Friday, March 7, 2008
It's a very exciting day today, as Day action begins with games at 11, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3:30, 4:15, and 5:00 today in the Southern, Colonial, and Missouri Valley Conferences, and pretty much continues all through next week.
As far as yesterday's games, in the Big South UNC-Asheville and Winthrop both rolled through the tournament, setting up what should be a really fun final on Saturday on one of the ESPNs. Oregon knocked off Arizona State, essentially sending them to the NIT, while St. Joe's gave itself a huge shot in the arm by knocking off Xavier.
A pretty boring conference, although it contains Albany, who put a scare into UCONN as a 16 seed a few years ago. Albany does have a shot in the tournament, coming in as the three seed with back-to-back wins in their last two games. They are led by do everything 6-5 swingman Brian Lillis, who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocked shots. The conference's regular season belonged to UM-Baltimore County, who rolled through 13-3, winning by 3 games. UMBC is a quality team who went 3-0 against the A-10 this year (Richmond, GW, and LaSalle, but still) and plays a very slow, efficient offensive game. Their biggest concern is depth, as five players score 87% of their points.
SLEEPER: Binghampton. They have a win over both Albany and UMBC already this season. Plus, I have a Binghampton shirt.
W's PICK: Albany. They have the best player in the league in Lillis, and he and fellow guard Jon Iati were part of the team that challenged UCONN.
The big story here is Davidson. Universally recognized as one of the best teams in the country from the small conferences, Davidson had too many missed opportunities to feel safe if they don't win the tournament. Although they went 20-0 in conference, they were unable to get a win against North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, Charlotte, or NC State. A loss to Western Michigan doesn't help either. Their best win was at Winthrop in bracket busters, and an RPI of 45 and SOS of 136 is going to leave the Wildcats feeling very nervous if they don't win the SoCon tourny.
SLEEPER: UNC-Greensboro. The only team in the conference to say within ten both games against Davidson.
W's PICK: Davidson. They're just so much better than their competition, and superstar Stephen Curry has the game to put the team on his back and get to the tourny. After scaring Ohio State and Maryland the last two years, maybe this is the year Davidson gets that tournament win.
The darling of the mid-major fans after George Mason's Final Four run and VCU's win over Duke last year, they may be a one bid league this season. Virginia Commonwealth is the top team in the league and only shot at a at-large. VCU went 23-6, 15-3 in the conference winning by 3 games, won 8 of their last 9, and beat fellow bubble teams Houston and Maryland this year. VCU is led by superman Eric Maynor, who led the team in points and assists. Search the blog for Maynor if you want to see a nice highlight clip of what he did to Duke last year. And you can't forget George Mason. Although their at-large hopes went bye-bye after their loss to Ohio in bracket busters (compounded with a season ending loss against Northeastern), GMU is still a quality team with a win over Kansas State this year. Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell are still around from that final four team, and would love to get back to the big dance.
SLEEPER: Old Dominion. They come in hot, winning 6 of their last 7 and beat both GMU and VCU earlier this year.
W's PICK: VCU. I think George Mason has a shot, but Maynor is could enough to put VCU over the hump.
The WCC is used to sending Gonzaga to the dance year after year, but this season they could get three bids. Gonzaga and St Mary's are both likely in - the Zags are a lock, the Gaels need to not flame out too early in the WCC tournament to be safe. If a third team wins the tournament, their could be three in. Gonzaga is led by overrated Matt Bouldin, but Jeremy Pargo, Josh Heytvelt, and Austin Daye are good enough to carry the team. St Mary's burst on the scene this season after their big win against Oregon, where star freshman Patrick Mills dumped 37 on the Ducks. It's not just a one man show for the Gaels, as Diamon Simpson can score and defend three positions, and Omar Samhan and Ian O'Leary give them a presence in the paint.
SLEEPER: San Diego. With all the talk about SMU and Gonzaga, the Toreros have been forgotten despite on three losses in the league, all to the top two. They've beaten St. Mary's, played Zaga tough both times, and have a win over Kentucky. And Pepperdine is also a sleeper, because they have Rico Tucker.
W's PICK: St. Mary's. I think they're a better team than the Zags, with a better balance of inside/outside and better defense.
For the longest time this was my favorite small conference, because they were one of only two who played on Friday nights - so I needed them for gambling purposes. Back in the day when Manhattan was led by Luis Flores and was dominate, Keydren Clark was scoring like crazy for St Peter's, and Loyola-Maryland was one of the worst teams in the country. Times have changed, but the MAAC is still solid with four good teams that could win this thing. Niagara - led by the nation's second leading scorer in Charron Fisher, Rider - led by NBA prospect and the nation's second leading rebounder in Jason Thompson, Siena - who swept Niagara, and Loyola-MD - who bombs from three, hitting 8.1 per game to lead the MAAC. All four teams score more than 72 points per game, so this should be a very entertaining tournament.
SLEEPER: Marist. An average team, but second in the conference in 3 point shooting. If they get hot, they could do some damage.
W's PICK: Niagara. They won last year, and won the play-in game, and have the best player in the conference.
TOMORROW: Big South, Ohio Valley, and Atlantic Sun championships, while the Big Sky and the Summit kick their's off. And pretty much every bubble team plays and should probably try to win. Unfortunately, the Gophers have to play too.