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STOCK UP, STOCK DOWN: SWAC whacks Pac, headlines first week of mid-major action

You might not want to read this if you’re a fan of Louisville, Florida State, Cal, or the president of the University of Hartford

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Shawndarius Cowart and the Grambling State Tigers are 2-0, including a win over Colorado.
Courtesy, Grambling State Athletics.

Stock up (BIG): SWAC

College basketball normies and mainstream media will probably salivate over how many undeserving B1G teams they can squeeze into the tournament after week one. But by far, the biggest surprise from a league-wide standpoint has to be the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Over the last several years, the at-times financially-challenged league has ranked near the bottom of all conferences in most metrics. Since the First Four was introduced in 2011, the SWAC rep has been designated to that round 7 of 11 years, losing five of those games. At times, its teams have played entire non-conference slates on the road as buy games at major conference schools to help pay the bills.

But this year has started off much differently. This is the first season of a two-year scheduling alliance with the Pac-12 as a forum for competition while also promoting education around anti-racism and social justice issues. This season and next will feature six home-and-homes between the two leagues.

Though the partnership certainly has goals beyond basketball, the SWAC is taking full advantage on the court. With a rare opportunity to get power conference teams at home, the SWAC went 3 for 3 against the Pac:

  • Preseason favorite Texas Southern, which has picked off a few big opponents in recent years, knocked off Arizona State in overtime on a late putback bucket.
  • That result alone would have been notable. Much more shocking though was Grambling State’s upset over Colorado. The Tigers, who had two separate years without a Division I victory in 2013 and 2015, controlled the entire game against the Buffaloes, who had eyes on an NCAA Tournament return this year. And to make the win look even better, Colorado won its next game on the road at No. 11 Tennessee, who, as many fans pointed out, rolled No. 2 Gonzaga in a televised scrimmage a couple of weeks ago. (One AP voter responded accordingly by ranking the Tigers at 22 in the poll this week. We’re going to need a better effort from all the other voters.)
  • To cap it off, Prairie View A&M also dominated Washington State throughout to the tune of a 70-59 win.

Somehow, it gets better. Alcorn State, which had just two non-conference victories since 2005, went on the road and handled Wichita State en route to a nine-point victory. Landon Bussie’s team became only the third Shocker home loss in November over its past 53 such contests, and as far as we can tell, its first victory over a team not really covered by MMM since a 1998 win over SMU. They backed that up by going on the road and taking down Stephen F. Austin, 69-60, an established mid-major program, in their second straight road win as a double-digit dog. The Braves, in SWAC fashion, play 10 more road games in eight different states and all four time zones before finally playing their home opener on Jan. 2.

And yet none of those victories might have been the best SWAC performance of the opening week. That honor might go to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which opened a 20-point first half lead before falling by a single point to open the season at No. 14 TCU. UAPB, a whopping 30-point-dog, dominated large stretches of the game against a more talented opponent, had a game-winning shot skip off the rim as time expired. The Golden Lions followed it up with a tight contest at Oklahoma that remained a two-point game under a minute to play. They were the THIRD-TO-LAST ranked team in KenPom entering the season (and somehow only were rewarded with a six-spot gain after those games. What?!).

Stock down: North Texas

After the Mean Green scored a first-round tourney win over Purdue in 2021, then came close to an at-large bid last year, hopes were high for North Texas to be near the top of CUSA this year and be in the conversation for a rare at-large bid before jumping to the AAC next year.

Alas, they needed a late run to down D-II Southern Nazarene by six, and then followed it up with a 30-point loss at Saint Mary’s.

Not great.

Stock up: James Madison

While its 85-point win over something called the University of Valley Forge was sure to inspire Revolutionary War memes (haven’t seen a founding father handle Valley Forge like that since 1776, har har har har) the Dukes followed it up with wins of 48 points over Hampton, 35 points at Buffalo (!) and 26 points over Howard. And we’re hearing reports that the CAA is still big mad.

Next up: No. 1 UNC.

Stock down: #FiveBidMountainWest…or is it?

Last year ended *rocky* enough for the Mountain West, which sent four teams to the tournament but didn’t pick up a win. All are seeking a return trip.

San Diego State, which let a game slip away to Creighton in brutal fashion, is the clear leader of the pack this year and off to a nice start.

But the other three aiming to get back to the tournament have had some turbulence. Wyoming and Boise State dropped games to Southeastern Louisiana and South Dakota State, respectively, and Colorado State needed a buzzer beater to fend off Gardner-Webb.

Can the other teams pick up the slack? Utah State recorded three resounding wins over three not-total-pushovers, and UNLV just picked up a nice win over Dayton. New Mexico and Nevada have looked decent. Maybe Jorth Groinstein will surrender some New York Eats to our Twittermaster after all.

Stock up: mid-major teams playing Louisville, Florida State and Cal

Fact 1: Louisville is a storied basketball program with a great tradition, great resources and multiple national championships. In a few years, the program will likely return to a consistent pattern of success.

Fact 2: At this moment the Cardinals are firmly in a downtrodden position and mid-major teams are taking full advantage. Last year, they lost to Furman and Western Kentucky. This season, that trend continues.

On opening night, Bellarmine – a third-year D-I program picked sixth in the ASUN, MMM editor Lance Hartzler’s favorite team to surprise everyone, playing in Louisville’s old gym, Freedom Hall and – claimed the title of Louisville’s best team by downing the Cards in the KFC Yum! Center, 77-76, in a game that Bellarmine was in firm control of before a late cold spell allowed Louisville to even get back in it. And it featured the best example of time-wasting in college basketball we’ve seen in a long time :)

Wright State then followed it up with a one-point victory of its own – this one in come-from-behind, buzzer-beating fashion:

And then this happened! App State came in, took a huge lead, almost let it all disappear, and finally coughed up a win to Louisville on a buzzer-beater.

Except they didn’t! The shot came after the buzzer! It’s a cornucopia of one-point losses, each one different and more beautiful than the last!!

(Fact 3: Louisville was in Conference USA from 1996-2005 and technically could be considered a former mid-major. Let’s see how many people get triggered.)

Florida State, just a couple of years removed from a regular-season ACC title, has been arguably even worse. FSU started off by dropping a game to Stetson in which it never really had the upper hand. After falling on the road to UCF, they put up another lackluster performance against Troy.

Then there’s Cal, who’s basketball team is about as fierce as Oski the Bear. The UC System’s worst basketball team seems as if it should not be favored in any more games against mid-majors after dismal showings the last couple of years, but they still get favored, and they still lose. This year they fell victim to UC Davis (which was previously 0-33 against Cal) and UC San Diego (for the second year in a row).

If you’re a mid-major, get your buy game against these teams, fast. And if you’re a bettor, Florida A&M-Lipscomb wins by one over Louisville parlay is basically a lock.

Stock up: (quin)NIP(iac) SZN

The Bobcats are off to their best start ever at…*deep breath*...4-0! (Actually, 3-0 already set that mark.)

But hey – they’re the only D-I team who started their season off with four wins over other D-I teams, with at least one road win (because Missouri is wimpy). More importantly, they’ve beaten Rhode Island, a team they don’t normally beat, and one team from four different New England states, making them the Chowder Champs or something.

Stock down: Hartford’s Administration

Whatever the math truly says about financial viability at the D-1 vs. D-3 level (and yes, there are credible disputes to the university’s position that D-3 is the right move) the administration has been doing an awful job of managing its relationships with its stakeholders and the public. At all.

This year is *scheduled* to be the Hawks’ last at the D-I level. Of course, that decision came down immediately following the program’s high point: reaching the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Since then, president Greg Woodward has been caught trying to get a teacher to “spin-doctor” some numbers for him, was caught lying on his resume about playing D-1 collegiate sports, but hardly ever addressed the community about it. The athletic department threatened students from booing him at public events later on.

Then, on the eve of the season, Coach John Gallagher – who poured his life into the program, even after it appeared headed downhill – abruptly quit, alleging the university was not prioritizing safety and health of student athletes after the school chose not to send trainers to a scrimmage at Dartmouth, and a player ultimately got hurt.

Our own Riley Frain did a good job of covering this last week, but it feels like they deserve a few extra unsolicited shots at them, so there you go.

Stock up: Stetson

Things have been redder than red in Florida, and that includes for their major basketball teams. Florida, Florida State and South Florida have all lost buy games in the early going – and the latter two each dropped one to the Hatters.

That’s right, college basketball’s best mascot outside of the Blue Hose is making an early season statement, despite being picked just No. 12 out of 14 in their conference. Luke Brown has been an absolute sniper from deep, hitting almost 60% from 3 in his first two games.

They hope to keep their “road warrior” status for the rest of the non-con, which includes games at Florida, Charleston, Ohio and UCF.

Stock down: not having a 24-hour marathon anymore

Two of my biggest regrets as a student at decidedly mediocre basketball school South Carolina were a) somehow being abroad during the Final Four run and b) not attending their game against Baylor in the 24-hour ESPN hoops marathon on a Tuesday at noon because I had class. It was a good game, and from the action I was able to catch, the environment was quite raucous – a rare sight at pre-Final-Four South Carolina men’s games.

The coolest part of the marathon was the logistics of it, seeing just how ESPN would manipulate teams and time zones – late night games in Hawaii, getting multiple small schools to play games in unnatural morning hours – to create a perfect non-stop slate of basketball. And despite the odd hours, teams would pack the gyms, fans of teams you knew very little about would show up and go nuts.

Bring it back, college basketball. (And the Great Alaska Shootout, too.)

Stock up: most of the new D-I teams

Three hundred and fifty eight D-I teams was way too few, so the gods blessed us with five more this year. Queens University of Charlotte, now at the bottom of DI in terms of enrollment at just over a thousand students, hosted and took down Marshall by a point. Southern Indiana scored a resounding win over a Southern Illinois team that just took a road game at Oklahoma State. Stonehill and Texas A&M-Commerce apparently hate the United States, as each picked up their first ever D-I victories on the road, at Army and Air Force respectively. (Only Lindenwood has really yet to get off the schneid.) This continues a beginner’s luck trend, as teams like Bellarmine and Merrimack both excelled in their recent inaugural D-I campaigns.

Stock down: NCAA reclassification rule

Guys, it still sucks ass. There’s no good reason why Bellarmine should have stayed home last year. As the NMTC’s creator, Rodger Sherman puts it:

Stock up honorable mentions: Northwestern State, Kent State, Hofstra, Dunk City, Southeastern Louisiana, the Toothpaste Boys, Emoni Bates, Doug Edert’s stache, “One Shining Moment” streams on Spotify.

Stock down honorable mentions: Rhode Island, Baint Sonaventure’s, FloHoops, people trying to keep mid-majors out of the NCAA Tournament, Jeff Badman, Jorth Roonstein, Elon Musk’s Twitter Blew idea.