Rank and file: Being nationally ranked is ‘nice’ for Mesa State men
National polls don’t generally make much of a splash with college coaches.
Yeah, they’re nice, they’ll say, but they’re for the fans.
Tuesday’s National Association of Basketball Coaches Division II men’s basketball rankings, though, did catch Jim Heaps’ attention.
“That’s a shocker,” he deadpanned after seeing Mesa State had left the ranks of “others receiving votes” to be ranked No. 22 in the nation.
The Mavericks (8-0, 4-0 RMAC) received 36 votes this week after getting two last week. They’re one of six teams that weren’t ranked a week ago to make the grade this week, with five teams dropping out of the rankings, including Metro State, the team the Mavericks beat Sunday night for the second time this season.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” Heaps said, “but it’s a direct reflection of the kids winning basketball games and putting themselves in that position. In the greater scheme of things, it doesn’t mean a lot.”
No, the rankings that really mean a lot to Division II teams don’t come out until Jan. 28, the all-important regional rankings. From then through March 8, basketball players keep an eye on who’s ranked where in their region — in the Mavs’ case, the Central.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” Heaps said. “It’s just taking care of business. It’s winning games and basically, that’s what it comes down to. The past few years we’ve gotten behind the 8-ball and were down so far. We’ve moved up throughout the year and at the end we’ve run out of time.
“We’ve been in that 7-8-9-10 spot and it comes down to the last weekend and decimal points and that kind of thing.”
That’s what happened to the Mavericks last season, when they got their hopes up late in the season, only to be left out when it came time for the eight teams to be selected to advance to the national playoffs.
To a man, the Mavericks will tell you that snub stuck with them over the spring, summer and fall, and it’s a driving force this winter.
“I remember in ‘93, ‘94, somewhere in there, when Tom Cook was a senior and we had that year and got to second (in the region) and you couldn’t get us out,” Heaps said. “We started up high and we’d lose a game but we would never budge from that second spot and we ended up there in the regional. We’ve had a spell where we’ve dropped down far enough (to be left out of the playoffs). We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
This weekend the Mavericks will get their biggest three-day test of the season, playing in the Quincy (Ill.) University Holiday Classic, facing Central State (Ohio) University (9-1) on Saturday afternoon and either No. 24 Quincy (8-0) or Truman State (Mo.) University (3-5) on Sunday.
Monday, the Mavericks play at the University of Illinois-Springfield (4-2), which knocked off Central State last weekend.
“They are really good, quality teams,” Heaps said. “We try to play good teams in the nonleague schedule to get ready and it really pays off. It prepares you for the rigors of league play.
“Every game you’ve got to be ready to play and zeroed in and if you’re not, it really is a league that anybody can beat anybody on any given night.”
Mesa State hung with Division I Northern Colorado for much of the first half, but couldn’t keep up, losing 69-42 in Greeley.
The Mavericks (2-6) were outscored 12-6 in the final six minutes of the first half and had three scoreless stretches of four minutes each in the second half.
Northern Colorado (4-5) stretched its lead to 23 points with just more than eight minutes to play.
Courtney McCaig led Mesa State with 15 points, Hannah Breidel added eight and Jennifer Landers seven.
Whitley Cox was one of three Bears to reach double figures, scoring 16 points. UNC dominated the boards, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds to the Mavs’ six, which led to 15 second-chance points. Northern Colorado scored 14 points off Mesa’s 19 turnovers.
The Mavericks, who shot 32 percent from the field and were outscored 18-6 at the free-throw line, are off until Jan. 2, when they play at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah.