For its college basketball preview, ESPN The Magazine developed a system to figure out how often each team would defeat the "average" opponent, using the system to rank every Division I team. Central Connecticut State finished with a score of 50.1 percent. For all intents and purposes, the Blue Devils, coincidentally the closest team to the main campus of the Worldwide Leader, were identified as the most average team in the college game.
So far this season, CCSU has basically lived up to expectations. The Blue Devils entered Saturday's game with a record of 9-10. They had been .500 five times this season. In many statistical categories, the team is listed around the middle of Division I, if not slightly higher. A win would return CCSU to the .500 mark once again.
Fairleigh Dickinson, in contrast, was put toward the very end of those projections, and the magazine seems to have been correct about the Knights as well. They have won only two games all season but entered today coming off a W against fellow Northeast Conference foe Bryant, putting both teams at the bottom of the league standings.
Based on the season so far, the Blue Devils should have picked up the home court victory over the Knights. And the result, a 69-63 Blue Devils win, was in the realm of what you would guess based on the team's performance to date -- CCSU scored just under its 71.2 ppg while FDU kept near its 60.4 ppg and 72.5 points allowed average as well. Even half of the individual performances were to be expected, as they scored within a basket of their season averages.
But things are never that simple.
It seemed as if CCSU might run away with the contest in the early going, opening up a 20-10 lead to start the game, but the Knights turned up the intensity and took the lead with a 14-0 run. Things settled down in the final three minutes of the first half, and FDU went into intermission with a one-point lead.
The game was back and forth early in the second half, until a foul and technical was called on FDU's Kinu Rochford. Robby Ptacek made four consecutive free throws to give the Blue Devils a 42-38 lead (as part of a 10-2 run for CCSU in which all ten points were from Ptacek). The Blue Devils never trailed again, holding the Knights at bay over the final ten minutes.
We all know that there's so much more to Our Game than just the numbers, though. While a box score and data are important to understand the intricacy of the sport, there's an inherent beauty that can't be found from sabermetrics or a running play-by-play.
If I weren't in the stands, I probably never would have known:
* That George Goode has a gorgeous baseline jumper, a favorite shot of mine. He made at least three that I can remember in leading the Knights with 17 points on the day.
* The joy of seeing the alumni returning to Detrick Gymnasium. While I wasn't familiar with the names, it was great to see CCSU honor its past. The alumni players stretched from one baseline to the opposite free throw line during a halftime ceremony.
* The gorgeous outlet pass that CCSU's Ken Horton uncorked to Kyle Vinales for an easy fast-break basket. Horton stole the ball from under the FDU basket and threw it overhead to a streaking Vinales at the opposite 3-point line. It was as nice as anything you may see on a Top 10 highlight reel tonight.
That's what makes college basketball so special -- the little things. They're the details that make even a random day and an average game great. These are intricacies that only those in attendance (and a select few who see a live feed, highlights, etc.) would ever know. To the nation, this game will exist as a box score and a blip on the ticker every hour or so. For all intents and purposes, these games belong to the memories of the few who see them.
With CCSU's win, the Blue Devils return to a .500 record on the season. They also keep pace in what is turning into a five-team race for the NEC crown. Four of their final eight conference games are against that top tier of conference. But CCSU would be wise to pay attention to upcoming matchups with Quinnipiac and Mount St. Mary's as well. This tough win over FDU comes after a pair of losses to the second tier of the conference. The Blue Devils should remember these challenges when the "run-of-the-mill" opponents appear on the schedule again.
Because, as we all know, no game is truly average.