It's time for the last Mid Majors Baker's Dozen for 2009. Remember, it's A-10 free.
1) Northern Iowa (10-1) - The Panthers remain at the top spot after winning impressively at sold out Creighton last night. Remember it's never easy to win a road game in the Valley, especially at a sold out Quest Center in Omaha.
2) Gonzaga (9-3) - The Zags have a New Year's Eve home date vs Oklahoma, then a road game at Illinois before WCC play. And talk about those first three conference games - at Portland, at Saint Mary's (mark Thursday January 14 on your calendar, I am) and at San Diego.
3) Butler (8-4) - Have played a brutal non conference schedule which should make them Horizon ready. But the Bulldogs really need to get Matt Howard going, otherwise Wright State might be the team to beat in the Horizon. Howard is down in most major statistical categories from last season (11.4 ppg as opposed to 14.8 last season, 5 rebounds per game as opposed to 6.8 last season and 42 FG percent as opposed to 55 percent last season).
4) St Mary's (12-2) - Loss to USC not so bad after USC dismantled nationally ranked UNLV in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. Right now with Portland's road troubles, WCC looks to only be a two team race again. January 14 vs. Gonzaga is huge but they need to play two road WCC games first before meeting the Zags.
5) Missouri State (11-1) - Needed to show something on their three game road swing and despite a close loss to Arkansas, the Bears made up for it big time with double digit wins at St Louis and in league play last night over Evansville. A double digit win on the road in the Valley is very impressive indeed.
6) William and Mary (8-2) - A win tonight at Maryland and depending how they do in what is shaping up to be a tough Colonial Conference, you can seriously start considering the Mary for an at large bid. Road win at Wake and home win over Richmond are particularly impressive. Very big conference road test at Hofstra on Saturday.
7) Cornell (10-2) - Can you feel the love for the Big Red?! I do. 3-0 vs. the A-10. THREE AND ZERO. Damn. How many schools feel really stupid now about passing over Ryan Wittman?! Seriously. Cornell continues its non conference schedule January 6th at...Kansas. Could we see Cornell, an Ivy League team make the second round of the NCAA Tournament this season? Absolutely.
8) VCU (8-2) - The return of Jamie Skeen and Terrance Saintil makes an already talented VCU even deeper. Good comeback win vs. East Carolina at home. That would have been a bad loss on the resume. CAA conference play resumes with a home game vs. much improved UNCW. Looking forward to the Larry Sanders vs. John Fields matchup.
9) Old Dominion (8-4) - A new team in our standings and deservedly so. The win at Georgetown was absolutely huge. ODU played very well against the Hoyas, even though Georgetown played a very sloppy game. Then they add to that an absolute 39 point thrashing of Charlotte, who previously thrashed Louisville in Freedom Hall. That's serious at large resume street cred for the Monarchs.
10) Western Carolina (10-2) - Don't be fooled by that final score against Clemson. They were only down five, 56-51 with eight minutes left. They are currently the only team in the Southern Conference with an overall record that's more than two games over .500. It's a three team in race in the Southern - Western Carolina, Charleston, and Davidson - Catamounts, Cougars and Wildcats - oh my!
11) South Alabama (9-4) - The best of the Sun Belt is a newcomer to the list. The road win vs. Florida sealed their inclusion in the Baker's Dozen. Jaguars look ready to pounce on the rest of the league and start with the FIT, otherwise known as Florida Isaiah Thomas (ok, it's Florida International).
12) Siena (8-4) - They're back!!! Was there any doubt? The Saints have absolutely dismantled their last two opponents, Rider and St Joe's by 22 and 17 points respectively. Three conference games occur before the first rematch of the 2009 Tournament championship with Niagara at home on January 9th.
13) Louisiana Tech (12-2) - The first WAC member of the year. The Bulldogs get in on the strength of their home win over Murray State but more importantly, their impressive road win over Conference USA member Houston (who defeated Oklahoma earlier in the season). Saturday's home game vs. Nevada should be very high scoring. Both teams average over 80 points per game.
Honorable Mention - Murray State, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Wright State, Kent State and Akron.
Top Five Disappointments So Far This Season
1) Northeastern (4-7) - With two wins in a row, hopefully the Huskies are starting to come out of their funk. However, picked to finish 2nd in the CAA by the coaches and first by me, Team Enigma is truly again, Team Enigma. It seems like they never really fully recovered from the end of last season where they lost five of their last six games in conference.
Stat That Stands Out - Well there are several. Tenth in the CAA in scoring offense. Tenth in CAA in FG percentage defense at 44 percent. Dead last in three point FG percentage defense at 39 percent and dead last in the CAA in rebounding defense. Combine all that together and there is serious concern for the Huskies.
2) Creighton (5-7) - Had such high hopes for the Blue Jays. One of the last teams left out of the NCAA Tournament last season, a team coming off 27 wins and a first round NIT win (they blew a lead against Kentucky at home in the second round). They should be so much better. But I guess they miss Booker Woodfox a lot. The reason for the bad start - lack of defense. Next to last in the Valley in scoring defense and dead last in defensive rebounding. Teams are killing the Blue Jays on the glass.
Stat That Stands Out - This was the year that P'Allen Stinnett would step out of the shadows of the now graduated Woodfox. Well, when he stepped out, he forgot to bring his game with him. Stinnett is down in scoring (three less points per game than last season) and his field goal percentage is down 41 percent as opposed to 44 percent last season.
3) Miami Ohio (3-9) - The Redbirds are 3-9. Seriously? Yes, they have a one point win over Wright State and they have played their usual brutal non conference schedule with close losses at Kentucky, Dayton, neutral site to Louisiana Tech, at Cincinnati and at Xavier. But to lose to Towson? Mind you they only have won on average 18 games a season since 2002-03, but they have made the NIT several times along with one NCAA appearance and they are always competitive. The Redbirds should be better.
Stat That Stands Out - Kenny Hayes is down in several shooting categories, especially three point shooting (from 53 percent last season to 35 percent this season) and overall field goal shooting (from 46.6 percent last season to 42.8 percent this season). Now you can't expect Hayes to shoot 53 percent from beyond the arc, but there is room for improvement.
4) UCLA (5-7) - Remember this is not Mid Major Hoops anymore, so we occasionally now talk about the big boys (though not often) , so UCLA is included in our Top Five Disappointments List. Last season, second round loss to Nova in the NCAA Tournament. Before that, three years in a row in the Final Four. Yes, they lost several players due to graduation/leaving early. Yes, it's difficult to replace four of your top five scorers. But this is UCLA?! The Wooden history etc etc.
But their fall from grace is a flat out free fall. This season, the Bruins started out the year losing at home to Cal State Northridge in OT. Then had a streak where they lost six out of seven at games. Yes UCLA has won three in a row to get to 5-7, but those were all cupcakes. Their best non conference win is over Pepperdine. Ok, and you're starting off in conference against Arizona State on New Year's eve. Not good.
Stat That Stands Out - The Bruins have played one road game the entire season (loss at Notre Dame) and yet are 5-7. They are 5-2 at home and 0-4 on neutral site games. Uh oh.
5) Portland (7-5) - Yes they are the only team on this list with an over .500 record. But the results have not matched the early hype. Early on, the Pilots looked like they were making a case for a three bid West Coast Conference after knocking off UCLA (which doesn't look so impressive now) and then #16 Minnesota (still a good win) in the 76 Classic. The problems have occurred after the 76 Classic; a four point home loss to Portland State, then getting smoked on the road by Idaho, Washington and Nevada. Not good.
Stat That Stands Out - Not a very good road team. 1-3 and have given up an average of 78 points in road games, 8 more per game than their overall average. You can't be successful unless you win road games. And you can't win road games without playing defense.