February 21, 2008 10:49 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
JACKSONVILLE -- Lots and lots to get to today with a full slate of red-hot mid-major action, but first I wanted to pimp n' plug tomorrow's Gigantic BracketBusters Marathon Chat on ESPN.com. There are always hundreds of people who don't get their questions attended to during the regular Wednesday deals, so here's your chance! We'll be starting at noon Eastern and going until about 5 p.m., and you can submit your questions early. More, more, more questions!
"Marathon" is just such an overused term, the season is that and not a sprint and all, and people always forget to mention . It's also generally a depressing word around here. I've run five of the 26.2 kind in recent years but came into the 2007-08 season in bad physical shape... and I'll end it in even worse shape, thanks to the toll of the road and the constant driving and sitting down this job requires. So what better way to celebrate that than five straight hours of sitting and typing! That's a total calorie burn of about 27.
And whenever an ESPN.com chat longer than two hours comes up, there's always talk of The Record, the one held by a certain Mr. Bill Simmons. SportsNation has specific rules about that, and they require thousands of questions an hour to be considered a valid run. I'm not going to pretend I have any chance in hell of even approaching that, the Cult of the Mid-Majority is about 1/100000th the size of his and I don't have the number of movie references at my disposal as he does. But we're going to see how we do tomorrow, and get as many questions in before they pull the plug. Join us!
Florida Atlantic. Last night, it was Boca Raton for a Sun Belt clash between Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University. It's a big football rivalry, we've been told, but we simply weren't prepared for the intensity that occurs when two teams share two-thirds of two names. Fifteen minutes before game time, the foyer of the Owls' home ("The Burrow!") was filled with screaming students, all wearing crimson-colored T-shirts to celebrate the first "red-out" we've encountered this season.
Then everybody spilled into the large arena, and the crowd suddenly seemed very small indeed. Fifteen hundred people look more impressive in a hallway than in a 5,000-seat arena, but the FAU student section did its best to fill the place with noise. They certainly did. The Owl faithful are loud, proud, red-shirted... and each screams loud enough for four regular people. And they have very real hatred for their Sun Belt brethren from down the road in Miami.
OlÃ©, olÃ©, olÃ©, olÃ©! the students sang. FIU... is really gay!
I'm telling you, I had no idea that anyone at a school in placid Boca Raton, Fla. (home of peaceful waters and gentle breezes) would be capable of such anger. The FAU student section would fit in very well in the cities of the northeast, and there's a suspicion that a few of the its members are ex-pats from the north. They certainly knew a lot of chants I'd only previously heard in places like Philly or New York.
De-fense! (Fuck 'em up!) De-fense! (Fuck 'em up!)
But the FAU student section, right on top of press row at halfcourt, reserved its greatest hatred for one of its own. During the first half, chants of Jay sucks! Jay sucks! rose up from the crowd, so I checked the FIU roster to see if they had a walk-on I didn't know about named Jay. None existed, and I wondered if this was a longstanding tradition, not unlike the "Potvin Sucks" chant that's been a staple of New York Ranger games for nearly three decades. Finally, I asked a young man in a "Jay Sucks" t-shirt exactly who they were serenading.
"Jay" is Jay Warman, the sports editor of the University Press, the student newspaper at FAU. He sat on press row, inches from the student section, the very picture of calm stoicism as the yelled and spat at him. It turns out that Warman had written a critique of the student section during a live-blog of a nonconference game against Longwood last week.
Here's the offending passage that inspired a run of t-shirts, digitally inscribed at the 15:35 minute mark of the first half of a game that ended 93-69 in favor of FAU.
The student section is right behind me. They give an oral onslaught of "Ref you suck!" chants and the like. There isn't too much originality from this bunch.
Fuck you, Jay! a fan yelled behind him at a similar juncture of the FIU game, spit flying from his mouth onto the press table. You fucking suck, Jay!
"I don't think a lot of them know why they hate me so much," the laid-back Warman told me afterwards in the media room. "It seems like a lot of them are just going along with it."
In the late stages of the game, a disappointing 72-66 loss that dropped the Owls to 6-9 in league play, the students wearing the red "Jay Sucks" t-shirts tore them off and threw them in a pile behind Warman's chair. Once the final buzzer sounded, a number of them ended up on the floor.
Fuck you, F-I-U! they chanted. Fuck you, F-I-U!
Never underestimate a Sun Belt rivalry.
Will Bush. We didn't want to get into the full details of the Marist-Fairfield brouhaha from earlier this week (we were too busy butchering the overview) before it was cleared up. There was a controversial end of regulation of a 87-85 Fairfield double overtime win on Monday. With 2.6 seconds left in the second half, Fairfield intercepted a long Marist inbound and called timeout... but it was the phantom Chris Webber timeout, as the Stags had none remaining.
But instead of a technical foul that would have put Marist on the line for the win, the ruled that Fairfield had stepped out of bounds first, although slow-motion replays showed that this was certainly not the case. The refs gave Marist the ball with 2.1 seconds left, after the timing devices went haywire. Marist was able to get off two shots, which both missed, forcing the first of what would be a pair of extra periods.
So the MAAC released a statement:
There was a problem with the timing devices throughout the evening. One of the problems might have been that the batteries to the officials' packs were not changed after the preceding women's game. The arena staff is continuing a check of the Precision Timing console and the clock system to insure that it is in working order for future contests.
As to the out of bounds call with 2.1 seconds left in regulation, the officials ruled that it was Marist ball, because the Fairfield player had gone out of bounds. After reviewing the tape of the game, it is clearly an error by the official who blew the whistle, and he maintained that he definitely saw the player out of bounds. The call is not correctable, and the only question the officials reviewed on the courtside monitor was how much time should be on the game clock.
As for the issue about the Fairfield player calling timeout as part of this sequence, a timeout must recognized by the officials. None of the officials on the game recognized the timeout in question.
It's been a tough week for Will Bush. Last Saturday, he was called out by Margaret McCaffery, wife of Siena coach Fran, who burst into the press conference after the Saints' game with Loyola. ("Will Bush is a horrendous official," she shouted then.) Two days later, he was part of the crew that embarrassed the conference on the MSG Network and required a press release. But hey, they can't all be Steve Welmer.
Jim Casciano. We haven't exactly had a lot of fun at New Jersey Tech's expense this year, but it's been a fascinating journey as the Highlanders have scaled the Cliff of History and stand on the brink of an 0-29 record, which would set a Division I record for losses in a season. There's another record that NJIT might achieve in 2008-09, which is consecutive overall losses. Sacramento State dropped 34 in a row from 1997-1999, and Saturday's game out at Utah Valley State will likely be number 33. (Note to school: schedule the Merchant Marines Academy on Nov. 6.)
But this Saturday will be the final game for the team's head coach, who announced yesterday that he'd be stepping down effective next week. It's been a hard year -- he took over a month off for fatigue-related symptoms, and was remarkably upbeat and positive in the face of the constant losses. When we talked to Casciano last season, he was brimming with confidence about the program's future, talking about possibly moving into the NEC or Patriot League someday. Now, he's moving on, and we wish him the absolute best. Hopefully he'll end up at a school with a budget.
Or, if you prefer the quick-hit approach over meaty grafs...
How 'Bout™ UMBC and American? Another great evening for Beltway mid-major hoops, as the leaders of the America East and Patriot League (respectively) maintained their hott streaks. The Retrievers are now 11-2 after winning at two-time defending A-East champion Albany by four, and they've built a seven-game win streak without the services of leading scorer Brian Hodges (he'll be back once he recovers from his bad ankle). American won its sixth straight by beating Army 49-40 at home; the Eagles are now 9-3, a game up on the league with two to go. Just a reminder: neither of these two teams has ever made the NCAA Tournament.
Or How 'Bout™ Portland State? The Vikings keep streaking towards the Big Sky title, winning their ninth straight with a nine-point W at the league's Rocky Mountain outpost, Northern Colorado. Fear the Big Sexy that is 6-11 senior Scott Morrison -- he had 19 points and nine rebounds in the win. This could be a record year for first-time NCAA teams, as Portland State has never Danced either.
And How 'Bout™ Wright State? Vaughn Duggins hit a jumper with 4.3 seconds left and the Raiders won their 10th straight, 59-58 over Detroit, to stay within striking distance of Butler (which won at UIC) in the Horizon League. The action in the Nutter Center this year is bound to drive fans nuts -- during the streak, WSU has won four of its last nine league games by one point.
Finally, How 'Bout™ Richmond? They're in a three-way tie for second in the Atlantic 14 (with Philly boyz SJU and Temple) after dropping Charlotte 79-76. An RPI with three digits, more points allowed than scored in conference play (68.9 to 68.3), and they're in second place in a league likely to earn three NCAA bids. So when do the Spiders start getting love in the at-large discussion?!
Note: Travel and marathon chat will necessitate an abbreviated posting schedule on Friday. Like we did a couple weeks ago, we'll be Boubacaring on Saturday morning. So....
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