As Brian pointed out in today’s UV, last night was a crazy night on the NCAA Bubble. Bubble teams from heavy favorite Kentucky to the heavy underdog Virginia Tech lost last night. The upshot for Michigan being a whole heck of a lot of elbow room being created in what had been one of the most crowded bubble pictures in recent seasons.
Does it change the tournament math for Michigan? No, not especially. But, it pretty much ensures that the oft-quoted formula of ‘.500 in the Big 10, plus one league tourney win’ will get the Wolverines in the final Field of 65.
How crazy was last night’s action? Without playing, the Wolverines may have been the biggest winners of the night as they saw two teams ahead of them in the Bracket Matrix final cut list lose, not to mention a Matrix 12-seed (UK) and Matrix 11-seed (Florida) as well.
How crazy was last night’s action? The most impressive win of the night by a team already on the bubble was a road win by Texas A/M at Colorado. The Buffaloes are in dead last place in the Big 12 with a 1-14 record.
How crazy was last night’s action? Northwestern, of all teams, thanks to their wonderful upset at Purdue, have stepped strongly into the void left behind from the other bubble failures to stake a legitimate and strong claim for an at large bid.
How crazy was last night’s action? Thanks to both Kentucky and Florida taking the gas pipe last night, their game against each other on Saturday has gone from being a play-in game to a game that will only determine who can survive another day on the bubble. The winner still will be on the outside looking in when the regular season ends. Do you think my buddy Billy Clyde Gillespie is feeling some heat today on the Bluegrass airwaves and blogs?
How crazy was last night’s action? I went 3-0 on my predictions. Ok, that’s not crazy, just pure awesome.
As for tonight, it’s a light overall on the schedule, but the games that are on the docket carry huge import:
Tennessee at South Carolina, 7pm, ESPN. Line USC 02
The SEC East Division Title is on the line tonight. At the same time, the loser might find itself in need a couple more wins to get into the Tournament. According to the Matrix, this is an 8-seed (UT) versus a 9-seed (USC). Based on that, both teams appear secure. The loser tonight, however, can’t afford to lose this weekend and feel safe about any at large bid. The slate works in both of their favor as the Vols host Alabama and the Gamecocks travel to Georgia on Saturday, but after last night, nothing in the SEC can be taken for granted.
Providence at Villanova, 7pm, ESPN2. Line, Nova -11
Michigan fans have found an ally in the Villanova Wildcats, haven’t we? That’s great because they owe us for that tank job Michigan gave them in the 1985 second round. I’m still shaking my head about that game. Did the Wolverine players just want to party with Dwayne McClain and his stash? Were they just trying to get in his good graces? Who knows? Anyway, for the third time in less than a week, the Wildcats will attempt to put a serious dent in the resume of one of the bubble teams battling Michigan for one of the final spots in the tournament. They could not get the job done against Georgetown on Saturday, but they delivered a death blow to Notre Dame on Monday. Tonight, we’ll find out if there’s any sharpness left in their dagger when Villanova hosts Providence. The Friars sit as the last team cut from the Bracket Matrix field. As of last night’s update, they are on a bracket line in about one-third of the total fields compiled by the Matrix. Even with a loss, Providence will still end with a nice looking 10-8 Big East record. However, they played a weak conference slate and have next to nothing on their OOC resume. A .500 team from a power league with nice OOC wins would surely merit more consideration that Providence when it’s all said and done. Are we familiar with any teams that fit that bill?
Dayton at Xavier, 9pm, ESPN2. LIne, XU -10
Xavier is playing for an outright A10 crown and for a better seed in the Big Dance. The Flyers are trying to cement an at large bid. They will do that with a win tonight as it will give them a season sweep over the Musketeers. Dayton looks to be in good shape for a bid. They receive unanimous support in the Bracket Matrix and currently sit on their 9-line. But, like a lot of teams in their position, the Flyers can’t afford to go the rest of the way without at least one more win. After tonight’s tough test at XU, Dayton closes the season Saturday night hosting a better-than-it-looks Duquesne squad. The Flyers have been masters at surviving close calls all season. If that skill dries up this week, the Flyers might need to win at least one game in the A10 Tournament to avoid a snub.
Illinois at Penn St, 9pm, ESPN. Line, PSU -1
Ah, yes. After the 38-33 treat they gave us a few weeks ago, I can’t wait to watch this one. What’s the O/U on number of years this game will set back basketball? Brian dissected the PSU situation yesterday. I don’t really have much more to add. Clearly, Michigan fans would like to see a PSU collapse down the stretch. They close at Iowa Sunday afternoon. That won’t be a picnic. If the Lions lose tonight, they will face a must win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
California at Arizona, 10:30pm, FSN. Line, AU -4.5
Perhaps the biggest game of the night takes place in the dessert tonight between the Golden Bears and Wildcats. The Cats have been a roller coaster. They were dead in the water in late January. In February, they picked themselves off the mat, played some brilliant hoops and injected themselves back in the NCAA hunt. As the first week of March closes, however, Arizona is sliding again, having lost three games in a row. They’re only 8-8 in the Pac 10 right now and sit as a 10-seed in the latest Bracket Matrix. It’s not hard to sketch the trouble they could be in should the losing streak hit four games. They do have a winnable home game against Stanford over the weekend, but I don’t think a 9-9 Pac 10 mark will be enough. If they don’t sweep the Bay Area teams at home this week, the Cats will have a lot of pressure on them heading into the Pac 10 Tournament. At 9-9, they would likely face Cal again or Arizona State in their first game. Their bid will be on shaky footing if they lose tonight. So, with the league's fifth bid still up in that air, why are Pac 10 bloggers debating a sixth bid?
Jeff Fryar Haunts My Dreams
You remember Loyola Marymount, don’t you? Don’t worry; you can come out from under the table. Jeff Fryar, the Human Bruise, is not in the building pulling up for break-away three pointers. Nor, is Bo Kimble around pumping through left-handed free throws. The Ghost of Hank Gathers is not in the building. Nobody will score 149 points on the Wolverines tonight. Of course, if any of those moments cause a small of vomit in your mouth, then you recall the absolute tail whipping the Lions put on Michigan in the 1990 Second Round. I’d rather not go into any more detail.
Anyway, if you want to see their modern incarnation, tune into the Big South semifinals tonight, beginning at 6pm on ESPNU. You’ll see their style of play in the VMI Keydets. No shot clock is needed with the Keydets. Games played in the 80s are slow affairs. They match up tonight against Liberty, a team led by freshman sensation Seth Curry. Yes, he’s the little brother of Stephen. Hopefully, we’ll get a few Cougar shots of his mother in the stands tonight.
In the second game, top seed and host Radford will play UNC Ashville. Don’t expect Radford to roll through this field by virtue of home court. They lost at home to both Liberty and VMI this year. The JCCW has a more in-depth preview on this tournament, so check the link out for a better primer on tonight’s games.
I expect these games to be dogfights, or in the case of the VMI/Liberty game a serious track meet. These four schools rarely sniff the NCAA Tournament, so the next couple of days (the finals are Saturday on ESPN2) will be an exciting time for the players, students, and towns involved.
I know there is a contingent of folks out there who do not like the fact clubs like these are included in the Field of 65. That’s flat hogwash, IMO. The essence of March Madness will be laid out on the court in this tournament and the other mid major ones taking place throughout this weekend. Do they have any chance at cutting the nets down next month in Detroit? No. But the players on one of these Big South teams will likely go down as some of the best in school history if they can pull out two more wins. To me, the beauty of March Madness is the ability to define different levels of success and achievement. Sure, only one big dog will be left standing, but along the way there are going to magical moments that will make the players feel like champions, even if they’re not on the roster of the eventual national champion.
Some of those moments may happen tonight. And, while none of the Big South action tonight will impact Michigan’s place on the bubble, I will be as glued to those games as any other this evening.
Predictions to make me look like a genius or an idiot tomorrow morning
Hey, we’re 5-2-2 this month. Let’s keep it rolling.
South Carolina -2 over Tennessee. While the SEC is weak this season, I’ve really come to enjoy watching a couple of their teams play, notably LSU and this Gamecock squad. They will complete an undefeated SEC home season in style tonight.
Penn State -1 over Illinois. I know we want the Illini to win this, but my brain says PSU will get it done. This may sound strange, given the 38-33 score these two labored too earlier in the year, but I think the Nittany Lions will have too much scoring tonight for an Illini team that may be running out of gas.
VMI beats Liberty in the Big South Semis tonight. Strangely, I am having a hard time finding a line on this one. But, as any real gambler knows how to do, I found a way to find action. I have a bar tab bet going with Jerry at the JCCW, who is flat convinced Liberty not only gets it done tonight, but wins the whole Big South Sectional. He has all sorts of fancy, KenPom anecdotal evidence in his favor. I have my heart as I really want to see the VMI show continue. Brains versus Heart, eh? I don’t see what can go wrong.