As you settle into work, it’s time to look back at the long weekend that was in college basketball. There was plenty of action in the mid-major world, and it’s completely understandable if you missed some of it. That’s why we’re here to help you with the weekly Big Weekend Wrapup.
UAB: Remember that weird-as-hell start where the Blazers alternated wins and losses for the first two months of the season? They’ve won three straight since breaking that pattern, and four straight overall, en route to a 4-1 record in Conference USA. Their 16-point win over Marshall on Saturday was perhaps their most impressive.
LIU Brooklyn: The Blackbirds are back. Or at least it appears that way. Though they’ve yet to beat the best teams in the Northeast Conference, they have won five conference games in a row and appear ready to challenge Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson later this week.
Akron: The Zips’ season-opening loss to Youngstown State seems ages ago. With their only losses coming to Final Four contenders Creighton and Gonzaga since then, Akron is rolling and sits in first place in the MAC East.
Eastern Michigan: Over in the MAC West, Eastern Michigan is making a name for itself as well. A huge win at Ohio on Saturday was its best of the season as the Eagles held the Bobcats to 30 percent shooting. Ty Toney has emerged as a legit option, pouring on 16 and 17 points in each of the Eagles’ last two games.
Princeton: With a bunch of early losses to quality teams, it was hard to know what to expect from the Tigers in conference play. Then they beat Yale on Saturday to improve their league mark to 3-0 and win their sixth straight game. Oddly, the Tigers are off for the remainder of the month.
George Mason: The Patriots’ losses to VCU and St. Bonaventure were understandable, if not expected. The wins in between over UMass and Saint Joseph’s helped maintain order. Then George Mason lost to Saint Louis (KenPom 307) at home. In a league as deep as the Atlantic 10, that simply cannot happen.
Little Rock: After last year’s NCAA Tournament, we so badly wanted the Trojans to be good. With an impressive 9-2 start, including wins over St. Bonaventure and Tulsa, it looked like they’d be Sun Belt favorites again. But the Trojans are just 2-3 in conference and have lost to each contending team they have faced. The good news is that there’s plenty of time to turn that around.
Louisiana: Formerly known as Louisiana Lafayette, the Ragin’ Cajuns are one of the teams that beat Little Rock. They’ve also lost back-to-back contests against Georgia Southern and Georgia State at home. The Sun Belt is a strong league this year, and with a visit to UT Arlington looming, those home losses can really hurt in the long run.
Oakland: We jumped to the front of the Oakland bandwagon when the Golden Grizzlies beat Valparaiso last week. Since then, they squeaked by a bad Illinois Chicago team by one, then lost a pair of home games to even-worse Detroit and Cleveland State. What’s going on in Oakland?
Team of the Weekend (by Game Score):
G Quincy McKnight, Sacred Heart: GmSc 32.4 | 44 pts | 9 rbd | 6 ast | 4 stl
G Kassius Robertson, Canisius: GmSc 32.3 | 30 pts | 6 ast | 4 rbd | 2 stl
G Wesley Person, Troy: GmSc 31.7 | 39 pts | 10-15 3PT | 5 rbd | 3 ast
G/F Brandon Clarke, San Jose State: GmSc 34.5 | 36 pts | 5 blk | 5 ast | 5 rbd
F Jacob Wiley, Eastern Washington: GmSc 30.5 | 36 pts | 9 rbd | 15-20 FG
The Mid-Major Madness Jinx:
The sample size is small, but if we talk you up, you have reason to be worried. We had UT Arlington coach Scott Cross on the podcast a couple weeks back, and the Mavericks promptly dropped two games. We featured Northeastern in our Stock Watch and the Huskies lost at Towson the next day. See the note on Oakland above. Please let us know about something good your team’s rival did and we will happily jinx them for the coming week.
We had a couple good fights last week, and while this wasn’t exactly a fight, it was certainly weird. Take a look at what happened outside the arena after New Mexico beat Colorado State on the road Saturday.
For context, this is Colorado State player Emmanuel Omogbo getting into it with the New Mexico coaching staff. There was some chippiness during the game as well, as two New Mexico assistants were ejected for leaving the bench.
VIDEO: CSU's Emmanuel Omogbo came outside & started argument w/ UNM coaches, Terrence Rencher in particular. Larry Eustachy pulled hom away. pic.twitter.com/Dq9CbvVOBd— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) January 14, 2017
"After the game, walking out of the athletic center towards home, the same New Mexico coach was standing right outside the door, and we made eye contact, and he smirked at me and said, 'Take that L, boy,' and after that I exploded,” he said. "After that, both the coach and myself exchanged words back and forth until Coach Larry Eustachy intervened, and I continued walking home."
As conferences start to beat up on each other, a host of mid-majors are still unbeaten in league play. There are the expected undefeateds, like Vermont and Texas Southern, but also some surprises threatening to throw a wrench in some conference projections. That starts in the America East, where Stony Brook is also undefeated, despite losing its biggest contributors and head coach from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. In the Atlantic 10, we all expected Richmond to be good, but 5-0 with four good conference wins, making the Spiders the only unbeaten team in the league? Well done, Richmond, indeed. Like Richmond in the A-10, Illinois State was supposed to be a contender in the Valley, but did any expect the Red Birds to handle Wichita State easily en route to a 6-0 start? Finally, how about Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt? Not only are the Eagles 5-0, but they’ve beaten three top-180 teams in the process.
In terms of quality, the MAAC isn’t very good. But you can accept that and still appreciate the league for the delightful mess that it is. With most schools having played just seven or eight league games, all 11 teams have at least two wins and at least two losses. Just one game separates the third-place team (Canisius) from the seventh-place team (Fairfield) and just three games separate second place (Saint Peter’s) from last place (Niagara). Monmouth is in first for now, but most of the league is still within striking distance.
Here are the full standings:
What we learned:
Every week, I ask two questions in our weekend preview that I hope are answered with Saturday and Sunday’s games. Here they are for this week:
Is this UMass’s time?
UMass came into the weekend off a huge win over Dayton, so I was thinking perhaps the young Minutemen were starting to put it together. On Saturday, they lost at a top-50 Rhode Island team by just two, and though the losses are mounting, it’s clear that UMass can become a contender. It will need to take care of business against a Shavar Newkirk-less Saint Joseph’s team at home, then Fordham and Saint Louis, so they can start gaining games back in the standings.
VERDICT: Maybe. Approach the Minutemen over the next few weeks with cautious optimism.
Can we get some clarity in the NEC?
There were no upsets in the Northeast Conference, which means the standings stay bunched up near the top with three teams at 5-1 (LIU Brooklyn, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Mount St. Mary’s) and three teams at 3-3 (Wagner, Sacred Heart, St. Francis PA). The good news here is that we can now officially pencil in LIU Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary’s as contenders.
VERDICT: No clarity, only fun. We’re just six games into the 18-game conference slate and it’s already obvious that the fight for conference tournament hosts is going to come down to the end.
Gonzaga remained unbeaten by throttling Saint Mary’s at home, 79-56. See below for Will’s recap of that one and what we were able to learn from it. That’s one game against the Gaels off the schedule for the Bulldogs, with a game in Moraga coming next month. Throw in two games against BYU and the road to a perfect regular season is still a tough one. That said, the first game against the Bulldogs’ biggest rival was quite promising.
This week: at Santa Clara (Thurs.), vs. Portland (Sat.)
KenPom’s unbeaten probability: 34.1%
Ohio at Akron, 7 p.m., ESPN3
It’s always a good time for #MACtion. On Tuesday, the top two teams in the MAC East go head-to-head for the first time this season. Akron’s Isaiah Johnson is a force to be reckoned with and is just two games removed from a 33-point outburst against Central Michigan. Overall, the Zips lead the MAC in effective field goal percentage. The Bobcats are hopeful that senior center Antonio Campbell can play, after sustaining a foot injury and logging just three minutes against Eastern Michigan.