Friday mornings have become extra-enjoyable, because these game reports that are coming in are really great. While there's a lot of Season 7 left, I'm excited about Season 8, and the prospect of having well-written, well-executed student and passionate fan accounts of games across Hoops Nation to read every day. Before we begin another preview, here are some professional accounts of what happened last night, via our 360
service. Horizon League: Youngstown State rallies to beat Butler, 62-60Horizon League: Cleveland State blocks Valparaiso's chancesWest Coast: Gonzaga wins 16th straight against Portland, 67-64Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa's Lucas O'Rear Out for The SeasonWestern Athletic: San Jose State has two Comebacks In 92-89 2-OT Win At IdahoNortheast: Robert Morris routs Bryant, 91-38Sun Belt: Florida International beats Troy 81-80 in OTRush The Court: Harvard Hoops: A Tradition of Futility
By late January, there's very little new about the college basketball year. Every team has played 20 games or so, unspooling hours of scoutable game footage and locking themselves into a place in the temporary hoops firmament of the season. But the last beginning always belongs to the Ivy League. Last weekend, conference play got going in the one collective that uses a standings table to decide a champion. In New Jersey, Princeton and Brown faced off
in the Tiger-Men's first Ancient Eight battle of the season.
By my count, there are 339 conference-affiliated schools playing Division I basketball. As of 6:59 pm on January 28, 337 of those had started conference play, participating in anywhere from two to 11 games against league rivals. One minute later, Princeton finally joined those teams, winning the opening tip against the Brown Bears. The 14-game Ivy League season will span less than six weeks for the Tigers, a daunting schedule somewhat like the 300-meter dash - short enough that people call it a sprint, but long enough that it sure doesn't feel like a sprint when you're the one racing.
This late start is an annual tradition in New Jersey. Travel partner Penn (which started conference play at the same time) gets forced along for the ride, but the delay is due to Princeton's quirky academic schedule, which puts fall semester finals, despite the name, in the following January. The athletic program takes a two-week break for exams, which may be an admirable sign of respect for the student-athlete's mission, but the only thought I have ever heard an outsider express is "why the hell are your finals so late?"
The layoff, which comes right as Our Game is heating up for most schools, is often said to hurt the Tigers, although they have swept their opening weekend every year under head coach Sydney Johnson. Indeed, they have not played a D-I opponent in more than three weeks, and look rusty early, failing to find the hoop and falling into a seven-point hole against the Bears.
For these opening-weekend games, the schedule takes perhaps the biggest toll on the student section. Three-quarters of campus is still away for a post-exam recess, and Princeton is not large enough - or sports-crazy enough - to lose any fraction of potential spectators. I can count the members of the student section on my fingers and toes five minutes before tipoff, and although it multiplies in size a couple times after the game starts, it is still far from fearsome.
But those dedicated souls who did make it out are rewarded, as the home team runs off a 24-2 run to take control of the game. Senior Kareem Maddox, who was never a major contributor until this season, is now practically on a first-name basis with TMM's 'top performers' Robot and is hearing talk about conference POY possibilities. Though Brown's transition defense holds him without an omgdunx - the first home game this year he goes without one - he is all over the game log again tonight, going for 15 and 14 plus assorted other goodies.
During pauses, one sees the typical Ivy League entertainment: a halftime game featuring children on the big court, a layup contest between seven-year-olds in oversized garb and a trivia contest for the crowd. The school band, though present, is only at about half-strength, still a half more than the cheer squad. For most, the action of interest takes place between the sidelines while the scoreboard clock is ticking.
But the second half is rather dull, devoid of omgdunx and failing to provide much suspense. Even the sponsored giveaway can't add any excitement: the Princeton Sports Bar & Grill offers a special deal to fans if the teams combine for at least 105 points. Last year, that might have been an interesting target, and it definitely would have been for the Joe Scott-era Tigers of the previous decade. But this year's accelerated and offense-oriented group should hit that number every night, and indeed these two teams fly past it before the under-eight MTO. Princeton cruises to the 78-60 win.
Six years ago to the very day, at a Princeton-Brown Ivy opener at Jadwin Gymnasium, we were treated to the insights of notorious journalist "Ace" Whelliston. But in this second decade of this twenty-first century, in this Age of Robots, this was no place for an old-fashioned reporter, and TMM was visiting the Tigers' upstart rivals outside of Boston instead. Scribes busied themselves with the Twitter, furiously checking for updates on the other three games during timeouts, in the conference where each game matters most.
- Kevin Whitaker
The next night, one time zone away, a season that Centenary wishes would just end still did not. The Gentlemen, surviving a lame-duck season before falling to Division III
, hadn't won a game in 23 tries and was scheduled to visit Oakland, the runaway league leaders in the Badlands. It was 11-0 against 0-11, and the result was quite expected
As months with suffixes of -ber turn into ones with -ary, college basketball programs invariably fall back into the old "pick on someone your own size" cartoon mantra. The 29, 36 and 45 point body-bag games are supposed to be replaced with battles separated by one or two possessions between familiar forces. In other words, the gaps between teams at our level should be slight -- even between two teams at opposite ends of a conference's standings. Such is not the case in the Summit League this year, as the Centenary basketball program is behind the eight-ball and nine other teams) in conference play. Their financial issues are well-documented and mercifully they are dropping down to Division III ball next year, but as for now, the trips to Fargo, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis will be anything but fun for the Gentlemen.
On Saturday, the Gentlemen's destined stop was in Rochester, Michigan, where the they were to play Oakland University. The Golden Grizzlies are mowing down league foes like so much grass. I was there in support of my Grizzlies, I wanted to see my OU team get a solid win on homecoming, of course, but I found myself feeling sympathy for that oddball team from Shreveport.
Oakland may be a mid-major, but this fact was hardly visible on Saturday. Tailgaters lined the parking lot hours before gametime, students packed the section, and the game sold out well before tip. Since there is no football at Oakland, basketball is the center-piece of the campus calendar -- as evidenced by our homecoming being at this time of year. The announcer was over-the-top, and the Grizz Gang student section was whipped up into frenzy. Anyone new to mid-major ball would have been surprised to find out that this school has only been in Division I for just over a decade... and were playing a school who would soon not even offer scholarship athletics.
Because of the random geographic distribution of the Summit League, opponent doesn't matter: most people have never heard of the teams we play. That said, most students and die-hard Grizzly fans were wishing that the Oral Roberts and Centenary game dates were switched, so as to give that big homecoming crowd more of a reason to stay excited throughout the game.
The Gentlemen matched the G'Grizzlies basket for basket until the first media timeout. But from the ten minute mark onward, it was obvious which team was unbeaten, and which was un-victorious. Kito Benson abused Centenary's front line, and breakout freshman Travis Bader hit his open looks from distance. With 17 minutes left in the game, most were passively watching. Those who knew Centenary's story probably felt a sort of pity for them, while others surely took some masochistic delight in the Gents' inability to hang with Oakland in any facet of the game.
The game really got lopsided as Centenary stopped being able to keep up with the Grizzlies on the scoreboard. Oakland's up-tempo pace caused a final result of 100-70. That's a score that would be common-place in November, but rare in the wee months of the year. The Gents did have more success on offense than anyone expected, but it was not nearly enough to topple the probable league champs in their home gym. Mini-runs of 4-0 and 6-2 by Centenary were just so much false hope false hope that they could pull-off perhaps the biggest upset in conference history.
As a fan of Oakland University basketball, you learn how to react to games based on their placement in the calendar. We play as brutal of a schedule as anyone -- this year included West Virginia, Michigan St., Michigan, Purdue, Ohio St., Tennessee, and Illinois, not to mention some solid Horizon foes. So getting blown out in non-league games happens, even to us. It comes with the territory with challenging the big guys. But once conference play comes around, the beatings are supposed to cease, the games should be close, and you should have a fighting chance to win every night. Centenary does not have that luxury this year. A win for them Saturday would have felt more like a Red Line Upset than a surprising conference win. For Oakland University, it might have been a one-time glimpse into what life is like above that line. After that win, I am glad that glimpse was one time.
- Danny Malendowski
Here, we go back to Sunday in the Valley, the day when Northern Iowa beat Missouri State to shake up the top of the standings. There was another MVC game too that day: a seeding battle down below between Drake and Illinois State that went into overtime
. Was it worth a long drive?
8:45 AM on a Sunday -- way too early for any college student to be up. But there I found myself, with a mild hangover from the previous evening, setting out to travel the boring and monotonous Interstates 80 and 74 for a game between my beloved Drake Bulldogs and the Illinois State Redbirds. While I attend an "above-the-Red-Line" school, I spend my winters traveling all over the Valley to support a team that has given me little to celebrate in my lifetime except for three winning seasons. But I trudge on anyway, always searching for what it is that drives me to continue to be such a fanatic.
It was a solo trip, as many of them are for me -- it's tough to convince others make a three-hour drive for two schools that are eighth and ninth in the ten-team Bizarro Valley standings. However, I managed to meet up with some Drake fans from the Drake Nation message board. This particular game meant nothing more than an attempt to avoid Thursday at Saint Louis in the tourney, and earn the rights to play Bradley as the seven-seed. And school pride. Drake beat the Redbirds by 30 points in the 2008 MVC championship game... that was arguably ISU's best team in years, and in all likelihood we kept them out of the NCAA tournament.
The game was exactly what you would expect from two teams like this. It was sloppy to say the least. Drake trailed nearly the entire game, trailing by double digits in the second half, before taking a three-point lead late. Drake fouled ISU on a superhoop attempt, and proceeded to make all three shots. Drake turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, and gave ISU a chance to win. But fortunately for the 30 or so Drake fans and players family who made the trip, Illinois State's shot fell short. Overtime. ISU controlled the extra session. Drake failed to make a field goal, but made all of their free throws.
Drake was down two with the ball and only seven seconds left. As they dribbled down the court, it appeared they would not get a shot off. The ball was passed to the corner, a juco transfer named Kurt Alexander took the shot, and it was good! The shot was off before the buzzer. I felt a joy that was indescribable. An intense rush of emotion overcame me. It was as if the rough season had a purpose. Moments like that are what keep us coming back, and give us that emotional high we yearn to feel. But that's more than an individual thing, it was special because of the Drake fans I was with. We shared a moment that no one could take away... except the refs.
As the teams gathered their things, the refs reviewed the monitor. The shot clearly had not come off in time, it only beat the arena buzzer. I don't remember what happened next. It was a complete black out. I don't remember the crowd's triumphant roar and screams. The lasting image of the 20 students who showed up and sang some ritual song on the floor with the players is what I took away walking out of the arena and two blocks to my car. A basketball high to the depths of the lowest of sports lows. All I could think of was three things: The drive ahead, the pain my fellow Drake fans were sharing, and how much the game truly will hurt you.
Few days during a basketball season go by when I don't think about that fateful day in March 2008 at St. Pete Times Arena in Tampa, when Western Kentucky took out the Bulldogs in the first round. I ask myself, was that it? Will Drake ever reach anything like that again? And why do I care so much? As I consoled myself with the other Drake fans, I thought about how it's about community and the feeling and understanding you share with other supporters. The feeling of a successful season, or a single win, is multiplied when you are surrounded by people who have also struggled through the poor seasons and tough losses.
But I'm not totally convinced that is why I dedicate so much of my time, money and energy into following them. In the meantime I'll continue to search for the answer, and cheer without abandon for my Bulldogs.
- Dustin G.
Excellent work by all. If you don't see yours here, it's only because we're conserving space. Much more of that can be found in the Bally Club, so feel free to post over there, where the feedback mechanism is capable of much more suddenness. If you are going to a game in the next week or so, please send it along via The Form&trade.
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