It’s going to be a long agonizing week for the Middle Tennessee St Blue Raiders after their upset loss at the hands of Florida International in the Sun Belt Conference semi-finals (more on this later). They were dominant in the regular season winning all but one conference games, but March is cruel as the Blue Raiders know all too well.
Last year they bowed out of the conference tournament in the quarterfinals after being the No. 1 seed as they lost to Arkansas St. They didn’t get in last season and their prospects are grim for this season. While they played a top-20 non-conference schedule they only have two top-100 wins and no top-50. The committee may reward them for challenging themselves out of conference, but it’s unlikely.
You feel bad for the Blue Raiders, but March is cruel and unusual punishment for a team of their kind. The punishment this week will be waiting.
We have some conference tournament finals that I didn’t get a chance to preview so here’s some predictions for some of tonight’s finals.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: Sundays two semi-finals had fantastic finishes so both teams may be spent emotionally. Northeastern came from 24 down to beat George Mason while James Madison had some fortunate calls to preserve victory over Delaware. It’s going to be hard for the Huskies to beat a Virginia school in Richmond though and I expect the Dukes to go dancing for the first time since 1994.
SUN BELT: Neither Florida International nor Western Kentucky is supposed to be here. It’s the second year in a row the Hilltoppers shocked the world to reach the final while Richard Pitino has turned around Florida International in one year after Isaiah Thomas screwed that job up too. The Golden Panthers are a nice story, but the Hilltoppers are used to this and will go dancing again.
SOUTHERN: I watched Davidson go to Charleston earlier this season and put a beat down on the Cougars earlier this season. The margin may be closer, but the result will be the same. The gold standard of SoCon basketball is going dancing again.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: Here is another tournament where the teams playing weren’t expected to be here. Iona is a solid program and has proven it can hang with good competition this season. Manhattan, on the other hand, is the beneficiary of getting to play the No. 7 seed in the semifinals. Iona has endured its share of heartbreak in this tournament the past few years, the Gaels will get the job done this time around.
We all so have some other tournaments getting started today.
MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: It’s been an unusual year in the MEAC where two teams have been way ahead of the pack. Last year’s NCAA tournament darling Norfolk St finished undefeated in league play and North Carolina Central finished with only one loss. That loss didn’t come at the hands of the Spartans because the two didn’t play. They will in the title game and the Spartans will repeat.
MID-AMERICAN: Akron was threatening to run away with this league and was possibly heading towards locking up an at-large bid. Then came a surprising loss at Buffalo and the suspension of point guard Alex Abreu. Those unfortunate series of events leave the Ohio Bobcats as the clear favorites to repeat as MAC champions and go to the big dance.
On to the Bracket:
Good for Games played thru 3/10
Last Four In: Virginia, Boise St, Tennessee, La Salle
Last Four Out: Kentucky, Mississippi, Iowa, Middle Tennessee St
1.Indiana16.Florida International/Long Island Dayton, OH
8.Wichita St9.San Diego St
4.Oklahoma St13.Louisiana Tech
7.Memphis10.Colorado St Philadelphia
2.Georgetown15.Florida Gulf Coast(ASun)
1.Louisville16.Southern/Liberty(BSouth) Lexington, KY
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: Iona has been on my radar since I watch it go blow-for-blow with Purdue in November. This team can flatout score. This is one of the most dangerous mid-majors in the country as it has three pros on the roster. That being said, the Gaels don’t really care to much to play defense and that’s why a team like Loyola is a real threat. Despite that, I don’t think Iona will be denied this year.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: Up until mid-February, people were talking about the down year in the CAA. Then came Bracketbusters where the CAA once again flexed its mid-major muscle. Drexel, Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason and Old Dominion all scored big wins leading many pundits to say this is a multi-bid league again. I’m not so sure of that but I do know that Drexel and VCU will play a classic championship game. That game will be won by Drexel.
SOUTHERN: Davidson served notice to the nation earlier this season when it beat Kansas. It followed that impressive win up with a 16-2 league record. The Wildcats have a solid RPI and is far and away the best team in this league, but I don’t have a good feeling about them winning the conference championship. There’s one team though, which has been knocking on the door and that’s the College of Charleston. The Cougars have won six of their last seven and they’ll carry that momentum into a SoCon championship.
SUN BELT: Middle Tennessee St put the nation on notice when it took UCLA apart in November. With only five losses, the Blue Raiders have done that to most of their opponents this season. This team is the class of the Sun Belt and, with the exception of Denver, has no peer. The Blue Raiders are going dancing.
SUMMIT LEAGUE: You’re 17-1 in league play and one of the best mid-majors in the nation. How are you rewarded – by playing the conference tournament on the homecourt of the second place team in the conference. That’s what Oral Roberts’ dilemma is as it prepares for the conference tournament hosted by South Dakota St. That South Dakota St team is responsible for Oral Roberts lone conference loss. On March 6, it’ll be responsible for Oral Roberts’ second conference loss.
BIG SKY: Weber St and Montana went toe-to-toe all season long in a conference race that wasn’t decided until the last game of the regular season. That game determined where the conference tournament would be played. Unfortunately for Weber St, they’re going to have to go through the regular season champion Montana on its home court. Not likely. The Grizzlies are going to the NCAA tournament.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: For the past three years, Siena has been rolling through the MAAC like a warm knife through hot butter. The Saints once again coasted to the regular season title with a 17-1 record. They have shown vulnerabilities though. Not all of the Saints wins have been dominant and some have been downright close. Fairfield has a legitimate shot at pulling off the upset, but I don’t see it. The Saints seem to be extremely focused in their last two games and playing on their home floor will be a huge advantage. I expect Siena to go dancing again.
SOUTHERN: This will be one of the more competitive conference tournaments in the country. The SoCon has wins over schools from the Big East, ACC, SEC, and Atlantic 10 this season. Those wins came from Appalachian St., Western Carolina, College of Charleston and Wofford. Throw in Davidson and there will be some high-quality hoops in Charlotte this weekend. In the end, you have to go with the team that’s lost only one game this calendar year. I expect Wofford to make its first trip to the Big Dance.
WEST COAST: Once again, Gonzaga has proven to be the class of this league. It’s amazing to see the Bulldogs have the success they’ve had given the losses they sustain in the offseason. Despite that, Gonzaga has proven to be beatable this season and, over its record 11-year run, in the WCC tournament. Saint Mary’s and Portland are extremely capable of winning this tournament. There is a high probability of the two meeting in the semi-finals, a game in which Portland will win on their way to the WCC tournament title.
AMERICA EAST: The top four teams in the America East are separated by two games. Stony Brook, Vermont, Maine and Boston University are all capable of going dancing. However, there’s one team who clearly has the number of the other three. In its six meetings with Vermont, Maine and BU; Stony Brook has a 5-1 record. They’ve won 10 out of 11 and are looking very strong. The loss to New Hampshire is a bit alarming, but it was the last game of the season and Stony Brook had nothing left to play for. The Seawolves do now and they’ll be going dancing.
I’ve thought Pittsburgh was one of the top teams in the country all year, but I was skeptical about them being able to win the national championship. This past Saturday as I sat in the Verizon Center and watched them dismantle Georgetown, the Panthers changed my mind.
I knew about DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields, and Sam Young. However, Pitt’s supporting cast is what leads me to believe THIS is the Pitt team that will get over the hump and get past the Sweet 16. This team can score, it’s athletic, and it is flat out the toughest team in the country. Make no mistake about it, this is a team full of grown men. They are going to bully themselves into the best season in the history of Pittsburgh basketball.
Stock Up: California. No one is talking about them, but California is making some serious noise in the Pac-10. With a Top-20 RPI and two top-50 wins already, it looks like the Golden Bears are ready to contend in a relatively weak Pac-10. Remember the names: Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, and Theo Robertson.
Stock Down: Every Davidson starter NOT named Stephen Curry. Please give the man some help. Last year, you knew Curry was the first and second option for the Wildcats. This year he appears to be the only option. For Davidson to even sniff that kind of success, someone besides Curry is going to have to score on a consistent basis.
Stock Up: Boston College. I’m rather shocked that North Carolina lost. I’m even more shocked that they lost to BC. Coach Al Skinner has a knack for finding hidden gems and being able to mold them to fit his personality; tough, gritty. That’s exactly what this squad is. Tyrese Rice is the most underrated player in the ACC, but trust me, Roy Williams knows all about him.
Stock Down: Northwestern. It was such a promising start for Bill Carmody’s Wildcats. They were 7-1 and it appeared as if this might be the season they finally get to the tournament. Alas, normalcy reigns and the Wildcats have lost three of their last four to come back down to earth. There’s still time to turn it around, but that’s going to be a difficult task in the unforgiving Big Ten.
This week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: BYU, Washington, Arkansas, Texas A&M
Last Four Out: Oklahoma St, Creighton, Evansville, Utah
This Bracket is good for games played through Sunday, January 4, 2009.