Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Time Warp ... to Saturday

So I was going to feel good about recapping the rest of the weekend’s action now and getting to Monday’s stuff tomorrow night—I’d already started gathering my Saturday-action links—when, of course, all hell breaks loose. Honestly, I’m not sure that’s an exaggeration. I mean, after Winthrop failed to do what Charleston Southern did with ease, we’re due for some sort of lesser Apocalypse, aren’t we? At least a few imps breaking loose or one of those earthquakes that makes a vase fall off its pedestal or an American winning a medal in singles luge, right?

So what now? Well, now we’re going to take the advice of the countless Big South athletes who have joined the clichéd chorus of their brethren in sweat across the country, crying as one for us to “take it one game at a time.” And in that spirit, the JCCW is going to take it one-day-and-one-extra-game’s worth of action at a time. Tomorrow, the countdown to the BSC-WU title fight begins. But for now, journey back with me to that magical time three days ago when UNCA looked like a sleeper and Winthrop was their usual talented selves …


If you want to know why the Big South has already surpassed the Atlantic Sun as a men’s basketball conference and has its eyes on the SoCon and OVC (both of which the Big South currently betters by RPI), take a look at this box score. High Point is younger than youngerson (in all of DI, only Auburn is less experienced), has been playing like it for the last two weeks, and got virtually no rest or preparation in advance for a road game against a team a) ranked more than 20 spots ahead of them in the RPI b) that had just trounced a good St. Peter’s team in the same gym.
And High Point did every single thing but beat them anyway. Hero of the evening was freshman Justin Dunn, who for all I know spontaneously generated on the bench during the game and scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. After their series of sieve-like performances over the past week-plus, the Panthers locked down the Greyhounds to the tune of 36 percent shooting for the game, 7-of-24 from deep.
Yes, HPU eventually ran out of gas down the stretch (Loyola scored 16 of the game’s final 18 points), got crushed all game on the offensive glass (19 to 5 … the Greyhounds took 10 more shots and still finished with two less makes than HPU), and saw Arizona Reid’s shooting slump continue (6-of-15 on 2’s).
But HPU could have just mailed this quite-honestly-meaningless game in and no one would have blamed them. Instead they pulled themselves together, showed the kind of pride even Hofstra would be jealous of, and played a damn fine game. If you think that’s not the kind of signal that says this team and this conference--which is loaded with good young players, from Liberty to Winthrop to UNCA to Coastal--has their thumb pressed firmly against the elevator’s “Up” button, well, just don’t enter any IQ contests against potted plants, is all I’m saying.


How you like your BracketBusters now, Gregg “BB Ambivalence” Marshall?
“That's the best ball game in my tenure,” Marshall told the Herald. “It would have been a hard one to lose, was a great one to win.”
(Yes, I’m sure he would retract any statement remotely positive about BracketBusters in a heartbeat after Monday’s game, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the Cloud Nine emotion after Saturday’s game, if you ask the JCCW.)
James Shuler got a lot of deserved love for a) hitting the free throws that sent the game into OT b) hitting the three that sent the game into a second overtime c) the three that won the game in the second OT and d) a line that goes 7-12 FG, 4-5 3FG, 9-11 FT, 27 points, 4 RBs, 8 (!) assists, 3 TOs, 3 steals. (The love dished Sunday by Gary McCann is especially eloquent.) But as good as Shuler was, Winthrop doesn’t win without Craig Bradshaw playing yet another terrific game, going 10-of-14 for 24 points and 9 boards. Gaynor (8-to-3 assist-to-turnover) and Martin (5-10 3FG, 20 points) weren’t exactly shabby, either.
It’s too bad Lord Winthrop didn’t get a TV game, and it’s too bad they didn’t get a higher-profile opponent. But that doesn’t mean the Eagles’ win didn’t mean anything: it wasn’t too long ago when the Big South’s best team could have played an upper-echelon MAC team at home with Big South officials, an extra foul for each player, and an extra player on the court ... and would still expect to lose. That those days are so clearly behind the conference means a hell of a lot.
Oh yeah: the win also means Winthrop (even after Monday) should not fall below the 14-seed line if they make the NCAAs. And that means something, too.


See, even the Big South’s disappointments are better than the OVC’s disappointments, and on the road nonetheless. This gives the conference a 1-0 mark in the sure-to-be-annual 20/20 Hindsight Classic.
Teams are supposed to struggle with their long-distance shooting on the road, and especially near the end of a long road stretch, right? Not so the Fighting Biedenbachs, masters of the nonconference grind, who hit their first seven threes and finished 10-of-20. They also shot 13-of-16 from the line. They also outrebounded the Colonels 34-22.
All of which would contribute to the JCCW’s Fear of a Blue Planet come tourney time if not for the fact that UNCA’s D allowed EKU to shoot 64 percent in the second half, and gave up 28 points to Matt Witt … and Biedenbach still said “(Omar Collington’s) defense on Witt down the stretch was really good. To be honest, we played great defense on Witt all night, but he's just a great player who made some really tough shots.” Admittedly, the JCCW wasn’t there. For all I know, Witt may have been sinking underhand threes with a goldfish bowl balanced on top of an umbrella in his other hand. But generally guys who score 28 points and shoot 6-of-12 from deep aren’t being defended all that well.


What kind of game is it where the two teams together combine for six assists? The hell? Did the City Council of Radford declare Saturday a citywide Day of Selfishness? Did every player on both teams go out to the same bar and all hit on the same girl the night before? Did the coaches tell their players “You know, just for kicks today, let’s leave the huddle by saying “ME!” one at a time!”?
Hopefully, the PA played Me First and the Gimme-Gimmes for warm-up music.
Oh yeah, “Poor” Larry Blair shot like crap (6-of-24) while Holcomb-Faye hit 5-of-11 threes and got to the line a bajillion times (OK, 17) and hit almost all bajillion (15). He finished with 36 points. Again. And in the most surprising development since people actually started making jokes about VP Cheney’s hunting mishap, a good performance by WHF combined with a bad performance by Blair equaled a MacRadford win.


Just remember, when you look at those rebounds-per-game stats this week and see a sudden spike for both these teams, that they’re still not earning any merit badges for their efforts.
Why? ‘Cause those boards all got their start as bricks, that’s why, and this game had more bricks than a HUD supply warehouse. The Othern Southern shot 32.3 percent from the field … and won. That’s what can happen when your opponent turns the ball over 20 times and shoots 2-of-14 from 3. The Keydet Cops finished with only slightly fewer boards (39) than they did points. (Here, Duggar Baucom sums up the entire game with but one word, something the JCCW could probably learn from.)
CSU’s a weird team: they play badly against bad teams who play badly (see: 61-45 win over Liberty) only to play well against good teams playing well themselves (see: 71-69 loss to Coastal). They’re sort of good and sort of awful. Which, I guess, means their 6-8 conference mark is another piece of evidence for Bill Parcells’ old saying: You are what your record says you are.

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