??????, ?.?. -- The game continues into its third day; full coverage can be found on the Last Man Live page. Normally on Wednesday, we have a mailbag feature. At the moment, the mailbag is sitting in the corner, tied up. We're not reading The Form™ or e-mail or Twitter or anything outside the enclosed college basketball universe. It's strangely liberating, being unlinked from the internet. By Wednesday, that's extra motivation to continue: there's going to a lot to catch up on when this is over.
Missouri Valley: A number of the letters that came in before the media blackout had to do with the Valley and how the league could somehow get two bids. I hate to be the one to say it, and I know I'm not the only one, but it's not going to happen; please sit back and enjoy the rest of the race. Last night was a particularly Bizarro one. Evansville is relishing the role of Roberts Stadium spoiler, giving their doomed gym two big thrills in its final season: a 12-point win over Missouri State last Wednesday and a 70-62 victory over reeling Northern Iowa last night. But that was hardly Tuesday's biggest result. Southern Illinois, a team that just one week ago was called out by their head coach for quitting, braved a Kansas snowstorm and conquered Wichita State and Koch Arena by a 56-53 score. The video highlight package is nearly unbelievable... not just because of the context and the final score, but for the sight of empty seats at the Roundhouse.
America East: #AEMadness? How can there ever be such a thing when the presumptive league favorite spins off a seven-game win streak and leads the conference by a game and a half. Aside from losses at Boston University and at home against former league leader Maine, Vermont has won 12 out of their last 14, has displayed an ability to win at any speed, and is getting supremely balanced scoring: four different leading scorers in their last six games. But just beneath this so-called "normal" exterior lurks NAC-steria! That Maine team has lost two in a row, at BU and a freaky 84-79 shock at home last Saturday against UMBC, the Retrievers' fifth overall win of the season. And tonight, the Catamounts travel all the way down to Baltimore to take their chances. In the first meeting between UMBC and Vermont, Mike Lonergan's team only led by two at halftime. Would you like something to put on those crab fries... #AEMadness, perhaps? Wooohahahaha!
Southland: There are eight races in the Other 25 that feature no teams in the RPI's top 100. The Big Sky, Big West, MEAC, MAAC, NEC and OVC are all in considerable danger of sending a champion to the First Four. The SWAC is nine index points away from having no teams in the top 200 (Texas Southern, No. 191). Then there's this conference, with all but two teams below the Mendoza Line. And neither McNeese State (167) and Sam Houston State (187) are in first place in their respective divisions. Distant and dismissive observers might call it a cesspool of mediocre slop, but if you've visited these places or just seen some of the teams play, you might see it for what it is: total basketball anarchy. With the exception of Central Arkansas, in its first year of full Division I eligibility, every team is within three games of both .500 and a division lead. Northwestern State has the lead in the East division on pure speed alone -- the Demons play at a 75-possession pace, make only 43 percent of their shots and are among the nation's bottom 50 in turnover rate, but any and all extra shots have led to four wins in their last five games.
But no team typifies Southland Weird like Lamar. The 3-5 Cardinals have lost four straight and five of six, but hold a positive efficiency margin in conference play (offense: 1.045 points per possession, defense: 1.000 allowed) because of their two victories over UCA, which they won by a combined 59 points.
The first time this matchup was the G!O!T!N!, on Stardate 66, Bucknell and American were both 1-0 in the Patriot League; the Eagles were the league favorites and the former-king Bison were just an upstart team that had some promising non-conference results. A 15-point win statement and a month later, things are different. Bucknell (16-8, 7-1) has spent the entire regular season in first place, and has been beating PL opponents by an average of 11 points. (That's factoring in the 20-point drop at Army in late January that sullied the perfect league record, so there's been some whompin' going on.) The Bison need to clinch the autobid to be consider truly "back," but they're certainly back from the dead. Just two seasons ago, Dave Paulsen's team was 7-23 and going nowhere. Now, Bucknell eclipsed the 2009-10 season win total (14) with six weeks left in the season, they're leading the league in nearly every statistical category, and they have a 6-foot-10 future star and former MMBOW named Mike Muscala, who's averaged 15.5 ppg and 7.4 rpg. He's got two full years of eligibility remaining after this season.
American (16-7, 6-2) was thoroughly outclassed on their own floor in that first meeting. As Muscala banged and swooped to 33 points and 10 boards, 6-foot-9 Euro-Eagle Vlad Moldoveanu struggled in a seven-point performance on 12 shots with seven rebounds. Now, the rematch. Besides that early loss to Bucknell, AU also carries a blowout loss at a service academy (Navy, 72-53, January 26), and they've been squeaking by with a lot of close wins. Consider Sunday's 62-61 victory at Lehigh (we were present for that), in which the Eagles were bailed out by a foul on a Moldoveanu putback attempt with one second remaining. (Vlad made the first, then impaled Lehigh with an intentional miss.) But that game was notable for the performances of the two American junior contributors, 6-foot-5 big-guard Troy Brewer (10.8 ppg) and 6-foot-8 leading rebounder Stephen Lumpkins (13.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg), who kept the scoring up while the former George Mason Romanian ranger struggled with his shooting. When all three are on, American is dangerous, and the team shouldn't be counted out during this latest outbreak of Bison Fever.