We’re on the doorstep of March now, so there isn’t much that has been left uncovered in a season, but the question must be asked: is there a better secret in college basketball this year than Fresno State?
Few may know it, but the Bulldogs have very quietly had a terrific year, one that could stop right now and would still be called a success. Fresno State reached the 20-win mark on Saturday with a 92-82 win on the road at New Mexico, affirming the team’s status as the second-best team in the Mountain West.
The Bulldogs weathered a whopping 41 points and 11 rebounds from the Lobos’ Elijah Brown to win their fourth straight game and remain one game up on Boise State-which knocked off league-leading San Diego State 66-63. New Mexico outshot and outrebounded Fresno, but the Lobos also committed 18 turnovers and couldn’t counter the visitors’ balance.
Marvelle Harris received a little bit of preseason recognition before disappearing again from the national conscious, but he has had another terrific year on both ends, averaging 20 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He was outstanding again on Saturday-32 points, 10 rebounds, three steals-but also received help from Julien Lewis, a 6 ppg scorer who tallied 21 and hit 5 of 6 from three-point range.
Part of the reason for the Bulldogs’ anonymity is the Mountain West, which is having a decidedly down year and will struggle to put forth a single reasonable at-large candidate for the NCAA Tournament after San Diego State lost at home again on Saturday. Another is that FSU just missed on some big chances early in the season, falling at Oregon by five, at Arizona by 13 (it was a one-point game with three minutes left) and also by eight at home against Evansville in arguably its third-toughest non-league game.
Even so, Fresno State will be a tough out in the MWC tourney. The Bulldogs are a lesson in the value of defense and taking care of the ball-mediocre in most areas, they rank tied for 11th in the nation in turnover margin and are in the top 40 in the country in steals and turnovers forced. Coupled with a true star go-to player, it’s a team certainly good enough to make a run and perhaps even emerge as the conference’s automatic bid winner.
- Phil Kasiecki has his recap of the day with his Saturday notes right here. Also from Hoopville: Phil’s latest conversation with Ted Sarandis here, plus new contributor to the site Paul Borden with a quality piece on Miami (Fla.)’s Tonye Jekiri.
- Lot of teams clinched the top seeds in their upcoming conference tournaments on Saturday. Among them: High Point (Big South), Hofstra (CAA), UAB (Conference USA), Bucknell (Patriot), Tennessee-Chattanooga (Southern), Arkansas-Little Rock (Sun Belt), Saint Mary’s (WCC) and New Mexico State (WAC).
Today’s Menu: Heavy on a diet of big games in out-of-the-spotlight leagues
- Coming off a big home win over Villanova, Xavier now faces a big road test at Seton Hall (12:30 p.m. EST, FS1). The Pirates certainly are good enough to capitalize.
- A day after fellow ACC fence-sitter Florida State dumped Notre Dame, Pittsburgh gets a prime chance for a big home win as well, hosting Duke (2 p.m., CBS).
- Valparaiso closes the regular season with a challenge at Wisconsin-Green Bay. Likewise, Tulsa goes on the road as well, and Memphis’s size will be a test for a team that is far deeper in the backcourt than up front (4 p.m., ESPNU).
- Not buying Ohio State as a deserving NCAA tourney contender one bit right now, but the Buckeyes will get in the conversation for sure if they beat Iowa at home (4 p.m., CBS). Also in the Big Ten, Michigan is at Wisconsin (6 p.m., BTN), and the winner may just about lock up their spot in the NCAA tourney.
- USC looks to halt its slide against surging California (8 p.m., FS1).
Have a relaxing Sunday.