Mike Lantry, 1972
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!
For the last three years, I have wondered how in the heck did Michigan fritter away that Indiana game at Crisler Arena to close the 2006 regular season. I'll carry the same puzzlement for a while in the wake of yesterday's game. From a Wolverine perspective, its good to be on the other side of that equation this go around. Michigan's karma is now even steven, at least in that regard.
It helps when you have one of the best coaches in the college game.
Laval-Lucas Perry, this next round is on me.
Name dropping alert; Name dropping alert. When the Gophers played at Crisler Arena a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting with WLA Goons Dex and MRG. Among the talking points, was a whole lot of chuckles at Tubby Smith's timeout pattern. He let Michigan rip off a scoring run to close the first half without even trying to stop momentum. Yet, he called a TO with 3 seconds in the half to diagram a play. It didn't work. He continued to react slowly the whole second half, but at least still had a TO in his pocket to use in the final five seconds with his team hopelessly behind double digits.
His TO yesterday took place well before Westbrook even began his shooting motion, so its probably not as big a gaffe as its being made out. But, how typical of Smith. Your guy is loose in open court, nobody has picked him up. Just trust your players. Quit over coaching! One of your money shooters is going towards the rim and is free enough to measure up his shot, and your first instint is to take the ball out of his hands? Thank you, Orlando Smith.
Check out Yinka Double Dare's Diary for all the seeding possibilies in the Big 10 Tournament that will be impacted by the final three league games played today. I know Iowa would be a tougher out, but I am spinning bad mojo on ice in my head at the prospects of playing Indiana in the 6/11 game. As many of you know, yours truly is an Indiana University Grad, circa none of your business. Anyway, as much as I have loved and admired the effort of the kids this season, it would not give me any satisfaction to see them spring an upset and advance in this field on the backs of Michigan. While I am not superstitious enough to believe in live blog curses, I am deathly afraid for Michigan because of my own bad karma. I've gone into Crisler to cheer for Indiana over Michigan before. At some point the sports gods will want some blood in return.
Make no mistake, regardless who the Hoosiers play in that 6/11 game, Conseco Fieldhouse will be filled at the tip with Cream and Crimson clad fans. Hoosier faithful knew the score heading into the season and they've still showed up in droves to root for their team. They had the best fans out in Maui. And, they serenaded the lone outgoing senior as the final seconds of the Assembly Hall season ticked off the clock. Let's admit it: how many of us would have been willingly to do the same to the Michigan seniors this past football season? It will be close to a road game for the opponent on Thursday. I'm comforted by the fact that if its Michigan, there will be several thousands Wolverine fans, so the players will at least have a lot more support than a true road game.
If Northwestern does win later today against Ohio State, it would create an intriguing lineup of games to open the tournament Thursday afternoon. Ohio State and Minnesota would start in the 8/9 game in what could be an elimination game. Northwestern/ Iowa would play in the 7/10 game with the Wildcats probably still needing a win to clinch their first ever tournament bid. We've seen what Iowa can do in recent games. That game could go either way. And, then Michigan-Indiana to cap the day with Michigan also trying to clinch a long awaited bid. I dont think there's been a first round of this tournament that's had as much possible stack on the line. Now, I just need a plan to get out of work.
My foray into handicapping small school championship games ended unsuccesfully yesterday, logging a 1-2 mark in three showdowns. I went with my heart for the second straight game with the Loyola Marymount reincarnate VMI Keydets in the Big South. This time, it burned me as Radford sprinted right by the Keydets in a game that outscored five of the 11 NBA games played last night.
Pick that should keep its job: East Tennessee State dominating Jacksonville. That wager was never in doubt. Anytime I think of the Buccaneers, I think of tiny guard Keith Mr. Jennings who nearly led ETSU to a 1/16 upset over Clemson in the 1990 tournament and lost in the second round in the 1992 tournament to a team that played a lot of freshmen. You may have heard of them.
For most of the Ohio Valley Finals, it looked like I would coax out a winning record in these games. Austin Peay controlled the whole game and seemed to play the whole second half up somehwere between 6 to 10 points. The final six minutes rivalled the UM game, however. as APSU stopped converting and Morehead State began making shots. The bid to the field was finally decided in double overtime on a near buzzer beater. Morehead has not advanced into the tournament in a quarter century and three years ago they won just 4 games. From a March Madness perspective, it was exactly what I love about this month. My bank account, however, is not as pleased.
I lost the gambling battle in those games, but won the overall war yesterday. My picks from yesterday's column ended 7-4. I'll take a record like that any day.
Valley Title to be Decided; Unease in Omaha
Needless to say, the folks in Omaha will be anxious all week. Creighton's resume will be among the most scrutinized as we bat around bracketology topics this week. Expect it to be one of the most common arguments of the week. I'm not sure the Blue Jays are in any better position than Illinois State was last season when the Redbirds guady record, and a second bid for the MVC, was denied in the wake of a bowing out of this sectional with a blowout loss. That loss was in the title game, though.
Creighton's eliminated, but their two games in Arch Madness left an impression. First, the amazing sequence of events and eventual win at the buzzer over Witchita State. Then, in the final minutes of yesterday's embarrassing loss being dually serenaded by Redbird fans yelling 'ISU, ISU' and by a nice sized contigent of WSU fans who stuck around chanting 'NIT, NIT.' Classic.
In that same courtside CIL, it was reported that a straw poll of on-site media had the Blue Jays out of the NCAA field. FWIW.
Moving to this afternoon's title game between Northern Iowa and Illinois, i am undaunted by the failures in picking the title games right yesterday. I have a strong feeling ISU takes this game today. I know the Panthers have beat them twice already, but both those games went down to the wire and could have gone either way. After being snubbed last year, ISU is on a mission to get into the tournament and have been waiting to peak during Arch Madness to ensure their ticket gets snapped.
NIU has a large 7-foot presence in the middle with Jordan Egleseder. But, he's a bit of a pylon. He's called Floor Jordan for a reason. Illinois State's size and athleticsm of their own front line will be a tough matchup for him. Overall, I think ISU has matchup advantages with Osiris Eldridge and Champ Oguchi, and I really like they play of rugged forward Dinma Odiakosa who can impact the game without having to score a point.
I think Illinois State has the better team, and this weekend they've been playing better. I like the roll they're on right now.
Quick Bubble Hitters
With teams like Maryland and UNLV losing yesterday and the overall bubble carnage of the week, Virginia Tech is in position today to really make a move up the charts in advance of the ACC Tournament. The problem is they have to go on the road against Florida State to do it. Tech's chore today is similar to Michigan's yesterday where a road win against a good league foe will clinch a .500 league record. If they win, their road map to a bid will also rival Michigan. Just dont go one-and-done in the ACCs. If they do win, they would play NC State in a 7/10 game Thursday.
Tennessee is losing at home by 10 right now to Alabama. Are they playing themselves out of a bid? Or, just down the seed line? Discuss.
Northwestern plays its most important game in program history today in Columbus. There's no reason for me to add anything else.
More Mid Major Drama
The real excitement for me today is the conintuation of the mid major tournaments. Almost 100 teams have been eliminated since Thursday thanks to these fields. Only 213 remain standing by my rather unofficial, possibly off by a team or to, Sunday morning count. Regardless, we'll see more teams fall throughout the day with semifinals of the Colonial, MAAC, WCC, Southern, American East, NEC and quarterfinals in the Sun Belt and Summit.
The Colonial, MAAC, Southern and WCC semis are on ESPN2 or ESPN Full Court. I'll be keeping my eye on all those games.
It's March, his team is facing elimination and he drops 44 points. All in a day's work for Stephon Curry. Can the train live another day today against College of Charleston?
A Cinderella run is taking place in the CAA where the 11-seed Towson plays perennial power George Mason in the second semifinal today. Towson, led by former Depaul and Florida State coach Pat Kennedy, has upset Drexel and Northeastern the last two nights. That latter result takes a small bite out of Michigan's SOS. This is the farthest an 11 seed has ever advanced in the CAA sectional.
The first semi between ODU and VCU (3 pm) can go either way and ought to go down to the wire. The Rams must play on a higher level than they did yesterday, or Old Dominion will knock them out. Other than Towson, I think the other three teams are more than capable of winning a game in the NCAA Tournament.
In the MAAC, its all about seeing if the two heavyweights, Siena and Niagara, both big favorites, can advance into a showdown tomorrow night.
The game with the biggest bubble impact will take place in the nightcap between St. Mary's and Portland. Gonzaga might get pushed by Santa Clara in the opener, but eventually will tuck away the Broncos. Then, all eyes will be on the Gaels, to see if they can get make a statement. This team was cruising to an at large bid until their best player Patty Mills went down with an injury. Predictably, they began losing. The ship has steadied in recent weeks, including a big win in the Bracket Buster event over Utah State. Will the selection process cut the Gaels any slack due to the Mills injury. There is some precedent to do so, but the Gaels need to take advantage of the next two days and make own last on-court statement of their own. A loss tonight to the third place Portland squad probably would do them in. A win, and a nice showing over Gonzaga tomorrow night, might put them in the final bracket.
As you can see, there's a fun day of hoops still ahead. To think, I rambled on about my excitement about today's games with nary a mention the fact that Clemson is playing Wake Forest and, more importanrtly, Duke and UNC face off. Tar Heels versus Blue Devils. Shares of the ACC Crown on the line. National Spotlight on CBS. No Dick Vitale or Billy Packer on the call. Oh yeah, today will be a blast.
Predictions to feed to the addict, er, I mean the instinct
We're 13-7-2 on our handicapping this March season, If you're going at 100 a pop, thats a +490 profit.
***As I outlined above, I like Illinois State to win over NIU. They're a slight favorite today, and I will play them on the -150 moneyline.
***Yep, that's me on the Purple Bandwagon. They might win this straight up, but I'll take the Wildcats +6 over Ohio State. Game starts at 5:30 on the BTN
***Virgina Tech +6 over Florida State. Yes, I have been on the Noles a lot lately. But, usually when they're catching points. Both of these teams are underdogs I like to play. So, I'll buy in with the Hokies who always play close games and 7-4 ATS this season as an underdog with road covers at Boston College, Miami, Wake Forest and Clemson to go along with a neutral court cover against Xavier. This game starts at 2pm and is on ESPN Full Court.
****Give me VCU -4 in the first CAA semifinal today. The Rams lost a tight one on the road to the Monarchs, but blew them out at home. Yes, ODU is the hottest team in the league right now, but the Rams have won six of eight, so its not like they're lukewarm. The Rams are 8-3 ATS in this tournament if favored by single digits. In Eric Maynor I Trust.
***** As much as I hate betting against Stephon Curry, I'll grab the 10 points with College of Charleston over Davidson. These clubs played arguably the two best games of the SoCon season with each winning close games on the other's home court. I dont buy any chance of Davidison blowing out the Cougars today. While Davidson remains the team to beat in the league, we've seen they're not rolling through the conference the way they did last year. Davidson is just 9-14-2 ATS as a favorite this season, 3-7-2 the last dozen times out. Meanwhile, the Cougars are 15-8 ATS the last two seasons as an underdog. I expect Davidson to win, but they'll need every point they can get out of Steph.
**** I also think Portland will stick with St. Mary's tonight. I'll take the Pilots +8.5. The Gaels at large bid wont come easy. These teams handled each other pretty well when armed with home court advantage. That tells me these are even teams. Expect this one to play out close to the final buzzer.
And, I am sure to have a call or two on some of the other mid major tournaments. That action does not begin until later. I have only seen the lines for the first time a few minutes ago. I am going to chew on them for a few more minutes and update my predictions section at the half of the MVC game coming up here after the MSU game.
Diarist Note: Added some predictions at the bottom of the post. UM down 3 at half, here's hoping they have a big second half in them. Thanks for reading. Go Blue!
Thanks to all the Bubble Carnage this week, the last five days might have been one of the best stretches for Michigan basketball in recent years. Ironically, the Wolverines never took the floor. Maybe that's appropriate given the state of hoops in Ann Arbor the last 10 years or so. Teams on the bubble went down in flames all around Michigan this week. The Wolverines were like the golfer in the clubhouse whose score shockingly puts him in the lead as the original leaders keep bogeying holes on the back nine.
Hours before Michigan tips its most important and anticipated game in years, lets take stock in the impact the crazy last week of hoops had on Michigan's place on the bubble.
Before most of this week's action began, Michigan was only in 11 of the 62 total brackets tracked by the Bracket Matrix. This morning, they've found their support doubled to 22 and sit as the second-to-last team out of the comprehensive Matrix.
Granted, that does sound like much. Taking a deeper look, however, reveals just how much the Wolverines surged this week without even playing a game. More than half of the brackets, a total of 34, have been updated since Thursday morning. Of those, Michigan is in 17, exactly half. Of the 28 updated since Friday morning, Michigan is also in half. I'm sensing a trend.
Michigan's support clearly is more solid in the most recent straw polls. That's good news. With so many bubble teams slitting their own throats this week, half of those Bracketologists have elevated Michigan to help fill the void. What's the deal with the other half? It's obvious, they're waiting for Michigan to uphold their end of the bargain and get a win.
Therein lies the rub. Despite all the help the out-of-town scoreboard gave the Wolverines this week, they still need to take care of businss. On the road. In Minnesota. At the goofy, raucous Barn. Against a team just as desperate to stay in the field and off of the bubble. The Gophers are a 9-seed in the latest Matrix and every bracket thats been updated since their Wisconsin win this week has the Gophers in with a solid seed. But, they cant go the rest of the season without a win and expect a bid to be handed to them.
While I sense a strong anticipation for this afternoon's game, I dont sense a whole lot of confidence among the fanbase. Maybe I've been to caught up in all the Bubble Tracking, but I have a quiet surety the Wolverines are going to get it done today. We've been here before, needing a win to all but clinch an at large berth, only to see the team fall short. Law of averages, says, Michigan has got to win one of these games sometime, right?
Beyond intangible 'they're due' theories, the real reason for my hope rests with the man on the sideline, John Beilein. He was brought here for this purpose. To win a game like today, a game his predecessors could either not win or even get the team in position where it would even matter.
Michigan's March woes have been documented. They've lost six straight regular season games in March. However, they have one of the best March coaches in recent times now leading them. Beilein is 33-23 in the month of March the last 10 years. He's 35-19-2 against the spread. His teams turn profits in the month of March from West Virginia to Richmond to Canisius. Now, its time for Michigan.
Beilein has a week to prepare. His team has a week of rest to hone its game. Minnesota, meanwhile, may have an early funk. Dont forget, this team just beat its biggest rivalry in dramatic fashion three days ago. Michigan might have the early intangible edge. They must take advantage of that and get off to a godd start. If Michigan can play in the first segment of the first and second halves better than they did at Wisconsin a week ago, Michigan may just set the pace the whole way. Even if it does not play out like that, I expect this team to have a chance in the final possessions like they did in Madison six days ago.
Maybe it wont be enough in the end, and I am full of you-know-what. But, I love Beilein's history in these spots. I think he has them ready to play their best. At the very least, I am confident enough going to the window to buy a Michigan +5 ticket.
Another benefit of all the bubble teams losing this week is providing a Michigan a shorter road map to a bid, should they fail to deliver this afternoon in Minneapolis. It otherwise would seem unlikely that an 8-10 league mark would merit the bill, but it happens often enough where all hope should not be cast asidee if they lose today. Michigan would need 2 wins in next week's Big 10 Tournament, perhaps even three, but they wont be in a position where they have to win the title. If the bubble massacre continues, then Michigan's bar for entry might be closer to two wins in Indy rather than three. So, with that in mind, here are other games, in chronological order, to keep an eye on:
Georgia Tech at Boston College, noon, ESPN Full Court. Line, BC -8.5
The Eagles have not locked up a bid on their own accord, although the bubble blood from this week may have done so for them. They can clinch a bid with one more win. However, should they lose a home game to the last place Yellow Jackets they will be putting a lot of pressure on themselves in the ACC Tournament. In the event of a loss today, the most likely matchup is Virginia in a 6/11 first round game. Lose today and lose that one, and the Eagles will be on a three game losing streak against the bottom third of the ACC. A Matrix 9-seed this morning, they could be out of the field if they go winless the rest of the season.
NC State at Miami, noon, ESPN Full Court. Line, Miami -8.5
The Canes loss to Georgia Tech sapped nearly all their bracketology support and they've fallen from on the verge of the field to seventh-to-last out of the Matrix. Virtually all their support remains from brackets not updated since the loss. Of the 34 brackets updated since then, the Canes are only in 3 fields. They wont garner much more support with a win today. But, it may set up a scenario where a couple of wins next win might sneak them back in, pending other results. The winner of this game will be the ACC 9 seed, the loser its 10 seed when the league field meets next week.
Seton Hall at Cincinnati, noon, ESPN 360. Line, Cincy -6.5
By most accounts, we can stop scoreboard tracking the Bearcats in the wake of their dismal showing against South Florida. Only one of the 34 brackets updated since Wednesday include the Bearcats. It's a computer generated formula on that site, so you might want to tinker with the numbers a bit. Althought it had Michigan as an 8-seed, so maybe the formula works just right. I think if they win tonight and somehow win two or three games next week and advance into the Big East semifinals, they might find themselves on a bracket line. Could their 8/9 game versus Providence be an elimination game for the loser? The league's top seed would await either team in the quarterfinals.
Colorado at Kansas State, 2pm, ESPN 360. Line, KSU -17
Unlike most of the bubble teams that lost last week, KSU went down to a good team in Oklahoma State. But, its not helping them get any more support. Like the Bearcats above, KSU gets a single bracket nod among the updates since they last played. The Wildcats wont add any more points by beating last place Colorado today. They need to win today and win at least a couple of games in the Big 12 Tournament to get back into the mix. Some more bubble carnage might be needed as well.
Kentucky at Florida, 2pm, CBS. Line, Florida -5.5
A week ago, this looked like a classic play-in game. Now, after both spit the bit against league lightweights, the dynamics have totally changed. This is an elimination game. The loser will have no more at large chances. The winner still would need to win a game--maybe even two--to feel safe about an at large bid next Sunday. Kentucky has fallen in the Matrix to third-to-last out, one spot behind Michigan in the projected pecking order. Only one bracket since Wednesday has included Billy Clyde's club. Florida clings to an 11-seed in the Matrix, but only nine of 34 fields updated since their loss Wednesday have the Gators on a seed line. Michigan has almost twice as much support from those Bracketologists as the Gators do. Yeah, I'd say this game is pretty big in Gainesville this afternoon.
South Carolina at Georgia, 2pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, USC -5
MGoBlog already owes Georgia a beer. You might want to upgrade to a keg should the Bulldogs pull another road shocker. Watching these SEC team wilt to lesser teams with bids on the line reminds me of how Tampa Bay lost their spot in the NFL playoffs this past season. Win at home against the lowly Oakland Raiders, are you're in. No problem. Whoops. Anyway, South Carolina has been a solid tournament invite for about a month, but consecutive blowout losses in the last week has put it all in jeopardy. Even with a win today, this team cant afford to be one-and-done in Tampa next week when the SEC field convenes. The Gamecocks are on stronger footing than their fellow league brethern that choked this week, with 25 invites from the 34 brackets updates since mid week. Those could all disappear if the Cocks 2-game losing streak increases to three and then four games.
Missouri at Texas A/M, 2pm, ESPN2. Line, Missou -2
The Aggies have a poor man's Michigan resume. Instead of more glossy wins over Duke and UCLA, the Aggies have scalps of LSU and Arizona. Texas A/M also shows us the value of playing the season out. Three weeks ago, they were 3-7 in league play. Today, they're a home win away against one the Big 12 top dogs from locking down a bid. The Aggies look secure for now and are garnering more than 80-percent support across the Bracket Matrix spectrum. Should they lose today, however, the Aggies will be under a lot of pressure to win at least one game in their league tournament.
UMass at Rhode Island, 2pm, no TV. Line, URI -10
I would like to say I saw this coming. But, I cant. I had no idea a URI charge up the charts was in the works. They've won six in row and 10 of 11. They are fourth-to-last out in the Matrix and find themselves in 18 total brackets, including notables like B101, the Bracket Board and Bracket Junkie. Considering they host a 11-win Umass team, they'll only cement that support today. So what else is there to say? How about I share a quick story on what first comes to mind when I hear the words Rhode Island and NCAA Tournament.
Flashback to the 1998 Regional Finals with Standford playing URI. I'm in Vegas with a bunch of buddies. We spent the weekend getting our clocks cleaned betting the Regional Weekend of games. But, there's one day left and we're all convinced that Stanford will roll upstart URI, who was lead by, among others, Lamar Odom. We're all sitting on Stanford -4 tickets. And for the first half, URI smokes the Cardinal.
The rout continued in the second half, and some of us left our seats in disgust to stand in line for deli sandwiches. We can only make out the action from a small TV about 30 yards away, but it sure as hell looks like Stanford is coming back. They are! We get back to our seats as Michael Madsen steals an inbounds, makes a layup and gets fouled. He does a stupid dance, but we're there at Treasure Island doing the same thing.
The Cardinal is now, inexplicably, winning. URI cant buy a bucket. Stanford can salt the game and the cover away at the free throw line. The CBS graphic shows that the Stanford shooter Arthur Lee has made 33 free throws in a row. We wince, expecting that to be a jinx. It's not! He swishes them! Stanford is covering, up 5, and our own bankroll comeback is underway. 3-2-1 and its over..........only the Rams Cuttino Mobley launches a meaningless 65-footer that banks home at the buzzer. I still can see my friend Sean throw down his Maize UM Hockey hat before he collapses on the floor. Talk about a dagger. It remains in the team photo of worst beats ever.
And, you know what? It was not even our most infamous gambling moment that afternoon at the Sports Book. I'll save that story the next time I feel like going on a Bill Simmons-esque trip down gambling memory lane. We got our butts handed to us all weekend, and I still have not returned to Vegas for March Madness.
Penn State at Iowa, 2pm, BTN. Line, Iowa -2.5
The Nittany Lions thrilling win over Illinois sure did cement their support among the Bracketology crowd. Penn State finds itself in two-thirds of the total brackets, but only two of the 34 fields updated since mid week exclude Penn State. They appear pretty safe, although I would not recomend losing today and going one-and-done in the Big 10 Tournament. Speaking of which, this game carries huge seeding implication for the Big 10 field. With a win and a Purdue loss to MSU tomorrow, the Lions would climb as high as the #2 seed. Should they lose, they could be part of a traffic jam of tied teams and fall as far as 6th or 7th.
Maryland at Virginia, 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN Full Court. Line, Maryland -1.5
Like MIchigan, the Terrapins go on the road today in an attempt to notch a .500 league mark that might open the door for a tournament bid. Unlike Michigan, the Terps play a lousy Virginia team mired in 11th place. Maybe this is not as easy as it sounds for Maryland, however. They were in this exact some position last year, and went into Charlottesville and got trounced 91-76 by the Cavaliers, sending them to the NIT. If that history repeats itself, expect the Terrapins to tumble down the Matrix in the lead-up into the ACC Tournament. Maryland is a 12-seed in the Matrix and of the 34 fields updated since midweek, the Terps are in 19 fields, two more than Michigan.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, 3:30pm, ABC.ESPN Full Court. Line, OU -10
The Cowboys were among the biggest winners of the week because they were one of the few bubble teams to, well, win a game. And since they did so against a fellow bubble team, the Cowboys saw their support gain a lot of ground on the field. They've moved to a 10 seed on the Matrix and have an invite from 59 of the 62 brackets tracked. That means they surely can absord a loss today to a Sooner team that wants to end their home season in style. The Pokes probably could survive a one-and-done in the Big 12 Tournament next week, although it would be an anxious lead up to Selection Sunday if it plays out like that.
New Mexico at Wyoming, 3:30, no TV. Line, NM -4.5
These damn Mountain West Conference teams wont go away. Just when one gets pushed farther down the Matrix, another threat pops up to charge up the charts. It's like Whack-A-Mole. Here's hoping Wyoming--a team fired up to earn an NIT bid today--plays a mean game of Whack-A-Lobo later today. New Mexico can wrap up a share of the league title with a win. The problem for New Mexico is they're not getting a ton of Bracketology support as only nine of the 34 recent updates include them. A loss might extinguish any at large bid hopes they have unless a deep run in MWC Tournament ensues.
LSU at Auburn, 4pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, AU -1.5
War Eagle, brother!! Could the Auburn Tigers really be the second best team in the SEC? I think you might be able to make a compelling case. If they hold serve at home today against LSU, the league's regular season champ, that argument becomes stronger. As of now, the Tigers (Auburn, that is) has next to no support. One Bracketologist since the midweek updates includes Auburn. In that field, the Tigers are the last team in, while Michigan is the last team out. Things might get uneasy in the blog alliance between MGoBlog and the Joe Cribbs Car Wash if something like that actually happens. Silliness aside, Auburn has worked themselves in position to get a marquee win today and a good showing next week in the SEC Tournament to get a most unlikey at large bid.
Stanford at Arizona, 7:30om, CBS (West Coast Only). Line, Arizona -6
You never want to be on a losing streak in the month of March. That's exactly the position the Arizona WIldcats find themselves in today. The Cats have dropped four in a row. Yet, the remain in the relative good graces of the Bracketology crowd, in large part due to all the other bubble teams taking the gas pipe this week. Looking deeper into the Matrix reveals the trouble the Cats are in. A total of 28 brackets have been updated since their Thursday night loss to Cal. Half of them have excluded the Cats. Michigan is in the same amount of brackets within that range as Arizona. Their grip on their 11-seed is loosening and a loss to the Cardinal today will be a stomach punch to their at large hopes. It's not a vintage year for Standord, but they just beat ASU, so they're more than capable of spring the upset. Even if the Cats get the win, they better not go one-and-done next week in the Pac 10 Tournament. They're staring at the possible first game against either Cal or ASU, so a lot more needs to be done before we can pencil the Cats in or out of the field.
Duquense at Dayton, 8pm, no TV. Line, Dayton -6
The Flyers have a guady record, but they better not go the rest of the year without a win. They sit on the Matrix 9-line and have unanimous Matrix support. But, that support could whither if they lose tonight and their opener in the A-10 Tournament. A loss today puts them on a slippery slope. Can both Dayton and Rhode Island get bids coming out of the A-10? I think that's 50/50 at best. If the Flyers enter the league tournament on a losing streak, it might be a simple beauty contest between those schools with the team that goes deepest in the A-10 the one earning the bid. Duquense wont be an easy out and they're trying to scrape their way into the NIT, which would be a rare post season bid for the school.
UNLV at San Diego State, 10pm, no TV. Line, SDSU -4
The Aztecs have played themselves out of the tournament in recent weeks. This morning, they sit as the eighth-to-last out of the Matrix field with only six total mock invites. They can make up some ground with a win tonight against UNLV, a Matrix 11-seed. This looks like the first of two games between these clubs as they appear headed to a likely 4/5 quarterfinal against each other in the Mountain West Tournament. I'm trying to think what combination of results will keep both out of the field. A Rebel win today, followed by an Aztec win Thursday? An Aztec sweep? The Rebels host the league tournament, so I dont think they can afford an early exit from that field.
Mid Major Elimination Games: Colonial, Southern, MAAC, Oh My!
If these intangible bubble outcomes dont float your fancy, check out the countless Mid Major action that's going on today. Quarterfinal action in the Colonial, Southern and MAAC and semifinal action in the Missouri Valley and Horizon will eliminate 16 teams. More exciting, how about Championship Games in the Big South, Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley? The winners get auto bids into the Dance. The loser sees their season end. Is that enough high stakes for you?
Here's a link giving you all the relevant brackets. Seriously, if you're not checking this site multiple times a day, you're not trying hard enough in March Madness.
Those three title games are being shown as a tripleheaders on ESPN2 beginning at 4pm. The Colonial and MAAC quarterfinals are all being shown on ESPN Full Court. The Horizon semifinals will be on ESPN U tonight. For coverage of the rest of the games, check out the leagues' websites where not only links to live streams are being offered, but CILs are being moderated to track the action.
Most of these games are important to the teams playing. They're elimination games. Lose, and hit the driving range. Or, join the baseball team.
Did you see what happened to Creighton last night? Being touted as a possible at large bid should they dont win the MVC, the Bluejays needed an amazing buzzer beater to survive Witchita State and keep their tournament hopes alive. A loss last night would have eliminated them, but they survived and advanced. You can bet there will be a couple more moments like that today as these league fields play out.
My sense is Michigan and the rest of the bubble benefits if Creighton goes on now to win this Sectional. Although, if one of Creighton or Northern Iowa lose today, it might ensure that this league only gets one bid.
Davidson and Stephon Curry take the March Madness stage today at 2pm in the Southern quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Eric Maynor and VCU get the Colonial quarters underway at noon. These have been two of my favorite players to watch for three seasons now. Both will see tournament dreams end today if they can't win. Davidson is a heavy favorite to win their tournament, but VCU will be a in dogfight as the CAA final 8 include four 20-game winners, five teams with at least 11 league wins and 7 teams with a winning record. Need a rooting interest? How about Northeastern, a team Michigan beat four months ago. The longer the Huskies stay in the field, the better Michigan's numbers will look. I'll be tuning in.
Alright, my March Madness Jones is in full swing. My record is 6-3-2 in my March columns, but today we're spreading the action everywhere. And, I already have UM +5. What could go wrong?
****Our first championship games tip off. Of course, I have calls on each of them. I'll take VMI +3 over home team Radford in the Big South; ETSU in a pick 'em over Jacksonville (not the Jaguars) in the Altantic Sun; and Austin Peay -1 over Morehead State in the Ohio Valley. These games will be an ESPN2 triple header beginning at 4pm. Yeah, I'll be tuned in.
*****In the Missouri Valley Semifinals, Creighton was given new life and they will beat Illinois State this afternoon. I'll play the -150 moneyline. That's the second game of day. Northern Iowa will win and cover the small -1 in the first game over Bradley.
****Give me Cleveland State in a pick 'em over UW-Green Bay in the first Horizon semifinal tonight on ESPN U.
**** In the Colonial, I'll take Hofstra +6.5 over Old Dominion and George Mason -4 over James Madison.
**** Auburn takes down LSU.
**** Missouri goes on the road and beats Texas A/M
That ought to keep me busy for awhile
As Brian pointed out in today’s UV, last night was a crazy night on the NCAA Bubble. Bubble teams from heavy favorite Kentucky to the heavy underdog Virginia Tech lost last night. The upshot for Michigan being a whole heck of a lot of elbow room being created in what had been one of the most crowded bubble pictures in recent seasons.
Does it change the tournament math for Michigan? No, not especially. But, it pretty much ensures that the oft-quoted formula of ‘.500 in the Big 10, plus one league tourney win’ will get the Wolverines in the final Field of 65.
How crazy was last night’s action? Without playing, the Wolverines may have been the biggest winners of the night as they saw two teams ahead of them in the Bracket Matrix final cut list lose, not to mention a Matrix 12-seed (UK) and Matrix 11-seed (Florida) as well.
How crazy was last night’s action? The most impressive win of the night by a team already on the bubble was a road win by Texas A/M at Colorado. The Buffaloes are in dead last place in the Big 12 with a 1-14 record.
How crazy was last night’s action? Northwestern, of all teams, thanks to their wonderful upset at Purdue, have stepped strongly into the void left behind from the other bubble failures to stake a legitimate and strong claim for an at large bid.
How crazy was last night’s action? Thanks to both Kentucky and Florida taking the gas pipe last night, their game against each other on Saturday has gone from being a play-in game to a game that will only determine who can survive another day on the bubble. The winner still will be on the outside looking in when the regular season ends. Do you think my buddy Billy Clyde Gillespie is feeling some heat today on the Bluegrass airwaves and blogs?
How crazy was last night’s action? I went 3-0 on my predictions. Ok, that’s not crazy, just pure awesome.
As for tonight, it’s a light overall on the schedule, but the games that are on the docket carry huge import:
Tennessee at South Carolina, 7pm, ESPN. Line USC 02
The SEC East Division Title is on the line tonight. At the same time, the loser might find itself in need a couple more wins to get into the Tournament. According to the Matrix, this is an 8-seed (UT) versus a 9-seed (USC). Based on that, both teams appear secure. The loser tonight, however, can’t afford to lose this weekend and feel safe about any at large bid. The slate works in both of their favor as the Vols host Alabama and the Gamecocks travel to Georgia on Saturday, but after last night, nothing in the SEC can be taken for granted.
Providence at Villanova, 7pm, ESPN2. Line, Nova -11
Michigan fans have found an ally in the Villanova Wildcats, haven’t we? That’s great because they owe us for that tank job Michigan gave them in the 1985 second round. I’m still shaking my head about that game. Did the Wolverine players just want to party with Dwayne McClain and his stash? Were they just trying to get in his good graces? Who knows? Anyway, for the third time in less than a week, the Wildcats will attempt to put a serious dent in the resume of one of the bubble teams battling Michigan for one of the final spots in the tournament. They could not get the job done against Georgetown on Saturday, but they delivered a death blow to Notre Dame on Monday. Tonight, we’ll find out if there’s any sharpness left in their dagger when Villanova hosts Providence. The Friars sit as the last team cut from the Bracket Matrix field. As of last night’s update, they are on a bracket line in about one-third of the total fields compiled by the Matrix. Even with a loss, Providence will still end with a nice looking 10-8 Big East record. However, they played a weak conference slate and have next to nothing on their OOC resume. A .500 team from a power league with nice OOC wins would surely merit more consideration that Providence when it’s all said and done. Are we familiar with any teams that fit that bill?
Dayton at Xavier, 9pm, ESPN2. LIne, XU -10
Xavier is playing for an outright A10 crown and for a better seed in the Big Dance. The Flyers are trying to cement an at large bid. They will do that with a win tonight as it will give them a season sweep over the Musketeers. Dayton looks to be in good shape for a bid. They receive unanimous support in the Bracket Matrix and currently sit on their 9-line. But, like a lot of teams in their position, the Flyers can’t afford to go the rest of the way without at least one more win. After tonight’s tough test at XU, Dayton closes the season Saturday night hosting a better-than-it-looks Duquesne squad. The Flyers have been masters at surviving close calls all season. If that skill dries up this week, the Flyers might need to win at least one game in the A10 Tournament to avoid a snub.
Illinois at Penn St, 9pm, ESPN. Line, PSU -1
Ah, yes. After the 38-33 treat they gave us a few weeks ago, I can’t wait to watch this one. What’s the O/U on number of years this game will set back basketball? Brian dissected the PSU situation yesterday. I don’t really have much more to add. Clearly, Michigan fans would like to see a PSU collapse down the stretch. They close at Iowa Sunday afternoon. That won’t be a picnic. If the Lions lose tonight, they will face a must win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
California at Arizona, 10:30pm, FSN. Line, AU -4.5
Perhaps the biggest game of the night takes place in the dessert tonight between the Golden Bears and Wildcats. The Cats have been a roller coaster. They were dead in the water in late January. In February, they picked themselves off the mat, played some brilliant hoops and injected themselves back in the NCAA hunt. As the first week of March closes, however, Arizona is sliding again, having lost three games in a row. They’re only 8-8 in the Pac 10 right now and sit as a 10-seed in the latest Bracket Matrix. It’s not hard to sketch the trouble they could be in should the losing streak hit four games. They do have a winnable home game against Stanford over the weekend, but I don’t think a 9-9 Pac 10 mark will be enough. If they don’t sweep the Bay Area teams at home this week, the Cats will have a lot of pressure on them heading into the Pac 10 Tournament. At 9-9, they would likely face Cal again or Arizona State in their first game. Their bid will be on shaky footing if they lose tonight. So, with the league's fifth bid still up in that air, why are Pac 10 bloggers debating a sixth bid?
Jeff Fryar Haunts My Dreams
You remember Loyola Marymount, don’t you? Don’t worry; you can come out from under the table. Jeff Fryar, the Human Bruise, is not in the building pulling up for break-away three pointers. Nor, is Bo Kimble around pumping through left-handed free throws. The Ghost of Hank Gathers is not in the building. Nobody will score 149 points on the Wolverines tonight. Of course, if any of those moments cause a small of vomit in your mouth, then you recall the absolute tail whipping the Lions put on Michigan in the 1990 Second Round. I’d rather not go into any more detail.
Anyway, if you want to see their modern incarnation, tune into the Big South semifinals tonight, beginning at 6pm on ESPNU. You’ll see their style of play in the VMI Keydets. No shot clock is needed with the Keydets. Games played in the 80s are slow affairs. They match up tonight against Liberty, a team led by freshman sensation Seth Curry. Yes, he’s the little brother of Stephen. Hopefully, we’ll get a few Cougar shots of his mother in the stands tonight.
In the second game, top seed and host Radford will play UNC Ashville. Don’t expect Radford to roll through this field by virtue of home court. They lost at home to both Liberty and VMI this year. The JCCW has a more in-depth preview on this tournament, so check the link out for a better primer on tonight’s games.
I expect these games to be dogfights, or in the case of the VMI/Liberty game a serious track meet. These four schools rarely sniff the NCAA Tournament, so the next couple of days (the finals are Saturday on ESPN2) will be an exciting time for the players, students, and towns involved.
I know there is a contingent of folks out there who do not like the fact clubs like these are included in the Field of 65. That’s flat hogwash, IMO. The essence of March Madness will be laid out on the court in this tournament and the other mid major ones taking place throughout this weekend. Do they have any chance at cutting the nets down next month in Detroit? No. But the players on one of these Big South teams will likely go down as some of the best in school history if they can pull out two more wins. To me, the beauty of March Madness is the ability to define different levels of success and achievement. Sure, only one big dog will be left standing, but along the way there are going to magical moments that will make the players feel like champions, even if they’re not on the roster of the eventual national champion.
Some of those moments may happen tonight. And, while none of the Big South action tonight will impact Michigan’s place on the bubble, I will be as glued to those games as any other this evening.
Predictions to make me look like a genius or an idiot tomorrow morning
Hey, we’re 5-2-2 this month. Let’s keep it rolling.
South Carolina -2 over Tennessee. While the SEC is weak this season, I’ve really come to enjoy watching a couple of their teams play, notably LSU and this Gamecock squad. They will complete an undefeated SEC home season in style tonight.
Penn State -1 over Illinois. I know we want the Illini to win this, but my brain says PSU will get it done. This may sound strange, given the 38-33 score these two labored too earlier in the year, but I think the Nittany Lions will have too much scoring tonight for an Illini team that may be running out of gas.
VMI beats Liberty in the Big South Semis tonight. Strangely, I am having a hard time finding a line on this one. But, as any real gambler knows how to do, I found a way to find action. I have a bar tab bet going with Jerry at the JCCW, who is flat convinced Liberty not only gets it done tonight, but wins the whole Big South Sectional. He has all sorts of fancy, KenPom anecdotal evidence in his favor. I have my heart as I really want to see the VMI show continue. Brains versus Heart, eh? I don’t see what can go wrong.
You know what you don’t want to do if you are sitting on the NCAA Bubble?
You certainly don’t want to lose to a 20-loss team that’s lost six straight games by more than double digits. And, you definitely don’t want to barf away a double digit lead in the closing minutes and lose to a team with twice as many league losses as wins.
Yet, that’s exactly what Cincinnati and Georgetown did in stunning losses last night that sliced a near lethal dagger through the heart of their at-large hopes and helped clear up a lot of elbow room on the NCAA Bubble.
The Bearcats could not contain the Bulls Dominque Jones, who dropped 30 points on CU for the sophomore’s 22nd career game with 20 or more points. Georgetown, meanwhile, inexplicably frittered a way a big lead en route to losing in overtime to St. John’s. The Johnnies missed 14 straight shots in the second half, yet still were able to come back and spring the upset. Did they find a way to sneak Chris Mullen and Mark Jackson into the game somehow? I don’t know. I do know the loss drops the Hoyas into 12th place in the Big East. I don’t care how tough the Big East is perceived to be, their 12th place team wont sniff the final field of 65.
Those outcomes, as well as Kansas State’s loss to Oklahoma State, put serious dents in the resumes of the three teams directly behind Michigan in the current Bracket Matrix in the quest to break into the field. Throw in Matrix 12-seed Maryland’s home loss last night to Wake Forest and it was a pretty solid night on the out-of-town scoreboard for the Maize and Blue. If only Iowa had pulled through to kick a leg out from underneath Ohio State’s resume, the night would have been perfect.
First Upset in the Books
The out-of-town scoreboard also revealed the first official upset of March Madness when 7-seed Illinois-Chicago went on the road to beat 6-seed Youngstown State in the opening round of the Horizon League Tournament. I have a feeling we’ll see several more upsets between now and the end of the month that will resonate louder than that one.
In addition to YSU, 11 other teams saw their dream die last after being eliminated last night in various league tournaments. See you later, High Point, Tennessee State and Coastal Carolina. I feel like we barely knew you. Better luck next year. Sorry, Detroit, your dream to play the Final Four in your city ended last night at the hands of Cleveland State. We’re down to less than 320 remaining to be the last one standing in four weeks at Ford Field. That number will shrink further tonight with elimination games in the Patriot and Sun Belt conferences. Fellow Hoops Junkie Jerry has a primer on all that action in part one and part two of his series looking ahead to a big weekend in mid-major hoops.
The few league tournament games tonight will impact Michigan or the rest of the bubble. Here’s a sketch of the action tonight that will impact the bubble:
As The ACC Turns
We’ve tracked five bubble teams from the ACC, but in the final week of the season little has been determined yet regarding their fates. Only one of those teams, Florida State, has separated itself from the pack to get off the bubble and lock in a bid. While the Noles dropped a tough one on the road to Duke last night, they’re on their way to a top-4 finish in the ACC. They also covered the spread (as predicted, WOOT!) and are now 10-4-1 against the number in the ACC this season. Don’t forget that factoid next week when the league field convenes.
That leaves Maryland, Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech still trying to ensure a bid. The Terps lost last night to Wake, dropping them a game below .500 in league play. Through all the ups and downs, Maryland finds itself in the very same position as last year, needing to cobble together at least two more bids to feel safely about getting a bid.
Boston College is the most secure of all these teams. They’re a consensus 8-seed in the Bracket Matrix. But, if they don’t win another game the rest of the way, they probably would be left out. After their road game at NC State tonight, they host last place Georgia Tech to close the season Saturday. If BC were to drop those games, they would be .500 in ACC play. They can’t afford a 0-2 week against those lightweights and then go 0-1 in the ACC Tournament and still expect a bid. The Eagles, barring total collapse, are in the field. Is it possible said collapse could begin tonight in Raleigh? I’m not sure, but the Pack have played better since making a lineup change in their first games with the Eagles this year.
Miami and Virginia Tech are different stories. Both clubs need at least two, if not three, wins from here on out to sneak back in the field. As of today, both clubs are just ahead of Michigan among the final eight left out in the Bracket Matrix. The Hokies and Canes are in 22 and 20 brackets respectively.
The Hokies have a chance at a big scalp this evening when North Carolina invades Blacksburg. These teams have not played each other since last year’s ACC semifinals, an absolute classic won by the Heels on a Hansbourogh buzzer beater. That loss kept the Hokies out of the Field of 65. A win tonight would go a long way towards earning a big this season. The Hokies might seem at a talent disadvantage tonight, but don’t sleep on them. They have a way of turning most games into nail biters. A total of 68 games since Seth Greenberg took over have been decided by five points or less or in Overtime. That’s more than one-third of the games since he took over the Hokie program. On Senior Night, when they’re bidding adieu to one of the more successful classes in program history and the Puerto Rican Assassin, the Hokies could be a very live dog.
As for Miami, the Canes were mired deep in the league standings a couple of weeks ago. But, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech tonight and NC State over the weekend, they will have crawled back to even in ACC play. They would be a on a nice winning streak, but since most of those wins will have come at the expense of second division teams, they would still need a grab a win next week in the ACC tournament.
It boils down to this in the ACC: Some combination of Miami, Virginia Tech and Maryland will end up as the 7-8-9 seeds in the ACC Tournament. Can either of those teams strengthen their cases between now and then? At this point, it looks like a good bet that none of these three will be any better than 8-8 in league play and none will have more than 20 overall wins when the ACC convenes next week. Two of these teams will square off in an 8-9 game to start the tournament next Thursday afternoon. At worst, it will be an elimination game. At best, it will be a play-in game. As for the third team that gets the 7-seed? I suggest not losing that 7/10 game (likely foe: NC State) that will wrap up the night session of the first round.
Down south, the focus tonight is on a pair of reeling SEC teams: Kentucky and Florida. Both clubs are rapidly playing themselves out of the tournament equation and need to stop the bleeding before they play each to close the season over the weekend. Both have been hemorrhaging support from the Bracket Matrix in recent updates.
Kentucky has the easier chore tonight, traveling to last place Georgia. The Cats are clinging to a 12-seed in the Matrix, and almost half of the bracketologists have left them out of their fields. The Cats have lost two in a row, three of four and six of their last nine games. That’s no way to enter March.
The Cats are on the verge of missing the NCAAs for the first time since the Eddie Sutton, Chris Mills, Shaun Kemp-induced probation sunk the program, prohibiting their participation in 1990 and 1991. The folks down in Bluegrass Country are not taking it well. Billy Clyde Gillespie is on the hot seat, mainly because this is not how UK basketball seasons are supposed to look like. Not only are the Wildcats in disarray, but their coach is saying they aren’t a better team than Georgia, tonight’s opponent. That’s last place Georgia for those not up on the SEC standings.
For this Hooiser alum, no tears are shed when there is panic in Lexington. For the time being, it even makes me forget our own problems down in Bloomington. That does bring a tear, so let’s move on, shall we?
Florida, meanwhile, looks to be in slightly better shape with an 11-seed and placement in approximately two-thirds of the brackets. However, they have a much tougher hill to climb tonight traveling to Starkville to play Mississippi State. Like UK, Florida comes in off back-to-back losses. The Gators have lost four of their last six games and are just 5-6 in their last 11 games, the same record as Michigan during that span. However, by all accounts, Michigan plays in a tougher league than Florida and included in that stretch was a non-conference game on the road against top-ranked Uconn. Gator observers admit it's easier to make a case leaving Florida out of the field, and they might need four wins from here on out to make the field.
Here’s the deal with both of these teams: Can either feel secure if they go 2-2 from here on out? We know one will lose this weekend. Can the loser of that game get in with just one SEC Tournament win? I don’t think so. Every road map into the field for these teams becomes even rockier should either lose this evening.
Does the winner get a fancy axe?
Are we interested at all in the Wisconsin-Minnesota game? Um, yeah. Wisconsin is likely in the field, but like Boston College, probably won’t get in if they don’t win another game. Considering they host woeful Indiana (dammit!!!) over the weekend, a Badger collapse is not likely to happen. Still, in Badger Country, its being billed as one of the league’s marquee games of the season.
As for the Gophers, even with a win, they can’t afford to lose to Michigan on Saturday. I’d rather Minnesota come into that game with as sparkly a resume as possible. For the Gophers tonight can be a win-win-uh,win situation against the rival Badgers.
Even with a Minnesota win tonight, Michigan can earn the 7-seed in the Big 10 conference with a win on Saturday. Anyway you shake it, Saturday’s game between the Gophers and the Wolverines will determine which team only has to win one Big 10 Tournament game and which team has to advance at least two rounds in order to snag an at large bid. I don’t think tonight’s game will alter that scenario.
A New Threat Emerges in the Mountain West
Out in the Mountain West Conference, your guess is as good as mine as to what’s going on. I’ve been railing all winter on people including 4 MWC in their fields.
We’ve seen some attrition in that line of thought with San Diego State garnering next to no support these days. The Aztecs are only in a grand total of 4 brackets in the Matrix. UNLV, meanwhile, is a 10-seed, but the Rebels are garnering near unanimous support, putting them on stronger footing, on the surface at least, than teams like Florida and Kentucky. Neither of those positions will change tonight as each hosts one of the league’s worst teams with UNLV playing Air Force and SDSU welcoming Colorado State. Conveniently, the Rebels and Aztecs play each this weekend and it’s looking more and more likely they will see each other again next Thursday afternoon in the 4/5 quarterfinal of the MWC Tournaments.
Elsewhere in the league, BYU seems secure barring a complete collapse and a three-game losing streak to end the season. They do play a tougher-than-it-looks game tonight on the road at Wyoming, so maybe the first strike in said collapse is coming. But since they host winless-in-the-league Air Force this weekend, don’t get your hopes too high for a Cougar choke job. Utah is a home win from the regular season title and probably won’t be left out of the field either.
So, BYU and Utah look; UNLV and SDSU still have some work to do and any bid between them may come down to back-to-back games each other beginning Saturday night in Vegas. So, this league is easy to figure out, right? Not when New Mexico is added to the discussion. Say what you will about Steve Alford (awesome player, so-so coach) he has the Lobos on fire. They notched a big win over Utah last night and are one win away from sharing the league crown with the Utes. However, as of today, the Lobos are in exactly one bracket along the comprehensive Matrix. I wonder how this will change between now and next Monday? Maybe the MWC will net four bids after all.
I still think the number is three. It may be the most intriguing league tournament all of next weekend. My guess? If seeds hold, the two semifinals winners will get a bid as well the next best team. I still don’t see four teams, but if it happens, rest assured a team from one of the power leagues will be left out in the cold.
For amusement purposes only, I offer the following predictions for tonight. Hey, I am 2-2-1 making calls in March Diaries, but we're only beginning.
Minnesota -2 over Wisconsin. No team that loses at Iowa will win at the Barn. Well, until Saturday, that is.
Mississippi State beats Florida, but I'll take the +1 anyway.
Va Tech +10 over UNC......remember a few years back when Duke's Sean Dockery beat the Hokies on a half court shot? They stewed for an entire year waiting for revenge. Expect the same kind of effort tonight out of Va Tech, who are still fuming over last year's clash in the ACC semifinals. They might not win, but they'll keep this withing single digits.