The first weekend of college basketball featured a whole lot of 50-point wins over schools you’ve never heard of. This trend, an embarrassment in which LeMoyne, Guilford, Montana State-Billings and others found themselves playing in preseason tournaments or against ranked teams, is a function of good programs’ continued pursuit of home games and free wins, as well as the Gazelle Group’s fixing of its events to not allow any but the four “name” teams to advance. In any case, it makes for even fewer competitive contests and relevant data points as we evaluate teams in the preseason.
Amidst these train wrecks were some good games, however, games that, even this early, will resonate when it comes to name 34 at-large teams to the NCAA Tournament in March. Some non-BCS schools picked up quality wins, at least in terms of name value, while other teams lost games that there’s just no hiding from. The following games could all figure prominently in evaluating bubble teams five months from now:
Northeastern 70, @Providence 66. Northeastern bounced back from an unimpressive loss at Michigan to get a resume-building road win at a Big East school Saturday night. After struggling with Michigan’s perimeter players—they went 4-for-24 on threes while allowing Manny Harris to make six of nine shots and sending him to the line 14 times—they bounced back to hit nine of 15 threes against the Friars. It’s not exactly a win at Gampel Pavilion—the Friars will likely be an NIT team—but the road win will have some value in the committee room for a Northeastern team that will be right there with VCU contending for the Colonial crown this year.
@Creighton 82, New Mexico 75. The Missouri Valley Conference has the devil’s own time scheduling quality nonconference games, making it imperative that the conference’s tournament contenders win the few quality games they get. With just three games this season against teams from traditional multi-bid conferences, Creighton, the Valley favorites, has to win them all. P’Allen Stinnett is the new Stephen Curry. The Lobos aren’t traditionally a good road team, and they were just an NIT team last season, but with four starters returning, they stand a good chance of being on the bubble themselves, fighting for a Mountain West crown. This was a huge comeback win after a 16-point second-half deficit, maybe the best that the Bluejays’ schedule will allow them to get. Keep that in mind as you watch the parade of Division II teams on the ticker this week.
@Duke 82, Rhode Island 79. This one qualifies as a good loss, as the Rams shot the lights out (54.7% overall, 10-14 on threes) but fell just short on their last two possessions at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Whether it helps them a lot will depend on how they do against a schedule that features plenty of other opportunities for wins, including games at Penn State, Providence and Oklahoma State. Jimmy Baron is the player to watch here, coming off an 8-for-10 performance from deep yesterday and a season in which he was 13th nationally in Offensive Rating.
@Holy Cross 73, St. Joseph’s 69, OT. It’s not supposed to be a big year for the Crusaders, who are coming back from one of their worst seasons under Ralph Willard, but a home win over a traditional Atlantic 10 power may help change expectations. The Cross killed St. Joe’s on the offensive glass, rebounding half of their 36 misses and creating opportunities to steal the game in OT. This game won’t hurt the Hawks as much as you might think; they play their usual strong nonconference schedule, and will have plenty of opportunities to erase this memory.
VMI 111, @Kentucky 103, @Virginia 107, VMI 97. Coming off of their huge win at Rupp Arena, the Keydets were tied late against the Cavaliers, but faded to post a competitive loss. Duggar Bascom has his team playing the closest thing to a Paul Westhead offense since Loyola Marymount’s heyday, and if nothing else, playing his team is going to create headaches for every opponent. It’s virtually impossible for a Big South team to get on the board, and VMI is killed by their four non-Division I games, so the loss to Virginia should do away with any thoughts of at-large status. Check out their home game on New Year’s Eve against Richmond for one of the most entertaining contrasts of styles you’ll see this year.
Mercer 72, @Alabama 69. Ronald Steele’s return was supposed to prevent this kind of thing from happening, but his 25 points weren’t enough to carry teammates that shot 17-of-51, including 2-of-17 from three-point range. This is the kind of loss that kicks you in the RPI and just keeps kicking, all year long, as Mercer will settle into the mid-200s by February, and teams without this kind of loss on their records look better and better.
@Portland 80, Washington 74, @Howard 47, Oregon State 45, @Oregon 66, Northern Colorado 64. Ladies and gentlemen, your Pacific-10 Conference! Look for the Pac-10 to divide pretty neatly somewhere above Berkeley this season, with Washington State plugging for honorary SoCal status to escape the drag.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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