Winning ugly is still winning
Is it possible to have a quiet 9-0 start in college basketball? That seems to be the case with the New Mexico Lobos. Steve Alford's team has pushed up to #18 in the AP poll and done so like a burglar slipping in the backdoor.
That can be attributed to the workmanlike fashion of how New Mexico has gone about its business. There's not a whole lot of flash to the Lobos' body of work and from a statistical standpoint things have been, well, a little ugly.
No Lobo is averaging more than 14.1 ppg (that's Kendall Williams leading the way) and the team field goal percentage is next to last in the Mountain West at just under 43%. More alarming, the team's turnover margin is an awful -0.8.
But good things happen to teams that hit their free throws, and that's what New Mexico does. The Lobos are making their charity stripe attempts at a 79% clip, a figure that ranks third nationally.
Perhaps New Mexico's biggest strength so far is its all hands on deck mentality. When Williams couldn't hit a field goal attempt against Mercer, Alex Kirk came through with a double-double in the 76-58 victory. On the flip side, you had Kirk being a non-factor against Indiana State but Williams dropping in 24 in the 77-68 win.
Looking forward, this is a team that has a better than average chance of being 13-0 heading into a December 27 tilt with Cincinnati. A win there and against Saint Louis on the return trip to Albuquerque would be a very nice springboard heading into a brutal Mountain West slate.
Don't sleep on Dayton
While I was scanning the upcoming weekend's slate of games I stumbled onto an interesting factoid: Dayton and Miami (OH) will renew acquaintances on Saturday and will do so for the 130th time. Man, that's a lot of hoops (with Dayton leading the series by a 68-61 count).
Dayton is a flat out fascinating team to me, I didn't necessarily agree with pundits who had this squad floating around 10th in the A-10 in preseason previews. I'm like a degnerate old gambler at Aqueduct trying to find longshot horses to bet on: I love picking sleepers.
And I loved the look and feel of this Dayton team as a sleeper. Then senior co-captain Matt Kavanaugh was suspended for the season. Hey, it didn't help the cause but it's not the end of the world, teams have weathered bigger losses than not being without the services of a scrappy center.
As the early portion of the season has unfolded the Kavanaugh-less Flyers have provided some eyebrow raising moments but nothing on the level of losing to Chaminade ($1 to Rick Barnes) or Bryant ($1 to Steve Donahue). It's by no means been a roller coaster ride.
Losing to Colorado by 10 this season? Not a crime. Beating Auburn by 10 this season? Yes, that's exactly what a decent team should do. Only generating five bench points in an upset loss at home to Weber State? Mama said there'd be days like those. Nice road win at Alabama? You can hang your hat on that one.
So heading into this tilt with the RedHawks there's more good than bad for the 6-2 Flyers. Point guard Kevin Dillard has thus far lived up to his first team preseason All-Atlantic 10 selection, dropping a career high 25 in that victory over the Tide. And Georgetown transfer Vee Sanford looks like he's starting to heat up.
Look, I'm still all in on this bunch, with a rolled up racing form in my hand as I implore them through this four-game homestand that ends with a visit from Murray State on December 22. Mark that one on your calendars.
I was touting John Groce during his time at Ohio and he's got Illinois rolling. A road win over Gonzaga this weekend and the Illini will crack the top ten....As of this writing only one Big South team, Radford, has a winning record (5-4). But keep an eye on Gardner-Webb in conference season....Call me crazy but Bucknell's Mike Muscala might be a mid-1st round NBA draft pick before it's all said and done. The 6'11" senior has a nice inside-outside game, but for his stock to go up he needs to get a lot stronger....In case you missed it, the Hornet's Nest Trophy is staying with the Charlotte 49ers by virtue of 73-69 win over Davidson. The 49ers are now a perfect 8-0 on the season heading into a meeting with Central Michigan.