College Basketball Stuff You Probably Missed: The Opening Weekend

Since it's a few weeks until I release another bracket projection, and a month and a half until they become a weekly feature, I wanted to try a little something new. As I was watching games and, more specifically, online scores on Friday night, an idea hit me.

With over 340 teams in Division I, each playing around 30 games, many contests get lost in the shuffle, especially with the majority of the media focused intently on the Big Six conferences. Now, this series won't provie info on every game, though it may seem like it with this initial effort. (I tried something like that last year and it didn't work so well.) What it will bring you are the things that jump out to me as a college basketball nerd.

That being said, this isn't an "inside the box score" feature either, though I will occasionally dip into statistics. Instead, these posts will focus on scores, interesting trends, and just plain strange occurrences that scream for more attention as I look at a day's scores. 

Even though these specific posts will disappear once January arrives (or sooner, depending on my individual whims), this is the type of info you can expect to see in future bracketology posts. Those will naturally be shorter, and these will likely decrease in length over the next few weeks. I have to get past the newness factor after all. 

After the jump, I'll take a look at some things that stood out to me over the first three official days of this 2010-11 season.

Friday

Largest Margin of Victory: Stephen F. Austin (65 vs. non-DI Howard-Payne)
Highest Point Total: GGonzaga (117 vs. Southern)
Highest 1st Half Total: Lamar (66 vs. non-DI Lyon)
Highest 2nd Half Total: Stephen F. Austin (70)
Lowest Point Total: Johnson & Wales (non-DI) (30 at North Carolina Central)
Lowest 1st Half Total: Millikin (non-DI) (9 at Akron)
Lowest 2nd Half Total: Johnson & Wales (15)

The first final of official opening day was a shocker, as Charlotte, who was missing Shamari Spears and An'Juan Wilderness, fell to Gardner-Webb, 78-70. The 49ers rebounded when the pair returned Saturday, but it wasn't easy. It was Phil Jones' turn to sit one out, and Charlotte struggled to get past South Carolina State, 90-81.

It could be a long season up I-85 and US-52 in Winston-Salem, as Stetson ruined Jeff Bzdelik's coaching debut with a 89-79 win that Wake Forest was really never in.

For one of the Hatters' Atlantic Sun rivals, it will be a lengthy campaign, thanks to the early season gauntlet Matt Driscoll has scheduled for his North Florida Ospreys. In their second year of NCAA Tournament eligibility, UNF will play an amazing number of guarantee games, a list that started with back-to-back roadies on Friday and Saturday.

The Ospreys lost by 20 at Florida State on Friday night, in a game that tipped at 9 p.m. Eastern. They then traveled to Pittsburgh, where the Panthers hammered them, 95-49. That contest started a little more than 19 hours after the contest in Tallahassee ended.

UNF will take a few days off before heading West for a pair of Cancun Caribbean Challenge preliminary games, the first Thursday at Wyoming, followed by a Saturday tilt at Missouri. The Ospreys will spend Thanksgiving in Cancun, where they'll face Prairie View A&M, then either Morgan State or Western Illinois. Those are two winnable games (unless they draw the Bears, more on them shortly), and they'll get two more when they return Stateside, as they open the A-Sun slate with home games against Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson,

After that, it could get ugly again. Here are the Ospreys' final five non-conference games: at Purdue, at Texas, Furman, at Maryland, and at Kansas State. If nothing, North Florida should be well prepared for the A-Sun grind that follows (and have a significant chunk of a limited athletic budget taken care of).

One score that nearly made my contacts pop out came from Jadwin Gymnasium, where Princeton scored 44 in the first half against Rutgers in the opener for both teams. The Tigers aren't exactly renown as a high-octane offensive force, and previous games against the Scarlet Knights reflect this. Princeton scored 44 over 40 minutes against RU in 2005, 2008, and 2009; 50 in 2007; and 47 in 2006--all losses. They did manage 53 in their last win over the Scarlet Knights, back in 2004. (Brown also got a slightly unexpected win for the Ivy, topping Fordham 69-65 at Rose Hill.)

Keeping it in New Jersey, if you were wondering why I had Seton Hall on the bubble in my first projection, their 62-56 loss at Temple is exhibit A. And it really wasn't that close.

It was a good night for comebacks in the A-10, at least against teams with equine nicknames. UMass was down 21 to Rider at the half in a Hall of Fame Tip-Off campus site game. The Minutemen outscored the Broncs by 31 in the 2nd to prevail, 77-67. Xavier also faced a halftime deficit in their game against Western Michigan, as they trailed the Broncos by 9, but the Musketeers, who've been plagued by early season injury issues, eventually pulled out a win, 68-65.

On the other hand, St. Joseph's probably wishes they had scheduled some racehorses instead of Western Kentucky. Then again, since the Hilltoppers pounded the Hawks 98-70, a different opponent probably wouldn't have made any difference.

Georgia--a team I slotted into the Play-in Round, but who others had far higher--needs to get Trey Thompkins back soon, as they struggled mightily with Mississippi Valley State, trailing for most of the game before prevailing, 72-70. 

Former Bulldog coach Tubby Smith's current employer, Minnesota, looked to be a trendy upset pick on Opening Night, as they hosted Wofford, who pushed Wisconsin to the limit in the NCAAs last year, without the suspended Devoe Joseph. Wrong. The Terriers will need to look for an upset at Clemson on Monday, as the Gophers had little trouble with with the Southern Conference champs, winning 69-55.

Besides Wofford and College of Charleston, you may want to keep an eye on Appalachian State in the SoCon. The Mountaineers did what the Terriers and Cougars couldn't, open with a win, picking up an 89-86 victory at Tulsa.

Austin Peay is a perennial challenger over in the Ohio Valley, and the Govs should be able to contend with Murray State and Morehead State again, at least based on an opening 64-62 win at St. Louis.

Auburn fans may have a nice new arena to check out, but their team has a long way to go under new coach Tony Barbee. The Tigers fell to Columbus State in their last exhibition on November 8, and followed that up with a 70-69 OT loss to UNC Asheville of the Big South in their official opener.

Houston, who made the NCAA Tournament as C-USA champion, lost a lot of talent (led by Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis) and their coach (Tom Penders). New coach James Dickey, ex-Texas Tech boss has his work cut out for him this season, which was evident opening night, as the Cougars needed OT to dispose of Southland strugglers Nicholls State, 63-62.

Another Conference USA team that has work to do is Matt Doherty's SMU squad, who fell at home to Arkansas-Little Rock, 57-47. The Mustangs only shot 27.1 percent from the field in the defeat. 

Northwestern, the only Big Six conference team yet to make the NCAA Tournament, has the roster to get there (even without Kevin Coble), but the Wildcats' schedule leaves them little margin for error. John Shurna scored 31 for NU to help push them past Northern Illinois, 97-78, in both teams' opener. Up next for the Wildcats, another game in which a defeat would be embarassing, a trip to UT Pan American Wednesday.

Loyola Marymount has made the Dance before, but has spent an awfully long time in the wilderness. During the preseason, I wrote about how the Lions' schedule is their biggest obstacle to getting back. LMU's task got that much harder on opening night, as they lost at home to two-time defending MEAC champ Morgan State, 81-79. The Bears simply shot the ball better, hitting nearly 46 percent of their field goals and 59 percent of their threes. Such a performance would have given Todd Bozeman's team a better chance against West Virginia in last year's first round loss.

Remember how UCLA lost their opener to Cal State Fullerton to start the Tip-Off Marathon last season? Well, the Bruins also hosted a Big West team in their first game this season, and the result was quite different--a 83-50 victory over Cal State Northridge. As for the Titans, they opened against Central Michigan in the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, and lost 70-67.

Oregon is also hosting a round-robin event, one that was probably intended to open their new arena, but instead helps close out Mac Court. The Ducks, who struggled through the 2009-10 season, look to still be in bad shape, as they needed overtime to dispatch North Dakota State in the first game of the event and season for both clubs.

Saturday

Largest Margin of Victory: Washington (54 vs. McNeese State)
Highest Point Total: Washington (118)
Highest 1st Half Total: Washington (61)
Highest 2nd Half Total: Duquesne (60 vs. non-DI Bluefield)
Lowest Point Total: St. Peter's (30 at Robert Morris)
Lowest 1st Half Total: St. Peter's (13)
Lowest 2nd Half Total: St. Peter's and USC Upstate (at Michigan) (17)

Since Friday was the first day of the season and November Saturdays mean football reigns supreme, the second day on the Road to Houston was a bit quieter.

For the second day in a row, the highest point total of the day came from the State of Washington. On Friday, it was Gonzaga; Saturday, the team that no longer wants to schedule them, Washington.

McNeese State never had a shot in the Huskies' 118-64 win, despite taking a 3-0 lead. A 44-4 Husky run made it 44-7 UW after the under 8 media timeout in the first half. Ouch. I don't think Washington fans need to worry about a slow start this season. Kentucky and the rest of the Maui field, you're on notice.

At the opposite end of the scale is St. Peter's, a potential contender to replace Siena atop the Metro Atlantic. That idea may need a rethink after the Peacocks lost to two-time defending Northeast champ Robert Morris, 55-30 in Moon Township. St. Peter's made only six field goals on the afternoon--not even breaking 17 percent from the field--while hitting 50 percent of their foul shots (16 for 32). And it's not like the Colonials, who will still contend without Mike Rice, shot lights out themselves, as they made just 34 percent of their field goal attempts. 

Here's a list of Division I teams, starting with the Peacocks and Colonials, who scored less than 61--Washington's first half total--in 40 minutes on Saturday. All, except when noted, lost. 

Robert Morris (win), St. Peter's, North Florida, Navy, Mount St. Mary's, Bryant, UC Irvine, Sacred Heart, Harvard, Radford (win), Eastern Kentucky, USC Upstate, Dartmouth, Colgate, Southern, Southeast Missouri, Texas Southern, Drake (win), Arkansas-Pine Bluff, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, Detroit, Denver, Central Michigan (lost in OT), Montana State (won in OT)

Radford had one of the closer calls in that group, winning 57-54 against Emory & Henry. Yes, the D-III school famous for the trick football formation used by Steve Spurrier does play basketball, and they gave Brad Greenberg's squad, which no longer features Belarussian big Artsiom Parakhouski, fits.

Speaking of teams that are rebuilding a bit after losing some seniors who helped deliver conference crowns and tournament appearances, Vermont won at Siena, 80-76, even though they nearly coughed up a 14-point lead late.

College of Charleston grabbed their first victory, winning 93-84 at Holy Cross, ruining Milan Brown's debut in Worcester. Brown's old school, Mount St. Mary's, fell at Dayton, 67-52, in one of those five-team round-robin tournaments.  

Davidson, the SoCon darling of 2008 and much of 2009, didn't start well. The Ivy League's decent opening weekend also featured a 69-64 Penn win over Bob McKillop's Wildcats at the Palestra. 

If Montana is contemplating WAC membership, they'll want to wait until Nevada is off to the Mountain West. In their first meeting since the Grizzlies knocked them out in a 2006 5/12 First Round game, the Wolf Pack grabbed an 81-66 home win. Utah State also picked up a win for the WAC over a Big Sky contender, knocking off in-state rival Weber State, 77-65. The Wildcats led at halftime, leading some early stress for Aggie fans who know that a second straight at-large bid will be tough to earn.

San Diego State started their season-opening five-game road swing with a 81-65 win at Long Beach State. The big test of the Aztecs' long, strange journey comes Tuesday at Gonzaga.

Last season, Mississippi Valley State opened its season by playing at the Bulldogs and their near neighbors, Washington State, taking a pair of poundings and game checks. The Delta Devils headed back to Itta Bena after a 94-66 loss at Wazzu and 92-74 defeat at Gonzaga. Not a great showing, but MVSU played the Zags and Cougars closer than their SWAC rivals Southern did this season. The Jaguars dropped two games by a total of 89 points--117-72 in Spokane Friday and 86-47 in Pullman Saturday.

Like Southern and North Florida, Navy's road travels have not been the easiest. On Saturday, the Midshipmen lost by an 88-46 score in Buffalo, a worse defeat than the 83-52 one Texas handed them on Monday in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

North Dakota State rebounded from their Friday OT loss to Oregon to shock defending Big West champ UC Santa Barbara, 68-60. The Bison may be a team to watch in the Summit this season.

McDonald's All-American Ray McCallum made his debut for his father's team, Detroit, at New Mexico. His individual line wasn't very good (2-7 FG, 2-5 FT, 4 AST, 4 TO, 6 PTS, 4 REB), and his team didn't win either. The Lobos prevailed, 63-54. In the other significant debut in that contest, Emmanuel Negedu, who left Tennessee after some medical issues, scored 8 points and grabbed 6 boards in his Lobo debut.

Sunday

Largest Margin of Victory: Arizona (48 vs. Idaho State) 
Highest Point Total: DePaul (114 vs. Chicago State)
Highest 1st Half Total: DePaul (59)
Highest 2nd Half Total: Wisconsin (58)
Lowest Point Total: Idaho State (42 at Arizona)
Lowest 1st Half Total: Idaho State and Colorado-Colorado Springs (non-DI) (at Air Force) (15)
Lowest 2nd Half Total: Mount Ida (non-DI) (14 at Stony Brook)

Navy isn't the only Coaches vs. Cancer participant who's strugged in their first two games. While the Middies dropped their first two contests by a total of 73 points, Tod Kowalczyk is probably wondering why he left Green Bay after his Toledo Rockets' opening pair--an 84-45 loss at Illinois Wednesday and an 82-49 setback at Temple. That's a pair of losses to high-quality teams by a total margin of 72 points.

Bucknell looked to be on their way to upsetting Marquette in Milwaukee in a CBE Classic regional round game, as they led 41-33 at halftime and 57-45 with 10:22 left. However, from that point forward, the Bison only scored 4 more points. The Golden Eagles scored 27 to grab a deceivingly comfortable 72-61 victory.

South Dakota State did manage a big upset, though I don't know if you can consider a win over Iowa an upset at this point (except for the financial disparity between the athletic departments). Nate Wolters scored 25 and dished out 9 assists to give the Jackrabbits a 79-69 win over the Hawkeyes in Fran McCaffrey's debut.

UTEP dropped Friday's season opener to Pacific, but turned around to beat Mercer in the Legends Classic regional rounds, 87-74.

Princeton found out pretty quickly that Duke isn't Rutgers, and the defending national champions grabbed a 97-60 win to start their CBE Classic run. 

Seton Hall rebounded from their opening loss to Temple by opening up a 24-point first half lead on Cornell and never looking back on the way to a 92-68 victory. Rider also recovered well, bouncing back from their collapse against UMass with a 80-73 home win against Lafayette. Jim Mower scored 31 for the Leopards in the loss.

In any exempt tournament, if you can't win the trophy, the goal is to not depart winless. In a bracket, the eighth-place team is guaranteed to go 0-3, but in a round-robin, going without a victory isn't a guaranteed fate. So, as I close this post, it's time to spare a few moments for the teams who head home with their heads hung in shame.   

Iona, a potential MAAC contender, went 0-3 in the Cleveland State tourney, as they fell to Bryant, 74-72. The homestanding Vikings claimed the crown with a 69-66 victory over Kent State.

Denver dropped three straight games in the Oregon event. The final was a  65-54 setback at the hands of North Dakota State. UC Santa Barbara nearly created a mess at the top of the table, but the Gauchos couldn't finish off the hosts. The 72-70 Duck win means the hosts open 3-0, while UCSB finished third at 1-2, a game back of NDSU.

Either UC Davis or Milwaukee was going to leave Portland unhappy, and a 73-62 Panther victory ensured that the Aggies headed home 0-3. The host Pilots pulled away in the second half to beat Florida Atlantic for the trophy (and a 3-0 start), 89-75. 

On a happier note, Eastern Kentucky avoided a winless run through Loyola-Chicago's round-robin Nick Kladis Classic, topping Indiana State, 64-59. The host Ramblers claimed the crown with a thumping of UT Pan American, 79-57.

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