BOONE, N.C. -- The problem with taking the holiday off from posting is that things happen, build up, force a gigantic Monday post. Here, then, is your long weekend in mid-major land.
Saturday, November 24, 2007. After the pitch-blah of Black Friday came a sunburst of brightness, as hungry mids overcame tryptophan-addled high-majors and iced the leftovers in the fridge.
A lot of these holiday topplin's occurred at neutral sites, in matchups that would likely never have happened on the victors' respective home floors. It's not like Michigan is going to play Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, but the Hilltoppers made the most of the Alaska opportunity and beat the Wolverines 73-69. Utah State out of the WAC finally broke out of their early-season funk, and beat Iowa at the South Padre Island tournament 75-62, to go 3-4. Montana beat Air Force at the Spokane, 59-57. And then there was Butler, which we'll get to later.
In the battle for New Orleans, the UNO Privateers beat Tulane, 74-67. Hero of the 2006 Tournament and fashion icon Sean Ogirri wasn't available -- he's sitting out his transfer year -- but his MWC Wyoming Cowboys couldn't overcome former mates Wichita State. And in Chicago, North Carolina A&T shot 53 percent and topped DePaul 96-93 in a game where both teams hurled three-point haymakers at each other all afternoon. It was the first win for the MEAC over a Big East team since Bethune-Cookman beat South Florida two seasons ago. Less surprising, but still satisfying, were Brown's Ivy-over-Big Ten win over Northwestern, and Creighton's annual beatdown of Nebraska.
Then there were three more yesterday: Saint Peter's over Rutgers in Jersey City, the Fighting Pollitzes of Miami (Oh.) over Mississippi State in an Anaheim Classic conso, and George Mason over South Carolina in Orlando. We don't want to go all irrationally exuberant on you, but there have been a total of 45 mid-over-major upsets so far this season. That's an improvement of two over last year's pace: by November 25, 2006, there were 43.
George Mason. We were off the air for the holidays when the Patriots overcame soon-to-be NBA'er Michael Beasley and Kansas State Thursday night, but the 87-77 win at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando was pretty much what everyone was talking about at the Philly Classic over the weekend. It was a win that affirmed everything that was good about the Final Four run of two years ago... good performances from five players can overcome a monstrous performance by one. Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell were great and all (combining for 36), but how about John Vaughan? He was on crutches back in 2005-06, had trouble finding consistency in his return season, but he had a really nice game against K-State, leading Mason with 21.
The Patriots lost the Villanova the next day by eight (Vaughan: 2-for-7 from the floor) and had to settle for third place in the tournament, but they're emerging as a strong, balanced, low-foul team. They certainly look a lot better than VCU does right now.
Butler, and moose hats. Last season, the buzz was built during the Preseason NIT: as the Bulldogs sliced through Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga on the way to the championship, all the games were on in primetime. This year, Indianapolis' favorite basketball sons won another early tourney, but it was on Alaska Standard time, with games ending around 2 a.m. back home. Conquerors of Michigan, Virginia Tech and Texas Tech, all hail your 6-0 Great Alaska Shootout champions!
We figured that the senior backcourt of A.J. Graves and Mike Green would be top producers (they're combining for 32 ppg so far), but the Alaska tourney has seen the real emergence of Pete Campbell. He was on the bench for the P-NIT run but came on strong towards the end of 2006-07 and has picked up where he left off from a strong performance in the Sweet 16 loss to Florida. If the 6-7 senior can be a consistent double-figure scorer, step out for threes and grab a few rebounds too, that answers a lot of questions going forward for Butler.
But there are still key unanswered questions. These intrepid Dawg Pound members made the trip up to the frozen North, but their credit-card statement looks like it's undergone a little creative accounting. Was that $500 per person for the hotel room? Where did these kids stay, the Fifteen Seasons? And somebody tell me, where can you get sweet moose hats like that for only ten bucks? Hook me up!
Southern Illinois. Things were going so well. SIU was cruising through the Anaheim Classic, dismantling Chattanooga and Mississippi State in the early rounds. Then, late last night, the shooting stopped, the defense cracked, and young USC -- a squad that was turning the ball over at a remarkably horrible 28 percent clip -- trashed them 70-45 on 60 percent shooting.
I listened to the game on XM, and didn't hear any warning signs for future bad nights, or exploitable holes, or any reason why SIU shouldn't still be the Missouri Valley favorite. It was just a horrible performance, and it reminded me a lot of the 56-42 egg they laid against Saint Louis nearly two years ago to the day. It was almost as confusing as this:
Remy Cofield, Pennsylvania. I had a chance to see Penn twice over the weekend, and yes, they are god-awful right now. Not bad enough to make me go back on my bold pick of the Quakers to win the Ivy on a 9-5 record, though. They've got talent.
On Friday night, Penn put up 85 points against a Virginia team that was destined to be "upset" by Seton Hall the next night. The star of the show was number 32 in white, a young 6-4 freshman from Newton, Mass. In 19 minutes, he hit six of his eight shots for 20 points -- the first-ever points of his career. His reward? Butt splinters the next night against Navy. I'm sure Coach Miller has his reasons.
I know it's extremely early, but I see a little bit of of Trey Johnson in Cofield. Same iron backbone, same soft hands, same willingness to absorb contact and face up, same mechanical lean-back shot. Will he go on to lead the nation in scoring? Eh, we'll see.
McNeese State's roof. In case you missed it, Saturday's Coastal Carolina at McNeese State game was cancelled because of rain. There's a hole in the Burton Coliseum roof, you see, and that's dangerous.
I was there last season, and I can kinda see how this could happen. It's a huge building, and they use it for rodeos (the teams are nicknamed the Cowboys, and they mean it). If the roof continues to be a problem, they might consider holding the games at Coach Dave Simmons' house. He and his family has a great home there in Lake Charles. He and his wife graciously hosted me after the SFA game last year, and they had these awesome sour cream-and-onion flavored saltines that drove me wild. Coach, or Mrs. Simmons, if you're reading this, forgive me, I forgot the recipe.