Semifinal action is underway in the ACC, Big 10 and SEC. Here's a preview. We'll breakdown some of the latest bracket updates in the Part Three later today.
Its already been a successful day for bubble teams with Tulsa being denied in the Conference USA. Ed Dechellis says thank you Memphis. So does Dana Altmann. In thise semis, we have three legit bid stealers hitting the floor. Do wins put them in? Do losses keep them out? We'll be discussing that in the comments section as the games unfold.
ACC Semifinals. Florida State vs. UNC. Line, UNC -10; Maryland vs. Duke. Line, Duke -9
The biggest news out of this sectional is the rising stock of Maryland. Did their woodshedding of Wake Forest yesterday elevate that stock enough to earn an at large bid? Or, do they need to find away to upset Duke this afternoon in order to crash the dance? Duke handled the Terps pretty weill in both games this year, including handing Gary Williams his most lopsided loss ever as Maryland head coach. Anxious bubble teams would like an order that, with fries, today for last ditch hopes to keep the Terrapins from stealing a bid.
Public opinion is swaying in favor of the Terrapins. B101 placed the Terrapins on one of his bracket lines in his update this morning, noting that yesterday's win launched their RPI up 10 spots. But, he does not have them in 'lock' category yet. The Bracket Board has also moved them into the field, but not into their plush lockbox accomodations. On ESPN Gameday, Joe Lunardi said no team helped themselves as much as Maryland did yesterday and moved the Terrapins into his Final Four In category. The locals are already punching their ticket in the aftermath of yesterday's Deamon Deacon beatdown.
Maryland started the season with a bang, upsetting Michigan State in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic back on Thanksgiving weekend. Georgetown and Gonzaga handed them their lunch during the rest of the weekend. By following that with a gutty win over Michigan in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, the Terps did solidify themselves with a sporty OOC resume. Trouble began when the calendar turned to 2009. An ambarassing home lose to Morgan State began January. A uneven, at best, ACC season netted Maryland a losing ACC mark and a 'meh' 9-10 record since the new year began. But, late wins over North Carolina and Wake Forest gave the Terps life. Helping their resume is a 30th ranked SOS and a 7-10 record against RPI top-100 teams.
It's been a soap opera all season in College Park. Williams job security has been a hot radio loudmouth topic. He openly fueded with his Athletic Department through the newspapers. The team itself has gone back and forth from looking like a sleeper Sweet 16 team to NIT fodder. This team's obituary has been written a few times this year, but storylines are being rewritten again after a pair of ACC Tournament wins.
Maryland has really struggled against Duke both times this season. Will the Terps go even further with the packed in, zone defense they used the thwart the athletic Deacons yesterday? We've seen what a crafty zone defense can do to force Duke to shot treys out of their own comfort zone. Can Greivas Jazquez outperform the guards of Duke. Will they get anything on the inside? We'll see, but one thing I know: As a college basketball fan, I dont care what the stakes are, Duke knocking heads with Maryland in an ACC Tournament game makes for good theater.
In the first game in Atlanta today, North Carolina plays Florida State. Once again, the Heels will be without Ty Lawson. Coach Roy Williams just confirmed on ESPN Gameday that the toe injury will keep Lawson in his warmup suit for the second straight day. He went as far to say that if today were the Final Four, he still would not be able to play.
This opens the door for Florida State to continue its run in this sectionl and maybe even earn a top-4 regional seed. FSU has not played this deep into the ACC Tourney since 1992 when Bobby Sura ran the point as a freshman. They have their best player since then with senior Toney Douglass. He's one of the best scorers in the nation and is a great on-the-ball defender.
We're also on record alert in this one today as Tyler Hansborough is 25 points shy of the all time ACC scoring record. FSU has a lot of size, bulk and length and bothered Hansborough quite a bit in their only meeting this season, holding him to 8 points in a rare single digit scoring night.
SEC Semifinal: Mississippi State vs. LSU. Line, LSU -4; Auburn vs. Tennessee. Line, Vols -4
LSU and Tennessee are locks in the field. Their respective opponents today are not and look to continue their late charge up the charts and surprising run to an NCAA bid. Auburn might notch a bid with a win today. The Bulldogs need to win the league's automatic bid.
Are you a Bubble Team? Then Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler and learn the lyrics to Rocky Top. Victories by the chalk today in Tampa would knife down Auburn and MSU giving their bid hopes a lethal stab.
In the first game, a lot of league hardward is on display as the coach of the year, player of the year, and defensive player off the year take the court. LSU swept the Bulldogs this year, including winning a double overtime win in Starkville that continues to haunt the Bulldogs today. The win launched LSU's season while the loss hungover the Bulldogs who proceeded to lose five of its next six games to fall out of at large bid contention.
How focused are the Bulldogs on exacting some revenge? ESPN reported their morning shootaround was so intense and strategic focused that instead of the usual 45 minutes, it went for almost twice as long. For them to win, the need a big effort out of big guy Jarvis Varnardo.
In the second game, Auburn has finally dragged itself into legitmate bid contention. Many of the promiment Bracketologists place the Tigers today just on the fringe of the field, within their final four our categories. Partisans consider their stock still stuck nuetral. All those tides change for the better should they knockdown the Vols today. Indeed, Bilas on Gameday just claimed a War Eagle bid should they win later today. Kansas State and Syracuse have seen 22-win stay at home in recent years. Guess how many wins Auburn has right now? Yep.
The Vols, meanwhile, showed last night how dangerous they can be when their big 3 of Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism and JP Prince are hot at the same time.
Big 10 Semis: Ohio State vs. Michigan State. Line, MSU -8; Illinois vs Purdue. Line, PU -3
The Big 10 semifinals offers both the best and worst of the league.
On the good side, we have the league's dynastic power in Michigan State, with its usual stocked roster. In Purdue, we have another team with loaded with young and up and coming talent. In Illinois, we have one of the nation's most efficient offenses which is downright ruthless when its going in the right direction, as we saw in yesterday's game with Michigan. In Ohio State, we have the league's most valuable player, IMO, in Evan Turner and perhaps its best pro prospect in BJ Mullens. All four of these teams play great defense.
There lies the rub, however. Because of those defenses, and overall game strategies of these coaches, all of whom seem to derive way too much pleasure in strangling games into wrestling matches, we're just as likely to see a pair of games played in the 50s. League critics will use that style to bash the Big 10 over the head as it tries to make the case for seven or eight bids.
I would not be surprised to see any of these teams make a tournament run, but you can bet that across the nation, most will pencil these teams as losers next week.
Predictions, sure to go wrong
Late last night, the gambling gods finally clubbed me and I logged a 1-4 record. That, with the Tulsa debacle that just ended in CUSA, drops the March record to 32-27-3. After a solid March, I am reeling on a 1-5 run right now. Yikers! Today is a big day, so as always, for amusement purposes only, I offer the following picks on the above semifinal games:
**** Florida State +10 over UNC. Yes, the Noles hurt me yesterday. But, I love them back in the underdog role today. They are 11-5-1 ATS in the ACC this season, including 8-2 when catching points. I expect Douglass to star and the loss of Lawson to hurt in that matchup.
****LSU to win over Mississippi State. I am playing a rather expensive moneyline on this one, -160. Basically I have to risk more than a unit and a half to win one unit, but I think its worth it as LSU eases by the Bulldogs. The folks at the WWL leader raved at the MSU intensity and long shootaround, but I'm going to other way. That leaves them playing way too tight against the most talented team in the league.
***** Ohio State +8 over Michigan State. In a low scoring, defensive game, I like the do-everything Evan Turner, brawn of Mullens and late game shot making of William Buford to push Sparty to the limit today. It will look like they're counting baskets by 1 in this game, so an 8-point head start is too attractive to pass up.
**** Purdue will beat Illinois. I have a strong gut feeling that March will redeem this Boiler season that underachieved a bit due to injuries. I think they win this tournament this weekend. And, yes, I am aware the Illini swept them this season, but I think they get over that hump today.
**** Auburn +4 over the Vols. Why get off the War Eagle bandwagon. They have the best team defense in the conference. They turned the game around against Florida with their active hands, causing steals. I think the sometimes sloppy Vols will be vulnerable to that. I cant fade the team in the league thats playing the best right now, which Auburn is, especially when they're catching points.
****Maryland +9 over Duke. This will be a classic game and much more competitive than their earlier meetings. I give the Terps a 50/50 chance to pull out the outright win, so I'm more than willing to invest in them +9.