Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A New Baker's Dozen

There was an article this week in Newsday about Hofstra's future in the CAA. All I have to say is that if Hofstra thinks moving to the A10 will improve their basketball fortunes, they are sadly mistaken. The article talks about how Hofstra has been unable to recruit a solid big man. Folks, that has nothing to do with what conference you are in. Marcus Blakely is a legitimate forward. He's at Vermont in the America East. Ron Everhart was able to recruit Shawn James to Northeastern who was in the America East in James' freshman season. Larry Sanders is at VCU. Will Thomas was dominant at Mason. Remember Jai Lewis?

Simply put, Hofstra has had two solid forward recruits under coach Tom Pecora; Adrian Uter and Auremis Kieza. And the Hofstra offense, as I aformentioned in yesterday's column, is a guard oriented offense. The current offense does not allow big men to develop. Plus the loss of assistant coach Tom Parrotta to Canisius a few years ago has hurt more than anyone at Hofstra will admit. Parrotta, a standout forward at Niagara was responsible for working with the big men and they have never filled that void since he has left.

The article talks about how Hofstra has not made a NCAA tournament appearance since leaving the America East despite three consecutive years in the NIT. Do you think it's going to get any easier for Hofstra to recruit a solid big man if they move to the Atlantic 10, which as any knows reading this column, is a legitimate major conference and not a mid major conference (more on that in a later column). Will that change their guard oriented offense? Very simply, no. Besides if you are the A10, do you really want Hofstra right now? Perhaps two seasons ago yes. Not now.

Well, the rest of the non Bracketbuster televised games were announced on Tuesday. After skimming through the list (more on that in a second), two teams standout as being snubbed for a televised game; Drexel and North Dakota State (99 and 100 respectively in the Inside RPI rankings). Drexel is in fourth place in the CAA at a very solid 8-3, two and half games ahead of the now seventh place Hofstra, who has a televised Bracketbuster game. North Dakota State is first in the Summit at 10-1 and 16-5 overall. Compare these three teams with teams that have Bracketbuster games that have significantly lower RPIs; Long Beach State (148), Portland State (124), Liberty (181) and Old Dominion 182. You could have had North Dakota State at Drexel instead of at UW Milwaukee and shelved the Liberty ODU game. Of course, we know why that game is televised - Seth Curry, Stephen's little brother plays for Liberty.

By the way, try to find all the Bracketbuster matchups on ESPN's site. Just try. Best of luck. I stumbled on it accidentally on my IPod and now I can't find it. There is no link on the main ESPN College Basketball site. Nice marketing by ESPN. Thank goodness for Kyle Whelliston.

It's time for the latest installment of the Baker's Dozen, the tastiest thirteen teams in the mid major kingdom. And I like to think, its a healthy list with no fat,ie no Atlantic 10 teams! (Sorry, couldn't resist).

1) Butler (19-2, 10-1 Horizon). It had to happen sooner or later, the Bulldogs were not going to run the table in a very competitive Horizon league. It is asking a lot for a young team with no seniors to go undefeated in conference, especially an underrated one like the Horizon. The Bulldogs still keep the top spot due to their high RPI. The matchup with Davidson should be a dandy. I am keeping my dance card free on February 21st.

2)Davidson (19-3, 12-0 Southern). Could it be possible that the Wildcats might run the table again in the Southern? With a home game vs Charleston the only signifcant test remaining in the regular season, Stephen Curry and company will most likely go into the SoCon tournament with zero losses in conference. Nice to see Andrew Lovedale step up his game this season (12 points, 8.9 rebounds a game).

3)Utah State (21-1, 9-0 WAC). What even might be more impressive than a Davidson repeat undefeated season in the SoCon would be an undefeated run by Utah State in the WAC. However, two tough conference road games vs Boise State (Feb 14) and Nevada (Feb 28) loom in the distance. First, it's take care of business against New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech (both at home), then Idaho. The Saint Mary's game, despite the loss of Patty Mills, is still huge. The Aggies so need a win in front of a national audience.

4) Gonzaga (16-4,7-0 WCC). Yes, the Zags survived the battle with St Mary's and now are in the driver's seat with Mills out until perhaps the last week of the season. Despite the home game against #14 Memphis on Saturday, the Zags must clearly focus on their road game vs. second place upstart Portland (who waxed the Millsless Gaels last Saturday). A win against Portland then followed by a win on Saturday at home vs. #14 Memphis will basically lock up an at large for the Zags.

5) Siena (18-5,12-0 MAAC). The Saints just keep rolling along after disposing of Saint Peter's. Ho Hum, another MAAC win. It is amazing that there are four teams in my top five that are still undefeated in conference. Siena deserved the third best Bracketbuster matchup vs. Northern Iowa (more on that when we get to Northeastern), but they can't afford to look ahead. At Rider on Saturday won't be easy, then following two home games, the road game at Iona on President's Day will certainly be a test. The Saints only beat the Gaels by one at home late last month.

6) Northeastern (15-6, 10-1 CAA). The more I think about it, the more I believe that Northeastern got hosed by the folks at ESPN. A definitely higher RPI and SOS than Northern Iowa in a similarly comparable conference to the Panthers and the Huskies get to face a team, Wright State, with a RPI of 87 spots lower than Siena. Like I said in my previous posting, too many strong road teams in the Bracketbuster matchups. Huskies have some tough games ahead including home vs. fourth place Drexel on February 11 followed by a rematch at George Mason on Valentine's Day.

7) Northern Iowa (17-6, 11-1 MVC). Picked to finish a lot lower than their current standing in the Valley, the Panthers couldn't ask for a better matchup on Bracketbuster Saturday than a road game against #20 RPI ranked Siena. A road win there goes a long way towards a case for an at large bid. But as always, the road in the Valley will be tough for the Panthers before that game. They got off to a good start on that with a win at Bradley last night. Four more conference games are in between that matchup with Siena.

8) St Mary's (18-3, 5-2 WCC). Eight spots into the countdown and we have our first team not in first place in their conference. Hell, the Gaels aren't even in second in the WCC after losing at Portland on Saturday for their second loss in a row. But let's face it, the Gaels showed for a half that they are a better team than Gonzaga when they have a healthy Patty Mills. It was incredibly difficult to ask the Gaels' players to adjust without having Mills two days later vs. the Pilots. Now Diamon Simpson, Omar Samhan and especially Carlin Hughes must pick up the slack and keep the Gaels afloat in the WCC. Luckily all their tough games coming up, the rematches with Gonzaga, Portland and San Diego are all at home. Run the table there and the Gaels will be fine..just fine.

9) Western Kentucky (15-7, 9-2 Sun Belt). Why do you think the Hilltoppers get no love. Sweet Sixteen team from last season. First place in the Sun Belt East Division and a showcase signature win at Louisville (yes it was supposedly a neutral game..but at Freedom Hall? Cmon). So why do Sun Belt teams like the Hilltoppers get little attention. I'll tell you why. Name another Sun Belt national TV game except for the win at Louisville. Name one. See you can't and neither can I.

The Sun Belt inexplicably is not part of the Bracketbusters. They need to be. Imagine the Hilltoppers with a home game vs. Northeastern? I can. Yoohoo Sun Belt!! No one remembers that you had two teams in the NCAA's last year (South Alabama and Western Kentucky) and that one was in the Sweet Sixteen. A little more national exposure might just get people to remember. Ok, I will get off my soapbox now.

10) VCU (16-6, 9-2 CAA) - The Rams are coming off a come from behind win at Hofstra as Eric Maynor again proves he is one of the most clutch players in college basketball. The Rams get to travel to Reno for their bracketbuster game against Nevada on Feb 20. But first is more CAA conference action with the only difficult game in the next five being a road game at ODU on Valentine's Day. VCU could very well be tied for first place come their Bracketbuster showdown vs. the Wolfpack.

11) Illinois State (18-4, 7-4 CAA) - The Redbirds are struggling to stay in second place in the Missouri Valley. Having split their last four games, Illinois State has to find a way to make a run in the Missouri Valley to make it a two team race with Northern Iowa. Unfortunately, three of the next four games in conference are on the road. Therein lies the problem. All four of the Redbirds' losses on the season are road losses in conference. In fact, Oguchi, Eldridge and company have only won one game on the road in conference. If the Redbirds want to be seriously considered for an at large bid, they need to run the table in their next five conference games,then win at Niagara on February 21.

12) George Mason (16-6, 9-3 CAA) - Coming off a solid effort against Hofstra, the Patriots look to try to make the CAA a three team horse race. They have a chance with Northeastern at home being a part of their next four conference games (along with a game vs. fourth place Drexel) before they get Creighton in Omaha in their Bracketbuster game. Unfortunately, due to the uneven schedule in the CAA, George Mason lost their only game vs. VCU so the Rams have the tiebreaker on that. The development of freshmen Ryan Pearson, Michael Morrison and Andre Cornelius over those games will be key in the Patriots' run.

13) Wisconsin Green Bay (18-6, 10-2 Horizon) - The Phoenix are rising! With a huge home win over #11 Butler, the Phoenix have firmly established themselves as a serious contender in the Horizon League. This is due in large part to having nearly five playera average in double figures (Terry Evans is at 9.5 points per game). Green Bay's high powered offense causes fits for their opponents. Ryan Tilemma scored 18 points in the second half vs. Butler but the key stat was the Phoenix' defense holding the Bulldogs to 37.7 percent from the field. The Phoenix will get to show a national TV audience how good they are when they face Long Beach State in their Bracketbuster game.

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