PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- No mailbag this week, because quite frankly
most of the letters this week were way too personal. Look, I'm a basketball writer, when did my mortgage, my stock portfolio and my "size" suddenly become fair game? Oops, wrong mail folder. Anyway...
Every year around this time, we start realizing that all our preseason research was for naught, that there are some teams we really liked in November that are really sucking, and that there are some teams that come from out of nowhere that make us stop and say "dayum." Here, then, are a few of the squads that have caught us off guard.East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun)
-- This school is only here in the A-Sun because budget cuts forced it to drop football (and out of the SoCon), but last year's maiden voyage for the Bucs was a disaster, ending in a conference tourney first-round loss as a No. 5 seed, wearing dark jerseys on its own floor. This year, things are different -- the Bucs are 7-1 in conference and would have been perfect if not for a one-point loss
versus Belmont earlier int he month.
And in a lot of ways, the new Bucs are a refreshing validation of the Right Way 2 Play, especially for those of us who've had to sit through their last two seasons. Tim Smith, already a where is he now
candidate, was a point guard who, um, scored points -- he took around 50% of the Bucs' shots and made the team unbelievably easy to scout for. It's a somewhat ironic turn of events that this year's version is third in the land in assisted-basket percentage (84%).Austin Peay (Ohio Valley)
-- In a league that was supposed to be dominated by slow-down Samford, the 8-1 Govs have surprised, winning eight straight overall (they haven't lost for over a month, since Dec. 18). Nothing really sticks out statistically about Peay, and the team doesn't lead the league in anything, but it does have Drake Reed
, a rangy 6-5 sophomore who showed fits-and-starts promise last season but has really developed into a consistently good shooter. He's averaging 15.5 ppg on nearly 50% shooting.Idaho State (Big Sky)
-- Thanks to the power of the dish, Bengal-ball was beamed all across the land an evening ago. Last night's victim was Montana, and the Bengals took care of the defending champion Grizzlies in Missoula 79-69
behind a tied season-high by senior guard Akbar Abdul-Ahad
. The hook with this team is the defense -- "(Joe) O'Brien's Razor," after Occam's
And to me, it looks simple enough: a basic 3-2 zone that doubles down on the ballhandler or plays matchups when the need arises, but which always relies on leg-speed to make sure the holes get filled when the ball moves. Five Big Sky teams have tried to crack it, and five have failed. Weber State and Northern Arizona -- the two other probable champs at this point -- both get road tests at Idaho State over the next two weeks; will they still have a song to sing when the "Razor boys" come and take their fancy things away?Conference Shootaround!Missouri Valley:
Creighton (12-6, 6-2 MVC) held court against Bradley last night, cutting the Braves' win streak at three and holding the best three-shot team in the nation to a dismal 5-for-23 from behind l'arc. Northern Iowa went into Missouri State and left with a 75-65
win powered by 51% team shooting. It was also a good day for the bottom three, as Evansville, Drake and Illinois State all posted home victories to help them equalize the RPI figures. The Purple Aces topped Southern Illinois by seven
, Drake beat suddenly slumping Indiana State by six
, and yes, Wichita State lost again
(3-7 in last 10), this time to those pesky Redbirds. Man, this league is brutal (in a good way).Northeast:
Sacred Heart is 5-1, and went a long way towards validating their chances at Dancing with a strong 84-82
performance at league favorite Robert Morris. But what's this? Central Connecticut State is also 5-1, having dispatched Fairleigh Dickinson in a 60-56
I was actually at. Senior Blue Devil Jemino Sobers
had the game of his life, scoring 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting and handling FDU star Andre Harris
Other scrumptious mid-major side-dishes: Both Nashville teams lost in the Atlantic Sun
; Lipscomb (11-8, 5-3 A-Sun) dropped a 61-55
decision to the Runnin' Bulldogs from Boiling Springs (a/k/a Gardner-Webb) because they shot 30% (Eddie Ard
with a season-worst 2-for-13), and Belmont (12-7, 6-2 A-Sun) pretty much trailed wire to wire at Campbell, losing 76-67
. Aforementioned ETSU controls the conference at 7-1... Hofstra (11-6, 6-1) is footsteps behind 7-0 Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial
; it won a TV game versus Towson, 79-74
... Wright State (12-7, 5-1) is temporarily a half-game up on Butler in the Horizon
; the Raiders raided Cleveland State, 78-67
While you were sleeping (or just having sex), Nevada (17-1, 5-0 WAC
) won its tenth in a row. Last night it was Fresno State on the losing end, 85-75
. Mid-major superstar Nick Fazekas
had 20 and 10 in his return from injury... Ohio broke open a close game late against Buffalo and earned a 67-51
victory. The hot-shooting Bobcats lead the MAC
RPI race at 64... Oakland improved to 4-0 in the Mid-Con
(tied with Oral Roberts) with a 77-69
win over Southern Utah. Derick Nelson
starred for the Golden Griz with 17 and 10...Northwestern State leads the Southland East at 3-2 after beating McNeese State 98-90 in ex-assistant Dave Simmons' homecoming. Not that the Demons aren't getting enough pub this season... In the SoCon, Appalachian State's run of RPI dominance is over. The Right 'Eers (5-2, 13-5) are down to 62 after an 80-76 drop to North Carolina-Greensboro (9-9, 6-2) in a game where Spartan Kyle Hines just went nuts (33 points on 14-of-19). Remember, App-State takes on RPI No. 49 Davidson and its 11-game win streak Saturday. It's on like pajamas...
Vermont (12-6, 4-1 America East) took its first loss of the conference season, losing at home to Maine 69-64; Black Bear guard Kevin Reed had 18 points and came within a rebound of a dub-dub... Long Beach State is 3-1 in Big West play after a 95-85 win over Cal State Fullerton that served as a showdown/throwdown for two of the league's best players, LBSU's Aaron Nixon (27 pts) and CSF's Bobby Brown (28 pts). Also at 3-1 is idle California-Santa Barbara... Marist and Manhattan won in the MAAC, they're both 6-1...
K-Dub's Krazy Fact of the Day!
Assisted-basket percentage. Neat little stat. It's basically assists divided by field goals made, and it gives you an idea of how well a team is sharing and caring. You can take ETSU's 84% mark this year (3rd in D1) versus its 39.6% mark last year (334th and last in D1), and figure that school all-time leading scorer Tim Smith's graduation made a bit of an impact. As in, say, the difference between 15-13 (12-9) last year and 13-7 (7-1) now.
But A/B% can be fun in single-game situations, too. Did you know that there's been a team that has had a perfect 100% assisted-basket percentage this year? There has! Back on Dec. 16, Evansville beat ETSU's league-mate Lipscomb 80-73 with 20 baskets and 20 assists. Boom, boom, boom.
And don't forget, Friday means "mid-major chat day". And the last "kill time at work until rush hour day," at least until next week starts. So stop by ESPN.com SportsNation at 3pm Eastern, won't you?
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