January 10, 2008 11:56 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- I was going to start out today with a hilarious joke about squirrels and their nuts, but this came across the wires this morning. The Cincinnati Enquirer, a fine newspaper, ran this today: Xavier shuns mid-major award. Here's a taste for those who don't like clicking things:
Rivals.com called Xavier to tell the athletic department that the Web site had chosen senior point guard Drew Lavender for its "Mid-Major Player of the Week Award."
Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski told the Web site thanks, but no thanks.
"It's such as easy thing to do to put labels on people," Bobinski said. "But you do an injustice when you don't know or tell the whole story by lumping people into broad major or mid-major categories."
There's been a lot of consternation in the Atlantic 14 this year because people like Rivals.Com, and ESPN.com -- and yes, me -- are covering the league like it's something other than a power conference. Most outlets are basing the lowered status on the lowered number of premier wins, NCAA bids and postseason success in recent years... and no doubt about it, the A-14 has not been getting the same types of results it was getting back in the mid-Nineties when it was the A-10. But, for those just joining us, wins and losses are not our yardsticks here. As I've said many times before, mid-majorness is not about on-court performance. It's about resources.
With all respect to Bobinski, I'll tell you what the whole story is. Xavier is a school that spends just $11 million on athletics (according to the 2006-07 Office of Postsecondary Education figures), which would put them right there with any of the Missouri Valley, CAA or WAC programs. No fewer than 183 schools spent more. The school pulled a profit of $7 million on its operation last year, and that's good for them... this is a business.
I'm really sorry that we don't have a better label for conferences that don't have the finances of the Big Six and the two money leagues (Conference USA and Mountain West, which have average athletic budgets in the mid-$20M range). This imperfect hyphenate is the label we inherited. And I don't care if Xavier doesn't want me to, I'm going to continue to talk about Xavier for years to come, whether the school is beating power-conference teams or having the kind of 10-20 down year that every program suffers eventually. If their own AD can't bring himself to celebrate the fact that his school is doing a hell of a lot with very little, too bad. It's a great story.
But I can't help wondering: why did Rivals.Com feel the need to call them up? Did they have to obtain a mailing address to send the trophy?
Dayton. We're going to keep talking about UD too, whether the folks in Hoops Nation's undisputed capital like it or not. And while it was no work of art (just like they wanted it), the Flyers made its big A-14 statement last night, shooting a gigantic 62 percent from the floor in beating Rhode Island. The Flyers forced the Rams to play their pace and turned aside any and all second-half bursts in an impressive 92-83 win.
I'm not going to say I told you so, because it's still early, but URI (now 14-2) is going to have to play at speeds other than "breakneck" if they want to win enough games to get to the NCAA Tournament. When you look around the league, there are a lot of squads that will draw them into slogs for which they will need to be better prepared. They also have to get better free throw shooting (56 percent last night), and get some type of bench production. Only five baskets from the reserves.
Charlotte. Speaking of gaudy early-season records that don't mean as much as face value, look at Clemson. For the second year in a row, they built up a huge amount of wins over a soft schedule (14-0 last year, 12-1 this year) and they've fallen hard when the year turned. But we're not here to talk about them, it's all about the team that made them look bad.
In an 82-72 win last night, the 49ers pushed the tempo and held their ACC foes to 38 percent shooting. They're just 9-5 going into conference play, but with wins against Davidson, Wake Forest and now Clemson. Charlotte likely won't make the NCAA's, but their contribution to the backbone of the conference will be one of the key things that gets a third or fourth team in. Maybe someone like...
Saint Joseph's. Many analysts use a "win-based" method of determining who's good. Who'd they beat? Oh, look who won! They lost, oh, forget about them. And that's understandable, because there are so many teams to track. A 7-4 team like Saint Joseph's can slip under the radar, even if their losses were super-close against good teams.
I've been yammering on a lot about how good the Joes are, and I've struggled to figure out why I've been in the "performance-based" minority. It's been a whole lot of Xavier, URI, Dayton in the larger press, and since I saw them twice earlier, I've believed that this is the second most well-rounded team in the conference (next to Xavier)... and in March, dynamism is what gets you wins, not resumÃ© or December hype. Last night, they played well over their accustomed down-tempo speed, shot 58 percent, and beat UMass on the road, 98-92. I'm putting this theory out there, because I know there are like-minded people who will pick this up and (dis)prove it elsewhere on the internet: Teams that can win at different speeds make it to the Big Dance, and win games there.
With the big away performance to earn their eighth victory, the Hawks shoot up in our real-time State Of The Other 22 index to No. 5, mostly because of...
Sam Houston State. Down goes Houston! Down goes Houston! After a stellar nonconference season with lots of road wins, the Bearkats failed to protect the home court in dropping a season-opening Southland mini-shocker to Southeastern Louisiana, 61-58. SHSU drops all the way from No. 1 to No. 7, and the 3 -- their friend for two months -- deserted them when they needed it most. Just one for 11 from long-horn distance.
And last but not least...
How 'Bout™ Davidson? We at Elon were forced to sit around for a while before a 9 p.m. TV tip (plenty of time to watch the UD-UDI game on the laptop), but 23.4 ppg star Stephen Curry seemed to be affected by the wait. Only one point in the first half, but he silenced the packed home crowd by scoring the Wildcats' final eight points in a 59-57 come-from-behind win over the Phoenix.
Also, How 'Bout™ Northern Colorado? Forget its second-year status in the Big Sky, this is an honorary Mountain West school! Within the Bears' 8-8 overall record are wins over Colorado State and last night's road win at San Diego State by a 62-56 count. Stop winning, guys, or schools aren't going to invite you over for the money games you need to build your program!
Lastly, How 'Bout™ Drake? Best team in the Valley! The showdown between unlikely 3-0 teams ended in a 25-point rout of Indiana State, and now the Bulldogs are the No. 1 team in our SotMM index. If they win their next two games (vs. Missouri State and at Bradley), and fellow 4-0 Illinois State wins its next pair, we could have the biggest throwdown-showdown Des Moines has seen in ages on Jan. 19.
But with leading scorer Josh Young out indefinitely with a sprained ankle, will Drake be 6-0 by then?
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