CLEVELAND -- Once upon a time, there was this really thick book, and it had a bunch of stuff about college basketball in it. No, not the book you're thinking of, I'm talking about One Beautiful Season. I wrote that, last summer! A few thousand people went ahead and bought it (perhaps you?), and it's not out of print so more folks have the opportunity to if they want (maybe you!). While a third printing has cleaned up most of the remaining and inevitable minor fact-farts in a 592-page, 193,000-word volume, there won't be a super-expanded cash-grab edition with a "bonus" look back on whatever happened to that guy or that team. That is what this free, reader-supported blog post is for.
So whatever did happen to that guy or that team?
Gordon Hayward (Ch. 39): G-Time is averaging 3.6 points and 1.7 rebounds per game for the Utah Jazz. He was recently the subject of this iPad drawing by current teammate and former Western Kentucky Hilltopper Jeremy Evans.
North Florida (Ch. 38): UNF head coach Matthew Driscoll is keeping Ospreyland on the upswing in his second year. They're 8-10 with two games remaining in the Atlantic Sun regular season, and beat Kennesaw State (and co-author Tony Ingle) in triple overtime last weekend. Looks like they'll be a No. 6 seed in the tourney, with a chance to avenge last year's final loss against Jacksonville.
Northwestern State (Chs. 35, 31): After two dreadful seasons of missing the eight-team playoffs, head coach Mike McConathy, super-assistant Mark Slessinger, and the purple and orange are back in the thick of things in the twelve-team Southland Conference. The Demons are 16-12, and 8-5 in the hot mess that is the 2011 version of that league. In fact, they beat defending champions Sam Houston State on the road last night, 64-63. They're playing at their normal fast pace and still running that Buna, but they're forcing a lot more turnovers than usual. They're still playing (and losing) body bag games though -- this year's version of the Indiana U. trip was a 100-66 loss. Though the Demons were Black Lined by LSU Shreveport on January 4, everyone should keep their jobs this summer, at the very least.
Belmont and Lipscomb (Ch. 34): Lipscomb came in as the preseason favorites, but Belmont ended up stealing all the thunder. The tourney saga is yet to be written, but the two Battles of the Boulevard were as intriguing as ever: an 88-52 Bruin mauling at the Curb on January 13 was avenged by the Bisons at Allen Arena two weeks later.
Mike Sutton (Ch. 33): The Tennessee Tech head coach had to take a few games off in January due to complications from his fight with Guillain-Barre syndrome. But he's back on the bench, where he wants to be -- answering questions about hoops, not his health. Just like always. The Golden Eagles are 11-6 in the Ohio Valley Conference and on a four-game win streak. They're assured of at least a No. 4 seed, which will be their best OVC placement since 2007.
Mike Lonergan (Ch. 25): The Vermont head coach just wrapped up another America East regular season title, and is still relying on "head coach emeritus" Tom Brennan for advice. But once this season ends, his name will be mentioned in the same sentence as the word "Towson" at least once.
The Palestra (Chs. 24, 23): Still haunted. Or is it?
Colonial Athletic Association (Ch. 22): The outer edges of the league still have their struggles, but the Virginia power center could yield a record three bids. Now that's getting big.
Missouri Valley Conference (Ch. 20, 19): A bad year for the MVC. Another one-bid season awaits, as the league attempts to recapture its lost glory; best hope is that its Arch Madness champion can grab another win share or two, just like Northern Iowa did.
Horizon League (Ch. 18): One of the most exciting races in league history, Horizon, MCC or otherwise. According to the conference office, the top half of the league hasn't been separated by 2.5 games or less since 1992. If it's a two-bid league, though, Butler is most likely going to have to be involved (again).
SIU Edwardsville (Ch. 17): As the Cougars edge closer to full Division I status and OVC membership, they've won seven and lost 21. Tonight marks their final game of 2010-11 (a home contest with NAIA member Hannibal-LaGrange) and as such, SIUE will be the first D-I team to close up shop for the season, and one of the very few to end with a "win."
ZOOperstars (Ch. 16): Still wild, still beautiful, now inspiring knockoffs by former (disgruntled?) employees.
Saint Mary's and Gonzaga (Ch. 15): Still scrapping atop the WCC, and almost assured of getting the top two seeds (and semifinal byes) for the upcoming tourney in Las Vegas. But the Gaels (Chs. 5-4) fired a serious salvo last month by beating the Zags in Spokane for the first time since 1995. The return match in Moraga is (wouldn't you know it) tonight.
Xavier (Ch. 8): It's still one of America's premier Basketball Schools, spending 30 percent of its athletic budget on hoops, jetting around America looking for recruits, gearing up for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Just don't call them you-know-what.
Northern Iowa (Ch. 7): The only MVC team to win a Missouri Valley-Mountain West Challenge game, and for a while there, it looked like the Panthers would be right there in the race again. But an eight-game win streak dissolved into a stretch of five losses in six games, which started right around when 6-foot-6 burlyman Lucas O'Rear went down for the season with an injury. As of press time, they're 19-11 and 10-7, hoping that Arch Madness will save their chances at a Dance repeat. But there's no arc madness like the stuff brought by Ali Farokhmanesh this time around.
Cornell (Ch. 6): The Sweet Sixteen super-megaclass that earned three Ivy titles all graduated, Steve Donahue left for Boston College, and now the Big Red make up this season's saddest rebuilding project. They're 7-17 and 3-7 in the league right now. Cornell didn't even get a victory lap before being forgotten by the hooping public at large... that's the kind of cruel Our Game can be.
Butler (Chs. 9, 3-0): The Bulldogs have had to fight much harder than they did last year, and they're younger and greener than any of us ever figured they'd be. Part of that's because Hayward moved on prematurely, but all these role players in starting roles, and all these freshmen. They could still win the league, and they can still go as far as fate will allow, but when it's over and it ends in a loss, perhaps Butler will inspire more time-lapse wonder instead of short-term disappointment. That's our hope, anyway.
Mid-American: The MAC, a one-bid league since 1999, has had at least two teams in the RPI top 100 every season since. Most years, it's been anywhere from three to five. This season, as of press time, one: Kent State, at 83 -- and as per the Golden Flashes' selection sheet, they haven't beaten anyone better than 99. Miami sits just outside the top 100 at 101, but the Redhawks aren't exactly going to get lots of chances to improve their credentials. The point of these numbers and the lack of non-conference fireworks is that the MAC has rarely been "weaker" than this, but you may choose to interpret this as "evenly matched." With seeds and byes far from being decided with 10 days to go in the regular season, it's a wide-open league. And those years when the MAC had just two in the RPI top 100? 2001 and 2002. Kent State had an RPI of 83 in the latter year, with no quality wins, weak non-conference scheduling, and a loss to a Youngstown State team that finished 5-23. That team went to the Elite Eight.
Southland: Did someone say "evenly matched?" The Southland has been a tangle all season, and "hot" has meant going 6-4 in your last ten with a two-game win streak. But there may finally be a small measure of clarity. Texas State, loaded with power-conference transfers and playing a super-fast 75-possession style, has won six of seven to lead the West. (Wouldn't a league title erase the sting of being Black Lined by Our Lady of the Lake in late November?) McNeese State picked up a big 81-72 win out at Texas-Arlington last night, and is a game up on Northwestern State in the East division. They'll play their final three at home, so chances are they'll stay there.
Morehead State at Murray State (Ohio Valley) CFSB Center - Murray, KY 9:00 EST
There are three mega-gigantic games in Hoops Nation tonight. One is eliminated from G!O!T!N! consideration because we will be at it: the destiny's gateway battle in the Horizon League between Milwaukee and Cleveland State, the winner of which can clinch the No. 1 seed with a weekend win. On ESPN2, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's will go at it in the best current basketball rivalry on the West Coast, regardless of conference. But our invisible camera crew will be side-by-side with the ESPNU folks down in the deep twists of Kentucky parkways tonight, for the game that will split the tie atop the Ohio Valley Conference.
Murray State was college basketball's ultimate what-if story in 2010 (Ch. 9), and as such was swept under the rug after they were gone. In the NCAA Tournament's second round, they came within one moment, a single tipped Gordon Hayward pass, of taking the dagger shot that might have eliminated Butler. Everything would have been different then. America might have fallen in love with an anonymous, egalitarian and supremely confident team that had taken out Vanderbilt and Butler to get to the Sweet Sixteen, all while sharing the ball and the glory. Murray scored early and often, and all the starters got their four or five made shots per game. Now it's 2011, and the Racers (21-7, 12-4) don't seem as invincible as they did during their 17-1 run through the league regular season and emphatic autobid advance, and the outside defense has been a real problem (38.3 three-point percentage allowed against OVC opponents). Last week's loss at Southeast Missouri, one of the worst teams in the league, showed the cracks. And time might be running out for this class: backcourt-mates Isacc Miles and B.J. Jenkins are seniors. But it's still the best offense in the league (1.065 points per possession). A rotation that maxes out at 6-foot-7 makes up for a size disadvantage with mad, mass glass crashing. They're 20th in the nation with a 55.5 percent rebound rate, but they're going up against some serious rebounding tonight.
Morehead State (21-8, 12-4), the 2009 champions and Play-In Game winners, are on a nine-game streak, the league's best defense (.92 points allowed per defensive possession), and feature current MMBOW Kenneth Faried, the RastaBeast and modern-era board king. In the first meeting of MSU's, on December 4, Faried double-doubled with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and the Eagles won 75-65 in Morehead. And so a win here would sew up the No. 1 seed in the OVC tournament with one game remaining, on account of the resultant gap and head-to-head tiebreaker. But One Beautiful Season readers (or folks who just read Epilogue 6) recognize that symbolic phrase that head coach Donnie Tyndall (Ch. 32) keeps close: this game will hurt you. Last year's team had their hearts ripped out down the stretch of the OVC title game at Nashville by Murray, and missed their own chance to spoil other people's history. As this season draws to a climax, Morehead is intent on returning that very type of pain that Coach Tyndall likes to talk about.