rundown of Michigan's riser
That was a so-so, at best, final impression for UM before selection day.
And, there is bad news everywhere right now for teams clinging to the bubble aiming for an at large bid.
Maryland curb stomping Wake.....this might write their dance card.
Temple beats Xavier. They can steal a bid tomorrow without the A10 losing any. And, should Duquense win in the night cap, it will be a done deal anyway. One at large swiped.
Baylor upsets Texas in the Big 12 semis. They've broke a 24-game losing streak to Texas. They were the #9 seed. They're in their first ever league championship game. And, I bet against them two days ago in the tourney opener. Good call. It's hard not to pull for them, but fans of bubble teams need them to lose tomorrow or they will take a bid from somebody who thought they were in the field.
Penn State, USC, San Diego State, Wyoming and Florida all play later still tonight. Gotta get some losses out of that group if your team is on the bubble.
A lot of teams not in the field can lock bids perhaps tonight, or get a game away with a win....and there are a few bud thieves out there lurking in these league sectionals.
Who gets pushed out, if all these chips fall? The rest of the night will determine if I remain nervous about Michigan's bid or not.
Predictions to keep the buzz going late into the night
With the Louisville cover in the books, that's a 2-2 mark in the early evening session. Record on the day, 5-4-1. Record for March, 31-22-3. Let's be careful out there people.
**** Penn State +8 over Purdue. The Boilers have not been good frontrunners this seasons. The Lions have been profitable underdogs and have had enough success away from home. Playing in Purdue's home state wont scare them. They'll go blow for blow with Purdue and be there the whole way through.
**** BYU -2 over SDSU. Is Steve Fisher a win away from swiping a bid, possible from his former emplyer. No. Cougars outshot the Aztecs tonight and kill that storyline.
***** UW pick 'em over Arizona State. Huskies are the best team in the PAC 10 and can beat in different ways with different styles. They'll showcase that game and pull away in the final minutes over the Sun Devils.
**** Auburn +3.5 Florida. They're sneaking around the chicken coop trying to steal a bid. War Eagle gets closer to that reality tonight with a big win over the Gators. They've evolved into a better team than Florida and peaking at the right time. The Tigers have been a money train the closing weeks of the season. After winning with them against the Tide and LSU to close the regular season, I'll stay with them tonight.
**** BGSU +3 over Akron. Local pick for me. BG has been the best team in the league all season. I think they squeeze out another one tonight. But, like Auburn above, I'll take the three-ball head start.
A five-pack for the night. For now. No Sugarcoat.
We've arrived at Friday night. Michigan tips its quarterfinal game against Illinois in a matter of moments. This afternoon brough gifts to the Wolverines in the form of losses by Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Minnesota and Georgia Tech. It's becoming more and more likely than your Michigan Wolverines will be in the NCAA Tournament. Forget about the scoreboard and have some fun rooting the boys on tonight. Michigan basketball is relevant once again. Enjoy it.
The day was good to me as well, turning a small profit off a 3-2-1 record. The Seminoles and Gamecocks let me down. LSU rolled as expected. Evan Turner did as I hoped down the stretch. And, those Virginia Tech Hokies. The lose another heartbreaker. I doubt its any solace to them that they covered yet another spread against a tradionall ACC power. It's become a Blacksburg speciality: losing, but covering against Tobacco Road since 2005. Hopefully, the good times can roll tonight, here's my early night card:
****I see no reason to back off the Beilein Bandwagon tonight. Three March games, three covers. Michigan has shown more energy down the stretch than the Illini. They're peaking now, while the Illini seem to be sputtering out of gas, which seems odd since they're the league's #2 seed. Michigan has more offensive weapons going in the right direction than Illinois does right now. The Chester Frazier injury will hurt them tonight. I think the Wolverines pull away in the final 10 minutes and advance into the semifinals, but I will take the +2.5 for good measure.
*****I split a pair of moneyline parlays yesterday, and I am going to attempt a few tonight, starting with the two early semifinal games in the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA. I like Xavier to beat Temple and UAB to beat Tulsa. I like what I'm hearing from the Xavier crowd, that they're approaching this tournament to win it, rather than take it for granted as they've done in past year. I think they roll by a Temple program, which I've always thought was a touch overrated. Maybe some rare Ohio Pride is coming out in me tonight, but I dont see Xavier losing. In the other game, backing Mike Davis gives me pause, but I'm a bigger fan of Robert Vaden. I love his game and he'll be the best player on the floor tonight. That's enough to get me interested. Xavier is -200, but UAB is a pick 'em. Linking them together pays out at 2/1 should it cash, and I've floated a little coin on just that.
****Maryland +7 over Wake Forest. I like the Terps moxie as an underdog. The Terps remain desperate and could clinch a bid tonight. I love the Deacons too, but this is a young team, and I doubt they're going to have to right intensity tonight. Remember, they have nothing on the line this evening. I think their youth and inexperience in this setting and, in particular, in the role of disinterested favorite will bite them tonight. I think there is as good a chance Wake is looking ahead to a possible rubber match against Duke, than they are focused squarely on Maryland. In this sort of matchup, I'll take the team with more urgency, especially when their best player is in his last go around and can single handedly drag them across the finish line ahead. I love the Terps tonight and would not be shocked to see them win and give the selection committee something to think about over the weekend.
****Lousville -4 over Villanova. Last play of the early night session, and I think the Cards blow the doors off of Villanova. The won in Phily two months ago and are playing much better today, than they were then.
Good afternoon, everyone. Keep checking into this thread as I will be updating it throughout the day with throughs and picks. Hope you're enjoying the hoops. Go Blue!
Is it Sunday? If so, why are we all at work?
Oh, it’s not Sunday. It’s Friday. Friday is a good thing too, but with a couple full days of hoops left before Selection Sunday I’m not counting the proverbial chickens before they hatch regarding Michigan’s possible to likely tournament bid.
Michigan seems a certain lock after their emphatic beatdown of Iowa yesterday. But, I have seen stranger selection snubs in the past. A lot of outcomes can still negatively impact Michigan’s position in this field. Combine enough of those outcomes with a big time Michigan stinker this evening in the quarterfinals and we could be right back where we were when the week started: Unsure, yet hopeful for a bid.
Here’s the deal: Getting a tournament bid is not an exact science. It’s not like a baseball Magic Number that tangibly countdowns. It’s not like fighting for bowl eligibility where a pre-set number of wins magically make you a bowl team. No old man decked out in a gaudy bright orange sport coat waltzed into Michigan's locker room and formally invited them to the Big Dance.
Am I being a Chicken Little? Probably. Am I trying to concoct some drama? Perhaps. Do I think Michigan has done enough to earn a bid and will I scream Bloody Murder should they get snubbed? Absolutely, 100-percent yes. But, until a few more games are in the books or I actually see Michigan’s name on the bracket line Sunday night will I breathe easy on this one.
Let me outline why I remain a worry wart. Raise your hand if you doubt the Big 10 will receive 8 bids into the Big Dance. Mine's up, how about yours?
I know the selection committee does not consider how many bids a league eventually receives. I got the memo loud and clear. But, I won’t believe eight Big 10 bids until I see and count them on the bracket lines Sunday. It seems inconceivable that the league would win the bid count, especially given the negative perception the league still seems to have from coast to coast.
I buy the Big 10. I doubt the rest of the country does. ESPN’s Doug Gotlieb, during one of the dozen halftime shows I dropped my ear into yesterday, said, of the league getting 8 bids, the elephant in the room that nobody is talking about is the quality of play in the Big 10 is not that good. If enough of the selection committee shares this mindset, I don’t see how enough of the league's candidates survive the cut downs and gets everyone in the field.
If the reality of the league getting eight bids matches the inconceivable perception I have, one thing strikes me as the quarterfinals get underway: One of these teams will not be playing in the NCAA Tournament. Take a look at the remaining field and tell me which team you would toss if only seven teams make it. I'd worry if I were Penn State. And, I could see the Buckeyes being left out of the field if they get rolled today by the Badgers. Both scenarios would be highway robbery. Dave Revsine, of the Big 10 Network, appearing and the Mike and Mike Show (guest hosted today by Gotlieb who picked up where he left off yesterday regarding the league winning the bid count), defended the Big 10, saying the teams remaining in the conference have all done enough to deserve a bid. In his next breath, however, he labeled Minnesota as the shakiest of the bunch. So did Seth Davis of CBS later on in the show.
How about this situation: Illinois beats Michigan like a drum, Minnesota upsets Michigan State and Penn State drills Purdue. Now, add an Ohio State win. When you regain consciousness, tell me which Big 10 team you would leave out if only seven make it. All I know is, I wouldn’t want to be the cheese standing alone among these Big 10 bubble teams should three advance today while your team gets eliminated.
Heading into today, Michigan might be the most secure position of the league's non-locks. Indeed, Gotlieb, about an hour before he unveiled the Big 10's dirty little secret yesterday, gushed about Michigan and said they were cemented in the field. So, hey, there's that.
Beyond the Big 10, a range of national events could also conspire to squeeze the bubble and put near-lock teams back on shaky bubble footing.
What if these results come in at the wire: Virginia Tech plays itself into Sunday's ACC Championship. Their opponent? Maryland. Auburn snags the SEC automatic bid, beating South Carolina in the finals. Baylor matches Auburn's improbable run and grabs the Big 12 bid. Temple beats Dayton in the A10 finals. Tulsa pitches a perfect game and Memphis finally goes down in Conference USA. Penn State plays Minnesota for the Big 10 Championship. USC wins two more games to steal the Pac 10 auto bid. Wyoming beats San Diego State in the Mountain West Finals.
That’s a long list of hypothetical situations, but I am sure I left out a few. If the right, or, in this case, wrong combination of results goes down, combined with an ugly Michigan loss later today, it could make for an uneasy weekend of waiting until the field formally is announced Sunday night. If you don’t think a string of bad outcomes can hit you fast and furious and completely reverse your fortunes for the worse, then you have not sat at enough casino tables in your life.
The good news for Michigan is that they are on the right side of the bubble this morning while there are plenty of teams already in the clubhouse, with finalized resumes, that Michigan sits clearly ahead of in the pecking order. Teams like Arizona, New Mexico, Providence, Kansas State and Rhode Island all lost yesterday (not to mention mid-majors Creighton and St. Mary’s), putting their bids in jeopardy if they weren’t already. Those events wedged the door ajar for some of the above scenarios to play out with bids still on the table.
Because enough teams lost yesterday, Michigan, and their Big 10 brethren, may be insulated from whatever chaos breaks out between now and Sunday. You could make a case that each crazy outcome detailed above would need to come true in order for Michigan to be in any danger. I’d buy that argument. But, until some of those possibilities are officially crossed off, or, of course, Michigan wins tonight, I won’t formally declare Michigan’s NCAA Tournament drought over.
The action gets going early today with a pair of quarterfinal games in the ACC, SEC and Big 10. All six games will impact the final state of the bubble headed into the weekend. Possible bid thieves Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Kentucky and South Carolina all play games today where their chances to win are somewhere between coin flip and long shot. Minnesota plays Michigan State and Ohio State plays Wisconsin in the afternoon session of the Big 10 quarterfinals.
Let’s hope that enough bid stealing possibilities get taken off the board in those games, that I am less worried by the time Michigan tips this evening. Here’s a rundown of the afternoon session:
#8 Minnesota vs #1 Michigan State, noon, ESPN 2. Line, MSU -8
I could not have been more wrong about the Minnesota game yesterday. To think, my capsule of this game dominated the word count of yesterday’s column. Between that and Big 10 Picks from the football season there is a direct correlation between too lengthy game breakdowns and missed picks. Make a mental note for the future: If I spill ink for more than six paragraphs, you might want to fade that pick.
Anyway, the Gophers looked great yesterday. Westbrook was big down the stretch. Damian Johnson locked down Kevin Coble in the second half. And, their second unit changed the game in the first half, giving the Gophers a nice cushion to play with for the rest of the game. Devron Bostwick was making baskets. If he is on, then the Gophers become an even more formidable foe, similar to how Michigan improves when LLP is on his game.
If Minnesota indeed remains on shaky footing, there’s no hiding the import of this game against the Spartans. Win and they’re in. Lose, and it’s a long weekend of waiting. Gopher fans are thanking their lucky stars the bubble is so weak this season and among the outcomes they’re pulling for today is an Illini rout of Michigan. Thanks for nothing, jerks.
MSU Coach Tom Izzo picked up a Coach-of-the-Year award this week and spent time in the lead up to today’s game not only defending the Big 10 Conference, but also his coaching style. The big question for today is the mental state of Michigan State. Will they be primed to play or will they be disinterested with their focus on that other tournament starting next week. Here’s a stat to ponder as this plays out: No team has ever lost their first league tournament game and rebounded to win a national title.
#8 Virginia Tech vs. #1 North Carolina, noon, ESPN
Doesn’t it seem like the Hokies are playing a power team every time they hit the court? They played great against the Heels in Blacksburg last week, but now have to finish the job and win the rematch today with UNC with their season on the line. Don’t sleep on this team’s tournament chances just yet. A win today may inject them back into serious discussion. Follow that up with a win tomorrow, and they might vault much of the bubble field.
I love watching this team play. They’re one of the most resilient teams out there. They have a great senior leader in AJ Vassalo, the Puerto Rican Assassin and they might have the best trio of sophomores in the entire country with Sean Delaney, Jeff Allen and J.T. Thompson. Against the Canes yesterday, the Hokies played their best defensive game of the season in weeks and proved they could win without a great shooting performance from Delaney.
Those are good signs as they try to knock off the Heels today who may be playing without Ty Lawson. UNC fans appear to approve of Lawson logging a DNP today. The chorus from the bubble teams disapproves.
Kentucky vs. LSU, 1pm, ESPN Full Court. LIne, LSU -1; South Carolina vs. Mississippi St, 3:30pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, USC -2
The SEC pecking order has been difficult to figure out all season. Somehow, Auburn has worked itself into contention. These two games could represent final nails hammered into a coffin, or extend unlikely pursuits of a bid.
In the first game, Kentucky faces regular season champion LSU. The Cats broke a four-game losing streak yesterday, but the damage has already been done. UK needs to win this field and grab the automatic bid in order the notch an NCAA invite. The SEC is so weak and even this year, however, that it’s not an unlikely outcome. For the Cats to advance over the top-seeded Tigers, the Cats need to keep up the defensive intensity rediscovered yesterday in their first round romp over Ole Miss.
In the second game this afternoon, the South Carolina Gamecocks sit in precarious bubble position. A recent check of the Bracket Matrix field reveals South Carolina on the 11-seed line. Hard to imagine them qualifying for the NCAAs if they drop this quarterfinal game. And, like most power conference teams on the bubble, South Carolina mouthpieces are predictably bad mouthing the concept of automatic bids. Whatever. Just win some a game in this sectional and take care of your business. Mississippi State needs to run the table, but would it surprise anyone reading if any of the remaining SEC teams alive get hot and win this sectional? I wouldn’t be surprised, but if it does happen it would cause a bubble hiccup or two.
#12 Georgia Tech vs. #4 Florida State, 2:30, ESPN. Line, FSU -5
The last place Yellow Jackets are the ultimate Cinderella story this weekend. Yet, their advance into this game should not be a total surprise as it’s the third time in the last four years that the ACC #12 seed has won at least one game in this sectional. The Jackets still need three more big wins as heavy underdogs to pull out an improbable bid. Until they’re eliminated, however, their presence will bear watching for bubble tracking purposes.
They need to so a better job of containing FSU’s all-everything Toney Douglas. Douglas killed the Jackets in the only game these clubs played this season, scoring 10 points down the stretch to ease the Noles to a four-point win. Douglas is a guy you have to watch play. He’s an amazing talent, but the Noles don’t get much offensive production from anyone else. If he is off his game, the Jackets will be in this to the end. If Noles remain patient with their offense, the shaky Tech D will eventually cave to open look.
#5 Ohio State vs. #4 Wisconsin, 2:30, ESPN 2. Line, Wisco -2
In the Big 10's 4/5 game today, the first team to 40 may just win. When these clubs played a few weeks again under the ESPN Saturday night spotlight, they played a extremely tight and hard fought contest. But, I swear they counted baskets as just a single point. Eventually the Badgers eased by the Buckeyes, 55-50, in a game that featured 17 lead changes and 8 ties. I like both of these coaches in tournament situations. I like both of these coaches to get the most out of their teams. I expect both coaches to try and put a defensive stranglehold on this game. Despite trending on an uptick the second half of the Big 10 season, there is not a lot of confidence in Cheeseland heading into the game. Are the Buckeyes in the field? I would be shocked if they got left out, but what if they're the only Big 10 bubble team that losses today? Guard penetration, offensive boards and, of course, Evan Turner are the keys today to ensure that does not happen.
Predictions, sure to go wrong. As always, for amusement purposes only. Blindly following may be hazardous to your wallet
The March record is up to 26-18-2 after yesterday's 6-5 day. Here's what I have so far today. Keep checking in as I will be adding picks before each each session begins today.
**** Va Tech +10.5 over UNC. Hey, I love this team. I've already said that. They covered for me last week catching 10 against the Heels. I know that game was at home and today is at a neutral setting, but without Lawson I dont think this game is a mismatch at all. Over one-third of all VT games since Greenberg took over the program have been decided by 5 points or less. None of their last four games have fallen with this mark. To quote the great baseball manager Montgomery Burns, it's called playing the percentages, Strawberry
**** Minnesota +8 over MSU. I am a sucker for these dogs going against the top seeds. I like fading top seeds early in league tournaments. And, in the Big 10, there is history with the top-seed not getting out of the first round. Minnesota's size matches well with MSU and I think the Spartans are just as careless with the rock as the Gophers. I see a drag-out, bloody knuckle, traditional Big 10 slugfest. With points at a premium, I like starting with a 8-point head start.
**** LSU -1 over UK. I fell out of my seat when I saw this line. The Tigers have been a nice moneymaker for me during the bulk of the SEC season. And, you're telling I can invest in them today without a spread against a beleaguered UK team that's struggled against all the SEC contenders the back half of the season. I'm sold. LSU has the most talented roster in the SEC. They prove that today and win BIG over the Cats. Dont fret UK fans, I'm sure there will be plenty of good seats available for next week's NIT game at Rupp.
**** South Carolina to win on the -130 moneyline over Mississippi State. I have come to enjoy watching the Gamecocks play. They will have too many athletes and too much scoring this afternoon for the Bulldogs. In the process, they'll go a long way to making a nice final statement on their resume.
****Florida State -5 over Georgia Tech. Shouldn't the last place team be catching more points than this? I know they played FSU to a four-point game a few weeks ago, but I see the Seminoles laying the wood to the Jackets today. FSU was 11-4-1 ATS in ACC play this season. If I'm going to lay chalk today, I might as well to do with the top profit maker in the ACC this season. Besides, I like it when Toney Douglass is on my side.
**** Ohio State +2 over Wisconsin. I tend to agree with the sentiment that the Badgers lack of a go to guy will do them in this afternoon. With Even Turner, thats not an issue for Ohio State. IMO, he's one of the more valuable players in the nation. The Bucks will be able to lean on him today, when the game is on the line in the final minutes. I dont think either team will pull away, and nobody on the Badgers will be able to trade baskets with Turner in crunch time. I think OSU's physical play matches up well with Wisconsin. Thad Matta is 13-2 in his last 15 postseason games. I'll ride those numbers.
Did I just make a call on all six games this afternoon?!?!? Yikes!! I told you it was going to get crazy at some point this weekend. Welcome to the Jungle.......and, we'll have an update later in the day, unless the repo men have come for my computer.
Hey, how about some picks for the first night session? Hopefully they go better than the 4-4 we tossed out there earlier. I'll have some UM thoughts tomorrow when the make an appearance in Big 10 Picks, quarterfinal edition. Woot!! Sitting at 24-17-2 in March Madness. Here's to one more winning streak this weekend! Here goes and enjoy the hoops.
Sine the money line parlay worked so well this afternoon, we're going to put another one out there. I'll link the Oklahoma Sooners and the Pitt Panthers. Two elite teams. They're both playing rivals looking for revenge after an 0-2 season sweep. What could go wrong here? Its a little chalky more for tastes and linking two teams in the top five on a money line parlay earns me a seat at the Square Table. But, I think this is the way to go here. These teams proved their superiority all season to their rivals and their presence in the game will keep these giants from sleepwalking through an otherwise meaningless game simply.
When Boone Pickens says you're the best hire in 50 years, then you're moving in the right direction. I like how Travis Ford has remodeled the Cowboys. They're actually exciting to watch and go and down the floor as opposed to the choke-the-game-to-death strategy practiced by the Sutton Mafia. If this was a tournament opener, I would like their chances tonight. But, they were pushed hard last night by Iowa State. With so many starters logging over 30 minutes last night, I doubt they'll have the gas down the stretch to push past the Sooners. I have a suspicion Oklahoma enters this field more fired up than you would expect. They feel the regular season crowd was swiped from them because of the Griffin injury and look at this tournament as their own revenge tour. They want this title. Over the last decade when the Sooners have a good team, they excell in this tournament. Hopefully, Ollie look-alike does not have March Magic to kill them.
Speaking of excelling in their league tournaments, I present to you the Pitt Panthers. Did you know they've made it to the Big East Championship game in seven of the last eight years. I'll take them to win a quarterfinal game in what has become a Panther Invitational the decade. Whatever causes angst in Mountaineer Nation I'm on board with. Losing a third time to Pitt will do just. The Panthers won each of the first two games by double figures. The Mountaineers just dont have enough muscle to matchup against Pitt. West Virginia dominated the glass last night against the Irish, but those numbers could be reversed this evening.
The Pick: Pitt/Oklahoma to win moneyline. Both teams are -200. This pays about the same as the UM/Nova earlier today. I think both teams roll, but I wouldn't rule out one of them needing some sort of Nova-esque heroics to get in done.
The Magic Coin split the first two MAC games today. Let's give it a shot in a rubber match in the third quarterfinal of this sectional today. Why is Bowling Green, the top seed, not favored against against Ohio. The Falcons finished four games clear in the standings than the Bobcats. You're almost forcing me to bet the Falcons.
The Pick: BGSU, pick e'm........Is Vegas slow playing me into a trap? I trust the Magic Coin would not do that to me.
The rollercoaster ride continues for Maryland tonight. It really has been As The Terps Turns all winter long. They gagged away two chances to lock up a bid last week. I feel the third time will be the charm this weekend. Local fans remained concerned about Gary Williams leading he program into the future, but I think keeping this team from packing it in and instead rallying back into contention has been one of the best coaching jobs. Tonight is a huge game for Maryland if you use Joe Lunardi as a barometer. He was just on ESPN and among his final 4 in and final 4 out, he listed two mid majors in the clubhouse and Miami, Providence and Arizona teams that have already been bounced from their league tournament. They other team is SDSU. Oh, yeah, and Maryland. The Terps can sprint right by those teams with a couple of wins this weekend. They get the first leg tonight against the Pack. Greivas Jasquez wont let them lose tonight. Unless, Wolfpack players punch him in the mouth instead. Of course, they would get ejected them, so even that might be a good development.
The Pick: Maryland to win on the moneyline, -135. Hey, this was -2, but um, we saw what happened in the Villanova game. Yes, I was bullied into paying extra juice.
The most compelling Big 10 Tournament in the event’s history begins this afternoon. The field appears wide open. Michigan State is the favorite, but nobody would be surprised if a pair of sleepers emerge and hook up in Sunday's final.
The tournament tips today with intrigue draping the entire first round. All three favorites this afternoon, Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State can wrap up bids with a win. If they lose, then get ready for a home NIT game. All three are double digit seeds in the Bracket Matrix, but neither of them will be on a bracket line come Sunday evening if they don’t survive round one.
A fourth team today, Northwestern, is on the verge of its first ever bid, but needs wins today and tomorrow, against teams they've already beat this season, to make a convincing enough case.
A fifth team Iowa has no at-large hopes, but they're the healthiest they've been all season, could be the best 10th place team in the land and have a history of stirring runs in this sectional.
The sixth today is Indiana. No comment. The Hoosiers, at least, will have a distinct home court edge in Indianapolis.
I can’t recall a more important first round of the Big 10 Tournament. Never have this many stakes been on the table in these games. Rarely has a bid ever been on the line in this round. Usually the Big 10 season arcs one of two ways: It evolves top heavy with a wide gap between the haves and have nots. The tournament first round becomes nothing but a series of elimination games between teams that, at best, are mid-range NIT teams. Or, the league is a bit stronger than that, but the first round takes place between NCAA locks and cellar dwellers. This year we have three bids directly on the line today. None of the games appear to be total mismatches.
It ought to be the start of a dramatic weekend in Indy. With that in mind, let’s dust off a football season staple--Big 10 Picks. I'm not sure I like the idea of playing all 11 BTT games, and if I end 6-5, I will be stoked. As always, these are for amusement purposes only and blindly following my plays may be hazardous to your wallet:
#8 Minnesota vs. #9 Northwestern. Line, Minny -2
This is the most NCAA relevant 8/9 game the Big 10 Tournament has staged. Both teams have legitimate at large hopes, but need a good showing in this field as a final pitch to the selection committee. Losing this game does not equal a good showing. The loser this afternoon is NIT bound. The Daily Gopher makes the Big 10’s case for earning seven bids in the NCAAs, and this game will go a long way in determining who those squads may be.
Minnesota is 10th on the Bracket Matrix, but conventional wisdom seems to place the Gophers as one of the final at large teams included. The Gophers are trending downward with losses in six of their last nine games. Minnesota played choppy and uneven the back half if the Big 10 season. The Gophers struggle from the perimeter, handle the rock sloppy and are way too vulnerable to the three-point shot, picking apart what is otherwise a good defensive unit. March can be a time for redemption for the Gophers.
Who knows what to make of some of Tubby Smith's lineup moves? After watching his starting backcourt of Lawrence Westbrook and Al Nolan chuck up bricks all February, he removed them from the starting lineup. Both, however, return as starters today. Colton Iverson mysteriously logged a DNP in the finale Saturday against Michigan. And, let’s not even talk about the timeouts. Besides, that’s never a good argument for Michigan fans to wage.
Northwestern, meanwhile, looms in the back of the line of prospects still hoping to crash the dance. The Cats aren't anywhere near a bracket line, but they have enough of a resume where all that could change in the next 24 hours if they win today and tomorrow against Michigan State. Chew on this while watching Northwestern today: In the last two years, 37 different teams notched at least 6 wins over the RPI top 50. All of those teams qualified for the NCAAs. Northwestern enters the game with exactly six RPI top-50 wins with a chance to add more in this sectional. Translation: Northwestern arrives in Indianapolis with a strong at-large pulse, despite being considered an NIT 3-seed. As an aside, I think they would roll Wassau in that projected game. Anyway, to keep that pulse beating, the Cats have to overcome their woeful history in this tournament.
The Cats have had moments of brilliance this season. They smoked Florida State by 14 in the Big 10/ACC Challenge. They won road games at Purdue and Michigan State. They've also might be the most snake bitten team in the league, losing heartbreakers to Butler, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois and Ohio State. They could be in no worse than Minnesota's position had they found a way to notch even one of those games. After a four game losing streak to start the Big 10 season, Northwestern went 9-6 in their final 15 games.
The Gophers did beat Northwestern in February; the result can be disregarded since a flu bug invaded Wildcat camp, severely limiting the play of Northwestern's top two scorers, Kevin Coble and Craig Moore. They average about 70 minutes a game, but had only 40 in what ended up being a second half rout by the Gophers. Otherwise, Northwestern has been playing better basketball for the last month than Minnesota.
If I am a Gopher fan, I worry because Northwestern's strengths jive well with Minnesota's weaknesses. The Gophers leak like a sieve defensively from behind the arc, having given up twice as many treys as they’ve made since the start of February. Northwestern uses the three-ball as an offensive weapon as well as anybody in the league and are good for 8 or 9 treys a game when clicking. Northwestern is a good turnover margin team; Minnesota is not. Northwestern gets a lot more consistent offensive production from its top scorers than Minnesota does. Minnesota has not shoot the ball well from the perimeter and the Cats 1-3-1 will put a lot of pressure on them to hit deep jumpers. They've been missing those jumpers most of the conference season, why will they start going down now? If Coble and Moore perform like we know they can, can we trust anyone on the Gophers to be able to trade baskets with them?
The Gophers do have great interior brawn. They have mismatches inside. They will do damage. But as we saw in the Michigan game, even if the Gophers dominate inside, they can’t win even with a 'B' effort on the perimeter. Besides, don’t sleep on the Cats battling the Gopher bigs. In their leach of their last two games against Purdue and Ohio State, they grabbed 10 offensive rebounds. The Cats do have a size advantage on the perimeter, which could help shut down the outside and the Gophers transition game
I can’t help but think the Cats salt this one away to set up an interesting quarterfinal game against the Spartans. The game will be tight, but Northwestern pulls it out because they'll hit twice as many treys and the Gophers will have too many turnovers and empty positions to make up that difference.
The Pick: Northwestern +2.......Northwestern is 5-1 ATS after a loss. Minnesota is 3-8 ATS after a loss. I will admit the Chicken Little in me is starting to get nervous that everything seems to be pointing Northwestern’s way. We’ll find out in a little bit.
#6 Penn State vs. #11 Indiana. Line, PSU -10
Indiana has reached the last stop on its nightmare season. With the #11 seed in this tournament 8-3 ATS in Round One games, I'm more than willing to ride shotgun on the last leg.
We've spent a lot of time comparing Michigan disastrous football season to other falls-from-grace in that sport. Isn't the real comparison Indiana Basketball, however? Both programs are pillars of their sport and they’ve undergone historically awful seasons. Nevermind the different reasons that created the downfall, the actual results were the same. A new coach. Shifting philosophies. A rash of transfers or departures (or, in IU's case dismissals) decimating the lineup. A lineup dominated by freshmen and walk-ons. Losing streaks lasting more than a month. Worst records ever in Big 10 play. Like Michigan fans, IU fans now have their own worst loss argument: Northeastern, during which IU scored its least amount of points ever at Assembly Hall, or Lipscomb. D'uh, its Lipscomb, silly. I think it’s best comparison we have to the 2008 Michigan football season
If the Hoosiers manage to win even once in this field, the weekend automatically becomes the highlight of the year. Otherwise, it might be the fact their team-manager-turned-player found some face time on ESPN.
There’s no legitimate way to break the game down and project an Indiana win. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling they're going to at least scare the socks of Penn State today. I'm leaning on intangibles in this one. Despite the rotten won-loss record, the Hoosiers still bring out the fans like a rock band. The IU faithful will pack the Fieldhouse today and the adrenaline passed on might help for awhile as an equalizer.
Crean has this team playing hard and even confident, even though the outcome never works out for them. I think a perfect storm is brewing for IU's most spirited effort of the year in a quirky late afternoon start when just about everybody in the building will be shouting for them. They just played the Nittany Lions to a 3-point game a few weeks ago in a game they should have won. Funny as it sounds, but the Indiana players probably feel like they can win this game given that last performance.
If it does play out like that, it will be fascinating to see how Penn State responds. It’s the game of their lives. Their bid is on the line and everyone in the building will hate them. I believe they'll step up. The Lions have been one of the most resilient teams in the league this season. They have climbed back in so many games that a little in-game adversity is nothing. They'll make enough plays to pull away and win.
Covering the spread is another thing. Seeing a last place team give the favorite a run in the first round isn't that big of stretch based on what we've already seen in March. A winless Depaul team sprung an upset of Cincinnati. Last-place Colorado covered the spread over the Horns. And, in this tournament last season, the 11-seed Illinois got hot and advanced into the championship. Why not the Hoosiers? Well, to at least duplicate what the Buffs did.
The Pick: Indiana +10......it's worth pointing out that IU went 9-9 ATS in league play this season. That's nothing to write home about, but it is a whopping 8-game improvement from their actual record. That is eye opening. They're as likely to lose and cover as they are to lose and not cover. They're 7-4, however, when catching 9 or more points, so at least we have them in a profit making wheelhouse.
#7 Michigan vs. #10 Iowa. Line, UM -5.5
Here we are again Michigan fans. I think we've driven by this spot once or twice in recent years. This isn’t the first time Michigan was one more win away from locking up a bid. Each previous time, however, the Wolverines coughed up a lung choking away the game and their invite. We all know about those games, so let’s not rehash them. Let’s just say the outcomes have helped conspire against Michigan in its decade-long tournament drought and leave it at that. Today's game against Iowa can go a long way towards exercising the demons of NCAA sanctions, futile play and apathy that’s coursed through the program since the late 1990s. Can Michigan finish the deal today and finally return to the NCAA Tournament? A bid is in their grasp, but if they play too tight will it slip away? Will the officials suck any worse today than they did in Iowa City back in February?
Looking for a good omen? Michigan beat Iowa in its first even Big 10 Tournament game in 1998. The Wolverines ended up winning the whole thing and making the Big Dance. Allegedly. While they haven’t done either since, Michigan is 3-0 against Iowa in the Big 10 Tournament, including last year's first round win. Obviously, Beilein owns Lickliter in this event.
Michigan rolled the Hawks back in January in perhaps the easiest win the Wolverines had all Big 10 season. They lost two weeks ago in arguably the most heartbreaking defeat of the year, not to mention controversial. We won’t rehash that here either, but you have to think Manny Fresh is chomping at the bit to take on Iowa with the way that overtime went down at Carver-Hawkeye last month.
The Hawks scare me today. They're finally getting healthy. Tate will be a load to handle inside. Davin Ballwinkle (porn name or hoops player? Discuss) will be a nightmare if he gets hot from the outside and could easily impact this field the way Brody Boyd did for the Hawks earlier this decade. Jake Kelly taking over at point turned the team around down the stretch. They could spring themselves a couple of rounds through the weekend, and it would not surprise me one bit. They might be the best 10th place team in the country. They beat the MVC champion, beat the Big 12 fourth place team and lost by a point on the road to an ACC tournament lock. I've seen this team play Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State down the stretch and the Hawks looked every bit as good as those bid contenders in going 2-1. They had the emotion of home court behind them in each game, so we'll see if that carries over to this afternoon's neutral setting.
All my instinct says jump on the Hawks and those points. They're loose, have nothing to lose and appear to be peaking at the right time. The program has a history of making runs in this sectional despite their low seeds. They've made runs to the finals as a 6-seed and the semis as a 9- and 7-seed this decade. How will Michigan's young team respond to the pressure with so much on the line against a team playing with house money?
Then, I remember how they persevered last week. And, that their coach is John Beilein. I'll say it again: Beilein is 34-23 SU, 36-19-2 ATS in the month of March during the years since UM's last tournament appearance. There aren't too many other coaches I would rather have on the sidelines in this game. Beilein has the team convinced if they follow the road map he has set forth, then success will come their way. He has me convinced today.
The Pick: Michigan, to win. That's all I want them to do today. They ML at -230 is too expensive for my tastes, so I am parlaying it with the Villanova ML of -145 to win over Marquette. It's the second Big East game of the day, going on at the same time as the UM game. It's not the most lucrative parlay, paying just 7/5 odds, but both teams should have enough to salt away a win. For Michigan, can Sims keep up his amazing play of late? Can Manny take over the way a star should? Was LLP a mirage or the real deal on Saturday? If he falters, which of the others will step up and provide a third scoring option? I think Michigan answers enough of those questions in the affirmative to get the win today.
Do I have any more predictions today?
Is that a rhetorical question? I mean, c'mon it's March few gawd's sake. It's going to get a little ridiculous the next three days, so hang on. It's going to be a ride.
In addition to Northwestern +2 over Minnesota, here are two other games I played for the upcoming noon session:
***Why is a 7-seed favored to beat a 2-seed? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the the Mid American Conference. Expect it to be the most competitive of the remaining quarterfinal rounds. Nobody is favored by more than 2 points today. If you bet these games, then hopefully you are using your magic coin. Mine says to take CMU -2 over Ball State. Again, the 7-seed is favored over the 2 seed. WTF? Somebody knows something, and I am going with that somebody.
****Virginia Tech +3.5 over Miami. I think the Hokies are the better team and have more talent. I love the wat the Hokies play ball. After a murderer's row slate to close out, they might find the Canes a little bit easier to play than they did the ACC big boys. Miami, meanwhile, looked 'meh' in their closing stretch against the league's lower echelon. I'm not sure they can handle the step up today. Hokies will advance, but I'll take the 3.5 anyway.
Yikes, that did not go well. OK, Chief, tell me you have better stuff for this next set of game, will ya!?!?
Well, I'll try. The Cats faded down the stretch, the Chips fell in OT....but the Hokies cruised. 1-2 with the Nova/UM to win parlay still active. If that comes in I will be ahead by a nose on the day due to the payout. But, here are the others for this set:
*****I heart Nova. Not only do I have them on the parlay, but I will play Nova -2 over Marquette. The Eagles just aren't the same without James. What a brutal loss. The result on offense is obvious, but he was so key to their defense. He brought it every possession. Without him, they will struggle against the Wildcats backcourt. One Warning: Whenever I play Villanova, Scottie Reynolds disappear. One time, baby, one time is all I ask.
****** We're going to try that Magic Coin again in the MAC and flip it until it lands on Buffalo, our pre-tourney choice to win this section. I'll take UB in a pick 'em over Kent.
****** Texas over Kansas State, to win on the -140 moneyline. If for no other reason to avoid a Baylor/KSU semifinal with the winner guaranteed to at least play for the auto bid in the title game.
With most of the mid-major conference tournaments now in the books, it’s time for the BCS leagues and the like to begin their postseason sectionals.
Not a ton of drama exists in the today’s games as it pertains to the Bubble. In the afternoon sessions of the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA, nobody is a true at large contender. St. Louis/Lasalle, UNCC/St. Joseph’s, Rice/Marshall and Southern Miss/UCF are pure elimination games. The winners advance into league quarterfinals tomorrow afternoon. The loser gets ready for baseball season. All of these teams need to win out for the automatic bid in order to make the field. None are even in the NIT projections, but if teams like the St. Louis, Lasalle and St. Joseph’s win a couple of games this week, they might be able to extend their season and play in the Invitational instead.
In the Big 12, Texas, a team safely in the field, plays last place Colorado. The tournament begins with an intriguing 8/9 between Nebraska and Baylor. Both need to win out to make the field, although a case might be made for Nebraska, whose 9-9 league mark is the best they’ve done in 10 years, for an at large should they advance all the way into the league finals.
The marquee bubble game of the day session is taking place now, as you read this, when the Providence Friars, the league’s 8-seed, plays Depaul, the 16-seed. Providence will be a team discussed all week as far as their NCAA merits are concerned. As of this morning, the Friars are fifth-to-last out of the Bracket Matrix. Only 9 Bracketologists include Providence in their field. One of them is B101, which has projected the most accurate fields over a three-year period, so there might be more to PC’s candidacy than meets the eye.
Heading into the game, the Friars have already lost. By virtue of Depaul’s upset yesterday over Cincinnati, Providence misses a chance to book a nice looking win on its resume this afternoon. A loss to the Blue Demons would be lethal. However, a win won’t force people to take a second look at the Friars. Depaul won for the first time since December yesterday and became the first team in Big East history to go winless in league play, but rebound to win a BE Tournament Game. For the Friars to get over the hump and impress the selection committee, they need to take care of business today and beat top-seeded Louisville tomorrow afternoon.
While everyone expects the Friars to beat the Blue Demons today, Providence has to overcome its own Big East Tournament Demons in the process. They’ve lost five straight BE Tournament games, 10 of their last 11 and have not won a game in this sectional since 2003. Nobody questions the Friars offense, but their defense needs to shore up if they want to win a couple of games and have a chance at making the NCAAs. In eight of their last 14 games, Providence has given up at least 90 points. In Big East play, they allow just over 80 points per game.
Today against Depaul, the Friars are heavy chalk. The line closed at PC -10. The only way Depaul advances is to play the complete opposite of Providence and slow the game down, limiting the total number of possessions. Providence should win, but I can’t bite on that big number. Depaul played them within single digits in slow paced game earlier in the season. How will PC respond to the letdown of playing Depaul? Will they be looking ahead? Do the Demons have an advantage because they got their tourney feet wet? We’ll find out.
In the second game, Marquette plays St. Johns, who put the final nail in the Hoyas coffin yesterday. The winner advances to play Villanova. In addition to the ESPN broadcasts, Card Chronicle will be live-blogging the day's action over at the Louisville's SB Nation Blog. With the winner of the first game up next for the Cards, it might be worth checking out their take.
Predictions, Wednesday Day Session
I do like one game in the noon session today: I have Nebraska in a pick ‘em over Baylor. Nebraska’s great defense against the Bears great offense, I’ll take the defense every time. These clubs come into the game headed in opposite directions with the Huskers having covered three games in a row, while Baylor has covered only three times this calendar year and are on a 1-10 ATS run. Nebraska will not wow anyone with their talent or athletes, but they might be the most intense team in the Big 12. Baylor might be the least intense team and are just playing out the string. Nebraska just went into Waco and beat the Bears by four points. No reason to think they cant do that again this afternoon.
The Pick: Nebraska, pick ‘em, over Baylor. Game starts at 12:35.
In the next round of games beginning during the 2 o'clock hour, I will be taking St. Joe's over UNC Charlotte. The Hawks are solid enough to win a couple of games in this field. Bottom line, I have a soft spot for St. Joe's, probably because I like their mascot, which never stops flapping its wings. They'll have enough firepower to ease by the Miners.
The Pick: St. Joe's -2 over UNCC. After the CSU cover last night, the March record is 19-12-2. Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!
On one hand, CMU, WMU and EMU all had disappointing seasons. On the other hand, the Chippewas and Broncos tied for first place (along with Ball State) in the MAC West with the Eagles just a game behind.
The good news for CMU is the Chips notched a share of their first division title since 2003 with a come-from-behind win against the rival Broncos over the weekend. The bad news, while the win tied them for first, the Chips still only had a 7-9 league mark. Suddenly EMU being a game behind that mark does not sound all that impressive.
All of them have a chance at redemption this week when the MAC Tournament convenes in Cleveland with opening rounds beginning this afternoon. All three Michigan schools take the floor today. Interestingly, Central and Eastern hook up today in the 7/10 game, beginning at noon. The Eagles swept the Chips this season, including a win almost two weeks ago with last second free throws by EMU proving to be the decisive points.
Say what you will about their overall records, but both clubs are at least playing their best ball of the season in March. The Chips have won 4 of their last six. Eastern, after entering the final week of February with just four overall wins, rallied to close the season with four straight wins. After enduring three different losing streaks of at least six games, the Eagles doubled their season win total over the final fortnight of the schedule. With Ball State, a club each has beaten already this season, up next in the quarterfinals, I wouldn’t rule out a mini run in this field by either team. Technically speaking, Michigan fans should root for the Eagles since it would help out the SOS and RPI numbers.
Western tips off at 4pm against the Ohio Bobcats in the 8/9 game of the first round. A quarterfinal date with top-seed Bowling Green looms for the winner. The Broncos are not playing their best ball right now. They’ve lost 9 of their last 12 games. They vomited away a chance for the outright West title and #2 seed in the MAC field. Western has twice as many losses as wins right now. Yet, they are a first place team. Such is life in the MAC, I guess.
The MAC this season has been both easy and difficult to figure out. The easy part comes from the East’s dominance over the West this season. In head-to-head games, the East ran up a 29-6 record against the West. The three Michigan schools contributed to those woes with a 4-14 mark against East foes. That math led to the equation where five East leagues have at least 10 league wins and no West team had a winning league mark.
Of course, the hard part of the MAC to decipher who is the best team. The top five teams record wise are all within one game of each other and basically played the same type of schedule. Is it surprising top-seed Bowling Green? How about upstart Buffalo, carrying over some momentum from the historic football season the Bulls had? Or, is the top dog still one of the usual suspects in Miami, Kent or Akron?
We’ll find out between now and Saturday night. My pick? I’m going with Bulls of Buffalo. The league is about as Even Steven as you can get. The Bulls have a tricky quarterfinal game against Kent, but otherwise I like their draw much better. Three of the power teams from the East are on the top side of the bracket. The Bulls get the side with Ball State, the 7-9 West Champ, serving as the field’s #2 seed. I see Buffalo, the #3 seed, beating Miami, the #4 seed in Saturday’s final.
As for today’s game, I think Central Michigan breaks their losing streak to the Eagles and advances. In the Western game, how can you fade the season long trend of east over west? I can’t. Ohio nips the Broncos in the end. Please note, however, these are just leans and not actual picks.
Oakland, yes that Oakland, plays for a bid
The biggest news of the day among the Michigan Mid-Majors is the stirring run the Oakland Golden Grizzlies have been on of late in the Summit Conference. Winners of nine games in a row, the Grizz square off against North Dakota State with, get this, an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Yep, you read that right; Oakland is 40 minutes away from going to the Dance. Michigan’s RPI and SOS numbers will skyrocket if the Grizz upset top seed NDSU, won’t it?
Oakland’s success should not surprise savvy college hoops followers. Their home games are the most underrated sporting events in the Detroit Metro area. Head Coach Greg Kampe has been a mainstay of the Detroit sports scene for a quarter century. He turned the program into a D2 power and shepherded it through the transition years of becoming a full-fledged D1 program. Since joining the Summit League, Kampe has led the Grizz to top-3 finishes in six of 10 seasons, including a pair of league titles.
The highlight of their D1 tenure was a 2005 appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They went a surprise run in the Summit Sectional to get the bid. After winning the play-in game over Alabama State, the Grizz played eventual national champion North Carolina in a 1/16 game. I’ll say this about Oakland: They are 2-0 ATS lifetime in the NCAA Tournament. They were catching 29 points against the Heels, but only lost by 28. Woot!!
That season, Oakland was a Cinderella story, even within its own league. This go around, they’re legit contenders for the Summit’s auto bid.
Oakland spanked tournament host South Dakota State last night in the semifinals, stifling the Jackrabbits offense all night. Oakland surged to a 19-point halftime lead and never looked back.
Oakland has a nice seven-man rotation and, at times, can go even deeper than that. Their two mainstays are the guard tandem of Erik Kangas and Jonathon Jones. Both rarely leave the court, averaging over 35 minutes a game. Kangas is one of the nation’s top three point shooters. Jones, meanwhile, mans the point, dishing out almost 8 assists a game to go along with 13.9 ppg.
Last night, Kangas poured in 21 points, while Jones had a double/double, scoring 16 and dishing out 10 dimes. Keith Benson, their 6/11 pivotman, provides beef up front and grabbed 14 boards last night.
The chore will be tough tonight going up against the Bison. They’ve been the wire-to-wire first place team in the Summit all season. Since Christmas, they’ve won 20 of 22 games. One of those losses, at least, was a one-point defeat at the hands of Oakland. The Bison returned the favor, beating the Grizz by 10 back in February.
Leading the Bison is the best player you’ve probably never heard of or seen play, Ben Woodside. He has a fantastic, rather old school game. The Bison have been steamrolling folks much of the winter. As such, they’ve compiled a pretty good statistical resume, so much so that according to KenPom’s projections, the Bison are one the top 70 teams in the country.
The Bison are a new team to the D1 level and this is the first year they’re eligible to play in the Summit Sectional and compete for the conference’s automatic bid. Don’t think this game is important for the NDSU folks? Consider this storyline: The team is led by a core of seniors who all took a redshirt season just so they would still have eligibility left for this particular season. An entire college career has pointed to this season, to this particular tournament, to this particular night.
Make no mistake, there will be a lot of pressure and drama in this one. It’s the essence of March Madness. I think NDSU has too much invested to let this one slip. They’re favored by just four points. I will be pulling for the Grizz, but, if I were to gamble tonight, I would take the Bison. The O/U total is 152, so expect a rather high scoring contest.
The Sun Belt Conference will also hand out its automatic bid tonight when South Alabama plays Western Kentucky. I don’t know a whole lot about the league this year. My gut tells me WKU is the better team, but South Bama has looked better this weekend. Instead, I’ll drop this historic information: Michigan beat South Alabama in the second round during its 1989 title run. Western Kentucky beat Michigan in the first round of the 1995 tournament, ending the Wolverine careers of Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.
The Horizon League title game offers the most important bubble game of the night. Win or lose, Butler will be in the field. But, a Cleveland State win gives the Vikings the auto bid and will eventually knock one bubble team off the bracket line. Butler won both games this season. Both games went down to the wire and were among some of the more well played games of the season.
I’ll try and dig up more information on those two games as the day goes on
The Big East gets its five-day tournament off the ground this afternoon in Madison Square Garden. In the first round, Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Georgetown all play today with one last chance to impress. Each needs at least two, if not three, win to put itself in legit at-large conversation.
Only one today. I’m taking Cleveland State +6 over Butler. I backed the Vikings both times this year against the Bulldogs and came out even. I lost the first matchup, a pick ‘em, when Butler drained a three-pointer at the buzzer. I won the second game with CSU catching 7 points on Butler’s home floor in a game that also went down to the wire. Tonight, the rubber match for my wallet. I had no second thoughts taking CSU two weeks ago on Butler’s home floor. With the spread basically the same, I don’t see why they cant do it again.
Maybe more predictions later, we’ll see.
Diarist Note: Sorry folks, I wanted to do a better piece here, but work is slammed and I'm under the gun here. But, writing is an on going situation. I'll be using the comments for running commentary on these games tonight, so what I failed to say below, will make it out in 'print' anyway. Cheers!
I'm taking a break from my vigilant watch of the NCAA Bubble tonight. Besides, what more can I add that Brian did not with his excellent post from this afteroon.
My focus tonight is on four mid-major conference title games. The Monday of Championship Week is always one of my favorite nights of the Madness. We have four bids handed out, but these aren't your standard 'happy-to-be-here' sort of leagues. All four of these leagues--Colonial, Southern, MAAC and West Coast--are prone to sending competive teams in the Dance and each have seen their champions pull of a couple upsets this decade.
Looking for a dangerous 12- or 13-seed? You might one tonight.
Anyway, instead of rambling on and on about the Bubble and Michigan's tournament chances, I have got quick previews on these four games with, you guessed it, predictions for the night. So far, my March record is looking good, 16-10-2. We're taking half of profits made so far and spreading them out on these games. I'm sure everything will work out just fine.
Colonial Athletic Association Championship, 7pm, ESPN
George Mason vs. Virginia Commonwealth. Line, VCU -3
Three reasons to watch this showdown between league powers:
1.) Eric Maynor. The VCU little guy is one of the best players in the country. There aren’t many guards, if any, from the Big 10 that I would take over this guy. He does it all, scoring, assists, rebounds and makes everyone around him better. He is money in crunch time and in big games. He’s been one of my favorite players to watch in the college game for the last several seasons. Tonight, he’ll try to carry the Rams back into the NCAAs.
2.) The Colonial is one of the most competitive leagues in the land. These two programs have stood above the crowd in recent seasons. They have a combined 7 NCAA appearances this decade. Both teams have had Cinderella March runs. Tonight, these two mid major powerhouses go tête-à-tête with the league’s one and only bid on the line. But, these are not one-and-done type of teams. Either one of these clubs could win a tournament game and even advance out of the first weekend.
3.) We’re doing a little gambling bird dogging in this one. The CAA has been a money maker in the NCAA Tournament this decade. Their teams are nice 10-4-2 ATS in the Big Dance the last six seasons. The CAA Champion carries a 6-2-2 ATS mark in the NCAA First Round the last 10 seasons. Much of that success was built by these two programs. VCU is 4-0 ATS in the NCAAs this decade. Mason, meanwhile, is 6-2 ATS, a number spurred by their 4-1 ATS run to the 2006 Final Four as an at large bid. Rest assured, come next Thursday afternoon, I will have money on one of these teams. Might as well take a look at what I am buying.
As much as I enjoy the George Mason program, I am sticking with the Rams tonight.
The league's top points per possession team meets the top points allowed per possession club. I'll always go with the defense in those situations and that's VCU. Actually, both teams play great defense, but the Rams have a bit more scoring, in large part because of Maynor. The Patriots have a bit more size up front. The Patriots have struggled shooting the ball all weekend and have advanced in spite of their ragged play. The Rams have looked solid all along.
This game will be a defensive battle. It will go down to the wire. In that situation, I’ll take the team with the best player. In this case, it’s Maynor and the Rams. In crunch time, I don’t think Mason has anyone who can trade hoops with Maynor. That will be enough to carry the day.
The Pick: VCU -3, In Eric Maynor I Trust. He dominated the Patriots in the team's only meeting this season. Mason has lost 9 games this year by a combined 44 points, so I hate laying points against them, but Maynor's scoring touch and their own cold shooting of late will do them in when the game is on the line.
Southern Conference Championship, 7pm, ESPN 2
Tennessee-Chatanooga vs. College of Charleston. Line, CC -2
Some of the intrigue in this league disappeared with Stephon Curry and Davidson’s elimination. I won’t lie; I wanted to see Curry and Company playing in this game. That skinny kid is a blast to watch. And, I will be tuning into his NIT games, for sure.
Intrigue still exists tonight. One of these teams will obviously grab an NCAA bid. The other, might not even play in the NIT. Both teams have a lot of seniors. Guts will be on the floor.
The Charleston storyline attracts me. The Cougars were the mid-major darling in the 1990s, before the term was even coined. After tearing it up at the NAIA level, the Cougars made the leap to the D-I level and quickly established themselves as the best team in the small league they joined. That league doesn’t exist anymore as the teams have scattered to various Big South and Atlantic Sun destinations. The Cougars, though, tried to climb the ranks of the college hoops world and joined a tougher league. After making four NCAA appearances (including 1997, when they advanced into the second round) and a pair of NITs in the final six years of the 1990s, the Cougars have not played in a post season game in this attempted climb up the mid-major ranks.
Also, their coach is the one and only Bobby Cremins. During college basketball glory days of the 1980s, Cremins was a central figure. He built powerhouse teams at Georgia Tech. In an attempt to break the Tobacco Road hammerlock in the ACC, Cremins brought in some of the game’s top talents from Mark Price to John Salley to Kenny Anderson. Those were some classic teams.
Cremins is long removed from Georgia Tech. Once a March fixture, he has not coached in the Big Dance in more than a dozen years. If he can coax one more win out of the Cougars, a program and a coach familiar with March success, will be home again on a bracket line.
What I found interesting watching yesterday’s semifinals was Charleston took out Davidson without having to play their best game. They were awful in the first half. They could have won by double digits, but could not convert some late possessions. To beat the league giant without your ‘A’ game tells me something.
Chattanooga, meanwhile, had it all going last night. They played a near perfect game and cruised by Samford, the upstart 6-seed. If they can repeat that performance this evening, they will be heading to the Dance. They're shooting the rock much better in this tournament than they did all season. Tonight they face a defense that stifled Curry and Davidson last night. I doubt they can maintain that kind of accuracy.
The Mocs have also enjoyed a rebounding edge this weekend, but tonight face a Charleston team that collected 17 offensive rebounds last night.
What does any of that mean? I think Charleston has room to improve their showing tonight. Chatanooga does not. The Cougars come in playing their best defense of the season. They will cool off the Mocs who seemed to hit everything they threw up yesterday. Charleston has the personnel and know-how to neutralize the two advantages the Mocs have had--shooting and rebounding--to get to this point. The Cougars went 2-1 this season against the Davidson juggernaught. I think they get it done tonight and return to the Big Dance for the first time since 1999.
The only time the two played this season was on Senior Night in Chatanooga. Charleston won that game. If they beat these guys on the road in February, I expect them to win on a neutral site in March.
The Pick: CC -2. I'll take their defense and hope that the Mocs can't replicate their scorching shooting touch from last night.
Metro Athletic Association Conference Championship, 9pm, ESPN2
Niagara vs. Siena. Line, Siena -3
All season, it was clear that Siena and Niagara were the top teams in the MAAC. In league circles, this game is as anticipated as the showdowns in the Colonial and WCC tonight.
Both clubs ran the other out of the gym with home court advantage. Guess what? Tonight’s game in Albany is played on Siena’s home floor.
Both teams have a lot of scoring. Both teams play a lot of guys. The Eagles have more size up front, but the Saints are the better shooting team. Unless the Hasbrouck injury keeps the kid out of tonight’s game, then I don’t think the Saints will be denied. He played in the title game last year with a bum shoulder. The Saints have enough firepower where they dont need him at his best to win this game. They’ve been clicking on all cylinders all weekend. The Saints have trailed for only eight seconds this entuer tournament. Siena has won 20 in a row on this court. I think that's important, dont you?
The Eagles, meanwhile, have looked sloppy this weekend and were fortunate to advance into this game. This game will be a track meet, and I wonder if the Eagles will have gas to keep up with Siena coming off that double OT win last night. I see this game staying close for 30-35 minutes before a late Siena scoring surge tucks the game away.
Much has been made about the 180 that Niagara has done this season on the defensive end. They had developed a reputation of being soft in that regard. They really have improved this year. However, the Saints scored at will on them in both games this year. They're a buzz saw on their home floor. In my opinion, Niagara still lacks the defensive identity needed to slow them down.
The Pick: Siena -3. Late word is that Hansbrouck is a go, although he skipped the shoot around. The senior has started every game since he arrived in Albany. He's not sitting this one on account of a Charley Horse. His backup scored 16 points the other night, so they wont be dead in the water if he's not 100 percent. Bottom line: Siena is more fundamentally sound than the loosey-goosey Eagles. Siena runs right past them the last 10 minutes or so, for an easier-than-it-looks win.
West Coast Conference, 9pm, ESPN
St. Mary's vs. Gonzaga. Line, Zags -7.5
Pride, rivalry and the league title are on the line when Gonzaga hooks up with St. Mary’s tonight in the West Coast Conference. I don’t believe, however, any NCAA bids are on the line. In my opinion, the Gaels are already in. The selection committee will cut them a break since most of their losses occurred when their best player Patty Mills was out with an injury. Mills looked rusty last night in his first game since January. Now that his feet are wet, we'll see if he can elevate his game.
Just because it's likely that no bid is on the line, that does not make the game any less important. Gael players have been chirping all weekend about sending the Zags a message that they’re not the league’s top dog anymore. Tonight, they get that chance. In order to do that, they have to get by a Bulldog club that looked its best last night in thumping Santa Clara.
The Zags swept the Gaels this year. But, in the only half that Mills was able to play, the Gaels looked to be their equal. St. Mary’s saw their season nearly unravel in February without Mills. With him back in the fold, I expect them to make a bit of a March statement this evening.
They might not win, but I expect them to cover the number.
The Pick: St. Mary’s +7.5. This might be the best rivalry west of the Mississippi River. The Gaels take it straight up if Mills is the best player on the floor. There's a great chance of that happening, but I'll put those points in pocket anyway. Besides, I needed to play at least one underdog
I expect a fun night of hoops and I will provide running thoughts throughout the night. Enjoy!