Sunday, February 18, 2007

Weekend in hoops

10 quickie thoughts, one long post, on the weekend that was in mid-majordom:

1. Two Saturdays ago, when I watched Creighton go to Carbondale, it looked like the party line for the last couple of seasons concerning the Salukis—transcendent D, but not enough offense to win in the NCAAs—was probably dead-on. I liked the Jays a little better as a tournament team because of Josh Dotzler’s ability to run the point (the Salukis don’t have a pure PG), more offensive balance (four Jays were in double figures) and chalked up the SIU victory to a flukish 9-12, 25-point performance from forward Matt Shaw.

But there Shaw was again against Butler yesterday, going 4-4 from the field (including 3-3 from 3), grabbing six boards, and scoring 15. The Creighton and Butler games were the first two times Shaw cracked the 15-point mark since New Year’s. If he can keep it up and give SIU a genuine second scoring-option behind previous one-man-band Jamaal Tatum, the Salukis should be able to claim their first power-conference scalp since dismissing Georgia in 2002.

2. Butler is still an Elite 8 type of team. Don’t read too much into Saturday’s game—yes, they lost at home, yes, that’s two losses (the other to future at-large thief Wright St.) in a week. But A.J. Graves looked like Death on two legs against SIU. Actually, make that Death on one leg—it looked like he had a hell of a limp for long stretches in the second half. He fouled out. He missed a free throw (only his second one at home this year). Surely, surely he had some kind of illness or injury, or both.

Butler without Graves isn’t really Butler at all. And they still could have swiped a win in the last minute. As long as Graves is fine, Butler will be fine.

3. Frickin’ Drexel. With road wins over ‘Nova, Syracuse, and now Creighton, the Dragons would have been in primo at-large position if they could have just avoided losing to any of the dregs of the Colonial and maybe taking one decent win at the CAA tourney. Instead they looked past William and Mary, a team so traditionally dreggy they make James Madison look like a contender, and coughed up a 60-47 loss. (To be fair, the much-improved Tribe have gone 8-8 so far in the CAA this season.) Now? It going’s to take a perfect run to the CAA title game and even then Drexel would have to hope for a very soft bubble and a little bit of Air Force-esque luck. Losses to teams like Rider and W&M are just too much when you’re in fourth place in your conference.

4. In the other half of the CAA-MVC Challenge, VCU’s at-large hopes are pretty much toast after their home loss to Bradley. The Rams’ most impressive nonconference win is either UAB or Albany. Their most impressive conference win is either home vs. Old Dominion or at fourth-place Drexel. They whiffed on road shots at Hofstra and ODU and couldn’t even really keep up at home with the MVC’s fourth-best team. They could win the CAA by three games and it won’t matter—they have to have the auto-bid.

5. It tears great rents in my soul to agree with Jay “Spawn of Evil” Bilas, but on the basis of five MVC games I saw all or part of this weekend, I have to say the Valley is, yes, a touch overrated this season. As noted above, SIU is as good as advertised. But Missouri St. and Wichita St. lost at home to schools from the Big South and SoCon. Creighton honked an 11-point second-half lead, again at home, to (it’s worth repeating) the fourth-place team from the CAA. At least Northern Iowa hung with Nevada for a half … but in the end, the MoVal’s six flagship teams went 2-4, and 0-3 at home. Eek.

6. Lord Winthrop is officially in the at-large race after not just beating Missouri St., but pretty well wrapping the game up with a few minutes to play and doing it with a subpar effort from a still-working-his-way-back Torrell Martin (only five shots from the field?). More evidence Gregg Marshall is a great coach: Michael Jenkins, former shot-a-minute bricklayer, went 7-12 from downtown and scored 25. With the Eagles’ road win over Old Dominion looking better all the time and still no loss to a non-tournament team on the ledger, the guess here is that Winthrop sews up a bid if they close out a perfect regular season (not easy: the last two are home against High Point and on the road at semi-nemesis Coastal Carolina) and avoid a first-round loss in the Big South tourney. The caveat: the Committee could sacrifice the Eagles to send a message about scheduling non-DI games (Winthrop played four.) Marshall defends himself (and Katz pronounces Winthrop at-large worthy) here.

7. Appalachian St. remains a stronger at-large candidate than SoCon buddy Davidson. Not only did they push Wichita St. off the bubble for good by winning in Wichita, those Vandy and Virginia wins are only increasing in value. Appy St. also beat Davidson on the road in their only meeting. Still … a 18-6 overall DI record whilst playing in a conference as weak as the SoCon is still a 18-6 overall DI record whilst playing in a conference as weak as the SoCon. They’ll need to sweep their way to the SoCon final, lose it to Davidson, and hope teams like Illinois, Syracuse, and Kansas St. to suck down the stretch.

8. Despite the conference’s well-covered inability to land an at-large big, the MAC is good for an NCAA upset as often as not and they’ve got a great under-the-radar candidate in surging Akron. The Zips have lost five games, but by a total of 18 points and the only home loss was to Nevada by two. They crushed runaway OVC-leader Austin Peay by 17 yesterday. If they can survive the MAC tourney minefield, your annual 12-over-5 winner is right here.

9. The JCCW candidate for conference with the toughest BracketBusters Saturday? The Big West, which saw its top two teams (Long Beach St. and Cal-State Fullerton) rocked by 15 points each at the hands of Hawaii and Wright St. and had its third-best team, UC-Santa Barbara, lose by two to Big Sky middle-of-the-pack team Eastern Washington. Looks unlikely there are any Pacific’s or Utah St.’s in this year’s crop.

10. It’s not mid-major related, but the JCCW does keep tabs on the Jeff Lebo Project. After a brief flirtation with respectability midway through the conference season (apparently leading to some delusional belief about the difficulty of the selection process amongst certain football followers), Auburn’s hoopsters have regressed to their inevitable mean—four straight losses, a 4-8 SEC record, and a no. 113 RPI, worst in the conference. Everyone who knows anything about Auburn hoops knows that patience is needed and that progress is being made—but especially given what Andy Kennedy has been able to do in a single season at Ole Miss, we’re talking about what looks several more seasons' worth of patience.


Newspaper Hack said...

You can say this about VCU -- they're better than with that name-rider Jeff Capel.

They can always lose in the tourney, but I like their chances to get the CAA bid this year.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Jeff Capel = The new Stan Heath. I predict three years of painfully incremental progress at OU followed by everyone realizing "Hey ... this guy's not really all that good a coach at all!"

I would definitely bet VCU or ODU in the CAA tourney ... the way ODU's playing at the moment I'd lean that way, but who knows. The CAA fina lwill be must-see TV regardless.