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.
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.
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!