DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- We're all just getting over the thrills of BracketBuster weekend, but there's plenty to get to as the regular season winds down to its electrifying conclusion. Just 19 days until Selection Sunday... Saint Mary's.
In last night's G!O!T!N!, the Gaels proved that yes, they can win a slow-paced game. As in the previous meeting with San Diego, the Toreros made sure that the contest unfolded at a methodical and grimy pace. And as in this weekend's BracketBusters loss to Kent State, SMC's primary under-the-basket threat Diamon Simpson
was called on to play a huge role. The 6-7 junior came through, with 15 points and 11 rebounds. It was his third straight double-double and 12th of the year.
But if Patty Mills' offensive game against Kent State was stifled, last night's was wet-blanketed. The Australian freshman phenom followed up a five-point performance with a two-point one, as he battled fouls and irrelevance all night. He only took three shots, made just one, and though he had five dimes, his assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.2-to-1 now ranks fifth on the team. And he's the starting point guard! All I'm saying is that asking him to save the team's fortunes this early in his career might be a bad idea. Gonzaga looms again this Saturday. Conference Leaders!
We didn't get to do this yesterday with all the BracketBusters excitement, but we haven't forgot that there are league races going on.
As Drake (MVC) and Davidson (SoCon) already have their titles, streakers first. UMBC (20-7, 12-2) has won eight straight to clinch their first-ever regular-season title in the America East, which means that they'll get the winner of the league's 8-9 game (likely Maine or Stony Brook) two weeks from now. American is 9-3 and on a six-game streak in its own quest for its first-ever Dance ticket out of the Patriot League, and will travel to similarly streaky Navy (8-4, W5) tomorrow night. The Midshipmen beat American earlier, and would have a clear tiebreaker with a win.
Belmont (20-8, 12-2) is still rolling in the Atlantic Sun with an eight-spot, but the Bruins still have to fight off Jacksonville, one game behind. Belmont holds the tiebreaker in that one. As mentioned briefly yesterday, Cornell rules the Ivy at 10-0, with 12 consecutive wins overall, and Robert Morris lords over the NEC at 14-2.
That MAAC race is taking a break until the weekend, but Niagara, Rider, Siena (featuring Alex Franklin, pictured right) and Loyola are all 11-5 coming off big BracketBuster wins. The similarly-titled MAC is led by the 23-5 Kent State Golden Flashes, vanquishers of Saint Mary's, and they've won six straight. At 11-2, KSU holds one-seed position but could still be theoretically caught by 9-3 Western Michigan, the West leaders. Most teams in the league have three games to go.
Big South leaders Winthrop were dropped at home by Davidson on Friday in Bustin' nonconference action, but the Eagles are still 9-3 with a Saturday battle with second-place UNC Asheville coming up. Portland State lost its BracketBuster to Cal State Fullerton, and most bracket predictions have the Big Sky champion commanding no more than a 15 seed, but with an 11-2 mark the Vikings look good for their first-ever trip to the Dance. Speaking of Fullerton, the Titans are a half-game back of Cal State Northridge in the Big West. Those two teams battle it out at Titan Gym on Thursday.
VCU still holds the hammer in the Colonial, 13-3 and two games up on George Mason and UNC Wilmington. the Rams will win their second consecutive regular-season title by winning one of their final two games. The Wright State-Butler battle on Thursday is gigantic, with homestanding Butler (14-2) up by a pair of games with two to go. A Bulldog win there would clinch the Horizon League one-seed and home-court advantage, which proved crucial last season in the HL title split.
Austin Peay is rolling along in the OVC at 14-4, two ahead of its only true title competition from Murray State -- a Peay win or a Murray loss will clinch the one-seed for the Govs. Lamar (11-1) and Stephen F. Austin (10-2) are divisional leaders in the Southland, SFA has the one-seed tiebreaker should it come to that. Alabama State has won 10 of 12 in the SWAC, and put a 21-point
Alabama Ass-Whuppin' on Southern last night. With four games left, the Hornets are two games ahead of the SWAC pack.
Out west, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's still have that 11-1 tie with that Saturday showdown in Spokane coming, and last night's loss put San Diego two games back at 9-3. Boise State may have lost their BracketBuster at home to Siena, but they're still a half-game up on New Mexico State (a team that's beat the Broncos twice) in the Wickity WAC. Four games to go there before NMSU gets to enjoy home-court advantage in the tourney. Bradley.
New Mexico State has had its share of off-court "distractions" and suspensions, but Bradley is catching up in a hurry. After an underage drinking incident
involving Theron Wilson
and Tyrone Cole-Scott
in January, head coach Jim Les kept them on the roster for the following game. Now starting guard Daniel Ruffin
spent BracketBusters weekend in jail on a battery charge
Head coaches are players' surrogate fathers while on campus -- when coaches talk with parents during the recruiting process, it's on the coach to provide a compelling case that their child is entering an program where right and wrong are clearly delineated, an atmosphere in which the basketball-for-college degree transaction can occur in an atmosphere free of legal activity. If the administration doesn't fire Jim Les after this season is complete, Bradley will have devolved from Sweet 16 to complete joke in two short seasons. New Jersey Tech.
Finally, mercifully, it's over, and that's cause for an up-arrow celebration. We've been following along since Dec. 14
, and the Highlanders did it. They completed their 0-29 campaign with a 76-50 loss at Utah Valley State
, and now stand alone among the great losers in Division I history.
NJIT finished 0-12 at home, 0-15 on the road, and 0-2 in neutral court situations, and gave up a soul-crushing 82 points per game on the road. As head coach Jim Casciano announced his resignation before the final game, the coaching search begins now. And yes, Bobby Knight is still on the board.
And we don't want to forget...How 'Bout™
Morgan State? The two best teams in the MEAC went at it last night, and an 18-and-15 performance by our segment's namesake
helped lead the Bears (18-9, 13-2) to a 66-62 win
and a season sweep of Hampton.
Or How 'Bout™
South Alabama and Western Kentucky? After last Thursday's classic showdown, won by Team USA, both 14-2 Sun Belt East teams won their followup games. Western Kentucky (22-6, 14-2) took out its frustration on Louisiana-Monroe, 84-75
, as did star swing Courtney Lee
, who dropped in 26 to help maintain his healthy 21 ppg average. The Jaguars' victory doesn't count in the league standings, but they beat independent Presbyterian 64-49
last night for their 23rd overall win.
And How 'Bout™
Santa Clara? The 6-6 record in the WCC is a bit disappointing, the turnovers and rebounding are a lot disappointing, but this is one of the best-shooting teams in the country right now. A full 48.9 percent of the Broncos' shots fall, and that's because they get the ball in to not-so-gentle giant John Bryant
a lot. Listed at 6-10 and 305 (both conservative estimates), the Big Delicious is the WAC's leading rebounder at 9.8 rpg and leads his team with 18.6 ppg. Last night, he had his ninth double-double in 12 games in an 87-55 blowout
of [name redacted], scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 boards. Yum.
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