Welser Wonders: A Weekly College Hoops Column

January 16th, 2008

The Holidays are over and that means it is time to concentrate on basketball. I have recovered from watching 32 crappy bowl games and hope to soon recover from my wii tennis elbow to bring you a glimpse into what Welser Wonders…

…what happened to the expected improvement from Conference USA? We all knew Memphis would be good, but we also expected some improvement from the rest of the conference. UAB and Houston were supposed to be looking at an NCAA bid and teams like Tulsa and UCF could have worked their way into consideration. Heading into the week, C-USA has the 11th ranked conference RPI. That’s not very good if they want a second team to make the dance.

Outside of Memphis, the conference went 86-61 in out of conference play and generally that was not against a very tough schedule. UAB, barely cracking the top 100, has the second best RPI in the conference. Yet, unless they beat Memphis a couple times, they are not going to be able to get the quality win they need to reach the NCAA Tournament. Their best win is against Cincinnati and the rest of the conference is way too mediocre to help boost their RPI or get them a quality win. So we may have an NCAA Tournament champion coming out of a one-bid league. Even when UNLV won it all out of the Big West in 1990, New Mexico State and UC Santa Barbara received at-large bids.

…who is going to watch the new post season tournament? Well, I will. But I even have my tivo set for the St. Francis (PA) and Mount St. Mary’s game, so what won’t I watch. The College Basketball Invitational, brought to you by the folks from the Gazelle Group who put together such in-season tournaments as the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic and the CBE Classic among others, pairs 16 teams who failed to make the NCAA Tournament, and most likely failed to make the NIT as well, to give us the 98th best team in the nation. The opening round games are on March 18th and 19th, which is precisely when we should all be watching game tape and filling in our brackets for the real tournament.

Coming off the bowl season, the CBI simply adds more pointless post season play to the college landscape. Extra days of practice are good for building for the future and all, but this is supposed to be basketball. We aren’t supposed to do meaningless postseason games like football. Possibly the most bizarre thing of it all, and something that is definitely not associated with college sports, is the setup of the final. The final two teams will play a best of three series. The only thing worse than watching Michigan play Oregon State in March is watching Michigan play Oregon State twice or, God forbid, three times.

I won’t complain about some of the seeding for a mock bracket, but the 2007 bracket released by the CBI contains teams who barely broke the .500 mark like Iowa, Connecticut, Oklahoma and LSU. I just don’t see who is going to care about this tournament. I don’t think Sooner fans are going to be excited not to make the NIT. Even Akron, who totally deserved a home game in this mock bracket by the way, should feel snubbed by the NIT. This is a team that a few days before their first CBI game would have had NCAA hopes…and a couple days later had hopes to make the NIT. Their consolation prize for missing out on the consolation prize is the CBI? If anybody misses out on the NIT, maybe it is just best to say our goodbyes and wait until next year to see them again.

…what is in the water in Newark, Delaware? The Blue Hens have fought their way to a 5-0 conference start with wins over top Colonial Athletic Association teams George Mason, Drexel and Old Dominion. The non-conference record is bad and losses to Central Connecticut State and Iona will not impress anybody, but Delaware has stepped it up for conference play. The CAA is looking like a one-bid league this year, so it will all come down to the conference tournament and the Blue Hens have the early leg up for the top seed.

Wednesday’s game at 4-1 VCU may tilt the conference in favor of the Rams, but Delaware has already proven that they will be a player in the CAA this year.

…why nobody has noticed that Presbyterian has gone undefeated on the season at home against Division I opponents? Among trips to Columbus, Lincoln, Clemson, Raleigh and Athens, the Blue Hose managed to get two home-and-home series against DI teams. Who cares if the team is 0-20 on the road right now? For the folks in Clinton, South Carolina, their beloved team is undefeated in the Templeton Center. PC claimed their first D-I victory over Radford 66-64 in early December on a late Al’Lonzo Coleman layup. Over a month later the team returned home and dismantled Army 52-35 in front of a sell-out crowd. That’s 2,500 people in the Templeton Center, one-fourth of the town’s population. The DI competition heading to Clinton has dried up until next season and the Blue Hose have already ended their home season against DI opposition undefeated. At the end of the year Presbyterian will join the likes of Memphis and North Carolina on the list of teams that have not lost a home game all year long against a DI team. The team has three more home games against lesser level competition left this season.

The Blue Hose have been getting a lot of attention as a new provisional DI Independent and future member of the Big South mostly because they are the Blue Hose. So what is a blue hose? At one point the team was known as the Blue Stockings and instead of going with the more traditional ‘Sox,’ Presbyterian went with the hose instead. Not as cool as it could be, but if you have a bunch of blue hoses in your shed, write Presbyterian on the side and sell them as thunder sticks.

…when the undefeated teams will lose? We are down to three undefeated teams with North Carolina, Kansas and Memphis all sporting a goose egg in the loss column. The Tar Heels toughest game may be next Wednesday at Miami until the season finale at Duke. With the level of competition in the ACC, UNC will slip on the road at some point against Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia, NC State or Boston College. Kansas does not have an easy path to perfection either. Saturday they head to Missouri. If the Jayhawks get by the Tigers, the next big step (and possibly the biggest of the year) is February 11th in Austin.

We know C-USA is pretty bad and that leaves Memphis with the best shot at remaining undefeated. Besides some so-so conference match-ups, Memphis hosts Gonzaga and Tennessee and that will provide the real test. However, both games are at home and Gonzaga is not that great and Tennessee has not looked as sharp as expected despite the 14-1 record. It is so tough to go undefeated during the regular season, even if you are in C-USA, but Memphis probably has the best shot at pulling it off that we have seen in quite some time.