HAMDEN, Conn. -- We have been, and we stand, accused. Accused! Of having too much fun around here, of shifting the focus off basketball and running too many contests, pictures of pretty girls, cartoons and snapshots of pet basketballs. So we're going to put on our super-serious faces, talk in our super-low "business" voices, and get through this jam-packed Monday Boubacar without telling any jokes. At least we'll try to. That Saint Joseph's-Xavier game yesterday.
Back and forth they went trading the lead, in exciting deliberately-paced action that should have been seen by more people around the country. When the dust settled, the X had survived 76-72
in the battle of the two best teams in the A-14. Xavier maintained its clear first-place standing at 8-1, a full two games clear of the pack. The visiting Hawks won the turnover and rebounding battles, but the Musketeers shot 57 percent against the normally solid SJU defense. The Joes (6-3) have now lost two in a row, and are tied in the loss column with three other teams. Rhode Island pulled out a come-from-behind 65-63 nailbiter at Fordham
in the Ram Jam, and kudos to URI for overcoming sloppy ballhandling with a ton of rebounds (41).
There's a glimmer of clarity now in the conference, however slight -- nine teams above .500 have been winnowed to seven. However, there are four at 4-5 just waiting to make a run. If you're rooting for a lot of bids, hope that the logjam of three-loss squads (SJU, URI, Charlotte and Temple) starts splitting and splintering. If you're with us, hoping for a February full of meaningful games to talk about heading into Atlantic City next month, continue to exclaim "hooray for attrition!" Pacific.
Just like that, the Tigers have a share of first place in the Big West, just two weeks after a Big Monday collapse at home against Cal Poly. Winners of three in a row, including Saturday's 15-point win over Long Beach State
, The University Of The is 8-2 in the league, tied with Cal State
Northridge, and have won more overall games than any BWC team (17).
Do you like shooting? Then you'll love junior guard Steffan Johnson
, averaging 15.3 ppg on 48.5 percent shooting. The team as a whole is averaging 49.1 percent, eighth in the country, the kind of great conversion rates the school was enjoying during its recent championship/Round of 32 days. Streaking conference leaders!
Mondays gives us a chance to congratulate all those teams in position for one-seeds, and a whole lot of them are really putting on some solid runs to differentiate themselves from their respective packs.
Like UMBC in the America East, which is starting to really take control of the league with a five-game win streak. The Retrievers are 9-2 and could be close to a true No. 16 seed (as opposed to the a or b sub-seed that a Dayton play-in visit would provide) should they win out. Another team on a five-game streak is Belmont, the two-time champions of the Atlantic Sun and current leaders; after a sweep of the northern Florida teams at home, the Bruins are 9-2 heading into a Valentine's Day hatefest at 8-3 East Tennessee State. After Jacksonville's lost weekend up in Nashville, the 8-3 Dolphins are also a game back after leading the conference for about a month.
Butler is on a five-game streak too! The Bulldogs are 21-2 overall, 10-2 in the Horizon, are getting all the national love they want, and are in the middle of their Wisconsin trip (they beat Green Bay the other day
). Let's not forget 8-2 Portland State, a game up in the Big Sky -- the Vikings have won six straight. Cornell swept its P&P home weekend to assert its Big Red will on the Ivy League, are 6-0 with eight games to go, and have won eight in a row. In the OVC, Austin Peay (13-3) is on a four-game run. Lamar has won six straight to lead the Southland East, and the Southland West is led by Stephen F. Austin, which has won four in a row. If the Lumberjacks keep this up, the school might soon be changing the middle initial to "W."
Davidson -- you know them -- are 15-0 in the SoCon after destroying 2007 title game combatant Charleston 81-56
over the weekend. That's 13 straight for them. Oral Roberts is 12-0 in the grand olde Badlands Conference and are on a 10-game streak. Saturday's the Golden Eagles' big return tilt at IUPUI, and the Golden Jaguars have won six in a row since their last meeting. Just for the sake mentioning them, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies are in third place at 8-5 in the league that's gold, Jerryck
, pure gold.
Sacred Heart has won eight in a row in the NEC to maintain its first place standing at 11-2. But what's this? Robert Morris (10-2) is rolling too, winners of seven straight and just a half-game back! Too bad they'll have to wait until Feb. 28, the second-to-last-tilt in the season (SHU won the first meeting 82-68
, about a month ago). American (14-10, 6-3), for its part, has won three in a row to climb atop the Patriot League after two straight drops by former leaders Lafayette. The Eagles have never (never!) achieved the NCAA Tournament. Other conference leaders!
Not everybody is on a world-beating win streak, but that's okay. VCU is cruising along at 11-2 in the CAA, two games up on George Mason after the Patriots lost at Old Dominion 72-64
on Saturday. Rebounds are so overrated... the Rams were outboarded by 14 in their 10-point win at Delaware
but only coughed the ball up six times. That Mason loss on ESPN2 two weeks back might have been more of a hiccup than handover for the league champs... it was the only blemish in the Rams' last 11 games.
Win streaks are hard to come by in the rough-and-tumble MAC, where every West team is currently on some kind of losing run. Kent State leads the East side with an 8-2 record after an 82-67
ripping of Northern Illinois. The Golden Flashes could clinch their 10th straight 20-win season on Tuesday at Central Michigan.
Saint Mary's kept pace in the WCC with Gonzaga at 7-1, winning its 20th overall on Friday by way of a 25-point pounding
of [name redacted]. Utah State has played two fewer games than most WAC teams, but with an 8-1 record the Aggies are tops in the Wickity, headed into a Monday night showdown-throwdown with the 7-3 Wolf Pack of Nev-ada (read that last part aloud, it'll make you wish it was on TV). While on the subject, congratulations to LaTech, winners of its first conference game over the weekend, topping equally hapless Idaho by eight
Rider and Siena are locked in a MAAC death-battle at the top with identical 11-3 records, this after
Sunday's thrill-a-second 80-77 Siena win
in Larryville. After a rough stretch in early February, the Saints are beginning to roll, winning three in a row and somehow overcoming Jason Thompson's
massive 26-point, 24-rebound performance. Alex Franklin's
20 and 12 was just enough.
Another back-and-forth race is that Sun Belt East scrap between Western Kentucky (11-1, W9) and South Alabama (12-1, W3). Team USA was the last to stumble (that game at North Texas we were at), and we're slowly getting closer to the return matchup to that 65-61
thriller that USA won at home. Mark that calendar: Feb. 21 at Western.
Also from your weekend of hoopz...How 'Bout™
Drake? This is a recording. Drake is 13-0 in the Valley with five games remaining, and 22-1 overall. That's twenty-one wins in a row for the miracle Bulldogs from Des Moines, thanks to a fairly easygoing eight-point win over Evansville
to complete a season sweep of the Purple Aces. Now comes a big week for Drake: games at Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa, two struggling squads that still play great defense, especially in front of their rabid home fans. If this team is undefeated in the Valley this time next week, we might have a MVC team for the ages.
And How 'Bout™
Liberty? Purveyors of the junk defenses, the Flames tore up previously league-undefeated Big South leaders UNC-Asheville (7-1) at home on Saturday by a 83-54 count
by pulling out of a late first-half tie, shooting 57 percent and manhandling the Bulldogs on the boards, 35-27. No, Kenny George didn't play, much to the dismay of a regional television audience on MASN.
Speaking of the Big South, How 'Bout™
defending champions and "mid-major household name" Winthrop? The Eagles are 6-3 and within striking distance of UNCA now, having avenged their conference-opening loss to High Point 62-54
on Saturday (that court-storming game, you might remember). Now, Winthrop will go see what they can do at Liberty.
Also, How 'Bout™
Eastern Kentucky? Represented the OVC at the Big Dance last season, and buried itself early on in 2007-08 conference play with four losses in a row. But the Colonels ain't chicken, they've won five straight to climb up to 10-5. Jeff Neubauer's West Virginia-style offense (or is that Michigan-style now?) is starting to click again, and they're one of the more gentlemanly squads around, fouling only 15.6 times a game. Watch out for this team in March... you know, like last year.
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