Phil Kasiecki takes the lead on game action here at Hoopville on Saturdays with his notes from the day-the latest edition is here. As he covers all of the day’s biggest games, we’d like to drop in on two almost impossibly close conference races that are winding down as conference tournament time is just about here.
There is no substitute for double round-robin conference schedules where every team plays each other twice, home and away. (If looking for ways to make the college basketball regular season more meaningful, one can start by getting back to conferences being size they are supposed to be, where this is the norm.) For those of us who thoroughly enjoy and believe in the double round-robin format, the Atlantic Sun and Northeast Conference have been as good as it gets this year.
The Atlantic Sun regular season is down to one final game for each team, and four of the league’s eight teams have a shot at a share of the championship, while a fifth is just one game behind three teams tied for second place. Defending champion North Florida leads at 9-4, but Florida Gulf Coast, surprising Jacksonville and league newcomer New Jersey Tech all sit just one game back at 8-5. Jacksonville has the most direct chance to tie for first when it hosts city rival UNF on Thursday in its regular season finale.
The first-place Ospreys would seem to be the best guess to win first based on their 4-1 record against the other three teams (the other three each have at least three losses against the others)…except they also have league losses to Lipscomb (lurking in fifth, just two games behind UNF), improving Kennesaw State plus Stetson, which is tied for last with South Carolina Upstate. The moral of the story is just about anyone can-and has-proven capable of beating everyone else in this league, which should make for another quality conference tourney one year after the A-Sun had one of the best three-team races at the top of any league.
The Northeast, meanwhile, enters teams’ final two games of regular season play with no less than six teams still with a shot at a share of the title. Wagner sets the pace at 11-5 (after an 83-57 win over Central Connecticut State on Saturday), with Mount St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart one game back and Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Francis (N.Y.) and St. Francis (Pa.) all two games arears.
Crazy enough, it’s possible two of the most dangerous teams in the conference tournament are not even among the top six. LIU (8-8 in the NEC) has won three of four and has one of the top players in the league in Martin Hermannsson, while Robert Morris has come back from a miserable start to the season to get to 7-9 in conference, even after an 82-72 loss to St. Francis (N.Y.) yesterday.
What makes the A-Sun and NEC even more fascinating is that higher seeds host every game in both conference tournaments. Eight teams qualify in both (all eight in the A-Sun; the top eight of 10 in the NEC). With the teams packed as tightly as they are, the result is almost every single game in league play has an implication on seeding as well as who will have homecourt advantage in the tourney.
- In addition to his Saturday notes, Phil Kasiecki’s latest conversation with Ted Sarandis is available to listen to here.
- Top individual performances from the day: scoring honors were shared by Carrington Love of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Cane Broome of Sacred Heart, both of who scored 39 points to lead their teams to wins. Love scored 25 in the second half alone as high-scoring UWGB rallied from 12 down at halftime to roll past Youngstown State 107-90, while Broome led the Pioneers to a 91-86 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. Also: perpetual highlight reel Josh Adams rolled up 37 points and drained nine three-pointers as Wyoming won at Colorado State 84-66; Austin McBroom scored 36 points but Eastern Washington was surprised 107-91 by Portland State, and Jack Gibbs ran up another 35 points as Davidson held serve at home in beating Saint Joseph’s 99-93.
- Tennessee played on Saturday against LSU without star Kevin Punter, the 22.2-point per game scorer who injured his foot on Thursday against Kentucky. Meanwhile, much ballyhooed-and subject to saturation coverage-LSU freshman Ben Simmons did not start for the Tigers due to an academic issue, according to coach Johnny Jones in a halftime interview with ESPN. Simmons came in less than five minutes into the game and played the rest of the way, posting a near triple-double with 21 points, nine rebounds…and eight turnovers, and the Volunteers won with ease 81-65 to deal a serious blow to the Tigers’ postseason hopes.
- Kendall Pollard missed his third straight game for Dayton, which certainly didn’t help in the Flyers’ 79-72 loss at home to St. Bonaventure. Perhaps the worse news is Pollard is “not coming back anytime soon from what I can gather,” according to comments by coach Archie Miller to the Dayton Daily News. Pollard-a 6-foot-6 forward who is the heart of the team’s interior toughness-has a deep knee bruise, and Dayton got little production from substitutes in his absence against the Bonnies.
Today’s Menu: in addition to the Daytona 500…
- Many will be interested to see how Maryland responds after two subpar performances. The Terrapins host Michigan on CBS (Noon EST).
- Maybe the game of the year in the Patriot League has surging Boston University at Bucknell (noon, CBSSN). The Terriers have won seven straight since losing a three-point game at home to the Bison Jan. 23, pulling within one game of the league leaders.
- There aren’t many sure things in the Pac-12 right now, but Utah and USC are two of the closest things to it. Both are headed to the NCAA Tournament, and they meet for a good one in L.A.
- Middle Tennessee State has had a fine bounce back year, and the Blue Raiders can pull into a tie for the top spot in Conference USA if it can knock off UAB (7 p.m., CBSSN).
- Temple was hammered by Houston at home. The Owls need to play better tonight at the Cougars (7 p.m., ESPNNews). At the least, expect a more inspired effort.
- Like the Maryland team it recently beat, it bears watching to see how Wisconsin responds after seeing its winning streak end handily at Michigan State on Thursday. The Badgers have one of the closest things to a break the rest of season, hosting still-could-be-dangerous Illinois (7:30 p.m., BTN).
Have a relaxing Sunday.