Most sports writers with a recurring column, regardless of sport, probably write about the Super Bowl in the beginning of said column. Instead, allow me to share something way more important—a text I got from my dad:
“Did u (my dad still uses “u” and other classic abbreviations in his texts, but uses correct punctuations and capitalizations the rest of the time) see the Purdue-Maryland game today? Last 2.1 seconds, Purdue up by 1. Maryland inbounds the ball and overthrows their big man. Purdue’s big catches the ball and indicates the game is over and takes a step without dribbling. Ref calls traveling. They put 0.5 sec on the clock and Maryland gets the ball on their end. Fortunately for Purdue, Maryland missed the shot they got off.” —Keith Lay— my dad, an engineer and the guy who still beats me in one-on-one at the age of 52. My dad recognizes several important things in this text:
a.) I was out of town and unable to watch basketball so he hit me with a play-by-play of the craziest game of the weekend
b.) He demonstrates how insane the end of the game was with no exclamation points or anything. He uses pure facts because the facts are enough in a game that played out like the end of season two of The O.C. (go ahead and watch the scene. I can wait).
c.) Basketball at it’s best can leave an audience stunned and thinking, “Mmmm, whatcha say?” (look up SNL’s parody of The O.C. scene. Trust me.), allow a player to completely takeover, and has more action than football and all of its breaks. That’s why we still haven’t talked about the Super Bowl.
d.) Can you imagine what would happen to Isaac Haas (the guy who traveled) if they lost? I was nervous for the kid while reading the text from my dad and let out a sigh of relief when I realized Purdue still won.
Anyway, on to the power rankings:
12. Mississippi College 4-16 (1-15 in GSC)
11. Lee 9-13 (5-11 in GSC)
10. West Georgia 8-13 (5-10 in GSC)
9. West Alabama 9-12 (4-11 in GSC)
West Alabama is struggling but they have one thing to their advantage—they slow teams down and force them to grind out every game. Their problem is offense. They have the least efficient offense in the Gulf South—even worse than a team that once couldn’t make a three in a game.
They rank first in defensive efficiency, allowing only 96.6 points per possession, but they are last in field goal percentage (40.9) and second to last in three point percentage (29.1). Their defense, desire and ability to slow down games appears to be more of a ploy to keep games close to see if they can eek one out instead of a way to beat their opponents down and win.
If they could find a way to have even an average offense this team would be a tough out every game, but instead it feels like they’ve given up on scoring. Instead of scoring as much as they can, they just want their opponents to have bad nights and hope they can string together enough stops to win because of their incredible ability to get to and convert shots at free throw line. This type of grind-it-out defensive strategy works for the University of Virginia and Tony Bennett because they are so disciplined on the offensive side of the ball. Having a future NBA player in Malcolm Brogdon for several years as well as players that have been in the system for a long enough time to run plays in their sleep doesn’t hurt either. West Alabama doesn’t have that type of consistency yet. In a couple years if they can recruit well and figure out a competent offense maybe they can be the UVA of Division II.
8. North Alabama 12-10 (7-9 in GSC)
7. Shorter 14-8 (8-8 in GSC)
6. Union 13-9 (8-8 in GSC)
5. West Florida 14-7 (9-7 in GSC)
4. Christian Brothers 14-8 (11-5 in GSC)
3. Delta State 16-6 (11-5 in GSC)
I don’t know if I believe fully in this Delta State team because of the way their best player, Devin Schmidt, takes all the shots and only hits 36.5 percent of them. He does get to the free throw line a lot too, but he just seems to be fairly inefficient with the way he plays. However, the team plays great defense—they’re second in defensive efficiency allowing just 99.6 points per 100 possessions— while still possessing an offense that ranks seventh in offensive efficiency. Due to their great defense and capable offense they beat down teams and can score with them as well.
Schmidt gives them the kind of go-to player teams need in big games and postseason play too, which will make them deadly in March.
2. Valdosta State 18-4 (13-3 in GSC)
1. Alabama-Huntsville 17-5 (13-3 in GSC)
Either of the top two teams could be considered number one, but UAH gets the edge due to the fact that they still have the most experienced players and probably the best player in Seab Webster. He’s is the kind of polished, strong and experienced that makes keeps coaches up at night as they try to game-plan for him.
The other scary thing about this team is the way they play 11 guys in every game and all of but one of them shoot above 40 percent and are effective in their own ways. That depth helps the best players get rests in-game so they can play harder, it keeps all the players healthier by limiting their minutes and it makes opposing teams prepare for an extra two or three guys than they’re used to. When UAH, most likely, cuts down their rotation to eight or nine guys toward the end of the season or during the postseason they will be more rested and have less bruises and scrapes than basically everyone else which will allow Webster to pummel opponents into submission with his strong body and ability to do almost everything on the court.
Valdosta State leads the conference in points per game and has five players that average more than 11 points a game. That is insane, and scary for teams trying to figure out how to shut them down. I was initially going to put them on top of the rankings, but they lost to Delta State by 14 and squeaked by Mississippi College 100-98 this week. Since they’ve come out of nowhere this year after finishing sixth in the conference last year, I have trouble discerning if this success is due to an incredible jump in ability, luck or some combination of the two. Also, in a much more unscientific way, UAH beat Valdosta State 82-72 at Valdosta this season.