ODACcess: Jack Buck Wouldn’t Believe It (Roanoke @ Eastern Mennonite)

HARRISONBURG, Va. — During our discussions of the Project over the course of our everyday lives, we realized that, while we had seen excellent basketball, none of the games we had covered had been truly close. Plenty had been competitive, with one team within striking distance of the other for much the game, but that is not what we mean by close. A truly close game is exhilarating, hair-raising, and the buzz in the building is almost indescribable. This was one of those games.

Of all the schools in the ODAC, Eastern Mennonite was the only school we had yet to see in our travels, which meant we didn’t exactly know what to expect from the Royals. They’d beaten the teams they were supposed to, and lost to the teams they weren’t, and found themselves slotted into the middle of the pack with a 5-4 conference record.

Eastern Mennonite takes their halftime warmups
We had, however, visited Roanoke for “Maroon Madness”, when they gave front-running Randolph-Macon a run for their money in front of a boisterous crowd. They had backed up that strong performance with a home victory over Washington and Lee, and were coming into Yoder Arena on something of a roll.

After a stop at Jess’ Quick Lunch in downtown Harrisonburg, we made our way (slightly delayed) to Yoder Arena. The game was already heated when we found seats in the visitors’ fan section behind the RC bench. Both teams were playing extremely quick basketball, and playing it efficiently: based on our hasty halftime calculation, they each possessed the ball approximately 45 times. The Royals, in particular, lived up to their “Runnin’” nickname, moving up the floor quickly, and making athletic moves to the basket, highlighted by David Falk and James Williams. Roanoke, on the other hand, employed their standard offense, taking advantage of center Daniel Eacho’s size to create high-percentage shots in the post. The two styles, and the speed of the game, made for an excellent and competitive first half, and the fans (both home and visitor) were appreciative as the teams went to break with RC holding a 44-43 lead.

The scoreboard at halftime

The pace slowed slightly in the second half, but the level of play never slackened. For the course of the half, neither team opened more than a 6 point edge, and they traded shot for shot, layup for layup, and free throw for free throw. EMU jumped out in front early, but soon cooled off, allowing Julian Ramirez to score 6 points as part of a 15-6 Maroons run to take a 59-53 lead. It seemed that RC was set to take control, but EMU had other ideas. David Falk unleashed a tremendous dunk as part of the Royals’ response, followed up by a triple from Ryan Yates. At the 11:54 mark, they retook the lead from the Maroons by a score of 63-62.

The pace began to pick back up, and the teams continued to show off their ability to create acrobatic shots, and draw the fouls. Notably, Daniel Eacho and Julian Ramirez picked up four and three fouls respectively in the half, but countered that with 23 points between them.

Daniel Eacho prepares to play defense after a score

No matter where the players shot from, they seemed able to find the net. They continued this high-paced, back-and-forth play, with the lead either way only once three points, and with 1:48 left, after Ryan Yates missed a three-pointer for the Royals, the Maroons had a 83-82 lead, and a chance to extend their lead.

That’s when the madness began. EMU’s played stout defense, knowing that they needed a stop, or it might be over. The shot clock hit six and Andrew Daniels realized he was short on time, and threw up a NBA-range three that banked in. 86-82 Maroons, with 1:06 on the clock, and EMU called time out to regroup. Out of the break, EMU moved with purpose the floor, and scored on a quick Marcel Crump layup. EMU’s defense set out to force a turnover, but the Maroons got it across the floor. But wait…a travel is called on ‘Noke’s Cameron Smith with 30 ticks left, keeping the Royals’ hopes alive!
Off the turnover, Crump had an attempt at a game-tying jumper, but Smith redeemed himself with a block and rebound. He was quickly fouled, and went to the line for a one-and-one to try and seal it for the Maroons with 15 seconds on the clock. The Maroons opted to play back instead of defending the front end, but nonetheless Marcel Crump was able to take the bounce off the front of the rim, run the floor and find RJ Sims for the open, go-ahead three. 87-86 Royals, nine seconds left. Time for RC to call its last timeout and draw up its last play.
Except the Maroons didn’t call timeout. Instead, they ran the floor and found John Fitchett, who had had an otherwise unremarkable day, in the paint, and he drained a half-floater, half-layup with 2.4 seconds, making the Maroons fans that surrounded us lose their minds.

John Fitchett (Roanoke, #25) hits a go-ahead jumper with 2.4 seconds left

The Quakers quickly inbounded, but then the clock stopped before the final shot, causing confusion around the gym. Did the clock operator forget to turn the clock on? Was the game over? Nearby Maroon fans certainly thought it was, but it turned out that the EMU bench managed to call a timeout before the inbounds, allowing Coach Kirby Dean to draw up a play.
It was only fitting for this game to end the way it did: by taking a turn for the surreal. Attempting to inbound the ball, EMU’s inbounder tried to pass to a teammate behind the baseline, to allow him to get a better read of the court before inbounding. Instead, the teammate caught the ball in midair milliseconds before landing out of bounds, resulting in an inbounds violation and a turnover and allowing the Maroons to run out the brief time left on the clock on their third conference win of the year.
When we spoke with Dave McHugh on his marathon session of Hoopsville, we mentioned that the level of play in the ODAC was incredibly high. This was the kind of game that exemplifies that, the kind of game that sticks with you, and the kind of game that makes you excited for the next one.

Final: Roanoke Maroons (9-9, 3-7 ODAC) 88, Eastern Mennonite Royals (10-9, 5-5 ODAC) 87
Player of the Game: Daniel Eacho (Roanoke, 24 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks)
Honorable Mention: David Falk (EMU, 22 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 steal)
Relive the game from our seats: check out our photos on Flickr and our @ODACcess livestream on Storify
Mileage Tracker: 1864 miles
Next Stop: Randolph-Macon at Emory and Henry, February 8

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 9

The carnage continues… or at least those who I don’t expect to be losing games are still losing. It was another week of head-scratching games and plenty of questions who should be in the Top 25. It also raised questions about teams I was pretty confident in or had moved up recently due to other data. It has been a wacky year to be sure with plenty of good teams to consider. Usually by this point in time you have a pretty good handle on who should be in the Top 25 and have a few that are just on the outside. However, this year I think the bottom half is a pick ’em and there are a number of teams I am considering that aren’t on my ballot.

If you will remember, last week I blew up my ballot and practically started over. I am certainly not doing that this week, but three teams dropped out of my poll with two more giving me plenty of reasons to drop them as well. That meant three new teams with one making a significant jump when I looked at their data and what they had been doing recently. I would say I am looking forward to things settling down, but the way things are shaping up, the next three weeks are going to be anything but settled.

Here is my ballot for this week’s Top 25:

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)
They got a good win against Gwynedd-Mercy and then rallied against an improved Rosemount squad while playing without one of the best players this season: Aaron Walton-Moss. Unfortunately, their game against Wesley for Monday was postponed due to weather for the second time this season and it is not looking good that it can be rescheduled. That will mean both teams and plenty of Division III fans will be missing out on one of the best games of the regular season.

3 – WPI (Up 1)

4 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 1)

5 – Wash U. (Up 2)

6 – Wooster (Down 1)
The Scots are struggling it seems right now, though their only loss this past week was to a surging Ohio Wesleyan squad. I still think Wooster is one of the best teams in the country, but they have to get things tidied up in the coming weeks so they can position themselves well for the NCAA tournament.

7 – Wesley (Up 1)
The Wolverines are taking on all comers and winning the games they need to. Unfortunately, their game against Cabrini was once again postponed. I think they will do their best to find a date that works since it is an important game for SOS, vRRO, and other factors for both teams. However, even if they don’t get the game rescheduled, Wesley has a tough challenge ahead. They have Mary Washington, Christopher Newport, and St. Mary’s still to play in their final six conference games (only Mary Washington is on the road), so they have to take care of business in one of the toughest finishes in the country.

8 – UW-Whitewater (Up 1)
The Warhawks are quietly playing very, very good basketball. Wednesday’s rematch with UW-Stevens Point looms large, especially since coach Pat Miller will be off the bench due to surgery and former Pointer great Nick Bennett will coach UWW against his former team. I will have the chips and beer ready for Wednesday night!

9 – Amherst (Down 6)
Could the Lord Jeffs been looking ahead to their game against Bowdoin when they lost to Colby on Friday night? Who knows, but it was not a good result for a team who many claim is on track to another national title. As one Amherst alum put it to me, it was their worst loss in four years. Hats off to the Mules for pulling off the upset, but Amherst showed a lot of problems in that game and then scratched out a win against Bowdoin. I wonder if the Colby game (along with Emerson earlier this season) reveals more issues at Amherst then even their fans want to admit.

10 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

11 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

12 – Mary Washington (Unchanged)

13 – Williams (Up 1)

14 – Brockport State (Up 1)

15 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 5)
I think the Battling Bishops are making a statement at the perfect time of the year. When I talked to coach Mike DeWitt at the beginning of the season, he indicated he didn’t think his team was the third best in the conference (as voted on by the coaches in the preseason poll) at the time. Now they look like they may be the best team in the conference. Big win over Wooster, but they have to stay focused with a struggling, but dangerous, Wittenberg squad next and DePauw in the last game of the season.

16 – Messiah (Unchanged)

17 – Randolph-Macon (Unranked)
Here come the Yellow Jackets once again, only this time they are on top of the ODAC. Remember how RMC made the NCAA tournament thanks in part to the best SOS numbers in the country and a ton (almost all) of their games featured those who had been regionally ranked (maybe one of the reasons the “once ranked, always ranked” rule was changed). Coach Nathan Davis once again has his team rolling and with wins over Virginia-Wesleyan, Hampden-Sydney, and Guilford in the last four games (did you see the Guilford score? 103-58!!!). The last time the Yellow-Jackets lost was on December 18 in a close game at Cabrini. I am not sure why I have been sleeping on this squad for so long.

18 – Bowdoin (Unchanged)
Unlike some voters, I don’t knock teams if they lose to teams I have ranked ahead of them. Isn’t that what my ranking indicates would happen? If #18 losses to then #3, then I shouldn’t demote #18 for the loss. Bowdoin dropped their game to Amherst, but by just three points. The Polar Bears are positioning themselves to host at least the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament and that could make them dangerous.

19 – Virginia Wesleyan (Up 4)
I am going to start calling the Marlins the Yo-Yos. They keep going up and down my ballot as a rough week is followed by a good week. A convincing win over Lynchburg was a very nice outcome and keeps them near the top with Hampden-Sydney and Guilford still to play in the regular season.

20 – Texas-Dallas (Down 3)
Welcome to my Top 25… and now lose. Not what I had hoped from the Comets thanks to a loss to Hardin-Simmons, but it is only their second loss of the season, so I am not willing to drop them completely from my ballot. They are controlling the ASC by three games and just need to play consistently good basketball the rest of the way.

21 – Whitworth (Up 4)

22 – Centre (Unranked)
I have been watching the Colonels for a few weeks as they have been playing better and better basketball, probably living up to some of the preseason expectations. Nine straight wins and an SOS that looks pretty solid has me jumping on the bandwagon. Of course as luck would have it, they have a game against Oglethorpe coming up on Friday. I know they beat the Stormy Petrels nearly two weeks ago, but that result will probably have no bearing on this game.

23 – Eastern Connecticut (Unranked)
Here is another team I have been watching for a few weeks. The Warriors have won eight of their nine games in 2014 (only loss to Amherst) and have a surprisingly good SOS number. They are in control of their own destiny in the Little East and probably on track to make a reappearance in the NCAA tournament.

24 – Oglethorpe (Down 5)
This drop is probably a bit steeper than I normally would have for a single loss in a week, but their loss to Birmingham-Southern put them in a tie for second place with BSC, two games behind Centre. Also, I was going to move them down and because they lost at home earlier this season to Centre, I had to move them somewhere behind the Colonels.

25 – Augustana (Down 12)
I seriously considered dropping the Vikings completely from my Top 25. They have lost three straight, albeit one of them to Wheaton (Ill.). However, the other two are to teams behind them in the CCIW and now Augustana finds itself two games back of the conference leaders two of those top dogs (Illinois Wesleyan and Carthage) to play in the next two games. If the Vikings don’t turn the ship around quickly, they could be out of the CCIW playoff race and thus out of consideration for the NCAA tournament.

Dropped out:

St. Mary’s (Md.) (Previously 21)
The newly revamped CAC has caused major problems for the Seahawks. Normally a loss to Salisbury late in the season wouldn’t be a big deal, but now SMC has five losses on the season with three of those losses coming to conference opponents. The Seahawks have Mary Washington, Christopher Newport, and Wesley in their final six games and cannot afford another loss if they still want to make the NCAA tournament. If SMC doesn’t win the automatic qualifier for the conference, that means they have taken at least one more loss in the conference tournament assuming they haven’t dropped at least one game against the previously mentioned three teams. The Seahawks are on very thin ice which could have a perennial favorite to make deep runs in the NCAA tournament watching 62 others teams play basketball.

DePauw (Previously 22)
The Tigers were surging until they apparently forgot they were playing Denison and Oberlin this past week. They barely got past Denison and then dropped their game against Oberlin. DePauw has proven they can beat Wittenberg and Wooster, but they have to play everyone well or they aren’t a Top 25 team.

Dickinson (Previously 24)
The Red Devils have found the worst time of the year to pick up conference losses. Their second in as many weeks was to Muhlenberg leaving them just a game ahead of McDaniel and Franklin & Marshall when they had been in control of the Centennial Conference. The conference is more competitive at the top than expected, but that may have more to do with Dickinson coming back to the group leaving the chance of an extra bid from this conference looking doubtful.

Other ballots:
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 3
Week 1

* – SOS numbers are from information sent to me by our friend KnightSlappy (alias on the D3boards).