Adreian Payne, Jacob Pettway

Division I teams: Stop the cupcakes in December

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Scrolling through tonight’s Division I college basketball slate, I noticed something. Well, I’ve been noticing it for some time now.

I looked at the schedule and found certain, we’ll call them ‘unique’, match-ups. Ones I haven’t recalled ever seeing in mid-December. So I looked some of them up. These schools don’t reside in Division I, at least not in the NCAA.

SIU-Edwardsville is playing Eureka College, who has also played Texas-Pan American already this season. Northern Colorado? They get mighty Tabor College tonight. Bethune-Cookman has a date with Florida Christian. And given the name and my adolescent history with religious-type girls, they won’t get very far (off-the-court, at least).

Division I programs playing non-Division I teams well into the season. It’s a recent trend in Division I college basketball, and it needs to stop. Yesterday.

I get it. They’re easy wins. Everyone likes to look in the newspaper or on a website and see a 30-or-40-point blowout win. It’s a great confidence booster. But, for the love of God, think about when you get these victories. Ones like this are reserved for the exhibition slate.

I did some research. For the sake of time, I looked through only the past week to identify how many teams played a game against a non-Division I team in the past week. If anything, I thought it would fight my case. It didn’t. By my count, there have been 25 contests out of a possible 212 since last Monday. That’s 25 no-win games for 25 teams. A vast majority of them played by mid-or-low major Division I teams.

I say no-win because frankly, no one wins with a blowout victory against a team that has no shot at winning. The only result that could matter? A loss. Ask Charleston how they feel about that game to Anderson (S.C.) University last week, 65-49. Yep, a loss.

I get it, okay? When you’re a program that isn’t necessarily big-time, you take the W’s you can get. And in turn, the opponents who don’t (normally) stand a chance take a nice, hearty game check and use it towards expenses and other athletic or university-centric endeavors. That’s fine. But do it in the beginning of the season. Wins like that at this point don’t help anything. Not your RPI, your seeding in your conference tournament and most certainly don’t lend a hand to your postseason hopes.

It’s better to at least be bold enough to try for a game in that slot that could do some good towards those postseason aspirations. A game against a team of equal talent, from a conference on-par with their own.

By mid-December, all teams in Division I should know what kind of team they have, so the “we’re still figuring ourselves out” excuse is a waste of time. And pounding Po-Dunk State from NAIA Division II isn’t going to help that. Confidence is one thing. Confidence in a game that shouldn’t be in doubt, that’s another. That just equals ego.

To the small schools taking their beatings. By all means, collect your game checks. This isn’t about you.

To the teams in the SWAC, MEAC, Big South, Sun Belt, Atlantic Sun and beyond: I understand that there aren’t many options when it comes to playing tune-up games that can build your team’s confidence. But instead of fishing for easy wins, play one another in the non-conference. A loss may be a result, but, in my opinion, there’s at least something to be learned. Nothing can be learned by smashing a non-D-1 this far into the season.

Admittedly, there’s no correlation between teams having late-season success or failure and playing cupcakes well into their seasons. That’s fine. College football teams schedule Football Championship Subdivision teams for Senior Day — or just for the hell of it — to get a win, so it’s not like this is a problem that affects only college basketball. But be better than that, Division I. Because you are, the scoreboard normally proves it.

David Harten is a sportswriter and college basketball blogger, you can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.