Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Before and After: 1/13



Buffalo at Akron
: There's a thousand different wonderful terms and phrases from British soccer coverage I wish would make their way into American sports media. Howler ... left it late ... goal duck ... one last sting in the tail, etc. One of my favorites is "almost men," used to describe a team that has come close to glory several times and never quite gotten there. The Buffalo Bills, for instance, qould the be the quintessential U.S. example of "almost men."

And hey, speaking of Buffalo, the most intriguing match-up on an otherwise slight Tuesday night mid-major slate features Buffalo's own Bulls traveling to Akron to take on the Zips in a match-up of the MAC's two definitive "almost men" this decade. Early in the Aughts it was the Bulls who were claiming MAC regular-season crowns, falling short in the conference tourney, and praying for an at-large bid that should have but never arrived; the last couple of years it's been LeBron's high school buddies at Akron who have suffered the same cruel fate, all the way up to and including Doug Penno's banked-in buzzer beater to steal their bid.

There's signs that this year, however, it could be the Bulls or Zips robbing league favorite and runaway MAC Pomeroy rating leader Miami OF OHIO of the tourney title. Both teams made it through the nonconference slate with a winning record, Buffalo sporting a win over Temple and Akron a victory over MAAC leader Niagara. The teams rank 2 and 3 in the league according to Pomeroy. And the 0-1 MAC records-to-date are a bit deceiving--Buffalo suffered a tough 86-82 loss at fellow eight-win squad Bowling Green, while Akron was even more impressive in taking Miami OF OHIO to overtime in Oxford.

For all that, those conference-opening losses mean that tonight is the end of the optimism for whichever team comes out on the losing end. Solid ratings and close losses only mean so much when you're staring at an 0-2 mark in one of the toughest, most competitive mid-major leagues around.


Creighton 73, Bradley 64: And with that, the MVC race descends into complete chaos--only five games in the MoVal has three one-loss teams, three two-loss teams, and even two more three-loss teams all within two games of the lead. Unfortunately, what all of that--and Illinois St.'s overtime loss to 4-12 Indiana St.--adds up to is that this is almost certainly a one-bid league.

If Creighton continues to show the kind of balance they showed against the Braves Saturday, that bid could wind up being the preseason favorite Blue Jays' after all. They had four different players in double figures, with all 10 players who saw the floor getting double-digit minutes and none of them getting as many as 30. Perhaps most impressive is that the Jays managed it without injured leading scorer Booker Woodfox and their second-leading scorer, P'Allen Stinnett, going just 4-of-13 from the field. Until further notice, if there's going to be a favorite in the Valley, it's probably Creighton again.

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