Saturday’s Den: College hoop teams/leagues I need to see in February

Little more than a month until the college basketball conference tournaments start; having ESPN+ on my TV now gives me a good chance to watch a lot of games from smaller leagues, so why you’re sleeping, I’ll be watching mid-major basketball.

Here are teams/leagues I need to see more of before then:

— Charleston is 21-1 vs schedule #286, Florida Atlantic is 20-1 vs schedule #198; ESPN has FAU as an 8-seed, so they might be able to survive a loss in the C-USA tournament, but Charleston is listed as an 11-seed, so they’ll probably need to win the CAA tournament to make the NCAA’s.

Both teams had their only loss way back on November 11.

— Towson has won seven of last eight games; they’ve got best continuity number in CAA, so they figure to be Charleston’s biggest threat.

— UAB is 14-7, 5-5 in C-USA, but their star G Jordan Walker missed their last four games; they are a threat in C-USA tourney if they Walker back, but only if. North Texas would be the other team that could make FAU squirm- they lost 66-62 to the Owls couple weeks ago.

— VCU, Saint Louis and Dayton are the three best teams in the A-15; this could be the first time since 2002 that the A-15 only gets only one team in the NCAA’s.

VCU won 11 of its last 12 games; they have sketchy losses to Duquesne, Jacksonville; a 63-59 loss to fellow bubble team Arizona State won’t help any.

Saint Louis beat Memphis/Providence, but lost to SIU-Edwardsville.

— I haven’t seen any Big Sky games yet this season; I’ll fix that today by watching a couple. Right now, Eastern Washington is 15-7/9-0; they’ve won their last 11 games, but lost to Texas Tech, which is winless in the Big X, and FIU, which is 4-6 in C-USA.

Montana State has best continuity number in Big Sky; they’re 7-2 in league games, but their non-league resume is pretty dismal.

Whoever wins the Big Sky tournament better enjoy it; they won’t last long in NCAA’s.

— There are 13 teams in the WAC this year, as schools migrate in/out of the league for mostly football-related reasons. Southern Utah has most experienced team; Seattle is the contender with best continuity number, while Sam Houston State has wins over Oklahoma/Utah to boost its resume. Bearkats are shooting 40.6% on arc, #2 in country.

Traditional WAC power New Mexico State has been in NCAA’s 8 of the last 10 years, but Aggies have had lot of off-court problems this year- they’re 0-8 in WAC games this year, which leaves the door ajar for someone new to represent the WAC in March.

— Missouri Valley Conference is #14 league so far this year, its 2nd-lowest ranking in the last 20 years. This is a one-bid league no matter what; Drake/Southern Illinois have best experience, continuity numbers, while Belmont is 9-2 in its first season in the Valley.

One thing about conference tournaments is that you need depth to win three games in three days. Belmont/Salukis have more depth than Drake does.

Northern Iowa is 8-3 in MVC games; they were 4-6 in pre-conference games.

— Sun Belt has 14 teams, stretching from Virginia to Texas; Marshall/James Madison have most experienced teams, Louisiana/Marshall have best continuity numbers. Mike D’Antoni’s brother has been the coach at Marshall for nine years; they play fast, #30 tempo in country. 

With four top 100 teams, need to watch some Sun Belt ball in February. Every team in league has already lost 2+ conference games, so their conference tournament should be interesting.

— I’ve watched decent amount of Big West games already; looks like there are five teams with a legit shot at winning their league tournament. Cal-Davis has won six of its last seven games; along with Cal-Santa Barbara, they’re two teams with best experience/continuity numbers.

Cal-Riverside has the best team they’ve had since moving up to D-I; they’ve won eight of their last ten games. Cal-Irvine/Hawai’i are also good teams; Anteaters are little less experienced than usual, but they’re shooting 3’s better than they have since 2015, when they made the NCAA’s. 

— ESPN needs to get some Southern Conference games on TV; this is a pretty good league, the league Steph Curry played in. This year, Samford, Furman, NC-Greensboro will be the favorites to win the league tournament; Greensboro has best experience/continuity numbers, Samford has #43 eFG% in country, so they can score the ball.

Furman is the team to watch; they’re 7-2 in SoCon games this year, 86-30 the last seven years, but they haven’t won the SoCon tourney during that time, losing the final in OT last year, also getting bounced in OT the year before. Paladins last made the NCAA’s in 1980.

— ESPN carries lot of Mid-American Conference games on TV, mostly Friday nights; Toledo and Kent State are the favorites this year, along with Akron. 

Toledo is 14-6, 5-2 this year; they’ve got an older, experienced team with good continuity. Last three years, Toledo is 37-9 in MAC games, but they haven’t won the MAC tournament- their last NCAA appearance was 1980, just like Furman.

— MAAC tournament used to be here in Albany, but now they play it in Atlantic City, because they have casinos there. Not sure the league makes more $$$ this way, but some teams didn’t like playing the tournament on Siena’s home court every year.

Siena whacked Iona Friday night; they’re 8-2 in MAAC, just ahead of Rider, the team with the best experience/continuity numbers in the league. Iona has made five of last six NCAA’s, but they’re not as experienced this year, are 2-3 in their last five games. 

Quinnipiac has won six games in a row; they’re 15-5 as they try to make the NCAA’s for the first time. Mike Dunleavy’s son is the Bobcats’ coach. 

Tuesday’s Den: Early looks at the NCAA Tournament field……

— Big X— How good is the Big X this season? Bracketology has West Virginia listed as one of the last four teams in the Field of 68; they’re 1-6 in Big X play. Right now, Bracketology has eight of the ten Big X teams in the NCAA’s.

— Big 14— Bracketology has 10 of the 14 teams in the Field of 68:
1-seed– Purdue
5— Rutgers
6– Illinois
7— Iowa, Michigan State
9— Indiana
10— Maryland, Wisconsin
11— Ohio State
12— Northwestern

— SEC— Bracketology has five SEC teams in the field, with fading Arkansas as a 7-seed; they’re 2-5 in SEC games and have injury issues. Alabama/Tennessee are far and away the two best SEC teams this season. 

— Kentucky is a bubble team; they’ve won three games in a row, and play Kansas Saturday in the Big X/SEC Challenge, so a win there would likely get them off the bubble.Their loss to #244 South Carolina, just before they upset Tennessee, is a red flag on their resume.

— ACC— Bracketology has seven ACC teams in NCAA’s, but none higher than a 3-seed:
3-seed— Virginia
5— Miami, NC State
6— Duke
8— Clemson
9— North Carolina, Pittsburgh

— #1-seeds, to this point: Alabama, Houston, Kansas, Purdue— the last Bracketology was done before Houston lost at home to Temple Sunday. We’ll see if losing as a 20-point favorite knocks them out of a #1-seed, for now.

Only one #1-seed has ever lost in the first round of the tournament; after that, there isn’t much difference between play the 8-9 seed winner and the 7-10 winner in the second round. 

— #2-seeds, to this point: Arizona, Iowa State, Tennessee, UCLA— Tennessee/UCLA are best of this group. I’m thinking that UCLA will wind up as a #1-seed.

— Last four teams in; the two play-in games would be:
Ohio State-West Virginia and Northwestern-Oklahoma.

Northwestern had their last two games postponed by COVID-related issues, which complicates their situation.

— Mountain West— San Diego State/Boise State seem like they’re headed to the NCAA’s, with surging New Mexico listed as an 11-seed, which means they don’t have much margin for error.

This league is improved; their #7-rating this year (and last year) is highest league has been rated since 2013. UNLV is 1-6 in Mountain West, tied for last with Wyoming; they’re 11-1 in their non-conference games.

— Big East— Bracketology has five Big East teams in:
3-seed— Xavier
4— UConn, Marquette
6— Providence
8— Creighton

Doesn’t seem to be much bubble activity here; none of the other six Big East teams have a shot at an at-large bid- they’ll need to win the Big East Tournament to get in the NCAA’s.

— Pac-12— Bill Walton won’t like this, but Bracketology has three teams in: UCLA, Arizona and 10-seed Arizona State. They list the first eight teams outside the Field of 68; none of them are Pac-12 teams. Can USC/Utah get hot and out themselves on the bubble?

— AAC— Houston is a big fish in a small pond; they’ll either be a #1 or a #2-seed. Memphis is the only other AAC team that Bracketology has in the Field of 68, and they’re listed as an 11-seed, a bubble team. There are two Houston-Memphis games between now and the AAC tournament; Tigers would be well-served to at least split the pair.

Central Florida is listed as one of the last four out of the field.

— Atlantic 15— Last time this league had only one team in the NCAA’s? 2002, but they appear headed that way this season.

Bracketology has VCU as the lone A-15 team, but as a 12-seed, barely avoiding a play-in game. Dayton just lost to George Washington, the kind of loss that sends you to the NIT, unless you win the conference tournament.

— Championship Week is so much fun because all the other leagues are one-bid leagues, so their conference tournaments are essentially play-in events for the NCAA’s. has Florida Atlantic ranked as #36, Charleston as #73; they would be the two fascinating teams to watch if they got upset in their conference tournament. Would they get at-large spots, and knock power conference teams out of the field? 

Saturday’s Den: Notes on college basketball conference tournaments, and some other stuff

— For the first time since 1978, a reigning batting champion was traded in the offseason; Minnesota traded IF Luis Arraez to the Marlins, for P Pablo Lopez and two prospects.

Arraez hit .316 last year, scored 88 runs; he is expected to play second base for Miami. Lopez was 10-10, 3.75 in 32 starts last season.

Marlins plan to move Jazz Chisholm to CF, Juan Segura to 3B, Joey Wendle to SS; Arraez mostly played 1B last year, so spring training is going to include a lot of ground balls and work on defense. I have Miami’s star P Sandy Alcantara on my fantasy team; this makes me queasy.

By the way, Rod Carew was the last batting champion traded the following winter.

— If you like college basketball, ESPN+ is a must; they have games from all over the country, and you can watch replays of games. Have your remote handy though; some of the guys who broadcast these games aren’t exactly Jim Nantz or Mike Breen quality-wise. The mute button can be useful for some of these guys, but they’re all fun to watch.

I like watching games from the Big West or Conference USA, leagues that the main cable channels ignore.

— How come a lot of NBA players don’t play games on back/back nights, but there are college basketball refs who work 4-5 games a week? 

College basketball season runs roughly from November 10-March 15, when pairings for the NCAA Tournament come out. That would be 126 days; I’m looking at referee stats from a few years ago, and there were 16 officials who worked 90+ games that season. 

90 games in 126 games means that roughly, you work a game three out of four days for four months, and most referees are older than the average NBA player. 

— Florida Gators released QB Jaden Rashada from his Letter of Intent; this ends a recruitment that reportedly went south because of a botched $13M NIL deal offered by the Gator Collective, a third-party group that furnishes NIL deals for Florida.

— Michigan fired co-offensive coordinator and QB coach Matt Weiss, who was put on leave recently amid an investigation by university police into a report of computer access crimes. 

Industrial espionage in college football? Who knew?

— I’m wondering how much Danny DeVito gets paid for those Jersey Mike’s commercials, which seem to be on TV every half hour or so.

— We getting into late January, the conference races are heating up in college basketball. Here are some trends that deal with how teams do in conference tournaments:

— Gonzaga has won the WCC tournament nine of the last ten years; the one time they lost, it was to Saint Mary’s.

— Clemson is 15-4, 7-1 in ACC this season; since 2003, they’re 8-19 in ACC tournament games, with 2008 the only time during that time that they’ve won more than one game in an ACC tournament.

— Richmond won the Atlantic 10 tournament LY; before that, from 2012-21, Spiders were a combined 5-9 in A-10 tourney games. League seems to be wide open this season. 

— In the Sun Belt, Texas State was 37-13 in conference games the last three years, but only 1-2 in Sun Belt tourney games; they won a game in the ’20 tournament before COVID ended things, then they lost in the first round the last two years. Bobcats are 10-10, 3-4 this season; curious to see how they’ll do in a league that is very wide-open this year.

— Houston Cougars are 10-2 in last four AAC tournaments, winning the title the last two years with five of those six wins by 13+ points.

— Villanova is down this year with Jay Wright gone; they’re 10-10, 4-5, not looking like an NCAA Tournament team, but the Wildcats are 17-2 in last seven Big East tournaments, winning it five times.

Last five years, Xavier is 2-5 in the Big East tournament; four of the five losses came in overtime. Sean Miller has the Musketeers at 15-4 in his first season back in Cincinnati; maybe this is their year to turn that stat around. 

— Surprising stat: Last time Indiana finished over .500 in the Big 14 was seven years ago, when they went 15-3 in conference play. Since 2004, Hoosiers are only 9-18 in the conference tournament. 

Saturday’s Den: My 13 favorite Batman (TV) villains

13) Chandell (Liberace)— The gifted piano player was both Chandell (the piano player) and his twin brother Harry who it turns out, was the real villain. 

Trivia: Two Batman villains also had roles in Magnum PI; Howard Duff (Cabala) played Magnum’s grandfather. Barbara Rush (Nora Clavicle) played Magnum’s Aunt Phoebe, a playwright who had Alzheimer’s, and was also in another earlier episode. 

12) Bookworm (Roddy McDowell)— Appeared in two episodes; Bookworm’s crimes were inspired by literary works, well, because he likes books.

McDowell also appeared in the Batman animated series in the early 90’s.

11) Colonel Gumm (Roger C Carmel)— He loved the color pink and was obsessed with stamps; Colonel Gumm appeared in the two-episode crossover with The Green Hornet, with Bruce Lee as Kato and Van Williams as the Green Hornet. 

Trivia: There were three different Mr Freeze’s; Eli Wallach, Otto Preminger, George Sanders. 

10) Siren (Joan Collins)— Played a sidekick to The Riddler’s devious plan to take over Gotham City’s boxing industry, but she also wanted to uncover Batman’s true identity. 

9) The Archer (Art Carney)— Ed Norton from The Honeymooners was also a Batman villain!!! 

Archer’s character was based (loosely) on Robin Hood; his henchmen were Maid Marilyn, Big John, and Crier Tuck.

8) King Tut (Victor Buono)— Appeared in eight episodes; Buono supposedly loved playing the character because it allowed him the chance to overact, one of the aspects of the character that made King Tut so beloved by fans. 

7) Marsha, Queen of Diamonds (Carolyn Jones)— Better known for playing Morticia Addams on The Addams Family, Ms Jones was in five episodes of Batman, joining Addams Family cast members John Astin, Ted Cassidy in making Batman appearances.

6) Egghead (Vincent Price)— When I was a kid, would often substitute (eggs-ellent) for excellent when talking to my family. For a little kid, that was eggs-citing. Vincent Price was awesome in this role, an egg-centric guy with a very strangely-shaped head. 

5) Mad Hatter (David Wayne)— This villain was obsessed with getting his hands on Batman’s cowl, which of course didn’t happen. 

Wayne also appeared in four movies with Marilyn Monroe. 

4) Penguin (Burgess Meredith)—Is more famous for playing Rocky Balboa’s trainer Mickey, but Meredith appeared in 20 Batman episodes, most of any villain. 

3) Catwoman (Julie Newmar)— Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt also played Catwoman, but Julie Newman was the best of the three; she was 5-11, a prima ballerina for the Los Angeles Opera who graduated high school when she was 15. 

in 2004, her next-door neighbor Jim Belushi sued her for $4M alleging harassment and defamation of character, as a result of a dispute over leaf-blowing. 

2) Joker (Cesar Romero)— Appeared in 19 episodes, 2nd-most of any villain. Romero refused to shave his mustache and you can see it under his white face paint. 

Romero had a long, excellent career; he appeared in the first Oceans Eleven (1960). 

1) Riddler (Frank Gorshin)— No one wore the green body suit with the big ???’s on it better than Gorshin, who had a long career as a TV guest star, appearing in CSI, Wonder Woman and the original Hawaii Five-O, among many other shows. 

John Astin played The Riddler for two episodes, but of course he was way more famous as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family.

Sunday’s Den: Happy New Year, everyone……

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Hopefully, 2023 will be an excellent year for all of us. Let’s try to be nicer to each other this year. Seriously. 

TCU 51, Michigan 45
— TCU led 21-6 at halftime; Michigan scored 39 points in 2nd half, and still lost.
— TCU was 8-16 on third down, Wolverines were 3-13.
— Both teams turned the ball over three times.
— Horned Frogs scored 34+ points in 11 of 14 games this season.  

— Michigan lost its last six bowls (they were favored in 4 of the 6)

Georgia 42, Ohio State 41
— Ohio State led 38-24 after the third quarter.
— Dawgs drove 72 yards, scored game-winning TD with 0:54 left.
— Both teams averaged over 10 yards/pass attempt.
— Georgia gained 533 yards, converted only 2-10 on third down.
— Buckeyes were 11-0, then gave up 45-42 points in losing last two games.

— This game ended just after midnight; damn near had a heart attack when some of my neighbors shot off fireworks as midnight struck.

Iowa 21, Kentucky 0
— Iowa scored two defensive TD’s; their offense scored once.
— Neither team scored in the second half.
— Iowa was 0-11 on third down, Wildcats were 2-18 (3-5 on 4th)
— Hawkeyes won five of last six games, after a 3-4 start. 
— This game had lowest total of any game in last 25 years, still stayed under.

Alabama 45, Kansas State 20
— Alabama QB Young was 15-21/321 passing, with 5 TD’s.
— Crimson Tide ran 55 plays for 496 yards (9.0 yards/play)
— Alabama won its last four games, scoring 30-34-49-45 points.
— Alabama has 75 players who were 4 or 5-star recruits; K-State has 3.
— Crimson Tide won five of its last seven bowls. 

Xavier 83, UConn 73— Huskies lost their first game this year; they were 4-9 on the foul line, Xavier was 23-28. UConn led by 7, early in second half.

Arizona 69, Arizona State 60— Arizona was 24-28 on foul line, Sun Devils were 7-10.

Rough day with the referees for the two Hurley brothers.

Marquette 68, Villanova 66— Villanova was 12-33 on the arc, 12-24 inside arc. Harder to win consistently shooting so many 3’s. Marquette is shooting 60.3% inside the arc (#4).

New Mexico 76, Wyoming 75— Wyoming led by 11 early on, but Lobos get good road win and improve to 14-0. New Mexico/Purdue are the only two unbeaten teams in the country.

— Watched The Natural on TV the other night; no idea how many times I’ve seen that movie, has to be more than 50-60 times, but until the other night I had no idea that Randy Newman did the music in that movie. You learn something every day.

— 3B Evan Longoria signed a one-year, $4M deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. 37-year old Longoria hasn’t played 100+ games in a season since 2019; he hit .244 with 14 HR’s for the Giants last year.

— Say you owned the Baltimore Ravens; you’re really, really rich, the Ravens are usually a good team, but you have this pivotal decision to make in a couple months.

Lamar Jackson’s contract is up; do you shell out huge money for a QB with a 46-19 career record (1-3 in playoffs)? Jackson missed five games last year, including weeks 15-18; he also missed the last four games this season— he’s missed nine of the Ravens’ last 32 games.

Interesting decision; earlier this season I said I’d pay Jackson the big bucks, but now I’m queasy about that. The best ability is availability, you know what I mean?

— David Blough is starting at QB for Arizona Sunday; he’ll be the 64th different QB to start an NFL game this season, the most of any season since the 1987 strike season.

— Early line on the college football national title game: Georgia (-13.5) vs TCU