January 21, 2008 10:58 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
MORAGA, Ca. -- One of the most-asked question types I get is in regards to these datelines. Where am I? Where have I been? How many games am I up to? I know it's all pleasant small-talk, and folks are just trying to make conversation, but I've been meaning to put together a one-webpage answer to answer all or most of these questions. Besides, I lose track sometimes myself.
So with a little free time this weekend, I hacked together this handy map. As games complete, they'll be added to the map along with links to the boxscores, provided as always by our alter-ego friends over at Basketball State. Follow along with me as I travel the highways and byways of Hoops Nation. Or don't, your choice.
And with that, you know how we do it here on Mondays. Get your eyes exercised, because we have a lot of ground to cover.
Drake. All hail the undisputed kings of the Valley! The Bulldogs haven't lost a game since early November, and their 15th in a row was the mammoth showdown-throwdown-hoedown between them and fellow MVC undefeateds Illinois State on Saturday night. Behind at the half, Drake pulled back even, and won 79-73 despite a 55 percent shooting performance by the Redbirds. Drake cancelled out that gap by only turning the ball over eight times, and it made us dream of a potential BracketBusters pairing with that other great ball-control team out there, Butler.
Jonathan Cox had a double-double with 15 and 12 on Saturday and was Drake's best player... might as well mention again that he's a former walk-on. It's all about as good of a story as there's been in college hoops at any level, and the rest of the country's starting to notice too.
Other index darlings. When a rash of surprise results happens, such as the one that happened this weekend at the higher levels, a lot of the pundits try to explain it away with hokum. Like unicorn magic mysteriously descending upon the world of college hoops for just one day, or how parity reigns supreme now! Stuff like that. Then the original picks are conveniently forgotten in the rush to crown new hype kings.
And another thing, I'll believe in "parity" once New Jersey Tech beats Duke, and not a moment sooner.
But the truth is, sometimes good teams just get beat. Like Niagara, who's been rated high in the State Of The Other 22 index but has taken two MAAC losses, most recently an eight-point drop to Canisius and its cool golden shoes (which may or may not be infused with unicorn magic). Nevada made Saturday's G!O!T!N! into the Game! Of! The! NOT! -- that's for all you folks stuck in the Nineties -- by falling apart in the second half against Boise State at home, 95-80. Then there's Sam Houston out of the Southland, which saw its road mojo disappear on Saturday in a 93-90 loss at Lamar.
The Purple Eagles, Wolf Pack and Bearkats -- all of whom had been in our Top 10 -- have been punished appropriately in our ratings, which has yet again disappointed everybody by failing to predict the exact and final outcome of the 2007-08 season. We'll revisit the index again Tuesday, like we usually do.
Cleveland State. OK, twist my arm, twist my arm! The Vikings (14-5, 7-0) have more than proven themselves in the tough Horizon League, beating both league favorites now. After beating nationally-ranked Butler on Thursday, they knocked off Valpo 69-63 to sweep their homestand. Winning the rebounding battle, which is what CSU's done in each of its seven HL wins (including a +7 versus Valpo), can help overcome embarrassments like 3-for-12 performances from the line.
But CSU is a great example of the folly of "rebounds per game" -- that number is quite pedestrian (33.6 rpg), so you've got to go to rebounding percentage to see why they're so good. Of available rebounds -- that is, missed shots -- the Vikings grab a full 56.4 of those, which ranks them 29th in the country. Next up for the Windexy Vikings is a northern swing to the Wisconsin schools that will complete the first half of their league schedule, and they haven't swept Green Bay and Milwaukee since the 1999-2000 season, only splitting the pair twice since. But these Vikings aren't very concerned with history, they're cleaning away 20-plus years of disappointment as easily as wiping glass.
Akron. We've talked before about the Zips' suspect strength of schedule, how it kept them out of the national postseason last year and how it made this year's edition very tough to gauge in December. But now that we're in conference play, we're getting a very good idea of how good this team really is. The Zips are 4-0 in the tough MAC East, and completely devastated Bowling Green 80-44. Another good behind-the-numbers team, this... judging the Zips on defense, don't look at their field-goal percentages allowed, which are both sixth in the MAC. This team forces turnovers on an even 25 percent of opponents' possessions, which is 16th best in all the land.
But we'll see what's really up in the MAC on Wednesday, when Akron will travel the several miles down the road to play Kent State (or walk, it's that close). Kent is 14-4, six games away from its 10th straight 20-win season, and is a perfect 10-0 at home this season.
Maryland-Baltimore County. UMBC was the first America East school to 10 wins, something that happened two weeks ago. It's still the only A-East representative in double-digits, and it's starting to struggle as much as its conference compatriots. The Retrievers have lost two of three, including this 62-59 headscratcher at Binghamton in which BU shot just 39 percent but made all of its free throws.
The America East collected a .345 (38-72) non-conference winning percentage and owns a No. 27 Conference RPI. The league's so far been able to put forward its best representative in the NCAA's (like, say, Vermont 2005) and has been able to miss out on the play-in game. If a No. 3 or lower seed survives the conference tourney, a scenario more likely every day, it could be headed out to Dayton.
And don't forget about the 'Bout...
How 'Bout™ that Atlantic 14 race? Do not, repeat, do not put any money on A-14 games. We have half the league with one loss, and look! The hottest team is that school in the sleepy west of the woody east. UMass topped URI-beating Dayton and Saint Joe's-beating Charlotte over a four-day stretch, and the lack of clarity is contagious. Even Xavier is struggling with road issues, losing at Temple and needing extra gears to overcome GW on Saturday. This conference could be devolving into the same kind of rock-em-sock-em bloodbath that it's been for the last few years -- good for unattached fans like us who just want to see exciting hoops, not so much for poll voters.
And How 'Bout™ VCU? The defending champs are providing some much-needed clarity to a muddy CAA, winning five in a row to take control of the conference. In one of the best rivalry games at our level, the Rams went into Old Dominion and beat the Monarchs by 10. It was the first win for a road team in that series in four years. While we're on the subject of the Colonial, How 'Bout™ Dre Smith, who made 10 3-pointers in 10 attempts for George Mason? That's a record.
Speaking of the east coast, How 'Bout™ Bucknell? Even though coach Pat Flannery was ejected from Friday's showdown with Holy Cross, the Bison won by eight and Flannery's tirade got him some SportsCenter time. HC, banged and bruised, is now 0-3. And oh geez, How 'Bout™ Lafayette? The league's only team with 12 wins overall, the Leopards are 4-0 in the league after an NBA-score 103-99 shootout with Navy. You don't want to trade baskets with LC, the 10th best 3-point shooting team in the land (41 percent). Bilal Abdullah's made a full half of his 87 attempts so far.
Also, How 'Bout™ Jacksonville? Perfect proof that in leagues like the Atlantic Sun, nothing matters until January. Eight straight losses rang out 2007 (seven of which were on the road), but Cliff Warren was somehow able to keep the Dolphins' morale up. Six wins later, Jacksonville is 5-0 and alone atop the conference (there was a buzzer-beating Savannah State win in there too), beating crosstown rivals North Florida by nine on Saturday.
Lastly, How 'Bout™ those other conference leaders? UNC Asheville is 3-0 in the Big South, winning its first-place showdown with VMI on Saturday -- the Bulldogs played at the Keydets' tempo but still won 90-87. Northern Arizona is still a half-game up on the rest of the Big Sky; they took care of business against last-place Sac-State over the weekend. Cal State Northridge, at 5-0, still lords over the Big West after a narrow four-point win at Riverside. And those were just the "Bigs."
South Alabama? A perfect 7-0 in the Sun Belt, won 11 straightm but Western Kentucky's hanging in at 6-1. Wagner's still undefeated in the NEC at 5-0, but watch out for 6-1 Quinnipiac, which averages a league-high 75.1 points per contest. Austin Peay is 8-1 in the OVC, and Murray State (that sole APSU loss) is two steps behind at 6-3. And finally, there's no question as to which team is best in the SoCon anymore... the battle of division leaders between Davidson (South) and Chattanooga (North) ended in a 85-58 Davidson romp.
|Hickory Picket Fences||27629|
|The Hopping Cats||21526|
|Under a Blood Red Line||10379|
|Jen Folds Five||6895|