The Other 26: Week 12Posted by IRenko on February 18th, 2012
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
The mid-major hoops feast that is Bracketbuster weekend has arrived. It kicked off Friday night with VCU defeating Northern Iowa and Loyola Marymount following up their upset of St. Mary’s with a win over Horizon League leader Valparaiso. We previewed all of the televised Bracketbuster matchups when they were released, so we won’t rehash all the here. But we do regret that that the two biggest games on the schedule — Murray State v. St. Mary’s and Creighton v. Long Beach State — have lost a bit of their luster. The Racers saw their undefeated run end in less-than-gallant fashion, with a loss at home to Tennessee State, while the Gaels have dropped 2 of their last 3 games by a combined 29 points. Meanwhile, Creighton’s recent three-game skid, punctuated by a huge loss to Wichita State, has taken some of the sheen off of their otherwise stellar season. Still, these are all teams likely headed for the Big Dance, and today’s big games will give them a chance to re-ignite their season and build some momentum as they head towards March.
After the updated top 15, we recap five big games from the week that was, including a dramatic buzzer-beater. We also take a look at four tumultuous conference races and the two big non-Bracketbuster games to keep an eye on this week.
- George Mason 62, VCU 61 — This was a big game between two of the CAA’s three conference co-leaders, and it didn’t disappoint. Sherrod Wright won the game on a dramatic three-point buzzer beater. (See it for yourself, many times over, below.) The broader keys to Mason’s win were the two things that have sustained them all year — defense and forward Ryan Pearson. The Patriots held VCU to under 40% FG shooting, and Pearson led the team with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
- Loyola Marymount 75, St. Mary’s 60 — Down 35-34 early in the second half, LMU went on a 13-2 run and never looked back, stunning the first-place Gaels with a 15-point defeat on their home floor. How did LMU pull off the upset? First, they managed to get to the line 27 times against a team that doesn’t usually give their opponent that many free throw attempts. Second, they contained St. Mary’s starting backcourt, holding Matthew Dellavedova, Jorden Page, and Stephen Holt to a combined 5-19 shooting, including a miserable 0-9 from three-point range.
- Wichita St 89, Creighton 68 — The Shockers pulled away late in the first half, and the game was never close after that. The Shockers held Doug McDermott, one of the most prolific scorers in the country, to 13 points on 14 shots. And they held Creighton, the best 3-point shooting team in the country, to just 21.7% from behind the arc. But defense wasn’t the only reason the Shockers won. Their offense clicked to the tune of 58% FG shooting, led by 24 points from Joe Ragland. Ben Smith, who grabbed a starting role mid-season, added 22.
- Temple 85, Xavier 72 — It’s been a volatile season at the top of the A-10 standings, but this win over Xavier solidified Temple’s place as the conference’s best team. Ramone Moore, perhaps one of the most underrated players in the country, scored 30 points, capping a five-game streak of 20 or more. During those five games, the senior guard shot 19-34 from three-point land. Center Micheal Eric pulled down 16 rebounds to help the Owls dominate Xavier on the glass. His output on the boards underscored just how important the senior’s return after a long injury layoff has been to this team. Indeed, Temple hasn’t lost since since Eric came back on January 21.
- Princeton 70, Harvard 62 — The Tigers just seem to have Harvard’s number. The Crimson have relied all season on tough, tight defensive play, but they were easily picked apart by Princeton. Their post defense was especially poor, as they consistently allowed Princeton to get good position and struggled to defend without much help defense. On the other end, although Harvard’s offense was effective inside, they had a rough shooting night, going 5-18 from three-point range.
Four conference races are confounding expectations and predictability as they head into the home stretch (conference records in parentheses).
- Mountain West – After losing to San Diego State and UNLV in two of its first three conference games of the year, New Mexico looked like it might end up the odd team out in this year’s three-way race for the championship. But after a wild couple weeks out west, the Lobos suddenly find themselves in first place. Two weeks ago, New Mexico was a game behind both the Aztecs and Running Rebels in the loss column. Then UNLV suffered an upset loss to Wyoming, dropping it into a tie with New Mexico for second. Last Saturday, UNLV beat SDSU to put all three teams into a three-way tie for first. On Tuesday, UNLV (6-3) took itself out of that three-way tie with a shocking loss to TCU. The next night, New Mexico (now 7-2) took advantage, scoring a big double-digit win over San Diego State (6-3) on the road. As a result, the team that was on the oustide looking in is suddenly on the inside looking out. But they may not have much time to enjoy the view, as they host UNLV Saturday night in a game that could force yet another three-way tie for the league lead.
- Horizon — While Cleveland State (now 10-5) had hardly dominated the league, they seemed like the team to beat for most of the season. But they suffered two losses in a row this week, losing to Butler at home and Milwaukee on the road. As a result, Valpo (12-4) has backed into the conference lead, after they suffered their own tough loss to Youngstown State, dropping an 18-point decision last weekend. Meanwhile, two teams who had disappointed expectations that they would compete for a conference title are suddenly back in the picture. Detroit and Butler are tied for third at 10-6. The former has won 7 of 8 and the latter 4 of 5. This sets up a great pair of back-to-back games next week, as Cleveland State takes on Detroit on Thursday, and Valpo and Butler close out their regular season against each other on Friday.
- MAAC — A roller coaster week for Loyola (MD) (12-4) set the MAAC conference race spinning like a top (pardon the mixed metaphor). The Greyhounds captured first place last Friday with a huge 87-81 win over Iona that capped a 7-game win streak But they handed first place right back to Iona (13-3) with two straight double-digit losses this past week. A 68-51 defeat to Fairfield at home just two days after beating Iona was followed by a 72-54 loss at Marist on Wednesday. As a result, the MAAC is now back where it had been for much of the season — with Iona alone at the top.
- MEAC – Norfolk State (10-3) had jumped out to an early lead in the MEAC with a 7-0 record, but they’ve since lost 4 of 7, capped by an overtime loss at home to Delaware State on Wednesday. As a result, Savannah State (9-2), who has won 10 of its last 11 games, has taken a slim lead for first place.
Looking Forward: All Eyes Turn West
Here are the non-Bracketbuster matchups to keep an eye on this week:
- UNLV at New Mexico (2/18) — The Lobos put their newfound status as the MWC’s top team on the line. Can they improve their ball security against UNLV’s up-tempo pressure defense? Can the Runnin Rebels figure out a way to contain New Mexico’s potent three-point attack?
- BYU at Gonzaga (2/23) — Now tied with St. Mary’s in the loss column, this is a crucial game for the Zags, who will be looking to avenge a 10-point loss at BYU last month. The Cougars, meanwhile, are trying to at least hold off Loyola Marymount for third place, while at the same time strengthening their at-large resume.