VALPARAISO, Ind. -- For every upset of a major program by a mid-major (and there have been 44 so far this season, as compared to 36 at this time a year ago), there's a tantalizing near-miss. Like last night at the venerable old Athletics and Recreation Center, where the Brown and Gold of Valpo nearly beat Marquette
, currently a Top 10 team in your Popularity Contest. A young gentleman named Dominic James made a three-point basket at the end of the game, lending credence to the whole big players/big games/big plays thing you hear about on television. Mr. James is good at basketball, and will very likely earn money for his skills soon in the National Basketball-Themed Entertainment Association.
But enough about that. People wonder what puts Hoosier Hoops in a different dimension from basketball in the other 49 states, and a lot of that has to do with the atmosphere. Despite the fact that the home team lost by a 65-62 count, the packed crowd emptied out of the ARC, happily chattering as they went back out into the unseasonably warm Indiana night. Valparaiso is rebuilding after the loss of a lot of scoring and rebounding, and was picked to finish sixth in the Mid-Con... even a close loss is reason to smile.
For Indiana fans, just being there, at a fantastically-played basketball game, and the opportunity to watch a young team that might use that game to blossom before its time, is plenty joy enough.
Speaking of the Popularity Contest (and Indiana), congratulations to Butler for breaking through to the collective basketball consciousness and obtaining its very own "Now Serving" number from the Hoops Establishment's deli counter. Following the longstanding policy of this site, we won't disclose the digits they were given, but rest assured it was befitting a squad that beat four teams it logically shouldn't have. And if you've been schedule-watching, you know that tomorrow night is the big Valpo-Butler squareoff
at the ARC. You might have a problem getting a ticket for that one.OMG It's Conference Play
What's that? The little map on the front page is starting to have those little dark brown "conference games" icons on it. That means that a.) in case you thought college basketball season hadn't started yet, you are dead, wrong, buddy, and, b.) those parenthesized records are about to get loaded up big time!
The first league game happened a few days ago on Nov. 25, as Murray State nicked
Eastern Illinois 53-50 to open the OVC's account. Then yesterday, the SoCon got GoIng with a 77-54
whomping of Wofford at the hands of North Carolina-Greensboro. Yeah!
And tonight, the MEAC tips things off with a Hampton-Norfolk State tilt. The host Pirates are the defending league champs, play-in game victims at the hands of Monmouth, and will show off their new coach, Kevin Nickleberry. (Bobby Collins was let go right after the championship season, and is currently leading Winston-Salem State into Division I). And in the road greens, Norfolk State... well, the Spartans have that cool double-mohawk logo that blends MEAC soul and punk rock.
And you might remember that Hampton was part of the doubleheader that kicked off the season, way back on November 7 at Maryland. Hampton... first in everything! For some reason, however, tonight's game won't be on national television. And why not?
Unfortunately, Craigslist Doesn't Offer Cleverness Implants
Thanks to the three (3) people who wrote in to say that I should have called my Butler-themed blog entry the "Hot Butlered Soul Edition." You are better than me, all of you.
Top Five Tuesday!
Sure, everybody's talking about the upsets, and there have been a lot. Mid-major revolution, baby-yeah. But in keeping with the near-miss theme, here are the top five tantalizing near-upsets of the season, the ones that just couldn't be finished off.
5. Iowa State 56, Eastern Illinois 54 (Nov 12) -- It wasn't enough to make Greg McDermott run back to the UNI-Dome and plead for his old job back, but shooting 43% and nearly losing to a squad figured to finish last-or-so in the OVC isn't a good way to get things started. Despite the scare, the Cyclones are 6-0 heading into their deathmatch in Cedar Falls against Northern Iowa tomorrow.
4. Northwestern 40, North Florida 39 (Nov 25) -- In their second season of a transition period to D-1, the Ospreys nearly lulled the ancient purple-clads into the short end of a halftime score in a complete mess of a game at Welsh-Ryan. Chris Timberlake didn't exactly bring the FutureSex (4-for-13 from the floor) in a game that was 20-19 at the half.
3. Nevada-Las Vegas 82, Eastern Washington 79 (Nov 14) -- Rodney Stuckey. Can we say it enough? The Next Big Mid-Major Thing had a bad night (7-for-20), but made up for it by hitting all nine of his freebies. The Eagles had the ball in the closing seconds, but couldn't tie it up.
2. Marquette 65, Valparaiso 62 (Nov 27) -- See above.
1. North Carolina 73, Winthrop 66 (Nov. 15) -- Still can't get over this one. The Garnet and Gold had UNC on its heels all through the first-half, and media types in the tunnels were planning their lives around Winthrop at halftime, thinking that a win was a foregone. But in the second half, the Eagles spaced out for only three minutes, which was enough to let North Carolina escape with its national ranking and pride intact (until its trip to New York, that is). The power-conference breakthrough would come a couple of nights later at Mississippi State for Winthrop, but their real splash may be sooner in coming than you think.
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