MEADVILLE, Pa. -- It's a lot of effort trying to live a life free of American-style football, the lengths you have to go to in order to pretend it doesn't exist
. It's come to this, it really has, and I can't believe it myself.
But I made it through the night, Hoops Nation. I'm shacked out in a little hotel room well off the main drag, trying to completely avoid the Super Bowl news outside. The TV is off, the iPod is providing the entertainment, the RSS newsreader site in a dusty corner of the hard drive, unlaunched. The calls are being carefully screened and all e-mail is coming through on a need-to-know basis. I'm going as long as I can without knowing who won last night or what the score was, and with any luck, I'll make it through 'til Tuesday.
[UPDATE 2:01 PM ET:
I'm still in the dark about the final result, but I appreciate all you folks who've taken it upon yourselves to bomb my e-mail box and comment form. Try harder, suckas!]
Good thing there was a day and a half's worth of full of great weekend hoops to serve as a distraction, however temporary. Roll tape! Maryland-Baltimore County.
The Retrievers have reassumed control over the America East after a big road 75-73
win at former co-leaders Vermont. It was their first-ever win in Burlington, and was made possible by a large game by junior guard Jay Greene
(26 points, pictured: right), and occurred despite an ankle sprain DNP by leading scorer Brian Hodges
. Paired with Binghamton's nine-point home loss
to Hartford, UMBC is all alone at 7-2, and is inching closer to the RPI's top 100 (106).
And here's something I bet you didn't know. Ball control, the very same thing that help top mid-major teams like Butler and Drake do their respective things, is UMBC's major calling card. The Retrievers are one of only two teams in the country to commit fewer than 10 turnovers per game (Texas is the other), coughing it up only 9.5 times per contest... that's best in Division I. In league games, that number is down to an incredible eight. All that helps the team's assist-to-turnover ration shine at 1:59-to-1, which is also the nation's best.
Forcing turnovers on defense, however, is a different story: at 16 per game, the worst in the conference. They're called the Retrievers, but they're more like Retainers. Dayton.
Back in late December and January, we got a lot of letters like this one, from reader John Philo.
Kyle, I still love the mid maj site but those rankings reports truly suck. Dayton remains mired in the middle of the pack despite beating four teams (mid majs in the report) ranked much higher and three of those games were on the road! Two of those were in their last two games! Where's the love?
Indeed, the Flyers have been ranked high in the RPI all year, but in our State of College Basketball computer index, they've had trouble making it out of the triple-digit section. While the poll voters fell all over themselves in regards to big wins over Pitt and at Louisville, we warned you about their soft defense and high points allowed, their weak inside game and their inability to make free throws (and this was even before the injuries). All those things have conspired to bring about four losses in five games, including Saturday's 12-point drop
to Rhode Island, a team that's been making major strides in all the categories we were nitpicking and kvetching about during the holidays.
We know about the good RPI's and stuff, but attrition in the UMass-Charlotte-Dayton zone is turning this conference into a three-bid league (and any fourth team is going to get waxed in the first round). Those teams right now are Xavier, Saint Joe's and Rhode Island, the top three teams in the current standings who also just so happen to be the three A-14 teams in our computer index last week
. Just something to think about while you're off with your message board buddies chatting about how much I "suck." Holy Cross.
It's times like this we wish we had a greenish-yellow 45-degree arrow. We were in the house incognito on Saturday, and saw the last-place Crusaders destroy Lehigh 60-42
. This was the type of game the Cross was supposed to collect like baseball cards this year, as its frontcourt pretty much had its way all afternoon. And while I heard plenty of talk in the hallways about the return of the vaunted HC defense, it's a mirage -- Lehigh's offense is perfectly capable of playing defense on itself, coming into the game as a rare 4-2 squad that had given up more points in league play than it had scored.
And we couldn't help noticing the animation on the 'Sader bench, something that was completely missing two weeks ago when we paid a visit. They were on their feet, totally into it
. And nobody was more totally into it
than our favorite Holy Cross player since gentle giant Neil Fingleton
, 6-5 junior guard and tragic hero Lawrence Dixon
. It's those things that make you go "hmmmm." Free the Yale Precision Marching Band!
We pulled an old-fashioned tripleheader on Saturday, and our final game was another chance to see our new Ivy favorites Cornell. Yale was there, too... at least I think they showed up.
They were wearing their blue roadies, they blended into the background.
After the game, the YPMB (file photo, right) -- never a group to be too dismayed by another Bulldog loss -- took up the tradition of forming a big "Y" in the stands and dancing all coo-coo nutty to a Hawaii Five-O
inspired drumline stomp. It only lasted a minute, as a security guard who bore a frightening resemblance to Jerry Stiller
started yelling at the band members to stop playing and remove themselves from the Lee Amphitheater.
The band dutifully packed up, but a few of the drummers idly punched at their skins on their way out of the arena. It was then that Mr. Costanza flipped out in a big way.
"Get the hell out of here!" he screamed, drowning out the rat-tat-tat of the rebel drums. "Didn't you hear what I said the first time? Get the hell out of here!
In the hallways, a few of the band members told me that he had been mumbling something about getting the place ready for a gymnastics meet. "That guy must have been drunk," said one young woman. "Either that, or he really likes gymnastics."
Beaten but defiant, and much like another of our favorite academics-first bands at UC Davis
, the YPMB spilled out on the sidewalk and performed a free concert for the people of New Haven. We don't know how that gymnastics meet went, but I absolutely hope that anybody and everybody who attended was made aware that the venue was prepared in a completely drum-free atmosphere. Conference leaders!
In the great tradition of Monday Boubacars, let's honor our other fine league toppers.
Oral Roberts, Badlands kings at 10-0! Jacksonville, 8-1 in the Atlantic Sun with a three-game win streak. VCU and Mason are separated by a game in the CAA, but William & Mary remains in the mix, tied with Mason for second after a win over UNCW
. Or then there's Portland State, winners of four straight (including a nice 11-point win
on Saturday versus Montana State) and half-game leaders of the Big Sky? Lamar is atop the Southland at 5-1, and oh by the way, TMM darlings Sam Houston State lost again
. We noticed.
Western Kentucky and South Alabama both won over the weekend to maintain 10-1 records heading into BracketBusters selection day. Oh, I forgot... the Sun Belt's not participating. Davidson, which will be there, can't be stopped in the SoCon, running their pwerfect record to 11-0 after completing a sweep of Chattanooga
. Sacred Heart lords over the NEC with a 10-2 record, and Austin Peay is a game up on Murray State in the OVC. Way out west, Utah State leads the one-bid Western Athletic Conference, and the intact Aggies (6-1) made a strong statement by beating resurgent Nevada by 14 at home
Butler is still two games ahead of the field in the Horizon, heading into the matchup with the league's only other RPI Top 100 team, Valparaiso, on Tuesday (see you there!). Cornell, who we gushed about on Saturday, is 4-0 in the Ivy and on a six-game tear. Hampton and Morgan State lead the MEAC at 7-1 each, and Alabama State is a game and a half ahead of the SWAC pack, also at 7-1.
And lest we forget...How 'Bout™
Drake? No, seriously, How 'Bout™
this team? The ultimate mid-major broken record, the Bulldogs have won 18 in a row and secured their first 20-win season since 1971... on Groundhog Day. Adam Emmenecker
, the greatest walk-on since "Rudy," played all 40 minutes of an 80-77
road romp at Indiana State. Consider this: Drake is running the table on the No. 8 conference in the RPI. No computer ranking is too good for this team right now, and if Drake isn't in the top 10 in your coach's poll, your poll needs to be fixed, it's broken.
And How 'Bout™
Jason Thompson and Rider? The Broncs moved closer to a MAAC regular-season title on Saturday with a resounding 89-75
win at Siena to move into a one-team tie at the top of the conference at 10-2. Their 6-11 senior star moved closer to NBA first-round draft pick status with a 23 point, 21 rebound performance before a national audience on ESPN2. The man is averaging 20 points a game, 11.4 boards per game, is shooting 55.2 percent and has achieved 14 double-doubles. Jason Thompson is good at playing basketball.
Oh, and How 'Bout™
Cal State Fullerton? In all the Northridge mania, few noticed 20.8 ppg scorer and former MMBOW Josh Akognon
and the Titans, sneaking up on the leaders. At Matador Gym on Saturday, despite an off-night from Akognon, CSF (7-1) defeated CSN (7-2) by eight
to move within a half-game. Though the Titans may nip the Matadors in the coming weeks, it'll be Northridge that gets the televised BracketBuster.
Also, How 'Bout™
UNC-Asheville? Yet another bunch of league-undefeated Bulldogs, they're 7-0 and two games clear in the Big South after a 71-56 whipping
of league champs Winthrop, which had been rolling previous to their trip to the mountains. K.J. Garland
, a 6-1 senior, shot 9-for-11 for 26 points to keep the seven-game win streak going. We have a very special treat in re: this game later today, and it involves Bally
. Keep your RSS readers on lock for that.How 'Bout™
Central Connecticut State? The Blue Devils blew past formerly NEC first-place Wagner at home, 89-63
in a game that saw CCSU senior guard Tristan Blackwood
nail his 301st career 3-pointer, tops in the history of a league that's had its share of shooters. Wagner is 8-2, and the Devs are 6-5 despite being one of the youngest teams in the country
after last year's senior-laden crew made the NCAA's. The starting lineup is basically Blackwood and four freshmen.
And How 'Bout™
Kent State? Lost on Saturday afternoon when Toledo nipped them at home, 59-56
. Now the Golden Flashes are 4-2 in the MAC East, tied up again with cross-city rivals Akron. But as you'll find out later today, the loss won't hurt Kent that much.
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