Losing streaks mar NCAA Tournament resumes.
Michigan’s win Saturday night over Northwestern might not make their resume sparkle, but it was important nevertheless because it stopped a three game losing streak and got the Wolverines back on a winning track. Early season upsets helped put Michigan on the map as far as mock bracketologists are concerned, but their mid January slide risked losing all the good will.
Michigan stopped the bleeding, and in the process perhaps their slide out of the field and onto the bubble, with a solid team effort Saturday night on all fronts. The Internet's preeminent Bracketologist is espn.com's Joe Lunardi. In his latest projections, updated this morning, he still has Michigan in the field. That's the good news. The bad news is the squad is hanging in there by a thread. Lunardi has UM a #12 seed and among the final four teams granted a spot.
Before moving on to some Bubble Talk, I’d like to give special shout out to a lineup that has since been dubbed by folks around the UM blogosphere as the ‘White Guys and Walk-On Lineup.” This group consists of C.J. Lee, David Merrit, Zach Novak, Stu Douglass and Zach Gibson. Saturday night saw a slight modification to this group with Anthony Wright joining them for some floor time. But after Wright committed a traveling violation, Coach John Beilin subbed him out and the original “White Guys and Walk-On” group was intact.
It was midway through the second half. While Michigan still held a comfy 7-point lead, the way the second halves of games had been going of late, the outcome remained firmly in doubt. That’s when this intriguing lineup hit the floor together. Whenever I see this lineup, my first question always is “Who in the world is going to score with this group on the court?”
Saturday night, those concerns were unfounded. In the three-plus minutes this group ran the floor together they increased Michigan’s lead to 13 points, giving the Wolverines an insurmountable margin. Northwestern never threatened the rest of the way. The key cog in this run was C.J. Lee who ran the offense superb. He dished out two nice assists for easy buckets and another pass forced Northwestern to foul to keep a dunk off the board. Michigan swished the ensuing free throws. When he later stole the ball, the Crisler Arena crowd started serenading his name.
It left me with this thought: Sure, the Wolverines are more talented with Laval Lucas-Perry and Kelvin Grady in the starting lineup. But are they inherently better? Both Lee and Merrit seem to be able to get the team’s offense flowing a bit better. Perhaps one of them should start and bring either LLP or Grady off the bench? The offense might gel better early on in the game and then the first sub into the game can bring in some instant offense. It’s just a thought.
Regardless, the win helped keep UM in the latest mock brackets. Those are more telling of any team’s place within the national landscape than any of the polls. The Wolverines have lost some cushion they once had. And, while a 1-1 week does not enhance the resume, four of the teams (Stanford, Maryland, Arkansas and Texas A/M) among the final eight that were left out of espn’s projection last week had worse weeks than Michigan.
Here’s a rundown of happenings across the nation as it relates to Michigan, teams clinging to spots in mock brackets and teams on the outside looking in on the bubble. For Michigan, there is both good news and bad news to report.
Drown the Turtle
They already have a catchy name for it, the Cameron Catastrophe, and everyone is thoroughly embarrassed about the Debacle at Duke (Alliterations, everyone can do it, wee!!!!). One of the worst losses in the Williams Era has left observers shaking their heads at the longtime coach and doubting their club deserves to play in any postseason tournament. Really, not even the prestigious CBI?
The Terrapins weren't in too many mock brackets before the game, so they're certain to be off of people's radar now. They can gain some points back with an important two game home stand this week against BC and Miami. But, with five combined games yet to play against Duke, UNC and Wake, plus a trip to Clemson, it’s hard to see this team breaking even the rest of the way. If that’s their true ceiling from here on out, how in the world are they going to make the final NCAA cut?
Answer, The only team to beat the #1 team in nation; Question, Who is Michigan?
The beatdown of Maryland by Duke carried even more good news for Michigan’s tournament resume. With the win, the Blue Devils ascended to the top spot of both major polls. As we all know, their lone loss was to Michigan. Can't the WLA muster up any of its information intimidation tactics and force every broadcaster when speaking of Duke's top ranking to mention the fact that Michigan is the only team to beat them?
It probably was the program's biggest win since the alleged victory over Purdue in the 1998 Big 10 Finals. Each day that Duke remains the country's top team only reflects that win better. Duke may have its first legit Final Four contender in several seasons. This team can lock down on defense better than anybody and has more mental toughness than some of the more recent Blue Devil outfits. They play Wake and UNC four times from here on out--beginning with Wednesday's clash against Wake--and it will be fascinating to watch this D try to stone those high octane offenses.
Yeah, but look at all those recruiting classes!
The SEC’s hopes for a bounty of bids for the league continued to take a hit last week. Of course, nobody in SEC country is even noticing, what with the football letter of intent day coming up next week.
Here's the carnage of the week: Vanderbilt cant even be called a bubble team after being blown out at home by Tennessee and Vanderbilt; Arkansas, the team with perhaps the most impressive OOC resume in the league fell to 0-4 in SEC play; bubble teams Tennessee and LSU fell at home in critical non conference swing games.
Kentucky and Florida are the only two teams that look like sure tourney teams at this point. Next in line would be the quartet of Tennessee, Mississippi St, LSU and South Carolina. Only the Volunteers as a #7 are in Lunardi's latest bracketology on espn.com. LSU and South Carolina are among the first four out and Mississippi St is part of the next four teams left out of the field. None of those four can afford to hit the skids at any time in league play and expect a bid to come their way. It’s hard to imagine more than 2 of those clubs making it. These are the teams UM fans need to root against in recent weeks.
This league could net just 4 bids (only three are "in" with the latest projections) and it would be the smallest haul this season of any of the BCS leagues.
Beavers and Wolverine, effective wildlife and hardcourt allies
Rodents Unite! The Oregon St Beavers helped their Wolverine brethren--not to mention every other team that expects to spend the winter on the bubble--by trekking into northern California and defeating both Cal and Stanford. Our new president can only hope the economy rebounds with the speed his brother-in-law's Oregon State squad has improved since Inauguration Day. The fans at Cal actually gave the presidential relative a standing ovation as he took the floor.
Regardless of that respect, these results fall squarely in the bad loss category and will not be looked upon favorably when comparing final resumes. Cal is in better position right now as the Bears sit near the top of the league standings with a 5-2 record punctuating its nifty 16-4 overall record.
Stanford, though, may be in a bit of trouble if it doesn’t turn this around and start packing together some wins. It’s an ironic position to be in before the end of January for one of the last teams in the country to stay undefeated. At 3-4 in the Pac 10, you have to wonder if this team has the chops to finish above .500 in league, especially with road games remaining with UCLA, USC, Cal and Arizona St. Not to mention a return date in Corvallis with the suddenly plucking Beavers.
Make no mistake, Oregon State throttled Stanford and spent most of the game ahead by more the double digits. Yet, first year coach Johnny Dawkins already has the Duke Evil Media Manipulation part of the handbook working in the Bay Area. Apparently, the woodshedding in front of the Maples crowd at the hands of the Beavers was really not that bad a loss. Ah, yeah, I'm not buying that. Nor, am I buying this team as a tourney team, not with a .500 league mark at best and a non league log with its best wins being Northwestern and Texas Tech. That won’t beat out most resumes, including Michigan's possible one.
I wonder if Dawkins tenure at Stanford wont fall somewhere between fellow Duke henchmen Quinn Snyder and Tommy Amaker’s runs at Missouri and Michigan? If so, that’s bad news from here on out for the Cardinal.
South African Slang Slays Bruins in Seattle
Now that's how you use alliteration, bitches.
Wasn't this supposed to be one of the twin pillar wins along with Duke that would help Michigan’s resume stand out and ultimately get the Wolverines into the dance? Don’t look now, but the Bruins are a loss this week from probably falling out of the polls. Gulp.
Players are openly questioning the heart of the team after the Bruins second loss in its last three outings. If only the officials would stop misinterpreting South African slang, then the Bruins likely would not be in a tailspin. Oh those damn SPTRs (Stupid Pac Ten Refs) strike again. Seriously read that Bruins Nation breakdown and rant on the topic and tell me you haven't felt that way at least once this season about Michigan game. Folks, that’s basketball fandom in a nutshell.
Anyway, getting back to UCLA, the Bruins have a great one-two punch with Darren Collison and Josh Shipp, but otherwise they're relying on too many new faces. The highly touted freshmen class is taking their lumps. Howland's crew isn't getting anything from their bench and they've looked clueless on offense in the second halves of games most of the season. I've watched virtually every minute of their last three games as the Bruins inability to score during long bouts down the stretch has gone from shocking to business as usual. They need to get better this week with home dates against Cal and Stanford. Michigan's resume needs it.
Cowboys avoid 0-2 week, eye Bedlam to boost resume
The road map to the tournament for major conference bubble teams is to defend home court and snare enough of those proverbial 'winnable road games' to boost the overall resume. Three days after failing at the former, the Oklahoma State Cowboys earned a win in the latter variety of games by slipping by Nebraska in overtime in Lincoln. Like Michigan, the Saturday win kept them in the latest espn projections for the field of 64. And, like Michigan, the Cowboys are a #12 seed and among the final four teams placed into the bracket.
I liked the Pokes coming into this year. I thought Obi Mounelo was going to be the next Big 12 star. He might still be, but after the emergence of freshmen Keiton Page in the win over the Huskers, maybe it’s him instead. It all spells for a good long-term future in Stillwater. Still, their most impressive win of the season is a victory over Sienna in the last place game of November’s Old Spice Classic. Getting back on track on the road against Nebraska was a good start, but the Pokes need to add to their resume. Fast.
And, there's no better time than tonight with the hated Sooners coming into town tonight. The Bedlam series may have lost some luster on the basketball court in recent years, but an OSU win not only will put a new shine on the rivalry, but also spruce up their resume come March.
It’s going to take a monumental effort to spring the upset. The Cowboys don’t play any defense (they've already lost twice in regulation in Big 12 play despite scoring more than 90 points), have nobody on the inside to contain OU stud Blake Griffin (I’d lay odds the future lottery pick goes for a 20/20 tonight) and as these local beat writers allude to, the home edge at quaint Iba Arena is not what it used to be.
I'd be all over the Cowboys tonight if they were one those famous unranked favorites over a ranked team. But, they're not as the line is OU -4. By making the Cowboys a home dog, I can’t shake the feeling that Vegas is setting a trap and hoping to lure in OSU money. I have plenty of friends who would look at this as a big time chance to lay road chalk. We'll see about that. I'm saving my money on this one and tuning in just to watch Blake Griffin. And, to root against the Cowboys, so another bubble team gets pushed further back in the line.
So good, its takes six players to beat them
The best team in Ohio as February approaches is the Dayton Flyers.
If Dayton keeps winning it’s going to become hard to keep them out of the final bracket. Lunardi had them seeded 10th in his latest projection after the Flyers won a pair of A-10 games this past week. The Flyers now sport a gaudy 17-2 record and they’re the only squad other than Xavier from the Atlantic 10 that even remotely looks NCAA worthy as the final week of January begins.
George Washington gifted them the game last week with what might just be the gaffe of the season as they went the Anti-Norman Dale route and tried to play with six players. Yinka Dare would be so disappointed. Thanks to that, Dayton dodged the proverbial “bad loss” bullet that could sink a resume even with a glitzy won/loss record. If somehow, someway this season navigates itself to the point where Dayton is the last team in the field and UM is the first team out, I say Gsimms whistle stop tour makes a stop to the GW campus for some good old fashioned fun and skull crushing.
Overachieving in Blacksburg…….again
Road wins this past week at Wake Forest and at Miami have put the Virginia Tech Hokies in contention for a bid. By validating their upset over Wake with another strong road win, the Hokies math to a bid may start adding up.
The Hokies caught the attention of Lunardi. Last week's road wins burst the Hokies onto the scene. A week after not being among the final eight squads left out of the field, Virginia Tech made their first appearance in his mock bracket as #9 seed.
This is becoming a yearly tradition for Virginia Tech ever since the Hokies joined the ACC. Nobody pays any attention to them. Then, league season begins and the Hokies string enough wins together to make themselves a strong candidate for an at large bid to the dance. In 2007, VT consistently won back to back league games en route to 10 ACC wins. Last season, the Hokies had separate three and four game league winning streaks. The Hokies lived on the edge in both of those seasons. Three overtime ACC wins fueled an NCAA bid in 2007. Last season, a one point loss in the season finale at Clemson and a last second loss to UNC in the ACC Tournament tipped the Hokies out of the field and into the NIT.
The Hokies are living on the margins again this winter as they continue to find themselves in close game after close game. Thirteen of their 19 games this year have been decided by single digits, eight by less than five points. Virginia Tech is surging right now with five straight wins and nine out of their last 10. Expect a lot of dramatics from here on out from the Hokies as their penchant for close games plays out against the back drop of trying to earn a bid into the field. The first test if their new found status as bid contenders comes Thursday night at home against #15 Clemson.