Happy New Year Everyone. I wanted to start the new year with a new Mid Major's Baker's Dozen, then Gonzaga, Cleveland State and Evansville had to go out and wreck it. Oh well, perhaps tomorrow. For now it's a New Year's list of top ten recommended resolutions/wishes and some predictions for the rest of the 2008-09 season.
Top Ten Mid Major Resolutions/Wishes
1) More Touches for the Hofstra Frontcourt - Cmon, you knew this was coming after my previous posting. May Greg Washington and Dane Johnson get 16-20 touches a game. Cmon, when you are shooting 38 percent from the field perhaps two players shooting 58 and 50 percent respectively should get more than eight field goal attempts combined per game.
2) Gonzaga gets over its UConn Loss - Cmon Zags, you had UConn beat but AJ Price hit a remarkable three to send the game into overtime where the Huskies won. Since then, the Bulldogs have lost two more games in a row to Portland State and Utah. Throw in the loss to Arizona, and the Zags have lost four of their last five games. Gonzaga is too good to be playing this way. They need to right their mental state fast because a rematch with Tennessee from the Old Spice Classic looms in Knoxville on January 7th.
3) May Butler Finally Get the Respect It Deserves - Hell, even I thought this was a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs, but a 11-1 start with wins at Cleveland State, at Xavier and at Drake is pretty damn good for a team supposedly rebuilding. Onlhy a tough loss to Ohio State kept the Bulldogs from being undefeated. In the past two seasons, 29 and 30 wins respectively with three NCAA tournament wins (and before that a NIT berth). Gonzaga and Davidson may get more publicity but Butler may be the bst mid major team the past three-four years. They are ranked #25 in the AP but look for them to move up.
4) A More Consistent Matt Janning - As Janning goes, so do the Huskies. So when you see Northeastern has a 6-5 record, chances are Janning hasn't been consistent. The stats mirror that. In the Huskies' six wins, Janning is shooting 37 of 73 from the field - 50.7 percent. In their five losses, Janning is shooting 21 of 66 - 31.8 percent. In fact, if you remove his 10 of 17 performance in a loss to Boston
University, Janning is shooting 11 of 49 in the other four losses - 22 percent. Ugh.
5) The Continued Re-emergence of Wright State - One of my preseason Mid Majors Baker's Dozen teams went dud early. The Raiders started off the season 0-6 before "Wrighting" the ship. Wright State won seven of their next eight including wins at UALR (which beat Creighton), going 3-0 in the San Juan Shootout and recently knocking off Cleveland State. Oh yeah, that only loss in the past eight games was a 13 point loss to #14 Wake Forest. Would love to see Coach Brad Brownell's Raiders being a force in the Horizon the second half of the year. To get back to .500 after an 0-6 start is a testimonial to how good Brownell is.
6) Kent State Finds a Groove - The Golden Flashes are in jeopardy of ending their ten year consecutive 20 win season streak. Kent State is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Mid Majors. No respect, no respect. Yet, 10 straight 20 win seasons. How many teams have done that ? However, this season the Flashes have struggled going 6-6. What's the cause of it? Its not Al Fisher. He is actually shooting better from the field last season at 42 percent and averaging two points per game more than last season. The team itself is actually averaging 5 points more per game than last season. So what is it. I think its their non conference schedule. In five of their six losses, the Golden Flashes lost to teams (Cleveland State, Kansas, Illinois, St Mary's and Texas A&M) with a combined record of 56-11 (still trying to figure out how Kent State lost to 5-5 Western Carolina). I think in a season of mediocre MAC teams, Kent State should find a good number of wins. Will they get the 14 needed to keep their 20 win streak going? Its going to be close.
7) The Missouri Valley Becomes a Multiple Bid Conference Again - After several years of multiple bids, the Missouri Valley only had one team make the NCAA tournament last season, Drake. Though three teams made the NIT, this had to be a major disappointment to the Missouri Valley Conference officials. However, there is significant hope for this season. Already the MVC has three teams with ten or more wins, undefeated 13-0 Illinois State, 11-2 Creighton and 10-4 Drake. The concern will be of course how will their strengths of schedule affect their at large bid hopes. Creighton has a better resume being the only team to beat A-10 power Dayton this year. Neither Illinois State nor Drake have that signature win. The MVC's best bet would be two MVC teams with 25 or more wins plus wins in the February Bracket Buster Games.
8) St Mary's Emerges from Gonzaga's Shadow - The Gaels have some of the most talented players in the Mid Majors with Patty Mills, Omar Samhan and Diamon Simpson. They only have one loss, made the NCAA tournament as an at large team last season, and have wins at Oregon, at Kent State, at Southern Illinois and over Providence on a neutral site. But until they can finish ahead of Gonzaga in the WCC regular season and beat Gonzaga in the WCC Tourney, then maybe they will get some respect. A big bracket buster win would help as well.
9) At Least Two Mid Major Conferences Get Multiple Bids - Last season, the WCC was the only mid major conference that got multiple bids (three with Gonzaga, St Mary's and San Diego). The season before that, the MVC, the Horizon and the CAA all had multiple bids. Remember, the A10 is not considered a mid major here (and in the next week or so, I will be coming out with my definitive posting on that). There is a good chance that the WCC, the MVC and perhaps even the Southern Conference (if someone knocks off Davidson in the SoCon Tourney) will get multiple bids.
10) To Not Yell at CAA Officials As Much As Prior Seasons - Since this is my own resolution, its going to be difficult to keep, simply because the CAA officiating is often not very good (Bobby Knight would have a cardiac on how many walks are NOT called in the CAA conference games). But I will try. :-)
Predictions for the New Year
CAA Team Most Likely to Get a Reality Check - Hofstra. The Pride's 9-3 record is deceiving. They are very good defensively. They out rebound their opponents on average 45-36, average 5.3 blocks per game and only allow 39 percent shooting from the field. In all three categories, they lead the CAA. However, they only shoot 38.8 percent from the field, shoot 30.9 percent from three and only shoot 62.5 percent from the line. In those categories, they are either next to last or second to last in the CAA. The combined record of the D I teams that Hofstra has beaten this season is 38-57. So if you can only shoot 38.8 percent against teams like that, how will you perform against better CAA teams like VCU, George Mason and ODU? Again, start working that inside game.
CAA Team Most Likely Better Than I Thought - ODU - The Monarchs have been on an absolute roll. They have won six straight games by an average of 19 points, including two wins over A10 teams Duquesne and Richmond. ODU is balanced, shooting 44 percent from the field (3rd in the CAA), tied for second in FG defense 40.6 percent and second in rebounding margin. Unlike Hofstra, ODU believes in frontcourt scoring. The Monarchs are led by forwards Gerald Lee and Ben Finney who average nearly 26 points and 12.5 rebounds a game. Lee leads the CAA in FG percentage at 61 percent (Lee averages 9 FG attempts a game) and is second in the CAA free throw percentage at 86.3 percent (Lee averages nearly 5 free throw attempts a game).
The Fan Base Mostly Likely to Miss Their Old Coach - UNCW. If they haven't already, the Seahawks' fans might want to run their AD out of town (who as I have noted in the past was probably responsible for running Brad Brownell out of town). The Seahawks give up on average 90 points per game and on average lose their games by 12 (they average 78 points per game). The Seahawks have given up 89 points or more in eight games and are 2-6 in those games (3-10 overall). Curious to see what the spread is for their game at George Mason on Saturday. Eek.
The Mid Major Team Other Than Gonzaga Most Likely to Win Multiple Games in the NCAA Tournament - Butler. I really think the Bulldogs have balance with three scorers in double figures led by Matt Howard. They play defense, shoot the three pretty well (38 percent and 42 FG percentage overall) and have shown they can beat good teams on the road (Xavier, Cleveland State) or on neutral sites. They are pretty young (no seniors and mostly sophomores and freshmen) yet seemingly have no fear, so they should actually get better. Also, Brad Stevens is one of the best young coaches in the country and he should be up for coach of the year if Butler continues to play this well. As for other teams, I am not sure still about St Mary's defense and Davidson hasn't shown me enough balance yet (but the season is still young).
The Best Mid Major Player You May Not Have Heard of But You Will Soon - Well I just mentioned him. Omar Samhan. Patty Mills gets all the accolades on St Mary's but all Omar does is nearly average a double double with 14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and two blocks per game while shooting 58 percent from the field and 71 percent from the line. And he is only a junior. Expect Omar to have a big second half.
The Mid Major Team Most Likely To Improve in the Second Half - As I noted above, I think Kent State will have a very solid second half of the season once they get into MAC play. Honorable Mention - Siena. They had an equally brutal non conference schedule and the Saints should do well in a weak MAAC (Fairfield gets to find out today).
The Mid Major That Will Come Down to Earth - VMI - I know they are 9-2 and they won at Kentucky, but their run and gun style is not conducive to winning consistently (see UNCW). Will be curious to see how Liberty plays the Keydets.
The Mid Major Most Likely to Disappoint - Drake - I know the Bulldogs are 10-4 and they are very very quick as I noted in the game I saw against Iowa. But the best team they may have beaten all year was New Mexico and they have struggled against as good or better competition (losses to Butler, Stephen A Austin, Evansville and Vandy). The MVC is really tough on the road so we'll see how they do.