Sunday, November 30, 2008

Toppers Outwork Cards

Once in awhile, as a "mid-major" fan, you get those moments of pure joy that feel like God's justice. Some Big State U. that normally avoids playing your school waits until your school's ranks are ravaged by graduation and the entire coaching staff jumps ship after a successful run to coach at a BCS school, and THEN Big State U. wants to schedule a four-game series with your guys that includes one "neutral" game, two road games, and one game at your gym (that will likely be put off, wrangled over, and eventually bought out and serving only to seriously cheese off the entire fanbase). Sorry for the length of he previous sentence, but you have to read it while imagining me ranting, red-faced, and refusing to take a breath.

Sunday's game between Louisville and WKU was such a case. The Louisville Cardinals, they of Big East title and Final Four Contendership, squared off with WKU, who lost 75% of it's scoring and all of its coaches from its magical Sweet 16 team in 2008, for the first of four meetings as laid out above. But, the Toppers worked over the bigger Cards with stifling defense and relentless pursuit on the glass (WKU +14!). What was left in the Topper wake of activity was 26% shooting for UL and a bumfuzzled Rick Pitino mumbling about a bad week of practice. Of course, if you watched the game, it was not hard to understand why UL lost: they let their poor jumpshooters jack up scud missiles instead of pounding the ball into either of their TWO future NBA power forwards. What resulted was a 14-point beatdown of justice of UL by the Tops.

Even more staggering is that eight days ago, this Topper team was doing some grave soul-searching after being annihilated by 28 points at Murray State. Since then, the Tops have dispatched SIU (on Wed) and now Louisville in the early buds of this "rebuilding year." They are also crafting a serious defense/rebounding identity. Well, at least I should give UL a little credit for scheduling the series in the first place, even if they waited until we were "down."

WKU next hosts Georgia on Tuesday.

Tomorrow, we will take a look at which teams have laid solid foundations for their March resumes.

Tonight's GOI
--Wisconsin at Virginia Tech. ACC/Big Televen challenge gets cranked up with a couple of teams who could use a solid "w."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Southern Illinois at WKU

This was supposed to be a marquee match up of a couple of the highest profile non-BCS schools in Hoopdom. Instead, what we have are two clubs with a combined 1-4 record and both in desperate need of a win. SIU was pounded by Duke (by 25) and UCLA (by 17). It's worse for WKU, who played a great first half at Houston before being thrashed in the second frame and then backing that up with a 28-point shellacking at Murray State. And, while the Racers are pretty good, they are not Duke or UCLA.

All Topper fans expected a big dip this season after last year's banner run to the Sweet 16 and the subsequent losses of most of their scoring, minutes and entire coaching staff. But, the offense is truly offensive and the defense was matador-esque at Murray. Both teams are doing a big of soul-searching, but make no mistake, WKU needs it more. This is a home game after all.

TBB will be in full holiday travel mode the rest of the week and will return on Monday.

Tonight's GOI
--North Carolina vs Notre Dame. UNC hasn't been truly pushed yet. They might be in this one.
--Texas vs Oregon. People like to THINK that Oregon matters on a national level, but most years, they don't.
--UAB vs Oklahoma. Blazers are 4-0 and have not played a home game yet. Sooners have yet to play away from Norman. Something's a-brewin'.
--Boston College vs Purdue. Boilers first chance for a competitive game.

Last Night's GOI
--Mississippi State 76, at St. Bonaventure 71. The Bonnies lose a tight one at home.
--at UALR 71, Creighton 69. Few are paying attention to the Trojans, but peolpe will come around eventually. They are now 4-0 with road wins over Cal Poly and Pepperdine and home triumphs over LA Tech and Creighton.
--Syracuse 89, Kansas 81 (OT). Orange are on their way.
--Notre Dame 81, Texas 80. Tremendous game...these two will likely be around all season.

Big night for the Belt, as the league went 5-1 in DI games, raising its overall record to 21-25.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feast of Exemptions

There are more exempt tournies, challenges, and classics than you can shake a (drum)stick at over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Here's a list o' links of brackets and schedules to help you keep all of them straight as you overeat, fall asleep to football, and awkwardly attempt conversation with estranged and obscure uncles, cousins, in-laws, and future/potential in-laws over the next few days.

Nov 24-26: Maui Invitational
Nov 25: CBE Championship
Nov 26, 28: NIT Tipoff
Nov 26-29: Great Alaska Shootout
Nov 27-30: 76 Classic (Anaheim, CA)
Nov 27-30: Old Spice Classic
Nov 28-29: Las Vegas Invitational
Nov 28-29: Legends Classic "Championship" Rounds
Nov 28-29: Philly Classic
Nov 29-30: Cancun Challenge

Tonight's GOI
--Mississippi State at St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies have not been good for a long while. But, they are 3-1 and just nipped Rutgers at the RAC on the weekend.
--Creighton at UALR. HUGE change for the Trojans to score a big one. Both teams are 3-0.
Sun Belt Slate
Georgia St at Troy
Stephen F. Austin at UL Monroe
Florida Atlantic vs James Madison
Oral Roberts at UL Lafayette
Arkansas St at UT Martin
Creighton at UA Little Rock

Last Night's GOI
--Syracuse 89, Florida 83. Orange get a nice resume builder.
--Notre Dame 88, Indiana 50. I don't care what has happened at IU, they never expect to lose by 38 to ND.
--UConn 76, Wisconsin 57. Get used to the "Big East is better than the NBA" hyperbole. They are backing it up.

Sun Belt Slate
--at Davidson 76, Florida Atlantic 60. They held Curry to 39.
--at Vanderbilt 65, Middle Tennessee 57. MT dug a 25-11 first half hole and couldn't get out, even after closing the lead to 6 with 11 mins to go.
--at Florida International 50, Toledo 46. Panthers hold serve at home..

Monday, November 24, 2008

GOI 11/24

Tonight's GOI
Florida vs Syracuse. Two clubs expecting a little number next to their name in March.
Indiana vs Notre Dame. In state played in Hawai'i.
Wisconsin vs UConn. Anyone want to guess how the Badgers season will go? Underestimated in the pre- and early season, big success in the regular season, good seed in the Tourney, early-than-expected exit in the Dance. Maybe it will be different this year.

Sun Belt Slate

Florida Atlantic at Davidson. Lambs, Owls actually, to the slaughter.
Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt. Let me go ahead and call the "upset" in this one.
Toledo at Florida International. Belt needs these winnable home games.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Weekend Forecast 11/21-11/23

Since this is the "Bracket Board" and all, how about some brackets for the early season tourneys and invitationals that are starting up/underway?

Nov 20-22: Basketball Travelers Invitational
Nov 20-23: Puerto Rico Shootout
Nov 21-24: Paradise Jam

Last Night's GOI

--Duke 83, Southern Illinois 58. It was close for 30 minutes...
--Michigan 55, UCLA 52. Huge win for Beilein and the Wolverines. His system works. Period.
--at Oklahoma State 91, Tulsa 73. Cowboys roll in this OK match up.
--North Texas 76, at Sam Houston 71. Good road win for the Mean Green and for the Belt.
--Iowa 70, at The Citadel 48. Too big a gap between these two for the home court to help much.
--McNeese State 82, at UL-Monroe 63. Jarringly bad loss for the Belt.
--at Washington 74, FIU 51. Expected.
--Centenary 81, Troy 77. Troy looks to be going NOWHERE with its hoops program since moving to the Belt.

Weekend Forecast
--Michigan vs Duke. For the 2k Classic title.
--UCLA vs Southern Illinois. Score should rocket into the high 30s.
--Notre Dame at Loyola Marymount. Interesting roadie for ND.
--North Carolina at UC-Santa Barbara. Ditto.
--Oregon at UC-Irvine. And again. Some high-profile Big Sixers doing some interesting traveling.
--Georgia Tech at Mercer. We're tracking the SEC-killing Bears.
--UAB at Old Dominion. It's hard to tell which games will matter a lot at this point, but this one feels important.
--VCU at Rhode Island. Same for this one.

Sun Belt Slate
--Alcorn St vs Troy
--Tennessee at Middle Tennessee. WHOA! It simply does not get any bigger than this for Belt teams.
--UL Lafayette at Utah Valley
--UMKC at Florida Atlantic
--Denver at Lamar
--Florida A&M vs South Alabama
--Western Kentucky at Murray St. Olde tyme rivals square off in a (likely) sold out RSEC.
--Miss Valley St at Arkansas St
--Louisiana Tech at UA Little Rock
New Orleans at Savannah St
North Texas at Indiana St

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bear Market

Here is an early developing story line to watch out of the mighty A-Sun: the Mercer Bears are 2-0 with road wins at SEC brethren Alabama and Auburn. Now, we're not talking about Tennessee and Florida here, but this merits watching. Even more intriguing is the fact that Mercer was considered an Atlantic Sun bottom-dweller coming into the season. The Bears get Georgia Tech in Macon on Saturday and are at Dayton next week, so the stiff tests and opportunities for big wins will continue. And, it's a good thing that they like this road game stuff, because they play SEVEN roadies in a row from Dec 17 to Jan 11.

The Sun Belt split its games last night, as Arkansas State took care of Murray State (the OVC favorite) in Jonesboro, 55-47, while New Orleans was thrashed by 17 on the road at Nicholls State. That brings the Belt's non-conference tally to 10-13.

Last Night's GOI
-- at Arkansas State 55, Murray State 47. John Brady gets his first DI win at ASU.
--Mercer 78, at Auburn 74. See above.
--Michigan State 70, at IPFW 59. Sparty survives his road trip into non-BCS country.

Tonight's GOI
--Southern Illinois vs Duke. Devils will face some fierce half-court D.
--UCLA vs Michigan. A good barometer for Beilein Year 2 at Michigan.
--Tulsa at Oklahoma State. In-state rivalry alert! Always worth tracking.
--North Texas at Sam Houston. Battle of two Texas clubs that have been solid in recent seasons.
--Iowa at The Citadel. A Big Six team on the road against true little guy.
--McNeese State at UL-Monroe. Belt must win these type of games. Must.
--FIU at Washington. Tough deal for the Panthers here, but Huskies have already lost to Portland.
--Troy vs Centenary. Another one that the Belt must have to move up the conference charts.
Puerto Rico Shootout
--Four games, including Southern Cal vs Seton Hall and Missouri vs Xavier.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Games of Import 11/19

Last Night's GOI
--at Mississippi 89, South Alabama 71. Team USA takes it on the chin...not unexpectedly at Ole Miss.
--Florida State 65, at LaSalle 61. Thought an upset might be in the offing here, but alas, no.
--at North Carolina 77, Kentucky 58. Even sans-Hansbrough, the Heels were far superior.
--UAB 72, at Arizona 71. Blazers play SIX games in a row away from home to start the season. They are currently 3-0. That makes them a team to watch as a potential at-large down the road.
--at Oklahoma 82, Davidson 78. Curry's 44 still was not enough as both he and Blake Griffin lived up to billing.
--at Portland State 81, Portland 76. Vikings with the Rose City Classic. I attended a conference at Portland State once, so I have a soft spot for the Vikes. They were great hosts and their school is a great center of learning and of service to the city of Portland.
--Lamar 78, at UL-Lafayette 68. Come on, Cajuns! We (the Belt) feel your pain when you lose!
FAU 65,
at Santa Clara 61. On the other hand, Mike Jarvis' Owls (2-1) bear watching.

Tonight's GOI
--Murray State at Arkansas State. Of great local interest, due to Murray being a regional rival and ASU being a Sun Belt member.
--Mercer at Auburn. Bears have already taken down Alabama.
--Michigan State at IPFW. Big Six takes a roadie to Summit country!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Games of Import 11/18

Tonight's GOI
--South Alabama at Mississippi. Down south brawl that will test one of the Belt's best and most consistent teams.
--Florida State at LaSalle. A Big Sixer steps up for a true roadie against a non-Big Sixer.
--Kentucky at North Carolina. UK lost to VMI, but they usually show up for the big ones. They had better come switched on for this one.
--UAB at Arizona. Blazers are already 2-0 with two wins away from home.
--Davidson at Oklahoma. Maybe the best game of the season so far.
--Portland at Portland State. Crosstown battle, and the Pilots are puffed up after a win over Big State U., Washington.
--Lamar at UL-Lafayette. One of those "must win at home" games for ULL and the Belt.
--FAU at Santa Clara. Belt team in a neutral court game.

Sun Belt record to date: 8-10

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weekend Recap

Gotta be quick today.

How did the Big Six do on the road vs non-Big Six teams?
--at Howard 47, Oregon State 45.
--Stanford 75, at Yale 57.
--Florida State 59, at Jacksonville 57.
--NC State 65, at New Orleans 59.
--at Portland 80, Washington 74.

2-3 for the non-Big Sixers. Not a winning record, but not a bad showing.

In other news, the Belt went a respectable 7-6 in DI games, including two road wins on the West coast by UALR (over Cal Poly and Pepperdine).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Weekend Forecast 11/14-11/16

Kentucky is looking for it's first snow of the season this weekend. Further, I have drawn some amazingly good weather of late on my Saturday long runs in preparation for the St. Jude Marathon (Memphis, TN) on December 6. It looks like Mother Nature is cashing in some of her kindness with a blast of arctic air and stiff winds for my 23-miler tomorrow.

But, after basketball's long winter of summer (that makes sense, right?), folks are crowding around the old wood stove to thaw in the cozy warmth of our first full slate of hoops since last March. There are a lot of lump-of-coal payday games on tap, but there are a few glowing embers as well.

First, this blog cares about the Sun Belt. Most of you don't--I get it. But, consider this non-conference season a case study in the life of non-power conference. There are some interesting story lines to follow.

--UALR at Cal Poly. Cal Poly looks to be down. UALR should be decent-to-good. This is the type of road game the Trojans and the Belt need to win.
--Arkansas State at Mississippi. John Brady begins his tenure against a familiar SEC foe.
--Eastern Kentucky at FIU. Golden Panthers have four starters back and coach Sergio Ruoco likes this squad...but, we've seen/heard this before with FIU.
--Monmouth at FAU. The Mike Jarvis era begins at Florida Atlantic.
--Morehead State at UL-Monroe. Warhawks should be better than last year, but Morehead is a big-time sleeper in the OVC this season.
--Alcorn State at South Alabama. Jags should be OK this season if they get any sort of guard play.
--Denver at Northern Iowa. Pioneers were horrid on the road last year and they have 8 FR and 3 SO's on the roster.
--NC State at New Orleans. That's right, an ACC school visits a Belt school...and UNO won in the Pack's den last season.
--LA Tech at UL-Lafayette. The Cajuns return four starters and should contend out West.
--UAB at Troy. Huge, huge game for the league. Troy can be a tough place to play. They shoot so many threes that if a team like UAB catches them on a good night, an upset could easily occur.
--WKU at Houston. The Cougars have already lost to GA Southern on a neutral court and WKU lost a ton from last year's Sweet 16 team and the current roster is riddled with injuries. No idea what is going to happen here.
--UALR at Pepperdine. The Trojans are pulling a double on this weekend west coast road swing.
--Houston Baptist at Middle Tennessee. The Belt favorites should roll.

Big Six Teams on the Road
--Oregon State at Howard. Michelle Obama's brother starts his tenure on the road.
--Stanford at Yale. The SAT Score Classic.
--Florida State at Jacksonville. In-state battle and a big opportunity for the Dolphins.
--NC State at New Orleans. See above.
--Washington at Portland. Kentucky would NEVER play at WKU, Eastern Kentucky or Murray. EVER. Never, ever.

Other Games
--Butler at Drake. Both will likely fall off a bit from last year, but it's still a good match up.
--Old Dominon at Charlotte. This is sort of like that UMass/SIU tilt. May not be meaningful, but a win like this early on gives a team hope.
--Winthrop at South Carolina. In state rivalry alert! Eagles are favored to win the Big South AGAIN. Gamecocks have a brand new coaching staff with a lot of players returning.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Egytians Dogs Triumph

SIU gets a leg up on other teams from the fringe conferences hoping to put multiple teams into the bracket. They took care of UMass last night in Carbondale, 80-73. The Minutemen got the Salukis to break from their traditional methodical pace and got this game to 72 possessions. UMass also shot (+11) and made more free throws (+8). They also out-rebounded SIU on the O-glass (+4) and overall (+10). When a team goes on the road and does those things, they have to like their chances.

But, those rabid Egyptian Dogs forced 20 TO's and only committed 10, which allowed them to get up a 12 more shots than UMass. Thus, SIU made 7 more field goals even though the teams shot similar percentages from the floor (47-45%, SIU +2).

Who knows how much a win over UMass is going to be worth, but it's a starting point among NCAA hopefuls.

Tomorrow, we will take a look at the HUGE slate of games coming this opening weekend.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

UMass vs SIU

Our first really meaningful game of the year happens tonight in the 2k Sports Classic. These two are no stranger to success, but both missed the NCAA last year. Both lost key components, but both have enough returning talent to expect to contend for spots in the bracket. It's too early to tell a lot about teams, but this is the kind of game that NCAA hopefuls not in Big Six conference need to win if they want to build a solid resume.

For a November 12 game, this one is pretty big.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Embrace the Selection Committee

They are an oft-maligned group. The chair of the men's basketball selection committee takes on that high position knowing that s/he will be skewered and spat upon by Billy Packer, Dick Vitale, and Digger Phelps. They know that there are millions of fans incapable of removing their bias for their school that will screech about being left out, underseeded, or misplaced in the bracket. Tens of thousands more will question their motives and their integrity. Hundreds of us bracketologists will nitpick their every move and spend hours and not a small amount of bandwith trying to read their minds. The hardiest of us are the kind of people who read the selection criteria for fun and occasionally do find legitimate flaws in their work.

But, it is time to admit that in the grand scheme of things, the NCAA Men's Basketball Selection Committee does a pretty good job. This is helped by the fact that the bracket is the fairest, most democratic, and expansive championship in major sports. What makes men's hoops the best championship is that the quibbling occurs about who missed out on a 12-seed and not about who got left out of the title game (welcome, college football fans!). Further, the only way a team with a .500 record gets in is by winning their post-season tournament (welcome, most pro sports fans!).

The committee's job is basically this: pick the most deserving 34 at-large teams to go with the 30 teams who actually won their league tournament and the Ivy League regular season champ. So, in essence, the committee combs through teams that have already been "eliminated" once in the post-season in their conference tourney. That should help folks sleep at night in case their "deserving" team (who could not win their conference tourney) gets left at home.

So, this is my yearly call to read the selection criteria (which is NOT as conspicuous on the NCAA website as it once was) and watch as many games as possible. As much as we like to yell about how our teams get screwed on Selection Sunday (it truly is a Spring rite of passage) the reality is that most years the committee does a good job. I have been doing bracketology for nearly 10 years and we usually disagree on only one or two teams. And, those teams are usually deeply flawed anyway. With the exception of the 2006 stinkeroo, the committee has done a pretty good job at following the selection criteria.

Now, whether the criteria itself is fair or not is another post for another day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Ball Is Tipped

There are two games of importance tonight, mainly because they are the first two games of the season. Duke hosts Presbyterian in the 2k Sports Classic, and Georgia Southern will play Houston (future WKU opponent) in the same event.

Later in the week, there are five games in which Big Six teams will go on the road against non-Big 6 teams. Just FYI at this point, but we'll look closer at these in the Weekend Forecast on Friday.

Friday, Nov 14
--Oregon State at Howard
--Stanford at Yale

Saturday, Nov 15
--Florida State at Jacksonville
--NC State at New Orleans
--Washington at Portland

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ready, Set

This is TBB's fifth year of yakking about college hoops and it has pretty much done the same thing for five years: view teams equally regardless of polls, star players, coach, conference, TV exposure, fan base, or any other factors, through the lens of the NCAA Selection Criteria. When surveying the daily hoops landscape for the GOI (Games of Import), a battle for the top seed in the MEAC conference tourney is just as important (nay, moreso, because they only get one bid!) as a titanic match up between ACC powers.

I also do not do "preseason brackets." There are scads of them around and some of them are well-done. But, those are based on paper and fantasy. TBB deals in actual performance and evaluation based on the criteria. It is impossible to do that before any games are played and past performance in previous seasons means zero. So, I cannot do my thing until some games have been played. Hence, there are no brackets here until at least New Year's Day.

What will happen here during the first couple of months is this:
1. Tracking games in which a Big 6-type team goes on the road against non-power conference team. It is rare and interesting.
2. Tracking the Sun Belt. Why would any sane person doe this? Because the geography of this league is high comedy. Because we put TWO teams in the Dance last year. And, well, because I...
3. Follow the WKU Hilltoppers. Coming off a Sweet 16 run and near toppling of UCLA in that round, the Toppers will be a great lesson in what success and its aftermath means at a non-power school. Of course, I follow them no matter what, but it should be interesting for everyone who cares about schools outside the Big 6. Some teams rebuild. Some teams reload. Some teams hire a 30-year old alum in hopes that he will stay for a long time, suffer through some terrible defense watching the young coach figure things out, watch that coach break through to the Sweet 16, and then lose that coach, his entire staff, an NBA wing player, a pro PG, the 4-yr glue guy, other role players, and hire a first-time head coach to start over again.

Should be interesting. First GOI comes on Monday.