NEWS AND NOTES
-Three more automatic bids were clinched last night. Western Kentucky fell behind early to Middle Tennessee in the Sun Belt Championship, and Courtney Lee
had five turnovers in the first ten minutes of the game, but they finally settled down, got the lead just before halftime, and then never looked back. This is their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003 and theyre going to be a tough team to beat in the first round. Whoever plays them better be on upset alert.
-Butler jumped out to an early lead, but Cleveland State fought back and stayed with them for about a half. The Bulldogs opened it up in the second half and captured their first Horizon League Championship since 2001. Theyve finished first in the regular season several times and been to two Sweet Sixteens since 2001, but this is their first tournament championship since then. They didnt need to win this game to get in, but the fact that they did win should help them secure a decent seed.
-Oral Roberts jumped out to an early lead against IUPUI in the Summit League Championship, but the Jaguars came back and actually got a lead late in the second half. They just couldnt hold on, though, as Oral Roberts won their third conference championship in a row. Moses Ehambe had a monster game for ORU with 25 points and ended up with the tournament MVP.
-After looking at some of the teams on the 13-16 lines, Ive switched Siena with Belmont. The one thing that the committee wont like about Siena is that theyve lost six games to sub100 RPI teams. They do, however, have a quality win against Stanford and considering Belmont didnt beat anyone in the RPI top 100, I believe that would put Siena ahead. Siena also has a slightly better RPI and played a much tougher schedule. Thats the only change to the bracket from yesterday, but with the major tournaments getting underway today there will undoubtedly be more changes.
-Im now 6-7 in my conference tournament predictions. I really just do those for fun and dont claim to be able to predict the future, but Im doing worse than what I typically to. IUPUI let me down last night, but Western Kentucky and Butler both won. My predicted Northeast champion has already been eliminated, but I can get to .500 if Portland State wins tonight. I guess thats not too bad since I pick all the winners before the tournament even starts. CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT MATCH-UPS
BIG EAST OPENING ROUND
-#9. SYRACUSE VS #8. VILLANOVA (Bubble Watch) (winner gets Georgetown). This game has huge implications as far as the bubble is concerned. I believe Nova is in regardless, but theyll be sweating it out a little bit if they cant win this game. A win would certainly give them more peace of mind. Syracuse is squarely on the bubble and desperately needs to win at least this game in order to stay in the discussion. If they can win the next two, then it will pretty much ice it, and that isnt unthinkable since they beat Georgetown rather handily once during the season and came close to upsetting them on the road as well.
-#10. CINCINNATI VS #7. PITTSBURGH (winner gets Louisville). Pitt barely lost to Louisville and Cincinnati actually beat them back in January, so the winner of this game has reason to hope. Cincinnati had been playing well, but theyve lost five straight games coming into this one, including an embarrassing blowout loss to Connecticut in their last game. If they lose today then chances are their season will end. Pitts tournament ticket is punched, but they can build up their seeding with a strong showing in the conference tournament. Winning this game and beating Louisville in the quarters would really give them a boost.
-#11. SETON HALL VS #6. MARQUETTE (winner gets Notre Dame). The prospect of rivals Notre Dame and Marquette hooking up in the quarterfinals strikes me as exciting. Seton Hall played some good basketball this season, but none of it has come recently. Theyre just 2-8 in their last ten games and the best theyll be able to hope for is the NIT if they lose today. Marquette is squarely in the tournament, and depending on how they do in the conference tourney they could end up with a very good seed. Just winning the next two games would be a big boost for them.
-#12. PROVIDENCE VS #5. WEST VIRGINIA (winner gets Connecticut). West Virginia has had some frustrating close losses this season, but theyre still solidly in the tournament. Right now I have them in the 7-10 seed range, but they can improve on that tremendously with a strong showing in this tournament. If they lose today then theyll still dance, but their seed will take a hit. Providence needs to win just to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes flickering.
BIG SKY CHAMPIONSHIP
-#2. NORTHERN ARIZONA VS #1. PORTLAND STATE (***Automatic Bid***). This is Northern Arizonas third straight year in the championship game, but theyve lost the previous two years. Portland State is hosting the game and they didnt lose a single conference game at home this year, so one has to really like their chances. If they win theyre probably looking at a #16 seed, but at least theyll be in the field.
-#4. MOUNT SAINT MARYS VS #3. SACRED HEART (***Automatic Bid***). Sacred Heart probably wasnt expecting to host the championship game, but with Robert Morris being upset in the semifinals it gave them the opportunity. Theyve never been to the NCAA Tournament, so this is a very big deal for them. Chances are the winner of this game will be headed to Dayton, but at least theyll be in the field of 65. Mount Saint Marys won rather decisively in the semifinals against a Robert Morris team that dominated the league, but it still wont be easy to go on the road to face a Sacred Heart team thats probably playing in their biggest game in school history.
PAC TEN OPENING ROUND
-#9. CALIFORNIA VS #8. WASHINGTON (winner gets UCLA). For a #8 vs #9 game, this should be pretty competitive. Despite being in ninth place, California has played some pretty good basketball. They appeared to have UCLA beat over the weekend, but the Bruins hit a miracle shot (that shouldnt have counted because it was thrown over the backboard) and ended up pulling it out. Washington, on the other hand, has actually beaten the Bruins this season, so the winner of this game should go in to the quarterfinals with quite a bit of confidence, which is a testament to how tough the league is.
-#10. OREGON STATE VS #7. ARIZONA (Bubble Watch) (winner gets Stanford). Arizona has some pretty solid credentials, but one weakness on their resume is how poorly theyve been playing down the stretch. Oregon State has not won a conference game and probably wont win tonight, either. If Arizona does stub their toes tonight then they are in a world of trouble. If they win this and beat Stanford theyre locked in, but they should be relatively safe if they can take care of business tonight.
ATLANTIC TEN OPENING ROUND
-#9. Saint Louis vs #8. Dayton (winner gets Xavier)
-#10. Duquesne vs #7. La Salle (winner gets Temple)
-#11. Rhode Island vs #6. Charlotte (winner gets Massachusetts)
-#12 Fordham vs #5. Saint Josephs (winner gets Richmond)
The opening round of the tournament this year is much more interesting than usual. Dayton and Rhode Island appeared to be tournament locks a little over a month ago, but both tanked the latter part of the season, although Dayton has won three in a row and if they can win today and beat Xavier in the quarters they may be back in the discussion. Saint Josephs is also a bubble team, but if they lose today then the best they can hope for is the NIT. This looks like a league full of bubble teams and South Alabama and Gonzaga losing last night didnt help. As of now Gonzaga clearly has better credentials, and South Alabama appears to, although if Dayton or Saint Josephs go on a run in this tournament they could end up passing South Alabama in the race for the last few spots.
MID AMERICAN OPENING ROUND
-#9. Bowling Green vs #8. Toledo (winner gets Kent State)
-#10. Ball State vs #7. Eastern Michigan (winner gets Western Michigan)
-#11. Northern Illinois vs #6. Central Michigan (winner gets Akron)
-#12. Buffalo vs #5. Miami OH (winner gets Ohio)
Miami OH is an interesting case. They won four games to win this tournament last year and advance to the NCAA Tournament, and had a similar record to what they have this year. They got off to a great start this season and knocked off some big name teams, but they struggled with injuries shortly after conference play began. Now that theyre back at full strength theyre playing much better. They could potentially face rival Ohio in the quarterfinals, who is a team they recently blew out. Toledo is another interesting team because they recently beat Kent State, although that game was at home. There is quite a bit of rivalry in this conference and the tournament is always a blast. Fortunately for Kent State it looks as though they have an NCAA bid sewn up regardless of what happens, which is a good thing because with the parity in this league it wont be an easy tournament for them to win.
MOUNTAIN WEST OPENING ROUND
-#9. Colorado State vs #8. Wyoming (winner gets BYU)
This should be an exciting tournament, but the teams playing today probably arent going to do much. Both lost to BYU pretty convincingly during the season and probably wont put up much of a fight in the quarters. Obviously, this is an elimination game for both teams, so theyre fighting to keep their seasons alive.
CONFERENCE USA OPENING ROUND
-#9. Tulane vs #8. Marshall (winner gets Memphis)
-#10. East Carolina vs #7. Tulsa (winner gets UAB)
-#11. SMU vs #6. UTEP (winner gets Houston)
-#12. Rice vs #5. Southern Mississippi (winner gets UCF)
These are all elimination games for the teams playing today. Obviously Memphis is in the tournament and will likely get a #1 seed if they end up winning it. Houston and UAB have some at-large hopes, but theyre very very small. UTEP and Southern Miss have played some decent ball this year and could end up making some noise in the quarterfinals, but Im not expecting any deep runs out of anyone playing today.
BIG WEST OPENING ROUND
-#7. UC Riverside vs #6. Cal Poly
-#8. Long Beach State vs #5. UC Irvine
The teams will be reseeded in the quarterfinals, and then again in the semifinals. In the quarterfinals, Cal State Fullerton will play the lowest remaining seed that advances today, and Pacific will play the second lowest seed.
MEAC OPENING ROUND/QUARTERFINALS
-#11. Maryland Eastern Shore vs #6. Florida A&M (winner gets Norfolk State in the Quarters)
-#8. South Carolina State vs #1. Morgan State (winner faces winner of North Carolina A&T vs Delaware State)
#7. Coppin State vs #2. Hampton (winner gets Norfolk State, Florida A&M or Maryland Easter Shore)
In perhaps what is the most bizarrely scheduled tournament we have this year, we will see an opening round game and two quarterfinal games today. Morgan State is favored to win the tournament, but theyll almost assuredly end up as a #16 seed.
-#8. Texas Southern vs #1. Alabama State (winner gets Southern vs Jackson State)
-#7. Grambling State vs #2. Mississippi Valley State (winner gets Arkansas Pine Bluff vs Alabama A&M)
Whoever wins this tournament is most likely on their way to the play-in game in Dayton. Alabama State won the league outright and will be the favorites to win the conference tournament.