PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- It's the bright early morning of an American day that will likely end with a lot fewer baseball fans
. As I often say to disillusioned sports nuts tired of steroids this and Barry Bonds that, why don't you give mid-major college basketball a try?
We've got close games, tons of teams all over the country, and hot cheerleaders. You like hot cheerleaders, don't you? We get the odd gun charge, sure, but it's so rare it still registers as a shock instead of "another day, another strip club incident." We've got no
betting scandals, no
salary caps, and most importantly no drugs
. Basketball is a game that doesn't lend itself to anything that makes you big, bulky and immobile. That's how some players start out, and four years is supposed to cure them of those ailments. We call those players "projects."
So as you leave your baseball fandom behind for good at 2 p.m. Eastern time, we, ummm, don't have any games on TV for you. Finals, you know. Academics. And stuff.
Oh well. Ohio.
This picture was taken at the MAC championship game in 2005. The sentiment was true then, when Mr. Williams was part of a promising freshman crop, and it's true now that he's a senior. In a 61-55 upset win at Maryland
last night, the 6-8 Baltimore native had a 15-point, 15-rebound homecoming.
There isn't much left from the talented freshman class that won the 2005 conference title, went on to the NCAA Tournament, and was projected to storm the MAC for seasons -- things kinda fell apart. (Fellow phenom Jeremy Fears, for example, transferred to Bradley, then to USC-Aiken
.) But last night, none of that mattered. With Williams scooping up rare Ohio misses, the Bobcats stormed out to a 12-4 lead and held off the furious Terrapin rally at the end. The Maryland fans were too stunned to chant "you suck" to "Rock and Roll, Part II" 10 days ago against VCU in D.C.... I can only imagine the feeling of seeing a bunch of green-clad upstarts dominate their team first, then walk out of their building with a five-figure guarantee check afterwards. The ACC.
Here is the Atlantic Coast Conference's record last night in home games against mid-majors. Take a moment to enjoy its aesthetic beauty, the intriguing roundness offset by the playful curves and rigid straight lines, the gestalt of the overall work.0-2
UMass beat Boston College at Chestnut Hill last night, 83-80, in something called the "Commonwealth Classic." UMass hadn't beaten BC since the Atlantic 10 salad days, but did so with a standout second half and 10 rebounds from Saint Etienne Brower. He knows something about playing in Boston, he transferred from BU.
City games. Remember those old Heathcliff cartoons where there'd be a cloud with the occasional fist, boot or head sticking out? That's what last night's Xavier-Cincinnati game looked like. My goodness, the Musketeers are a tough team. Not only did they keep their edge during a Bearcat rally with around five minutes to go, responding with the winning late burst, they came back from a 14-rebound deficit in the second half to lose that battle by only one. C.J. Anderson was sealing off the baseline to grab key boards so many times, I thought the cat was working the TiVo.
Now Cincinnati is a bad Big East team, a horrible team, and under any other conditions that game wouldn't have been anywhere near close. But this was a city game -- while you can't throw out the records (you'll need them later), the Bearcats played far above and beyond the 4-4 form that had allowed three mid-majors to beat them already. There was an entire city at stake, and there's no statistic or measurement that takes that into account.
So after a year off, Xavier rules the Queen City again. It got me to thinking: who owns some other key cities in the area, basketball-wise?
Indianapolis: Butler. This isn't by default; the Bulldogs had a short series with crosstown IUPUI back when the Jaguars were getting their Division I sea-legs. Butler won three straight times, and the two haven't played since Jan. 24, 2000.
Akron: Akron. The MAC allows two meetings between the two schools in the Akron area, and the Zips have won the last four meetings, including a 61-54 semifinal decision in March that eliminated the Golden Flashes from the 2007 league tournament. The rematch is Jan. 23 at Kent, and Eastern Division leadership will likely be at stake. Again.
Dayton: Dayton. You have to go back over a decade to find the last time the two area colleges, Dayton and Wright State, played. But in the last meeting on Dec. 13, 1997, the Flyers whomped the Raiders 94-63 to win its third straight against its crosstown rivals, and since a challenge hasn't been allowed since, Dayton does own Dayton.
New Orleans. Speaking of city games, the Nov. 24 contest between the Privateers and the Tulane Green Wave sure was a good one. UNO built a nice lead, squandered it, but held off their Conference U$A opponents to claim deed and title to the French Quarter, Lake Pontchartrain and everything else related to the city of New Orleans. The beignets, too.
And the Privateers also have two belt-notches with the real power conferences now, both in rather exciting fashion. They beat Bally's alma mater N.C. State 65-62 last month with a T.J. Worley 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds to go for a beautiful, improbable win. Last night, in a buy-game at Colorado, 5-11 Shaun Reynolds went coast-to-coast for a layup that iced a 67-65 win.
In both the ACC and Big XII upsets, New Orleans played from behind the entire game, only to sneak up at the end and win the game on a single play. Crescent City Cardiac Kids!
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