A Column of Enchantment: Madness is Here and it’s Enchanting

Posted by Joseph Nardone on March 12th, 2015

Did you guys notice that the insides of our skulls, otherwise known as our craniums, are acting weird? Don’t panic. This isn’t a new disease or anything. It has been going on for a bit over a week, seems to only come along during this part of the calendar year, and it inevitably results in people who had a lighter diagnosis of this same illness when the college basketball season was young now having a full-blown case of the Madness. Nevertheless, you are sick. You have the sickies. It is like a combination of SARS and a urinary tract infection. Luckily for you, though, there are cures. Multiple fixes of this gosh slam abomination of mild-altering yucks. All you need to do is watch the basketball on the picture-box or, for you hip kids, stream games on your laptop or mobile cellular and non-cellular devices. Man, it’s the future! Doc Brown would be so proud.

Are you ready?

Are You Ready?

However, some of you people are so far from help that there is no cure. You have spent your entire October until now just watching men hit other men because of a football or something and using any time that is not related to violence watching your relationship with your lover significantly crumble under the watchful eyes of Robert Kirkman. I mean, the new Walking Dead spin-off will certainly not help your marriage. Well, unless you and your loved one use it as a preparatory tool for the impending zombie invasion — and trust me, it is near.

Wait. Time out. Something about basketball and disease. Oh, yeah, that’s right. You’re going to die. Not like right now or anything, but pretty soon in the grand scheme of things. I don’t know how old you are because I lack the ability to see you through my laptop (or do I?). Let’s just say for the sake of round numbers you are 20. That means, unless tragedy strikes you early, you have a good 50 to 70 years left on this planet. That’s unless the FDA approves my patent pending drink called “drink,” which will allow you to live until you are 450 years old (we just started the testing on unicorns phase and I must say that they haven’t died yet). Dying is not fun. I don’t know from experience, but not a single dead person has come to me, tweeted at me or emailed me to tell me otherwise. I guess there is a small chance that being dead is so much fun that they are too busy giving Jesus H. Christ the business to be readily available for some hot takes on Twitter. Really, who knows. Not me. Certainly not you because you are not me. Only the dead people and their god(s) know. And you know what? F-them for not sharing the details. Read the rest of this entry »

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Conference Tourney Primers: Horizon League

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way – starting with tonight’s action.

Horizon League Tournament

Dates: March 3, 6, 7, 10

Site: First round is at campus sites; quarterfinals and semifinals are at Athletics Recreation Center (Valparaiso, IN); championship is at a campus site (seeded team hosts)

horizonleague

What to expect: Valparaiso came up big at Cleveland State last Friday, clinching the outright conference title and earning the right to play in its own gym. That’s good news for the Crusaders, which rolled to a 26-5 record and went undefeated at home in conference play. The bad news? There are several strong challengers – Green Bay, Cleveland State and Oakland – each good enough to make a run at Bryce Drew’s club, even on the road. The senior-laden Phoenix, led by Keifer Sykes, will be an especially tough out.

Favorite: Valparaiso. The Crusaders are an exceptional defensive unit, only once surrendering more than a point per possession at home during league play. They boast the 14th-best interior defense in college hoops, thanks largely to the presence of 6’10” center Vashil Fernandez – the conference’s best shot-blocker. And if Sykes is the Horizon League’s best overall player, then forward Alec Peters (16.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) can’t be far behind. Throw in home court advantage and you see why Valparaiso is the team to beat.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Pepperdine, Keifer Sykes, James Whitford & Miami (OH)…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 13th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Pepperdine. Entering last week, you know how many WCC teams had beaten BYU in the Marriott Center since it joined the conference in 2012? Four, and Pepperdine wasn’t one of them. In fact, the Waves had lost their previous three contests there by an average of 25 points per game. So when Marty Wilson’s team went to Provo and beat the Cougars in wire-to-wire fashion on Thursday night, yeah, it was kind of a big deal. The six-point win turned heads and garnered Pepperdine some positive national attention for the first time in a long while (the game was on ESPNU). And as for the Waves’ encore victory at San Diego on Saturday? That win may have propelled Wilson’s club into the upper echelon of the conference.

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Defense has been Pepperdine’s M.O. this season and it put that stinginess on full display against BYU. The Waves, which entered the contest tops in the country at taking away the three-point line, held the oft-scorching Cougars (15-of-28 threes in their previous game) to just 23 percent (6-of-26) from behind the arc. BYU’s high-scoring, hyper-efficient attack had trouble finding consistent offense all night long, ultimately winding up tied for its lowest point total of the season (61 points). “We talked about our discipline and our toughness and we showed that from the tip,” Wilson said afterwards. Yet, his best coaching move of the night had nothing to do with an instilled mindset or strong defensive principles. Instead, it was probably his decision to bring top scorer and rebounder Stacy Davis (15.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG) off the bench for the first time. The 6’6’’ junior responded with a 23-point, eight-rebound performance that included a couple big free throws to ice the game. “They got us a little bit out of rhythm and they got us to take tougher shots out of our sets,” BYU guard Anson Winder said after the game, summing it up perfectly. “They scored on the other end and it’s hard to beat a team when you can’t stop them from scoring.”

But Pepperdine wasn’t done. Despite having not won back-to-back WCC road games since 2007, the Waves promptly travelled to San Diego two days later, put forth another excellent defensive effort and beat the Toreros by 12. No San Diego player – not even Johnny Dee, the conference’s fourth-leading scorer – ended up with double figures, as Bill Grier’s crew mustered only 0.75 points per possession. In a matter of three days, the team that had been picked seventh in the preseason outdid the second and fifth-place picks in their own gymnasiums. Now at 4-1 in WCC play and cracking the top-100 in KenPom, Pepperdine appears to have staying power among the top half of the WCC.

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Revisiting the Wildly Upsetting Weekend: Yale, Green Bay, NJIT, USC Upstate & North Florida

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 8th, 2014

It looked like the upset of the weekend on Friday night: 3.5 seconds on the clock, Yale down two to Connecticut; junior guard Jack Montague slipped to the far corner in front of his own bench, caught the baseline inbounds-pass and drilled a game-winning three-pointer to knock off the defending champions in their own building. The loss was the Huskies’ first in 68 games against intrastate opponents, and the shot – complete with frenzied, ecstatic hugging and hands-on-head dejection – was something of an iconic early season moment: six-foot-nothing Ivy League guard with a Shakespearean last name hits clutch shot to upend a dynastic blue-blood program.

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Little did we know, the best was yet to come. From noon ET to a little after 4:00 PM ET on Saturday, four more substantial, O26-over-Power-Five upsets would take place, including one truly for the ages. Let’s revisit and lends some perspective to each of them.

Yale over Connecticut, 45-44 – KenPom win probability: 81.1% UConn; Spread: UConn (-8.5). Yale coach James Jones said afterwards: “I told the guys in the locker room, no matter how old they get, if they get Alzheimer’s or dementia, they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.” However hilarious and slightly morbid a thought, the 16th-year head man is right – the finish was spectacular, and the outcome awfully impressive considering that Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright played nearly the entire game. There had been a growing consensus that Yale could beat the Huskies if Boatright didn’t play – he injured his ankle against Texas and his status was questionable on Friday night – but when the point guard suited up (and was throwing down pre-game dunks beforehand), expectations for the Bulldogs were diminished. Still, Yale had already established itself as the second-best team in the Ivy League; a tough, well-balanced, top-100 KenPom unit capable of hanging with Tournament-caliber opponents. And it showed as much in taking it to the Huskies from opening tip, exploiting defensive lapses, outmuscling Connecticut on the glass (Yale collected an incredible 95.8 percent of its defensive rebound opportunities) and making smart decisions in the game’s waning moments. Big man Justin Sears led the charge with 12 points and 15 rebounds (eight offensive) and Montague sealed the deal in the memorable final seconds.

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2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

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Top of the O26 Class: Horizon League, MAC, MVC, Summit

Posted by Adam Stillman on October 24th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Midwestern region of the U.S: the Horizon, MAC, MVC, and Summit. Previous installments include the Northeast region leagues

TOP UNITS

Horizon League

  • Green Bay – 2013-14 record: 24-7 (14-2) – Green Bay had Cinderella written all over it last season. There was only one problem — the Phoenix were upset in the Horizon League Tournament and were instead relegated to the NIT. The good news? Reigning Horizon Player of the Year Keifer Sykes is back, as are four of the team’s top five scorers. The loss of 7-footer Alec Brown certainly hurts, but Green Bay could find itself in the Big Dance comes season’s end and make up for last year’s abrupt (and disappointing) end.
Keifer Sykes and the Green Bay Phoenix are poised to have a big 2014-15 season. (USAT)

Keifer Sykes and the Green Bay Phoenix are poised to have a big 2014-15 season. (USAT)

  • Cleveland State – 2013-14 record: 21-12 (12-4) – If anybody will challenge Green Bay for Horizon League supremacy, it will be Cleveland State. Losing leading scorer Bryn Forbes is a big blow, as he’s moved on to play at Michigan State for the remainder of his career. However, first team preseason selection Trey Lewis (13.1 PPG) is back, as is Anton Grady (10.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG). Watch out for Creighton transfer Andre Yates, who could end up as the best guard on the team.

MAC

  • Toledo2013-14 record: 27-7 (14-4) – Toledo reeled off 12 straight wins to start 2013 and won a school-record 27 games in all last season. The Rockets faded down the stretch, settling for a NIT berth, but it looks like 2014-15 will be Toledo’s time to shine. With six of their top seven scorers back, led by all-conference guard Julius “Juice” Brown, the Rockets look to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980.
  • Western Michigan – 2013-14 record: 23-10 (14-4) – The Broncos were a nice story last season, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade. Let’s forget that they were promptly blown out by Syracuse in the first round. WMU will miss the contributions of do-everything big man Shayne Whittington (16.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG), but star guard David Brown headlines five of the top six returning scorers.

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The RTC Other 26 Superlatives

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 14th, 2014

From the quiet of November to the clamor of March, several O26 performers and performances stood out from the pack in the regular season. Let’s pass out some awards to the most deserving among them.

O26 Team of the Year

Wichita State's run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken)

Wichita State’s run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken/USA TODAY Sports)

Wichita State (31-0, 18-0). When the Shockers rolled through their non-conference schedule and entered league play 13-0, people began to talk. Could this team be better than the Final Four squad from a year ago? Then, as they hammered their Missouri Valley challengers game after game, week after week, month after month, an even more profound question began to emerge: Does this team have a legitimate chance to go undefeated? National media attention descended on Wichita, the pressure mounted (or was supposed to) and every time Gregg Marshall’s group took the floor, something historic – but still unlikely – was on the line. Yet it was only when they completed the impossible, finished 31-0 and promptly dominated Arch Madness that an even weightier thought took hold. Will Wichita State go down as one of the best teams of all-time? The mere asking of the question is indication alone that these Shockers are truly special. Only team to win 30-plus games in the regular season without suffering a loss. Most ever wins entering the NCAA Tournament. First team since UNLV in 1990-1991 to enter the Dance undefeated. Regardless of whether or not they wind up in North Texas in a few weeks, those records are enduring, this team’s legacy will be enduring.

Honorable Mentions: San Diego State (27-3, 17-2), Saint Louis (26-5, 13-3), Stephen F. Austin (29-2, 18-0), VCU (24-7, 12-4), Green Bay (24-5, 14-2)
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Conference Tournament Primer: Horizon League

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2014

Championship Fortnight is under way, and what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments as they get started. Today, the Horizon League and Atlantic Sun tip things off.

Dates: March 4, 7, 8, 11
Site: First Round: Campus sites; Quarterfinals and Semifinals: Resch Center (Green Bay, WI); Championship: Campus site (higher-seeded team hosts)

Horizon

What to expect: Green Bay was far and away the best team in the regular season, amassing a 24-5 overall record and notching a high-profile non-conference victory over ACC regular season champion Virginia. Led by 7’1’’ center Alec Brown — an NBA prospect with an outside shot — and high-flying point guard Keifer Sykes, the Phoenix should take care of business on their home floor. Brian Wardle’s bunch has been playing some of its best basketball of the season since losing to Milwaukee in early February, securing four its final five wins on the road and dominating opponents by more than 15 points per contest. Still, watch out for Cleveland State and its lights-out three-point shooting — fourth-best in the country at 40.8 percent — as well as defending champion Valparaiso; the Crusaders took down Green Bay earlier in the year. The top seed stumbling at home is not unprecedented for this tournament, but seems unlikely this time around.

Favorite: Green Bay. The team is confident, talented and playing at home. Put simply, anything short of a championship would be hugely disappointing for the Phoenix.

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Among Possible Cinderellas, Green Bay’s Ceiling Higher Than Most

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 1st, 2014

Oakland’s Greg Kampe screamed and scolded and tried everything he could to stop Green Bay’s second half surge on Thursday night, but it was ultimately futile—the Phoenix was just too talented, too relentless, too good for the Grizzlies to handle for 40 minutes. In fact, with a dynamic point guard and an NBA-caliber center leading the charge, Brian Wardle’s club might end up being the Horizon League’s most serious NCAA Tournament threat since the great Butler teams of yesteryear. And not just a one-off threat, either. If it can take care of business in the conference tournament, this bunch has legitimate second weekend potential in the Big Dance.

Keifer Sykes and the Phoenix are capable of doing damage in the Dance. (USAT)

Keifer Sykes and the Phoenix are capable of doing damage in the Dance. (USAT)

For one thing, Green Bay has the bodies and athleticism to hold its own against a lot of high-major behemoths. Alec Brown—the aforementioned future pro—is a 7’1’’ big man who can be as effective on the perimeter as he is on the low block. Which is to say, all around really effective. Against Oakland, Brown shot 4-for-7 from the behind the arc, including a quick-release transition three, and improved his mark to nearly 47 percent on the year. He’s even more lethal in the paint (shooting well above 50 percent), and is anything but a one-way player: Brown’s block rate is good for 32nd in the country and he’s already broken his own school record for blocked shots in a season three different times. And while the senior might serve to improve on his rebounding, Jordan Fouse and Greg Mays are more than equipped to fill any void that exists on the glass. The pair of athletic forwards are fine compliments to Brown, adept at cleaning up misses and throwing down jams. Fouse, for example, racked up nine rebounds (four offensive) and shot 6-for-6 from the field against the Grizzlies, including a thunderous alley-oop dunk to accentuate the Phoenix’s 11-0 run out of the halftime break. The frontcourt’s size and athleticism is uncharacteristic for a program of Green Bay’s stature, fully capable of giving an unwitting or under-prepared high-major opponent all kinds of fits in a few weeks.

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In Case You Were Out Friday Night: Green Bay and Billy the Kid

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 18th, 2014

If you hit the town Friday night to enjoy a few beverages or catch up on Oscar-nominated flicks and you missed the Horizon League/MAAC double-header on ESPNU, allow us to catch you up on a couple storylines that emerged from two excellent basketball games.

Alec Brown and the Phoenix can play with anyone this season. (Courtesy: Green Bay Athletics)

Alec Brown and the Phoenix can play with anyone this season. (Courtesy: Green Bay Athletics)

Green Bay has tremendous potential. Green Bay withstood another monstrous dunk  by Jerran Young to beat Wright State on Friday night and move to 4-0 in the Horizon League, marking its eighth straight win overall. Alec Brown and Keifer Sykes again led the charge for Brian Wardle’s club, combining for 42 points and controlling the game from start to finish, even as the Raiders made numerous mini-runs throughout the second half. Now 14-3 and with metric rankings that scream ‘dangerous mid-major’, it’s time to start asking the question: Just how high is the ceiling for the Phoenix? If the team’s recent play is any indication, the answer might be “really, really high” — as in, NCAA-Tournament-victory-or-victories high. For one, there probably isn’t another inside-out combination as productive and dynamic as Brown and Sykes at the mid-major level. Brown is a legitimate NBA prospect (scouts were in the building on Friday night) whose athletic, 7’1” frame and ability to shoot from the perimeter (50% from three) — when he’s not dominating the paint — make him unstoppable on most nights. Sykes, meanwhile, is a quick, explosive point guard whose skills as a distributor are surpassed only by his scoring prowess — he dropped a career-high 34 points against Milwaukee last week and had 32 against Wisconsin in November. The rest of the group — players like the athletic forward Greg Mays and rebounding/defensive maven Jordan Fouse — complete a Green Bay team well-rounded enough to sit 42nd overall in KenPom’s rankings, having already beaten ACC-contender Virginia and pushed Wisconsin to the wire earlier in the season. Sure, the Phoenix could go on to drop several Horizon contests, lose in the league tournament and miss the Big Dance altogether. But it’s just as easy to see this team winning the conference, embracing the role of disrespected underdog and pulling off an upset or two in March.

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O26 Mid-Season Awards: Gregg Marshall, Chaz Williams, Jon Severe and Others…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 9th, 2014

With non-conference action all but wrapped up and league play already going in earnest, it‘s time now to pass out some mid-season superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn some national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next two months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State. Could the Shockers actually outdo themselves from a year ago? Even with expectations high coming into 2013-14, very few could have predicted the kind of start Wichita State has had to this season, fresh off its Final Four run last March. Monumental success of that type often breeds sluggish beginnings or even major letdowns the year after, which is what makes Marshall’s coaching job so impressive — his team has not missed a beat. The Shockers have jumped out to a 16-0 record that includes wins over BYU, Tennessee, Saint Louis and Alabama, the latter two coming on the road and all of them despite losing key seniors Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead to graduation. Together with preseason MVC Player of the Year Cleanthony Early and NCAA Tournament hero Ron Baker, Marshall has inserted Fred Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton into the lineup — complementary pieces a season ago — along with JuCo transfer forward Darius Carter to create a starting five arguably more efficient and consistent than last year’s group. They are balanced (four players average in double figures), deep, and rarely lack focus from night to night. And while the early winning has generated a lot of buzz about Wichita State possibly going undefeated in the regular season, its coach won’t let the commotion deter his team’s one-step-at-a-time approach. Marshall recently said, “I’ve always said you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Right now, we’re not thinking about eating the entire elephant. We’re thinking about our next meal.” That mentality has earned Marshall our award for mid-season O26 Coach of the Year.

Honorable MentionsSteve Fisher – San Diego State, Derek Kellogg – Massachusetts, Tod Kowalczyk – Toledo, Mitch Henderson – Princeton

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O26 Buzz: This Week’s Top Storylines

Posted by Nicholas Patrick on December 13th, 2013

Every Friday throughout the rest of the season, the Other 26 Microsite will dig into some of the top storylines featuring those leagues from the previous week. 

1. O26 Teams Make Statements Against Power Conference Teams

George Washington's Joe McDonald and Maurice Creek turned heads with a buzzer-beating win at Maryland (washingtontimes.com)

George Washington’s Joe McDonald and Maurice Creek turned heads with a buzzer-beating win at Maryland (washingtontimes.com)

  • Saturday: New Mexico cruises at home, handing Cincinnati its first loss, 63-54; Green Bay’s Greg Mays and Keifer Sykes each contribute 20+ points to defeat Virginia, 75-72
  • Sunday: Maurice Creek’s buzzer-beater lifts George Washington to a big win at Maryland, 77-75

  • Tuesday: After trailing nearly the entire game, Gonzaga surged ahead late to win at West Virginia, 80-76
  • Wednesday: North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorklund scored 26 points to lead the Bison over Notre Dame, 73-69

Near misses: Arizona 63, UNLV 58; Xavier 85, Bowling Green 73 (OT); Washington State 67, Idaho 66; Kansas State 64, South Dakota 62; Xavier 63, Evansville 60.

2. Chances For More Statements to Come

With only a few weeks remaining before conference play gets into full swing, opportunities are winding down for Other 26 teams to trip up power conference opponents. Some of this week’s most intriguing match-ups:

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