A ton of juicy mid-majorness on tap for tonight, but for today's official Before we're going with ...
Middle Tennessee State at Western Kentucky*: 2008 was about as good as it's ever going to get for the modern Sun Belt, with regular season champ South Alabama snagging an at-large bid and conference tourney usurper Western Kentucky riding Courtney Lee's hot hand and Ty Rogers' buzzer-beater into the Sweet 16. Someday, the Belt is definitely going to back and sing: It was a very good year. In the preseason, the league's hopes for an encore were pinned mostly on Middle Tennessee, who returned everybody--no, everybody from last year's run to the Belt championship, including 6-7 forward Desmond Yates, who leads the team in pretty much everything. But when Western Kentucky went out and pounded Louisville while MTSU struggled through an anonymous nonconference slate (losses to Tennessee and Vandy? OK. Losses to Belmont and Tennessee-Martin? Less OK), the favorite's burden shifted back to the Hilltoppers. But, in another reversal, it's MTSU who will arrive in Bowling Green with the perfect Sun Belt record after weathering upset bids from Florida Atlantic and Florida International--the team that upset the 'Toppers a week ago--earlier this week.
So, which team is the real Sun Belt frontrunner? If the Blue Raiders come away with a victory from Diddle Arena (*stifled chuckle*), one of the toughest places to play in the country, it's them. If it's a close game, we'll have to wait for the next meeting. If the 'Toppers in a rout, the road to the automatic bid will likely go through Western Kentucky one more time.
Buffalo 63, Akron 61: Lord, please forgive me for the tortured pun I'm about to write, but it really is time to be bullish on Buffalo. As of Tuesday night the Bulls had the MAC's second-best RPI, second-best Pomeroy rating, and first-best league win after hitting 22-of-27 free throws and outrebounding Akron 31-to-18 to edge the unlucky Zips by 2. (Akron is now 0-2 in the MAC after one loss in overtime and another by two points.) Things arguably got even better for Buffalo when heavy league favorite Miami OF OHIO got stunned at home by Ohio. The win bumped Ohio up over the Bulls in the RPI and Pomeroy, but nonetheless, with Miami's weak sauce opening salvos--an OT win and loss at home?--the league looks wide open, and Buffalo looks as likely as any team to claim it.
*Get it? The football player in the picture is a blue Raider! Ha ha! Ha ha!