The first full week of play has helped rewrite and rewire college basketball logic, no? With big wins over Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, Stetson and Kennesaw State showed that the second division of the Atlantic Sun is more than capable with hanging with that of the ACC. After years of helping the Louisiana economy by buying guarantee games against in-state schools, LSU was beaten soundly at the Maravich Center by Nicholls State, ending the Tigers’ 82-game, 22-year streak in such matchups. And a MAAC team like Rider can travel clear across the country, score a point and a quarter per possession to beat USC by 20, and make the Song Girls cry.
Obviously, those are the highly-publicized aberrations, not the New Parity in college basketball you’ve been promised for years. Don’t ask about the other five times the A-Sun’s played the ACC. The Nicholls State win gave its Southland Conference just four victories against 11 defeats in non-conference play. And just last week, Rider lost by 10 at UMass with a 39 percent shooting performance. So far, teams in the littlest 25 conferences have won just 10 percent of the time against those from the biggest seven leagues, and the average game score has been 79-61 to the negative. They generally have to take their magic where they can get it. It’s all got to come together at the right time, on the right night, against the right opponent.
And then there are the games where just one thing goes wrong, at the wrong time, and a plucky small-conference team misses out on November glory. The difference between just-another-loss and computer desktop wallpaper of the scoreboard can be a single possession. Here, then, are a few of those close calls from the early going, recorded for Prospectusterity before we roll along any further.
at Georgia 72, Mississippi Valley State 70 (Friday 11/12) – The Delta Devils were up by seven late in the second half, but the lead was whittled away by multiple and-ones. In a guarantee game, against a SEC school that hired the officials… hey, it happens. But Sean Woods’ team, which is on the road until January 8 to pick up checks to help pay for weather damage to its arena, put itself in a great position to win, despite shooting just 38 percent. Fighting foul trouble all evening, the Devils outrebounded the homestanders by nine. Nine! MVSU’s rebounding percentage of 49.1 ranked seventh among the 10 SWAC teams last year. Bulldog senior forward Jeremy Price scored eight unanswered points in 50 seconds to save Georgia from embarrassment, but they probably won’t make a statue of him for it.
at Oregon 72, California-Santa Barbara 70 (Sunday 11/14) – A three-game early-season tournament at home is specifically designed by school and sponsor to offer the home team three wins. Why else would any school sign up to host one? In the third game of the BTI Invitational in Eugene, the defending Big West champions and presumptive lead favorites played the Pac-10 Ducks even all night in nearly every statistical measure, in a 72-possession game that was very fairly officiated. After an intentional free throw miss with 1.2 seconds left by Oregon’s Joevan Catron, the ball went out of bounds and the refs determine that it hadn’t hit the rim. The Gauchos’ fullcourt strike failed, saving new Ducks coach Dana Altman from the kind of front-page facepalm photos that Fran McCaffery had after his Iowa Hawkeyes lost to South Dakota State earlier in the day.
at Oklahoma 71, North Carolina Central 63 (OT) (Monday 11/15) – This was perhaps the most intriguing close call of the week, and the most well-hidden by the final scoring margin. N.C. Central, most known in the sports world for its tangential role in the botched Duke lacrosse rape case, is transitioning to Division I and was recently accepted as a provisional member of the MEAC. And somehow, some way, they were in this game. Even though the Eagles scored .89 points per possession on the night and turned the ball over 20 times, they took the lead 12 minutes in and was up by four with one minute left in regulation. And that final minute was interminable — full of free throws and official reviews at the monitor. Finally, Steven Pledger hit a game-tying three for Oklahoma, and the visitors only came with 40 minutes’ worth of gumption.
But if Pledger’s shot hadn’t gone in, you’d still be talking about this one five days later, not Enes freaking Kanter.