Uh oh ... you better hope Tulsa can make up some points in the last ten minutes. Memphis lead at 18.
Bubble News: Championship Saturday, Part One
Diarist Note: I will have two other parts as we get going in the day. One, in advance of the league semifinals this afternoon and another discussing the numerous title games marching off the board this tonight. We'll discuss whatever relevant brackets get updated as the day evolves. And, of course, many more predictions. Enjoy the Hoops
Amid this mucky, hazy bubble season, Championship Week Saturday carries as much dramatic intrigue as I've ever seen in my time. On Selection Day Eve, at least six games will have a direct impact on the final at large bids doled out tomorrow. Throw in a dozen conference championship games, half taking place in winner-take-all one bid leagues and you have a day laced with all the juicy dramatics expected in March. It also promises to be a day of answers. Only three games will be played tomorrow with nothing but seeding likely on the line. All the relevant resumes applying for the final bids will have been turned in by night's end. Today, final statements will be made.
Basketball communities in Happy Valley, Minneapolis, Omaha and Columbia will be especially sweating the day out. Penn State, Minnesota, Creighton and Sout Carolina are among the final at large teams currently placed in the Bracket Matrix. All are in the clubhouse, after landing with a dull thud in their league sectionals. They are ripe to be passed today, if teams have not done so already.
Twenty-four hours after being dubbed by Bracketology 101 as the biggest winner of the day, the Big 10 saw their stock plunge all day on Friday. Penn State, Minnesota and even Michigan and Wisconsin have cracked the door open enough so a bid thief can creep in and steal their stash. A posse of bid hunters roam with the Big 10 bids the game. Yesterday, folks touted eight bids for the league. Today, only six bids look assured, maybe less.
Want to have some fun proving today's import? Lets check out the Bracket Junkie and use his latest field from yesterday morning as a guide. Seven of his final 10 teams in the field lost Friday. An eighth, Creighton, remains in limbo after its shaky semifinal loss one week ago. A ninth, Texas A/M, suffered the proverbial bad loss to 11th place Texas Tech in the Big 12 first round Wednesday night. Only one team, San Diego State, the last team placed in his field, won yesterday, On the other side of the fence, five teams teams picked up huge wins that infused their at large hopes with energy.
Lets play the results forward. Tulsa wins, good bye Florida. Maryland wins, good bye Penn State, Mississipi State and Auburn advance to the SEC Championship (followed by a Bulldog win Sunday), good bye Creighton and Texas A/M. USC wins the Pac 10. Good bye Minnesota. Duquense wins the Atlantic 10, good bye South Carolina. Baylor wins the Big 12, good bye Wisconsin. San Diego State wins the Mountain West Conference, good bye Michigan.
What the hell? Did I just say that? Yep. As I was tossing brackets last night in the closing minutes of a WAC semifinal--or was it Big West, everything is starting to melt into a dream, I cant remember. There was a California school playing. I think--that's the progression line I came up with. The lesson here is never stay up that late, this often watching obscure college hoops. What's weird is that it didn;t take a lot of crafty bracket manipulation to sketch that road map. At face value, it might not really be enough to knock Michigan out. A surprise at large bid or two mght still need to be rewarded for Michigan to fall out, even if all the above happens. But, what if that does happen. And, what if Michigan isn't last in the pecking order as speculated above?
Can you imagine Michigan's bid in doubt due to a late charge from a Steve Fisher coached team. Talk about a whole new Michigan Blank Hating God genus.
If it plays out like that, yours truly guarantees to promote a whole new round of fixing conspiracies. Nobody wants hear anymore of that, right.
Let's err on the side of caution and root for the Utes to smack down the Aztecs by 30 something.
Two big games going on right now with the Conference USA and American East Championship games. Here's why should watch:
Conference USA Championship
Tulsa vs. Memphis, 11:30am, CBS. Line, Memphis -14
The last time Memphis lost a league game they played in the Great Midwest. Cincy Bearcat Nick Van Exel dropped 35 over the Tiger's Anfernee Penny. At least I think that's their last league loss. Maybe next time I'll do some research, so just trust me on this one.
The Tigers have won 60 Conference USA games in a row and 25 straight games overall. If Memphis adds to that streak, they may end up a #1 seed when the field is announced tomorrow. You'd think winning time and time again in this league would bore the Tigers. If their demolition of Houston is any indication, the Tigers still have the killer instinct and don't care who they take it out on. When your coach chews you out at half, despite being up a dozen points, and you proceed to thump your opponent 27-2 to start the second half as happened in yesterday's semifinals against Houston, then its safe to say you have a pretty damn strong team. Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier have won more games than anyone else in the history of the sport. Tyreke Evans is one of the most electrifying underclassmen in the country. They've won 30 or more games four years in a row.
The real drama in this event centers around the Golden Hurricane's chances. Can Tulsa stop the streak and, in the process, seize a surprise bid, sending a team currently in the field to the NIT? Its the fault of bad marketing and lame scheduling practices that limits the discussion of the league's at large hopes, to the detriment of this streaking Tulsa squad.
In easing by UAB yesterday, and killing one of my parlays, Tulsa received production from a variety of unexpected places, needed because of the 1-game suspension of Bishop Wheatly for a flagrant foul earlier in the sectional. They need some of the numbers to repeat today, as well as a good bounceback performance from Wheatly, to spring this upset today.
Tulsa has been on an interesting arc as it pertains to the bubble. As early as Joe Lunardi's first mock bracket of February, Tulsa was considered part of the final eight teams out from the field. A smackdown delivered by Memphis on this same court, folllowed by a road loss to UCF cooled any at large hopes from simmering. The Golden Hurrican have not lost since then, reeling off seven in row to set them up in this high stakes showdown with a bid on the table. For the last 10 days, their case has been made by various members of the ESPN punidtry class. In the middle of last week, Andy Katz had Tulsa in the final group of teams fighting for the last at large bids; Lunardi in a recent bracket update reported things were looking up for Tulsa; and, Jay Bilas in his sanctimonous plea for Tourney reform, debunked deftly here, called for changes that would put a Tulsa team in the field.
Whatever you think of those opinions, Tulsa can make it a moot point. A win gives them automatic entry. Fans of Creighton, Penn State and really any bubble team already in the clubhouse with a loss this weekend (meaning, just about everyone) should begin to rock some Memphis pom-poms shortly.
Can Tulsa still compete for an at large bid should they lose a classic type of game? I'm not sure. But, I dont think their case is any weaker than some of the Altantic 10 and Mountain West teams either already on the bubble or in the field today. In a Thanksgiving tournament, Tulsa beat Texas A/M rather handily before dropping a final possession affair to Illinois. They have a key loss to BYU and were swept by in state big boys Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. They do carry a bad loss to Ohio around like a stigma and cynics would point out that haven't won a truly imrpessive since that win over the Aggies, nearly four months ago.
Their #64 RPI does not jump off the page, but it is ahead of Auburn, Penn State and New Mexico heading into the weekend. They are 5-6 versus the RPI top 100, albeit just 0-6 against the top 25.
There's a lot to like with this Tulsa team on the court. Seven-footer Jerome Jordan is a legit NBA prospect and a defensive force. They have a nice collection of rugged, yet undersized forwards who play bigger than their size, thanks to the presence of Jordan. Ben Uzoh is a nice scoring guard who can lock up on defense. Four guys score in double digits.
A big key in this game is can they keep the athletic Memphis slashers from getting to the goal cleanly. They have the ultimate backstop in Jordan, but Anderson got the better of him with a driving, game-winning lay-in to give Memphis a 54-53 in back in January. Also, keep count of the Hurricane's turnovers. They coughed it up 24 times when these clubs played last month in Memphis. It led to a highlight reel of Tigers fast break and a 63-37 rout. Thats the lowest point total scored by Tulsa in 58 years. Tulsa, your mission, try taking better care of the ball.
The Pick: Tulsa +14. I am a sucker for a big underdog in this spot. Based on the previous games, this will be a buzzer beater or a historic beat down. I'm guessing it lands somehere in between and catching a pair of touchdowns gives me a lots of wiggle room to cover once the Tigers get rolling. I give Tulsa a puncher's chance to pull out a win if they value their possession and cut the turnovers from the last matchup in half. My final thought on this was Memphis, as talented as they are, is not as good as the last couple of seasons. In Tulsa, we're going to other way as they're the best and most capable foes the Tigers have faced in this spot. Hurricanes keep this closer than the experts thinks and stay withing double digits.
Parlay alert, parlay alert Despite being 1-2 on these suckers, I've rolled another moneyline parlay, linking Binghamton and Alabama State in a pair of one-bid championship games. Binghamton is playing UMBC right now in the American East Finals and they're solid 8-point favorites. The Bears have players who have been tossed out at other schools for durg arrests and bad grades. Its all very Tarkanianish. Their recruiting practices caused controversy and their story has become a bit of a moral play in mid-majority circles. You cant argue with the absolute on court results as this 14-win team from last season is on the verge of an NCAA bid. In the end, they have too much talent for the defending AE champ Greyhounds today. I'm putting it on the parlay card witth Alabama State in the SWAC Title Game much later tonight. It pays out 8/5 and Binghamtom, according to the experts in the desert, will be the easiest of this two to put to bed.