Saturday, February 28, 2009

Don't Forget About These Games

It's not just the last regular season day for the CAA, it's either the last regular season day for a lot of other leagues or the last regular season games for a lot of the teams in these leagues. Just to note a few dandies.


Cleveland State vs. Butler - The preseason favorite to win the Horizon vs. the team that won the regular season Horizon championship. Do we have a preview of the championship game? Green Bay may have a say about that.

Green Bay vs. Wright State - Speaking of the Phoenix, the Cheese Heads try to clinch at least a second seed with a win today. It won't be easy vs. the fourth place Raiders. Did you know the Horizon is ranked higher as a conference than the CAA? Its not just Butler here.

Missouri Valley

Wow, the Valley teams on average spend $2.1 million on basketball. It's getting close to whether the Valley belongs with the power conferences (but as you all know with me, it's not just about money, it's also history..thus why the A10 will never be a mid major to me..ever).

Illinois State vs. Creighton - The feature Bizarro Valley matchup on the Deuce today at 2pm. The Bluejays can seal a tie for first place in the MVC with a win over the disappointing Redbirds who couldn't seal the deal at home vs. Northern Iowa this week.

Evansville vs. Northern Iowa - This is not a gimme game considering how the Aces have played lately in wins over Miami Ohio and Bradley. The Aces are a pretty good, fun to watch team. And remember, they have Shy Ely. What a name.


Portland vs. Santa Clara - This game has serious implications for St Mary's. A win by Santa Clara and a win by St Mary's over conference doormat Loyola Marymount gives the Gaels the second seed in the WCC tournament. That could be a big factor at the Orleans (I originally so wanted to go to this tournament this season) and for those at large bid hopes.

Gonzaga vs. San Diego - The Zags don't want any slipups here, especially since the game is on ESPN. Zags have a history though of struggling with San Diego. Would hurt in NCAA tournament seedings. Don't fool yourselves, Zags are in the dance no matter what happens at the Orleans.

Sun Belt

Western Kentucky vs Mid. Tenn State - This is an important game for the Hilltoppers as they face one of the mid major disappointments this season, Middle Tennessee. A win by the East Divsion leading Hilltoppers gives them the #1 seed in the Sun Belt tournament (they swept West Division leader UALR twice) and they avoid having to play either Troy or UALR in the semis.

Atlantic Sun

Jacksonville vs. Belmont - This is for all the marbles in the A Sun. The winner gets a number one seed and an easier bracket to the final, while the loser will have to most likely face East Tennessee State in the Semis. Both teams split with the Bucs this season.


North Dakota St vs. Oral Roberts - It is amazing how many big conference deciding games there are today. Talk about scheduling. Another game on ESPN360 pits the new kids on the block Bison vs the old guards of the Summit, the Golden Eagles. First place in the Summit on the line. Damn.

Plenty of good mid major action around and a lot on TV. Grab the popcorn and a sandwich. Enjoy.

Last Wacky Regular Season Day in the CAA, Plus the Purple Eagles Bounce Siena and It's Senior Day!

Today is the last regular season day for the CAA. Six days from now, eight "bye-challenged" teams will battle it out in two sessions to see who can get to the second round. But going into today, as noted in our previous column, there are a lot of seedings still to be decided. It's been truly a wacky season in the CAA, where chalk often doesn't matter and why should the last day be any different?! Here's how I think it goes in order of when the games start.

2 pm - JMU vs. Delaware - These are two guard oriented teams that might get into a scoring fest. I think JMU wants that sixth seed more than Delaware wants to escape tenth. Dukes win, which is going to setup something truly wacky. Follow the progression.

4pm - UNCW vs. Hofstra - This is a game that means a lot to the Pride. Senior Day, with six seniors graduating (more on that later) and a chance, albeit needing some help, to finish fourth and get the last bye spot. The Pride will get it done and for once, they won't add to their incredible record when the game is decided by five points or less.

4pm - Georgia State vs. VCU - This game is very very interesting. This could very well be a preview of a second round CAA tournament game as Georgia State is locked into eighth and VCU can be the #1 seed with a win today. The Panthers have won four in a row and five out of six and Regarding the Underdog correctly says Georgia State is dangerous, while VCU is slowly becoming a very frustrating team to watch, having split their last four games. The Spiegel Center is a somewhat more of a home advantage than Richmond Coliseum, so I think that will be the difference today in a very close game as the Rams clinch the #1 seed.

6pm - ODU vs. Northeastern - Litos first reported ODU's Gerald Lee injuring his foot during practice and thus why he sat out against the Mary. Its being reported as a strain, but its a two pronged question of whether he will play and if so, how effective he will be. The Monarchs desperately need this game and Northeastern might only be playing for the #2 seed by the time this game starts. Still it's senior day for the Huskies and they want to go into the tourney as the #2 seed. Huskies win another close one, setting up a wild end to the day.

7pm - Drexel vs William and Mary - This is a game that Drexel needs to win. The Dragons are coming off a heartbreaking last second loss to Northeastern at home. If Bruiser can't stop them from finding out, the Dragons should know at halftime the outcome of the ODU vs Huskies game. Nothing like a big letdown, a little pressure and remember, it's senior day for the Mary. Those are ingredients for a storm and finally, the Dragons are the perfect team for the Mary, a defensive styled team that can't shoot straight. Perfect team for the final ingredient for the perfect storm. So in a game that will be low scoring, the Mary pull off the upset.

8pm - Towson vs. George Mason - This will be the anticlimatic game that you can watch on ESPN 360 where the Patriots on Senior Day smack around the defensively challenged Tigers. Mason gets the #3 seed.

So I am predicting that VCU, Northeastern, Mason and hold your hat, Hofstra get the automatic byes. ODU is fifth, JMU is sixth and poor Drexel drops all the way to seventh. Of course I could be dead wrong, but seeing how wacky the CAA has been this season, there has to be one final wild regular season scenario to be played out. So why not this one. We'll find out.

Last night I watched Niagara unfortunately put a dent into the Siena at large bid bandwagon and I am afraid some NCAA tourney committee members watching the game on ESPNU might have jumped off. It was a very entertaining game watching both teams go up and down the court, scoring a combined 185 points in the process. As all of you may know, I am a big fan of Niagara, but Siena's defense was awfully lacking as the Purple Eagles seemingly could not be stopped driving to the basket. Niagara shot 52 percent from the field which included all five Purple Eagle starters scoring in double figures and the Purple Eagles bench outscored Siena's 24-6. Bilal Benn led Niagara with 21 points while Siena's Ronald Moore led all scorers with 23 points. Kenny Hasbrouck had a night to really forget shooting 2 of 20 from the field for 5 points. The rest of Siena shot 28 of 51 from the field (55 percent).

I know this is sacrilege coming from someone who covers the CAA religiously, but if you give me a choice to see a live championship game between Niagara- Siena or George Mason -VCU (now I am not saying that's my championship game in the CAA..yet) , I'd say I would probably take the Purple Eagles and the Saints.

As noted, today is Senior Day for many schools. I am fortunate that I will see two. My friend Tony Bozzella's Iona Lady Gaels host a home game at 2pm today vs. Saint Peter's in a game that decides fourth place in the MAAC Women's BBall. Iona has only one graduating senior, Naeemah Ricketts. Congrats Naeemah! Then at halftime of that game, we leave for Hempstead as Hofstra hosts UNCW in as noted a potentially critical game for the last bye spot in the CAA tournament. Hofstra graduates SIX seniors; Arminas Urbutis, Zygis Sestokas, Dane Johnson, Darren Townes, Greg Johnson and Mike Davis Sabb. Congrats guys! The game will be on MSG+, so get the popcorn and watch the game!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Things of Note - The Underdog, JUCOs and Why I Probably Won't Be at the CAA Tourney This Year

This morning I spent looking around my favorite basketball sites, Mid -Majority and Representing the Underdog.

First, I should have realized Michael Litos would have done the CAA tiebreaker scenarios, so I should have just linked to him instead of the torture I inflicted upon myself last night (at least we both needed beers doing this). Second, based on reading his, I believe I screwed up the William and Mary scenario. Looks like the Mary can finish no higher than 11th unless they tie Towson, because get this they split and mary has a better record against Northeastern than Towson. Also, for some reason, I thought the Mary split with Delaware. Turns out that Delaware won their only game between each other, so the Mary can't finish higher than Delaware if they should somehow be tied. I told you yesterday that this hurt my head, so I am not surprised I screwed something up.

Kyle Whelliston has two articles on his site, the latest one about the Binghamton game last night that links to a NY Times article. Yeah, the dealings are a little shady there at Binghamton, and it seems Binghamton wants to play the big boys bball game. I am going to go a different tact on this which Kyle mentions, the "short term basketball mercenaries" he refers to.

I am not going to mention the school by name (but if you are a follower of this blog, you will figure it out in little time) I know a certain CAA member team that currently has FIVE JUCO players. Two of them I know the team actively recruited when they were in high school but could not make the grades thus they went JUCO. The other three were players they saw when they had scholarships open. Now I am all for giving players an opportunity to get a scholarship, get a degree and play at a decent D1 level. EVERYONE deserves a chance (often though at the D1 basketball level, players get several chances). That is not what my take on this is about.

My take on this is that these players are recruited often when you need to plug a hole, often due to four year recruits that have not held up to promise, or for a quick fix, thinking a JUCO might help a team go over the top. This did occur with the team I mentioned a few seasons ago. This school brought in a JUCO forward who they thought could help up front. That player for two seasons became a core part of a team that made the NIT three years in a row. But that team had a three player core that was there four wonderful years.

I didn't have a problem with them bringing in one JUCO to plug a hole because the rest of the team was four year recruits and they had a greatly successful three year run. The problem in this case with this team now, five JUCOs have been brought in the past two years. Why? Honestly, there a couple of reasons. One, the four year recruits they brought in have not lived up to expectation. Second, JUCOs can bring you to the promised land, in this case most likely a 20 win season. Third if you have a winning team, even if its one year, its a justification that the dollars spent on the basketball program are being well spent since the team is successful. Especially during this economy I can't stress this third reason enough. A lot of money is spent on the basketball program. A lot.

My problem with this is exactly Kyle's, there is no continuity. Say you have a team with several JUCOs, you only have two years with each kid and the likelihood of building a continuously successful program diminishes greatly. It really is bringing in "short term mercenaries". Now as far as the team I mentioned, two of the JUCOs graduate this season. The schools has six open scholarships and right now five of them have been alloted. Four are four year recruits, one is a JUCO that the school's assistant coach saw when he was looking at another player in that game. So there will be four JUCOs on the team next season with still one opening.

I hope all these JUCOs get their degrees. Truly hope so. Then they won't be just "short term mercenaries. But as for the program's continuity, who knows how good it will be next year or the year after that.

So Kyle's second article is about his travails on where he is going for conference tournaments. I was hoping Kyle would be at the CAA tournament during next weekend but he will be at the Valley instead, which is obviously a good destination. I just think the CAA might be an even more crazy tournament this season than the Valley. Kyle is also trying to rally the troops to attend a conference tournament live. Read the article. Based on my six years of experiences, can't agree more.

Which brings me to my next, albeit it for me sad point. I have been proudly going to the CAA tournament since the 2002-03 season. I have got to see some of the best players in the best moments for the past six years. With my friend Tony Terentieff, I have six consecutive years of wonderful, wonderful memories (Mal Galletta joined us for the 05-06 and 06-07 seasons). There was the side trip to Atlantic City in 2005-06 as well as that whole tournament experience of that season which I believe was the penultimate season for mid major teams and my first season of covering college basketball on this column. Last season, I got to see the CAA tournament and then two weeks later my first ever NCAA tournament first round. Just awesome.

Thus it brings me with a sad heart to say that there is a very good chance I will not be at the CAA tournament this season. There is a very good reason; a wonderful 15 month old boy I love dearly is going to have surgery this upcoming Monday. My youngest son Jonathan was born with a Grade 4 reflux condition in each of his kidneys. The condition was found in sonograms during the pregnancy. The condition is basically this; due to a problem with the tube leading from the kidneys, the urine backs up into the kidney. If untreated, the urine will infect the kidney and kidney failure can result.

Now often the problem fixes itself in most cases after the child is a few months old. However, in my youngest son's case, that has not happened. He has been on antibiotics since he was born and every so often the antibiotics have to be changed. We were told that he would likely have to have surgery when he was two. But recently after Xrays were done, it was decided it had to be done sooner. Our specialist who will perform the surgery says that it is a common procedure and that he has done thousands of them. Still my son will have to have surgery on both kidneys on Monday and will spend three days in the hospital and then there is his recovery.

If everything works out and Jonathan is home feeling his usual happy self at the end of the week, there is a very remote chance that I will go for one day, likely the Saturday games due to that being the best day for the tournament. But my son comes first, always just like the oldest son, Matthew does too. So I have accepted the fact I won't be there.

I didn't know if I was going to write about the above. Its something I don't like being public about. But there are people who read this column who know that I go to Richmond every year, so I thought it was best to be honest about not being there this year. But I am hoping that someday I will make the trip down to Richmond with both sons watching three seemingly endless days of intense, terrific college basketball (yes, I know its four days, but I have never been there for the conference final due to work committments..maybe next year I will break that string).

So if you read this column and if you can, please go to the CAA tournament in my stead. Write about your experiences there. Go to Pasta Luna and have a great Italian dinner (I have been doing that every year I have been there). Go to Buffalo Wild Wings after the tournament Saturday night and watch some good other conference tournaments there on TV. Soak in the best time of year for us and have a beer for me. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wacky Wednesday Night CAA...Fun For the Crowd - Part II

So here's the scenario. You are tied for fourth place, the last first round bye spot. There's a good chance that if you win your game on Wednesday night and your home game on Saturday, you will have that fourth bye spot. In what has to be the most important game of your season, you need to come out and play your best game of the season...right?

So what was with Hofstra going down to Georgia State and losing by 21 last night??? In what should result as a nominee for this season's "Biggest Egg Laid By a Team in a Critical Game", the Pride got blown out of Atlanta as Georgia State won a laugher 76-55. The Pride had a lead at 4-2 and that was the last lead they had. The Panthers went on a 16-0 run and never looked back. In the first half alone, Georgia State was 7 of 11 from beyond the arc as the Panthers, last in the CAA in scoring offense, roasted the CAA's former leader in field goal percentage defense for 61.5 percent FG shooting in the first half. The Panthers shot 53 percent for the game (Drexel caught Hofstra after last night and is now first in FG percentage D at 39.5%, Hofstra is 39.6%). The Panthers were up 46-27 at the half.

Hofstra would come out on a 12-1 run to cut the lead to 47-39 with 15:12 left. But the Pride missed a chance to get the score closer and the Panthers would answer with an 18-4 run to seal the deal and the win.

The Panthers were led by Leonard Mendez, who scored 27 points on 9 of 14 shooting and 6 of 6 from the line. Mendez, who was the leading scorer for the Panthers last year at 16 points per game, came in averaging only 8.8 points per game. Charles Jenkins led the Pride with 19 points.

With the loss, Hofstra (19-10, 10-7 CAA) fell into a tie for fifth with Drexel, but since the Dragons swept the season series from the Pride, Drexel is in fifth and Hofstra is in sixth. The Panthers are now 11-18,8-9 CAA) and have clinched eighth place in the CAA (even if they end up tied with James Madison for seventh, the Dukes have the tiebreaker on them). It's the most wins the Panthers have had in the CAA regular season since they joined the league in 2005-06. It was also the first win Georgia State has had over Hofstra since joining the CAA (they lost their previous five games to the Pride).

Meanwhile in Harrisonburg, the Dukes of James Madison desperately needed a home win to keep their very slim hopes alive for a fourth place finish. Unfortunately the Dukes were hosting first place Virginia Commonwealth, not an easy task for trying to stay alive for a bye spot. The Dukes came into the game seventh in the CAA and left the game seventh in the CAA as VCU routed James Madison 71-52.

The game was close for a half as VCU only led 28-26 at halftime. But the Rams would outscore the Dukes 43-26 in the second half as Eric Maynor had 18 points and 8 assists to lead VCU. He got help from Larry Sanders who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. The Rams held the Dukes to 32 percent shooting from the field including an absolutely awful 2 of 20 from beyond the arc. Juwann James led JMU with 19 points.

So ok, we're down to one game left in the regular season that is the CAA, the wacky parity league. Here's the league standings as of today

1) VCU 13-4
2) Northeastern 12-5
3) George Mason 12-5
4) ODU 11-6
5) Drexel 10-7
6) Hofstra 10-7
7) James Madison 9-8
8) Georgia State 8-9
9) Towson 5-12
10) Delaware 5-12
11) William and Mary 4-13
12) UNCW 3-14

So far, only two teams have clinched their spots. Georgia State is eighth. Even if they tie JMU, JMU has the tiebreaker. Likewise, UNCW is last. Even if they tie the Mary, the Mary swept both games from UNCW, thus the Seahawks are last.

Three teams have now clinched byes after last night. VCU, George Mason and Northeastern have clinched a first round bye.

Here are the scenarios for each team in current order

1) VCU - VCU can finish no lower than second.

A) If VCU wins at home vs. Georgia State, they are the #1 seed for the CAA tournament.
B) If VCU loses, Northeastern wins and Mason loses, both VCU and Northeastern would be tied. Northeastern would get the #1 seed due to winning the sole game between the teams. VCU would be the #2 seed.
C) If VCU loses, Northeastern loses and Mason wins, VCU would finish first, having won the sole game between them and Mason.
D) If VCU, Mason and Northeastern all tie, Northeastern would finish first due to best record between the teams (Northeastern is 2-1 vs Mason and VCU, VCU is 1-1 vs Mason and Northeastern, and Mason is 1-2 vs Northeastern and VCU). VCU would finish second in that scenario because they have the tiebreaker on Mason.

2) Northeastern - The Huskies have clinched at least a #3 seed. But things get a little interesting if things play out.

A) Northeastern would get the # 1 seed as listed above if they win, and VCU loses because they have the tiebreaker on VCU in any scenario.
B) If VCU wins, Northeastern wins and Mason wins, Northeastern would get the #2 seed, due to the fact that since Northeastern and Mason split, the next tiebreaker is record vs. team directly above in standings. Since Northeastern beat VCU and Mason lost to VCU, Northeastern gets the tiebreaker.
C) If Northeastern loses to ODU and Mason wins, Mason finishes second and Northeastern finishes third due to the following - Since the first tiebreaker is a wash since both ODU and Northeastern split the season series. The second tiebreaker, record vs team higher above in standings is also a wash since both teams split with George Mason. The third tiebreaker is the next team higher above in the standings, which is VCU. Northeastern wins the tiebreaker on that due to the fact that they have a 1-0 record vs. VCU while ODU is 1-1 vs. VCU.
D) If Northeastern loses to ODU and Mason loses, Northeastern would finish second due to better record vs VCU (Northeastern 1-0, Mason 1-1, ODU 1-1) since the first tiebreaker is a wash since all three teams would have 2-2 records against each other.

(ok, do you need a beer already? I do, but there's a lot more).

3) George Mason - The Patriots have clinched at least a #4 seed and a first round bye, but can not finish any higher than a #2 seed since VCU has tiebreaker on them

A) Mason will get the #2 seed if they win and Northeastern loses.
B) Mason will get the #3 seed if they win and Northeastern wins.
C) Mason will get the #4 seed if they lose and Northeastern loses to ODU. All three teams would be tied and as noted above, the first tiebreaker head to head between the three teams is a wash since they all went 2-2 against each other. The second tiebreaker is record vs. VCU, the team higher. Northeastern as noted would get the #2 seed based on best record vs. VCU (1-0). ODU would get the #3 seed based on second best record vs. VCU (1-1). Mason would get the #4 seed as a result.

4) ODU - The Monarchs clinch at least the #4 seed with a win vs Northeastern. If they lose, things get dicey.

A) ODU would get a #3 seed if they beat Northeastern and Mason loses to Towson.
B) If ODU loses and Drexel and Hofstra lose, ODU gets the #4 seed.
C) If ODU loses and Drexel wins and Hofstra loses, ODU gets the #4 seed by winning the tiebreaker vs. Drexel, since ODU beat Drexel in the sole game they played.
D) If ODU loses, Drexel wins and Hofstra wins, ODU would get the #5 seed. This is due to the tiebreaker being best record vs. each other - Drexel would be the #4 seed with a 2-1 record, ODU would be the #5 seed with a 1-1 record and Hofstra would be the #6 seed with a 1-2 record.
E) If ODU loses, Drexel loses and Hofstra wins, ODU would get the #5 seed and Hofstra the #4 seed since Hofstra wins the tiebreaker having won the sole game vs. the two teams.

5) Drexel - The Dragons can finish as high as fourth, the final bye spot but get this, they can finish as low as seventh. Here's how.

A) As noted, if Drexel wins, ODU loses and Hofstra wins, as mentioned, the Dragons would get the #4 seed based on head to head tiebreaker.
B) If Drexel wins, ODU wins and no matter if Hofstra wins or loses, Drexel is the #5 seed based on winning the tiebreaker on Hofstra, having swept the season series from the Pride.
C) If Drexel loses, Hofstra loses and JMU wins, the Dragons would be the #5 seed with the better head to head record (Drexel 2-1, Hofstra 2-2, JMU 1-2).
D) If Drexel loses, Hofstra wins and JMU loses, then the Dragons would be the #6 seed.
E) If Drexel loses, Hofstra wins and JMU wins, then the Dragons would be the #7 seed having lost the tiebreaker to JMU having lost the sole game between the teams.

6) Hofstra - With a win the Pride can finish no lower than sixth but can finish as high as the fourth and final bye spot.

A) If Hofstra wins, ODU loses and Drexel loses, the Pride get the #4 seed due to winning the tiebreaker with ODU, having defeated the Monarchs in their only game vs. each other.
B) If Hofstra wins, ODU loses and Drexel wins, due to the tiebreaker being best record vs. each other - Drexel would be the #4 seed with a 2-1 record, ODU would be the #5 seed with a 1-1 record and Hofstra would be the #6 seed with a 1-2 record.
C) If Hofstra wins, ODU wins and Drexel wins, Hofstra gets the #6 seed due to losing the tiebreaker to Drexel since the Dragons swept the season series from the Pride
D) If Hofstra wins, ODU wins and Drexel loses, Hofstra gets the #5 seed.
E) If Hofstra loses, Drexel loses and James Madison wins, Hofstra gets the #6 seed because due to head to head, Drexel would get the #5 seed with a 2-1 record, Hofstra would be #6 with a 2-2 record and JMU would be #7 with a 1-2 record.

7) James Madison - The Dukes can finish no higher than sixth and no lower than seventh.

A) If Hofstra wins, Drexel loses and James Madison wins, James Madison would be the #6 seed and Drexel #7 since JMU would win the tiebreaker having won the only head to head game between the teams.
B) If Drexel and Hofstra lose and James Madison wins, JMU would be the #7 seed since the head to head to head tiebreaker would have Drexel get the #5 seed with a 2-1 record, Hofstra would be #6 with a 2-2 record and JMU would be #7 with a 1-2 record
C) If JMU loses and Georgia State wins, JMU would still be the #7 seed having won the head to head game vs. Georgia State.

8) Georgia State - as noted, they are locked in eighth no matter what they do.

9) Towson - Towson will lock up the #9 seed with either a win or a Delaware loss. They can only finish as low as 10th.

A) If Towson and Delaware both lose, Towson is the #9 seed since they swept both games from the Blue Hens.
B) If Towson and Delaware lose and William and Mary wins, Towson would be the #9 seed due to best record in head to head to head, 3-1. William and Mary would be the #10 seed with a 2-2 record and Delaware would be the #11 seed with a 1-3 record.
C) If Towson loses and Delaware wins, Delaware will be the #9 seed and Towson #10.

10) Delaware - The Blue Hens can finish as high as #9 if they win and Towson loses, or as low as #11 if they lose and William and Mary wins, or if Towson and Delaware lose and William and Mary wins.

11) William and Mary - Can only finish as high as 10th if Delaware loses and the Mary beat Drexel, otherwise they finish #11.

12) UNCW - The Seahawks have already clinched last.

So there are all the scenarios. Still one wild wacky regular season day left in the CAA. We'll see how it turns out.

Wacky Wednesday Night CAA...Fun For the Crowd - Part I

As noted in yesterday's column, yesterday was CAA Wacky Wednesday otherwise known as "Bye or Die!" Six games involving seven teams fighting for a coveted first round bye in the CAA tournament.

So what happened? We had four of the six games decided by one point. One Point! If that's not wacky, I don't know what is. If that's not parity, I don't know what is.

A quick review of the games last night. In a game that had only seeding implications, Towson came from behind in the second half and held on at home to beat Delaware 75-74. Rocky Coleman had 21 for the Tigers while the Blue Hens' Marc Egerson led all scorers with 23 points. Both teams are 5-12. If they remain tied, Towson would finish ninth since they swept the season series.

Old Dominion had a home game against eleventh place William and Mary. With Senior night and a chance to move into sole possession of fourth place, you would think the Monarchs would come out and blow away the Tribe, a 9-19 team that had only two road wins all season. Well you forget that this is CAA Wacky Wednesday and records and stats don't mean a thing. The Tribe came out and shot 49 percent from the field. The game was close in the first half with the Tribe only down one at the half.

The Mary actually took the lead to start the second half at 28-27, but the Monarchs would go back into the lead on a Ben Finney layup and the Monarchs would stretch the lead out to 49-40 with 10 minutes left. The Mary came back to tie the game at 53 and then would actually go ahead 61-58 before Darius James' three pointer tied the game at 61. Another three by Jonathan Adams put the Monarchs up three. The Mary's Danny Summer put within one and the Tribe had several chances to win the game but missed at the end. ODU shot 52 percent from the field led by Finney and Frank Hassell, who each had 13. David Schneider, who had the last chance to win the game for the Tribe but missed a three pointer, led all scorers with 22 points.

The Monarchs as a result of this win combined with both Drexel and Hofstra losing are now in sole possession of fourth place, the last first round bye spot.

Meanwhile, in another game that on paper didn't indicate this game would be this close, George Mason needed a reverse layup from Jon Vaughan with five seconds left to lift the Patriots to a 53-52 win over UNCW which saved the Patriots from a demoralizing loss. The Patriots had been in control of most of the game. An 11-1 run put the Patriots up early 13-4. The Seahawks closed to within one at the half 23-22, but George Mason stretched the lead out to as many as 16, 45-29 with 8:39 left.

But a frantic 11-0 run by UNCW cut the lead to 45-40. After Mason pulled back in front by nine, 49-40, UNCW then went on a 12-2 run capped by a Montez Downey three pointer with 21 seconds left. This setup Vaughan for his heroics, but the Seahawks had one last chance, as Chad Tomko's three pointer hit the back of the rim at the buzzer and bounced off. The Seahawks only have themselves to blame for the loss. In a stat that always comes back to haunt you, the UNCW shot an abysmal 8 of 18 from the free throw line. The Patriots are now 12-5 in conference, still tied for second place with Northeastern.

Speaking of which, Northeastern faced Drexel last night in a rematch of major implications. Drexel won the first matchup at Northeastern and looked to sweep the season series last night. A Drexel win would have resulted in a tie for third place in the CAA with the Dragons holding the tiebreaker (of course ODU and Hofstra could have made it a four way tie for third..still trying to figure out if that happened what would have been the tiebreaker..hurts my head too much).

Anyway, the Huskies were looking for revenge and early on it looked like they were going to get it. Northeastern came out hot, scoring the first twelve points and it looked like Drexel was going to get blown out of its own building. But just like the first game the two teams played, when one team went on a run, the other answered. The Dragons scored nine of the next eleven points and cut the lead to 16-9. Northeastern would go back out by nine, 20-11, but Drexel again would cut into that and actually tied the game at 25 before two free throws by Nkem Ojougboh put Northeastern up at the half 27-25.

If you thought the halftime score was low, well get ready for the second half. Here's probably the sounds you heard in the second half if you were at the game

Clank! Doing! Clank! Clong! Bam!

Pow! Oooof! Awww! Ouuuuch!

No, those are not the sounds of a Batman episode. Those were the sounds off balls clanging off the rims and backboards and the sounds of a typical physical foulfest game that only Drexel and Northeastern could play. Naismith was probably rolling in his grave in this brickfest of a second half as both teams managed to score a combined 41 points in the second half. Yes, this might be good defense. But when one team Drexel shoots 27 percent from the floor, 29 percent for the game and shoots 2 of 6 from the line in the second half and 4 of 10 from the line for the game, that's just not good offense (Northeastern only shot 38 percent for the game)

Anyway, back to the second half slugfest. The teams went back and forth the entire second half. With 3:43 left, Drexel's Evan Neisler hit the first of two free throws to put Drexel up 46-45. Look at that score. 46-45. Look at the time left. 3:43. That would be the score for the next THREE MINUTES AND FORTY ONE SECONDS. Those aforementioned sounds I told you about. Those were the only sounds you heard if you were at the game during those three minutes and forty one seconds. Drexel would miss seven shots and a free throw during this time. Northeastern would miss five shots and have a turnover during this time. If you were a fan of either team at that game last night, you would have been so frustrated that you would have poked your eye out during this time.

Well finally, Baptiste Bataille rebounded a Matt Janning layup and hit a jumper with two seconds left to give Northeastern the win 47-46. How did the game end. On a turnover, how fitting. With the win, Northeastern remains tied with George Mason for second place in the CAA. With the loss, Drexel is now tied with Hofstra for fifth in the CAA.

I will be back with the second half of CAA Wacky Wednesday later today. My head hurts too much after this and I need a clear head to discuss Hofstra's ugly effort, plus all the wild scenarios still in place for the CAA tournament seedings. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quick Notes

I don' t know if you saw this, but for the first time since 1966, ACC tournament tickets are being offered to the public. This is due to a) playing in the 30,000 + seat Georgia Dome and b) more importantly the economy. How this affects mid-major tournaments like the CAA, Missouri Valley, the WCC and others, remains to be seen.

Look for Northeastern to get revenge on Drexel tonight for the loss up in Boston. The Huskies were up 15 early in the second half before a combination of unconscious Dragon shooting and ice cold Huskies shooting and turnovers changed the game around. Against Wright State on Saturday, Northeastern looked so much like the team in the middle of the season that was in first place in the CAA. I think the Huskies have "Wrighted" themselves and will win tonight. Let's see if I am "Wright". :-)

Another Night in the Valley and CAA Wacky Wednesday

Before I hit the first part of my column, the win by Providence over #1 Pittsburgh had some mid major implications. If you are a regular reader of this blog, making you one of ten people, you will know that St Mary's has a neutral site non-conference win over Providence at the 76 Classic. Experts say now that Providence is back in the mix for an at large spot with that win. Well St Mary's certainly has to be any part of that discussion.

Last night, Illinois State had destiny in their hands. A win vs. Northern Iowa at home then a win at Creighton and the Redbirds would have ended in at least a three way tie for first in the Missouri Valley, aka the Bizarro Valley. To paraphrase a great Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon "Illnois State twied and twied Mr Bogart, but they couldn't get a wabbit". In other words, the Redbirds fell short of their goal, losing in double overtime to Northern Iowa 69-67.

The Redbirds certainly had their chances to win. With the game tied at 55, after Johnny Moran, a 78 percent free throw shooter on the season, somehow missed two free throws, the Redbirds' Osiris Eldridge missed a potential game winning jumper with four seconds left. In the first over Lloyd Phillips missed a jumper with no time left on the clock.

However, in the second overtime, Northern Iowa's Adam Koch tipped in a missed shot at the buzzer and the Panthers escaped with the victory. Koch had 25 points to lead the Panthers, who remain in a first place tie with the Bluejays. Brandon Sampay had a double double for the Redbirds with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Redbirds. Eldridge, the preseason pick for Valley player of the year had another horrid game, 9 points on only 3 of 13 shooting from the field, including only 2 of 4 from the line. If Illinois State wants to know why they can't win close games, perhaps shooting only 9 of 16 from the free throw line might clue them in.

Meanwhile in Springfield, Missouri, Creighton had to come from behind to beat Missouri State 65-59. The Bluejays were down twelve 37-25 with 15 minutes left before going on a 13-3 run to get back into the game, then eventually took the lead with 6:16 left and never trailed again. Cavel Witter and P'Allen Stinnett had 11 points for the Bluejays. Booker Woodfox, who had a showcase night vs. Mason on Bracketbuster Saturday only had five field goal attempts and ended with 7 points. With the win, the Bluejays remain tied with the Panthers for first place.

The preseason pick for Valley MVP, Eldridge has a horrid night, a 78 percent free throw shooter misses two free throws that could win the game, two overtime periods in a top team battle gets decided on a tip in, and perhaps the best player in the MVC has five field goal attempts all night. Just another night in the Bizarro Valley.

Meanwhile its "Wacky Wednesday in the CAA", otherwise known as "Bye or Die!". All twelve teams are in action. There are seven teams still fighting for a first round bye as the top four place finishers get a first round bye in the CAA tournament. As far as I know, no team that has ever NOT got a bye in the first round has ended up winning the CAA tournament. Four games in four days is just way too much for any team. Six teams are within two games of each other, with the seventh place team only a game out of fourth place. And you thought the Valley was Bizzaro. Parity thy name is the CAA.

So, the biggest game of all is Northeastern, tied for second place, traveling to the DAC to face Drexel, tied for fourth place. The Dragons are partially responsible for the collapse of Northeastern, having defeating the Huskies on their home court to start a three game losing streak for Northeastern. That was part of a stretch where Northeastern actually lost four of five games and fell out of first place in the CAA.

Meanwhile, Hofstra, also tied for fourth place travels to eighth place Georgia State, who has won four of their last five. The Pride have won five in a row and nine out of their last eleven. ODU, also tied for fourth, is home to William and Mary. The other team tied for second, George Mason tries to finally win a game on the road as it travels to UNCW. The under the radar game for the night is first place VCU traveling to seventh place James Madison. A win at home by Madison coupled with a Huskies road win would result in a tie for first place in the CAA with Northeastern holding the tiebreaker. And oh yeah, in meaningless 101, Towson is home to Delaware.

As Dave Johnson, the famous horse racing announcer would say...DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME! Enjoy.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bracket Buster Saturday Review Part II

As I watched the Oscars, I couldn't help but think that they are going to announce the nominees for Best Mid Major Team and Anne Hathaway is going to say "And the winner is...Slumdog Millionaire". Don't worry. By the time this post is out, you'll see that Slumdog swept the Oscars last night.

Siena vs Northern Iowa - I watched the first half of this game Saturday before I left for Fairfield and then I watched the replay of it on ESPN 360 yesterday. I stated in my preview on Thursday that Siena had a good case for an at large bid and that " they will strengthen that case by dominating Northern Iowa."

Now looking at the final score of the game, won by Siena 81-75, it doesn't look all that dominating. But if you watched the entire game or even just the first half, you know that the Saints are a legitimate at large team as they did "dominate" the action. What struck me immediately was that Siena was able to dictate an up tempo style on a deliberate, Hickory Hoosiers type team like Northern Iowa. The Saints jumped on the Panthers quickly as the Panthers never had a lead for the entire game. It was 11-2, then 21-8, then 29-10 as Siena hit 12 of their first 22 shots. They were up 40-19 at the half and the game was basically over there.

What's so impressive is that the Saints aren't just Kenny Hasbrouck, their "star" player. Hasbrouck, the preseason pick for MAAC player of the year, had a good game with 16 points. But he has a lot of help in the scoring department as the Saints had seven players who had at least 8 points on Saturday. Clarence Jackson came off the bench and had 14 points. And its not just offense the Saints can play. They held Northern Iowa to 40 percent from the field, including 7 of 25 from beyond the arc and forced several turnovers early on the Panthers.

The Panthers came back to make it a respectable game in the second half as they exploited possibly Siena's one weakness a lack of size as Jordan Eglseder had 16 points on the game. Northern Iowa cut what was a thirteen point lead, 71-58 with 1:34 left, down to five, 80-75 before Edwin Ubiles hit one of two free throws to end the game.

Fran Fraschila who was covering the game for ESPN noted Siena was the perfect example of a "Bracketbuster team" by noting this was a veteran team with NCAA tournament experience (they knocked off Vandy) and that they have balanced scoring. In fact, as noted, its more than just Hasbrouck. The Saints have three players who average between 13.6 and 15 points per game and three other players who average more than 8 points per game. Siena has a 22-6 record, a strong RPI of 24 and a very strong non-conference SOS. Yes their best non conference win is a road win at St Joseph's and a home win over Buffalo, but the schedule they played - Kansas, Pitt, Tennessee, among others should count for something. If the Saints should somehow make their conference final and not win, they should get an at large bid. We'll see.

Utah State - St Mary's. I watched the replay of this on ESPN360 this morning. The announcers for the game were Bob Wischusen and Tim Welsh. It was probably weird for them doing this game because they tend to do all the games east of the Mississippi. After Wischusen noted that this game has "monumental proportions", here's what Welsh said;

Welsh – “The coaches won’t admit it, but this could be a play in game if they don’t win their conference tournaments. Both teams are on the proverbial bubble. ”

I was really struck by this comment and I will talk more about it later. But yes, this was the game with the most on the line. Butler vs. Davidson might have been the marquee game, but this was a close second and was more important. The majority of those who recently donated to Kyle Whelliston's Mid Majority site voted to have him cover this game over the Bulldogs vs. Curry matchup.

It was definitely a matchup of the Aggies' big men, Gary "The Blade" Wilkinson and "Mai" Tai Wesley vs. the Gaels' Omar "Enter the Sandman" Samhan and Diamon "In the Rough" Simpson (yes those are my nicknames) but two lesser known players stood out in this game; Utah State's Jared "Don't Call Me Dan" Quayle and St Mary's Mickey "Don't Call Me Mary" McConnell. Each of them had 22 points in this game won by St Mary's 75-64.

The game started off very close as the frontcourts battled. Utah State's last lead for the game was 8-6 and then the Gaels pulled ahead. But the Gaels lead for the most part wasn't more than five points. With about 2 minutes left, the score was only 31-28 until the Gaels outscored the Aggies 8-1 the rest of the way. It was very evident that Simpson and Samhan were causing fits for Wilkinson and Wesley.

The second half saw the lead expand for the Gaels to 45-31 with 16:45 left. In fact the lead was still 12, 57-45 with 6:55 left. Then the Aggies led by Quayle made a 17-5 run capped by his three with 2:09 left to cut the lead to three, 62-59. However Wayne Hunter's open corner three put the lead at 66-59. But again, Quayle answered with an old fashioned three point play to make it 66-62. However, the Gaels would end the game on a 9-2 spurt and treated the sold out crowd of 3500 in Moraga to a happy ride home.

Samhan and Simpson had the edge on Wilkinson and Wesley yesterday. Samhan was dominant with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. Simpson was not far behind with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Also interestingly enough, Samhan and Simpson are the third best combined average rebound duo in the country at 19.8 per game. Though Wilkinson had 16 points, he had to work for them as he only shot 6 of 14 from the field. Simpson completely took out Wesley who coming in to the game was shooting 62 percent. He was held to seven points on 3 of 9 shooting.

It was very evident from seeing this game that I was watching two NCAA tournament teams. They have the guards, the big versatile frontcourt, the solid ball schemes, excellent defense and the intangibles necessary. Now some people would say well this was on St Mary's homecourt. Well Utah State is one of the nation's leaders in road victories with 10, so that doesn't hold water.

As for Welsh's comment, though I believe he may be right, I don't think its fair. Utah State has 25 wins. Their now three losses were to BYU (bubble team), Boise on the road (defending WAC champ) and St Mary's. Nothing to be ashamed of there and they have a win over Utah, who seems to be a proverbial lock for the tourney. As for St Mary's, they have wins over Providence and San Diego State on neutral courts (both bubble teams as well) and now the win over Utah State without Patty Mills. Both teams are worthy of being at large selections and if both are left home, there should be a criminal investigation.

Boise State vs. Portland State - I didn't get a chance to see this game and unfortunately the replay is not on ESPN360. However, I was not surprised that the game was high scoring, nor was I surprised that the Vikings won. In this battle of two NCAA teams from last season, Jeremiah Dominguez scored 22 points and 8 assists as the Vikings downed the Broncos 93-81. The Vikings scored FIFTY EIGHT points in the first half. The Vikings hit 12 of their first 17 three point attempts, shot 64 percent in the first half and 58 percent on the game. Imagine you shoot 54 percent from the field but yet lose by 12. Yup that's what the Broncos did. The Vikings had six players score in double figures while Boise State had all five starters score in double figures.

Hofstra vs. Fairfield - This is the game that I saw live. But before I write about the game, I must give a big shoutout to Frank Pepe's Brick Oven Pizzeria in Fairfield. Located off exit 25 on I95, Commerce Street, this might be the best pizza I ever had. Recommended to me by my friend Bob Sugar, the equipment manager at Post through Hofstra Sports Information Officer Jeremy Kniffin, this is a gem of a pizzeria. This is a place where if you want a table, expect a long, long wait as evidenced by the line out the door and down the front of the building. Yes it was that long after we got our takeout pie. And the large pie was chicken and pepperoni and damn it was good.

Now onto the game. The game was held at the Bridgeport Harbor Arena, where the Stags play all their home games. The one end of the court was roped off with a large black curtain. This is where also the AHL Bridegport Sound Tigers hockey affiliate of the Rangers plays. It's a very nice arena, relatively new, built in 2001 and seats about 10,000. Surprised that they have not held the MAAC tournament here.

Well, we got to the parking lot and safe to say we parked easily on the second level. It was a telltale sign that despite this being broadcast on ESPN360, there wasn't going to be much of a turnout. The announced crowd was 2,112, but it seemed like a lot less. Well there was a large and vocal Hofstra turnout. And during the pregame much of that vocal turnout was directed at the Stags' mascot with shouts of "Rudolph, Go Home" And "This isn't Christmas". Pretty funny actually and the Stag Mascot took it well, blowing kisses in the direction of the Hofstra student section.

As for the game, well, it featured a Fairfield team that was minus four of its starters, having lost three in a row against a CAA team in Hofstra that had won four in a row and eight of its last ten. So how did the game start. Well if you know Hofstra like I do, everything is a challenge. Everything. The Stags jumped out to a 13-6 lead as Fairfield's Herbie Allen hit three three pointers. If it wasn't for Zygis Sestokas hitting two of his, Hofstra would not have had any points as the rest of the Pride missed their first six attempts. It was also obvious that Fairfield's zone was designed to keep Charles Jenkins, the second leading scorer in the CAA from driving to the basket.

The lead swelled to nine points, 19-10 before Hofstra made a run as Jenkins finally hit some of the open jumpers he had and a Sestokas three put the Pride up one, 22-21. The run would eventually be 17-2 as the Pride went up 27-21 before Fairfield hit the last basket to make it 27-23. A Fairfield fan who I became friendly with told me that the final score margin was going to be 20. I turned to him and said, it's never that easy with the Pride. I was right.

The second half started out just like the first half as Fairfield went out and scored the first five points to take the lead. Hofstra would come back and go ahead 38-33 as two Jenkins free throws capped a 9-0 Pride run. But after the Pride missed several opportunities over a minute and a half to extend the lead, the Stags came back. The Stags. led by Yorel Hawkins, would outscore the Pride 18-7 over the next nine minutes to go up 51-45 with 4:19 left. Then the Pride would make another run, this time a 16-5 run to end the game. The unique thing about this run was that Charles Jenkins would only have two points during this time. It was Cornelius Vines, who came off the bench late in the second half who would spark the run. Vines would score 13 points over the last eight minutes of the game, including his third three pointer with 56 seconds left that broke a 51 all tie and the Pride never looked back.

Vines had 13 points and Sestokas had 12 points on seven combined three pointers. Jenkins scored 13 as well but shot only 4 of 17 from the field while the rest of his team shot 5o percent from the field (Hofstra shot 40 percent overall). Hawkins led the way with 18 points while Allen had 15 and Lyndon Jordan had 10 for the Stags. Hofstra is now 19-9 which includes an absolutely ridiculous 12-2 record in games decided by five points or less. Fairfield is now 15-13.

George Mason vs. Creighton - I got home for the second half of this game and I got to see the "Booker Woodfox Coming Out Party". Woodfox, who has one of the best names in college basketball, had eleven second half points as the Bluejays turned what was a very close three point halftime game into a rout as the Patriots won 76-63.

Again it was an example of a team exerting its will and forcing their tempo on another team. At the start of the second half, the Bluejays ran rings around the Patriots who missed eight of their first nine shots. As a result, Creighton went on a 21-7 run in the first eight minutes of the second half and the game was over there. Creighton blitzed the second best defensive field goal percentage team in the CAA for 49 percent from the field which included Woodfox shooting 5 of 6 from three. Woodfox had 22 points on 8 of 10 shooting.

The Patriots, which lost their ninth road game of the season, were led by Cam Long's 23 points. Darryl Monroe, who came in leading the CAA in FG percentage, was held to seven points on 3 of 10 shooting. The Patriots woes from the free throw line contiuned as they were only 10 of 17 from the charity stripe, including Monroe's 1 of 4. Monroe's free throw percentage 56.4 percent is less than his field goal percentage, 58.4 percent.

So here's some categories I came up with from the Bracketbuster weekend.

Teams that Helped Their Cases for an At Large Bid

1) Butler - They are a lock now after the win over Davidson.

2) St Mary's - They really helped themselves with a solid win over a ranked team. Did Patty Mills really help recruit three more Australians for the team next year? Yup.

3) Siena - Anyone on the NCAA tournament selection committee who watched that game had to be impressed with the Saints. I really think they can do damage come tournament time.

4) Creighton - With a solid performance over a veteran NCAA tournament team like George Mason, the Bluejays strengthened their at large credentials.

Teams that Hurt Their Cases for an At Large Bid

1) Davidson - Say it with me now. The Wildcats have to win the SoCon tournament. Again, the Wildcats have to win the SoCon tournament. Yes, they beat West Virginia and NC State on neutral courts but the more the committee watches the Wildcats, the more they must think Davidson is solely based on how Curry plays. That's how I am starting to feel now too.

2) Utah State - A loss to a very good St Mary's team shouldn't hurt, but the committee will consider that they lost to a Mills-less Gaels team and that won't be favorable.

Teams You Can Stick a Fork In

1) Northern Iowa - They have to win the Valley Tournament now and that looks really difficult considering their struggles lately and that Creighton looks sooooo good.

2) Illinois State - Talk about an elite player who had a bad bad game at the wrong time. Osiris Eldridge had a horrible game and the Redbirds have now zero hopes for an at large bid. See #1 in this category.

Teams that Need to Right Themselves Come Tournament Time

1) VCU - The Rams had a nine point lead with six minutes left and should have won their game which they dominated for a good part. But the game showed if Larry Sanders gets into foul trouble, there is no other scoring option for the Rams other than Eric Maynor. VCU needs to find more balance otherwise they will get knocked off in the CAA tournament, I can promise you that.

2) Illinois State - The Redbirds need to learn that they are much more effective when they work it inside than when they chuck the ball up from three. The game against Niagara proved that. The Redbirds need to realize that come Valley tournament time.

3) Northern Iowa - See above with the Redbirds. Get the ball more into Eglseder who is a beast. A more balanced offense will help the Panthers, who play very hard.

4) Davidson - The last few weeks have shown that the Wildcats are certainly beatable in the SoCon. Curry has to start shooting better (and I am starting to think he should stay in school for another year) and the Wildcats need players like Bryant Barr and Wil Archambault to step up.

5) George Mason - This team has to learn how to play on the road and they need to work on their free throw shooting otherwise they too could see a quick exit come CAA tournament time.

Players Who Really Showed Themselves For the First Time to a Televised Nation

1) Booker Woodfox - He's not just a great name but a damn good player too.

2) Gordon Heyward - He showed Saturday that he is one of the best freshman in the country and why Butler is so very good.

3) Tyrone Lewis - Calvin Murphy had to be impressed with his performance on Friday night. I certainly was.

4) Gerald Lee - Now everyone knows this soon to be first team All CAA player.

5) Seth Curry - Yup, the genes run in the family.

6) Cam Long - He went a little under the radar due to Woodfox's performance but he's very good. Mason is going to be fine for the next several seasons with this sophomore leading the way.

7) The St Mary's Team - Now everyone knows this is not just Patty Mills. Samhan and Simpson are a dynamic front court duo and Mickey McConnell looks to be a terrific find. They could be very dangerous if they get Mills back in time for the WCC tournament.

Part I of Thoughts From Each Game of Bracket Buster Saturday!

This is part I of a game by game review of Bracket Buster Saturday. Before I start, I just wanted to quickly say that a lot of the games went to form, at least what I thought was form. In fact, I believe I correctly picked eleven of the thirteen winners of the two days of Bracketbusters. There was one clear exception and that just proved that team is the best mid major team in the country. What was great about these games is that it showed the country some very talented players who don't get very much publicity such as Gordon Heyward, Marcus Blakely, Mike Trimboli, Gerald Lee, Booker Woodfox, Tyrone Lewis, Kenny Hasbrouck and Ryan Tilemma among others.

Northeastern-Wright State. Watched a lot of this game won by Northeastern 69-57. It was a close game throughout the first half till that late Huskies 16-2 run started with 4:32 left. Tht put Northeastern ahead 37-24 at the half. That was the ball game right there because Wright State simply doesn't have the offensive talent to come back from 13 points. I do love watching Brownell's team play defense. Its just so fundamentally sound. You can see how they made the NCAA tournament two seasons ago with better talent.

Another good sign was the Huskies getting scoring from other than Matt Janning, which the Huskies desperately needed. Eugene Spates had 22 points and Chaisson Allen had 20. The game was also a little more high scoring than I thought. Just shows you the ability Northeastern has. Now hopefully they have "Wrighted" themselves in time for the stretch run in the CAA.

Liberty - Old Dominion. No offense to the Liberty Flames, but watching Seth Curry in this game you really wish that he was at Davidson with his big brother (they recruited him but he wanted to make his own name). The kid can flat out shoot and he led the Flames with 24 points. The Flames did their best in the first half being only down two at halftime, despite a significant size differential. Very interesting to see a four guard offense.

The Monarchs just were too big for the Flames and it showed in the second half. Gerald Lee was flat out dominant shooting 13 of 16 from the field, scoring 26 points. In fact the whole Monarch starting frontcourt (Lee, Ben Finney and Frank Hassell) shot 23 of 27 from the field and scored 53 of the 80 ODU points. You simply can't overcome that and thus a 24 point win for ODU.

Butler - Davidson. This was the only game that I was off on Saturday. The Bulldogs looked like the team they had been for the entire season, sans the past week. They clamped down on Stephen Curry, holding him to 20 points on 2 of 13 from beyond the arc, 6 of 23 overall. Yes, Curry's rhythm seemed off due to his sprained ankle, but give the Bulldogs credit. They are one of the best defensive teams in the country. Still, I wish the Wildcats gave the ball more to Andrew Lovedale who had a nice day with 15 points on 6 of 6 shooting.

The Wildcats were only down five at the half, and Curry hit a three to cut it to two 34-32. But two threes by Gordon Heyward and Willie Veasley and four free throws by Heyward and that was all she wrote. Gordon Heyward's performance was impressive. He was just deadly from the outside hitting 6 of 12 from three. He had 27 points and also chipped in 9 rebounds. When Butler is on with outside shooting, that opens it more for Matt Howard who had a solid day with 12 points.

Buffalo -Vermont. Marcus Blakely gets most of the publicity, but Mike Trimboli got to show on a national stage how solid he is. Trimboli scored 24 points, had 7 assists and pulled down 9 rebounds. Throw in 9 for 10 free throw shooting and that's a full day. Trimboli has upped his game this season. His assists to turnover ratio is up to 1.75, which is up significantly from the 1.22 junior season he had. His points per game are down but his field goal percentage is up to 47 percent and 38 percent from three. Blakely had his usual solid game with 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks. But he needs work on his free throw shooting (3 of 10 does not get it done).

You could see early on watching the game that the high tempo pace favored the Catamounts. The Bills simply couldn't keep up nor could they stop Vermont as the Catamounts shot 54 percent from the field. With Miami of Ohio losing as well, it was a very down day for the MAC and I think that's an indicator of the MAAC's season as a whole. I expected a lot more from Kent State and Miami and they have disappointed. In fact, the MAC as a whole went 4-8 in televised and non-televised Bracketbuster play with the top four teams going 1-3 (only Kent State, Northern Illinois, Ball State and Central Michigan won their games).

Miami Ohio - Evansville. Another MAC team fell pray to the home team's tempo. The Redhawks allowed themselves to get into the Aces' uptempo game and thus the 75-61 loss. Miami had a good day shooting from the field, shooting 54 percent (26 of 48) from the field. The problem was that Evansville shot 58 percent from the field and was 21 of 28 from the line. Shy Ely (love that name) wasn't shy from the field as he scored 21 points and Jason Holsinger added 20 for the Aces. The Redhawks were actually up 14 early , 25-11. Thus they were outscored 64-36 the rest of the way. Damn.

Wisconsin Green Bay - Long Beach State. Unfortunately I was on my way to Fairfield so I didn't get a chance to see this game. But I am not surprised by the outcome. The Phoenix are a balanced, high scoring team. The Phoenix shot 55 percent from the field, scored 52 points in the first half, had a 36-14 run in the first half and were up by as many as 24 points. Ryan Tilemma had 30 points on 7 of 10 shooting from three and had 20 points in the first half alone. The Phoenix who have five starters who average in double figures had four starters including Tillema in double figures (Troy Cotton just missed with 9 points). Green Bay shot 13 of 22 from three. No shame in this loss for the 49ers as Larry Anderson had 23 points and 9 rebounds. They just ran into a better team.

Part Two will be later today.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reviews and Thoughts of Last Night's Bracketbuster Action

I think fans who watched the two bracketbuster games got exactly what they wanted. Two entertaining games , both of which went as according to what I thought was going to happen, sans the end of the second one.

First, I watched a really impressive Niagara team overwhelm Illinois State in front of a sold out and loud Gallagher Center inas the Purple Eagles downed the Redbirds 70-56 last night on ESPN2. What a way to kick off the Bracketbusters! The Eagles just came out and took it to the Redbirds. A 14-0 run highlighted by four three pointers put the Purple Eagles out to a 20-6 lead. Before you knew it, the lead swelled to twenty, 35-15, before Illinois State went on an 8-0 run to trail by 12 at the half. Illinois State did cut the lead down to six, 62-56 before Niagara scored the last eight points in the game.

In the battle of the highly regarded transfer students, Bilal Benn, formerly of Villanova had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Niagara. Champ Oguchi, formerly of Oregon, had 19 points for Illinois State. Niagara was led by Tyrone Lewis who had 19 points on 7 of 14 shooting. Osiris Eldridge, the preseason pick for MVC player of the year had a really off night, with only three points on 1 of 12 shooting. Eldridge blew at least two dunks and a layup off what was a really nice move. Just not his night.

Not often does this blind squirrel find a nut, but this game really went according to my preview. First Niagara is really quick, in fact the Purple Eagles were too quick for the Redbirds. This really showed on the defensive end as Niagara showed why the lead the MAAC in steals as they had 15 on the game. When Niagara went out on that 14-0 run, Illinois State looked like deer in headlights. They never really recovered from that. Niagara shot 42 percent from the game.

Second, again as noted in my preview, Illinois State relies on the three heavily and when they are off, they are in trouble. The Redbirds shot 4 of 18 from beyond the arc for the game. When Illinois State finally adjusted in the second half to working the ball inside for often easy layups, the Redbirds made that run to cut it to six. But by then it was too little too late. Illinois State was held to 38 percent from the field.

It will be interesting to see if this is a sign of things to come in the other MAAC-MVC game today when Siena hosts Northern Iowa (the top two teams in each conference). If Siena dominates Northern Iowa the way Niagara did to Illinois State, this will bode really well for Siena's case for an at large bid. Because, let me tell you, after watching the Purple Eagles, they could beat a good number of at large power conference hopefuls. They are quick, relentless and very aggressive on the defensive end.

In the second game, Nevada overcame a nine point deficit with six minutes left to beat VCU 71-70 in what was a really wild contest. You had the head coach of Nevada get tossed with two technical fouls in the second half before the Wolfpack's late run. You had Nevada's Brandon Fields, who entered the game shooting 18 percent from beyond the arc hit 3 of 6 three point FG attempts. You had VCU's Larry Sanders get three fouls in the span of five minutes in the second half, thus fouling out and leaving the Rams without any frontcourt presence. And to top it all, one of the best clutch players in the mid majors, VCU's Eric Maynor, would dominate most of the game but miss four of his last five shots from the field.

The first half would have Nevada go up 19-12 early as freshman sensation Luke Babbitt and Joey Shaw would score 12 of those points. VCU started to chip away on the lead thanks to a eight quick points by Bradford Burgess to make the score 23-20. Led by Maynor, the Rams would actually take a four point lead 32-28 at the half.

The second half picked up where the first half left off as VCU's 90 foot up tempo game was too much for Nevada. This is what I expected would happen in this game. The Rams jumped out quickly to an eight point lead 36-28 and extended it to a ten point lead, 55-45 with ten minutes left as of course Maynor had eight of the those points.

Then things got really interesting. After one official overturned an out of bounds called by another official by calling a foul, Nevada's Mark Cox lost it and got two technicals in the span of 18 seconds and was tossed from the game. Maynor would hit three of the four technical foul shots and the Rams were up nine, 60-51. The lead would remain nine, 62-53 with six minutes left. Then Nevada made it's run, starting with an Armon Johnson three point play, Brandon Fields hitting a three and Malik Cooke's three point play made it 64-62 VCU with 3:19 left. The lead for VCU would be three 67-64 with 1:40 left.

It was during this time that Kiril Pischalnikov picked up his fifth foul and Sanders picked up three quick fouls (all stupid fouls I may say) and fouled out himself. This left VCU without any size up front and Nevada's Armon Johnson took advantage. Johnson would hit two layups to put Nevada up 68-67 with 28 seconds left. Maynor would miss his second of three consecutive missed shots and Joey Shaw continued the Wolfpack's very solid free throw shooting with two more hits from the charity stripe. Maynor would miss a three with six seconds left and after Babbitt clinched the game with one of two free throws, VCU's Joey Rodriguez would hit a meaningless three to make the final 71-70.

Nevada struggled from the field only shooting 36.8 percent from the field compared to 43 percent from VCU. But boy did they hit their free throws , 24 of 27. VCU shot a respectable 21 of 27 but most of that came from Maynor shooting 14 of 15 from the line. Larry Sanders was only five for ten from the line. Also, in the second half, outside of Maynor, who had 28 points, there was no other scorer down the stretch for VCU. Burgess had eight of his ten points in the first half and Larry Sanders had fouled out with two minutes left (and only had 9 points on 2 of 11 shooting from the field). Thus when Maynor was off at the end, there was no help for him. That's VCU's weakness, a consistent second scorer.

Nevada was much more balanced as five players scored in double figures, led by Babbitt and Fields each with 15. By the way, that was more like the Brandon Fields that I expected to see than the disappointment he has been this season. Johnson and Cooke each had 13 and Shaw had 11.

We can only hope that the other eleven games today will be as entertaining as these two games.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bracket Buster Preview Part IV - The End... I Promise

Ok, this should be it. Two games left to preview. I'm up at 6 am because like clockwork, Jonathan was up and was hungry. Thankfully St Mary's beat San Diego behind Omar "Enter the Sandman" Samhan who had 20 points and 10 rebounds, so I don't have to write about how the Gaels are now on life support as far as an at large bid. A win vs. Utah State tomorrow and they are very much alive thank you.

George Mason (18-8, 11-5 CAA) vs. Creighton (21-6, 12-4 MVC). Since I will be at Fairfield tomorrow night, I will be sure to record this one. Two teams rich in mid major NCAA tournament tradition battling it out. This is certainly not the first time these two teams have played each other. During the magical season of 2005-06, the Final Four bound Patriots hosted the Bluejays. In one of the few games they lost that season, George Mason was pummeled by eventually NIT bound Creighton, at home no less, 72-52. in 2006-07, a NCAA tournament bound Creighton snuck by George Mason 58-56.

Mason will try to finally return the favor featuring a veteran starting lineup with three seniors; Jon Vaughan, Dre Smith, and Darryl Monroe. Vaughan leads the Patriots at 11.8 points per game while Monroe at 10.9 points per game leads the CAA in FG percentage at 59.7 percent. The Patriots, RPI 54 non-conference SOS 52, had lost five of their last seven before coming back to edge Drexel to keep their undefeated record at home this season intact.

The Patriots have struggled though on the road as all eight of their losses are outside of home (5-8 record on the road). Though they have three seniors in the starting lineup, the Patriots still have a lot of young talent. Second leading scorer Cam Long is a sophomore and the wonderful trio of freshman, Andre Cornelius, Michael Morrison, and my favorite, Ryan Pearson provide a lot of spark off the bench. The Patriots are their typical defensive selves, leading the CAA in scoring defense at 60.1 points per game and second to Hofstra in FG percentage defense at an even 40 percent. But they are also proficient on the offensive end, as they are second in the CAA in FG percentage at 46 percent.

Creighton was one of my preseason top mid major teams. A young but tested squad that made the NIT last season was my favorite to win the Missouri Valley. The Bluejays struggled early losing at UALR (not a bad loss considering the Trojans are first in the Sun Belt with a 12-2 conference record) and at Nebraska (considering an over .500 record in the Big 12, not a bad loss either). The Bluejays would rebound winning their next nine games including a signature non-conference 17 point win over Dayton. The Bluejays then struggled in conference only going 5-4 in their first nine games. Since then, Creighton has won seven in a row in conference to gain a share of first place in the Bizarro Valley (thanks in some part to the implosion of Northern Iowa who has lost three of their last four including one at home to Creighton).

The Bluejays, RPI 51 non-conference 168, are led by one of the best names in mid major basketball, Booker Woodfox. The guard leads Creighton in scoring at 15.9 points per game. He is joined in double figures by sophomore guard P'Allen Stinnett at 12.7 points per game. The Bluejays are first in scoring offense in the Valley at 74.6 points per game, first in free throw percentage at 76 percent, and second in FG percentage at 45 percent. The Bluejays are not all about defense as they are first in the Valley in blocked shots, steals and turnover margin.

Prediction - These are two teams that have different styles. Creighton loves to shoot the three, second in the Valley in three point field goals made. Meanwhile, George Mason loves to work it inside to Monroe and then work the ball back out for threes when Monroe is double teamed. When it comes down to two very solid teams in what should be a close game, often the factor will be free throw shooting. This is where there is a significant difference between these teams. As noted, the Bluejays are first in the Valley in free throw shooting while Mason has struggled, tenth in the CAA at 65 percent. The Bluejays at home will knock off the Patriots 68-63.

Boise State (17-8, 7-5 WAC) vs Portland State (18-9, 9-5 Big Sky) - This is a battle of two NCAA tournament teams from last season. Defending WAC champ Boise State has had another solid season as they are currently fourth in the conference. The Broncos do have a recent win over nationally ranked Utah State. Meanwhile, the defending Big Sky champ Vikings are third in their conference and have a signature non-conference road win over nationally ranked Gonzaga.

The Broncos got off to a 12-3 start including three straight conference wins. Boise State has struggled since then splitting their last ten games. The Broncos have five players who average nine points or better per game including leading scorer Mark Sanchez who averages 13 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field. Boise State as a whole shoots 47 percent, second best in the WAC. Boise is also first in the WAC in assists and second in assists to turnover ratio. The Broncos have not been anyone of significance non-conference, have a RPI of 88 and a non-conference SOS of 290 (ugh). The Broncos have also struggled on the road going 5-6.

The Vikings, RPI 152 non-conference SOS of 223, got off to a 10-3 start. Included in those games were a one point loss at nationally ranked Washington, a seven point win over then #7 Gonzaga at Stockton and a thirteen point loss. Led by sophomore guard, Jeremiah Dominguez, the leading scorer for the Vikings at 12 points per game, the Vikings got off to a 6-1 start in the Big Sky before losing four of their next seven games in conference. Portland State leads the Big Sky in scoring offense, averaging 74 points per game. The Vikings are also second in assists, first in steals, first in turnover margin and first in assist to turnover ratio, all important categories (as Whelliston would note - ball control). They are also first in the Big Sky in three point field goals made at 9.59 per game.

Prediction - Considering the Broncos struggle on the road and that both teams like a high scoring offensive game and both control the ball well, I will take the home team Vikings in a shootout 77-72.

So that's it. Thirteen games in two days starting tonight with Illinois State and Niagara. Should be entertaining. Grab your favorite snack and favorite beverage, sit down and enjoy the festivities on the ESPN family of networks. If you're not near a TV but have a computer, make ESPN360 your friend. Better yet, if there is a Bracketbuster game near you, go see it live. I'll be at Fairfield tomorrow night. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bracket Buster Preview Part III - The Final Preview..Well Almost

I seemingly do this every Bracketbuster season. Four straight years I have done Bracketbuster previews and four straight years it is the night before the first two games and I still have a ton of previews left. I figured last night I would get home after the Madison/Hofstra game, get in two or three more game previews, then finish tonight.

Then the Madison/Hofstra game got delayed by a shot clock problem. Then the second half was delayed again as they tried to fix it before the start of the half. Then the game went into one overtime. Then two. Three and a half hours later, 90 minutes more than I thought, I was finally home. Beat. Then I had to review last night's wacky games in the CAA this morning.

So here I am, eight games left to do. Ok, the previews are going to be much shorter. But I have to finish tonight..or ok, at least get close. Here we go.

Buffalo (17-7, 9-3 MAC) vs. Vermont(21-7, 13-4 America East) The surprise of the MAC faces the preseason favorite of the America East. Bulls vs. Catamounts. Perhaps the most underrated game of the Bracketbuster series featuring two teams at the top of their respective conference standings.

The Bills still have the best record in the MAC at 9-3 in conference unfortunately having lost two straight, the most recent a 59-48 loss at home to Bowling Green. The Bills, RPI of 97 and non conf SOS of 163, are led by guard Rodney Pierce's 14 ppg game. Buffalo leads the MAC in FG percentage and rebounding margin. They are generally in the top four in most MAC categories. The Bills somewhat struggle on the road with their record at 6-4 on the season. Buffalo has a signature home win over Temple, plus a tough four point home loss to #1 UConn.

The Catamounts, who have a RPI of 105 and non-conference SOS of 317, have won 11 of their last 12, with their only loss during that time a heartbreaking loss to Binghamton where the Catamounts were up 23 at the half. Vermont is led by the triumverate of Mike Trimboli, Marcus Blakely and Colin McIntosh who combine for 44 points and 18 rebounds a game. The Catamounts lead the America East in scoring at 77 points per game, first in FG percentage at 48.4 percent, and are first in FG percentage defense at 41 percent. Vermont is first in blocked shots and assists, second in steals, assist to turnover ratio and turnover margin. The Catamounts have no signature wins and a 12-3 home record.

Prediction - The Catamounts will be too powerful for the Bills to stop. The fact that Buffalo struggles on the road doesn't help matters any. Vermont wins 78-66.

Northern Iowa (17-9, 12-4 MVC) vs. Siena (21-6, 15-1 MAAC). Talk about a contrast in styles. The methodical Panthers, the seemingly real life Hoosiers of Hickory, take on the uptempo, high scoring Saints.

The Panthers have hit a proverbial wall, losing three of their last four and dropped into a first place tie with Creighton. The loss at home to Drake, a team that this past Sunday lost at home by 25 points to Illinois State, was particularly painful, since they still have a road game vs. third place Illinois State coming up (the Redbirds may have the ultimate say in the MVC standings since they finish up at Creighton to end the MVC regular season). The Panthers have five players who average between 9 and 11.7 points per game, led by forward Adam Koch.

The Panthers have a RPI of 87 and a non-conference SOS of 179. Northern Iowa is first in the MVC in field goal percentage at 46%. They are third in scoring offense, first in assist to turnover ratio and third in FG percentage defense. However they have no non-conference signature win to speak of and have struggled out of conference with a 6-5 record against mediocre competition (best team by far was Marquette and the Panthers lost to them by 30).

The Saints have won 11 of their last 12, the only loss a conference road loss at Rider by two. The Saints are led by an incredibly balanced trifecta of Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin, who combine for 43 points and 16 rebounds a game. In fact of the eight players who average 10 minutes or more a game for the Saints, only Hasbrouck is a senior. Siena is first in the MAAC in scoring, first in FG percentage at 47 percent, first in assists, second in steals, second in turnover margin and assist to turnover ratio.

The Saints have a very solid RPI of 28, with an even better SOS of 4. Their signature non conference wins are over Buffalo and St Joseph's, with respectable losses to Pitt, Kansas and Tennessee. This is also the same team that waxed Vandy in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season.

Prediction - If the season ended today and Siena somehow lost in the MAAC finals to say Niagara (certainly possible), there is a very good case for the Saints to make it as an at large. RPI and non-conference SOS are incredibly strong, plus some good non conference wins. Think Davidson from last season. The Saints will strengthen that case by dominating Northern Iowa 77-62.

Miami Ohio (15-9, 8-4 MAC) vs. Evansville (15-11, 7 -9 MVC). The Redhawks, in second place in the MAC take on the Aces, one of the better mid major stories after a 9-20 mark last season.

The Redhawks are the typical MAC team. Physical, methodical and play lots of low scoring contests. Miami has a 77 RPI and a very solid non conference SOS of 14. They have struggled on the road with a 7-7 record. The Redhawks always play a tough non-conference schedule and this season was no different with losses to UCLA, Pitt, Xavier, West Virginia and Dayton and with wins over Big Sky leading Weber State, Temple and Wright State. Miami is led by Michael Bramos with 17 points per game and Kenny Hayes 13.9 points per game. The Redhawks lead the MAC in scoring defense at 56.9 points per game., second in three point FG percentage defense at 30.1 percent and second in free throw shooting.

The Aces, 96 RPI and an impressive non conference SOS of 8, started off the season 9-2 with wins over Buffalo and Western Kentucky. Unfortunately, the Aces ran into the gauntlet that is typical of the Valley and have been 6-9 since, including three straight losses to put their conference mark under .500. The Aces are led by one of the great names in college basketball, Shy Ely, who averages 18 points per game. Shy is anything but, as he has 356 FG attempts in 26 games, 96 more than second leading scorer Jason Holsinger. The Aces lead the Valley in assists, second in assist to turnover margin and third in turnover/assist ratio.

Prediction - The Aces are at home where they are 13-3 on the season. With Miami's struggles on the road plus a record of 1-4 in games decided by five points or less, the Aces will win a close game here 60-56.

#17 Utah State (25-2, 12-1 WAC) vs. St Mary's (20-5, 7-4 WCC). This is the second best Bracketbuster matchup featuring two of the best teams on the West Coast. The Aggies look to solidify its at large bid hopes while the Gaels desperately need a win vs. an elite team to strengthen their slim hopes for an at large.

The Aggies, one of the best shooting teams in the country at 49.8 percent per game, also happen to lead the WAC in scoring defense at 59.7 points per game. Utah State also leads the WAC in free throw percentage at 73.5 percent, first in FG percentage defense at 40.9 percent, second in three point FG percentage, first in rebounding margin and first in assists to turnover ratio.

The Aggies are led by a terrific trio of players in Gary Wilkinson, Jared Quayle and Tai Wesley. Combined they average 41 points and 19 rebounds a game. Wilkinson shoots an impressive 59.3 percent from the field, including 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. Wesley shoots even better at 62 percent from the field. The Aggies have a RPI of 34 but a very weak non conference SOS of 259. Utah State's best non conference win is a two point home win over Utah, the leader of the Mountain West currently.

The Gaels would be a Top 20 team right now if star guard Patty Mills did not break his hand late in the first half against Gonzaga. After being ahead just about the entire first half, the Gaels would see Gonzaga come back and win that game. That would be the first loss in a stretch of four out of five games that were losses for the Gaels as they tried to adjust to life without Mills. St Mary's also has a terrific frontcourt tandem in Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. Simpson averages a double with 13.5 points and 10.6 rebounds while Samhan is not far off with 13.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

The Gaels RPI is 62, not quite what you want in an at large hopeful. Their non conference SOS is better than Utah State's at 162. They have two signature non-conference wins; a neutral site win over Providence in the 76 Classic and a three point win over San Diego State in the Wooden Classic. However the losses to Portland and Santa Clara hurt the Gaels at large chances.

Prediction - If Mills was healthy, St Mary's would have a definite edge. Without him, it will be a struggle for the Gaels to win. However, they have a home crowd and hopefully will be coming off a tuneup win vs. San Diego. It will be a terrific battle of frontcourt tandems as Wilkinson and Wesley take on Simpson and Samhan. The difference will be if Carlin Hughes, Mickey McConnell and Wayne Hunter can give enough of an outside threat to keep the double teams off Simpson and Samhan. I think Simpson and Samhan are the best tandem of forwards that Wilkinson and Wesley see all year and that will be enough to propel the Gaels to a close victory 74-70.

Wisconsin Green Bay (20-8, 12-4 Horizon) vs. Long Beach State (13-11, 8-4 Big West) - The Phoenix, one of the best stories in mid major basketball this season takes on the run and gun 49ers in what promises to be a very high scoring affair.

The Phoenix, RPI 79 and non conference SOS of 296, resurrected themselves by being an up tempo scoring machine. They lead the Horizon in scoring averaging 72.6 points per game. They are first in the Horizon in my favorite category, free throw shooting at 78.7 percent. Green Bay is first in FG percentage at 44.2 percent and are first in three point FG percentage at an even 40 percent. Finally they are second in assists and second in assists to turnover ratio, very key stat categories in my book.

The Phoenix are led by a very balanced attack as all five starters average in double figures led by senior guard Ryan Tilemma at 16 points per game. The Phoenix are a veteran team with two other senior starters besides Tilemma in Mike Schachtner and Terry Evans. The Phoenix don't have a signature non conference win with losses vs. Utah and Wisconsin.

Long Beach State is a terrific story in itself. Last season, the 49ers suffered an ugly 6-25 season, one season after they made the NCAA tournament (and were beaten down by Tennessee 121-86). Enter former Gonzaga and former Minnesota coach Dan Monson. Monson coached Gonzaga to an elite eight appearance in the 98-99 season before taking the Minnesota job. He led the Gophers to one NCAA tournament appearance and four NIT appearances before quitting seven games into the 2006-07 season. He then became the coach of Long Beach State last season and suffered through a long year.

But given Monson's track record, it's not surprising that the 49ers are back to their winning ways. Senior leading scorer Donovan Morris (15 ppg) leads a team that features three freshman starters that average nearly 72 points per game. The entire starting lineup has four double digit scorers and nearly has a fifth. The 49ers played both Wisconsin and BYU tough before losing and have wins over Temple and Weber State (also got blown out by Syracuse).

Prediction - Though Long Beach State certainly has played comparable competition to Green Bay, the similarity in styles leads one to take the more talented, consistent Phoenix over the younger inconsistent 49ers. This game will certainly be the antithesis of Miami-Evansville as Green Bay will win 84-78.

Hofstra (18-9, 10-6 CAA) vs. Fairfield (15-12, 8-8 MAAC). A tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Pride have won four in a row and eight of their last ten while the Stags have lost three in a row and six of their last nine. The Pride are tied for fourth in the CAA while Fairfield sits alone in fifth in the MAAC.

The Pride have been one of the top defensive teams in the CAA this season. They are first in FG percentage defense at 39.2 percent, second in rebounding margin and first in blocks. They feature the second leading scorer in the CAA in sophomore guard Charles Jenkins at 18.8 points per game. They have received a lot of help lately from fellow sophomore guard Nathaniel Lester who has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, including a 22 point 11 rebound game vs. James Madison. It was his second double double in his last three games (and he missed a double double in that third game by one rebound)

The Stags, who started off the season 8-3, are led by Greg Nero who averages 12.9 points per game. However, Nero has been suffering from back spasms and missed the last game vs. Niagara. Second leading scorer Jonathan Han has been on indefinite suspension for the last six games. Third leading scorer Anthony Johnson is out for the season due to illness and fourth leading scorer Warren Edney is out due to an ankle injury. You get the picture. This is a team that right now is being held together by rope and duct tape. Herbie Allen though has picked up the slack with two twenty plus point games. Problem, they still lost them.

Prediction - It's asking a lot for Fairfield to win this game with the injuries they had, especially against a very tough defensive Hofstra team that brings a lot of size and depth as well. The Pride, especially a hot Charles Jenkins, will be too much for the Stags as Hofstra wins 67-57.

Well, its 11:00 pm as I sit in my kitchen. I got six of the eight games done. But I am beat, so I guess I will finish my predictions early tomorrow morning. For now, it's St Mary'/San Diego on ESPNU. Good night.

Another Wild Night in the CAA and for Elite Bracketbuster Teams

If I was to tell you that the two best teams facing each other in the Bracketbuster matchup on Saturday, Butler and Davidson (at home) both lost convincgly last night, endangering their at large bid hopes, would you believe me?

Now, if the scenario above happened and that the first place team in the CAA, Northeastern would lose in the last second AT HOME to eighth place Georgia State who only had two road wins ALL SEASON, would you still believe me?

Ok, it gets better. What if the first two scenarios happened and also George Mason - Drexel would have 12 lead changes and would see Darryl Monroe score the last four points with 42 seconds left to put George Mason into a tie for second, would you still believe me?

Wait, wait it gets better (I feel like Billy Mays)! What if I threw in that James Madison and Hofstra, the second worst team in FG percentage in the CAA, played a double overtime shootout won by Hofstra 99-96, would you believe all these scenarios??

But wait, act now, and you also get two Big Ten teams, one ranked at playing at home combine for only 71 points in a 38-33 classic, would you believe all this?!!!

Well, welcome to Wacky Wednesday Night in College Basketball. First, that above Big Ten game did happen as Penn State beat Illinois 38-33. Yes, a ranked Illini team lost at home and scored 33 points.

As for Butler and Davidson, not good. First Butler, who has lost two in a row and 3 of its last 6 and has probably knocked themselves out of the rankings. The Bulldogs lost at Milwaukee 63-60. This is due in large part to the Bulldogs shooting 3 of 16 from beyond the arc. But lets give UW Milwaukee some credit, especially "Big Lumber" James Eayrs, the 6 foot 5 310 pound forward who had 15 points on 4 of 8 shooting from three.

Meanwhile Davidson played at home vs. the Citadel without Stephen Curry and got smoked by the Citadel 64-46. The Wildcats were held to 25 percent shooting. The Citadel, one of the surprise stories of the year, are now 13-4 in the SoCon. Andrew Lovedale had a double double with 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats.

Well, in the CAA, it was "Something's Gotta Give Wednesday" as you had the two teams tied for third playing each other while two of the teams tied for fifth playing each other. Little did I know that something else major was going to give, the tie for first place in the CAA.

Northeastern continues its very fast downward spiral as it lost at home to Georgia State 70-68 on a last second layup by Ousman Krubally. It was only Georgia State's third win on the road this year. The Panthers shot 55 percent from the field, including 9 of 19 from beyond the arc. It was the third loss in a row, their second straight loss at home and fourth loss in their last five games for the Huskies. This was due in large part to shooting an unseemly 5 of 24 from beyond the arc.

The Huskies fell out of first and into a tie for second place with George Mason as VCU came back from an eleven point first half deficit to beat Delaware 78-67. As what has become a common occurrence in CAA games, Eric Maynor scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half for VCU. Larry Sanders added 19 points and 15 rebounds in the victory.

Northeastern is now tied with the Patriots as Darryl Monroe scored the last four points in the game as George Mason defeated Drexel 49-48 in a slogfest that featured 12 lead changes. The defensive struggle featured both teams shooting under 35 percent from the field (Mason was 2 of 10 from beyond the arc, while Drexel was 3 of 12 from beyond the arc).

I was at Hofstra last night for the fifth place showdown between Hofstra and James Madison. The game had everything; lots of scoring, three players injured during the game, a shot clock malfunction, terrible officiating (resulting in one technical for JMU coach Matt Brady), several lane violations, a rarely seen inbounds violation, inexplicable coaching decisions, inexplicably bad fouls, two overtime periods with lots of three point bombs, and a wild wacky ending.

The first half featured Hofstra's Charles Jenkins and his usual slicing and dicing to the basket for 12 points while often setting up teammate Nathaniel Lester for some of his 9 points. Meanwhile Dazz Thornton was dominant inside for the Dukes scoring 10 points and creating foul trouble for the Hofstra big men, who were already short in the frontcourt. This was due to sophomore shot blocker Greg Washington being out with the flu. Hofstra had an edge on the rebounds in the first half but Madison was 10 of 12 from the line as compared to the Pride's 1 for 2 and entered the half with a 34-30 lead. It might have been more than that but with the Pride having the ball in the waining seconds of the half, the Dukes had two fouls to give. Unfortunately they never used them except for one..while in the act of Jenkins shooting. Thus a four point deficit instead of a six point deficit.

Who knows, that might have turned out huge. The Pride came out strong in the second half (more on that in a second) and went ahead 43-42 on a three point play by Nathaniel Lester, who has really come into his own in the second half of the season. That was the beginning of a 13-3 run for the Pride who went up 53-45 lead with 7:47 left in the game. But a combination of Hofstra inexplicably slowing the pace and the Dukes' Kyle "Hungry Man Dinner" Swanston nailing a couple of threes, and Pierre Curtis blowing by everyone on a couple of high screens and the Dukes were up 57-56. After a free throw by Darren Townes and the second of many threes by Ziggy Sestokas, the Pride were back up three, 60-57.

The Dukes would tie it back up at 62 on four three throws by the "Hungry Man Dinner". Townes would hit a dunk and a foul shot for a three point play but Julius Wells, the best freshman in the CAA after what I saw last night, bombed another three to tie the game. Jenkins would put the Pride up again with an off balance jumper with 1:16 left before Wells knived through the defense to tie it up. After Jenkins turned the ball over, the Dukes had the last shot. But they pulled a Hofstra and ran the clock down too late and thus the first overtime tied at 67.

During this time, three players got injured in the second half; Greg Johnson for the Pride left with a sore shoulder. JMU's Devon Moore injured his hand underneath the basket with eleven minutes left and was on the bench in a sling at the end of the game. And Dazz Thornton left the court with 9 minutes left for some unknown reason and never returned.

During the first overtime, Hofstra again would march out to a 79-73 lead as Jenkins would score five points to lead the way. However, due to some miss free throws and an explicable lane violation by Hofstra's Dane Johnson, the Dukes would creep back into the game as Juwann James was the man, scoring eight points during the first overtime period. During this time, two of Hofstra's big men, Johnson and Arminas Urbutis fouled out, leaving the Pride with just two frontcourt players. Hofstra would miss a couple of more foul shots by Cornelius Vines and Jenkins, and again the Dukes capitalized as Wells and Pierre Curtis blew by for easy layups and the first regulation period would end tied at 81.

In the second overtime period, the Dukes and the Pride traded jabs and three pointers as Wells and Sestokas tried to top each other during the second overtime period, each of them having three three pointers in the period. Hofstra would move out to a 96-90 lead on two free throws by Vines with 27 seconds left, but no lead was safe in this game. Two Julius Wells three pointers sandwiched around two Charles Jenkins foul shots cut the lead to 98-96. During this time, Darren Townes fouled out for the Pride and Hofstra was left with seldom used big man Mike Davis Sabb in the frontcourt. This would result in the Dukes fouling Sabb with three seconds left. Sabb missed the first free throw, then Swanston inexplicably did a lane violation while Sabb missed the second free throw. Sabb hit the second chance opportunity and the Dukes missed a game tying three pointer at the buzzer.

The Pride were led by Jenkins 32 points, 13 assists and 7 rebounds. Lester had 22 points and 11 rebounds. Sestokas had 19 points on five three pointers while Townes added 15. Wells had 32 points on 11 of 20 shooting, James added 19 points, Curtis had 14, Swanston 11, and Thornton and Moore each had 10 for the Dukes. Hofstra shot 53.8% from the field including 65 percent in the second half and 72.7 percent in the OT periods. JMU shot 50.8 percent from the field including also 72.7 percent in the OT periods (each team shot 8 of 11 in the OT periods). JMU shot 27 of 37 from the line while Hofstra shot 23 of 32. The Pride are now 10-6 in the CAA and tied for fourth with ODU and Drexel while JMU falls to 9-7 in seventh place in the CAA.