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Columnists | Message Board  | Onions Archive

By Adam Glatczak

December 23rd, 2005


College Basketball: Season Review

The Onions column returns after a 14 month hiatus


Back, by not-so-popular demandÖsome random thoughts on the first month of the college basketball season.


-The parity in college basketball this year is incredible. Duke is likely one of the top two teams, and yet it took a miracle to beat Virginia Tech. At Cameron. Virginia Tech lost to Bowling Green. The thing is, this has been happening all over the country. Michigan State has been impressive in beating Boston College, Arizona and Wichita State, yet almost lost to Cleveland State and Arkansas-Little Rock. Gonzaga has played several classics, yet struggled to put away Eastern Washington, Idaho and Portland State. UCLA has beaten Nevada, Temple and Michigan, yet almost lost to Albany and Wagner and shouldíve lost to Drexel. Indiana drills Kentucky but loses to Indiana StateÖthe lists could go on. The point is, though, that this year there are only a handful of elite teams-and weíre talking maybe five. After that, almost any of the top 100 or 125 teams are fully capable of beating each other. Even teams like Michigan State and Gonzaga-teams considered solid top 15 teams-are not infallible.


-Was there a more enigmatic-and interesting-team early this year than Cal-Irvine? The Anteaters are only 3-4 but have been creative in getting there. Pat Douglassís team lost big in their opener to George Mason-no shame in losing to the Patriots-then destroyed a traditionally decent Mississippi Valley State team by 54. UCI then surprised everyone by going to Stanford and handling the Cardinal easily, a win thatís still impressive even though the Trees have had some well-documented struggles. Irvine followed this with another good win over Santa Clara. Then came Pepperdine. The Anteaters fell behind by 34(!) in the first halfÖand still almost went to overtime. A missed three in the final seconds by Ross Schraeder, who scored all 29 of his points in the second half, allowed the Waves to escape with a 79-76 win. Just when things couldnít get any stranger, though, Irvine lost its next game to Division II Stanislaus State.


-If the Anteaters arenít the zaniest team so far, then Illinois-Chicago surely is. Wins over Mississippi, San Diego State, Georgia Tech and Northwestern; losses to Chicago State and St. Xavier. Not Xavier. St. Xavier, as in NAIA St. Xavier. Expect the Flamesí fun to continue the rest of the year; very reminiscent of San Diego a few years ago, a team that posted some great wins, some clunky lossesÖand upset Gonzaga in the WCC final to get to the NCAA Tournament.


-Houston is (was) back in the national rankings, and we love it. The Cougars resurgence is good for college basketball. Anything that takes us back to memories of the Southwest Conference or the 1980s is a plus, not to mention the fact that UH is one of the all-time historic programs in the country (Oh, you didnít know that? Stop watching ESPN and read some college basketball historyÖ) And with Tom Penders coaching the team, we know theyíll never be boring. Just saw that Penders is needling Ben Howland because UCLA has no interest in replaying the 1968 thriller in the AstrodomeÖgood stuff. College basketball needs more personalities, and Penders is certainly one of the best. (A series between Houston and Lamar with Billy Tubbs would be worthwhile for all) The Cougars also have some talent, and Penders teams are always fun to watch. Houstonís winning is also good for Conference USA because the league needs someone to challenge Memphis and at least give C-USA the illusion of being more than just a playground for the Tigers (and right now Texas-El Paso and Alabama-Birmingham donít seem up to it).


-Now that Houston is back, or at least close to it, the watch switches to UNLV. Lon Krugerís past suggests that the Rebels should be making a move in the next year or two. So far it hasnít been very evident, a win over a mediocre Texas Tech team notwithstanding, but there is room to make a leap still this year. The Mountain West just continues to become more and more average. This year Utah and New Mexico are down without their first-round draft picks, San Diego State was overrated again, and while Colorado State and Air Force have built up nice records, they have come against very little quality competition. Would be nice to see either emerge as an at-large contender, but so far weíre not believing it. Itís funny how this league seems to be overrated every year, or at least tries to push the myth that itís the closest thing there is to a BCS conference. It is not nearly as good as the old WAC was, is not as good as the Missouri Valley, Atlantic 10 or maybe even the Colonial, and outside of Utahís making the Sweet 16 last year, really hasnít done much in the postseason, either. The league certainly has potential, but has had a hard time reaching it so far. UNLVís re-emergence would be exactly what the other former WAC schools who formed the Mountain West were counting when they invited the Rebels along with them into the new league.


-Northwestern State and the Southland Conference have deservedly received some publicity for their early season wins over teams like Mississippi State and Oklahoma State, and hereís some more. Itís been fun watching the Demons grow from a team that started five freshmen a few years ago into one that is going to deserve a decent seed if it makes the NCAA Tournament. Coach Mike McConathy also deserves credit for scheduling this yearís team like a veteran-laden team should be scheduled. NW State has also played at Missouri and Wichita State (losing both by narrow margins) and is currently competing in the Rainbow Classic, where their latest victim is Oregon State. This is a team that could have a serious at-large case come Selection Sunday should they blow through the Southland-and they will need to win the SLC to deserve at-large consideration. Their current RPI and strength of schedule numbers are very good, and while those will go down come conference play, this isnít your typical, 28th-30th best D-I conference Southland that most know it as. (Itís not as good as its heyday in the mid-80s, when Karl Malone, Louisiana Tech and Lamar were tearing up the league, but it is very similar to the Big West the past few years, of which Pacific came out of as an at-large last year.) Plus, the Demons will deserve credit not only for their wins but for their attempts at scheduling up this year. Couldnít have asked much more.


-Like the Northwestern State, Iona is another veteran team that has been very impressive in the early season. Unlike the Demons, who have noticeably been building to this point for four years, the Gaels have been a surprise with the suddenness of their success. The foursome of Steve Burtt, Marvin McCullough, Ricky Soliver and Kiril Wachsmann have been playing extensively since they were freshmen. Some may remember them being a part of a Gaels team that in 2002-03 pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the season when it defeated North Carolina in the ECAC Holiday Festival. Since then, though, Iona has struggled to be even mediocre. This year, though, Jeff Rulandís team is proving to be one of the best in the East and possibly one of the top 50 anywhere. The win at Iowa State was impressive in its dominance, and MAAC teams donít scare easily, so you can bet Iona would play tough at just about any venue in the country. A team to watch in March.


-Other pleasant surprises this year so far: Wichita State, Indiana State, Buffalo, Southland Conference, La Salle, UNC Wilmington, Montana, South Alabama, the turnaround taking place at Marist, Division I Colorado teams not named Northern Colorado (Air Force, Colorado and Colorado State are a combined 24-3).


-Among the not-so-pleasant surprises: Oregon State, Lamar, Stanford, Mississippi Valley State, Eastern Kentucky, Oral Roberts, Utah, Northern Colorado (0-13 and counting).


-The not-so-surprising (to us) surprises: Bucknell, Pac-10 struggles, Big East not being a 10-bid conference, the MVCís emergence as a top conference, Indiana losing to Indiana State (Hoosiers were going to lose at one of their three games against the Trees, Ball State and Butler), San Diego State, Miami and UNC Charlotte not being that good.


-The new recalculated RPI introduced last year has been a good one, but when we see the Missouri Valley currently third, we can already picture the howls in February should the MVC continue its pace. How many times will we hear about ďCommon Sense IndexesĒ that tell us that no matter what the numbers are, a Notre Dame or Michigan is better than a Missouri State? You know itís coming; it came last year when Vermont had such a high RPI. Based on the NCAA Tournament, seems like the Catamountsí RPI was probably right where it shouldíve been, but who are we to point this out to the TV heads?


-Boy, that new Big East is sure tearing it up, eh? Louisville, Villanova and Connecticut are real (at least we think Louisville is), West Virginia is still dangerous and probably a top 25 team, and one would think Jim Boeheim will still get 20 wins out of the Orangemen. The rest? Chum and a whole lot of bubble teams. Georgetown could be better than a bubble team; Notre Dame shouldnít be. Pitt hasnít played anybody, Rutgers hasnít done much more. Marquette is young and like Cincinnati will have its moments but likely not the consistency, and DePaul is improving but inconsistent and should pay all year for losing to at home to Bradley and Northern Illinois, not to mention getting slammed at Old Dominion by 44 (more on that below). Those last five teams are all unlikely to be NCAA quality, unless some separate themselves in conference to create the illusion of an NCAA team. St. Johnís is on the right track but still a year away from being even NIT level, while Seton Hall, Providence and South Florida are bottom feeders. Add it all up and the league has 3 definite NCAA teams, 2-3 likely ones, and after that a whole lot 50th-100th in the country-type teams that will mix nice wins with questionable losses. Last year the committee penalized the Mid-American Conferenceís at-large contestants, taking none because they said all of them were too much alike. Think the committee would offer that same lame excuse with the Big East?


-Speaking of the MACÖwhere has it gone? Despite a ranking in the top 10 of the RPI, the Mid-American has dropped in the conference pecking order, and this at a time when there is space for upstart leagues like it to be making moves (see the WCC & MVC last yr and MVC & CAA this year). There isnít much for star power-no Wally Szczerbiak, Bonzi Wells, Chris Kaman or even Antonio Gates-but more importantly, the league simply isnít as deep as it used to be. There arenít many top 50-type teams in the MAC, and the number of quality wins against big-time (or at least big-name) opponents is lacking. Ohio was thought to be ready to challenge for a national ranking, but got pasted in a hideous second half showing against Cincinnati, while Buffalo is off to a very nice and pleasantly surprising start. The trouble really starts after those two: Miami lost at home to Xavier; Kent State, Toledo and Western Michigan seem to be wallowing, Ball State was crushed by the injury to Peyton Stovall, and there really isnít anyone else that looks ready to step up. Northern Illinois is a possibility, but even the Huskies were swamped by 36 by Missouri State. The Miami loss to Xavier seems to be a microcosm of where the MAC is right now; thatís a game that a few yrs ago a top MAC team wouldíve won. On the other hand, if the Bobcats and Bulls both blow through the league, ironically one of the MACís weaker years in some time could also end up being one of its best chances for multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament.


-Richmond has some of the best uniforms in the country. Just thought this should be noted. Classic look, Spiders.


-Boy, North Carolina is really down this year, eh? Anyone who thought the Heels were going to become irrelevant at any point with Roy Williams as a coachÖoy. There still will be inconsistencies-as shown against USC-but itís hard to imagine UNC not being in the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, those that jumped on the Miami bandwagon for some unknown reason have our permission to get off. A few nice conference wins does not make up for weak out-of-conference play, last year or this year.


-Wisconsin-Milwaukee lost to Wisconsin, but it will be interesting to see if the game serves as something of a springboard for the rest of the year. The Panthers were all but dead in the first half in Madison, down by 20 and with star forward Joah Tucker on the bench with four fouls, when something funny happened: UWM got back in the game. That Milwaukee was able to go on the road to a top 15 team (no matter what the polls say) and come back from a 20-point deficit with the best player in the Horizon League on the bench should give the team serious juice the rest of the season. The Panthers didnít lose their postseason zing when Bruce Pearl and Ed McCants left, after all, and appear to be finding a nice compromise now between Pearlís freewheeling teams and new coach Rob Jeterís Bo Ryan-influenced style.


-New Mexico State is not going to be particularly good this year, but the Aggies will be one of those teams that no one in the WAC will want to play in February and March.


-Itís time to take notice of Wagner. We were going to note this even before the Seahawks went to UCLA and lost in the final seconds, 74-72. Even after that loss, Wagner is 6-2 and came into the UCLA game fresh off a win at Rhode Island. Winning at Rhode Island earns a team like Wagner attention. Before beating URI, Mike Deaneís team had played a Pitt-like schedule (see below) and even lost to Vermont, a team the Panthers have beaten. (Of course, thereís that little difference between the Big East Conference and the Northeast Conference, so weíre going to say Wagner deserves a little less fault for their schedule.) Should we really be surprised by the Seahawks, though,


-Pittsburgh is now 9-0 and has playedÖahem: St. Peterís, Robert Morris, Maine, St. Francis (but thatís St. Francis of New York, not PennsylvaniaÖas if thereís any blasted difference to a Big East team), Auburn, Duquesne, Penn State, Vermont, and now, Coppin State. John Thompson would be proud, though a tad disappointed that St. Leo and Hawaii-Loa didnít make the itinerary. The Panthers have played some wimpy non-con schedules in recent years, and this one certainly continues the tradition. Even the best spinster couldnít count one of those wins as impressive. (Which is the best one? Auburn? Robert Morris?) No way the Panthers deserve their #25 ranking yet, not over teams like Northern Iowa, Bucknell or even West Virginia. Hate to keep piling on here, but if Pitt doesnít win a minimum of 21 games, they shouldnít get a single sniff of NCAA consideration. Itís one thing for a program to schedule like this when itís trying to learn how to win; itís something totally different when you have a recent history of NCAA appearances. Late December games against South Carolina and Wisconsin donít make up for this putrid ledger. Pitt is better than this.


-Was all set to give Old Dominion and the CAA serious respect for its early season start and for ODUís demolition of DePaul on Saturday. While the CAA still is looking good in the overall conference RPI, though, the leagueís at-large chances remain no better than a toss-up. The Monarchs followed up their win over the Blue Demons with an overtime loss at Richmond-not a horrible loss, but ODU should be better than the Spiders. The defeat looks even worse when one takes note of the 19-point hole the visitorsí got themselves into against a team that isnít exactly an offensive juggernaut. Worse than that, Northeastern, a team some think is the second-best in the league (not likely) lost by 22 at Providence, a bottom of the barrel Big East squad. Until then, it looked like the CAA was ready to kick down the door to at-large consideration, a door that has been locked for the league for a long time. Not since 1986 when Richmond snuck into the tourney as an at-large has the league sent a second team to the NCAAs, but it could happen this year. Old Dominion is still the likely team to do it if the Monarchs donít win the CAA tourney, though Drexel also will have a chance. ODU had already beaten surprisingly strong Georgia as well as Fordham and lost a close one to Wisconsin before it destroyed DePaul. Even with the loss to Richmond and an early conference loss to Drexel, that win should still give the Monarchs some oomph when at-large bids are discussed. There is just something missing from ODU so far, though, as if players are still searching for their roles. Alex Loughton is not getting as many shots as he should, while other players seem to be taking too many shots. The Monarchs also needed a three at the buzzer to beat George Mason at home in their CAA opener. Old Dominion could still have a solid argument for an at-large bid if it needs it (especially if it beats UAB, Virginia Tech or both in the next week) and will end up playing a solid non-conference schedule, but this really doesnít look like an NCAA team right now, one blazing half against DePaul notwithstanding.


-Finally, weíd mention more about the West here, but there hasnít been much to write about. The Pac-10 has rebounded some of late but overall has been less than impressive. The Mountain West, as mentioned, is slipping into the middle of D-I conferences. The WAC hasnít really been much better, though Nevadaís rise into a top 25 program has been a great and quite uncovered story. The Wolf Pack have been as good as Gonzaga the past 2+ years. The West Coast Conference is in a serious rebuilding year. The Big West isnít horrible, but itís also not as good as the past few yrs when Utah State and Pacific were lurking in or near the national rankings, and the Big Sky has a national player in Montana but not much else.


Games you canít or wonít watch but should

Thursday, December 22

CCNY at LIU. Is this 1949 all over again, with Nat Holman and Clair Bee coaching? Nah, but it will be impossible for a story to be written about this game without the two schoolsí one-time national power status being mentioned.

Old Dominion at UAB. Former Sun Belt foes face off. ODU still needs to do more in its non-conference schedule. This win would help.

Wake Forest at Richmond. The Spiders, featuring that Princeton motion offense, are one pesky bunch, as Old Dominion found out a few nights earlier.

La Salle at Villanova. Because we love Big 5 games, and because the Explorers are off to a terrific start.

Illinois State at Indiana State. Looking forward to catching the Trees on TV (Fox-Midwest on your DirecTV).

Dayton at Cincinnati. Bearcats demise hasnít happened.


Friday, December 23

Iona at Kentucky. Gaels put their undefeated record on the line. Kentuckyís size should be too much, but if itís notÖ

Indiana at Butler. Donít be surprised if the Hoosiers drop their second straight in-state game on the road.

Colorado State at Hawaii. Two teams that could be on or very near the bubble in March. Lack of fancy wins (save for Hawaii beating Michigan State) means both teams need every win they can get.

Northern Iowa vs. Dayton. Panthers should be in the top 25, certainly ahead of the likes of Iowa, N.C. State, Wake Forest. Tough task for Dayton, playing two days in a row, but Flyers are good enough to win both.


Tuesday, December 27

Massachusetts vs. St. Peterís at MSG. Finally get a chance to see Keydren Clark this year. Peacocks arenít very good, but MAAC teams have a recent history of making noise in the Holiday Festival.

Holy Cross at George Mason. The Crusaders are coming on and will still give Bucknell some fits in the Patriot League. Patriots are one of many CAA teams that has NIT written all over them.

Gonzaga at Memphis. Yes, everyone will likely be watching this, but they should be.

Syracuse at Towson. This is a (wink wink) road game (nudge nudge) for the Orangemen. Even though it isnít being played in Towsonís home arena or even home city.

Rhode Island at Houston. Tom Pendersís past meets Tom Pendersís present. Interesting road trip for the Rams.


Wednesday, December 28

Oral Roberts at Oklahoma. Golden Eagles could salvage a somewhat disappointing (in national terms, anyway) non-conference season.

Southern Illinois at Murray State. Always a good rivalry, good to see it finally being televised, albeit on ESPNU, which isnít available in all areas.

Northern Iowa at Bradley, Missouri State at Creighton, Indiana State at Wichita State. Big first night of Missouri Valley play with some monster matchups. No way weíre suggesting all of them will get in, but all six of these teams may be good enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

St. Josephís at St. Maryís. Gaels are struggling this year, but a rare home game against a national name may perk them up.

Tennessee State at Iowa State. Cy Alexander is getting the Tigers turned around, though TSU is probably a year away from making serious noise in the OVC. Still, this could be close if the Cyclones are having one of their strangely frequent off nights.


Wishing everyone a Merry ChristmasÖ



Adam Glatczak's Onions column was a weekly staple on CHN during the 02-04 seasons.




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