February 15, 2008 10:31 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Admittedly a little nervous this morning, we were thinking of just shutting the site down and ending with this, because there's never going to be a better post here than that one.
So how do we follow up the most sublime moment in Mid-Majority history? Photoshop-manipulated pictures of a stuffed basketball talking to a bobblehead. Typical, just typical.
Last Friday, as part of our season-long string of contests in which the grand prize is a real-life replica of our site mascot, we asked you to submit a LOLBally for consideration. Seventy-six of you did just that, and after a celebrity panel of judges weighed in and debated over five finalists, we have a winner. Bob C. from Massachusetts, step up and claim your Bally for this here masterpiece:
Wagner. Watching last night's G!O!T!N! on the New York-area MSG Network, I kept wondering how anybody just tuning in for their first NEC game could resist becoming a fan of the league right then and there. It had it all -- two solid teams in a packed building, lots of scoring, up-and-down end-to-end action, and oh yes -- double overtime. Last night's battle of first and second place teams went to previous No. 2 Wagner (11-2), which passed Sacred Heart (11-3) in the standings by a half-game with a 100-92 thriller in 2OT.
For all of you tracking the tightest and most exciting Northeast Conference race in years, the win gave Wagner a season sweep of SHU, which means everything in a league where one-seed status means home-court advantage throughout a campus-site tournament. It's not that simple, though, since there's a certain other 11-2 NEC team out there, one that won't play Wagner until a one-off on Feb. 23. I'm talking about...
Robert Morris. Holding down the west side of the NEC, it's the Colonials from the Pittsburgh area. RMU has won eight games in a row and has earned 20 wins for the first time in 18 seasons, and with a 80-74 win at Central Connecticut State last night, owns that equal share of first place with Wagner. But that's only half the story.
You might remember senior RMU guard Tony Lee's name mentioned in connection with last month's 57-51 upset at his hometown school, Boston College. By all accounts, he was the most dynamic player on the court that day. We were impressed ourselves when we saw him come within a rebound of a triple-double in this win at Youngstown State.
But in the past week, he's been playing at a level beyond anybody in the Northeast Conference. He broke through to the trip-dub level (13 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) against Long Island last Saturday, and repeated the feat last night against CCSU: 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Our friends over at Colonials Corner note that no RMU player had triple-doubled for 29 years before Lee. There's a lot going on in Moon Township, Pa. that hasn't happened for a while.
Belmont. Remember that first week of the season, when the Atlantic Sun was toppling giants? Gardner-Webb over Kentucky, Mercer over USC. Belmont over Cincinnati just wasn't as sexy at the time, but the two-time defending champion Bruins are showing now why they're still the best team in the league, leading the A-Sun at 10-4. Nine wins in 10 games, including last night's impressive 87-75 win at East Tennessee State, the site of Belmont's twin coronations. ETSU was last year's regular season champs, and you might remember the 94-67 Bruin throttling that sent the Bucs to the NIT.
One of the great challenges of coaching at this level is the inconsistency of talent available -- it's tough to maintain a well-rounded team, especially when talented bigs are more likely to aim for a higher league. But Rick Byrd has done a marvelous job winning with the personnel on hand. The 2005-06 team was an offensive powerhouse, one of the best shooting teams in the land; it got its soft D torn up in an NCAA loss to UCLA. Last year's squad, with two senior bigs, could defend and rebound with anybody. The 2007-08 version is an uptempo scoring machine that shares the ball remarkably well, and there's only one senior, 15.4 ppg scorer and longtime star Justin Hare. With four productive juniors, this year won't be the end of the line.
And before the weekend descends on Hoops Nation...
How 'Bout™ Middle Tennessee State? The Blue Raiders were a complete mess when we saw them go 1-2 in their own tournament in November, and as recently as Jan. 24, a 7-11 (4-4) season looked like one destined for the scrapheap of history. But something's happened since then -- MTSU has won five of six, and have begun shooting lights out. Only once in that stretch of a half-dozen games has this team shot below 50 percent, and 6-7 sophomore Desmond Yates has grown into a scoring threat that could be heard from a lot more in these next two-plus Sun Belt seasons. Last night, Middle threw the Belt East race into a tizzy with a 76-70 win over South Alabama, dropping Team USA to 12-2 and a half-game behind Western Kentucky. (The win also put a huge dent in the league's two-bid hops, but that's life.)
And How 'Bout™ Boise State? Something about the Broncos just makes Nevada look bad, and that something is superior frontcourt play. In two games this season, BSU has really taken it to the four-time NCAA participants from the Wickity WAC -- last night's 77-68 win completed a season sweep of the team with the highest RPI in the league (69), and kept Boise in a 9-3 tie for second with New Mexico State (which has won four in a row, including this 22-point road sandblasting of LaTech). Utah State is still technically in first place with an 8-2 record.
Or How 'Bout™ Portland State? With an 81-56 win over Idaho State and seven straight victories, the Vikings are two games clear of the Big Sky pack at 9-2 (16-8 overall), which is important because the league champion gets to host the tourney's final rounds. PSU certainly looks like the class of the conference -- those two league losses were by a combined six points, and there are nonconference wins over IUPUI, Akron and Utah Valley State, teams we talk about quite a bit here. If you want to take some early March notes, they have one of mid-majordom's best Muggsy-Yao combos in 5-6 Jeremiah Dominguez and 6-11 Scott Morrison. Both score in double figures.
Finally, How 'Bout™ that double-overtime Drexel-Old Dominion game? Definitely one of the more topsy-turvy CAA games of the year so far, and a reminder of those Dragon-Monarch battles when both were fighting for league supremacy. Big, fast Gerald Lee and ODU had the game well in hand late until a 16-1 Drexel run forced OT, but DU ended up losing the taller part of rotation to fouls. ODU 75, Drexel 71. A lot of empty seats in the Constant Center, but that was probably because all the students were out McLovin'.
Our thoughts are with our friends at Northern Illinois today, after the latest intrusion of ugliness to strike an American college. We're not big on ribbons and gestures of symbolic sympathy, we just hope that the students, faculty and staff at NIU can feel safe and free again on campus, as soon as possible. A college serves as a home to thousands of people, and a school shooting is just as unthinkable, shocking and devastating as a home invasion. Stay strong.
|Hickory Picket Fences||27629|
|The Hopping Cats||21526|
|Under a Blood Red Line||10379|
|Jen Folds Five||6895|