Today is February 1st, which is unofficially the start of the stretch run for the college basketball season. Jockeying for NCAA Tournament bids heats up, and we’re just on the doorstep of the most exciting month in sports.
Rather than a time of anticipation, though, Feb. 1 this year is marked by disappointment. One can’t help but be sad for Virginia Commonwealth senior guard Briante Weber, whose college career is over after he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus Saturday in the Rams’ surprising 64-55 loss to city rival Richmond.
You may not have seen saturation coverage of his VCU teams on TV the way you do for blueblood programs or the best one-and-done players, but it can be argued that Weber is stylistically one of the defining players in college basketball over the last four years.
In this Dead Ball era of college basketball, there are very few identifiable systems of play anymore. We still have the Syracuse zone, the Princeton offense, but there is no more distinct style of play right now than VCU’s “Havoc,” and no player will ever represent its attacking pressure defense better than Weber. With his long arms, distinctly wiry build and a boatload of steals (the fact that he played for four years helps, too), Briante Weber’s silhouette could be the logo for Havoc the way Jerry West’s is for the NBA.
Weber led NCAA Division I in steals last year and is leading again this year, and he finishes his career with 374 steals, cruelly coming up eleven shy of tying the D-I record of 385 held by Providence’s John Linehan (1998-2002). Though never a great offensive player, he was a stat sheet stuffer, and this year averaged 7.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.8 steals per game.
Where VCU goes from here obviously bears watching. The Rams are thought to be the best team in the Atlantic 10, and that doesn’t change even with Saturday’s loss, as this team still has enough parts to be effective. Undeniably, though, it will be a different team going forward, one missing its best defender. College basketball will miss him, too.
- Phil Kasiecki has his recap of Saturday’s huge schedule of games here. Phil also was at the Ryan Center for Rhode Island’s 59-55 win over George Washington.
- Win streaks continuing: Stephen F. Austin’s is now at 17 after beating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 61-51, while Murray State also has won 17 straight after defeating Tennessee-Martin 65-62. Tulsa has reeled off 11 in a row after beating South Florida-barely, needing OT to get by the Bulls 78-71. Albany has won nine straight and is in full command of the America East after a 77-59 win at Maine.
- Just six Division I teams have reached the 20-win mark so far. By far the most surprising of them is Valparaiso, which joined the list after holding off Illinois-Chicago 70-65. (The others: Arizona, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Northern Iowa, Notre Dame). Also a note on UIC: junior guard D’Juan Miller has left the program for personal reasons, according to a release from the school. Miller was averaging 4.7 points and 4.0 assists per game for the Flames, who are struggling through another tough season at 5-18 overall and 1-7 in the Horizon League.
- A little bit of separation in the Mountain West, as there are now merely five teams separated by one loss or less instead of the seven we had coming into Saturday. Dropping back to 5-4 now: Fresno State (after losing to Colorado State 80-57) and Utah State (62-42 losers to San Diego State). Wyoming & SDSU lead at 7-2, Colorado State and New Mexico are 6-3, Boise State is 5-3.
- Teams lighting it up: Eastern Washington and Idaho played a dandy in the Big Sky, with the Eagles holding off the Vandals 98-95 in overtime despite Tyler Harvey leaving in the second half with a bruised quadriceps muscle. Seton Hall and Xavier put on a show with the Pirates winning 90-82. Lehigh held off Boston University 89-86, while Maryland-Eastern Shore outlasted run-and-stun Coppin State 92-82.
- From the “Is it news or isn’t it?” category, Illinois has suspended guards Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby, and neither played in the Fighting Illini’s 60-58 win over Penn State on Saturday. Of course, Rice hasn’t played in any games since Jan. 3, missing the rest of January with a broken left hand. Cosby also was out for the previous two games with an eye injury. The Chicago Tribune was reporting that both had a chance of returning for Saturday’s game before the suspension. Stay tuned on this one.
Today’s Menu: Twelve games total on the D-I docket. Among them:
Michigan at Michigan State (1 p.m. EST, CBS) Best game of a light schedule today, but these two could both be winless and this would be a rivalry game worth watching.
Miami (Fla.) at Florida State (Noon EST, ESPNU) Dangerous game for the Hurricanes, who are still solidly in the NCAA Tournament. For now.
Cincinnati at East Carolina (1 p.m. EST, CBSSN) Ditto for the Bearcats. Cincy should be able to beat ECU, but this is still a road game.
Utah at USC (2:30 p.m. EST, ESPNU) A perfectly manageable road game for the Utes.
California at Washington Two of the surprises of the non-conference season are now on the verge of both being some of the biggest disappointments in conference play.
Connecticut at Houston (3 p.m. EST, CBSSN) If the Huskies can’t win at Hofheinz Pavilion, it may be time to make those NIT reservations.
Manhattan at Monmouth The best game of the day of three of them in the MAAC.
Enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday.