Thursday, March 12, 2009

Let's Not Screw This Up

If you're reading this blog you're either woefully lost or a Gopher basketball fan, and as such you know what's going on tomorrow.

The Gophers play Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, in what is, in all likelihood, a must win for the Golden Gophers if they still want to get into the NCAA tournament. Is it possible they get in even with a loss. Yes, although unlikely. A win doesn't necessarily guarantee a bid, but I don't imagine a scenario in which they would get snubbed after a victory over the Wildcats - a top 100 RPI team.

You pretty much know what you're getting with Northwestern. A slow team - both of foot and in terms of pace - but with a quick, penetrating point guard. A 1-3-1 zone on one end, and a patient, methodical offense that relies heavily upon the three pointer on the other. Given the Gophers relative success against the Michigan 1-3-1, I am more confident this time around, although Northwestern does it better than the Wolverines. This is the third matchup between the two teams, with the games being split. However, if you look at it by halves, the Gophers won 3 of the 4. They outscored Northwestern in three halves by a combined 106-76, including winning the most recent game by a comfortable margin 72-45. Based on comparative resumes and the games against each other this year, as well as overall talent level and coaching (kind of starting to question this one though), I'd be inclined to pick the Gophers.


The Gophers need to turn the other team over to win, and Northwestern doesn't turn it over. The Gophers are vulnerable against the three-pointer, and the Wildcats rely on it to win. The Gophers turn it over a lot, and Northwestern is good at forcing turnovers. The only numbers in the Gophers favor are that they block a lot of shots and NW gets their shot blocked a lot, and the Gophers are good at grabbing offensive rebounds while Northwestern is horrible at stopping them. That's not enough.

Northwestern 53, Minnesota 47 - but look on the bright side - we got our NIT tickets in the mail the other day.

Whatever. Yesterday Providence got the win they needed over DePaul after coming back, setting up a huge game for the Friars against Louisville today. If they lose, they're out. If they win, they might still be out but it would probably be enough to get them a bid. West Virginia ended Notre Dame's hope at a miracle run, and Texas Tech got an incredible 43 points from Mike Singletary (season average = 11), including 29 in a row, to upset Texas A&M in the first round of the Big 12. A&M is probably ok here, but things got a bit more nervous around College Station, while Oklahoma State probably punched their ticket with a first round win over Iowa State. And congratulations to Portland State and Robert Morris who won their conference tournaments and are heading to the dance.

Today, other than the Gopher game and the Providence game, we have plenty of bubble implications happening. Miami and V-Tech square off in a first round ACC game that is a bubble elimination game, although the winner might have to win in the second round too - same deal with UNLV vs. San Diego State in the MWC. Arizona can probably get in with a win, but they face a better team and their main rival in Arizona State. And in various tournaments, Michigan, Kentucky, Penn State, Temple, Rhode Island, Kansas State, Utah State, Maryland, Boston College, Florida, and New Mexico all think they still have a chance, and all have to win today.

Conference Previews:

BIG TEN: As mentioned above, the Gophers are just one of several teams here trying to grab a spot in the tournament, with Michigan State, Illinois, and Purdue the only locks. Penn State probably needs two wins, while the Gophers and Michigan need one. Wisconsin and Ohio State are very likely in even with a loss (and they play each other).
FAVORITE: Michigan State. The class of the conference. Purdue is still better than they've played so far, but the Spartans are the clear favorite.
SLEEPER: Penn State. They terrify me. With road wins over Michigan State and Illinois, they've shown they can beat anybody in the conference anywhere - how many other Big Ten teams would you say that about? With the good guard play they have, they have a chance.
W's PICK: Purdue. I feel like this is when the Boilers really turn it on.
WHO GETS IN?: Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin

ATLANTIC COAST: The best conference in the land from top-to-bottom. The Big East may be top heavier, but there really are no bad teams in the ACC (well, G-Tech and Virginia aren't very good - Go Gophers). BC, Maryland, Virginia Tech, and Miami are all still fighting for an NCAA berth.
FAVORITE: North Carolina. The Heels were pretty much the consensus favorite to win the National Championship at the beginning of the year, and not much has changed. An injury to Marcus Ginyard hurt their depth, and a few minor hiccups in ACC knocked them out of the #1 spot, but they're back and probably still the favorite to win.
SLEEPER: Boston College. The Eagles are on the bubble and close to the top of it, but still need at least a win. With wins over Duke and UNC earlier in the year, and a guard like Tyrese Rice who could have a Randolph Childress-like performance, they could surprise.
W's PICK: UNC. Even with Ty Lawson banged up, I think they are head and shoulders above everybody else. Duke, Clemson, and Wake are all good, but I not to UNC's level.
WHO GETS IN?: UNC, Duke, Clemson, Florida State, Boston College

SOUTHEASTERN: In the weakest year I can remember for the SEC, only LSU and Tennessee can feel good about their NCAA chances. Florida, South Carolina, and even Auburn are still fighting to get in, but the SEC may end up with only two bids this year.
FAVORITE: LSU. More by default than anything else, I don't think the Tigers are all that good but they rolled through conference play with a 13-3 record. There's really not much there in the non-conference, so who knows how good they really are. Marcus Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell are a good 1-2 punch, but center Chris Johnson, who got a lot of press after making huge leaps in his game last year, has regressed.
SLEEPER: Auburn. In a bad conference, a hot, somewhat decent team can make a run and win the whole thing. In the SEC's case, a horrible team can as shown by Georgia last year. Auburn comes in having won 8 of their last 9, including a win over LSU.
W's PICK: Tennessee. Built much more like a tournament team, I think the Vols roll.
WHO GETS IN?: LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida

SOUTHLAND: Remember when Northwestern State beat Iowa in the first round? That was awesome.
FAVORITE: Stephen F. Austin. That's a college, not a person
SLEEPER: McNeese State. Only 5-11 in the conference, but they beat SFA once.
W's PICK: Northwestern State. Maybe this time they can beat Wisconsin.

TOMORROW: Things keep going in the major conferences, and we get our Patriot Conference champ in a game between #1 American and #2 Holy Cross. Additionally there will be plenty of games with bubble implications going on in the various tournaments across the land. The most interesting might be St. Mary's vs. Eastern Washington. The Gaels scheduled this as more of a tune-up for recently returned star Patrick Mills than anything else, but St. Mary's is right on the middle of the bubble and Eastern Washington is #234 in the RPI. A win does nothing for their profile (although might help get Mills ready for the tournament) but a loss would almost certainly put them out. It's a calculated risk, and could backfire in a big way - but probably not, E Wash is awful.