RICHMOND, Va. -- For most of recorded history, things that weren't paid for didn't happen. Take the Old West, for instance. You think saloons allowed tabs? As long as there were four-legged vehicles tied to the post out front, every customer represented a potential flight risk. Plus, there was always the chance that they'd be dragged out in the street for a duel to the death. Back then, it was you, your gold, your gun and your horse. Simpler times. Then along came Wells Fargo with its stagecoaches and credit cards.
Another big thank you to those who helped get us back on the road and help cover our budget gap. We only raised about two-thirds of our usual annual $15,000 travel budget with our newfangled subscription system, so we've been staying in the same places for multiple nights in a row and making small concentric circles. Our drive two weeks ago raised $2,100, and so we're back out here as much as we can afford to be, at a baseline comfort level.
I've been talking to a few of our longtime reader-supporters about what's important for these last six weeks of the season. Do we travel far and wide? Where do we go with what we have? The top recurring topic has been the whole idea of the 100 Games Project, which is what this site was founded on. At 56, we still have paths to a hundred, and so the primary focus will be completing that. We may not make it, but will try very hard to. Here is the loose, open itinerary we'll try to follow.
Fri 2/25 - COLU-PENN 7 Sat 2/26 - BONA-SJU 4; CORN-PENN 7 Sun 2/27 - SPC-RID 1:30 Wed 3/2 - GW-URI 7 (67 or 68) Thu 3/3 - AEast 1R  Fri 3/4 - MAAC 1R  Sat 3/5 - AEast QF  Sun 3/6 - AEast SF , MAAC SF  Mon 3/7 - MAAC F  (78 or 79)
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Wed 3/9 - WAC 1R 12/2:30  Thu 3/10 - BWC QF  Fri 3/11 - BWC SF  Sat 3/12 - BWC C 
Thu 3/10 - MAC QF  Fri 3/11 - MAC SF  Sat 3/12 - MAC F 
(85 to 88) Tue 3/15 - First Four @ Dayton  Wed 3/16 - First Four @ Dayton  NCAA 1st/2nd Rounds  (95 to 98)
At most, this plan would leave us with five games to find between midweek games at the other and lesser postseasons, and hopefully one or more of the Other 25 would make it farther than the first weekend in the NCAA's. As you might recall, that happened last season (a lot).
Then there are those "or" sections. A few people have expressed interest in getting us down to Centenary for the Gentlemen's final winnable Division I game. The other thing is the plan for the second week of Championship Fortnight; we'd love to go out west, as we've been hoping to all year, but 100 is the priority. If we're going to run out of funds by doing that, we're going to stay close instead.
We are kept on the road by reader-supporters who think this is an important effort. So if you want to help out with all that, our support page is still very much open, plus you get a bunch of extra stuff for your trouble (side note: As-You-Go Bracket cards are being shipped out this weekend). As always, ideas and suggestions welcome via The Form™ Yee-haw!
Atlantic 14: Every so often, we get Form™ entries about Gonzaga or Xavier -- or, to a lesser extent, Memphis -- and the whole "exception" thing. Some propose mathematical formulas involving NCAA Tournament appearances, all of which would except them too. (That we talk about a team has always represented some sort of cosmic insult.) It's simple, really. Those programs have transcended the struggle, by shifting resources out of football and spending 30 percent on men's hoops. They're also really good basketball teams. Xavier dumped Duquesne on Sunday by ripping apart their league-best defense and exposing the Dukes' weakness: rebounding. Class of the league, as always.
Bracketologists seem to be split on the issue, but all the other aspirants offer excuses for the Selection committee to cut seed numbers or leave them out altogether with untimely swoons. None have winning records against the RPI top 50. Duquesne's NCAA Selection Committee team sheet looks like this: 1-5 vs. top 50, 12 100+ wins, avg. RPI loss: 52. Temple is one Georgetown win away from the same general profile. Richmond hangs its confident star on that Purdue victory from November. Extra bids will probably come down to what they comes down to seemingly every season: who beats Xavier, where, and how often.
Colonial: George Mason 2006 really started to catch fire in early January. Same thing's happening here in 2011 (and both started with wins up at Northeastern), although guaranteeing the same end-result would be foolish. The Patriots are winning at any speed, and by large margins too: the last seven have been by double-digits. If they can beat VCU (2-2 in their last four) in their only regular-season meeting tonight and survive the Siegel -- we'll be in attendance -- they might not lose again until their return to Richmond. That BracketBuster game at Northern Iowa looks a whole lot more winnable now with the Panthers' injury problems and losing streak, then there's Northeastern at home and Georgia State down there. Four double-figure scorers, all of whom have led the team in points during this 10-game winning streak. All of us each of us, indeed.
Southern: The currencies of Canada and the United States have pretty much evened out, but value disparity across the SoCon's border has become very pronounced. Chattanooga is 10-5 and leads the North, but losses to two of the three top teams in the South have shown which way the power shifts. (And I'm sure Charleston would love a rematch of that 91-88 shootout.) Now, the Mocs are getting beat in their own division, first by WCU and then by App State in a quick-turnaround weekend from hell. It may be that their fate is to be the two-seed everyone wants to play.
MMBOW #12: Norris Cole, Cleveland State
You can make all the excuses you want. It was in the Horizon League. It was against Youngstown State, a team that's only beaten eight Division I teams this season. It was at home. Nobody saw it on national TV, so it didn't really happen. Whatever. These are facts: a 6-foot-2 point guard scored 41 points (with 11-for-22 shooting and six threes), grabbed 20 rebounds, and came within a triple-double with nine assists, against a Division I opponent. Norris Cole of Cleveland State is out 12th Mid-Majority Baller of the Week of Season 7.
There is a catch-all efficiency number that the NBA folks use, with a formula that goes like this: ((Pts + TReb + A + Stl + Blk) - ((FGA - FGM) + (FTA - FTM) + TO)). Cole's in-regulation performance on Saturday scores a 53, which beats the previous national 2010-11 high of 48. I guarantee you this: that January 11 performance in Utah received hundreds of times more respect and hype. Cole was following up a 27-point, 12-for-22 game at Detroit, one that Superman couldn't save. The Vikings lost that one, 81-78. Cleveland State has lost two out of three and has slipped a half-game behind Valpo in the Horizon, but none of that diminishes from the performance of the year, in any conference, anywhere. For those in Horizon country, it's another reminder that there's a guy with major March experience that could go mental at any time.
Cole, a 6-2 senior guard who hails from Dayton Former Capital, should be a star by now. He should be well-known by Jimmerites and non, all across the country. During his sophomore year, he was the leading Viking scorer (21 points) in a 13-over-4 blowout upset over Wake Forest. He has an awesome haircut, what more do you want? So more love, more love, more love for Norris, our reigning MMBOW.
Wichita State at Evansville (Missouri Valley) Roberts Municipal Stadium - Evansville, IN 8:05 EST
In the final season of Roberts Municipal Stadium, the Evansville Purple Aces (14-11, 8-7) have given their fans plenty of things to remember it by. There most likely won't be a championship banner, but Marty Simmons' team has shaken up the Valley race by knocking off the conference's best teams on the old parquet. On Groundhog Day, the Aces beat Missouri State by 12, and sank Northern Iowa 70-62 a week later. All told, they've gone 11-2 at Roberts. They haven't been that good at home since the turn of the century, the last time they went to the NCAA Tournament. It's been the road that's killed the chances to get back there (3-9, including a 14-point loss at last-place Bradley last weekend). But tonight, in the second-to-last game ever held at the old barn, Evansville will attempt to take out the other top Valley contender.
A week ago, as a snowstorm blanketed Wichita, the Shockers lost at home to a Southern Illinois team whose coach had recently used the "Q" word. Gregg Marshall's squad responded by pounding Northern Iowa on the road, sending the injury-starred Panthers into the morass of the Valley middle with a third straight loss. It's a two-team race now, with WSU and Missouri State three games ahead of the pack. Just like it was supposed to be at the beginning. But forget any doubts or hesitations of recent months; the Shockers are the best team in this league. Best offense (1.09 points per trip in conference), best defense (.89 against), punishing paint prowess, and they're stronger on the road than at their eardrum-busting Roundhouse -- unthinkable in most other years. Now they have to do something that only Creighton has accomplished this year in Valley play: overcome the ghost of Arad McCutchan and pull a W out of the land of Ski soda.