PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- I tried to make it simple, I tried to offer the sound-bite answer. I tried to simplify things on the far side of complexity, because 'tis a gift to be simple. But I attempted to shave with Occam's razor, but ended up having to wear a small piece of toilet paper, attached with spittle, on my face all day. I hid something from you, Hoops Nation. Some very, very smart people called me out on it in my ESPN chat
the other day, and my hand was duly forced.
We talked about The Red Line
on Monday, the Mendoza
-like strip that separates Division I conferences into "haves" and "have-lesses." There are eight conferences (the Big Six and the two "money" leagues, the C-USA and Mountain West) with average athletic budgets over $20 million, and the rest are below. In case you think this too arbitrary, consider the performance gap: in nonconference play this season, schools from leagues above The Red Line beat teams from leagues below 91 percent of the time
. Nine out of ten dentists is a toothpaste mandate, one out of ten in hoops is as painful as a root canal.
But there's another Red Line. You can see it if you strip out just the men's basketball budgets and average them. (Those numbers are available from the U.S. Education department as well.) In keeping with the Mendoza theme, let's put it at $2 million. Are you ready for the shocking conclusion?
|Conference||Avg. MBB Budget (2006-07)|
All eight conferences that are over the overall $20 million line are over the $2 million hoops-only line. In my mind (and perhaps in yours) this would signal, for once and for all, that Conference USA and the Mountain West are ineligible for any pity whatsoever. So your teams suck. Too bad, suckas! You're spending so much money on them that you should be monsterizing the lower levels, not in the headlines every week in December for losing to a SWAC team. We mock your lack of progress.
But what's this? An exception! That's right, it's our friends at the conference that lies about its weight by 40 percent. You don't have to have a mathematics degree from Saint Bonaventure to figure out that this means that the Atlantic 10 schools spend an ungodly percentage of their budgets on basketball, are generally not dependent on the evils of big-time football, and are therefore pretty generally awesome. And check out the results, which bear out the chart: in 2007-08 nonconference play, the A-10 was 16-28 (.363) against the six true power conferences, and 6-3 against the two failed power conferences. Randy Newman was right, it is
money that matters in the U.S.A..
We've pounded this to death in the past few weeks (and we don't intend to speak on this anymore so we can focus on the courts), but I've been talking about this league on this site for years. In fact, I may be more qualified to discuss this conference than any other league that appears here. It's not like I just started talking about the newly hotttt A-14 to get attention. I've actually been to
six of the last eight A-10 tourneys (missed the first one in Dayton, then last year at Atlantic City). Seventeen of my 100 Games
involved these 14 schools, including two of the most popular goofball posts from that year: my open letter to the Hawk
and the whole possession-arrow interview thing
at La Salle. The second-ever daily post
on this site even had a blurb about UMass. UMass! No complaints until this year, though.
Besides, you have to admit that my forecasts of the league have been a lot better than the average national pundit's. It's because we've been around the conference too long to fall for blind hype.
And though there are a few clusters of nameless avatars on message boards and "sports blogs" that would rather have me get bent, I'm still going to talk about the conference. In fact, I'm instituting a few subtle changes so that the delicate few don't have their sensibilities further damaged, because we agree -- the league deserves a little special treatment. There's a "Mid-Majority... and the A-10!" banner up there, and we're changing the name of our index to "The Top 20 of the Lower 22." Separate, but included.
And I've never said "The A-10 is a mid-major conference," only implied it indirectly, and this should hopefully clear everything up. If you still complain about my coverage, then I know that you have some kind of personal issue with my work that has nothing to do with the M-label. For you, a special message
via Mr. Beck Hansen.
One last thing, though.
The Non-Pacific Non-10 is above one Red Line and below the other -- it's the only conference of 30 that meets that criteria. And the prefix "mid" requires context: between-ness is implied, by its very three letters. Something must be above, and something below. The only way the term makes sense in college basketball is to define it as "a level between one strata and another." For years, we've relied on the idea that mid-majorness is "between the eight rich conferences and Division II," and we're still in search of a label that folks can all agree on. It took over 10 years for this one to embed itself in the sports vernacular, so expect the next to come along by, say, 2018.
But think about this: the A-10 is the only conference that's truly in the middle, squarely straddling that economic fence that separates the Rich Dads and the Poor Dads. Isn't it the only
conference in America truly
deserving of that hyphenated label? Appalachian State.
After getting pummeled by Davidson in the conference opener two months ago, App-State head coach mourned that there was a team in there somewhere, just had to find it. Well, looks like he did. The Mountaineers are on a seven-game win streak, including last night's 84-66
job at Furman, and are suddenly back in the thick of the SoConversation. Donte Minter
, at 12.9 ppg on 57.1 percent shooting, is rocking the rims, and if you have SportSouth on your DirecTV, you can watch them play Chattanooga tomorrow. Make it through that test, and this team could be on a real roll going into the return meeting at Davidson on Feb. 27. Loyola (Md.)
First, a mention of MASN's television coverage this year... absolutely great. Lots of SoCon, MAAC, Patriot, CAA games, and the production values are fantastic. Siena, the previous top dogs in the MAAC, probably wish last night's game wasn't televised around the country on satellite, though. Loyola shot 55 percent, held the Saints' tempo down and shooting percentage even lower (29 percent), and flat-out tore them up right out of the gate in a 85-56
blowout. I honestly think the Greyhounds could have doubled them up if Jimmy Patsos wasn't such a lenient, considerate, benevolent man.
Loyola (our original pick, for those of you with long memories) is now 6-3 and charging hard at the three 7-2 leaders: Marist, Rider and Siena. You can thank Gerald Brown
for a lot of that, 20 points last night means he's up at 18.5 ppg, and has been remarkably efficient during the run. Two-bid Scenarios!
All due respect to our friends in the Big West, Sun Belt and SoCon, but it's not happening this year. Sorry. But while we're still trying to figure out what's going to happen in the Valley, we do have a few really intriguing two-bid scenarios in the Colonial, Horizon, and the MAC. Yes, the MAC!
In the CAA, top league-watcher Michael Litos
believes that "Mason and VCU are playing better basketball, by a noticeable margin, than the rest of the conference." We agree, and so do the numbers. VCU looks to be on the verge of another long win streak, and Mason is the best March team in the league. VCU streak + Mason win in the title game = two bids.
The Horizon sure looks like it did last year, with Cleveland State 2008 playing the role of Wright State 2007. Butler is in anyway, and a Viking-Bulldog final that resulted in a CSU netcutting would be a pair there. And then the MAC... we're starting to get the picture that Akron and Kent are way ahead of everyone else, and if they can separate themselves from the pack by zipping and flashing to a couple of nice runs, then meeting in the final, I think we get two with an Akron autobid. No way the Zips are getting in on their own merits, thanks to their repeated down-scheduling in November and December. Ron Hunter, IUPUI.
Never happened before in college basketball history, but the IUPUI head coach paced the sidelines without the shoes last night. It was to raise awareness for Samaritan's Feet
, a great charity that we hadn't heard about before (it worked!). A lot of students came in their bare feet as well, and watched the Jaguars beat Oakland
. Great idea all around, the action had something to do with the cause. Not like that thing where coaches wear sneakers on the sideline for a weekend... I can't even remember what that was for anymore.
But just a comment about the event itself, if you'll allow me. There are only two things that get the national media to care about basketball at our level. One is beating power-conference schools, and the other is weird stuff that's completely out of the ordinary. Most of the casual fans in America will now think of IUPUI as "the school with the shoeless coach," not the team that's 6-2 in the Badlands Conference and having a great year. But that's the way it goes.
So here's my challenge to any head coach in the Lower 22, no matter what your record is: coach a game without pants
. Not for charity or anything, just don't wear 'em. I guarantee that you'll get the kind of attention for your program you haven't received in years.
And as the week gently closes...How 'Bout™
Binghamton? Our original America East pick, left for dead in a dreadful nonconference season, but new head coach Kevin Broadus, in from Georgetown, already knows the league's reality: what happens in conference season is what matters. After beating frontrunner UMBC last Saturday, the Bearcats (9-10, 5-2) won at UNH by nine
, and all of a sudden they look like the team that impressed us so much on paper last October.
Also, How 'Bout™
the triple-overtime thriller between St. Francis (NY) and St. Francis (PA)? Having two colleges with the same name is confusing enough, but when it takes 55 regulation minutes for them to settle their differences, that's a lot of St. Francis for one evening. Not known yet if the game, which ended in an eight-point win for PA
and ended a nine-game skid, was longer or shorter than Oliver Messiaen's opera
about the life of the humble man from Assisi.
Oh, and How 'Bout™
Dayton? They got the losing end of last night's bout with Xavier, and are now 2-2 in the league. As if the Flyers' injury problems weren't bad enough, star guard Brian Roberts is battling respiratory problems
, and he sat for most of the second half once the game was decided, something that happened about five minutes in. Dayton stands to make a bit of hay as it recuperates, with Richmond and Saint Louis coming up on the schedule. Xavier's going to UMass on Sunday, which will be intriguing due to the Minutemen's hot play and the X's road struggles.
Lastly, How 'Bout™
Nevada? After that bad loss at home to Boise State, the Wolf Pack grew up a few more dog-years in a gigantic and resounding nine-point
win at fellow 2007 NCAA participants New Mexico State. Newsflash: Brandon Fields (21 points last night, up to 12.4 ppg for the season) is good at playing basketball. Elsewhere in the wild wacky WAC, the league-leading Utah State Aggies survived a first-half scare and beat La-Tech.
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