After winning their first three MAAC games (two of which were played in December), Sydney Johnson's Fairfield (17-11, 12-4) Stags lost three straight league games and looked to be anything but a contender for the regular season title. Well the players have looked more comfortable with their first-year head coach, and sure enough here are the Stags sitting just a game out of first place heading into the final weekend of league play.
We're going with a different setup for daily recaps in hopes of making the reading easier. One piece will focus on the game of the night (or day) and the top individual performances, and the other will touch on other key happenings and some quick hitters on other games.
As the streak grew longer, it seemed as if it became a foregone conclusion in the eyes of many that Murray State would simply run through the Ohio Valley Conference on their way to a Sears BracketBusters contest against Saint Mary's. Steve Prohm's head coaching career got off to a dream start, as the Racers won 23 straight games with Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole leading the way. That run came to an end on Thursday night as the Racers fell 72-68 to a Tennessee State team that relied on balance to grab their eighth win in the last nine games.
The "Braggin' Rights" game between Illinois and Missouri is alway an intense affair, with the fans in the stands split by the halfcourt line and both teams understanding what's at stake before they even hit the floor. This season's game was no different, although for a good portion of the first half it seemed as if the undefeated Tigers were on their way to a romp. Bruce Weber's team refused to fold, and once Missouri got out of control Illinois was able to mount their rally.
Thursday is the final "busy day" on the college basketball schedule before Christmas and there's important business to address in St. Louis: Braggin' Rights. Undefeated and eighth-ranked Missouri (11-0) looks for its third straight win over #24 Illinois (11-1) in the series, and despite the change in head coach the Tigers remain one of the most balanced teams in the country.
The Friday night schedule may be light in quantity but it certainly doesn't lack for quality, with a pair of Top 20 matchups in the HTC Big East/SEC Invitational. #9 Florida (5-1) visits #3 Syracuse (7-0) in a game that promises to be played at a fast tempo, and given the offensive weapons that will be on display it should be high-scoring as well. This is the Gators' second true road game against a Top 5 opponent this season, as they fell at Ohio State in mid-November, which should pay off for this group when the stakes get raised in SEC play.
Happy Thanksgiving! And while football tends to take center stage on this day there are also four in-season tournaments playing games, with action spreading from the Bahamas to Alaska. There really isn't a marquee matchup so to speak but there are games that could become important once March arrives, with New Mexico's game against Santa Clara in the 76 Classic being one. The Lobos were the preseason pick to win the Mountain West, and with players such as Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams there's no doubt that they can win this event.