Happy almost-weekend, Basketeers. Kyle Whelliston with an hour of mid-major power from Birmingham, Alabama, better known as Chalk City from the 2008 NCAA's.
Conference play is starting up all over the country, and the last few stragglers will be playing some parenthetical games in the next week or two. Horizon, MAC, Valley, WCC, WAC, what you got?
ESPNU is showing Rider at Siena tonight, in a tilt that should be the mid-major Game Of The Night(!), featuring two of the three remaining MAAC teams without a conference loss. Oh, and did I mention that the last time these guys played, Siena spanked Rider on national TV to punch a ticket to the dance, as if the Broncs needed any extra motivation. How do you see tonight's game going, and do you see these teams meeting again in the MAAC finals, in senic Albany?
Not to make excuses for Rider or anything, but that team took on some big injuries during that tournament and as a spectator, I have no idea how the Broncs were able to hang in as long as they did. Jason Thompson's supporting cast from last year is all healthy, and contributing in a big way. The defense is still a little iffy, so I'd say Rider is a dark horse (no pun intended) behind Niagara and Siena. The Saints should win a close one tonight, that's my guess.
Kyle, I'd like to think that Illinois State just ran into a bad shooting night against Bradley (especially after lighting up Creighton and Evansville). Do you think the Birds will bounce back well, and do you think they are still the Valley favorites?
Bradley's a lot better than anyone thought, but they still turn the ball over a lot. The other three teams they've beaten all look like lower-division material, too. For now, let's chalk it up to a bad night... if Creighton keeps undulating, they should win the conference. Too much talent.
Who is the best pro to ever come out of a mid-major?
If we're talking about the Big Bracket era, when the split between haves and have-nots has been more pronounced, it's got to be Larry Bird. Last month, I visited the shrine they have at Indiana State's Hulman Center.
What do you think of the Flyers 12 man rotation? It seems to be the key to their season becuase they have to be one of the most offensive challenged teams in the country.
I agree with that last part, and a strategy that's built around wearing teams down is a great one in the Atlantic 14. Remember what happened last year, when everybody except Xavier just hit a wall in February. Dayton intends to be that wall this time around.
Kyle, am I right to think that New Mexico State might have a bright future in the WAC because of all the underclassmen in the rotation this year?
I wouldn't expect that much from NMSU this season, but Marvin Menzies should write a book about how to build a program. Clean things up like a sheriff, then build from the ground up, and get the youngsters some serious PT. The Aggies should be right back in the mix in 2009-10.
Northeastern Huskies. 9-5 and 4-0 in the CAA. You saw them play live this week against Georgia State. They've beaten Providence and a god awful Indiana team on the road. Contender or Pretender?
Still soft around the basket on both ends of the floor, and a little sloppy, but they have a lot of good attributes. Especially Matt Janning, who double-doubled for the first time ever in the game I saw. I'd put them second on the strength chart behind George Mason at this point.
Love the Stew Morrill D, but after scoring just 50 points (in what was still a 13-point win) at Louisiana Tech, does Utah St. have the offensive goods to pull of a first-round NCAA upset?
Don't be fooled by the 50... that was a low-possession game, and USU took care of its business way out east. I'm not saying they might not trip up at New Mexico State, but that's the best team in the conference hands down.
Hi Kyle, I'm traveling 372 miles tomorrow just to see Lester Hudson play. How do the Skyhawks match up with Tennessee State?
I salute you, road warrior! You're in for a treat, but get to Martin before dark. Hard to find your way around there at night. Tennessee-Martin regularly beats TSU, even when the Skyhawks are bad. You're in for a real treat.
I like how you put the "Cosmo" and "Kremer" questions together. Anyway... Northeastern, Mason & VCU all seem to be finding their stride in the CAA. Which one (if any?) has shown enough dominance so far that you think they have the best chance of winning the conference race?
Guilty as charged. I'm really liking the way Mason is playing. Cameron Long is going to become a huge CAA star in these next two-plus years. VCU seems to be undergoing some supporting cast problems behind Maynor, and Northeastern is definitely getting better and deeper.
Is Harvard the new favorite in the Ivy League? If not they have got to be considered one of the most dangerous contenders- Tommy Amaker has control of a disciplined and intelligent group of kids, and Jeremy Lin is a legitimate playmaker on both ends of the floor.
That was some performance against BC! I still think that Cornell has it this year, if it was one-and-done in March that might be different. Harvard will definitely be a long-term factor into the next decade. When was the last time Crimson-Big Red games meant anything?
Hey Kyle, How about the Baby Bulldogs this year!! Were do you see this team headed this year and in the future? More important how will we keep Brad Stevens at Hinkle long-term?
I've been saying this a lot, but this is a better team than the last couple. They can beat you in a lot more ways now. And even if Coach Stevens moves on (he'll have deserved it), Butler will get another Butler Way guy. There's a progression and succession pattern there that's very strong.
Kyle, how do you see the Patriot League conference play shaking out? You think my Crusaders will ever be healthy enough to challenge? I see Lehigh as the team to beat this year, what do you think?
Tomorrow's American-Lehigh game is a great way to kick things off, and Navy looks dangerous. Holy Cross seems to be figuring itself out after all the lost man-games, there are some great seniors who will be motivated to play March spoilers.
Who is the greatest player in MAAC history in your mind? I think that Jared Jordan is boss.
I'd go with Calvin Murphy from Niagara. Dude's in the Hall.
Kyle, Once again, the America East homer appears from nowhere for your friday afternoon chat: Can you explain the significance of Binghamton's win over Vermont last night? Did Vermont's failure to have a district attorney on their bench cause the loss in Overtime?
I'd like to believe that the A-East isn't one of those leagues that can be won with transfers, I really do. But UMBC did it, and Bingo is taking the same path. But D.J. Rivera has been phenomenal, and he deserves every prop he gets.
The last tie a Crimson-Big Red game meant something was in the movie Love Story!!!
That comment was so brilliant, where do I begin? They're not just hockey schools anymore!
The Valley is ranked 8th in Conference RPI yet a lot of folks believe that the conference is down and headed for another one bid year. Are we just more critical because the league got 4 bids in 2006 or with the usual suspects struggling a little bit and teams like Illinois State, Drake, and Evansville at or near the top helping this perception?
I wouldn't put too much stock in the RPI anymore, after those Mo-State and Illinois State snubs. The key is the lack of big noncon wins, they just weren't there this year. What's too bad is that the Redbirds probably could have pulled some off. They scheduled down, but we'll never know.
Kyle, will we see a lot of out Kent State now with Tyree Evans? I know they have played a tough non-conference schedule without him, but Al Fisher can only do so much.
Chemistry will be a struggle, always is when a key contributor comes on board at the semester break. What's been hard to believe is the poor perimeter D. All the great Kent teams always stopped the 3-ball.
Kyle: Are you surprised how much better Niagara looks with out their leading scorer, Charron Fisher, this year? I believe they have an 8-2 record away from home thus far.
Getting a lot of Big East transfers who don't mind sharing the ball helps. Great balanced scoring, they play defense now (Purple People Eaters!), and they take care of the ball well. If you're an impartial observer, it's easy to like this team.
Kyle, I know its early, but how many losses can Utah St. have and still have a good shot at getting at an large bid if they loss in the WAC tourny? 3? 4?
The margin of error is pretty slim... this is the WeAC, which didn't put together much of a noncon reputation. It'd be better if those 3 or 4 losses came sooner rather than later so there can be some momentum going into March.
I'm really enjoying VMI's season thus far. Who in the Big South might be equipped to slow their roll, as it were?
There's a good chance they'll break the race open -- remember this is a campus-site tourney, so having a building full of rowdy ca(Key)dets in March must-win games would be a pretty imposing atmosphere. Right in the rearview is UNC Asheville. No Kenny George, but they've won three of four league games and have shot the ball really well in conference.
Which injuries do you think will have a larger impact in the fistfight which is the AE this year, BU losing Tyler Morris and Carlos Strong for the season, or Hartford losing Joe Zeglinski for the year?
There's a lot of parity in the conference, and no team can afford to take on injuries like that. Vermont, Albany, Binghamton and UMBC are all solid, that looks like the front four right now.
Kyle, the teams in the Big West seem to be just kind of scuffling along. Do you think any of them has what it takes to pull off a first-round upset in the NCAA Tournament?
There's just been so much off-court stuff in this league this year, and Northridge has been hit really hard by that. I had them as an outside shot at an upset contender, but that doesn't seem to be happening anymore. Long Beach is the best team here, but the 49ers have a lot of weaknesses. They turn it over way too much.
WeAC. LOL. You get bonus points for creatively using WAC without using WACk or WACky. The conference isn't nearly as WeAC as last year though. The top is about the same, but the bottom is much improved (no teams below 251 compared to 3 teams below 271).
I try to mix it up, Shane. You're right -- there are no stunningly awful teams this year, everyone's around .500. But the selection committee, of course, doesn't care about that. They want strong noncon wins and striated standings. Maybe next year?
OK, I'm out of time... thanks to everybody who asked questions, everyone who read along, and everyone who's an Insider and is reading this transcript on Sunday. We'll see you next Friday from MAC country!