Friday, January 8, 2010

A Nor'easter Hits Mason and Replies to My Readers' Comments

If you ever read Michael Litos always interesting site, you know that Litos calls Northeastern "Nor'easter". And that's what hit George Mason last night, a "nor'easter". For the first eleven minutes of the game, the winds were calm for the Patriots, as in the game was close. In fact, it was tied at 15 overall with nine minutes left.

But over the next ten minutes, the winds picked up in Boston as Manny Adako, Chaisson Allen, and Matt Janning combined for 17 of the 19 points the Huskies scored the rest of the half. Meanwhile GMU's Ryan Pearson, after scoring nine points in the first eleven minutes, seemed to be getting hit with gale force winds during the final nine minutes of the half. During this time, Pearson was 1 for 6 from the floor with three turnovers.

Pearson would bounce back in the second half, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds but the rest of Mason would be snow bound. Within the first four minutes, the lead swelled like a snow drift to 18 points, 42-24. The Patriots would only get as close as fourteen points the rest of the way as the Patriots were snowed under by a blizzard of points from Chaisson Allen, and Nkem Ojougboh in the second half. Final score, Northeastern 71, George Mason 46.

The Huskies were 9 of 18 from beyond the arc as Allen was 6 of 10 from three for 20 points. Northeastern was also 16 of 17 from the line. Mason only shot 3 of 14 from beyond the arc . And after getting to the line 23 times vs. Hofstra, Mason only had four free throw attempts the entire night vs the Huskies. Northeastern and George Mason are now tied with Drexel and William and Mary for first in the CAA at 3-1.

It's not often that I get two comments on one article. In fact, both comments were so good, they provided food for thought. So first, I want to thank Rob and Ryan for their comments. Hopefully my responses will be worthy of your comments.

Rob wrote
"Love the coverage of the CAA. Tough loss for my Dukes, but Bowles and Wells are legit. Now if JMU could just find someone else to score..."
Damn Rob, you were reading my mind for my CAA Saturday preview for the Dukes. Well, why wait for the preview. Rob is correct. The Dukes are Bowles and Wells and pray for TV timeouts. But in fairness to Matt Brady and the Dukes, my preseason CAA sleeper, when you lose scorers like Devon Moore and Andrey Semenov for the year due to injuries, it's hard to have others who are role players or were going to be role players easily step up into scoring roles.

Freshman guard Darren White started off well, scoring in double figures in six of the first eleven JMU games, with three games of 20 or more points. However, in his last three games, White has scored a combined 17 points on only 13 field goal attempts. Senior point guard Pierre Curtis, who has seen his scoring average dip nearly three points per game since he was a freshman, is only averaging 8.8 points per game despite shooting 50 percent from the field and 81 percent from the line. White and Curtis must step up their games and bring some backcourt balance to a frontcourt heavy team.

Matt Brady still plays a rotation of nine guys, but it's meant more minutes for Dazz Thornton and Matt Parker. Parker averages three more minutes than last season. And I don't think Brady was expecting to have freshman guard Alioune Diouf average 14 minutes per game.

Rob, there is still plenty of time for Curtis and White to step up and give the Dukes more scoring options and a chance for a record similar to, or even better than last season's 9-9 conference record. And I know it's early to say this, but what this team does this season will build for 2010-11. And next season, Moore and Semenov should be both healthy. Add those two to a nice nucleus of Bowles, Wells and White, it's a reason to be hopeful when you are a Dukes fan.

Ryan added a comment about Northern Iowa and the Valley;

"UNI is on a roll. 12 straight wins. The depth that the Panthers have is unreal. Most Northern Iowa teams (in the past) have been 5-6 guys that take most of the minutes and they wear down towards the end of the season. Not this one.

Should see them in the Top 25 this week.

It brings up the question. With teams like UNI, Creighton, Wichita State, Southern Illinois, etc -- and combine in the large attendence numbers --I really don't think you can consider the MVC a mid major anymore."
Yes Ryan, the Panthers are on a roll. The #1 team in my last two Mid Majors Baker's Dozen polls have been absolutely fantastic. To go to Carbondale and absolutely dominate the Salukis is impressive. And Northern Iowa indeed has depth. Nine players average 10 minutes or more per game. And in a tough defensive minded conference like the Valley, depth is important.

And no team is more defensive minded than the Panthers, first in the Valley in scoring defense. Only Southern Illinois has allowed fewer field goal attempts per game in the Valley than Northern Iowa. And it's not just defense the Panthers play. Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder are in the top ten in scoring in the Valley (and Eglseder leads the MVC in rebounding).

What's most impressive about Northern Iowa is that they have played exactly half of their games on the road or at neutral sites, and their record in those games are 6-1, including 5-0 on the road.

And yes, they deserve a Top 25 ranking next week. But remember, the big prize is not a Top 25 ranking, but a NCAA bid, whether an auto or an at large. The Panthers are on their way to that NCAA bid.

As for the second part of your comment, well it's an interesting question. And it deserves some discussion based on the following;

1) If you follow the Mid Majority, Kyle and Damon almost always mention the Red Line. Kyle believes that mid major conferences are conferences whose schools have an average athletic budget below $20 million per year.

As you notice, there is also the figure that the average conference school spends on men's basketball. That's the figure I am more interested/concerned with. Now if you notice that figure, only two conferences' schools that are considered below the red line average above $2 million on men's basketball; the A10 at $2.5 million and the Missouri Valley $2.1 million.

I have always said in this column, for several reasons, the A10 is NOT a mid major. The first reason is the aforementioned average $2.5 million that teams in the A10 spend, which is much closer to the Conference USA's $2.7 million average and the Mountain West's $2.8 million.

Now you can say that the Valley spending more than $2 million on average for basketball is inline with the A10, who I say is not a Mid Major conference. However, the Valley is closer to the West Coast Conference ($1.9 million) or the WAC ($1.8 million) than the A10. No one would ever say the WCC is not a mid major (though I grant you that figure may be skewered by Gonzaga's average budget).

2) Now average budget is not the only factor. One of my main factors that the A10 is not a mid major is that it has consistently, without fail, been a multiple bid conference seemingly forever. And it's not just two bids we are talking about. It's often three bids the A10 is getting. And I hope to do an article talking more about the A10 soon.

Now let's see the Missouri Valley's history of bids over the past ten years.

2000-Indiana State, Creighton
2001- Indiana State, Creighton
2002- Creighton, Southern Illinois
2003- Creighton, Southern Ilinois
2004- Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois
2005- Creighton, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois
2006- Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Bradley, Wichita State
2007- Creighton, Southern Illinois
2008 - Drake
2009 - Northern Iowa

The Valley has been more than a two bid conference only twice in the past ten years, in 2005 and 2006. Six years it's been two teams and unfortunately, the last two years, only one bid.

Now compare that with the A10.

2000 - St Bonaventure, Dayton, Temple
2001 - St Joseph's, Temple, Xavier
2002 - Xavier
2003 - Dayton, Xavier, St Joseph's
2004 - St Joseph's, Richmond, Dayton, Xavier
2005 - George Washington
2006 - George Washington, Xavier
2007 - George Washington, Xavier
2008 - Xavier, Temple, St Joseph's
2009 - Xavier, Temple, Dayton

Six times the A10 has had at least three teams, two years with two and surprisingly two years with one team (2002 and 2005).

3) If you want to break down #2 a little further, in the past ten years, the highest regional seed a Missouri Valley team has been is a #4 (Southern Illinois in 2007) . In contrast, the A10 has had a #1 seed (St Joseph's in 2004), a #2 seed (Temple in 2000), a #3 seed twice (Xavier both in 2003 and 2008) and a #4 seed twice (Dayton in 2003 and Xavier in 2009).

4) Now the attendance figures are something I haven't thought of and is an interesting argument. I have known for some time Creighton regularly sells out or nearly sells out its 16,000 seat arena. I did not realize that of the ten Valley schools, only two schools have arenas that seat less than 9,500 people. Now three Valley schools average more than 10,000 per game (of course Creighton, along with Wichita State and Bradley). Compare that with only four out of fourteen A10 schools that have arenas with more than 9500 seating capacity (St Louis, Temple, Xavier and Dayton).

The problem with the MVC attendance argument is that half of the Valley schools averaged 6400 in attendance or less last season. One of those teams surprisingly was the 2009 MVC Champion Northern Iowa with an average attendance of 4730 in a 7,000 seat arena. Only Indiana State with an average of 4427 (in arena that seats 11,000) had a lower attendance. Still, those average attendance figures are much better than the CAA for example, and if I am correct, the A10 as well.

Ryan, I think it really comes down to #2 and #3 for me. Had the Valley had more of a history of three or more bids, plus a few teams that were #4 seeds or higher, then you could make a serious case that the Valley is no longer a mid major. What also hurts the MVC is that it has been a one bid conference the last two seasons.

The Valley is still a mid major and will be until it becomes a consistent three bid conference. But it still wouldn't be a power conference. It would be like the A10, Conference USA and the Mountain West - "Wannabe Power Conferences". Mid Major doesn't sound so bad now, doesn't it?

Again, Rob, Ryan, thanks for the comments. Keep em coming!

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