LOS ANGELES -- I'm not going to get all weird on you and tell you that covering basketball is tantamount to some kind of athletic event, but boy-oh-boy can it take a physical toll.
Last night, I ventured out to Gersten Pavilion (a/k/a "Hank's House") to take some notes on the Unnamed Program From the Northwest
, for inclusion in some Tournament stuff I'll be doing next month for various media outlets. I tell you, friends, jet lag is bad enough, but game lag just amplifies and intensifies it. Because the game at Loyola Marymount was part of ESPN2's Big Monday tripleheader, tip-time was set at 9 p.m. Pacific so that it would fit snugly into a midnight timeslot back East.
So there I was, gigantic black bags beneath my eyes, sitting along press row at Gersten as temple-pounding, bass-heavy hip-hop music played. The UMPFN players hit the court for a quick shootaround, and as they concluded it minutes later, Josh Heytvelt
flung the basketball he had been practicing dunks with towards the endline. The ball-boy, preoccupied with another ball, missed the pass and it came straight at me. I looked up from my notes just as it was two feet from my face, but it was too late. The flying orb caught me flush, straight-on in the proboscis at over 30 miles per hour.
I saw Heytvelt's lips move: "Sorry, dude."
Not to give away the store or anything, but here's my take on UMPFN after seeing them twice in three days: it's a collection of primarily young yet exceptional talent, with no heart -- not unlike any generic and listless mid-level power-conference team (though watch out a year or two down the road when it all comes together again). Sure, we made a lot of fun at Adam Morrison's expense last season, but there was no denying that the dude brought huge heart and huge balls to every game. But this night, a team with fully functioning aortas and ventricles and not much else -- one like LMU -- was able to scrap and claw and bite and keep itself in the game, and was able to hold UMPFN off, 67-61
When your team has beaten a squad like the Unnamed Program for the first time since February 8, 2003 and for only the second time in the past decade, well, you're going to storm the court. The student section was position directly behind press row (to make for a better in-game effect on TV), and as the final minute ticked away, I noticed there were only three security guards in the building -- hardly enough to maintain order. I've been through a number of court-stormings, so I knew to pack up my things and make a run for it, but I only was able to complete the first task. The students streamed over the press row table, trampling me, some beat writers and some game staff. A knee found my head, and I had a dusty footprint on my arm.
Frazzled, tired, defeated, I walked out among the revelers, who were snapping camera-phone pictures of the scoreboard and chanting "[UMPFN] sucks!". That's when Iggy the Lion, LMU's fun-loving, giant-jowled mascot, came up to me and spread his arms wide.
Perhaps Iggy saw the pain etched on my face; perhaps he reads my site and knows the UMPFN legacy, why I feel it needs to move up and out of a conference that it has so clearly outgrown.
But that's too many questions, too much speculation. There in my shirt and tie, at 2 a.m. internal time, in the embrace of a lion mascot, hopping up and down like an idiot, I remembered once again that this is the greatest job in the world. I only hope the ESPN2 cameras caught the moment for posterity before they cut away for the late SportsCenter
, or Trick Shot Magic
, or whatever they show that late at night back East.Conference Shootaround!
In the America East
, leaders Vermont (17-6, 9-1) and Albany (17-7, 10-2) are both on long winning streaks (five and seven, respectively), and both have broken into the RPI top 100. It all seems to be headed towards the throwdown/showdown next Sunday at U at A (UVM won the first meeting
)... Atlantic Sun
action is being thoroughly dominated by East Tennessee State (18-7, 12-1) now; the Bucs are on a 10-game streak and are getting impressive play from sophomore guard Courtney Pigram
(16.8 ppg). But don't forget about Nashville's Battle of the Boulevard this Friday between Belmont and Lipscomb, which two-seed position likely on the line... Weber State (16-9, 9-3) is in the driver's seat in the Big Sky
, having won four straight and seven of ten. David Patten
, a 6-8 senior, leads the Wildcats with 14.0 and 5.2...
The Big South
is still the Winthrop (19-4, 9-0) show; the Eagles completed
a season sweep of North Carolina-Asheville a few days back... The Big West
is a three-team race with Long Beach State (6-2), California-Santa Barbara (5-2) and Cal State Fullerton (6-3) all up in the mix... Old Dominion, a forgotten entity two weeks ago, has surged forward to win five straight Colonial
games to hop over Drexel into third place at 10-3. Granted, three of those were against second-division squads, but pulling off a season sweep of George Mason (a 66-56
win on Saturday) sure is sweet. Hofstra (11-2) and Virginia Commonwealth (12-1) still lead, and VCU has to travel to ODU on Saturday...Butler (22-2, 10-1) leads the Horizon, but still can't seem to shake a pesky Wright State (17-8, 10-2) team that the Bulldogs thrashed 73-42 on Jan. 6. They'll meet again on Saturday at WSU's "hangar" in Dayton... The Ivy races resumed last weekend, and Yale -- one of KenPom's unluckiest teams, took out presumptive league favorite Pennsylvania 77-68 on Saturday, and lead the league at 5-1. Penn's juicy, fleshy achilles this season has been free throw shooting, and the Bulldogs bit -- 8-for-21 from the line won't win you many games. Princeton, by the way, is 0-4... Marist is back atop the standings in the MAAC; perhaps angered by the BracketBusters TV slight, the Red Foxes have won two in a row (including a thrilling 79-78 decision at Rider) to go 9-4 and 17-7 overall...
Dumping early decisions to Arkansas-Little Rock and Illinois-Chicago killed any at-large chances for Akron (17-4, 8-1), but the MAC is Fearing the Roo. The Zips have won eight straight and are a game up on Kent State in the East... Oral Roberts (16-8, 8-1) is still a half-game up in the Mid-Con... Delaware State is 9-2 in the MEAC, but lost 54-40 to Morgan State last night. Morgan was playing with a chip on its collective shoulder after a loss to Longwood over the weekend; do not -- do not -- give the Bears ham sandwiches...
The Missouri Valley race still has Creighton and Southern Illinois on top, now each with 10 wins against 3 losses; SIU put down Wichita State and its short win streak on Saturday, 54-46. Missouri State is the next to break away from the MVC peloton; the Bears have won three straight to sit two games back at 8-5; Northern Iowa, on the other hand, were crushed by Indiana State last night, 59-46... In a relative eye-blink, Central Connecticut State (14-10, 11-1 NEC) has taken complete control of their league. But take a look at that record -- the Blue Devils' No. 202 RPI most likely sets their absolute ceiling at a 15 seed... Four double-figure winners in the OVC; Austin Peay still holds the edge at 12-2; Samford is two games back at 11-4, and Tennessee Tech and Murray State lie in wait at 10-5...
Holy Cross is 9-0 in the Patriot League (18-6 overall; No. 66 RPI); we're just all waiting for Friday's showdown/throwdown at Sojka, where the Bucknell Bison (14-8, 8-1) will spend the week preparing for a first-place shot... SoCon division leaders keep leading: Appalachian State (18-6, 10-3) took a Saturday spill at Furman (76-72); Davidson (19-4, 11-1) has won 14 of 15 but won't be in the Busters (this was, after all, supposed to be a down year). North Carolina-Greensboro, which had been hanging with App-State at the top, have levelled off a bit, losing two straight...
The hottest team in the Southland? Those Northwestern State Demons, winners of six straight and owners of a 7-2 record as well as the East division lead. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi finally took a drop, losing at home to Sam Houston State 84-78 over the weekend... Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State are tied atop the SWAC with matching 8-3 records. Jackson avenged an earlier loss to league champs Southern last night, and MVSU completed a road sweep of the two Alabama schools (1, 2)... U! S! A! You can't get more All-American than red, white and blue-clad Team USA, and South Alabama is No. 1 in the nationwide Sun Belt Conference with 10 straight wins and an 11-2 league record. Western Kentucky (17-8, 9-4, 2nd place East) had better hope that it doesn't draw North Texas in the tourney next month -- the Mean Green topped Big Red 74-70 to finish a series sweep...
With the UMPFN loss last night, the Unnamed Major Program tied at 7-2 in the West Coast with Santa Clara, which beat San Francisco 74-62 last night and has won three straight. The Broncos will get a shot at the 'PFN early next week... And last but certainly not least, the WAC is lorded over once again by Nevada (21-2, 9-1), which narrowly edged Hawaii over the weekend. New Mexico State (18-5, 8-2) was not quite as lucky -- the Aggies' high-octane offense was watered down by Utah State in a 75-63 decision last night. WAC fun fact: Hawaii is No. 93 in the RPI, but is 4-6 in the league and sits a game behind the No. 209 RPI team, Louisiana Tech.
Top Five Tuesday!
Most of what we do here at the 'Graph (I learned that from Grant Wahl) is provide you with an aerial view of who's leading the conferences, who's playing well, who you're most likely to see come Tournament time. That's why speculators and gamblers love us (hi, guys!). But we also try to spread the love to the middle sections of the tables, and that's why this week's T5T is dedicated to those teams that are outperforming their initial, meager expectations yet haven't been mentioned here very much. In other words, these are the teams that might be pulling an upset or two in the conference tourneys a month hence.
5. Oakland -- Few gave the Golden Grizzlies a second look at the beginning of the year, although some positive thinkers placed them fourth or fifth. But on the strength of Mid-Con-best 3-point shooting and a lot of quick perimeter passing, Oakland is a half-game back of Oral Roberts, which gave OU its only loss of the league slate so far. Three guys in double-figure scoring, led by 6-6 senior Vova Severovas (13.9 ppg) -- who may not lead the league in 3's, but he leads the league in "V"'s.
4. Quinnipiac -- In the year that the Q is opening up its new Star Trek-like pod arena, the
Braves Bobcats look good enough to match the spiffy surroundings. Quinnipiac has compiled an 8-4 record (10-11 overall) and sits in second place in the Northeast Conference mostly on the strength of its defense -- no NEC team guards against the two-point field goal better (45.1% 2FG% defense, 66th nationwide). And it's a season that's likely saved head coach Joe DeSantis' job -- he's a genuinely good guy, and he deserves this.
3. Manhattan -- Starting off your season by giving New Jersey Tech its first-ever D1 win would seem to be a bad enough omen, but the Jaspers are 11-11 with an 8-4 MAAC record, and might even get to wear the white jerseys as a high seed when the conference convenes in Bridgeport next month. A holdover from the championship years, Arturo Dubois, is pacing MC with 14.5 ppg, and you've gotta applaud the job of Barry Rohrssen after Bobby Gonzalez bolted for Seton Hall over the summer.
2. Jacksonville -- One of the absolute worst teams of 2005-06, and were pretty shoddy to start this campaign too. But the Dolphins have done good in league play, going 7-5 and evening their overall record at 11-11. Credit Jesse "The Texan" Kimbrough's solid point play, and the surprise season by freshman forward Lehmon Colbert (11.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg), who's a likely the Freshman of the Year in the A-Sun.
1. Murray State -- At the start of the season, the OVC champion Racers were a mish-mosh of spare parts, junior college newcomers and Birmingham Southern ex-pats. But new hire Billy Kennedy has found a firm grip on the controls in recent weeks -- MSU has won four straight and are in the top half of the league race with a 10-5 record, and have found a defensive groove (conference-best 40.5% field-goal D). And Bruce Carter, who starred for a national champion JC squad at Arkansas-Fort Smith last season.
K-Dub's Krazy Fact Of the Day!
One last note about the NBA Efficiency Model, and then I'm done. Honest. It's just that over the past few days, we've had some real eye-popper single-game numbers in that stat, and I wanted to share them with you. In case you haven't been following along (or just living under a rock), here's that formula again:
((Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) - ((Field Goals Att. - Field Goals Made) + (Free Throws Att. - Free Throws Made) + Turnovers))
Now, then. Witness Youngstown State's Quin Humphrey, who on Saturday became the first D1 player this year to break 50, with a 37-point, 10-rebound performance in a 92-87 shootout with Illinois-Chicago. On the same day, Josh "I Like To Kill Journalists With Flying Basketballs" Heytvelt delivered a 49 against Pepperdine (a 82-57 win) with 27 and 22. I personally witnessed that, and I did declare "dayum."
And then, last night, Jaycee Carroll of Utah State scored a 48 in that New Mexico State win we talked about earlier. He scored 44 points, and grabbed 10 rebounds. In the highest and most reverent way I can say it, Carroll is, like, good at basketball and stuff.
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