Here’s an Update on three teams that have been playing well recently.
Saint Mary’s had a disappointing time in the Wooden Legacy tournament earlier this season. The Gaels went 1-2 as they lost games to Washington St and Georgia. They have been on cruise control ever since.
They’re 18-2 and 7-0 in league play – already beating top challengers BYU and No. 13 Gonzaga on the road. Tomorrow they travel to Pacific in what will be a trickier game than most people know. However, the Gaels have set themselves up for a huge finish.
They’ll have opportunities for more quality wins at home and their Kenpom rating of 15 is the best for any team not in a power conference. I thought the Gaels would be the best team in the West Coast Conference before the season started and right now they’re proving that to be true.
Western Kentucky is quietly doing work in Conference USA. The Hilltoppers are 6-0 in league play and are building a solid NCAA tournament resume.
Their RPI is 34 and their Kenpom rating is 46. They have neutral-court wins over SMU and No. 3 Purdue. They have a non-conference strength of schedule (SOS) of 12 with their overall SOS expected to drop to 79 by the end of the regular season due to the competition within the league.
They have two tilts with Middle Tennessee remaining, including at home tomorrow, and have already beaten Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech in league play with another game with Old Dominion coming next month. The Hilltoppers can probably take at least 2 losses and still be ok for an at-large bid.
There was much hand-wringing about Florida Gulf Coast’s non-conference struggles. The Eagles lost to Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Oral Roberts and Bowling Green during non-league play.
All those concerns have been put to bed as they’re in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Sun at 4-0 after beating Lipscomb 88-83 last night.
Those struggles may hurt them a seed line or two on Selection Sunday, but with a conference tournament that’s played on the home court of the higher-seeded team; the Atlantic Sun title will once again go through Fort Myers. They’re still the team to beat.
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
I haven’t seen a more impressive team this season then Kansas. Coach Bill Self’s squad lost Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich and hasn’t skipped a beat.
The Morris twins are proving to be a load in the paint. Marcus and Markieff are averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds between the two of them and in Mondays game against Baylor, they were unstoppable.
Kansas has also been getting good guard play. Tyshawn Taylor held down the fort for the beginning of the season, but now Josh Selby is in the fold giving them another dimension.
Selby is explosive and can create his own shot and shots for his teammates. The athletic freshman out of Baltimore is hell in Nikes and will burn the Big XII up this year.
Stock Up: San Diego St. The Aztecs have run roughshod over their competition this year. With wins over Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, Wichita St., UNLV and New Mexico, the Aztecs have a very impressive resume. Kawhi Leonard, D.J. Gay and Malcolm Thomas are three of the best players in the nation and come March everyone will become acquainted with them.
Stock Down: Sun Belt. Sun Belt officials tried to come up with strategies to increase at-large bid opportunities for the conference. What’s transpired has been a failure on all levels. The conference has underachieved mightily with no team being more disappointing than Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers went down to the San Juan Shootout hoping to get some quality wins and came back 1-2 with a loss to Davidson. The rest of the conference hasn’t been much better as it is ranked 26 out 31 conferences in RPI. Looks like it might be time to look over the plan for the conference again.
Stock Up: Xavier. It’s almost to the point where it’s like death and taxes with the Musketeers. We shouldn’t be surprised to see them atop the Atlantic-10 again. Year after year they contend for the title and it looks like this year will be no different. They bounced back nicely after their loss to Cincinnati by winning their first three conference games. With a trip to St. Bonaventure followed by two home games, the Musketeers can really distance themselves.
Stock Down: Auburn. How can a BCS conference team be so bad? I know people may be asking if I’ve seen Depaul play. Yes I have live and they’d mop the floor with Auburn. How the Tigers beat Florida St. is beyond me, but they’re already 0-3 in league play and it can get really ugly down the stretch. Thank God for football.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: Marquette, Butler, Cincinnati, Miami (FL)
Last Four Out: Memphis, New Mexico, Dayton, UCLA
Good for games through 1/17
1.Kansas16.Northern Colorado/Morgan St Tulsa
4.West Virginia13.James Madison
6.Louisville11.Utah St Chicago
7.Washington10.Gonzaga Washington, DC
1.Duke16.Austin Peay Charlotte
6.Colorado11.Old Dominion Denver
7.St. John’s10.Boston College Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Chattanooga SOUTHEAST
1.Pittsburgh16.Long Island Cleveland
8.St. Mary’s9.Oklahoma St
5.Florida12.Southern Mississippi Tampa
4.Michigan St13.Ball St
7.Arizona10.Wichita St Tulsa
2.Texas A&M15.Long Beach St EAST
1.Ohio St16.McNeese St/Jackson St Cleveland
5.Notre Dame12.Harvard Tucson
6.Georgetown11.Florida St Charlotte
7.UNLV10.UCF Washington, DC
SUN BELT: Troy, North Texas and Middle Tennessee St all tied for the overall conference title with 13-5 records. Troy is the No. 1 seed by way of a 2-1 record against UNT AND MTSU. However, the Trojans has been done no favors by having Western Kentucky on its side of the bracket. There’s not team in this conference that strikes fear in the heart of its foes like the Hilltoppers. They have wins over Vanderbilt, Murray St and Mississippi St out-of-conference and are on a six-game winning streak. Their experience and confidence will carry the Hilltoppers to another Sun Belt title.
SUMMIT LEAGUE: I’ve never seen a team with one league loss in more trouble than Oakland. There’s no question that IUPUI and Oral Roberts are capable of winning this tournament. IUPUI has already proven it can beat Oakland and Oral Roberts has wins over Missouri and New Mexico. That being said, Oakland has been consistent all year. It has only lost once in the 2010 calendar year going 16-1. With IUPUI and Oral Roberts fighting it out on the other side of the bracket, Oakland will have smooth sailing to the NCAA tournament.
BIG SKY: Weber St finished just one game ahead of Northern Colorado in the league standings. The Wildcats are very fortunate that the tournament is played on the home court of the regular season champion because I don’t think they want to see the 23-win Bears on a neutral floor. However, the Bears will have to travel to Ogden shorthanded as junior guard Devon Beitzel is out with a broken foot. Weber St played a tough schedule to prepare itself for this moment and the fact that it’ll get home cooking will put it over the top.
MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: It’s clear that Todd Bozeman has Morgan St in complete control of this conference. The Bears won their third consecutive regular season championship and are poised to win their second straight tournament title. The way the MEAC’s tournament is set up actually takes the advantage of the buy away so Morgan will have to deal with that. However, only one team was able to beat the Bears in conference this season and they bounced back with five consecutive league wins after the setback. They’re experienced, tournament tough and have Reggie Holmes. The Bears go dancing again.
Today’s Bracket Projection:
Last Four In: Mississippi, Virginia Tech, Connecticut, San Diego St
Last Four Out: Rhode Island, Memphis, UAB, Mississippi St