Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2013-14 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. For the next three weeks, you’ll get two hits of excitement each weekday. We’ve captured what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. To see the entire released series so far, click here.
We felt tonight’s ATB of #1 UNC losing to Boston College deserves its own post.
#1 No More (photo credit: Robert Willett/Raleigh News-Observer)
Boston College 85, UNC 78. It’s conference season, isn’t it? In just the last seven days, we’ve now had the consensus way-better-than-everyone-else teams (UNC and UConn for those of you just tuning in) lose to conference foes. At home. In games where neither appeared to be the better team. There was considerable talk in the last couple of weeks of the likelihood of Carolina going undefeated this season, and we always sorta rolled our eyes when we heard such talk. There are several reasons for this:
First, it just doesn’t happen. A hunted team like Carolina simply will not bring its A+ game every single night, no matter how good they are or how faux-slighted they feel (and how slighted can you feel when you’re being told how great you are at every turn?). There are always a couple of games where that team will come out flat or fail to properly motivate because their press clippings have gone to their head.
Second, while this UNC team is stacked relative to the rest of college basketball this season and remains the prohibitive favorite to win the national title in April, the level of talent of their individual players simply isn’t so otherworldly ridiculous that other teams can’t play and compete with them. As evidence here, we saw what Kansas with its two lottery picks (one actual and one shoulda-been) did to them in the first half of last year’s F4 game (40-12), and much of the reason behind this year’s hype is because all of UNC’s players returned to school, and the reason for THAT is that none/zilch/zero/nada would have been lottery picks had they entered the NBA Draft last spring. Put simply, nobody in college basketball is so talented that they can play half-assed or have a bad game collectively and still win every game.
Third, Carolina plays in a conference like the ACC, and leagues like that are simply too good on a yearly basis to allow teams like UNC to run roughshod over them. There are exceptions – we know Duke in 1999 went 16-0 in that league, and more recently, Kentucky went 16-0 in the SEC in 2003, but those teams had already lost a pre-conference game(s) so there wasn’t nearly the same pressure that an unbeaten #1 will face throughout the conference slate. The only possibility for an unbeaten team in today’s early-entry NCAA basketball environment is something akin to what Memphis was able to do last year or UNLV in 1991 – roll through its vastly inferior conference unbeaten and (for the most part) untested. The problem is that scenario tends to catch up with those teams during March Madness, as both of those teams in that example learned.
So what happened tonight? It’s simple and it’s the same problem that Carolina had last year. Their offense is unmatched by anybody in the country, but their defense sometimes takes nights off. Against the 68th toughest schedule to date, the UNC offense is the second-most efficient offense in America, but only the 18th most efficient defense. Most of that ranking is attributable to Carolina’s ability to force turnovers (4th in the nation), but the Heels simply don’t get enough stops from their halfcourt defense – it ranks 60th at defending twos and 81st at defending threes – not exactly national-title defensive numbers there. (To be fair, last year’s Heels were even worse defensively, but UNC’s schedule will only get tougher from here on out, which should negatively impact those numbers.)
Let's Hope For His Sake He Didn't Get a Ticket After All (photo credit: Robert Willett/Raleigh News-Observer)
Tonight BC never flinched, shooting 45% from the field and hitting nine threes in the Dean Dome, led by Tyrese Rice’s 25/5/8 assts (who continues his torching of Carolina with 91 pts in his last three games against UNC) and Rakim Sanders’ 22/6/7 stls. BC not only got the lead in the first half (no big deal), but they held on to as UNC repeatedly got it down to two and even in the last few minutes as BC predictably went cold and UNC made its last-ditch efforts. Carolina didn’t help itself, though as the Heels were ice cold, especially in the second half (29%) and even more especially Ty Lawson (3-13), and the typically excellent Tar Heel free throwers (#13 nationally at 75%) only managed 5-12 in the last 8 minutes and 15-27 for the game. Perhaps most importantly, the Heels only forced BC into 10 turnovers, and it was clear that this was something head coach Al Skinner had drilled into his players’ heads, realizing that TOs are the kindling that fuels the UNC attack.
But BC was not to be denied tonight, and #1 goes down, only slightly spoiling the juicy UNC @ Wake matchup scheduled for next weekend. Whether BC uses this win as a springboard to a surprising season remains to be seen, as its only truly bad loss thus far was at St. Louis, but for tonight they are the giant-killers and the Eagles should be commended for taking it to the vaunted Heels in their house. Come Monday morning, we’d expect to see BC ranked for the first time in a couple of years, and that gasp you hear from western Pennsylvania has nothing to do with the Steelers – rather, it’s Jamie Dixon’s team prepping itself for it’s school-first #1 ranking in the AP Poll. College hoops, you gotta love it.
There is no RTC correspondent for the Southland Conference, but we’re still taking applications.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Stephen F. Austin (18-9, 12-4)
Northwestern St. (18-13, 10-6)
SE Louisiana (14-15, 9-7)
McNeese St. (12-17, 8-8)
Central Arkansas (10-19, 4-12)
Nicholls St. (8-21, 4-12)
UT-Arlington (19-10, 11-5)
Lamar (16-13, 11-5)
UT-San Antonio (15-13, 10-6)
Sam Houston St. (13-16, 7-9)
Texas A&M-CC (9-21, 5-11)
Texas St. (9-20, 4-12)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K). The Southland Conference is an overlooked conference in an area of the country that doesn’t exactly embrace college basketball. While the league has traditionally been cannon fodder for first-round high seeds in the NCAA Tournament, there are indications that may be changing. Last year’s champion, Northwestern St., was a Cinderella entrant who got bombed by #1 Memphis, but in the period from 2005-07, the Southland champion was competitive with #2 seeds Oklahoma and Wisconsin, and of course everyone remembers the #14 NW St. upset victory over #3 Iowa in 2006. In the early 2000s, the league was consistently rated among the bottom half-dozen conferences on an annual basis, but in the current environment with a solid few programs leading the way, the conference is now regularly in the 20-25 range. It’s moving on up!
Predicted Champion.Stephen F. Austin(#16 NCAA). The ‘Jacks are jacked. Coming off a 26-6 (13-3) 2007-08 campaign that led to an NIT appearance (SFA lost 80-60 to UMass), Danny Kasper’s squad returns four starters, including arguably the best two players in the league (Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley), from a withering defensive-minded unit that only allowed 56 ppg last year (on 39% FG shooting). Last year’s team had NCAA written all over it, having won road contests at NCAA entrants Oklahoma and San Diego, until Northwestern St. upset SFA in the semis of the conference tournament - the ‘Jacks are loaded and will probably not be denied this time around.
UT-Arlington. As a #7 seed in last year’s conference tourney, UT-Arlington got hot at the right time and defeated three higher seeds en route to its first conference championship and NCAA appearance. The Mavericks return two key starters, Rog’er Guignard and Brandon Long, but all eyes will be on BC transfer Marquez Haynes, a 6’3 guard who played starter’s minutes for the Eagles in 2006-07. This team won’t be overlooked again.
Lamar. Lamar should provide the biggest challenge for UT-Arlington in the West, as the Cardinals return significant experience in the form of nine returnees. The key to Lamar’s success lies with PG Kenny Dawkins, last year’s Newcomer of the Year, who averaged 15/5 apg leading his team to a league-best 13-3 record.
Northwestern St. We threw Mike McConathy’s team on here as a challenger simply because, no matter what personnel they lose from year to year, they always seem to find a way to remain competitive, having been to the last four conference title games (winning one). The Demons’ style of play doesn’t depend on one or two players, so this year should be no different.
Northwestern St. @ Indiana (11/15/08)
Stephen F. Austin @ Texas A&M (11/18/08)
Northwestern St. @ LSU (11/23/08)
Lamar @ Kentucky (12/03/08)
Lamar @ Louisville (12/08/08)
Texas Tech @ Lamar (12/13/08)
Stephen F. Austin @ Arkansas (12/20/08)
UT-Arlington @ Baylor (12/20/08)
Northwestern St. @ Oklahoma St. (1/03/09)
Neat-O Stat. The Southland, like many conferences is a twelve-team league with two divisions of six each (East and West). Ok, no big deal, right? Well, what’s strange about this setup is that the current alignment allows for Stephen F. Austin (East) and Lamar (West) to switch divisions every two seasons. Since the current alignment began in 2006-07, this means this will be the first year of SFA in the East and Lamar in the West for a while. The league made this arrangement for travel purposes, with seven Texas teams (v. five Louisiana/Arkansas teams), but can you imagine if the SEC did this – Florida and LSU switch sides every couple years?
65 Team Era. The Southland is 4-24 (.143) in the era, but one of those wins was from the PiG in 2001, and two others are from Karl Malone’s #5 Louisiana Tech team back in 1985 (La Tech is no longer in the conference). In other words, the league has had only one legit NCAA win since 1985, but oh, what a great one it was (see video below).
Final Thoughts. As mentioned above, the Southland appears to be a conference on the rise. The big-conference team that gets pitted against SFA in the NCAAs this year (assuming they make it through the conference tourney unscathed) should really pay attention or they will get burned. The conference has proven it can play with teams at the BCS level in a one-game scenario. This was not always the case – from 1997-2004, the average margin of loss for a Southland team in the NCAA Tournament was 29 points. Since then, it has been 12 (including a 1-pt win). Who will be the next Iowa?