PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- I've been talking to folks around the country these past few days, and have had a really hard time convincing them that the Northeast is where it's at. It's not all Friends
and the Hamptons and day trips to Times Square... you pay for all that glamour with high gas prices, frost heave-pockmarked highways, tolls ($20 from Baltimore to New York) and ice storms... the latter of which is currently taking over everybody's lives. But we trudge on (in our Velcro-strapped moon-boots) nonetheless, here on this Valentine's Day.Conference Shootaround!
On HBCU Monday, MEAC
leaders Delaware State (14-11, 11-2) got by last-place Maryland Eastern Shore 69-59
, but head coach Greg Jackson predicted a quick conference tourney exit if the team didn't improve its defense. Them's high standards, since Del-State is one of the only teams in the league that really plays any
. Hampton and Morgan State are two games behind in the loss column at 8-4... At the top of the Swickity-SWAC
, you'll find the league's best offense (Jackson State) and best defense (Mississippi Valley State) tied at 9-4 after the weekend. But Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the hottest team in the league, having won three straight and lifting itself to the .500 zone at 6-7.
For our WCC roundup, let's go to the videotape (ESPN chat, Dec. 29).
The G team's weakness seems to be ball-control teams, and Santa Clara hasn't proven itself to be one of those (WCC 6th in TO rate). AFA tonight will be a great test of that, you betcha. And the Mo-State, Kentucky and Nevada losses are sorta buzzkill on the at-large hopes. But as you say, they'll prolly get three shots at the Zigs. If they don't cough it up, they could sneak a win.Well, forget about all that. The Santa Clara Broncos coughed it up 18 times, and still steamed UMPFN 84-73 on Monday night/Tuesday morning. That's a 50-game home winning streak by the boards, and while we've certainly had our little fun recently at the Unnamed Major Program From the Northwest's expense, it's hard to take pleasure in its temporary downfall. The G team has a lot of weaknesses now, what with the loss of suspended inside force Josh Heytvelt. And you know your AP writer is from the Northwest when there are words like "baggie" in the story.
It's painful to say it, but recent NCAA perennial out of the Missouri Valley Northern Iowa (16-11, 7-9) just doesn't look like it has a Tournament run in it this year. The Panthers' fourth straight loss came last night on the road against second-place Creighton (18-8, 12-4) by a 66-55 margin; UNI shot 34%. Also, No. 1 beat No. 3 as Southern Illinois nipped Missouri State (19-8, 10-6) 51-47 on the road. The Salukis (22-5, 18-3) have won eight straight and lead the league by a game. It's still up to fellow 8-7 teams Wichita State and Bradley to make a late run towards Fourth-Bid Position... In the Southland, Northwestern State took a game-lead in the East division with a televised 67-57 win over Stephen F. Austin which featured a complete second-half takeover...
The Real Blue Devils, the ones from Central Connecticut State, continue to monsterize the NEC. CCSU (16-10, 13-1) won its eleventh-straight on Monday night, beating slumping Sacred Heart 80-66 to complete a season sweep. And how about 6-4 rebounding machine and conference POY candidate Obie Nwadike? With 10.6 rpg, he is the only player in the nation's Top 20 rebounders under 6-6. He's currently eighth, and one of only 11 players to average in double figures... More later (and likely tomorrow) on this, but Pennsylvania beat Princeton 48-35 in what the media room collectively decided was the ugliest display in this rivalry in at least the past two decades. In the present, however, Penn leads the Ivy with a 6-1 record, while once-mighty Princeton is a no-way-in-hell-are-you-digging-out-from-this-one and six as the league slate reaches its midpoint...
Akron (19-5,10-2 Mid-American) is mad at you, even though you probably didn't do anything to antagonize it. That's the only way to explain its righteous anger at MAC East neighbor Ohio, which it trounced 79-48 and held to 34% shooting. The Zips are still working through their issues after losing at Toledo last weekend, and now the rest of the MAC may end up paying... Old Dominion was on a "rampage" there with seven straight wins to pull itself up from a mediocre Colonial start, but now it's elvolved into a full-blown "spree" (that word makes it sound so much more fun). The Monarchs took advantage of Hofstra's underperforming frontcourt and used a Valdas Vasylius double-double (31 and 12) to power by the Pride 96.82. In addition to its eight straight wins, ODU sits all alone in second at 13-3, jumping past 12-4 Hofstra. Conference leader by a half-game Virginia Commonwealth (13-2) plays tonight... Austin Peay keeps rolling in the OVC; the Govs beat up on Tennessee State 89-44 on Monday...
There are a few things you just don't want to be, and one is Florida Gulf Coast University last night after Butler's loss last Saturday at Wright State. Division II and rising FGCU (just try to spit that out phonetically) went into Hinkle Fieldhouse on an open date and lost 79-65. The Bulldogs will test their 22-game home win streak against MVC BracketBuster opponent Southern Illinois on Saturday afternoon... A team to keep an eye on in the MAAC is all-offense, no-defense Niagara (15-11, 10-5), which in its conference games leads the league in both points (79) and points allowed (75). In this league, this year, that works -- they blew by both numbers last night in an 89-88 victory over Canisius.
Top Five Tuesday! (weather-delayed edition)
Last week in this space, we looked at five teams that have overcome miniscule expectations to rise to the tops or middles of their respective leagues. This week, we'll do the opposite. Let's take a peek at five teams that have been decidedly underwhelming when compared to their preseason expectations.
5. IUPUI -- A key injury did in the Jaguars this year in their quest to retake the league crown: gutsy guard George Hill has been limited to just five games. But while IUPUI has cultivated two scoring threats in Austin Montgomery and David Barlow, the others haven't really stepped up to account for the loss. The team hasn't shared the ball well (10.8 apg, 8th in the Mid-Con) and have had serious shooting blackouts (in their last four losses, the Jags have shot less than 40%). Put it all together, and you have a 12-12 (5-5) squad.
4. Towson -- The presumed breakthrough team in the Colonial just hasn't been able to get it done -- like Eastern Washington, it's a great one-man show (senior Gary Neal, 25.5 ppg). In a weird split, the Tigers are league-best from 2 (56.4%) but only 10th from 3 (32.1%) in conference games; add this unbalanced offense with a sieve-like D (69.4 points allowed per CAA contest) and lower-than-expected numbers from 6-8 Dennard Abraham (11.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and you have a 7-8 team that's treading water. (Important caveat: this is pretty much how good they were last year, it's just that we expected more.)
3. Chattanooga -- The Mocs are celebrating all sorts of anniversaries this season, the least of which was the 10th of their magical Sweet 16 run. And they did lose a lot of scoring off a squad that was a runner-up to the SoCon tourney title last season, but had a highly-rated recruiting class coming in. When 6-8 B.J. Benning didn't make the grade, things began to unravel -- the result is a 12-15 (5-10) season that has featured the worst free-throw shooting in the league (60.1% in conference games) as well as the worst two-pointer defense (54.6% allowed in conference games). And the Mocs don't get many chances at the basket, coughing up the ball on 24.1% of their possessions. Only 35 teams in the country are worse.
2. Eastern Washington -- Rodney Stuckey was supposed to singlehandedly lift the Eagles back to the NCAA promised land, but that's been it... no help. While Stuckey sits among the world's leaders in points per game (24.7), EWU as a team shoots just 30% from 3 and is the worst club in the Big Sky in nearly every defensive category. They're currently in sixth place in the eight-team Sky with a 6-8 record, 12-14 overall.
1. Jacksonville State -- We expected so much out of the Gamecocks this year out of the OVC, as everything from last season seemed to be pointing to an uptick: a young team maturing with some key wins late, and a 6-5 senior star in Courtney Bradley. Bradley's done his job, averaging 16.4 ppg and 7.1 rpg, but when you look at the rest of the squad, you see some of the worst shooting in the OVC, horrid perimeter defense and an inability to get to the line. The Gamecocks are 9-18 overall, 6-11 in the league.
K-Dub's Krazy Fact of the Day!!
After last night's Penn win over Princeton, people had questions. Questions like, "When was the last time a Penn squad won with 50 points or fewer and 35% or worse shooting?" Turns out that it was back in the Seventies. But around here, stuff like that happens all the time -- scoring 50 or less usually requires bad shooting. Why, on the very same evening, a resurgent Eastern Kentucky team (six straight OVC wins) beat slow-down Samford 46-38, but they did manage 38% from the floor. All told, it was a bad night for the Princeton offense.
There has been a not-so-grand total of 12 games this season in which one team has a.) scored 50 or fewer, b.) shot 35% or less, and c.) won. The most extreme example was a Feb. 3 Rhode Island win over Fordham (http://bbstate.com/games/60857>45-44), in which the Rams shot an abysmal 28.0% but made 41% of their 3's. The same day, Patriot Leaguers Colgate managed to beat Army http://bbstate.com/games/64438>42-38 with a 30.2% shooting percentage. All told, that was a bad day for wrists.
But while the game didn't fit all the above criteria, Monday produced an even weirder result: this game out of the MEAC's expansive second division, a 46-44 win for Bethune-Cookman at South Carolina State's building. Of BCC's 46 points, only 27 came from the floor, and both teams shot under 40%. The halftime score was 19-15 State, and regulation ended in a 42-42 tie. That's right, this was an overtime game in the 40's.
The Wildcats outscored the Bulldogs 4-2 in the OT period, and an obviously beleaguered stat crew totally botched everybody's minutes (230-226). After having to sit through a game in which the road team managed 39 total possessions in 45 minutes (remember, the national median is 68 in 40), I wouldn't blame them for not double-checking, and heading straight out to the nearest bar for a stiff drink.
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