Is this the year when coach Mike Brey gets his Notre Dame team to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Its something that hasn’t happened for Notre Dame in quite some time, but it looks like Brey finally has the squad to do.
Notre Dame has always been a great jump-shooting team, but now it looks like they have the total package. What’s separating the Irish this year is the late season emergence of freshman Bonzie Colson. Colson, with his long arms give the Irish a legitimate post presence.
Notre Dame looks right for a deep run this year. If they can show some toughness this March, they could be a sleeper in the tournament.
MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: The MEAC is one of the few leagues that saw a team roll through the regular season undefeated. North Carolina Central looks like the class of a MEAC that is as good as its been in recent memory. Norfolk St and UMES will challenge the Eagles, but expect Central to repeat as champions and return to the NCAA tournament.
MID-AMERICAN: As usual, the MAC was competitive like always with three teams, Central Michigan, Kent St and Buffalo, finishing tied for the regular season crown at 12-6. Behind those three, Bowling Green and Toledo finished tied for fourth with identical 11-7 records. Suffice it to say, this thing is completely up in the air. In the end, Kent St’s history navigating this tournament makes them the pick here.
SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC: Texas Southern, a team that has wins at Michigan St and Kansas St, rolled nearly wire-to-wire here. They have only two conference losses and look primed to make another run to the NCAA tournament. The only teams close, Southern and Alabama St, are ineligible for the postseason but are somehow allowed to compete anyway. Look for the Texas Southern to go dancing.
Last Four In: Illinois, Miami (FL), Texas, Purdue
Last Four Out: Indiana, UCLA, Old Dominion, Texas A&M
There’s a team in California that no one is talking about. This team not only plays after most of the country is asleep, it doesn’t even play on TV. The UC Davis Aggies are 21-4 and 11-1 in the Big West and it’s in large part because they’re the best in the nation in three-point shooting percentage.
Senior guard Corey Hawkins, son of Hersey, leads one of the most efficient offenses in the country. UC Davis is 25th nationally in points per possession. That’s a good stat to watch as people search for a team to pull off an upset in the Big Dance.
Hot shooting, low possessions and veteran leadership is the hallmark for this team. The Aggies are certainly a team to watch approaching March.
Stock Up: Purdue. The Boilermakers are doing everything a bubble team is asked to do. Get top-50 wins, win on the road and do them both at the same time. Good turnaround for Matt Painter’s team.
Stock Down: Louisville. There are some weird things going on there right now. Rick Pitino kicked Chris Jones of the team and the Cardinals have been struggling.
Stock Up: North Carolina Central. The Eagles are rolling through the MEAC at 13-0. No conference opponent has come within single digits this month.
Stock Down: Seton Hall. This is a team with player leaving the program near the end of the season and another takes a cheap shot at an opponent. The Pirates haven’t won a game since January 31.
On to the bracket.
Last Four In: Stanford, UCLA, Texas, St. John’s
Last Four Out: Pittsburgh, Colorado St, Tulsa, Boise St.
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