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The Star-Crossed Seven: Delta Devils snag first win, six others remain winless

Playing one of the most grueling early season schedules in college hoops — a travel-heavy schedule that includes playing its first seven games and twelve of its first thirteen contests on the road — Mississippi Valley State (1-7) snagged its first win of the year on Saturday when it defeated tiny North American University 124-70 in its only home game thus far of the young season. 

North American University, a small Houston-based school in the process of joining the NAIA with plans to eventually compete in the Red River Conference — a ten-team conference featuring nationally-ranked LSU Shreveport and LSU Alexandria — was just what the victory-starved Delta Devils needed.

It’s been a rough start for MVSU, whose early season losses included a 143-49 drubbing at the hands of Utah in Salt Lake City.  The 94-point margin was the largest between two Div. I teams in NCAA history, prompting some to ridiculously opine that college basketball might need a mercy rule. 

Humbled by the overwhelming defeat, Mississippi Valley’s first-year head coach Lindsey Hunter, a former Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Player of the Year and 17-year NBA veteran, showed an extraordinary amount of class in accepting the record-setting spanking. 

“They’re a great team,” he graciously told reporters.  “Tip your hat to them, they’re a great team.”

Two days later, Hunter’s road-weary squad was pummeled by high-scoring Central Michigan 134-78 in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.  The 134 points scored by the fast-paced Chippewas, who outrebounded the Delta Devils 60-37, set a new program record.

Central Michigan knew that the Delta Devils were probably tired and looked to take advantage of that. 

“We knew they played Tuesday and Friday on the road, so that’s a lot of traveling,” said CMU forward David DiLeo, a 6-8 senior from Iowa City who’s averaging 14.8 points per game.  “It was a quick turnaround for them.  They could be (playing with) some tired legs so we were looking to run in transition early and get the game going up and down.”

They certainly did.

It was Mississippi Valley State’s second-worst setback of the season and the third of five games which they lost by thirty or more points.  They’re currently last in Division I, giving up a staggering 101.6 points per outing.

The road ahead doesn’t look much brighter for Hunter’s squad, at least through the holidays.  A member of the SWAC which finished a dismal 6-26 a year ago, Mississippi Valley plays at Missouri State on Friday, followed by consecutive road games at Miami (Ohio), Wright State, Santa Clara and Cal Baptist before beginning conference play against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on January 4th

Like Mississippi Valley State, the UAPB Golden Lions (1-5) also opened the season with an unfathomably difficult schedule, playing eleven of their first dozen games on the road.

While the Delta Devils posted their first win this past weekend, a half-dozen other Division I teams are still looking for their first “W” of the 2019-20 season.

Two of them — Houston Baptist and Maryland-Eastern Shore — came up empty again on Tuesday night with HBU being drubbed 99-68 by the Atlantic 10’s seventeenth-ranked Dayton Flyers (6-1) and UMES suffering a similar fate in being battered 78-46 by No. 18 Baylor (6-1).

Houston Baptist (0-6), a member of the Southland Conference, lost its first six games this season by an average of 27.3 points, but — much to its credit — did put up a spirited fight against a pretty good Tulsa team in its Nov. 5th season opener, losing to the Golden Hurricane 80-72 at the Donald W. Reynolds Center in Tulsa.  Tulsa is 6-1 in the early going. 

The defensively-challenged Huskies, who yielded 82.8 points per game yet won a dozen games last year while finishing tied for seventh at 8-10 in conference play, are allowing 100 points per game — second worst in the country, behind only Mississippi Valley State — through their first six contests. 

Despite losing three starters from a year ago, Houston Baptist nevertheless has a number of returning players who logged some serious minutes in 2018-19, including leading scorer Ian Dubose, a 6-4 power forward who buried 53 shots from beyond the arc last season.  Sharpshooter Jason Gates, who has already made 22 of 55 three-point attempts — a brisk forty percent from long distance — should also help their cause.   

The wins will eventually come.  It’s just a matter of when.

Houston Baptist, which has only played one home game so far, will look for its first win when it hosts Samford (5-5) on Saturday.

Despite playing undefeated Liberty fairly close in the second game of the season before losing 66-55, Maryland-Eastern Shore (0-10) — a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) — hasn’t really been competitive in any of its other nine losses, including an 84-46 pounding by Penn State in its season opener and a 91-64 trouncing at the hands of once-beaten Oklahoma on Nov. 21.  Those blowouts were in addition to difficult double-digit road losses at undefeated Stanford (8-0) and Delaware (9-0). 

Things could begin looking up for UMES on Sunday when the winless Hawks host Clarks Summit (1-7), a Div. III member of the Colonial States Athletic Conference.

Two other MEAC members — Howard (0-9) and Florida A&M (0-6) — are also looking for their first hardwood successes of the season as college basketball enters its second month of play. 

Howard plays at Hampton (3-4) on Thursday before hosting four consecutive games against Appalachian State, Regent, and the Ivy League’s Harvard and Penn while the Rattlers of FAMU, coming off a 76-58 loss at Kansas State on Monday, play their next seven games on the road, including extremely tough tilts at Tennessee, Portland, Washington State and Iowa State.

The Big South’s Kennesaw State (0-6) is also looking for its first win of the season.  The Owls play UNC-Greensboro, one of the best defensive teams in the country — the stingy Spartans allow just 54.6 points per game — on the road tomorrow before hosting back-to-back games against a pretty decent Florida International (5-3) squad and defending Big South champion Gardner-Webb (3-5), which made its NCAA Tournament debut last season.

Excluding an exhibition game against Reinhardt on Nov. 18, the FIU contest will be Kennesaw State’s home opener.

Central Connecticut State (0-8) of the Northeast Conference is also looking for its initial victory.  The Blue Devils, who boast one of the best newcomers in the NEC in 6-4 freshman Greg Outlaw who leads the team in both scoring and steals, have dropped their first eight games, including home games against Hartford 74-59 and New Hampshire 77-63.

Coming off a heartbreaking 73-71 loss at UMass-Lowell on Sunday when 6-4 junior guard Obadiah Noel scored a game-winning layup with five seconds remaining, CCSU hosts Maine (2-5) on Saturday before playing consecutive road games at Boston College, Dartmouth and Penn State.

If the Blue Devils can’t knock one of them off, their best chance of picking up their first victory might come in late December when they host Division III Connecticut College (2-4) on Dec. 29th.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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