CHICAGO -- America has one more month in its ongoing annual quest to figure out how to allow violence to thrive in tightly-controlled, non-contaminated petri dishes. But as you might have heard, last night marked the conclusion of the Ugly Season. For those of you just joining us this year, we save the bulk of our vitriol about American-Style Football for Super Bowl week, and we are always too busy playing the tension-packed, paranoiac game of #LastMan to properly celebrate.
This is Football Independence Day (Observed), a day full of numeral ones, signifying the first day of the rest of your college football offseason. But instead of crapping all over Their Game right now, we'll celebrate what's great about Ours. A goodly number of you have responded to the announcement that Season 8 will be a sort of 800 Game Project (as I'm leaving the road); it will be a crowdsourced and cross-referenced collection of game reports from across Hoops Nation. These last two months of Season 7 will be the practice run, and we've been getting some great entries. We'll post as many as we can, and we'll keep the dialogue open until we agree on parameters, systems and rewards.
Kyle, I went to the Pat League showdown between American and Lehigh today. (That's what was advertised anyway. What I really saw was Vlad Moldoveanu vs CJ McCollum.) Though I live in NoVa and am a mid-major hoops fan, this was my first time at an American game, and it was a heckuva lot of fun. A really hard-fought, back-and-forth affair that came down to the final minutes. But perhaps the best moment was when I discovered with just a couple minutes to play that the voice coming from two rows behind me that was riding the refs and hollering all game belonged to David Aldridge. (I'm guessing you saw that coming; I didn't, though he knew was an alum and big fan.) In any event, take a gander at Vlad's line: 39 points on 18 shots (!), 13-for-18 shooting, 12 rebounds. You really had to be there, though, to appreciate what an outstanding performance this was. Lehigh was playing great ball denial defense and Vlad barely touched the ball for the first 10 minutes of the game. But he was patient, worked very hard to get the ball, and took advantage of his opportunities. His execution was just tremendous, hitting shots with guys draped on him and hands in his face all afternoon long.
Vlad also had the help of a lunchbucket wingman in 6-8 Stephen Lumpkins. Kid really goes to work. The bad news for American is that their guards just weren't very good. Other than Brewer (whose shot was off), they seem to lack the confidence to score. Nick Hendra showed something, but he was awfully inconsistent. The rest of the group was wholly unimpressive. Not just offensively, but defensively too, where they seemed to struggle to be quick to help, and when they did help, be quick to recover and close out.
For Lehigh's part, I was really surprised to come home and find, via KenPom.com, that their defense is ranked below 200. Their ball denial was suffocating for most of the game and if not for Vlad's ability to make tough shots, American would've really struggled to score.
And McCollum was great attacking the basket, though he may have tired down the stretch, as he was unable to convert on some crucial possessions. Still, he put on almost as good a show as Vlad did.
The bad news is that I'll be out of town for American's big tilt against Bucknell on Wednesday. The good news is the Pat League tourney is conducted at home sites. Can't wait to catch a rematch. Neither can David Aldridge, I bet.
Teams don't often win the MAC as they survive it. Teams bus to the majority of their 8 away games. Each divisional contest is a rivalry. MAC teams protect home court as well as any conference in the country. The old cliché is that there is never a night off, but in the MAC, you can't let your guard drop for a moment. Every year, bottom teams rise up and beat schools at the top of the standings. It's a 16-game war with many casualties.
And the oldest rivalry conference belongs to the two oldest schools: Miami and Ohio. It's called the Battle of the Bricks, and if you've ever been to either campus, you know why. Together, the schools have made the careers of a few brickmasons. With respect to Kent/Akron and Central Michigan/Western Michigan, the MAC's oldest rivalry is also the best. In addition to the yearly home-and-home games, Ohio and Miami have met in the MAC tournament 5 out of the last 6 years. Three times the winner of that game went on to take the tournament. They are incredibly evenly-matched; Ohio holds a mere 97-90 edge in the all-time series. The schedule makers decided to start the conference season with a bang, opening MAC play with the 187th showdown between the Bobcats and the RedHawks.
It was also the first game since Ohio's Winter Quarter started after a long six week break. Since Thanksgiving, Bobcat players had to play for a university that was not in session. The O Zone was ready. Students showing up an hour before tipoff would be disappointed; the rowdy student section was already full. The Zone ended up spilling over into the upper sections. The operative word was "anticipation."
Before the game, the team was honored for its 2010 postseason run, in which they dispatched their three fiercest rivals- Kent State, Miami, and Akron- then slew Georgetown in the NCAA tournament. And what better time to unfurl the banner than when your arch-rival is in town?
Finally, the ball was tipped. The O Zone played with Miami's coach, Charlie Coles, a favorite target of Ohio students. For his part, Charlie likes the attention, playing along and wagging his finger at the teeming mass of students on the other side of the floor. When Julian Mavunga stepped to the free throw line, he was serenaded with "Stephanie's better," a reference to Mavunga's sister who also plays basketball. Give credit to Mavunga: It's hard to shoot while laughing. RedHawk players who had to inbound from the sideline found themselves being screamed at by Ohio students inches away. Ohio's band was positioned directly across from Miami's bench and played right at them. The crowd got so loud at times, referee whistles went unheard.
In the end, it was an epic day for the rivalry. There was no separation between the teams after regulation. Or the first overtime. Or the second overtime. By the time Miami finally prevailed, 92-88, the game had been tied 16 times and the lead changed hands 12 times. It was exhausting, thrilling, and heartrending. And given the nature of the Battle of the Bricks, it was business as usual.
- J. Scott F.
Did you go to a game recently, and do you have a few hundred words in you about it? The Form™ is open.
Atlantic Sun: Sometimes, the Game! Of! The! Night! fails to live up to its billing as a competitive basketball game. But within that small subset of snoozers, there are occasional statement performances that make G!O!T!N! play even more important. Like last night's total Belmont hammering of fellow league-unbeaten Jacksonville, a 31-point blowout that offered plenty of garbage time during which to consider the ramifications. The Dolphins shot 30 percent and scored a season-low .67 points per possession. While the Bruins were establishing themselves as the clear class of the league, other schools scrambled to get their games in with snow bearing down on the South. With the first Boulevard Battle looming Thursday, Lipscomb came back to beat North Florida80-76 in a matinee. Campbell and Mercer found time to play an overtime thriller (the Camels won). The Florida Gulf Coast doubleheader at USC-Upstate was postponed; that had more importance on the women's side; while the men are struggling with a 3-11 overall record, the lady Eagles are one of the final three unbeatens left in the nation. Not even UConn can say that.
Ohio Valley: This looked like another Morehead-Murray showdown from the summer's perspective, but they both have two losses. Austin Peay has taken full control, sweeping through the first third of their league schedule (including a pair of wins over the M schools) and installing themselves in first place by two full games. On Saturday, the Govs snapped Murray's 25-game home win streak, and last night they dug out of a halftime deficit in (Josh) Terry-ific style to take out UT Martin, 71-61. Dave Loos' team is doing it with a deep junior class, the #superhoop, and since they got into league play, ball control. Only 10 turnovers a game, and a cough rate of just 16 percent.
SWAC: All teams except the Texas travel partners were scheduled to play last night, and they all got their games in despite the snow. They think it matters. The Jackson State Tigers were victorious for the 17th straight time in SWAC regular season play, thrashing the Southern Jaguars 73-49. We always keep an eye on the Jags' Madut Bol, who is nearly a foot shorter than his late father; after nearly leading his team to a road win at Grambling off the bench on Saturday, the Tigers held him scoreless in eight minutes. Grambling and Southern are the worst of the worst in the SWAC, but there's a level below that. Alcorn State had lost its first 13 games, but finally broke through last night. The Braves were down by 22 at halftime, and by 11 with 3:26 left in the ballgame. But a string of three-pointers brought them roaring back for their first win since the 2009-10 season-ender against Prairie View on March 6.
Big South: Mondays are for women's hoops in the BSC, and most of those games were moved off or cancelled. With the next round of men's contests coming up on Thursday, a quick look back at the weekend. Coastal Carolina is alone at the top with a 5-0 mark, having knocked off the other league-undefeated, Liberty, on Saturday. That was no Belmont-Jacksonville thing; Desmond Holloway hit free throw after free throw to ice a 70-67 decision. For the Chanticleers, it was their 12th straight victory. For Cliff Ellis, it was his 600th Division I win. Then this morning comes word that senior forward and South Carolina transfer Mike Holmes, who came off the bench for a key 11 points in that game and demonstratively smooched Ellis on the head in the locker room afterwards, was suspended indefinitely. Elsewhere, Presbyterian -- that Presbyterian, with all the surprise RLUs -- lost at home by 26 to UNC Asheville after falling apart in the second half. The Blue Hose was down by four at the half and was snowed under by a 10-1 Bulldog run.
Bowling Green at Kent State (Mid-American) Memorial Athletics Center - Kent, OH 7:00 EST
While the Mid-American Conference has been capable of hooping transcendence this season (see above), it's been a dirty, muddy grindcore mess for the most part. RPI 16, non-conference win percentage around 40 percent. But if you were only paying attention to Red Line Upsets during calendar year 2010, this league barely existed. There were only two MAC RLU's, both against Big East bottomfeeders: Ball State over DePaul on December 11, then Kent State over South Florida the next day. They both counted just like the other 116, but neither was really worth storming a court over. You have our express permission to point and laugh at anybody still trying to find a two-bid scenario. So here we have the Bowling Green Falcons, a decent snapshot of what's wrong with the conference. They're on a four-game win streak, but they've struggled against a 300-level schedule, going 6-9 (1-0 in the MAC after a 74-71 win out at Buffalo). In previous years, they might have beaten Howard and Niagara and Albany, which have combined for 14 total victories this season, but no. BGSU is 3-3 against teams with RPI's of 200 or worse. Louis Orr's team is also third-worst in the nation at the #superhoop, making 26.9 percent of them.
Kent State (9-6, 0-1) has other, more complicated problems. We talked about their roster turnover in the chat last week; the new version of the Golden Flashes is full of off-court issues. Three freshman players were charged with misdemeanors for their role in a massive brawl on campus in September, and last month, a player was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend and stealing her car. The brawlers are back on the team as part of Kent's thin bench, and combined for five points in the Flashes' rivalry loss to Akron on Saturday. We've heard about how great it is that Kent State is fighting through this adversity in off-hand conversation, but we don't share that weird sense of morality. Having gone to college, I understand how important men's basketball players are as ambassadors of a university, and how important it is for students to be proud of their team. Seriously, Kent State, are you proud of this? You can't control the school's recruiting, but please consider writing displeasure letters to people on campus who wear suits.