In the first time since both universities have been Division I participants, both North Dakota and North Dakota St have legitimate shots to go dancing.
At the publishing of this post, North Dakota is in first place by a half-game in the Big Sky while North Dakota St is tied for first in the Summit with South Dakota.
This would be quite the feat for the two universities and would give the state bragging rights over the Dakota to the South. Both schools will most likely be 15/16 seeds, but that doesn’t take away of how historic this will be for the state. Besides, the world needs to see North Dakota’s Quinton Hooker in the Big Dance.
Stock Up: Wichita St. As you will see below the Shockers are an No. 8 seed without an at-large resume. That’s because I believe what my eyes tell me when I watch them play. This is a tournament team. They are destroying the Missouri Valley. In 13 of their 15 conference wins, the margin has been double digits. In fact they beat Illinois St, the team they’re tied with for first place, by 41 points earlier this month. You don’t want to see this team in March.
Stock Down: Virginia. I’m starting to wonder if the rest of the ACC has figured Tony Bennett out. It happens from time-to-time, but the Cavaliers are currently on a four-game losing streak and haven’t looked good in the process. There is now a scenario where Virginia is playing in a 7/10 or 8/9 game in the Big Dance.
Stock Up: Bucknell. On Sunday, Bucknell traveled to Boston University to play a game for first place in the Patriot League. When the game was over; there was no doubt. Bucknell throttled Boston 86-66 to take a two-game lead and are now the odds-on favorite to win the automatic bid.
Stock Down: Mountain West. Last week we spoke about the downturn of Conference USA and this week it’s the Mountain West, which appears to be a one-bid league again. Long-term this appears to be more of a blip than a trend as it has major state universities. However, more is expected of this league.
Last Four In: TCU, Seton Hall, Syracuse, California
Last Four Out: Alabama, Marquette, Providence, Illinois St
AMERICA EAST: Albany was by far the most dominant team in the league this season. The Great Danes didn’t lose their first conference game until Feb. 17. With all games being at campus sites its going to take a lot to keep Albany from repeating.
MISSOURI VALLEY: This certainly was a top heavy league this year as Wichita St and Northern Iowa ran away and hid from the rest of the conference. That’s why it is expected that those will be the two teams playing for the championship on Sunday. In the rubber match, expect Wichita St, the team with the superior experience and talent, to cut down the nets.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: A loss on the last day of the regular season is the only thing that kept Iona from winning the league by three games. The Gaels’ misstep doesn’t scare me too much as they’ve been to the tournament recently and will be tough prep on short rest. The tournament will be competitive as always, but expect Iona to go dancing.
SOUTHERN: As good as Wofford has been over the course of the year, Chattanooga has been right there all along. The two squads were far and away the class of this conference and appear to be on a collision course for a Monday night showdown. The teams won on each other’s home floor so this creates a bit of intrigue. Wofford is the favorite here, but not by much.
COLONIAL: The regular season in the CAA finished in a four-way tie for first place. If there’s anyone out there who’ll tell you they have this league pegged than than call that person’s bluff. On a true neutral court in Baltimore anything can happen. Given the disappointment from last season and performing well against the other top teams in the league, I’m going with William & Mary.
WEST COAST: There may be many people wondering if there’s a major kink in the armor of Gonzaga after losing to BYU in it’s last regular season home game. I am not one of those people. BYU played fantastic and could very well be a tournament team itself, but Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country and it’ll have motivation. The Zags will win in Vegas.
SUMMIT: South Dakota St and North Dakota St went back and forth this season vying for the Summit League’s No. 1 spot. At the end of the day, both teams finished with 12-4 records with South Dakota St winning the tiebreaker. Playing the tournament in the state of South Dakota gives the Jackrabbits a bit of a chance. Despite that, there’s a team on their side of bracket who’s beaten them and is even closer to the site where the tournament will be played. That’s the South Dakota Coyotes and they’re my upset pick to win the Summit League.
Before we get to the bracket I’m going to preview tonight’s Summit League final as well as the conference tournament in the SWAC, Southland, Big Sky, WAC and Big West.
SUMMIT LEAGUE: This was a nice three-team race to watch between finalists South Dakota St and North Dakota St along with Western Illinois. The two teams split the regular season match-up and I expect a barnburner in the third. It’s on the Jackrabbits home court so you have to give SDSU the edge.
SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC: Three teams are missing from this conference tournament due to APR penalties leveled against them. Two of those teams, Texas Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff won the regular season championship and finished tied for second respectively. That leaves the Southern Jaguars as the heavy favorites to win the SWAC.
SOUTHLAND: This is a tournament that protects its top teams from playing until the semifinals. Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern St have been impressive all season. They split the two regular season games including a one-point win by the Lumberjacks 10 days ago. I think Northwestern St gained confidence from playing them so tough though and on a neutral floor I expect the Demons to go dancing.
BIG SKY: There’s no doubt that Montana and Weber St are on a collision course. These have been the best programs in the Big Sky for a number of years and they are head and shoulders above the rest of the league. They’ll meet one more time in the finals where Montana’s home court will give them the edge.
WESTERN ATHLETIC: Louisiana Tech was running away with the league title for much of the year, but their two toughest games were in the last week. Road games at New Mexico St and Denver resulted in double digit losses for the Bulldogs – tarnishing a possible at-large resume. It’s tough to think they’ve recovered from those defeats in time for the WAC tournament and I think Denver will make its first ever trip to the Big Dance.
BIG WEST: Long Beach St by far has the most talent of any team in the Big West, but the 49ers aren’t playing their best ball. They’re coming off a 20-point beatdown at the hands of Pacific. That game was the last scheduled home game Bob Thomason is going to coach and his Tigers gave an inspired performance. I expect them to have the same inspiration as they try to get him to one last NCAA tournament. Pacific is going dancing.
On to the Bracket
Last Four In: Virginia, Boise St, Saint Mary’s, Tennessee
Last Four Out: Kentucky, Mississippi, Iowa, Middle Tennessee St
1.Indiana16.Western Kentucky(SBelt)/Long Island Dayton, OH
8.Wichita St9.San Diego St
5.Pittsburgh12.Saint Mary’s/Virginia Austin
4.Oklahoma St13.Louisiana Tech
7.Memphis10.Colorado St Philadelphia
2.Georgetown15.Florida Gulf Coast(ASun)
1.Louisville16.James Madison(CAA)/Liberty(BSouth) Lexington, KY