PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Before we begin our supersized DP, I just want to share with you something I wrote yesterday.The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (fourth edition, 2004, published by Houghton Mifflin) defines the word "champion" as "One that wins first place or first prize in a competition."There, in those crisp eggshell-colored pages, is another definition as well: "One that is clearly superior or has the attributes of a winner." Well, there are actually eight definitions listed, and here is number five: "To fight for, defend, or support as a champion."
We all championed Barbaro, and insodoing we became champions, all of us Barbaros. Barbaro was us, and we were Barbaro. Therefore, a little piece of all of us died this morning.
Gone, yet strangely foaled anew again. A legacy.
Pass it on.
There are so many things I'll personally miss about the great Barbaro, champion steed, stallion of destiny, brave bearer of pain. That nose: prodding, searching, opening doors -- doors that all of us can enter. That heart. That heart-shaped white spot thingy between his eyes. Barbaro wore his heart on his forehead; if only we all could.
One single bay horse. Superhorse.
Me, and you, the world and all the people in it.
Now, and forever.
Seriously, everyone who's writing treacle like this should get out of sportswriting altogether right now
and go to work for "American Greetings." Stop it. I'm begging you. Please, please, please stop it.Conference Shootaround!
How do you catch heaven in a jar, put a moonbeam in your car, drive to a rainbow -colored picnic in the stars? That's what trying to distill four days of mid-major basketball is like. We'll just do it league by league, alphabetically at that.America East:
Vermont controls at 7-1 (after a 71-61
win over last-place Stony Brook that I was present for), but they're not going BracketBusting this year. That's Albany's (14-7, 7-2) job, to hold the A-East standard high on television... the Scoob Doggy Doggs will take off to WAC-world, drawing Boise State. I think it'll be a good test against a tough, but more importantly, what does Coach think
of the matchup?Atlantic Sun:
We thought this was a Nashville thing, but the truth is that it's East Tennessee State's world and the rest of the A-Sun is living in it. ETSU (16-7,10-1) has won eight straight, the latest two a Music City sweep over Belmont and Lipscomb over the weekend. Mad mid-table props to Mercer and Jacksonville, two schools who weren't expected to do much this season but are hanging around .500, both in-conference and overall. Side note to embattled North Florida (2-19, 0-11) coach Matt Kilcullen: your players have completely tuned you out. The yelling is making it worse.Big Sky:
Weber State is 7-3 at the top of the league, but RPI leader Idaho State has slunk back into the shadows. The Bengals have lost three straight, the most recently to Portland State by a 67-65
count, a contest that landed head coach Joe O'Brien in the conference's clink
for a game after verbally zapping the zebras. If he needs a blog for that kind of expression, Albany's Will Brown has the hookup.Big South:
Life in the BSC means that your RPI drops just for showing up: Winthrop went from No. 58 to No. 83 after its first five league wins. They have seven after gritting out a 65-63
win over archrival Coastal Carolina, and earned a trip out to the MVC's Missouri State for a Buster. You can even read more about it
if you'd like.Big West:
Cal State Fullerton (16-4, 6-2), one of the highest-scoring teams in the land, got hot at exactly the right time... thanks to the Titans' three-game win streak, they'll be Busting with Wright State while RPI leader Long Beach State (13-6, 4-2), and defensive machine California-Santa Barbara (13-6, 5-2) -- two teams that have already beaten CSF -- stay radio-only. Life's not fair, and neither is the BracketBusters.Colonial:
Five CAA teams will be on teevee on BB weekend, including 11-0 Virginia Commonwealth, which will host Bradley. But VCU's midweek showdown/throwdown with second-place Hofstra became decidedly less sexy last night, as the Pride dropped a buzzkilling 72-68
decision to last-place Delaware. George Mason celebrated its last-minute addition to the TV lineup (they drew Kent State) by laying an egg at The Dub, allowing North Carolina-Wilmington a 65-58
win. A full Black Monday was averted by a VCU win
and Creighton-bound Drexel's win at Northeastern, 68-59
. Fun fact: Drexel was down 25-8 when I came into the building (parking is a bitch in Boston), and rallied to win.Horizon:
As it begins to sink in that yes, Butler (20-2, 8-1) is for real, the Bulldogs won their 20th last night, a 71-45
win over Illinois-Chicago to avenge their only league loss so far. Wright State continues to hang tough at 8-2, holding off Wisconsin-Green Bay 65-54
. Butler is going to Southern Illinois for Buster purposes, and Wright will play aforementioned Fullerton.Ivy League:
When will this conference finally get serious and play some games? This weekend. Pennsylvania leads the table at 2-0 after spending most of January playing Big Five teams and stuff... that's right, teams out of the Ohio Valley have played upwards of 12 league games already, and the Ancient Eight have only played two to four. In the meantime, Ivy folks are consumed by the odd eligibility tale of Harvard's Brian Cusworth
O Parity, you great leveller. One could say parity is good, while others might say that it kills or sucks. Either way, it's kept the MAAC out of the TV portion of the BracketBusters with no clear-cut front-runner (#Marist's loss
to Niagara was likely the final nail in that. The Red Foxes'll get Colgate... ouch); one could make a strong case for Loyola (Md.), though -- the Greyhounds are 8-2 in the league, yet won't get to show Hoops Nation their wares on Feb. 17.Mid-American:
ESPN was very kind to the star-crossed one-bid MAC, rewarding four Buckeye State Busters with TV dates: Ohio and Kent State, along with division leaders Akron and Toledo -- both of which are riding six-game win streaks. Watch out for grade inflation, though -- the bottom seven teams of the 12-team league are so bad (and I'm looking at you, West division) that currently high-flying teams may end up crashing hard once the schedule puts the truly bid-worthy squads against each other. Mid-Continent:
The go-go Golden Eagles have won nine straight, knocked around IUPUI over the weekend 77-66
11th dub-dub of the year: 22 and 11), and get old-time in-season home-and-home palz Utah State for the BB. And while you were clocking the losing streak of the MAAC's Iona, the You're With Me Leathernecks of Western Illinois have been just as horrid. WIU has lost 12 straight, and are 331st in our Power Poll
Delaware State (11-10, 8-1) finally lost over the weekend; it was the Florida A&M Rattlers who snake-bit the Hornets 73-69
in the Sunshine State due in large part to a 57% team shooting night for FAMU. They rebounded nicely, though, dropping Bethune-Cookman on ESPNU 62-46
last night. No Busting for Del-State, though, and for gawd's sake, why not? They won an NIT game last year, nothing "low major" about that! And you can't spell "Mid-Eastern" without "mid."Missouri Valley:
There are three rules in this year's MVC: One, never underestimate your opponent; expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside the conference... never start anything inside unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.
Finally, after weeks of beating on each other like a chair-smashing brawl from the cinematic classic Road House
, there's a nice sense of separation in the Valley. Creighton and Southern Illinois have forged ahead at 8-3, and SIU appears to have the schedule edge: five of their last seven league games are at home, though the two roadies are Wichita State and Missouri State. Northern Iowa can hang a game back if it beats Wichita tonight, but failure to do so will result in a two game bump for the leaders and five teams within a game of .500. What we're looking for is this: the two leaders are probably home free, so we want two teams from the crowd (UNI, Mo-State, Bradley, Wichita, Evansville) to step up in the next few weeks, win 10-11 league games, and keep the unsettling visage of a three-bid Valley at bay.Northeast:
Sacred Heart (10-9, 6-2) was cruising, just having a Saturday walk in the park. But then Central Connecticut State brought out the bulldozers and turned an 18-point deficit into an 103-96
come-from-behind OT win. Insodoing, the Blue Devils won their sixth straight (they've since won a seventh
), and have taken over the spotlight in the NEC with a 9-1 record. CCSU's next opponent, on Thursday, will be surprising Mount Saint Mary's, which is in third place with a 7-3 mark despite languishing in the bottom half of the league in nearly every meaningful statistical category. Ohio Valley:
In mid-majordom, there's no such thing as peaking too early, because if this is Austin Peay's peak, it paid off. The Govs will be the only OVC team on TV during BracketBusters, after dropping league favorite Samford (12-10, 9-4) over the weekend -- they'll draw Akron from the MAC in what will be a real test on what the relative strength of the league is. APSU went out and celebrated at Southeast Missouri last night (a 75-73
win), and OVC POY frontrunner Drake Reed
scored 23 on 10-for-16 shooting.Patriot:
Holy Cross: holy rollin'! The Crusaders beat Lehigh for their ninth straight all the way back on Friday, and lead Bucknell (12-8, 6-1) by a game in the standings and by 42 in the RPI (67-119). HC also drew the CAA's Hofstra for the Buster, a nice sign of respect for the league. Super-double-secret Patriot insiders claim that Bucknell is shaking off its December blahs and readying for a run. Will being kept out of the BB TV package serve as motivation?Southern:
Appalachian State (17-5, 9-2) has done everything it needed to do to secure a good Buster game, and it did -- the 'Eers are headed to Wichita State for a gold-and-black showdown/throwdown. Buster-idle Davidson continues its roll; besides the App-State loss two weekends ago, the Wildcats have won 13 of 14 and only scored less than a point per possession twice during that stretch. Latest victim
: Western Carolina.Southland:
No BB TV here, but just look at Northwestern State (11-9, 6-2) take over the East division. The Demons have won five in a row, and have as many league wins as West leaders Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Demons' recent stretch of good play seems to coincide with the re-emergence of junior forward Colby Bargeman
, who's shot better than 50% from the floor in the last four games after nine games under the half-water mark.Southwestern Athletic:
Jackson State plays on at the top of the swingin' SWAC chart, with a 7-2 league record and the only overall record over .500. They've been winning despite slightly depressed scoring output from Trey Johnson
; he's still leading the world in scoring, but he's been under his 28.9 ppg average last two games. Four teams -- Texas Southern, Mississippi Valley State, Grambling State and Alcorn State -- lurk in second place at 6-3.Sun Belt:
Ever since a bad loss at Western Kentucky on Dec. 22, it's South Alabama -- not WKU -- that's the hottest team in the Belt. Team USA has won nine of its last ten to lead the SBC East, and took down the long, lean Mean Green of North Texas at home over the weekend by a 90-89
count. The Jags' secret? Same as Butler's: ball control. Their 17.6% turnover rate leads the conference and is 16th best overall in D1.West Coast:
The presumed race for second place in the UMPFN
Invitational looks like this: Saint Mary's and Santa Clara a game back at 5-2, with a Northern California face-off bewtween the two schools coming on Saturday. Steve Nash U. won the first go-round back on Jan. 6
Nevada and New Mexico State are a game clear of the rest of the WAC at 7-1. NMSU might just be the better team despite getting one-third the national and coach-poll pub, and it's probably because you don't know their names yet. (Okay, so you may know Tyrone Nelson
, but not for the right reasons.) You may not be familiar with guys like Justin Hawkins
and Hatila Passos
yet, but by the time March rolls around, I have a feeling you will.Top Five Tuesday!
As promised, it's a special BracketBusters selection TFT. Here, then, are the five best games you won't get to see on TV.5. Northwestern State (Southland) at Tennessee Tech (OVC)
-- Two physical, lane-crashing teams that will really get after each other. There's some family matters here too: Steve Payne, the lead assistant who runs any duties that Mike Sutton
can't handle as he continues to get better, was once an assistant at Fork 'Em U.4. Loyola (Md.) (MAAC) at Tennessee State (OVC)
-- Since MAAC-leading Loyola doesn't have a TV date, they'll get to spend the weekend in Music City. TSU will present the Greyhounds with a little more athletic size than their conference offers, but if they can maintain intensity, they can win. The Tigers' problem has been having enough energy at the end of games, and that's why they're in the middle of the OVC pack.3. Evansville (MVC) at Samford (OVC)
-- The best Valley team not to make it to TV will play the stuggling preseason favorites in the OVC. Samford is one of the slowest teams in the country because of its modified Princeton system, but did you know that Evansville is super-deliberate too, ranking 288th in the country in terms of pace (65.0 possessions per 40 minutes)? Get ready for a 41-38 super-slog, yeah!2. Eastern Washington (Big Sky) at California-Santa Barbara (Big West)
-- EWU once had an outside shot at a TV game, mostly because it has the most exciting player at this level, a certain Mr. Rodney Stuckey
. But the Eagles have lost a bit too much (11-11, 3-5), and will go to UCSB. Big West fans will remember the season-opening blowout loss
to Long Beach that featured a one-man torching by LBSU's Aaron Nixon. This game will serve as a test for the Big West's best defense, we'll see if it's learned anything since then.1. Hawaii (WAC) at Long Beach State (Big West)
-- This matchup I really like. Two of the fastest teams in the country, both of which share the ball well and average a very above-average 35 or so rebounds a game. But TV audiences will miss out on what should be an awesome matchup of mid-size sedans: UH's 6-5 senior Matt Lojeski
, who shoots 54% and leads the team in assists, and 6-6 senior Sterling Byrd
, whose effective FG% is 56% and grabs 6.5 boards a game. a shame, a pity, whatever.K-Dub's Krazy Fact of the Day!
Eagle-eyed Mid-Majorians may have noticed some new stats hanging around in the alleys over the weekend. We're still installing some stuff, so it's not full-on finished yet, but you can be sure you'll be hearing all about it in this space in coming weeks.
One new stat that's been added to the site is True Shooting Percentage
. True% attempts to provide a truly accurate measurement of a player's shooting efficiency in all situations and contexts. It's points divided by shots, with weights to account for floor shots and
free throws. Here's the generally accepted formula (endorsed by John Hollinger
), and the one we're using:True% = PTS / (2*(FGA + 0.44*FTA))
We're keeping this stat for both teams
. As far as teams go, it's no surprise that Air Force is way ahead at 65.2% -- those guys can shoot the $#@ out of the ball.
Looking at the players list, we can find some real hidden gems who you normally wouldn't consider as shooting stars, players who don't necessarily get a lot of points, but should probably get more shots. Among the 1,807 guys who average more than 20 minutes per contest and have appeared in the majority of their teams' games, we find folks like Rome Sanders
of Florida A&M at 72.2% (No. 5) -- a big reason why they're hanging around in the MEAC race and have beaten Delaware State. Mo-State's Blake Ahearn
is up there, at No. 21 with a 69.2% mark.
But the leader in this stat is a guy who comes into Butler games, plays defense, and elicits a lot of "that guy can shoot" comments when he does put it up. I'm talking about Drew Streicher
, national leader in True% at 79.1%. Streicher is a 6-7 dude who's averaging 5.3 points per game -- that may not be impressive, but he didn't even average a point a game in his first two seasons. But now, on a team that could go deep into the NCAA Tournament, he's on the floor half the time and will -- without fail -- put it in the basket when you give it to him. That's big time, and so is Butler.***
Also, all you contest contestants: we'll be announcing winners on Wednesday, after all the non-TV BracketBusters matchups trickle into the news desk... because those are announced primarily through the schools and conferences, and not by ESPN, we're still missing a couple. Please sit tight!