Mercer-FGCU showdown may be epic

Macon TelegraphJanuary 20, 2014 

            Oh yeah, it's time.

            One of the bigger regular-season conference games in recent A-Sun history awaits, in Macon.

            On Thursday.

            Mercer lost two home games in 2011-12. One? To Florida Gulf Coast, in the A-Sun tournament semifinals.

            At Mercer.

            Mercer lost one home game in all of 2012-13. To? Florida Gulf Coast, in the A-Sun tournament championship.

            At Mercer.

            Ouch.

            The latest was particularly galling for the Bears, winners of the regular-season championship and just hankering to get over the NCAA tournament hump for the first time since 1985. Two great seasons in a row, and Florida Gulf Coast, which was more the a decade away from birth and admitting a student in 1985, and which was in its second season of NCAA and conference postseason eligibility since moving up from Division II.

            Good grief, second year in Division I, and the Eagles boogie to the dance and hang around.

            For two weeks, it was as if the Bears were dunked on again as the Eagles' Dunk City enraptured college basketball.

            Mercer had a nice run in the NIT, and got some nice words. But all the Bears got were reminders about who was dancing the month fantastic.

            This Mercer senior class, maybe the best senior class of any sport in school history, erased one "never" when it won at Jacksonville for the first time to end 2013, and in dominating fashion.

            The next "never" won't be on the horizon until March and the conference tournament. But first ...

            If they say Thursday night is barely more than just the next game on the schedule, they're fibbing.

            That 13-point loss last March left a mark that's still figuratively visible. It happened in Mercer's living room, and the Bears can't look at things the same way until revenge has been satisfied.

            Mercer was the best team in the A-Sun last year, and had to settle. The Bears are by far the best team in the A-Sun this year, and Thursday is their first chance to make that statement more concrete.

            Welcome to tournament basketball in mid-January.

RPI watch

                        NCAA's are updated as of last Monday, CBS and ESPN at 11 p.m. Sunday.

Team                        NCAA CBS   ESPN

Mercer                         84       67       70

USC Upstate                 184    212    213

North Florida                206    181    191

 

FGCU                          212    189    191

ETSU                           223    246    243

Northern Ky.                 263    258    258

Lipscomb                      265    279    284

Kennesaw State            286    297    309

Jacksonville                 301    297    300

Stetson                        344    333    333

            Mercer dropped five spots from the Jan. 10 NCAA RPI to Jan. 13, and moved up from 77-67 during the week in CBS Sports and 13 in ESPN.

            North Florida jumped 8 and FGCU jumped 10 spots in CBS and Upstate dropped 18 spots. Man, the Spartans are crumbling and Ospreys are movin' on up.

            FGCU will finally be under 200 for all, as will North Florida.

            The teams that can help Mercer's RPI the rest of the season: No. 25 Oklahoma, No.  56 Texas, No. 70 Ohio.

            Mercer’s non-conference Division I opponents aren’t having normal years, especially Valparaiso. But Mercer’s RPI can go up a little if those teams, in higher-rated conferences, keep winning.

News 'n Notes

            Oops: Radford's game notes list the Highlanders' record against Division I conferences.

            They missed the A-Sun on the list. Played Florida Gulf Coast, which earned a smidge of national attention last year, and they didn't realize ...?

             Goodness gracious. ...

            WarrenNolan.com has Mercer's non-conference strength of schedule as 100th entering the Lipscomb game, and 192nd overall. ESPN has it 98th and 238th....

            Don't look now, but Georgia State is doing well at something.

            The men's basketball team is 12-6 overall and leads the Sun Belt at 5-0. ...

            Note: Ike Nwamu's new team (Mercer) is one spot better in the NCAA RPI than his old team (Cleveland State). ...

            As of Jan. 16, more than two months before the NCAA tournament starts, ESPN's Joe Lunardi projects Mercer as 13th seed playing Creighton in San Diego.

            The previous two weeks, he had Mercer out and FGCU in a play-in game against Hampton or Norfolk State.

            Hmm. Technology is somethin'. ...

            Four Big South teams have played four non-Division I opponents, and two Southern Conference teams have. The Citadel, New Orleans and Campbell have lost to a non-Division I. ...

            Ah, finally the SIAC took a peek at the standings on the website and fixed it. After being advised it might should take a peek at its website. Again. ...

            Lunardi has Georgia State at a 15 seed facing Florida. The Southern Conference's rep in the latest Bracketology is Chattanooga in a play-in.

Said it before, will say it again: going to the Southern Conference isn’t anywhere near the step up it’s perceived to be, and that will show soon enough. Conversely, playing weaker competition will be good for Mercer in basketball, baseball and softball.  

 

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