PATRIOT LEAGUE: Defending champion Bucknell was rolling along in the Patriot League until mid-February when two losses tarnished its perfect league record. The fact that one of those loses came to second-place finisher Lehigh at home would make me extremely nervous if I were a Bison fan. For that reason, and the fact that the Mountain Hawks have been just as good, I’m taking Lehigh to go dancing.
WEST COAST: Saint Mary’s won the league outright in a minor upset. However the Gaels finished just one game ahead of Gonzaga and two ahead of BYU. This will be a competitive tournament with the four teams having a legitimate shot at cutting down the nets in Las Vegas. BYU in its first season in the WCC is used to playing in Vegas, is relatively close to Vegas and will take the matter out of the committee’s hands by winning the WCC championship.
MISSOURI VALLEY: Wichita St and Creighton has been the class of the Missouri Valley this season, but this is a tournament that has seen its fair share of upsets over the years. That being said I find it very hard to pick against the Shockers the way they’re playing right now. I expect them to beat a scrappy Missouri St team in the finals.
NORTHEAST: Wagner got everyone’s attention in December after it upset Pittsburgh. The Seahawks followed that with an impressive conference record of 15-3. The problem though is that two of those losses came at the hands of the regular season and defending tournament champion Long Island. The Blackbirds wouldn’t have to play Wagner or Robert Morris until the finals and will play every game of the tournament at home. I like them to repeat.
AMERICA EAST: This will be a good one. I would not be surprised if regular season champion Stony Brook, Vermont or 2011 NCAA tournament team Boston University won this tournament. I think Vermont is due for the win I thought they’d get last season. The Catamounts are going dancing.
Marquette was expected to be among the favorites in the Big East, but I’m not sure many people thought the Golden Eagles would be this good. Their currently second in the conference with a 13-3 league record losing just one of their last 13 games.
Marquette doesn’t have a lot of size, but have two outstanding players in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. These are two players that can carry the Golden Eagles in March. Johnson-Odom, the Tobacco Road-native, is one of the best shooters in the Big East as he makes over 40 percent of his three-pointers. Crowder is a matchup nightmare who’s physical enough to score in the paint, but can also step outside and show range on his jumper.
This team may not rebound the ball well and may be unconventional, but it’s going to play hard and defend to the best of its ability. When you can do that with two all-Big East caliber players, you can make some noise.
No Stock Report this week as we preview some mid-major conference tournaments.
BIG SOUTH: This is pretty simple. UNC-Asheville is the most experienced and clearly the best team in this conference. The Bulldogs finished four games better than it’s next closest rival, Coastal Carolina. Throw in the fact that all games would be played in Asheville and it will be extremely difficult to unseat the Bulldogs as Big South champions.
HORIZON LEAGUE: This figures to be one of the more competitive tournaments in all of college basketball. Valparaiso won the conference outright with a 14-4 record, but showed some kinks in the armor down the stretch. The Crusaders along with Cleveland St will be protected seeds getting byes until the semifinals, but I’m not sure that’s going to protect them. I’m picking the Detroit Titans to find a way to dance.
OHIO VALLEY: In the games leading up to its loss to Tennessee St, Murray St did not look like an at-large candidate. Since that loss, they’ve been playing like a team possessed. The Racers have their mojo and motivation back and is out to prove a point. They’ll be going dancing.
ATLANTIC SUN: At one point this season, the race for the regular season title was heated. That was before Mercer lost three of its last four games to hand Belmont the league title. There’s good news for Mercer though, it’s hosting the conference tournament and had Belmont on the ropes in the regular season finale. It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. I don’t think Belmont can do it. Mercer is going dancing for the first time in 27 years.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: Dayton, Northwestern, Miami(FL), Texas
Last Four Out: St. Joseph’s, Colorado St, Arizona, UCF
Good for Games through 2/26
1.Kentucky16.Stony Brook/Savannah St Louisville
5.Indiana12.West Virginia Louisville
6.Murray St11.Connecticut Albuquerque
7.Florida St10.Cincinnati Pittsburgh
1.Michigan St16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Columbus
Today we’re going to examine the resumes of several teams on the bubble. Central Florida, Colorado St, Connecticut, Loyola Marymount, Miami(FL), NC State, Northwestern, Seton Hall, St. Joseph’s, Texas, Washington, Xavier
Record: 19-7 (8-4 Conference-USA)
Key Wins: Connecticut, Memphis
Key Losses: Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulsa
Outlook: UCF is just 2-4 against Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulsa and Marshall – the other top teams in Conference USA. Still has a road game at Memphis but will probably need to get to at-least the Conference USA title game to feel good about their chances.
Record: 16-9 (5-5 Mountain West)
Key Wins: Colorado, Denver, Wyoming, San Diego St
Key Losses: TCU, Boise St
Outlook: The Rams still have a road game at San Diego St sandwiched between home games against New Mexico and UNLV so the opportunity to make a jump is there. It’ll be difficult, but if the Rams can go 3-1 in their last four and get to the semi-finals of the Mountain West tournament then that will probably be enough for a bid.
Record: 16-10 (6-8 Big East)
Key Wins: Florida St, Harvard, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Seton Hall
Key Losses: Rutgers, Tennessee
Outlook: The Huskies will have one of the top two or three strength of schedules in the country. Despite the issue that have plagued them, they have a favorable schedule down the stretch. A split in their last four and a visit to the quarters will get them to the Big Dance.
Record: 18-10 (10-4 West Coast)
Key Wins: Saint Louis, BYU, Saint Mary’s
Key Losses: Columbia, North Texas, Morgan St
Outlook: The Lions’ wins over Saint Louis, BYU and Saint Mary’s are better than any wins many of the teams on this list will have. Those losses to Columbia, North Texas and Morgan St give severe pause though. May have to win the West Coast Conference tournament to get in, if they get to final they’ll be seriously considered.
Record: 16-9 (7-5 ACC)
Key Wins: Massachusetts, Duke
Key Losses: None
Outlook: Miami has just one quality win, but a win in Cameron carries a lot of weight. The Hurricanes have a pretty solid strength of schedule, but are just 1-6 against the top 50. They go to Maryland followed by a home game against Florida St and a road game at NC State. Their margin of error is extremely slim.
Record: 18-9 (7-5 ACC)
Key Wins: Texas, Miami (FL)
Key Losses: Stanford, Georgia Tech
Outlook: NC State had the worst week ever last week. The Wolfpack lost a game it had won at Duke and then lost at home to Florida St where two of it’s legends were kicked out of the arena. Win those two games and they’re not even on this list. NC State has North Carolina and Miami at home coming up. The opportunity to solidify a tournament berth is still available.
Outlook: The Wildcats have never gone to the NCAA tournament before, but that all can change this season. They have Michigan and Ohio St at home along with trips to Penn St and Iowa. 4-0 definitely, 3-1 probably, 2-2 and they better get to the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
Record: 18-9 (7-8)
Key Wins: Virginia Commonwealth, Dayton, West Virginia, Connecticut, Pittsburgh
Key Losses: Villanova
Outlook: Solid Strength of schedule, but still has a lot of work to do. The Pirates have Georgetown at home this week and that will go a long way. Remaining games versus Rutgers and Depaul are more can’t lose than must wins. If Seton Hall goes 2-1, one of those two needs to be against Georgetown.
Outlook: The Hawks are benefitting from a weak bubble. They’re currently 0-3 against Temple, Saint Louis and Xavier, which makes their game against Temple on Saturday uber-important. They lose that game and they’re probably looking at winning the Atlantic-10 tournament to get in.
Record: 17-10 (7-7 Big 12)
Key Wins: Temple, Oklahoma St, Iowa St, Kansas St
Key Losses: Oregon St
Outlook: The Longhorns host Baylor tonight and close the season at Kansas. They have four games remaining and I thing going 3-1 in those games will get them in. Under no circumstances can they lose to Texas Tech or Oklahoma.
Record: 19-8 (12-3 Pac-12)
Key Wins: Oregon, Arizona (2)
Key Losses: None
Outlook: Washington is going to have to finish at least tied for the Pac-12 regular season title and make it to the championship game to get an at-large berth. Whether the committee wants to admit it or not; winning the regular season title of a power six conference carries weight.
Record: 17-9 (8-4 Atlantic-10)
Key Wins: Vanderbilt, Purdue, Cincinnati, Duquesne, St. Josephs, Dayton
Key Losses: Hawaii
Outlook: While the Musketeers haven’t been playing as well as they had been before the brawl, they still have the same roster. That means this team is still capable of winning big games. One of the best resumes on this list and may have a larger margin for error than other team seen here. Still, I’d go 3-1 down the stretch if I were Xavier.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: St. Josephs, Connecticut, Miami (FL), Seton Hall
Last Four Out: UCF, NC State, Colorado St, Illinois
Good for games through of 2/19
1.Kentucky16.Vermont/Savannah St Louisville
6.UNLV11.Mississippi St Columbus
1.Duke16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Greensboro
I can’t remember when BracketBuster games were more important. Saint Mary’s vs. Murray St is probably the marquee matchup as both teams badly need to win. I can say the same about Creighton, but Long Beach St may solidify an at-large berth with a win. CAA can make a big move as a conference with a good weekend.
Watch Loyola Marymount as a potential at-large candidate
Last Four In: Northwestern, Miami(FL), Illinois, NC State
Last Four Out: Minnesota, Washington, UCF, St. Josephs
1.Kentucky16.Vermont/Savannah St Louisville
5.Wichita St12.Kansas St Nashville
4.Temple13.Middle Tennessee St
6.San Diego St11.Seton Hall Portland
7.St. Mary’s10.Iowa St Greensboro
1.Ohio St16.Long Island Pittsburgh
4.Notre Dame13.Long Beach St
1.Missouri16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Omaha