BOSTON -- There was never any master plan to any of it. The four-stage season and its familiar rhythms were formed by generations of pushes and pulls, and the best concepts became traditions. Putting the non-conference games at the beginning, holding separate league round-robins and eliminators, the bid-based gateway to Madness, storming courts, cutting down nets... all of these things were ideas once, then they became the way things were. People always come along with their own ideas, but they're never good enough to become canon. This thing is an astonishing sports apparatus: chaos into perfect order in five short months.
The first pair of bifurcated parts, the "regular season," are regular because they proceed normally. For the most part, teams travel to predetermined locations and play predetermined matchups. If they lose, it's on to the next one. There's nothing normal about what's coming, though. Teams that have played well over the last two months get to play teams that haven't, and one loss can end National Championship aspirations instantly. For losing teams in leagues with lots of wins and money, there are second chances. For losing teams in leagues without all those things, there are zombie ghost brackets in which to ponder existential basketball meaning: this is not my beautiful season. If you're just joining us, the Stardate is the number of days that have passed since the regular season began, a dash, then the Gregorian date in YYYYMMDD format. For half the leagues in the Other 25, the regular season is now complete and seedings for conference tournaments are set. Next Tuesday, the regularly-scheduled games will be over for everyone. That means that there will be no more need for these posts, and as such they'll end this Friday. There's an order to the final few daily posts of a season, whether they're called Dribblings, Daily Paragraphs, Boubacars, Good Mornings Hoops Nation or the Hoops Nationals. This year, there will be overviewing of everything that's happened, some peeking ahead to 2011-12, and final check of the final races as they speed to their conclusions.
Tomorrow morning, the first of 15 annual Tourney Central posts (here are last year's). Conference brackets will be updated daily, along with previews and recaps of each game.
Last Wednesday, we got a message through The Form™ from kind reader Matthew K., who told us he was looking around the web and found something astonishing: an eBay Buy-It-Now auction for a wholesale-sized palette of 25 plush basketballs, 4.5 inches in diameter. Some background: the company that makes them -- without the eyes, mouth, arms and legs -- discontinued production, and finding them has been a scavenger hunt. This is a large European company that has stopped selling both boing-balls (like Bally and his 98 clones) and rattle-balls (like the Ballz) over the past two years, which is both annoying and also bad business. You'd think the number I've bought during the TMM era would keep the assembly line going.
Obviously, I thanked Matthew profusely and won the auction within five minutes. So. We now have an extra enticement for Season 8 Membership. If you are one of the next 20 people to sign up (at the advance price of $55 until Season 7 ends), you will not only get a 2012 bracket calendar, a Bally Club card, 12 months of Basketball State, and also help us self-publish the next and final TMM book. You will also get the Team Ballz of your choice (April delivery). Not sure if and when we're going to find more raw ballz, so act fast. Please note your school in the text box on the support page. You can get more than one, no limit. If you've already got S8 or want to buy multiples, the extras will go to our Scholarship Program that gives memberships to college students, and the Ballz go to you (or your friends). Any questions or requests for clarification are welcome through The Form™. UPDATE: We are sold out, and this offer has expired.
That's the future, however, which is different than the present. We always get thousands of new readers around this time of year, and I wish I could personally welcome each of them/you with a warm handshake. If you appreciate and enjoy this unique coverage of mid-major basketball, these Stardate posts (which take two to three hours to put together every morning), 360 and all the Robots, Tourney Central, the Friday chats, the 100 Games Project and the 10,000+ miles it's racked up so far, please consider supporting TMM's travel with a still-available Season 7 Membership. We are fully independent, non-compromising, non-profit and reader-supported... but it's not a charity donation. You get a pile of stuff for that too.
For twelve leagues, the regular season is over. Here's a quick overview of their seeds in advance of the Tourney Central posts.
America East(Hartford, title game at higher seed): 1. UVM 2. BU 3. UME 4. ALB 5. SB 6. HART 7. UNH 8. UMBC 9. BING Badlands(Sioux Falls): 1. OAK 2. ORU 3. IUPUI 4. IPFW 5. SDST 6. UMKC 7. NDST 8. SUU - DNQ: WIU, CENT Big South(campus sites): 1. CCU 2. LIB 3. UNCA 4. VMI 5. WINT 6. CHSO 7. HP 8. GWB - DNQ: RAD - INEL: PRES Colonial(Richmond): 1. GMU 2. ODU 3. HOFS 4. VCU 5. DREX 6. JMU 7. DEL 8. UNCW 9. GSU 10. NU 11. CWM 12. TOWS Horizon League(campus sites; semis and championship at Milwaukee or highest seed): 1. MILW 2. BUTL 3. CLST 4. VALP 5. UDM 6. WRIG 7. GB 8. LOYO 9. YSU 10. UIC Metro Atlantic(Bridgeport): 1. FAIR 2. IONA 3. RID 4. SPC 5. LMD 6. CANI 7. SIE 8. NIAG 9. MAR 10. MAN Northeast(campus sites): 1. LIU 2. QUIN 3. RMU 4. CCSU 5. SFNY 6. WAG 7. MSM 8. SFPA - DNQ: SH, FDU, MON - INEL: BRY Missouri Valley(Saint Louis): 1. MOST 2. WICH 3. INST 4. UNI 5. CREI 6. EVAN 7. DRKE 8. SIU 9. ILST 10. BRAD Ohio Valley(Nashville): 1. MURR 2. MORE 3. APSU 4. TNT 5. TSU 6. EKU 7. SEMO 8. UTM - DNQ: EIU, JXST Patriot League(campus sites): 1. BUCK 2. AMER 3. HC 4. LEH 5. NAVY 6. LAF 7. COLG 8. ARMY Southern(Chattanooga): N1. WCU N2. CHAT N3. APST N4. ELON N5. UNCG N6. SAMF S1. COFC S2. WOFF S3. FURM S4. DAV S5. CITA S6. GS West Coast(Las Vegas): 1. SMC 2. GONZ 3. USF 4. SCL 5. PORT 6. PEPP 7. USD 8. LMU
Sun Belt: Only one regular season game remains: a Western seedbreaker on Tuesday night between Arkansas-Little Rock and the defending champions from North Texas. So the full bracket is on hold until then. We know this: Arkansas State wins the tie atop the West and will be W1. But there's really no question as to who the hottest team heading into Hot Springs is: W2, the Ragin' Cajuns. Louisiana-Lafayette opened its season 3-14 and 1-5 in the Belt, but something happened when they dipped out of conference to play dearly-departed Centenary on January 19. Since and including that 94-62 win, they've won 11 straight -- including a boffo beefy rebound beatdown on the league's best team, Florida Atlantic. They have a win over every team in the Belt except Middle Tennessee.
Ivy League: Yale looked dangerous when we saw them lose a tight one at Harvard two weeks ago. On Saturday, they showed exactly how much, eking out a 70-69 decision down in New Haven. Princeton had its own hiccup (at Brown nine days ago), but now the Crimson's path to the title is perilously steep. Princeton beat Tommy Amaker's team once already, but now Harvard will likely have to do it twice: on Saturday in Boston (sold out), then in an Ivy playoff. Even if Penn beats Harvard and Princeton beats Dartmouth on Friday, the Tigers can't be the first in Hoops Nation to clinch -- the race is too tight. In amidst all of this fun, the sad reality that for six of the Ancient Eight, all that's left to do is play out the string. Conference USA: I've noticed one common element in national C-USA coverage in the first (and perhaps only) year of following the league. Even though C-USA is in line for three possible NCAA bids, Memphis is the defining lens through which the conference is viewed. They are, after all, the brand name. But here's what's happening to Memphis: a 74-47 palindrome pounding by UTEP, a team with an otherwise weak résumé that would need to win the hometown tourney to get in. One team that's not going: defending champs Houston, who lost their fourth straight over the weekend to UAB, now all alone in first. And there's UCF, who's gone from giant-killer to spoiler deluxe in two months. With Michael Jordan in the crowd, Marcus Jordan scored 20 and the G'Knights pulled Southern Miss down a peg. Two games to go for everybody.
MMBOW #14: B.J. Jenkins, Murray State
Senior Days, final Stardates, coaches getting fired, teams eliminated before the playoffs begin... it all feels like it's coming to an end. We've been heavy on the OVC this year in this space, but it's been a great race with great performances and a wonderful tourney to come. Plus, nobody in Hoops Nation had the kind of consistent week that Murray State's B.J. Jenkins had. So he's our 14th and final Mid-Majority Baller of the Week for Season 7.
The 6-foot-tall Jenkins was the star of the Thursday showdown against Morehead State, where he scored 25 points on 6-for-10 shooting (9-of-11 at the line) and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Racers to a 70-62 win and a share of their 22nd OVC regular season title. As it shook out, Murray will go into the tourney as the No. 1 seed. In the final game of the regular season -- and Jenkins' Senior Night -- the Racers took out Eastern Kentucky at home, 66-56. He shot 5-for-7, 3-of-3 from behind the arc, and added six boards and four assists. They were by far the two most efficient games of his senior season, and they came at clinching time.
Jenkins began his career at Liberty in 2006. After two seasons, he sat out and transfered to Murray, where his discipline and grounded personality fit into Billy Kennedy's egalitarian system. Last year, he was one of the stars of the Racers' epoch-defining upset of Vanderbilt in the NCAA first round, with his 14 points, five assists, and consecutive threes that sparked the late rally that nullified a 7-0 Commodore run. Everybody knows about what happened with Butler and the tipped pass, but Jenkins was one of the team's misfiring pistons in that game -- eight points on 2-for-7 shooting, including a missed three late that would have irrevocably altered the chemistry of the final possession had it gone in. He took zero days off after that game, and was in the gym practicing the next morning... for this, now. As long as eligibility remains, March offers chances for redemption. Perhaps there will be some for our last MMBOW before it ends in a loss. (photo: Murray Ledger)
Florida Gulf Coast at South Carolina-Upstate (Atlantic Sun) G.B. Hodge Center - Spartanburg, SC 7:30 EST
Here's an odd situation. The Atlantic Sun event is just two days from getting underway, but it is not quite set yet. All eight teams that will participate are in the gate. But half of them don't know their first-round opponent and can't prepare for Wednesday -- at least, not until around 9:30 PM Eastern tonight. There's one game left to play. Belmont is the No. 1 seed, East Tennessee State (16-4) is the two, followed by Jacksonville, Lipscomb, tourney hosts Mercer, and North Florida. The seventh and eighth seeds are Kennesaw State and Campbell, currently tied at 6-14 in league play, and their seed numbers ride on this game. Florida Gulf Coast and USC Upstate won't become eligible for the league or national postseasons until 2012, but their game tonight will shape the entire bracket. If Florida Gulf Coast wins, Kennesaw State will be the No. 7 and play ETSU. If Upstate survives, Campbell is the No. 7. While playing the two-time defending champions is hard enough, nobody wants to play Belmont. Even though there was a 8-over-1 last season when Kennesaw beat Lipscomb -- the first such seed upset in five years in any Division I conference -- the Bisons earned the top seed due to tiebreakers in a 14-6 four-way. The Bruins are 19-1 this year. Not gonna happen.
So Kennesaw, Campbell, Belmont and ETSU will watch this game with extreme interest, knowing they'll have less than 48 hours to prepare for their next opponent. And what a game it will be. FGCU comes in at 9-20 (6-13), and have won three of their last four. They've played most of the season without former Michigan Wolverine guard Reed Baker, who scored 14.4 ppg before quitting the team in early January. That meant more shots for freshman guard Christophe Varidel, who is Swiss! He hasn't hit many (101 of 278, 11.3 ppg), but he's the future. Hope he works out better than Swatch Internet Time did. Upstate is 5-24, 4-15 against A-Sun opponents. Their face of tomorrow is 6-foot-6 freshman forward Torrey Craig, a Rock Hill, S.C. native who's coming off a 20-point performance in a win at Campbell... which helped make this tiebreaker confusing. So thanks, Torrey. We'll all be tuning in tonight. Basketball State Preview/Box