Commentary

Mid-Major Report: Blue Hose's surprise

Originally Published: November 22, 2011
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

As he stood in the opposing locker room at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Nov. 12, Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert tried to inspire his players after the Blue Hose's lopsided loss -- victory No. 902 for Coach K, which tied the previous all-time record for career wins. Nibert told them that their dream of knocking off a nationally ranked opponent would be fulfilled one day.

But before he could finish the monologue that followed his team's 96-55 defeat, guard Khalid Mutakabbir interrupted him. "Khalid said, 'Coach, we're going to beat a nationally ranked team this year,'" Nibert told ESPN.com Monday.

Mutakabbir proved prophetic.

[+] EnlargeMutakabbir
Tony Tribble/US PresswireKhalid Mutakabbir's game-winning 3 helped the Blue Hose stun Cincinnati on Saturday.

On Saturday, Presbyterian fell into a 15-point hole against then-No. 20 Cincinnati in the second half before bouncing back and recording a 56-54 upset on the road.

Cincinnati missed 15 of its first 16 shots but climbed back into the game on its way to a double-digit edge after halftime. With 10:11 to go, Cincinnati held a 47-32 advantage.

But during each timeout Mutakabbir urged his teammates to nibble at the lead in spurts. The Blue Hose launched a 13-2 run to pull within two near the 4-minute mark.

They kept pushing until Mutakabbir knocked down the game-winning 3 with 7.6 seconds on the game clock. "He is one of the hardest working and most mentally tough kids I've ever had," Nibert said.

Presbyterian was picked to finish toward the bottom of the Big South standings this year. So its victory over a nationally ranked Bearcats squad was remarkable.

And well deserved, according to Nibert.

Last season, Presbyterian anticipated the completion of its four-year transition period to Division I basketball, but a failure to complete the necessary NCAA procedures warranted a fifth year on probation. So the three fifth-year seniors who redshirted as freshmen in anticipation of the move will never get the opportunity to represent their league in the NCAA tournament. The 2012-13 season will be Presbyterian's first as an eligible squad for the NCAA tournament.

So every game this season is like the Big Dance for his program, Nibert said.

Nibert has scheduled difficult nonconference games to give his team the chance to pull off upsets and potentially earn bids to the other postseason tournaments.

Trips to the College Basketball Invitational or the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament would serve as nice consolation prizes for Presbyterian's seniors, he said. "These guys have looked at the bright side," he said.

Nibert questioned how his players would handle success, especially after a big win over the Bearcats. Well, the Blue Hose lost at Davidson 68-54 on Monday night, the team's sixth game in 11 days. But their upset of Cincinnati is proof that they're talented enough to compete against the top teams in the Big South.

Creighton gets big win over Iowa

Head coach Greg McDermott does not believe the term "mid-major" accurately describes his program. Creighton attracts 15,000 fans to its home games. His son, sophomore Doug McDermott, was a preseason All-America candidate. And the Bluejays are off to a 4-0 start that includes a road victory over UAB and a neutral-site win against Iowa. The latter was Greg McDermott's second win over a school from one of the six major conferences. Last season, the Bluejays defeated Oregon in the CBI. So the coach wasn't surprised by his team's performance in an 82-59 win over the up-and-coming Hawkeyes. The margin of victory, however, was somewhat shocking. "I'm not surprised that our guys got after it; I was surprised by the final outcome," he said.

Creighton is legit.

Doug McDermott is averaging 21.5 ppg and 7.0 rpg. He gets his touches, and Creighton moves the ball well, averaging 21.5 assists per game, third in the nation.

The Bluejays are not just favorites to win the Missouri Valley. They're on a short list of mid-majors that will contend for at-large bids, if they continue to compete at this level.

Notes

• Watch out for Norfolk State. The MEAC title contender topped Drexel on Friday at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. The Spartans were down by 14 against Marquette on Monday but battled back to tie the game at 52 with less than 5 minutes to play. Late mishaps cost the Spartans in the 59-57 loss, but consider what's happened with this program over the course of a week. Marquette beat Norfolk State in its season opener by 31 points on Nov. 14 in Milwaukee. On Monday night, the Spartans were thisclose to an upset of that same team. Huge evolution for Norfolk State. The Spartans' matchup zone frustrated the Golden Eagles, and it almost led to a surprising final.

• After suffering an overtime loss at Ohio, Lamar whipped Charlotte by 18 points Saturday. Senior forward Charlie Harper recorded 22 points and 18 rebounds.

• Boston College is awful, but anytime a Patriot League team can defeat an ACC team by 22, it's impressive. That's what Holy Cross did in its 86-64 victory Friday.

• What's not necessarily impressive is winning 42-36 while shooting 26 percent from the field. But when you're Cal Poly, you'll take a win at USC any day of the week.

• There's a buzz around the state of Tennessee. Tennessee State beat South Carolina 64-63 on Sunday. Middle Tennessee State and Belmont battled in a double-overtime thriller (Belmont won 87-84) the same day. Vandy has maintained its national ranking, and Tennessee had a better-than-expected effort against Duke on Monday.

• Can't wait to see a pair of MAC-Horizon matchups this week: Cleveland State at Kent State on Tuesday and Detroit at Akron on Saturday.

Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mmedcalf3030@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN