“Anybody can beat anybody” is a cliché. It’s also being proven on a regular basis early in this college basketball season.
The upsets keep coming this year, and if there’s one thing we’re learning early this college basketball season, it is that you cannot take anyone lightly. That seems to go especially for NCAA Division I newcomers and transitional members.
We have already seen a number of stunning results this year, and another dropped in our laps last night as Incarnate Word won at Nebraska, 74-73. Incarnate Word is not a Catholic prep school; it is a fast-growing university in San Antonio, Texas, that is coached by a longtime veteran of the profession (Ken Burmeister) and is in the second year of a transition to Division I. The future Southland Conference member Cardinals went 9-5 in SLC play last year in their first year of reclassification, and this year already had knocked off Princeton before this shocker over the Cornhuskers (which, unfortunately, was not televised nationally on the Big 10 Network).
UIW (that’s what the uniforms say) is not the first reclassifying school to pull an upset this year, as Nebraska-Omaha won at Marquette in November. Relative D-I newcomer NJIT pulled this year’s biggest upset on Saturday when it won at Michigan, while recent additions USC Upstate and North Florida won at Georgia Tech and Purdue, respectively, on Saturday. Put simply: there are over 350 member schools in Division I, and all of them are dangerous at any given time.
One of the stories of last year’s NCAA Tournament was the rise of the so-called “low majors,” with teams like Harvard, North Dakota State and Stephen F. Austin all winning games in the round of 64. It has continued this year.
Once again, we’re seeing why there is little factual backing for the heavily crafted image procured by TV and media that there are only five good conferences and everyone else is six levels below them. Division I is Division I. Of course there are a couple traditional powerhouse programs above everyone, while others have more money than others because of their alumni bases and (more likely now) TV contracts. Which allows them to purchase more home games out of conference, which results in better non-conference records, which results in more NCAA Tournament bids, lather, rinse and repeat. But every school at this level has fulfilled (or is in the process of fulfilling) the requirements to be a Division I program. Teams have to be on their game every game, or they can lose.
Oh, and lest one think these upsets are limited to just Division I newbies: NCAA Division II SE Oklahoma State defeated Tulsa on Wednesday, 69-66. The Savage Storm, as they are known, are just 5-6 this year, but built a 19-point lead in the second half and then held on to defeat a team that qualified for the NCAA Division I Tournament last year.
Side Dishes: Wednesday night’s action
- Kansas pulled out a 75-70 win over Georgetown in a fascinating matchup and a terrific back-and-forth game. Brannen Green scored 19 and was 5-for-5 from three-point land for the Jayhawks, who made 10 of 17 three-point tries. Joshua Smith was a load and a half inside for the Hoyas with 20 points. KU led much of the way, but Georgetown kept clawing back in time and again. This is an excellent true road win for the Jayhawks in a hostile environment.
- Kentucky fiddled around with an outmanned opponent again, trailing at halftime before defeating Columbia 56-46. Of course all the talk will be about the Wildcats after this one, but would like to note a very game effort by the Lions, who lost star forward Alex Rosenberg to injury before the season.
- Rivalry games: Utah won at BYU 65-61, Providence got back on track by topping Rhode Island 68-60 and Colorado State won at Colorado 62-60. Big road wins for the Utes and Rams, respectively. Utah going into Provo and slowing down the Cougars is impressive, while CSU is now 9-0 and has really helped itself with a lot of solid if not spectacular wins out of conference.
- Maryland was very impressive in disposing of North Carolina Central 67-56 in a game not as close as the final score.
- In its first game in the rankings in nearly five years, Northern Iowa jumped on Denver early, leading by 22 in the first half of an eventual 65-55 win. The Panthers are now 9-0. Last time that happened was 1963-64, when Stormin’ Norm Stewart was the coach.
- California outslugged Wyoming 45-42 in an ugly one (though hardly surprising with the nature of both teams). Tyrone Wallace again was the difference-17 points for the Golden Bears.
- UCLA struggled way more than expected and very nearly became another upset victim before finally putting away UC Riverside 77-66. The Highlanders led by eight at halftime and still trailed by just two late.
- San Diego State nipped Long Beach State, 60-59, as a 70-foot heave by LBSU’s Travis Hammonds went off the front rim at the buzzer. The Aztecs found their misplaced offense just in time, rallying from an eight-point deficit late.
- Gonzaga was challenged in the second half by Washington State but still cruised 81-66. The lawfirm of (Przemek) Karnowski, (Kyle) Wiltjer and (Byron) Wesley combined for 63 points, making it palatable that Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell combined for two points total.
- SE Missouri State defeated Southern Illinois 55-54 on a basket at the buzzer by Jarekious Bradley.
- Finally, Davidson moved to 7-1, winning at Montana 110-99 in the night’s most entertaining game offensively. Five players scored at least 20 in this one, including three with 28 or more, led by the Grizzlies’ Martin Breunig with 30. Montana’s Jordan Gregory scored 29, while Davidson’s Jack Gibbs scored 28, including finishing 12-for-12 from the foul line, and as a team the Wildcats shot 34 of 36 from the stripe. The two teams combined to shoot 57.4% from the field, 21 of 45 (46.7%) on three-pointers, and 56 of 63 (88.9%) on free throws.
Today’s Menu A light schedule.
DePaul at George Washington Actually a worthy game on any night, for the Blue Demons are a surprising 6-1.
Eastern Washington at San Francisco The Eagles continue to roll since that win at Indiana, but USF is a solid team and will be at home at Memorial Gym.
San Diego at UC Santa Barbara Johnny Dee and Alan Williams means star power for both sides in this one.
Elon at Missouri Might like the Phoenix’s chances in this one if they weren’t going on two weeks now since their last game against a Division I team.
Wright State at Belmont Second game of a home-and-home between these two. The Raiders won the first 73-70 in both teams’ season opener.
Have a super Thursday.