Hmm. What to make the lead story . . . The NCAA has been getting a raw deal lately, through every fault of their own, but I think the revival of Larry Bird down in Gainesville might just bump the NCAA down to Side Dish status. Yeah, I think so.
Florida’s popular freshman Matt Walsh Walsh did it again last night, leading the No. 6 Gators to a 99-65 win over Eastern Illinois in the last Preseason NIT Quarterfinal. Walsh, who is the only Gator to have his apparel mentioned in wire reports (headband, orange shoes) – I’m assuming he still does wear the uniform, notched 20 points, along with 6 boards, 9 assists, and 5 steals in the effort. Florida established a lead early, then pulled away in the second half.
The other baby Gators merited some ink, with the expected messiah, Anthony Roberson putting up 20, and Adrian Moss and Rashid Al-Kaleem pitching in as well. Eastern Illinois all-star Henry Domercant was limited to seven points (he had 36 in his last outing), and the Panthers’ Jesse Mackinson ended up with a 21/8 split. Florida plays Coastal Carolina this weekend, before heading to New York for the Preseason NIT Semifinals, where they will face Stanford.
Thankfully, today is the real start of the season, with no fewer than fifty games on the docket. Can’t wait.
Mississippi Burning: No one is really sure what’s happening down in Starkville, but now that the lawyers are involved, it can’t be good. In case you’ve been out this week, Mississippi State all-world center Mario Austin is currently benched, pending an eligibility investigation. Turns out that the NCAA has decided to review his high school transcripts. Did we mention that Austin is a junior? So now here’s what we don’t know: Mario Austin is sitting out until further notice, with the Bulldogs opening the season this weekend. MSU may have to forfeit all of their wins in Austin’s freshman year, or even all that he played in the last two years – though that’s a worst-case scenario. Austin, who also registered himself for the NBA draft, and then withdrew, if declared ineligible, may be in limbo, which will definitely hurt him developmentally and financially. Lastly, the NCAA has allegedly been investigating this since August. August, as in three months ago. Austin could have re-taken his senior year in high school in that amount of time. All in all, it’s been handled rather poorly.
No Uh-Oh, Kapono: A wave of relief swept over the Bruin nation yesterday, as top-scoring senior forward (and preseason magazine coverboy) Jason Kapono was given permission by team medical officials to play in the season opener against San Diego. Kapono had dinged his thumb in practice, and thus sat out No. 15 UCLA’s exhibition loss (loss?) to EA Sports. But it was only a flesh wound. Actually, it was only a sprain. Breathe easy, everyone.
Mystery, Alaska: Wisconsin-Green Bay lost last night to Division II Alaska-Fairbanks, the host of the Top of the World Classic. In the matchup of mythical creatures, the Nanooks toppled the Phoenix in a 78-55. It’s not as if cold weather was a factor, as both schools are enjoying ice fishing season. No, this actually warms the heart, and is along the lines of the occasional win by Chaminade, or the loss of then No. 2 Michigan to Alaska-Anchorage back in 1988.
Staying at Old Kentucky Home: Kentucky will be without forward Erik Daniels, as he’s been suspended four games because he played some hoop with his homies this season. Daniels played in his one allowed sanctioned summer league, then went home to Cincy and hooped it up there. Bottom line: he doesn’t go to Hawaii to play in the Maui Classic.
Phoning Home: This is where the NCAA rules and regs and sympathy for a homesick college kid clash. Clemson forward Tomas Nagys has been suspended 8 games for using a university calling card irresponsibly, and for “taking advantage” of trips to the local airport. The long distance was over $500, as Nagys is from Lithuania, so they don’t have the 5 cents-a-minute plan.
• The Preseason NIT continues with Second-Round coverage action coming from Lawrence, where No. 2-ranked Kansas faces UNC-Greensboro. The winner advances to face North Carolina next week.
• No. 3 Oklahoma faces UC-Irvine, NC-Asheville visits No. 10 Michigan State, and Hofstra visits No. 22 Gonzaga.
• On this rivalry weekend in football, it’s only fitting that 8th-ranked Alabama faces its cross-state rival. No, not Auburn, Alabama State. Yes, just like Michigan-Michigan State, or Oregon-Oregon State’s Civil War . . . what? It’s not? Oh.
That’s it for this Friday. Enjoy!