Month: February 2012

Bulls Should Be Tourney Bound

 

What a win for the South Florida Bulls.  To go into Louisville and knock off the ranked Cardinals is exactly what this team needed… a win on the road against a quality opponent.  Believe it or not, South Florida is now 12-5 in the Big East, which in any other year would make this team an absolute lock.  The unbalanced conference schedule had some people, including myself, skeptical.  But no more.  When the stakes were at their highest, the Bulls rose to the occasion and got the job done.  I think at this point it would be very tough to keep this team out.  With just one win the Big East tournament I’m positive the Bulls will be dancing.

Also on Wednesday night, another Big East team got a huge win.  That would be Cincinnati at home over Marquette, who was threatening for a 2 seed.  If there was any question before, there is no more.  The Bearcats will be in the NCAA Tournament.  This improves Cincinnati to a 7-6 record against the top 100, including big road wins over Georgetown, UConn and Pitt.  That’s more than enough at this point to get them in.  Cincinnati really came together after the ugly incident against Xavier, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the Bearcats will be a very dangerous team.

The A10 also took a hit on Wednesday as Saint Joe’s and Dayton both lost winnable games on the road.  I had both of these teams out before Wednesday’s games, and they will stay there until further notice.

I’m also impressed with New Mexico’s massive rebound win over Air Force.  They clearly got overconfident after dismantling UNLV and San Diego St.  I think with greater focus the Lobos will certainly threaten for the second weekend in the big dance, with potential for even more.

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Horizon, Patriot, WCC Conference Tournaments

Valpo has been a pleasant surprise

 

Yesterday I took a look at some of the conference tournaments that will complete on Saturday.  Here I will preview a few more of them where at large bids are really not at stake.

Horizon: The Horizon league gives a massive advantage to its top teams.  The #1 and #2 seeds receive a double bye into the semifinals.  In addition, the semifinals and finals are played on the home court of the #1 seed.  This will be the 10th year the Horizon has gone to this format, and only once did a team not in the top 2 seeds advance to the NCAA Tournament.  Cleveland State appeared to be the favorite just a couple weeks ago, but since then have sputtered.  I give Valpo the slight edge due to the home court advantage.  Bryce Drew has the Crusaders playing extremely well.  They’ve already defeated Cleveland State at home, and I think they can do it again.  A Valpo-Cleveland State Final would be very exciting.

Patriot: All games in the Patriot League tournament are played on the campus of the higher seed.  The last time the #1 seed in the Patriot tournament did not advance to the big dance was back in 2005.  Teams really seem to relish the home court advantage in the Patriot league.  Crotistics has Bucknell as the #1 team, and adding home court advantage to that just increases the odds of success.  I think Bucknell will get it done and return to the NCAA Tournament this year.  Lehigh did defeat Bucknell at home this year, so they could be a sleeper team in the Patriot.

West Coast: I’m not sure if the West Coast Conference went in the right direction with their step ladder approach this year.  With 9 teams in conference this year, the 8/9 seed would have to win 5 games to make the NCAA Tournament.  Although there are some great teams in this tournament (Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, BYU), they all more than likely have locked up an at large berth.  The one team to keep an eye on is Loyola Marymount.  Although they would need to win 3 games to win the tournament, this has been done before, most recently in 2008 when San Diego won as the #3 seed and then upset UCONN in the tournament.  More than likely the results of this tourney will only matter for seeding, as the likelihood of any of the top 3 not winning is very remote.

Big South, OVC, Atlantic Sun Tournaments

JP Primm and the Bulldogs have Tourney experience

By the time Saturday concludes, 3 teams will have punched their ticket to the big dance.  Action in the Big South, OVC, and A-Sun will take place over the next week.  Despite these being smaller conferences, bubble teams need to take note.  In all likelihood, Belmont is not going to get an at-large berth if they do not win the Atlantic Sun tournament, but that is not the case for Murray State.  The Racers are a lock for the tournament, and if they fail to win the OVC tournament, it will mean one less at-large spot is available for the rest of the bubble.  Here’s a look at who may prevail in each of the 3 tournaments:

Big South: The Big South is one of the few conferences that holds all its tournament games on campus sites.  This obviously gives a major advantage to the highest seeds in the tournament, as if you are not the #1 seed, you must win a road game to make the NCAA Tournament.  The past two years, Coastal Carolina has failed to get the job done at home in the championship game in one of the smallest gyms in the nation.  The only thing I think we’ll see as a repeat this year is the winning team.  UNC Asheville has experience in Matt Dickey and JP Primm, and they should be strong enough to get the job done and return to the big dance.

Atlantic Sun: This looks like it could be one of the most even tournaments this year.  Even though Mercer is the 2-seed in the tournament, they will be playing all of their games at home.  It would be highly surprising to not see a Belmont-Mercer final in this tournament.  Mercer was 8-1 at home in conference this year… their lone loss being by a single point to Belmont just two days ago.  If that does turn out to be the final on Saturday, it will be a great game.  I think Belmont will eventually be too much for Mercer, but winning on the road in an elimination game is never easy.  Also, keep an eye out for the Campbell Camels, who have arguably the best mascot in the country.

OVC: Murray State is a heavy favorite to win the OVC tournament, but it is not a given.  Last year, the Racers entered the tournament as the #1 seed and were promptly upset.  I don’t see that happening again in the semifinals, but a finals matchup against Tennessee State could prove daunting.  Although, the Tigers don’t play their home games at Nashville Municipal Auditorium, they do play only a couple miles down the road.  This could create a unique environment for Murray State.  Tennessee State is the only team that has beaten the Racers this season.  I just don’t see it happening again.  Coach Steve Prohm is well aware that his team will be dancing even with a loss, but a second loss to Tennessee State could really impact seeding.

The start of Conference Tournaments gets me excited every year for March Madness.  There should be some great championship games Saturday afternoon.

What’s Happening in Columbus?

Just a little over two weeks ago, Ohio State had a 39 game home winning streak, the second longest in the nation.  They had just escaped a hot shooting Purdue team, but looked to be too much in the end.  Ohio State was 21-3.  They were the #3 team in the country.

When looking at Ohio State, you really couldn’t blame them for their losses.  A loss at the Phog without Jared Sullinger, a narrow defeat at a rabid Indiana squad, and a loss at Illinois during which Brandon Paul dropped 43 on the Buckeyes were all justifiable.  Since then, Ohio State has lost 3 of 5.  Their home winning streak is gone, and the most recent defeat, at home to Wisconsin, really makes you wonder what this team is made of.

The last 2 games for Ohio State are at Northwestern and at Michigan State.  I wouldn’t be shocked if they lost at Northwestern, and they will most likely be a 5 point underdog at Michigan State.  There’s a very real possibility that Ohio State could end up as the #3 or 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, tasked with taking down most likely Indiana or Purdue.  Imagine if the Buckeyes, consistently the #1 team in many rankings systems out there, entered the tournament on a 4 game losing streak and losers in 6 of 8.

The Buckeyes have a significant depth issue which seems to be coming to the forefront.  If Sullinger and Buford do not get it done, there is very little elsewhere to pick up the pieces.  I don’t know if it’s just an increased focus by opposing teams on stopping Sullinger, but he’s clearly been less effective down the stretch.  I think this was a better team last season, and they got ousted by a hungrier Kentucky squad.  Depending on these last few games, I will have serious reservations about having Ohio State advancing far in my bracket.

Saturday’s Big Wins

Movement in the A10

Saturday was a huge day across the country.  For many teams it was their last opportunity in the regular season to make a big impression.  My final 6 teams in the bracket all came out with big wins, further solidifying their status as an NCAA Tournament team.  Here’s a list of some of Saturday’s big winners:

Saint Joseph’s: Any time you can knock off a ranked team this late in the season is a huge step.  Saint Joe’s is now up to #78 in my rankings, but have now accumulated 7 wins against RPI top 100 teams.  The Hawks have performed pretty well against some solid competition.  The only knock on this team is the lack of quality wins away from home.  Duquesne, Richmond, and GW are all under .500 in conference.  There are also a couple bad losses, but at this point in the season most bubble teams are in the same position.  I’m moving this team up to my last 4 out, but with some more wins down the stretch could make a run.

VCU: Although George Mason is not ranked nationally, they still appear in the top 70 of my rankings.  The Patriots were 23-7 entering Saturday’s action, which is a very impressive record.  VCU still took care of business and got another quality win to add to the resume.  As I’ve stated here before, I thought VCU was in before Saturday’s win, and I still think that will be the case.  It would be best to avoid an early round upset in the CAA tournament, but this team is too good to keep out.  I really wonder if the Final Four run last year may have changed some minds in the committee room.  There were doubts about the Rams last year, and I think that maybe some members will be more willing to put teams in that didn’t go 8-10 in conference.  Either way, VCU is looking good.

Drexel: It is never easy to win in Norfolk.  Drexel kept the nation’s second longest winning streak alive with a 1 point victory over Old Dominion.  They will be the #1 seed in the CAA tournament, which should prove to be very beneficial.  I can guarantee that nobody wants to play this team right now..  anywhere.  Drexel currently sits at #40 in my rankings, and I think it is well deserved.  The win over Old Dominion was Drexel’s 11th on the road.  Numbers like that prove very beneficial in the tourney.  Drexel is still 4-2 against the RPI top 100, which is much more than can be said for other bubble teams.  I think this team is right in the thick of the Bubble Hunt.

Arizona: The Wildcats needed to beat UCLA at home.  The road loss at the beginning of January probably is holding them back right now, but the road wins over Cal and New Mexico St. may be big helpers when determining this team’s tourney fate.  They are 8-1 in February and with the only loss being away from home to Washington, Arizona is doing everything possible to be one of the final tourney teams in.  The road game next weekend at Arizona St. is a MUST win.  At this point in the season, losing to a team with an RPI of 250 is a killer.  If they can win, and then win a couple games in the P12 tournament, they should be in.  Arizona actually ranks higher in Crotistics than fellow bubble team Washington.

Washington: Speaking of the Huskies, they pulled out a road win at Washington St. in what was likely a must win game for them as well.  Washington should smoke USC on Thursday, but the real test comes Saturday at UCLA.  Washington doesn’t have any bad losses, but they really don’t have any quality wins either.  A home win over Oregon and a season sweep of Arizona is really it.  The UCLA game is a must win, hands down.  Wins in the final two and a deep conference tournament run should be enough, but anything absent of that will have this team in real danger.

Texas: The case of Texas may be the most interesting of all.  Many statistical systems have Texas rated very highly, and this is one of the reasons I wanted to start Crotistics.  At some point, you just have to win games.  Texas is 3-8 against RPI top 50 opponents.  Those wins being at home over Temple, Iowa St., and Kansas St.  Some good wins are on the resume, but it remains to be seen whether that will be enough.  Escaping Texas Tech with a victory yesterday was absolutely necessary.  Texas resume looks awfully similar to Northwestern and Illinois, so we’ll see what happens down the stretch.  The game at Kansas is a gigantic opportunity.

Unleash The Dragon

Damion Lee

 

What to do with Drexel?  If you told Bruiser Flint and his players on November 18th before a game in the Virgin Islands against Norfolk State “if you lose this game, you will not be in the NCAA tournament”, what do you think they would have said?  I’m sure you’d get some laughs.  I’m sure they would have blown you off.  But the argument against Drexel consistently goes back to that November date.  This loss, coupled with 2 road losses in conference (teams that are the #5 and #6 in a 12 team conference no less), seemingly are holding Drexel back.  I say seemingly with a grain of salt.

I have posted here about VCU, and again I am advocating for another CAA team.  Perhaps being a CAA alum creates some bias, but I try to look at things as objectively as possible.  Since December 3rd, Drexel has lost once.  That’s not subjective.  The loss was at a Georgia State team who at that time had been on a 9 game winning streak themselves.  22-1 in the past 23 games speaks volumes about the quality of this team.  Like VCU, Drexel has won 10 games on an opponent’s home floor.  Knowing many of the environments in the CAA, this is no easy task.

If you want to know just how good this team is, look no further than Saturday’s game against Cleveland State.  Drexel won on the road by 20 points against a pretty good squad, and the game itself wasn’t even that close.  Drexel has looked like a superior team on many nights recently, and they will put to the test how true the “we look at the entire season” argument really is.  Tomorrow’s game against Old Dominion is huge, and unfortunately I think the Dragons need it.

For CAA fans, the true treat would be a VCU-Drexel CAA championship game.  With each team so close, the desire to win that game may be like no other conference tournament game.  I hope the committee gives Drexel a chance to see how far they can take this run.  I hope the committee unleashes the Dragons.