CHICAGO -- Patterns develop as the season goes on; one seems to be that Wednesday is a perfect day to open up The Form™ and publicly respond to a few letters, many of which have been quite heartfelt lately. There have also been some seriously great game reports, and I think Fridays (before chats) will be the day to post those. As always, anything and everything destined for personal or general TMM consumption is welcome at the grand contraption.
Your story about the NAIA game following Loyola reminded me of my college experience playing at Barclay College in Haviland, KS. I played in Division 2 of the NCCAA (that extra C would be Christian) and is now the ACCA. No one on our team taller than 6-foot-4, most were under six feet. I often played forward at six feet. We rarely scored more than 60 ppg, and often had 100 ppg scored on us. Some teams we played were good (for our division); ours was not. Some guy on the Manhattan (KS) Christian team shot 72 percent from the field that year. The good news for us is that we were in a small town in Kansas with no other entertainment options. It was a lot like being at a real college. People ignored the fact that we were 2-29 and treated us like basketball stars. Kinda cool. The team is actually decent now, so they fade into mediocrity, while we were the best at losing.
It's pretty cool that there is all kinds of crazy basketball going on out there. We even played some random teams that made ours look normal (like a team that wore pants from a Baptist Missionary college in Arkansas). It was a good time.
Keep up the good work and thanks for reading my mindless ramblings about sub-NAIA basketball.
- Kenneth B.
Seriously, keep it coming. The Mid-Majority's alternate title is the Journal of Loss Studies, and the lower levels are certainly more about losing than ours. I've written books with a juco star and a D-II player. It always seems that there's usually some kind of non-winning situation that's at the beginning too, not just at the end.
One of the blogs I love reading is John McCarthy's Small College Basketball site. There are such wonderful stories there. In the Other 25, every game is connected to every other game, and the narrative hook is that every team is shooting for the same prize as the Dukes and Ohio States. What really strikes me about the lower divisions is how chaotic and random everything tends to be. That's a real storyteller's challenge: to find connective tissue and try to explain common threads where none exist.
All this talk of leaving the road has me wondering what in fact you will do next season? Are you returning to the 9 to 5 somewhere, or just lounging around on the couch, or something else entirely?
- Corey S.
I'm returning to full-time contract Robot-making work. Honestly, I'm looking forward to just being at home for extended periods of time, doing the small, everyday things that old people do in the winter. Like making sure the pipes aren't frozen, and making soup. I really like making soup. But the site won't go away, no sir. I'll still write about basketball here and elsewhere, and I'll do these eagle-eye overviews every morning. I'll be more like John McCarthy. I'll curate the 800 Game Project. I'll draw cartoons. I'll also make a few self-funded road trips every season, because I know I could never give this part up entirely.
While on the subject of the future, the membership structure has finally been figured out. Season 8 Memberships will be less about funding travel and more about packaging useful and fun products. There will be 12 months of Basketball State, a third annual Bally Club card, and a 2012 calendar/As-You-Go Bracket. No t-shirt, although that might come separately.
Also in the bundle will be the final Mid-Majority book, a travel compendium of conference-by-conference road stories from the last seven years, with pictures and everything. We're calling it Hard Promises. That's going to be a fully self-published, no-Kindle, no-book-advance kind of production (since it won't have much of an audience beyond TMM true believers), so we're opening that shop up ASAP. Until Epilogue the Seventh, Season 8 Memberships will be $55; afterwards, the price goes up to $70 (and scholarships will become available). So there's that.
I want to first say thank you for everything, everything that has been written on here has changed me in a very positive way and for that I can never repay you, but here is my story. I have a few "Moments," I suppose you can say.
My father is a huge Kentucky fan. He isn't your typical nutbag, obnoxious prick UK fan, he's a hard working intelligent basketball fan. By God, he loves his Cats. When I was younger he took me to a UK game at Rupp, and it was totally unbelievable. 23,000 people screaming for two hours. Later, a dismal eighth grade basketball season. A coach we admired was replaced by a new guy who didn't appear to have any sense. But like the previous coach, this new guy was a Southern Illinois grad. After falling in the regional championship, he took us to a game in Carbondale. (I had to look up the exact date, and that date was February 12, 2005.) SIU was well on its way to yet another NCAA berth and MVC foe Creighton was in town. It totally blew my mind.
I loved basketball and I watched/taped every Kentucky game from 6th grade on. But Nate Funk was on fire, and the gym was totally raucous. The environment was totally unrealistic. It was so loud, so rowdy. It was unreal. But SIU had a Funk equalizer in Jamaal Tatum. Funk had 19, Tatum 18, SIU by 4. Overnight, I made my future college decision: Southern Illinois.
Four years later I was standing at halfcourt in Carver Arena, but not for a Bradley game. I was the scorekeeper for Massac County High School. We were in the Illinois 2A state championship up against South Holland Seton Academy. While our school was far greater in size, it was no secret who the favorite was. We were a school on the Kentucky border, 6 hours south, coming up to slay the giants. Our coach had won 500 games, over 300 at our small school, and he deserved a championship.
At the half we were down 4, after a tip slam by the other team. Then, at the start of the third quarter, Mid-Majority favorite D.J. Cooper took over the game. Not by scoring... but by driving, dishing, getting open looks. Our title dreams were dashed in a rout. In the locker room I cried like a small child losing their favorite toy. I was a senior in high school, totally inconsolable. Sitting beside a good friend who tore his ACL mid season, who was also a senior, I could have easily filled up a bucket. "This game will hurt you."
But that's all setup for the finale.
I had watched Butler win the clock fiasco game, and watched them beat local favorite Murray State. I also watched them annihilate the Syracuse zone that had defied so many. I had fallen in love with two goofy tall white kids, hard hustling kids who played hard nose defense, and a coach that I often joked I went to Kindergarten with! (I was 18 at the time). I sat and watched as Butler and the heavily-favored team battle back and forth.
I left work early to catch the entire second half of the game. I'd followed one totally insane, malnourished sportswriter for the previous three years and I prayed religiously (pun intended) that both our dreams would come true.
And then it happened. I had watched Hayward cash all kinds of baseline jumpshots, I had watched him be clutch and win games for Butler. It was off. I was shocked. My mom, who couldn't even tell you what the Horizon League was, was crying, jumping up and down, screaming at the TV. The game was not over. Not at all. But it felt that way.
The setup was perfect. Howard set an unreal screen. And Hayward got his shot off. Just off. I collapsed, my chest hurt. It happened again. The team that deserved this more than anything in the world, was that close. I sat in my living room, teary eyed, for at least an hour. "This game will hurt you."
While this doesn't sound like the happiest story, it is. Because of you I was able to take part in this, part of something greater than yourself, to be a part of the whole. You made me realize what I want to do with my life, and for that I can never repay you. This is why I ask that you continue writing, even if it is random, because that is what inspires me.
Thank you for your time Kyle, all of it.
- Jacob C.
Thank you, humbly. This is why I can't quit.
My name is Tom Fink with Big Lead Sports, the largest independent online sports site on the web, now reaching more than 18 million unique visitors per month. We work with more than 400 high-quality sports publishers to generate incremental advertising revenues. We specialize in unique marketing programs for blue chip brands such as Coke, Gillette, McDonalds and Proctor & Gamble, and we're interested in bringing advertising and marketing programs to The Mid-Majority. Please let me know if you have time to talk about the opportunity later this week, assuming that you are free to pursue third party ad sales and promotion relationships. In the meantime, shoot me an email so I can get you some background info on Big Lead. Thanks a lot. I look forward to hearing back from you.
- Tom F.
With all due respect, that's not a very good deal for us. We'll pass.
Big South: Don't put any money against a team with chips on their shoulders. Last season, Coastal Carolina won 28 games and went 15-3 in the league before getting dragged into a deep slog against Winthrop in the nationally televised title game. This season, they're not taking any chances. Yesterday marked the two-monthiversary of the Chanticleers' last loss, a 19-point drop to Georgetown at the Charleston Classic. The rest, including a revenge win against the champion Eagles last week, has been an equal-opportunity distribution of severe pain across the Big South. Now, one of the lopsided road swings that all the Gregg Marshall-era Eagle teams always seemed to run into every year: four away games in 10 days at UNC Asheville, Gardner-Webb, High Point and Radford. The only one of those four with a positive record is UNCA, but this is a bus league and legs can hurt. So we'll use Winthrop Dynasty rules on this one: sweep the trip, we'll call the race early.
Northeast: When we saw Long Island last month (on #tmmjuice night), it was a guarantee body-bag game and the Blackbirds were baked. Through all the static of a clear no-win situation, it was evident that it was a team with a fluid offense that was very comfortable operating at a high pace, and they could rebound a little too. They haven't lost since, including a Coastal-style quad roadie of their own (four games in 12 days). The most recent win was a 30-point blowout over Wagner, knocking the House of Hurley from first place. Jim Ferry's squad plays at the sixth highest pace in the land (77.9 possessions per 40 minutes), and unlike most NEC teams, is better at getting to the basket than jacking threes. It's always been kind of sad that one of the greatest teams of the 1930s has never won an NCAA Tournament game (no appreances since 1997, either), but LIU might make the First Four and take care of that.
Southern: Chattanooga's summer was marked by two numbers: 137 (impermissible texts) and 74 (no-no phone calls). Their winter so far? 7 and 0, baby. The Mocs are the only league-unbeaten left in League '21 after defending home court in a division-leader battle wth the College of Charleston. That was a 91-88 thriller made possible by 6-foot-5 junior Omar Wattad's #superhoopy 27. Next up for Chattanooga is a Thursday trip to Wofford, the league champions who are just as 5-1 as Charleston. To beat the top two in the SoCon SoDiv, within the course of a week, would be a real signal that this might the kind of team worth calling or texting home about.
Western Athletic: Utah State is ripping through the conference and on 16-0 watch, but the real question in the Wickity is: what the hell's going on with Idaho? Wasn't this a team that lost four key seniors? The Vandals are perfect in 2011 too, having swept the Hawaii-San Jose State weekend earlier on and dropping Fresno State at the Save-Mart Center on Monday. So Don Verlin's team is 5-1, won't have to travel to the West Coast again this season, and don't have to deal with USU until February 9. Not a bad position to be in. While a first NCAA bid since 1990 might be a little much to ask, a defense that often embarrassed last season has turned around. They've shaved six points off the road points-against (70.2 to 64.2), and the in-conference points per defensive possession has dropped from 1.032 to .902. Which is all good!
James Madison at Old Dominion (Colonial) Constant Convocation Center - Norfolk, VA 7:00 EST
The historic CAA race of 2006 featured six teams in the top 100 of the RPI, four teams with .700 records or better, and four with .250 or worse. CAA race 2011: five, three, three, and stay tuned. While a two-and-a-half-bid perfect storm may or may not happen this year, the table is being set nicely after a parity-plagued beginning. Old Dominion, the team that won the Colonial last year and went a round in at the NCAA Tournament, lost their preview opener at Delaware and took a second loss six weeks later at Drexel. But the Monarchs (13-4, 4-2) shook off their bad case of NAC-itis by knocking off previously league-undefeated Hofstra in Long Island over the weekend, 75-64. As with most of Blaine Taylor's recent teams, ODU is top-heavy, with tough bigs who blast inside and clean glass, and guards whose job is to reliably bring the ball up the court without embarrassing themselves. It's a winning formula. Frank Hassell, a 6-foot-9 senior, leads Monarch scorers with 12.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg, and as a group, Old Dominion gets 59.5 percent of available rebounds (3rd in the nation) and allows only 42.8 percent of two-point shots to fall. Kings, kings of the paint! The other crowned heads of the CAA are the James Madison Dukes. The knock on them coming into full league play was that they had spent most of non-conference hanging at home in Harrisonburg, padding their record. This wasn't conjecture; the computers thought so too (schedule strength: 228). But with the emergence of Bucknell as a Patriot League frontrunner and Princeton's continued winning track, that CBE Classic pod sweep just might have included two future NCAA teams. Aside from the 75-61 season-opening guarantee at Kansas State, the Dukes (15-3, 5-1) have dropped just two: a two-possession game at Marshall and a buzzer-beater loss in the CAA opener down at Georgia State. Otherwise, they haven't lost since December 7, a streak of nine straight. They're officially in the hunt. Denzel Bowles, a 6-foot-10 former Texas A&M Aggie, has gone full monster on the league since coming in at the semester break last season and is averaging 16.9 points and nine boards so far in 2010-11 (including nine dub-dubs). Awesome big-guy matchup alert! The reason why JMU has already eclipsed last year's win total of 13 is that they've stayed healthy (it was the kind of team with the redshirt as a third jersey). Also, the development of a smaller-statured supporting cast to complement Bowles has been key, led by Cleveland-area juco Rayshawn Goins (11.3 ppg) and steady 6-foot-5 third-year forward Julius Wells (10.4 ppg). ODU has won four straight in this series (including a 64-44 embarassment at JMU last time out), and this would be a super-statement for the Dukes. Basketball State Preview/Box