Hilltopper Fever

Posted by Ralph Bowman on

sign 4

Bowling Green has been painted Big Red ever since the home team clinched its first Sweet 16 berth in 15 years last weekend. After the jump, more pictures of the scene in B.G. as Western Kentucky University prepares for Thursday’s No. 12 vs. No. 1 matchup against UCLA.

In front of the arena that bears his name, Edgar Allen Diddle forever waves his signature red towel (dyed so that missing ones could be easily identified as stolen elsewhere) that has become the school’s logo. Diddle coached at Western for 42 years. Hey, there’s Bally!

bally and diddle statue

If you need a history lesson on the importance of that red towel, there’s a full explanation nearby.

red towel

Across the way in the student union, the university bookstore window was all painted up for the occasion.


The initial order of 500 commemorative Sweet 16 T-shirts were snapped up in less than an hour, and the shipment promised here (of 750) disappeared just as quickly on Wednesday morning, leaving an empty blanket-draped table in the front of the university bookstore.

“Remember in the Eighties, all the craziness over the Cabbage Patch dolls?” said a bookstore worker on Wednesday, recalling the madness. “It was like that. I came out of the back room with a handful of shirts, and I thought someone was going to punch me in the face. ‘Large.’ Okay, here… ‘I need four.’ Okay, don’t hurt me…”

sold out

If you can’t get your hands on a Sweet 16 T, however, there’s plenty of Big Red dolls available.

big reds

Like the bookstore, a downtown bank got into the window-painting act too.


As you travel around town, you’ll find Hilltopper spirit everywhere.

sign 3 sign 2

And like anything else in life, Western in the Sweet 16 is a great opportunity to sell cars. (What are they going to do with all those basketballs?)


Finally, orange blob meets red blob. This is Bally, the mascot of this site, with Big Red, much more well-known symbol of Western Kentucky University. This was taken at the home of longtime friend of the site Cortney Basham, a WKU professor and proprietor of the long-running and excellent Bracket Board and WNKY’s in-depth Hilltopper Blog.

bally & big red


Detroit Shock

Posted by Ralph Bowman on

sadwiscfan.jpgDETROIT — The alarm clock went off this morning, like it normally does… but we’re still trying to figure out when, exactly, we fell asleep. Around 6 p.m. yesterday? That timeframe makes more sense than what we were hallucinating about. Davidson? A No. 10 seed? Slaughtering the Big Ten champs in Big Ten country? By 17 points? Sweet dreams are made of this!

There was that sophomore in red who outscored the entire Wisconsin team in the second half (22-20), but he wasn’t the only player out on the court last night. Some of the supporting numbers were really astounding — take, for example, point guard Jason Richards’ perfect 13:0 assist-to-turnover ratio (a figure Bob McKillop made sure to repeat at least six times on postgame interviews). Or the perfect 5-for-5 shooting by Nigerian junior Andrew Lovedale, who’s gone from third on the forward depth chart at the beginning of the season to unsung hero (let’s fix that: Andrew Lovedale is 6-8/His two-point dunk-shots are rea-lly great).

And there were the efforts that didn’t get on the stat sheet, but were important nonetheless. Lovedale, Thomas Sander and Boris Meno sacrificed their bodies for the cause, making the lane a gauntlet for the Wisconsin offense. They were so effective that Bo Ryan spent much of the first half whining on the sideline about all the fouls the officials weren’t calling. Davidson, double-champions of a league the ACC and SEC fans down south call the “So-What” Conference, beating up the big boys down low. Imagine that!

While we get ready for the in-between day interviews, let’s empty out the rest of the notebook from last night.

As you’ve heard by now, or saw on TV, LeBron James was seated behind the Davidson bench. He was placed in a seating corridor between the press and the general public. Everybody else in that row had the dark blue “AA” all-access tag supplied by the NCAA and distributed by the colleges to their guests… but he didn’t need one of those. He was wearing several gigantic gold chains around his neck, which were just about all the ID LeBron James needs.

He was a guest of the school — as the story goes, he wanted to come see Stephen Curry play, and Davidson was happy to oblige. Several boxes of red t-shirts that echoed Nike’s “Witness” campaign were sent to the Davidson hotel and distributed (Nike furnishes the team’s uniforms, so this wasn’t a 1992 Dream Team brand clash), and LeBron and his posse got their choice seats.

So there was LeBron in Pistons territory (wearing a T-shirt that may or may not have contained a marijuana reference), oohing and aahing when Curry made spectacular plays. The best moment was at 9:07 of the second half, when Davidson head coach Bob McKillop spelled No. 30 after a turnover and foul, putting Bryant Barr backc in the game.

“Put him back in, coach!” LeBron bellowed.

Two minutes later, McKillop relented and let LeBron see some more pure basketball joy. LeBron didn’t stay long, though.

At around the six minute mark, with Davidson up by 19, the NBA star and the LeBrontorauge got up to leave. As he rose, so did the entire endline section, holding their cell phones aloft. There were literally thousands of people standing up, either giving LeBron a standing O or taking his picture. Curry didn’t score another basket, and five minutes later he got his own standing ovation, taking a seat as the Davidson deep-bench got to experience the feeling of being on the floor at the end of a Sweet 16 win.

A lot of people have compared (and are going to be comparing for months on end) the 2006 George Mason run with Davidson 2008. A fair enough topic for sports-talk radio, I’d suppose, and “the next George Mason/Davidson” is the shorthand we’ll be dealing in for the next few years, whether we like it or not. And there are plenty of similarities, sure. Both of these schools have fielded teams that have no business being on the court with teams with seven, eight, nine times the financial resources.

Both GMU and Davidson have silver-haired and tongued head coaches that any basketball-loving college kid would love to have as a pair of grandfathers. And there are basketball family trees in common, as Jim Larranaga got his collegiate start as an assistant at DC. The two schools they coach at are tucked away in the suburbs and exurbs of major American NBA cities (Washington and Charlotte, respectively) — close enough to major media markets, but far away enough to conduct day-to-day business in a hype-free bubble.

Personally, I’ve had the honor and privilege to witness both runs up close, and the two experiences have been radically different. George Mason 2006 was adrenaline, motivational tools, excitement, Kryptonite. Davidson 2008 is, well, a bunch of guys who show up to the gym every day and just so happen to play basketball really well. When the players left the floor on Friday night, there was no wild dancing that would show up on a

The only way any school this size can excel in the land of giants is unselfishness, something both the two squads in question had in amazing amounts. The general public never really figured out George Mason, and I’m willing to wager that most casual fans couldn’t name a single player from that team two years later. It was a club with five double-figure scorers who each shot for a solid percentage, and they shared the ball as well as any team in the nation. On any given night, nobody knew who the step-up guy with the big-time performance was going to be.

That, obviously, is not an issue with Davidson 2008. Every single person in the country knows who Steph Curry is now. He’s a clear focal point, and fits perfectly with the way most Americans consume sports. “Which team won?” is often less of a important question than “Who was the star? Which jersey should I buy?” The red one, with the 30 on the back.

But when you talk to Curry after a game and ask him to describe what a stat-stuffing performance felt like in the first person, he’ll generally deflect a lot of the praise to the teammates who got him the ball and got him open. And he’ll respond clinically and technically about the art of shooting a basketball. Sometimes over the past two years, I’ve felt as if I’ve been interviewing an architect or an accountant — “what makes you so good at filing 1065 extensions?” The man is an expert at what he does, and he’d still be an expert if nobody was watching him practice his craft on national television.

It’s been noted in the past few days that on his shoes are written the words, “I can do all things.” But it’s on the bottom of his shoes, a reminder to himself of his abilities. It’s the difference between braggadocio and ultimate confidence. In stark contrast to a Michael Flowers, he won’t tell you what he’s going to do beforehand like a pro wrestling star, he just goes out and does it. Afterwards, he’ll pay proper respect to the fallen opposition, and move on to the next challenge.

We haven’t had a breakout basketball star like Curry in a generation, and he’s helping undo the damage that the past 20 years have done to the idea of basketball stardom. There are kids out there who are now 10, 11 years old, spending this afternoon in driveways copying the fallaway 3-pointer that gave Davidson that early lead at 13 minutes of the first half. Here’s hoping that they’ll keep emulating him, carrying themselves with perfect humility.


More Than “Just Balls”: The Legend of the Ralph Marlin Tie

Posted by Ralph Bowman on

DSC01242_thumb.jpgWhen brought me on in the summer of 2005, my good friend Sarah bought me a Ralph Marlin “Just Balls” tie. It was one of those nice timely things that good friends do — they buy you things having to do with what you’re celebrating just as you’re celebrating them. Little did I know that it would be a key instrument in bringing down arrogant, overbloated power conference teams in the NCAA Tournament.

I adopted the practice of wearing a shirt and tie to every game that year (inspired by my new colleague Andy Katz), and wore the gift tie to my first game as a representative of the Worldwide Leader, a game on November 19 between Vermont and Harvard. It is certainly a little awkward wearing a tie with basketballs all over it to a basketball game, in all honesty. It’s something that you’d expect some eccentric alumnus to do, someone who hasn’t been to a basketball game at his school in five years. Or maybe Dickie V, if he was more like Don Cherry. Wearing a “Just Balls” tie is not something you do if you’re trying to be anything resembling cool. After all, they make a clip-on version as well.

I don’t remember wearing the “Just Balls” at all that 2005-06 regular season, not until March. I broke out the tie out again at the NCAA tournament in Dayton, and it hung around my neck for four games during the first round on Saint Patrick’s Day 2006. One of those games was No. 11 George Mason’s stunning 75-65 upset of Michigan State, a six-seed that had gone to the Final Four a year earlier. As I was standing in the Patriots locker room collecting quotes for a story, the winning coach interrupted my question.

“That’s some tie you got there, Kyle,” said Jim Larranaga, inspecting the thing.

“Thanks, coach,” I replied.

Two days later, I wore the tie to the second round. George Mason clinched a spot in the Sweet 16, with a 65-60 win over North Carolina, the previous year’s National Champions. It was the first inkling that the tie was some sort of talisman, so I strapped it on when I moved on along with Mason to the Washington, D.C. regional. That game was the “Mid-Major Super Bowl” between GMU and Wichita State for a shot at the Elite Eight. After Mason won, I was sent home and ESPN’s sole credential was passed along to Mr. Katz. Nobody expected Mason to beat mighty Connecticut, and I watched the game from my couch in Rhode Island. The tie was rolled up in my pocket.

We all know what happened next, and I was reactivated. On the day of the Final Four games, I walked around Indianapolis, wearing the “Just Balls” tie with a crisp white shirt. With time to kill, I walked over to the NCAA museum, which at the time was still coming together and not quite worth the $7 entry fee. As an added attraction, however, they had a member of basketball’s royal family — the grandson of the inventor of the game.

Ian Naismith was at a table out front, signing his recently-released book. There weren’t very many people stopping by — the Naismith surname doesn’t have the same Q rating as Jordan or James these days — so I walked up, introduced myself with a handshake, and asked him to sign my media credential.

tiecloseup.jpg“Forget that,” he said. “I want to sign that tie.”

And he did — with indelible black Sharpie. The “Just Balls” tie had transcended its cheesiness and had become one with the very history of the game. Walking back to the giant RCA Dome, I felt its warm orange glow.

I had “MUP” status for the Final Four, which is short for “media, upstairs.” Folks with MUP credentials have no access to the floor area an hour before the game, but have to retreat up the elevators to the high skyboxes to watch the game unfold like ants on a matchbox. This was too great a distance for the magic to work… and Mason fell by 15. My season was over.

Sure, I had doubts about the tie after that. And it’s not like I’m superstitious or anything, even though I carry a 1987 Minnesota Twins Homer Hanky in my pocket when I watch the team play, and freeze a little plate of water and put my New York Rangers action figure on it before playoff games. I tried to recharge it with mid-major mojo in the early 2006-07 season, wearing it to the season-opener between Bucknell and Albany and the Sweet 16 rematch between Mason and Wichita. I also wore it to Hinkle Fieldhouse for the Southern Illinois-Butler BracketBuster (longtime friend of the site Brandon Loy has photographic proof). By March, there was plenty of power in the tie, and it helped propel Southern Illinois through the Columbus pod, as the Salukis destroyed Virginia Tech by 15 to make the Sweet 16.

I was very careful with the tie this season, not using it for any regular-season mid-on-major matchups. I only wore it on high-profile mid-versus-mid occasions, like the SIU-Butler rematch and the Davidson-Winthrop Buster game. I stormed three floors with it on, as the excitement of UMBC, Siena and Temple fans rubbed off on the tie.

But last weekend in Birmingham, for whatever reason, I decided not to wear the tie. Or maybe I simply forgot to. As Butler fell away in overtime of the Round of 32 to the streetball All-Stars of Tennessee, just four feet from the edge of the court, I looked down at my standard red and silver noose and cursed myself for what I didn’t do. In such a close loss, the “Just Balls” tie could have given the Bulldogs the little bit extra they needed to get over the top. It was the one time that I messed up, and I apologize to every Butler fan everywhere.

On Friday night, the tie was ready. Seated directly behind the Davidson bench (10 feet in front of LeBron’s chair), the tie was present and prominent, and made several nationally televised appearances over the course of the evening. And after a rough and tumble first half that ended in a 36-all stalemate between Davidson and Wisconsin, I knew what I had to do. During halftime, I did something that was daring, powerful, and unprecedented.

I walked up to the Davidson bench, bent down, and touched the tie to it.

The effects were, in a word, explosive. OK, two words: “Just Balls.” The Wildcats outscored the Badgers 37-20 in the second half, held Wisconsin to 24 percent shooting from there on out. LeBron James, standing directly in the Tie Zone, screamed out oh shit as Stephen Curry hit a running baseline layup. A 10 had beaten a three, and my chest was melting from the sheer force of my Ralph Marlin tie. Because the force, it’s got a lot of power. And it makes me feel like… It makes me feel like… Oooh!

But now I am in a full-on quandary, and need your help. Do I keep on with the force? Do I stop until I get enough? More to the point, do I wear the tie on Sunday? Will its immense power backfire (perhaps…), or is its strength simply sapped for the season (more likely)? I’m fully aware that the Naismith connection could give aid to Kansas, since The Inventor was also one of the founding fathers of Jayhawk basketball. There’s also the key consideration that my wearing a goofy orange basketball tie might cause further embarrassment.

This decision is completely out of my hands; I’m leaving it up to you, dear readers. Write in with the form, remember to include a valid e-mail address so it’ll get through. Give me the pros or cons of wearing the “Just Balls” to the game tomorrow. I will ponder and consider your opinions with the utmost respect, each letter will carry the relative weight of 15 message board posts


There’s a Basketball Game Today at 5 PM ET

Posted by Ralph Bowman on

We received a lot of messages in response to the query as to whether or not I should wear the “Just Balls” tie to the game today. With a 2-to-1 split in favor of donning autographed neckgear, the votes against stuck out and haunted my sleep. Several people brought up the possibility of a double-reverse tie jinx, and a few brought up the Naismith-Kansas association.

But I’m wearing the tie. Repeat, I am wearing the tie.

The letter that really sold me was T. Jensen, a self-described Jayhawk fan who commented on the nervousness this morning in Rock-Chalk land. They know that they’re up against something special today.

Wear it, please. Wear that piece of nylon with the basketballs on it. And I am even a Jayhawk fan, but in respectful support of mid-major b-ball, please wear it. I have never heard Jayhawk fans talk more adamantly than now… we need to “dispose of the 10 seed Cinderella.” But still have spent moments reflecting on the pace master, the guy who has the most unique feeling for the college game, Steph Curry… who we have to have patience with, and lock-down mentality, to beat… But yes, wear the darn tie. I know it’ll be right.

I know, I know. This is a dangerous line I’m walking with the tie, but the postseason is all about danger, looming heartbreak, sudden death. It’s win or go home for not only the Davidson players, coaches and staff, but for their fans too. It’s win or go home for all the Charlotte media who sit here in the vast media room at Ford Field, biting their nails and whispering about individual matchups. It’s win or go home for everybody in America who loves Cinderella — if Davidson loses tonight to create a who-cares Final Four made up entirely of one-seeds, it’s on to baseball season.

And, of course, it’s win or go home for Bally and I. At this moment, we don’t know which highway we’re taking on our way out of Detroit tonight: I-75 south or the Canadian 401 east.

“Just Balls” could very well have been drained all of its magic on Friday night, I realize that. But in order to bolster its power, I will be wearing it with a dark green pinpoint oxford shirt to commemorate Kryptonite, the verdant hue that George Mason wore all the way to the Tournament’s last weekend two years ago. The past and present will converge to create what we hope is a continued future. Bright orange on green… it’s going to be the worst clothing combination since the University of Miami decided to dress up like fruit, but I don’t care.

Because sometimes forward progress just can’t be pretty. As longtime friend of the site Michael Litos wrote in today:

Don’t mess with karma. Wear the damn tie.

There’s no way to search for this that I know of, but Bob McKillop might have been the first head coach in the history of the NCAA Tournament to invoke soccer.

“I’m in the quest for the perfect game, the perfect performance, the perfect season,” said McKillop in Saturday’s press conference. “And we certainly haven’t reached that point yet. I think the Brazilian soccer team, they called it ‘The Beautiful Game.’ That’s what our system is about, the quest for that.”

Which logically led to this thought… what if the Davidson players were Brazilians? Thanks to BrazilName, we can find out what each of the Wildcats would be if they were green and yellow (the national team, not George Mason) and not red and black. Richards: Jasa
Stephen Curry: Stephundo
Max Paulhus Gosselin: Felix Mardo
Andrew Lovedale: Andrimo
Thomas Sander: Thomao
Brendan McKillop: McKillcos
Aaron Bond: Beca
Boris Meno: Meneca Pau
Can Civi: Civinhosa
Mike Schmitt: Schminhosa
Will Archambault: Archambainho
Stephen Rossiter: Rossiteiro
Bryant Barr: Bryildo
Dan Nelms: Neta Santos
Ben Allison: Bildo

Curry’s story is legendary now, being passed over by everybody and given a demeaning walk-on offer by Virginia Tech, where his NBA sharpshooter dad built his legend.

But these past few days have been a fantastic opportunity to find out how the rest of this magical team was built — my esteemed colleague Pat Forde was able to get in a lot of great details in his story yesterday. With the much looser constraints of a notebook entry on a mid-major weblog, let’s hear some of the stories of the other Wildcats’ roads to campus.

Starting PG Jason Richards: “[McKillop] came to an open gym at my high school [in Illinois]. We were playing a pick-up game, and he didn’t say anything to me, he just sat in the corner taking notes for an hour and a half. After practice he came up to me, shook my hand and smiled and said a few sentences to me, then he left. I didn’t know what to think. After I committed, he sent me a three-page e-mail of the notes he took that day. The positives of my game, the things that needed to be worked on, and from that point on I knew he was a great coach and that he’d definitely help me out in my career.”

McKillop on sophomore big Andrew Lovedale: “The first time I saw Andrew Lovedale, he was sweeping the court at the Amaechi Basketball Centre in Manchester, England. That was part of my evaluation, to see the way he handled things other than basketball.” [Press question: How could you see it sweeping the floor, though?] “You could just see the genuine care that he had, that he took his job seriously. In order to earn money, he was sweeping the floor in the center and coaching young kids.”

Lovedale: “I grew up in Nigeria and went to school in England… my skills were raw… I wanted to play and learn basketball and I was in London but wasn’t comfortable there. So I told my brother I did not want to learn in London and wanted to go somewhere else. I happened to go to school in Manchester, and I wanted to take some of the load off my family with expenses so I talked to the guy at the academy about letting me work.”

McKillop: “Look here, you’ve got a guy from Nigeria, a guy from the rich suburbs of Barrington, Illinois, you got the son of a cheesemaker from Montreal, Canada [Max Paulhus Gosselin]. We have some diversity and we get along and work as a team. There must be something there. I think it’s balance.”and im recommended to check basketball gears at pro basketball troops website and pick the best one.

I would pay to watch this movie: a philosopher-coach wandering the world, assembling a rag-tag basketball team that goes on to strike deep into the NCAA Tournament. Part Ocean’s Eleven (the original), part Blues Brothers, and part Major League.

With some awesome slow-motion cheesemaking scenes.

There’s been considerable and interesting chatter about Curry and ego these past few days, in the press room and on the interwebs. A lot of it focused on his shoe quote (“I can do all things”), and I made my best effort to seek clarification yesterday in my interview with the man yesterday for the Worldwide Leader. Since then, it’s been a considerable and interesting discussion of Curry and God.

We don’t talk much about religion or politics on this site, or my own personal faith and beliefs, because there’s no real need to engage in anything that distracts from the three things that The Mid-Majority has been about since 2004 — truth, justice and college basketball. We’ve learned the hard way (repeatedly) that any sort of moral stand on anything brings in a wave of angry blah-blah-blah and a whole lot of negative energy. So we generally stick to our day topics, for our own safety.

But the way Curry handles himself and his convictions is too fascinating to pass up. One of the primary factors that has made 21st Century American sports so divisive has been the injection of in-your-face Christianity. (That’s the subject of the most engaging chapter of Will Leitch’s book, by the way.) God this, Lord and savior that. I just want to thank God for letting us beat Chicago. It was funny enough for The Onion eight years ago, and just plain tiresome now. God, God, God.

I was having breakfast this week in Bowling Green with Mr. Bracket Board, Western Kentucky professor Cortney Basham. I was telling him all about the scene last Sunday in Birmingham on Easter Sunday afternoon, an overtime game between Tennessee and Butler in the Round of 32. On one side of the impossibly loud BJCC Center, the bright orange of UT, the blue (and Dawg Pound tie-dyes) or Butler on the other. In both sections, many people could be seen with folded hands, gazing up to the high ceiling and presumably beyond.

“I wonder how God decides in situations like that,” I said. “Is it like ESPN SportsNation, where the majority team’s percentage scrolls by on the screen?”

“If only it was that simple,” he answered.

Getting God on your side in matters of human vs. human competition is complicated, and quite simply impossible. It’s also selfish.

Stephen Curry is the polar opposite of all this. He won’t talk about God unless you specifically ask him, and sometimes you have to knock a few times before he’ll answer. His shoe quote, Phillipians 4:13, in its full form, is one of the most simple, brilliant and beautiful statements of faith ever written, and it can be easily retrofit to fit any belief system there is.

Why is Curry so calm in the face of all this pressure, all these tens of thousands? Because he sees himself as a conduit, not a battery. He doesn’t store up God Credits for explosive performances later, like I collect fake metaphysical hit points in my silly tie. He stays grounded because he believes that the divine flows through him, not into him. He’s the kind of human being any religion would be proud to have as a representative.


The Boubacar 2/5/2008 (St. Edition)

Posted by Ralph Bowman on

VALPARAISO, Ind. — We’re in Day Two of the annual Super Bowl info-moratorium, the first time in seven years we’ve made it through until Tuesday without knowing any details of the “big game” or who won. It’s a combination of old-fashioned obliviousness and modern technology that’s making this happen. My temp-spam filter has already zapped 37 rogue incoming messages containing the words “Super,” “Patriots” or “Giants.”

There were a few close calls, though. After I posted my dare to the public to try harder in getting the news to me yesterday (we’re all about degree of difficulty here at TMM), there were eight voicemails from people I haven’t heard from in ages — still marked as “new.” And since it was one of my rare motel stays, by 4 p.m. I was getting kinda hungry in the bunker. In order to stay away from the ESPN that was surely on the TV’s at the Applebee’s next door, I called Pizza Hut and had them bring a pie over. Twenty minutes later, the driver arrived.

“So, what’d you think of the game last night?” asked the small man, a dead ringer for Curtis Armstrong, while I was scribbling my signature on the receipt.

“One more word, and you’re not getting a tip,” I replied. He had no idea what I was talking about.

I don’t know if I’m going to make it through until Wednesday and break my personal record. I have a game tonight, and that’s a sporting event, and I’m sure there will be an offhanded remark about the Super Bowl in there somewhere, like an oblique reference to the Manning family (this being Indiana). Or somebody in the stands will be carrying a big sign with the score on it, I don’t know.

But I was really good at tuning out the presidential race until two weeks ago, and still don’t know what happened in the Lost season premiere (don’t ruin it, it’s on the TiVo when I get home)… I just have no idea why ignoring the Super Bowl takes so much effort.

SMC Saint Mary’s. Phew. You’re not going to find a better G!O!T!N! than last night’s superthriller on the tube, the Gaels’ 89-85 overtime win over the longtime lords of the WCC, Gonzaga. Patty Mills, who is good at playing basketball despite being a freshman, scored 23 points and made a key steal with half-a-minute left that forced the Zags’ hand and made them play for the tie. Then, he made free throws in overtime and ended up grabbing the winning rebound off Micah Downs’ failed 3 attempt.

You can’t say enough about Saint Mary’s ability to draw fouls on Gonzaga’s bigs — I’m sure the Zag fans are crying about it this morning, but the refs weren’t the ones trying to bully the Gaels in the lane all night. No fewer than four Gonzaga players fouled out, and the overtime session was pretty much Jeremy Pargo (pictured, left), Matt Bouldin and a whole lotta who.

Saint Joseph’s. We know Villanova isn’t having the best year, which always cheers us up, but in the Philadelphia Big 5 every single result is big, and in the Holy War everything is universe-sized. Like last night’s powerthrash at the Palestra, a 22-point win for the Joes over their ancient suburban rivals.

The Hawks haven’t beat Villanova since 2004 — you know, that year when SJU went all the way to the Elite Eight — and the Jameer Nelson teams never dominated the Wildcats like this. The score hides the fact that Nova put on a little run at the end to make it semi-respectable… The spread was up near 30 in the second half, and there were some moments when doubling-up was a very real possibility. It was a real frontcourt party, as Pat Calathes and Rob Ferguson combined for 40 points and 14 rebounds in the team’s sixth straight win.

Saint Diego. If wasn’t the Big Monday game, or even the ESPNU game (that was Santa Clara-Portland), but we don’t want to forget that other team that’s 6-1 in the West Coast Conference. The Kentucky fans sure don’t.

The Toreros, who beat Saint Mary’s just last week by grinding them, won their fifth straight last night at Pepperdine to pull into a three-way tie at the top. De’Jon Jackson, a 6-2 sophomore guard who usually is the fourth or fifth offensive option, decided to have the game of his flippin’ career, shooting 8-for-13 (with four 3’s) for 20 points. All in all, another successful slowdown slog for San Diego.

cliffofhistory.jpgSaint New Jersey Tech. A lot of folks in Newark should be qualifying for sainthood here, as the Highlanders approach the inverse perfection that is the 2004-05 Savannah State team. After last night’s 10-point home loss to Longwood, NJIT is 0-24 with five games remaining.

And it doesn’t look good for the school’s chances to jump into the win column. Four of those final five are out on the road: at Texas-Pan American, La Salle and Longwood, then the grand finale at Utah Valley State, which will almost assuredly get 10 times the media it normally would. The lone home game is versus Chicago State, a team that already beat the Highlanders by 17 out at their place, holding them to 34 percent shooting. Which happens to be NJIT’s team average for the season.

However, there were bright spots last night. Consider Kyle Edwards, a 6-6 junior who had been languishing on the bench for much of a season (for an 0-24 team) and finally decided that enough was enough. Against Longwood, in a season-high 25 minutes, he lashed out offensively for 16 points on 5-for-6 shooting, more than double his D-I career high. He grabbed eight rebounds too. Think he’ll start next time?

OK, so there’s that. But…

How ‘Bout™ Alabama State? They beat MU on Nov. 11, before everybody started doing it, and didn’t win another D-I game until SWAC play. But the Hornets have won eight of their nine league games — including seven in a row — and are the conference’s last hope to stay out of the play-in game (which looks like SWAC versus America East at the mo’). Last night’s victim was Prairie View, and they nearly hit the century mark. Senior forward Joel Bosh, he of the good-at-playing-basketball Boshes, scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, his third straight excellent game.

Also, How ‘Bout™ those BracketBusters announcements? Wasn’t a problem ignoring the whole Bobby Knight thing, but can’t believe we got through the whole Boubacar without mentioning that. We’ll have about 1,000 words of breakdown over at the Worldwide Leader later today.

And How ‘Bout™ Siena of the MAAC? The day of the BracketBusters announcements, Siena took out its frustration for being mailed out to Boise State by clipping Marist (which gets to bus to Cleveland State) by four in Albany. With 8-3 Loyola making up its weather-delayed game at Niagara today, 9-3 Siena gets a day of second place to itself. Everybody in the conference is looking up at 10-2 Rider, winners of nine straight.

Do you have a nomination for tomorrow’s Bubacar?



Posted by Ralph Bowman on

bally 014_thumb.jpg

There’s more than one Bally, and that’s because we occasionally hold contests here and give away real-life versions of the cartoon buddy who goes everywhere with me on my travels. Like, for instance, our Hunan: Return Of The Phoenix movie treatment contest, which might be extended an extra day because the entries are so awesome, and we want more, more, more awesomeness.

Anyway, speaking of awesomeness, there’s a secret e-mail address on the polybag that the orange guy comes in, along with an invitation to take him to games and send in pictures. And as you might know, UNC-Asheville beat Winthrop 71-56 on Saturday, and it was a crucial (and awesome) Big South game that provided separation in a league that WU has lorded over for seeming centuries.

But longtime reader and local legend Rod in Asheville, in bringing a certain friend to the game, set the Bally bar about as high as it could go. Anybody who sends in snapshots from here on out will have to face the inevitable comparisons to Rod’s entries, and I just hope that this doesn’t dissuade anybody from future submissions out of pure shame. After the jump, we have Bally with hot girls, and that’s what you — the future picture sender-inner — have to compete with.

I’m just going to sit back over here in the corner, and let Rod take the story from here.

Bally’s got his ticket, and he’s excited about the game!

bally 000_thumb.jpg

A tradition at UNCA is visiting the statue of “Rocky the Bulldog” before the game, and rubbing his head. Bally does the next best thing.

bally 002_thumb.jpg

Here’s Bally enjoying the UNCA warmups. Whoah, there’s big Kenny George! He’s much bigger than Bally, but it sure doesn’t like it from this perspective.

bally 006_thumb.jpg

Bally has the rhythm in his seams, and he’d love to cut his chops with the UNCA pep band. Unfortunately, he can’t reach the drums unless he’s sitting on them…

bally 008_thumb.jpg

Say Bally, get a load of those crazy UNCA co-eds. Talk about School Spirit Week!

bally 011_thumb.jpg

bally 012_thumb.jpg

It’s just not fair. All I have to counter with is a few pictures from Texas and from last Saturday’s northeastern tripleheader. Here’s Bally at Sam Houston, wondering if the “K” in Bearkats is for.


Here’s Bally with our good friend Ross, the most devoted fan of the North Texas Mean Green we know. Definitely not a girl.


At Prairie View A&M’s Baby Dome, the bleachers aren’t lit that well. That’s okay, it’s one of our favorite buildings in the SWAC.


Bally hit up Holy Cross last weekend. This one’s for all the CrosSports message boarders. Us + You = Luv.


Forget what the polls say, our orange pal knows there are only one bunch of real Blue Devils. The Central Connecticut State Blue Devils!


Bally watched Cornell-Yale with the legendary Miguel “The Ultimate Hoops Challenge” Rodriguez. And with that, he’s officially been “pimped.”



MMBOW #12: Ryan Toolson, Utah Valley

Posted by Ralph Bowman on

The picture on the left does not depict the hot club dance move or the new way the kids these days are expressing their excitement, it’s just a snapshot of the most pure and perfect shooting mechanics in Division I right now. (And as you can see             in the background, it’s making the girly-girls go craz-ay!) Ryan Toolson of Utah Valley University is our twelfth Mid-Majority Baller of the Week of the 2008-09 season.

Not that it wasn’t an obvious choice or anything, Mr. Toolson did only produce the highest point total in the NCAA’s top flight so far this century. In a 123-121 win at Chicago State last Thursday night, the 6-4 senior converted 18 of his 31 field goal tries, including seven of 11 from 3, and added 20 free throws to score 63 points, which is the 10th most in a Division I game all-time. And he grabbed 12 rebounds as well. Sure, it was a quadruple-overtime game and all, but this was a study in pure endurance: he played all 60 minutes of the contest and earned every single one of those stats. Two nights later, as befitting the rigorous schedule of a D-I independent, UVU popped up on the left coast at Cal State Bakersfield. Proving he had more gas in the tank, Mr. Toolson scored 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting to lead his team, although the Wolverines lost 69-60. Put it all together, and that’s an 85-point week.

The Wolverines’ star, who hails from Gilbert, Arizona, is money whenever he shoots the ball — and somebody somewhere in the world is going to give him a contract when he’s done with college. He’s consistently made half his field goal attempts, but consider this: he’s only missed 25 free throws during his entire career (429 of 454, includes D-II games as well). Perhaps the biggest shock in the 63-point game was that he missed one — its was only the sixth of 18 games he hadn’t gone perfect from the line. But we’re all shooting for perfection in our chosen fields, and Mr. Toolson is closer than a lot of us are. He’s also your Mid-Majority Baller of the Week


Bally: Behind Enemy Lines!

Posted by Ralph Bowman on

The calendar hasn’t turned yet, which means that mid-majors are often spending time in power-conference arenas doing things they’d rather not do. Bally also prefers not to set foot in these places if at all possible, but this is just the way November and December are. Here are some of our little orange friend’s recent travels above the Red Line.

Bally began his season in the Cathedral of Eeeeeevil known as Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Bally’s no art critic, but he thinks the commissioned sculpture of the Louisville Cardinal might have been more imposing if it wasn’t so San Diego Chicken-like.

Bally has an amazing ability to be in more places than one. Thanks to last season’s Finals Week winner Tim B. for bringing him to a Florida A&M-Florida game in Gainesville.

Five more minutes at Wake Forest, and I may have had a Demon Bally. We got out of Joel Coliseum just in time.

At Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum, the lower-bowl chairbacks are covered with little orange Tiger pawprints. Which, of course, gave Bally an idea for the upholstery at Mid-Majority HQ in Pawtucket.

After an exhausting trip around the Big Six, it’s great to get back to places where you’re welcomed and respected for who you are, not your poll ranking. We visited Presbyterian College last night, home of the Blue Hose. Look at how happy that little guy is. Brings tears to your eyes.


Game! Of! The! Night! 2/3/2009: Northern Iowa at Bradley

Posted by Ralph Bowman on

Northern Iowa at Bradley (Missouri Valley)
Carver Arena – Peoria, IL
8:05 PM EST

The Great Unknown is a scary thing, isn’t it? We pattern-seeking creatures require some sort of assurance that future events will mirror the results we’ve already seen. Staring into the anti-void of endless possibilities can result in a spectrum of emotions: from a slight unease to sheer fear, paranoia to all-out Panic(!!!). Some things simply fall outside the framework of basic logic, beyond the scope of best guesses and past-based prognostication. One of those is the 2008-09 Missouri Valley Conference regular season.

Ask Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson why his team is blowing open the league after a non-inspiring 6-5 nonconference record — and I did last week — and he’ll say something about improved confidence. That’s fine, I wasn’t expecting him to discuss freaky wormholes ripped in the fabric of the universe that were causing a team full of players that rarely bend their knees to go 10-1 in mid-majordom’s traditionally toughest conference. The Panthers’ halfcourt offense, which always finds the right shot, is straight out of the the playbooks our TMM header images were taken from. But just like Butler or Utah State or Davidson, ball control is UNI’s greatest weapon. That wasn’t there in losses to Iowa and Marquette and UIC, the drops that will depress any NCAA seed they might eventually earn. It’s just a team that runs its stuff, works hard, keeps a hold on the ball and wins league games. Ten in a row, in fact.

The opponent tonight is Bradley (13-9, 7-4), tied for second place in the conference with Illinois State and Creighton. The Braves were able to get out of the gate fast against UNI in their first meeting at Cedar Falls two weeks ago (a 10-0 lead, then extended to 13-2), but didn’t have enough rocket fuel to finish the job. If the Braves can get out in transition and hit a few 3’s, they’ll be in good position to win this game and make the BracketBusters selectors look like morons: BU will toil in the non-televised portion of the proceedings up in Chicago at Loyola. But victory will require a turnabout of a team weakness that’s cost it a few Bizarro Valley games, the same thing that keeps UNI on top. Bradley turns it over 21 percent of the time, well inside the bottom third nationally. It’s a smaller team on average, too, which costs them in the rebounding department. So our pick-to-click once again is Theron Wilson, the 6-5 senior battler who shoots well when the Braves win (51 percent), and has trouble hitting the side of Carver from the sidewalk (42.4) when they lose.