Not exactly a murder’s row of programs that will challenge the ACC in the conference power rankings any time soon. However, most people expect that under current NCAA guidelines the GWC could have an play-in automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by 2020. This would obviously impact the NCAA tournament by either removing one at-large team (unlikely) or expanding the NCAA tournament (more games = more money = very likely). The question for the GWC and its teams is what they are supposed to strive for until 2020. Theoretically they could qualify for an NCAA at-large bid (or maybe more realistically an NIT bid) if they hired some renegade coach who loaded them up with players who needed a little “SAT help.” However, barring that not altogether improbable scenario (seriously, have you seen the headlines out of college basketball this week?) the champions would be relegated to watch the 2nd half of March from their couches like the rest of us.
Fortunately for the GWC and its members, the people at the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) have stepped into that void by offering the conference’s tournament champion an automatic bid in the CIT’s 16-team field. For those of you who missed the CIT last year, here is a rundown of the teams that participated, which was won by Old Dominion. While you shouldn’t expect to see ESPN and CBS keeping cameras in the offices of the James Madison Dukes this March to see if they are crushed when they don’t make the CIT, it does mark the first time that a D1 conference has had an agreement to get one of its teams an automatic bid into a tournament other than the NCAA Tournament and it also offers the new league something (albeit something very small) to entice recruits to join it in its formative years.
Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC Conferences.When he’s not officiating, he’s canvassing the northeastern basketball circuit for good games and stories.
NEWARK, NJ – The evening actually began in Jersey City. The other part of my basketball life as an official saw a JV Girls assignment at Lincoln High School. Pictured is the pre-game captains meeting which is great because the kids on that level soak in your every word. For the record Saint Dominic Academy edged Lincoln in a close one.
Off to the Prudential Center, a quick nine mile journey for Maryland Eastern Shore vs. NJIT. The Highlanders dropped a 4 point decision at UMES in early December so hopes were high for a second win in two weeks. It was not to be on this night. UMES took a few eight point leads but NJIT would battle back. The Highlanders even took the lead with eleven minutes to go but UMES answered with a three point field goal followed by a conventional three point play to regain an edge not to be lost. NJIT battled gamely and had it to a two possession contest before UMES hit four free throws the final 30 seconds for the 73-67 win.
Interesting article by Luke Winn about Wake Forest’s James Johnson‘s fighting background. All I know is that if there is a “Malice at the Palace” moment with Wake this year, I’m taking the Demon Deacons in that one.
Michael Rothstein of The Journal Gazette surveyed 50 media members for their picks for the National Player of the Year at this point in the season. Like Michael, I haven’t seen much stuff done on this yet. Look for a running column similar to this out of Rush the Court in the near future.
A fairly long piece talking about the effect of moving the 3-point line back a foot. Summary: It has decreased the number of 3-point shots only marginally (18.42 per game from 19.07 last year) and decreased 3-point percentage slightly (34.32% from 35.23% last year).
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt offers his thoughts on the prep-to-pro issue. While I agree with him on some stuff I am not sure how you could legally differentiate a Lebron James from a Kwame Brown or worse yet a kid who entered the draft, but was not selected.
Seth Davis plays “Jigsaw Man” looking at a dozen top 25 teams, identifying their weakness, and picking out a player who does not play on that team that could eliminate the weakness. Interestingly theoretical exercise, but I’m not that sure what to do with it. Example: NJIT. Weakness = Talent/Inability to win (more than 1 game in a row). Missing piece: UNC’s or UConn’s players.
Speaking of SI writers, where is Grant Wahl’s annual “Magic 8”? I hope rtmsf’s “deconstruction” of last year’s Magic 8 (and subsequent e-mail conversation about the Magic 8, life, and haircare products) did not convince Wahl to give up on writing about college basketball.
After my trip to Chapel Hill last weekend where rtmsf handled all of the duties for Boom Goes the Dynamite while I mingled with ESPN personalities and college basketball stars, I will be in charge of today’s edition while rtmsf does relationship stuff with his significant other. Pretty weak if you ask me. . .
11:00 AM: Although we are a men’s college basketball site, we feel that it’s appropriate to mention the passing of Kay Yow, the former NC State coach, to breast cancer (or more precisely complications related to breast cancer). We can’t really do justice to her impact on the women’s game so it’s probably better just to refer you to a chronology of her life.
11:10 AM: The Notre Dame GameDay crowd looks a lot larger than what I saw last weekend at UNC. I am not sure if it is just a bunch of camera tricks by the GameDay crew, but they definitely have more signs. It may be that UConn is much, much better than Miami was last week or that the UNC crowd may be a bit jaded, but the Chapel Hill crowd was not as into the GameDay experience as I expected them to be.
11:45 AM: Digger Phelps has been doing a good job of working the crowd, which he also did last week at Chapel Hill (even off camera), taking the homer pick of Luke Harangody as his choice of tough player after the other analysts picked Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, and Stephen Curry to boos. As expected the crowd went wild with Digger’s pick. A little later in the show, the crowd gave the stereotypical college crowd response to a Duke segment by chanting “overrated”. Not surprisingly, the analysts all defend Duke. Appropriately enough, Bobby Knight calls out the Notre Dame students by questioning their education. It looks like he is getting more comfortable with his role on ESPN.
11:50 AM: Another awful half-court shot. Where does ESPN find these guys? He deserved to be embarrassed like that on national TV for popping his collar. Someone should tell him that hasn’t been cool since. . .actually it has never been cool. Congrats on the airball.
Noon: Wow. All of the GameDay guys except Knight picked LSU to beat #13 Xavier. I guess it’s in Baton Rouge, but Xavier is definitely the better team. Least surprising pick of the day: Digger picks Notre Dame. Knight abstains from picking a team.
12:15 PM: Duke is off to a good start against Maryland after Jon Scheyer opens the game with two 3s. What’s going on with Brian Zoubek? He actually looks like a legitimate center today. I have seen him play several times this year and he certainly has improved from last year, but he has never played like this. If he can do this even for spurts this year, Duke might have a legitimate chance to win the title this year instead of their usual great regular season and flop in March.
12:20 PM: Villanova is tied at 10 with USF 6 minutes into the game. Dante Cunningham has 8 of Villanova’s 10 points. I don’t have much else to say about this game since I don’t have ESPN360 available since I am out of town. If anybody has this game on TV, let me know if anything interesting happens.
1:00 PM: Duke goes into halftime with a 25-point lead despite having one of the ugliest possessions I have ever seen to end the half. Do you remember when the Duke-Maryland games used to be the best games of the season? I still remember trying to figure out where I could go to watch the game on TV my freshman year of college. (My school didn’t believe in providing cable to dorm rooms.) Meanwhile in Tampa, Villanova is struggling against USF (tied at 32 at halftime).
RTC corresponent Ryan ZumMallen contributed to tonight’s ATB.
#1 Falls – Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate.Virginia Tech 78, Wake Forest 71. It seemingly never fails – whenever Wake starts to get the nation’s attention, the Deacs cave like Roger McNamee in front of a Congressional hearing. We watched most of this game, and two things were apparent from the get-go: 1) the Deacs were not sharp on either end of the court (evident by Va Tech running out to a quick 30-14 lead); and 2) it is clear to us that Wake relies too much on pure athleticism and skill rather than actual execution and know-how. This was especially true in the last few minutes of the game when Wake continuously took forced shots and made inexplicable fouls instead of managing the clock effectively, even though the game was still in the balance. From the 1:42 mark, Wake threw up five desperate-looking three-pointers (making none), even though the lead was never greater than six points until there was 0:14 remaining. Additionally, the Deacs fouled Virginia Tech eight times during the same period, and even though the Hokies were missing their FTs (7-14 down the stretch), the smarter move would have been to simply play defense (remember, Wake was #2 in defensive efficiency coming into this game) and continue running the offense to get layups and dunks. Didn’t happen. We’re not buying the Wake was mentally fatigued argument; the Deacs need to learn some discipline to maximize their potential this year. As for Virginia Tech, at one point in the second half they were shooting 70% for the half and 56% for the game, which shows just how effectively they were picking apart that Wake defense. Malcolm Delaney, AD Vassallo and Jeff Allen combined for 53/21, as the Hokie won their fifth of six against Wake in the last few years. We’re not ready to anoint the Hokies as an NCAA team just yet, but at 3-1 in the ACC and only one loss in their last nine games (@ Duke), they’re a team to keep an eye on.
Next Best Upset of the Night.Northwestern 70, Michigan St. 63. A Tom Izzo team faithfully followed tradition and lost to a team they should have beaten, allowing Northwestern forward Kevin Coble to hang 31 on the Michigan State defense in a 70-63 Wildcat victory. MSU’s 28-game home winning streak was snapped, and the Spartans drop to 5-1 in Big Ten play while the mighty Wildcats improve to 2-4. Wildcats Coble, Craig Moore and Michael Thompson combined to score just one point less than Michigan State. Izzo had this to say about losing at home despite outrebounding his opponent 39-19: “That’s what happens when you don’t make shots.” Ha! Or when you commit 18 turnovers and only force seven yourselves.
More Tremendousness on a Wednesday Night.
Connecticut 89, Villanova 83. UConn point guard AJ Price nearly doubled his scoring average in the first half tonight, as the #3 Huskies held off a scrappy Villanova team to win, 89-83. Price had 20 by halftime and abused ‘Nova for a career-high 29, outdueling the Wildcats’ leading scorer Scottie Reynolds – held scoreless for the game’s first fifteen minutes, and finishing with 14. How good is the Big East right now? A 14-4 Villanova team currently sits in tenth place with a 2-3 conference record. If Haseem Thabeet can properly execute a dropstep at some point this season, the Huskies are right up there with Pitt as conference favorites.
UNC 94, Clemson 70. Avoiding upsets likes those that befell the likes of powerhouses Wake Forest, Michigan State and (of course) Bryant last night, the #6 Tar Heels continued their complete dominance over #9 Clemson with a 94-70 victory. Wayne Ellington poured in 25 on 9-15 shooting to lead the way. The victory improved North Carolina’s home record against Clemson to… wait for it… 54-0. For those of you who think you’ve figured out how to stop Tyler Hansbrough, I hope your idea had nothing to do with elbowing him in the teeth because THAT DOESN’T WORK. The human-like-robot-warrior just shoved in a mouthpiece and kept on trucking his way to 20 and 10.
Almost As Good As Cleveland St.Marshall 53, SMU 50. Just watch.
Better than Cleveland St. and Marshall.South Carolina 70, Florida 69. This would have never happened under Dave Odom.
Iowa 73, Wisconsin 69 (OT). UW’s Jordan Taylor drilled a 30-foot three at the buzzer to send this game to overtime, but Iowa held on behind David Palmer’s 21/7. Interesting stat – all five Hawkeyes hit at least one three in this one.
Kentucky 73, Auburn 64. Jodie Meeks watch: 31 pts (5-8 threes), 0 assists, 5 turnovers. UK should be ranked next week.
Missouri 97, Oklahoma St. 95. This was a big win for Missouri on the road tonight. They nearly blew a 15-pt lead with four minutes remaining, as OSU missed seven chances to tie or take the lead in the last two minutes. Mizzou has a favorable Big 12 schedule and already sit at 3-1 – this looks like an NCAA team to us.
Oklahoma 72, Nebraska 61. This game was much closer than the score indicates. Blake Griffin had 27/18 as he faced constant double- and triple-teams. Only when Nebraska had a very late scoring drought did the Sooners take over and put them away.
Baylor 83, Kansas St. 65. Wow, how quickly did KSU go from must-watch tv to irrelevance? Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn came off the bench for 33 pts on 9-12 from three-point land. Baylor at Oklahoma should be a great one this weekend.
UNLV 76, BYU 70. Wow, it was understandable when BYU lost to Wake at home, but we didn’t see them losing a 13-pt halftime lead at home to conference foe UNLV three weeks later. UNLV’s Wink Adams led the way with 22 pts for the Rebels.
Arizona St. 53, Arizona 47. Remember when the Wildcats would run and gun? Things have changed in the desert. What’s interesting about this one is that Jamelle Horne was indeed spotted on the floor in the final minute of a close game. Yes, Russ Pennell must enjoy playing with fire.
Northeastern 58, George Mason 57. Northeastern got a necessary home win to tie up GMU at the top of the CAA standings (along with VCU) when Manny Adako’s layup gave them the lead for good with 25 seconds remaining.
Louisville 78, Rutgers 59. No RAC troubles for the Cards tonight, as T-Will dunked everything in sight on his way to 23/11/4 stls. The Cards shot 60% as a team and are looking more and more like the team everyone thought they’d be when the season started.
Xavier 84, St. Bonaventure 64. XU dominated St. Bonnie from start to finish in a balanced effort (11 players scored for Xavier).
Davidson 83, Furman 43. Steph Curry watch: 30/5/5 stls on 12-18 (6-10 threes). Is anyone surprised?
Miami (FL) 75, Florida St. 69. This was a must-win for Miami to keep itself in the race for 4th place in the ACC this year.
LSU 81, Mississippi St. 57. LSU is absolutely manhandling teams at home. Too bad they have six road games remaining in the SEC.
Northern Iowa 66, Bradley 61. UNI continues to impress in another home win against a competitor for the MVC crown, Bradley.
You thought we were going to mention Wake – Virginia Tech here, didn’t you (#1 Wake is currently down nine to the Hokies in the late second half)? Nope, we’ll get to that later, but how about NJIT tonight, ending its streak of FIFTY-ONE LOSSES IN A ROW. If there were ever an RTC that was deserving, this would be it (see below clip). Kudos to the lads from New Jersey Tech – may they all be the toast of their corner of the world tonight.
The regular season is flying by. Believe it or not, we’re only nine weeks away from having an official NCAA Tournament Bracket to review and obsess over. We also happen to be nine weeks removed from opening night, so yesterday marked the official midpoint – 63 days on each side – of the regular season. Which means, of course, for all you folks who have been busy with the holidays, busy with the bowl games, busy with the NFL Playoffs… let’s get you caught up.
From now until the first tip in Dayton March 17th on the Road to the F4 in Detroit (ugh), roughly 150 or so teams are realistically jostling for position to be selected as one of the Chosen 65. As we nestle into the familiarity of conference play (only the Ivies have yet to begin) and America once again wakes up to our game, weaknesses will be exposed, experienced teams will try to avoid complacency and young teams will start to figure it all out. Come Selection Sunday, many of these prospective bracketeers will have fallen by the wayside, but there will be 50 or so at-large teams holding NCAA-caliber resumes, even though only 34 will be taken. Before we jump in with both feet into the fun that the next two months will bring, let’s take a look back at the first two months to see what we’ve learned.
Carolina is Not Unbeatable, but Are the Heels Still the Favorite? A mere month ago we wrote that North Carolina was playing like a team with plans to lose no more than a couple of games (if that many) all season. Then the last eight days happened. First, UNC lost at home to an underwhelming BC team, followed by a road loss at Wake Forest last night to start 0-2 in the ACC. So what’s going on – how can this juggernaut of a team with nearly everyone returning look so… mortal? It’s easy, really. So far, UNC’s defense hasn’t been up to snuff. It’s more efficient as a whole than last year’s version, but their statistical profile is elevated on the defensive end by forcing turnovers which in turn fuels their lethal fast break. In a halfcourt set, as Wake and BC repeatedly and effectively showed, UNC can be penetrated and exposed. The key to playing with the Heels is limiting those TOs that Ty Lawson turns into the quick strikes that overwhelm teams. Is it a fatal flaw? It could be (how’s that for a hedge?). Teams that can’t consistently make stops don’t win championships, but we really don’t see why UNC’s defense shouldn’t be able to make the commitment to improve over the next two months. The 2005 title team only became legit once Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May got serious about stopping people in addition to outscoring them. Can the 2009 Heels – specifically, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Deon Thompson – do the same? Stay tuned.
These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
The Big East Should Have Its Own Region. Seriously, let’s just rename the E. Rutherford Region this year and invite every Big East team. Or at least the top 12. Of course, if we did that, it would prohibit the possibility of the conference placing four teams in the Final Four this year – a plausible scenario. Tell us that you couldn’t envision a situation where four of the following teams – Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse – would reach Detroit in April. Throw in Villanova, Marquette and West Virginia and you might just have nine of the Sweet Sixteen. The top half of this conference is really that good. So who is the best of the best? It depends on when you ask the question. Two weeks ago it was UConn. A week ago Georgetown. Now it’s Pittsburgh. Next week… probably Syracuse. The point is nobody knows. UConn has the most raw talent, but they’ve exhibited problems putting it together consistently. Georgetown, haven’t you heard, has rebounding issues. Pittsburgh isn’t reliable from behind the arc. Syracuse has a tendency to lose to teams like Cleveland St. on miracle shots. Louisville spends much of its time looking for its ass with both hands. Notre Dame has a maddening tendency to play defense with its hands. Marquette and Villanova are too guard heavy. West Virginia has Bob Huggins. And on and on. All we can say for certain is that the quality of play in the seemingly-nightly matchups between Top 25 teams is top-shelf, and it makes up for all those other nights where we’re stuck watching Auburn-Ole Miss.
The Big Ten Doesn’t Suck This Year.Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that our friendly midwestern conference is on par with the Big East, or even the ACC, but it’s a lot stronger in the middle of the pack than it has been in recent years. Not much was expected out of Minnesota (15-1), Illinois (14-2) or Michigan (13-3) this year, but each of them are playing excellent ball and have marquee wins over the likes of Louisville, Missouri, Duke and UCLA in their pockets. Combine their success with the standard good seasons expected from Michigan St. (13-2), Purdue (12-4), Ohio St. (11-3) and Wisconsin (12-4), and you have a competitive six-bid conference. Even traditional cellar dweller Penn St. (13-4) has shown signs of life this year. Heck, they even made the ACC/Big Ten Challenge competitive (losing 6-5) this year!
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing
They’re Putting It Together. Now that Tom Izzo once again has a full complement of players with Goran Suton back in the fold, Michigan St. has looked much better since their abysmal performance in the ACC/B10 Challenge against UNC. They’ve run off nine in a row with wins at Texas, at Minnesota and Ohio St. – everyone wrote this team off after that UNC game, but they’ll be heard from in March. UCLA is also quietly going about its business, also reeling off nine in a row (including a 3-0 start in road games in the Pac-10) since their loss to Texas in mid-December. Ben Howland is getting production from eleven players, and if anyone really thought the Bruins were going to have a ‘rebuilding’ season, they need to have their head checked. This team will win close to 30 games again. It’s amazing how a series of close games that go your way can make or break a team’s confidence. After Louisville had dropped tight ones to Minnesota and UNLV in late December, everyone was ready to write off the Cards. Now that they’ve won three of their lost four on the last possession, they sit at 3-0 in the Big East (with two road wins) and appear to be in relatively good shape compared to some of the other Big East contenders (UConn, ND, and Georgetown in particular). We’ll see just how good they can be when #1 Pittsburgh visits on Saturday.
Pleasant Surprises. Obviously, Wake Forest is a pretty big surprise – we expected them to be pretty good, but nobody saw a top five team coming from Dino Gaudio this year. What about Syracuse? – at 16-1 and the lone loss to Cleveland St. from 75 feet, Jim Boeheim’s crew has as much talent as just about anybody in the country. Clemson is pulling its annual ridiculous start, but there are signs that this Tiger team is legit – they have a balanced attack, they’re strong at both ends of the court, and they have good road wins at Illinois, South Carolina and Miami (FL) so far. Butler is a HUGE surprise, although we shouldn’t ever be surprised with that program. The Bulldogs sit at 14-1 and two of their top three players are freshmen, yet they once again appear to be the class of the Horizon and a top mid-major. Tubby Smith has Minnesota playing great ball, and the Gophers are on a fast track to the NCAA Tournament at least a year ahead of schedule. Coaching matters – Mike Montgomery also has California playing hard for the first time in a decade. The Bears look like a top three team in the Pac-10 at this point.
Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March
Disappointments. Since the Q1 update, Gonzaga has done nothing but crap itself, losing games to Arizona, UConn, Portland St., and Utah. They did get a key OT win at Tennessee last week, and their defense is still stronger than in recent years, but for some reason or another, the Zags are having trouble putting it all together. USC is destined to become this year’s NC State (a preseason ranked team that won’t make the NCAA Tourney). The SEC – Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky – have all been various shades of disappointing. Between the cream of the SEC East, there’s what, three quality wins? On the other side of that conference, only Arkansas has even been mildly interesting, with big home wins over Oklahoma and Texas. At the mid-major level, Southern Illinois (6-8 ) and Wright St. (9-8 ) have a long way to go before they’ll turn their seasons around.
RTC Midseason All-Americans. We’ll take some heat for not putting defending NPOY Tyler Hansbrough on our first team, but his numbers, particularly his rebounding average, are off from last season. Granted, he’s still probably recovering from a stress reaction injury, so he’ll have time to recover his (rightful?) place on the 1st team, but for now, we like Griffin (obvious choice) and Harangody in our frontcourt. Curry and Harden are also easy choices in the backcourt, but we’re making a leap of faith choosing Teague – his last two games against BYU and UNC were very impressive performances (he averaged 32/5/4 assts on 59%) and we’re riding on the Wake bandwagon right now.
Jeff Teague, G – Wake Forest(21/4/4 assts on 54%/54% 3fg shooting)
Stephen Curry, G – Davidson (29/4/7 assts/3 stls on 45%/37% 3fg shooting)
James Harden, G – Arizona St. (23/6/5 assts on 56%/42% 3fg shooting)
Blake Griffin, F – Oklahoma (23/14/3 assts on 65% shooting)
Luke Harangody, F – Notre Dame (25/13 on 51% shooting)
Knocking on the Door (2d Team).
Tyler Hansbrough, F – North Carolina (22/8 on 54% shooting)
Patrick Patterson, F – Kentucky (19/9/3 assts on 71% shooting)
Dejuan Blair, F – Pittsburgh (15/13 on 61% shooting)
Manny Harris, G – Michigan (19/8/5 assts on 44%/31% 3fg shooting)
Ty Lawson, G – North Carolina (15/3/6 assts on 53%/42% 3fg shooting)
All-Freshman Team. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest), Jrue Holiday (UCLA) and Gordon Hayward (Butler) were tough to leave off this list.
Greg Monroe, C – Georgetown (14/6/3 assts on 57% shooting)
Sylven Landesberg, G – Virginia (19/6/3 assts on 49%/30% 3fg shooting)
Tyreke Evans, G – Memphis (16/6/4 assts/3 stls on 45% shooting)
Seth Curry, G – Liberty (20/4 on 45%/40% 3fg shooting)
Paul George, F – Fresno St. (16/7 on 54%/46% 3fg shooting)
Big Games (Q3). Here are the top 10 games of the next month.
Syracuse @ Georgetown – 01.14.09
Pittsburgh @ Louisville – 01.17.09
Georgetown @ Duke – 01.17.09
Wake Forest @ Clemson – 01.17.09
Texas @ Baylor – 01.27.09
Duke @ Wake Forest – 01.28.09
California @ UCLA – 01.29.09
Connecticut @ Louisville – 02.02.09
Duke @ Clemson – 02.04.09
Michigan St. @ Minnesota – 02.04.09
Notre Dame @ UCLA – 02.07.09
Extremes. This won’t last much longer, as we fully expect all three of the unbeatens to have a loss by this time next week, if not sooner. That’s what conference play does to you. NC Central will get a win against a D2 squad soon, but poor little NJIT has no relief in sight. They’re sitting on 49 in a row and, according to KenPom’s projections, 60+ in a row is within reach. Memo to NJIT coach Jim Engles – take a page from the NC Central playbook and schedule some JVHigh School D2 teams.
Unbeaten (next possible loss)
Pittsburgh (Big East):15-0 (@ Louisville 1/17)
Wake Forest (ACC): 14-0 (@ BC 1/14)
Clemson (ACC):16-0 (v. Wake Forest 1/17)
Winless (next possible win)
NJIT (Ind): 0-16 (Bryant 1/21)
North Carolina Central (Ind): 0-18 (D2 Central St 1/16)
Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent of the MAAC and NEC Conferences.
NEWARK, NJ – Sunday afternoon brought a venture to this city to catch NJIT and Wagner in a non-conference meeting. The NJIT campus is located downtown walking distance from Rutgers-Newark and UMDNJ (University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey). Outside the NJIT Fleisher Center is an inscription ‘The edge is knowledge’.
NJIT entered the game 0-11 and in the midst of a 44-game losing streak. While the basketball team is struggling to find their way in Division I, the inscription bears a reminder to visitors, this is one of the nation’s elite technological and research institutions. A virtual ’heavyweight’ in academia. The modest sized crowd is into the contest and cheering the homestanding Highlanders. Winless, yet the effort is there. Defensively they get after it. Every time a run seems to be building or going their way the Highlanders miss a shot or lose the ball. Coach Jim Engles roams the sideline, intense and enthusiastic.
At the half they trail 34-22. The second half starts well for NJIT. They chip away at the lead and gradually draw even with 10 minutes to play. A free throw puts NJIT up one with just under nine minutes left. Wagner answers with two unanswered baskets and never looks back. With a minute to go the Wagner lead is double digits. There is a loose ball and an NJIT player dives across the floor in pursuit. In defeat, nothing is left in reserve. Wagner eventually closes out the 68-58 victory. “Only a coach can understand the marvelous job Jim (Engles) is doing,” praised Wagner mentor Mike Deane. “They will win a few games this year. Guaranteed. I’m just glad they didn’t get a win against us.”
In the hallway Engles reviews the stat sheet that shows NJIT had four players in double figures led by Jheryl Wilson’s 16 points. Another thing crosses his mind. “We gave up rebounds off their (Wagner) missed free throws a few times down the stretch,” Engles notes. “Those are extra possessions we are giving them.” Engles notes the losing is tough but day to day the players come to the gym, resilient and eager to learn and get better. “Hey, teams are challenging us,” Engles adds. “They are getting after us and that’s the way I want it.” Upbeat despite the loss, Engles and his team will be back to work to prepare for Lehigh on New Year’s Eve. “”This is the first step,” Engles adds, “in a long process.” The loss to Wagner put the Highlanders at 0-12. The won-lost record unfairly does not measure heart and commitment.
(ed. note – here is NJIT’s remaining schedule and accompanying percentage chance of winning each game, according to kenpom.com. That Maryland-Eastern Shore game can’t come soon enough…)
Believe it or not, we’re already one-quarter of the way through the regular season. Most teams have played seven or eight of their allotted 28 regular season games, and as we head into the next two weeks of semester finals, things will quiet down a bit. Thus, now is a good time to stop, take a look back at the first month of the season, and reflect as to some of the things we think we’ve learned through the “getting to know us” portion of the schedule. Here’s your 2008-09 First Quarter Report. (all stats and records through Sun. Dec. 7th)
Top Storyline. Nothing could be finer than to be from Carolina. Right now, the top storyline is whether anyone can stop the North Carolina Tarheels before April 6th in Detroit. There’s no need to go over all the impressive stats in this space again (check here instead), but suffice it to say that UNC has looked absolutely dominant through its eight games, and the reigning NPOY has only played in half of them. It’s an absolute lock that UNC will hit ACC play undefeated and it’s very difficult to envision a scenario where the Heels drop more than a couple in league play by March Madness. The storyline from here on out will be if any other team(s) develop to the point where they can realistically challenge UNC.
News & Notes. We’d like to take a moment at the beginning of tonight’s ATB to honor former Cal head coach and legendary big man guru Pete Newell, who died today at the age of 93. He led Cal to its only national championship in 1959, won a gold medal as the US Olympic team coach in 1960, and was elected to the basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. Although he was before our time, we’ve heard the stories of his legend and he is considered one of the most influential figures in basketball history. May he rest in peace.
Photo Credit: LA Times
Game of the Night. UAB 64, Santa Clara 61. We’re throwing some love to the mid-majors tonight with this one, but we expected this game to be a dandy, and it was. Santa Clara led most of the game, but UAB made a valiant comeback in the second half to tie the game with three minutes remaining and held on to win Robert Vaden had 23/9 and Paul Delaney III had 20/5 for UAB, who didn’t get much production from anyone else. SC’s John Bryant had a huge 17/15 performance, but it wasn’t enough. In an interesting sidenote, the game tipped off with 100 people in the stands at the McKale Center in Tucson. People are really excited about basketball in Arizona right now.
Upset of the Night. Oakland 82, Oregon 79 (OT). We really feel like you could throw Ernie Kent, Mark Gottfried, John Brady, Dave Odom, and a few others into a jar, shake them up and let them float to any school in America, and you’d end up with the same mediocre programs wherever they land. Not much was expected from the Ducks this year (heck, ATQ doesn’t even have commentary on the game yet), but they could usually count on their home court for the push to win most of their OOC games. No longer. Oakland’s Johnathan Jones dropped 32/7 on the Ducks, (10 in OT, including the decisive bucket with seven seconds left) who were outshot from the floor by their visitors (43% to 39%). Joevon Catron (13/11) and Michael Dunigan (15/10) both contributed double-doubles in the losing effort. So far, the Pac-10 is not looking too impressive.
Preseason NIT Action.
Davidson 99, James Madison 64. Stephen Curry is just ridiculous. 33/9 assts/4 stls on 14-19 shooting. The Wildcats got off to an 11-0 start and never looked back. They’ll face Oklahoma tomorrow night.
Oklahoma 94, Miss. Valley St. 53. This OU team has looked scary in two games thus far. Blake Griffin dominated inside, with 20/19/6 stls. MVSU more than doubled its output from Saturday night against Wazzu, but they looked completely overmatched in this game.
BC 90, Loyola (MD) 57. Vermont transfer Joe Trapani led the Eagles with 20/4 as Tyrese Rice came back from suspension to contribute 16/6 assts. BC might be better than people were thinking, folks – they will play Cornell in round two.
St. John’s 86, Cornell 75. The Johnnies, led by Anthony Mason Jr.’s 24 pts, held off a late Cornell rally that had cut the lead to 80-75. Cornell was led by Ryan Wittman’s 25/4.
Purdue 87, E. Michigan 58. Purdue shook off a slow start to go on a 26-6 run to put this game away by the mid-first half. E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummell combined for 35/8/8 assts in the win. Purdue will play Loyola (IL) next.
Loyola (IL) 74, Georgia 53. Let’s just go ahead and fire Dennis Felton right now and avoid this lame duck nonsense for the next four months.
Arizona 75, Florida Atlantic 62. Get used to this – Budinger, Wise and Hill scored 52 of Arizona’s 75 points tonight. The Wildcats never really pulled away from FAU – we remain unconvinced. UAB will beat this team tomorrow night.
Big East Tuneups.
Marquette 106, Chicago St. 87. Are teams hitting the century mark more often this year? Wesley Matthews led Marquette with 26/9/3 assts, but new coach Buzz Williams was largely disappointed with his defense for allowing 51 second-half points to Chicago St.
Villanova 107, Fordham 68. Wow, Dante Cunningham absolutely dominated the interior (31/11) as Villanova rolled up Fordham, shooting a blistering 58% with all five starters reaching double figures.
Georgetown 71, Jacksonville 62. Freshman center Greg Monroe’s debut at Georgetown went well (14/7), even though the Hoyas struggled to put away Jacksonville. Georgetown needs to shore up their three-point shooting (5-23), but their defense was typically solid, holding Jax to 35% for the game.
Pittsburgh 82, Miami (OH) 53. Miami head coach Charlie Coles gave the nod to Pitt as the better team between the Panthers and UCLA at this juncture in the season. Levance Fields is just so important to this team, getting 12/12 assts as every starter reached double figures.
Connecticut 99, Hartford 56. With 14:30 to go, this was a three-point game. UConn then went on a late 54-12 run to put this one away. AJ Price was on the bench for being a knucklehead with a sprained ankle, but Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker both had 21 to make up the slack. Hasheem Thabeet had a somewhat disappointing 9/8/2 blks.
Other Games of Interest.
Xavier 81, Toledo 65. Xavier enjoyed a comfortable margin throughout the second half, but the story of this game was returning MAC scoring leader Tyrone Kent’s 37 pts. He even went 10-10 from the line – true scorers understand that’s where the easy points are.
Austin Peay 86, Belmont 84. Drake Reed’s two FTs with 0.2 showing on the clock sealed a comeback win for Austin Peay over Belmont. He contributed 24/9 in the win, along with Wes Channels, who put up 25 pts. AP shot 58% in the second half to come back from 12 down at halftime.
Penn St. 74, NJIT 47. NJIT now holds the record for college basketball futility with 35 Ls in a row. Another 26% FG shooting night. Can we send them back to D2 now?
We really wanted to do this two weeks ago, but as you know, life got in the way. So we’ll make do with what’s left.
As of Xmas Day, out of a total 341 D1 teams, there were a total of nine unbeaten teams and only four winless teams remaining (see table below). Four of the nine unbeatens are unsurprising – #1 UNC, #2 Memphis, #4 Kansas, and #6 Wazzu were all preseason top ten teams. Pittsburgh wasn’t ranked in the preseason, but they’re always pretty good, so we’re not shocked by their inclusion (esp. once Levance Fields got himself unTazed). That leaves us with three shockers from the SEC/ACC and one ridiculous Southland Conference inclusion (although… we had ’em).
From the SEC there are two unbeatens. Florida? Nope. Kentucky? Nope. Tennessee? Nope. Mississippi State? Nope. Those four teams have about a baker’s dozen number of losses between them. But if you had Ole Miss and Vandy at 22-0 heading into the last week of 2007, proceed directly to the Bellagio sports book. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Ok, so Ole Miss’s 11-0 start smells an awful lot like the annual Clemson torridness (in a somewhat ironic twist, Ole Miss’s best win was at Clemson last week – 85-82), but we have to tip the hat to Andy Kennedy’s squad for beating all comers so far, and setting themselves up for a possible run at the SEC West title and an NCAA bid. (memo to University of Cincinnati: how’s bailing on Kennedy working out for ya? Oh right, losses to Illinois St., Bowling Green and Belmont. Good luck with that.) As for Vandy, they’ve probably got a little more upside than Ole Miss due to the addition of a freshman stud who incomprehensibly gets almost no hype, AJ Ogilvy (19/7). With senior guard Shan Foster, this inside-outside tandem plus Vandy’s home court nearly assures the ‘Dores of an NCAA berth, and given the relative state of the rest of the SEC this year, possible SEC title.
The last two unbeatens are probably the most surprising of all. Miami (FL) was 12-20 last season, and the Hurricanes have already matched that win total this year. A very soft schedule has made this record possible, but two solid road wins (@ Providence and @ Miss. St.) show that this team will be worth watching in the ACC race this year. The final unbeaten, Sam Houston St., has an early win over Bob Knight and Texas Tech on their resume, but little else. Still, it’s a great early-season story, and we’ll be rooting for them to keep it up through their west coast trip to SDSU and Loyola Marymount this coming weekend.
As for the four winless teams, we can’t say there are any real surprises. Furman and Grambling will win soon enough, but we’re not sure about the disasters otherwise known as Ball St. and NJIT. NJIT, probably the worst offensive team in the nation, has only broken sixty points once this year; and has been under fifty points four other times. Ball St. is still feeling the aftershocks of the Ronny Thompson fiasco, and there’s no telling when they’ll come out of that tailspin. Last year’s winless streak leader, Iona, didn’t get their first victory until Feb. 3 (0-22), and we think NJIT has a chance to match or exceed that this year.