Hinkle. And Cleveland State's lost Indiana weekend continued at Valparaiso, where a 10-0 Viking rally-run was not enough against the Crusaders in a 64-58 decision. Now, everybody has at least one loss, and there's a four-team 4-1 traffic jam at the top.
Missouri Valley: I've always thought the mascot on the cover of The College Dropout had a passing resemblance to Boomer, but all hail Missouri State, your alone-in-first Valley leaders at the moment. Cuonzo Martin's team has the most skilled seniors of any MVC club, and on Sunday went on the road to hold off the team with the most raw talent in the conference, Wichita State. The Bears have now won seven in a row. Wichita now holds a third of a share of second place, along with Creighton in the first year of its Greg McDermott era. The Bluejays won 74-69 at Evansville on Sunday. The other second-placers are the surprising Indiana State Sycamores, winners of just nine overall so far but three in a row. Their formula lately has been cutting off opponents' offensive rebounds; in the last three games, Indiana State has grabbed 63 percent of defensive rebound opportunities (Illinois State), 75 percent (Northern Iowa), and 85 percent yesterday at Drake.
Metro Atlantic: Fairfield, as expected by just about everyone, is leading the MAAC pack at 5-0. The Stags have won 11 in a row overall, including Sunday's 70-43 knockaround of Saint Peter's. Right behind are Rider and Iona at 4-1. The hot-shooting Larryville Broncs, this season's most improved team with the addition of "defense," had a good weekend out in western New York, destroying Niagara and topping Canisius on a buzzer-beater. Iona, spending the weekend at home in New Rochelle, rebounded from a loss last week at three-time champions Siena with their own Saint Peter's beatdown (70-52) and an equally impressive 18-point win over Loyola. Siena, it should be noted, fell by 14 out at Niagara whilst playing travel-buddies with Rider. These are not the strong, contending Purple Eagles of the yore years, these are the 4-13 ones that picked up their first league victory of the season.
MMBOW #7: Randy Culpepper, UTEP
Our new friends in Conference USA get all the benefits of Mid-Majority benefits, and that includes weekly award consideration. In this particular case, we have a player who really needs any and all available recognition, including our little rinky-dink tinfoil trophy. Randy Culpepper makes ridiculously disgusting two-point dunk shots and scores tons of points and doesn't do so in bright-lights prime time. He can go 24 hours without being mentioned on Twitter, which is wrong. But he is our seventh Mid-Majority Baller of the Week of Season 7.
The senior guard, a 6-foot Memphis native, played 53 minutes of a triple-overtime tilt at UAB on Saturday. In that time, he shot 13-for-30 for 34 points, dished four assists and recorded four steals. UTEP lost by three for their fourth loss of the year against 13 wins, but whatever. On Wednesday in the Miners' C-USA opener against Tulsa, a 10-point win, Culpepper shot 8-for-18, made all 12 of his free throws, and ended with 29 points. He prepared for his week with a 31-point performance at home against Sam Houston State in UTEP's final non-conference game a Sunday ago. In that game, he shot 11-for-20, hit seven of nine freebies, and took down eight rebounds as well.
Culpepper is perhaps best remembered in these circles as one of the only UTEP players who showed up against Butler in that first-round game a March ago, and the guy who was vivisected by Shelvin Mack in the second half. That was a Red Line Upset, but the league (minus Memphis) is on our side for the moment. The defending C-USA player of the year, a former gymnast, can get up, and it's our fortunate privilege to enjoy him for a year.
Here are some things he did that did not happen this season.
I don't know if this has been mentioned yet, but he's six feet tall. Congratulations, Mr. #omgdunx, for being the MMBOW!
Jacksonville at Belmont (Atlantic Sun) Curb Events Center - Nashville, TN 8:15 EST
Folks in Nashville are already counting down to the first Battle of the Boulevard (January 25), but in the meantime, here's a game that may end up shaping the Atlantic Sun race at a much deeper level. Lipscomb has hit a real rough stretch finding scoring behind Adnan Hodzic and Josh Slater, and has lost two of three. The most recent of those was a 60-56 home loss to these Tennessee trekking Dolphins (10-3, 4-0), who haven't lost since falling apart late at Saint Louis back in December. They're winning with perimeter defense, which is the perfect thing to have in the three-happy A-Fun. Not only is Cliff Warren's squad fourth in the nation with only 26.4 percent of attempted #superhoops converted, only sixteen point two percent of three-pointers have fallen against the Dolphin D in league play. On the other end, senior swing Ayron Hardy has made nine of 24 on the season, shoots 61 percent overall, and leads the team with 12.4 ppg. He'd get more chances, but it's a very egalitarian offense.
So is Belmont's. The super-efficient Bruins have seven players who've scored at least 100 total points in 2010-11, and they've had a different leading scorer in each of the last four games. And they've all been wins. Rick Byrd's group is 5-0 in the league, 13-3 overall, and features a couple of junior 6-foot-10 guys named Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders that average around 10 and 5 per game. While they're diming and nickeling in the paint, the Bruin guards are picking pockets. Opponents are turning over 19 times per game, and on 26 percent of possessions. After this night, only one will stand undefeated atop the Atlantic Sun. But either way, these are likely the two teams that will play again for the title in Macon come March.
A quick note at the end. Since we spoke last in this context, our good friend, interview subject and One Beautiful Seasonstar Mike Sutton, the head coach at Tennessee Tech, was temporarily taken out of commission with complications related to his ongoing fight with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and he missed the Golden Eagles' two road games this weekend. We wish there was a better way to pass along well-wishes this way, other than the standard few cheap words. But we know he's a reader, too... so get well, Coach.