Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Before and After, 2/4

The mid-major show must go on, Auburn fans, even today.



Stephen F. Austin at Nicholls St.: You might not have realized this, but ... the Southland's not a bad conference at all, as mid-majors go. Kenpom currently rates it 19th, only one slot behind the MAC (!) and well out in front of better-known conferences like Western Kentucky's Sun Belt or Davidson's SoCon. Add that little nugget to the Southland's excellent NCAA performances the last three years--starting with Northwestern St.'s giant-slaying of Iowa and continuing through Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's leading Wisconsin at the half and Texas-Arlington making Memphis work at least as hard as, say, Michigan St. did--and it's safe to say whichever team comes out of the league tourney is going to be worth keeping an eye on come March.

That team is most likely to be Stephen F. Austin, if the RPI and Kenpom ratings are at all correct--both have the Lumberjacks inside the country's top 100, little surprise for a team with chits like wins over Drake, North Dakota St., and Ohio Valley power Austin Peay (the latter by 39 points!). The Lumberjacks aren't offensively flashy to say the least--even within the confines of Southland play, they're still seventh in the league in offensive points-per-possession, and only two players, senior center Matt Kingsley and senior guard Josh Alexander, average in the double-digits in scoring--but they more-or-less never turn the ball over and play seriously outstanding all-around defense, leading their closest conference pursuers in defensive points-per-possession by half a point.

None of that means terribly much in the larger scheme of things, of course. The Lumberjacks were last year's regular-season Southland champ, too, and were even on the outer reaches of the bubble discussion before going down to Northwestern St. in the tourney semifinals. How likely a repeat of that fate is this year will be determined by how well SFA handles games like tonight's contest at Nicholls St., who lost to the Lumberjacks in Nacogdoches (yes, that's where SFA is located) but have since reeled off four straight and back in nonconference play nearly took down Mississippi St. A win tonight, and at 6-2 the Colonels will be every bit as alive in the league race as the heavy favorites they host this evening.


North Dakota St. 81, Oakland 71: This was a closer game than it appears, with the Golden Grizzlies having tied the Bison at 64 with just over six minutes left to play. Then NDSU went on a 13-0 run, and that was that. The Bison finished the game a stupid 21-of-22 from the free throw line to go with better-than-50 percent shooting from the floor. Hard to lose that way. The Summit's top seed now looks extremely likely to come down to the final day of the regular season, when the Bison will travel to Tulsa to take on Oral Roberts ... but I still think Oakland--now with one win over NDSU and a serious challenge of the Bison on their home floor--will be heard from at the league tourney.

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