Friday, March 6, 2009

Penn State In?

The Nittany Lions picked up a huge victory last night, beating Illinois 64-63 on a spinning, twisting layup by Talor Battle with 0.3 seconds left, giving their NCAA chances a huge boost. They were probably on the outside looking in going into the night, but now probably just need to win @ Iowa in the season finale to put them in.

Elsewhere, South Carolina dropped a home game to Tennessee which hurts but doesn't eliminate them yet, while Providence's loss at Villanova, while a tall order to get the win, might have knocked them out. Dayton lost to Xavier but are probably in any way.

On the good side, Temple got a big win they desperately needed to stay in the conversation, and Cal won at Arizona which probably puts the Bears in and the Wildcats on life support all of a sudden.

On to the conference tourneys today. Gopher/Michigan preview coming later.

COLONIAL: Similar to the Missouri Valley, the Colonial was a favorite from a few years ago, mainly thanks to George Mason's inconceivable final four run as well as the success of Virginia Commonwealth, and the relative strength of the conference, but has fallen back to a one-bid league.
FAVORITE: Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams are looking to get back to the NCAAs where they had that thrilling win over Duke in the first round two years ago, and they'll be relying on the same player - now Senior point guard Eric Maynor, one of the best in the country and led the CAA in both points and assists.
SLEEPER: Old Dominion. The Monarchs aren't really on anybody's radar after finishing in a tie for third in the CAA, but they do have wins over VCU and George Mason already this year, and come in on a five game win streak. Plus, they're the only team in the CAA to rank in the top five in the conference in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, and three point percentage.
W's PICK: VCU. With no at large hopes, I don't see any way Maynor allows the Rams to lose.

WEST COAST CONFERENCE: Last year, Gonzaga and St. Mary's got in as at-larges, but the WCC got there teams because San Diego surprised everybody by winning the tournament, then upset UCONN in the first round. Can it happen again?
FAVORITE: Gonzaga. The Bulldogs rolled through the WCC this year, going 14-0 in conference play. St. Mary's was four games behind, but three of those losses came with Patrick Mills out with an injury - and now he's back.
SLEEPER: Portland. The Pilots are a pesky team, and have wins over Washington and Nevada already this season, as well as a win over St. Mary's (although it was their first game without Mills). They also have Nik Raivio, brother of former Zag Derek, who is the third leading scorer in the conference
W's PICK: St. Mary's. There really isn't a threat like San Diego here this year, so it comes down to the Gaels or Bulldogs. I think St. Mary's a better team, and Simpson and Co. only improved without Mills. With him back, the Gaels are strong to fairly strong.

SOUTHERN CONFERENCE: Last year, Davidson was in the tournament no matter what happened. This season it's a different story, as Stephen Curry's Pop-a-Shot Extravaganza will have to win to get in.
FAVORITE: Davidson. Obviously, for all their faults, the Wildcats are the favorite in the SoCon once again.
SLEEPER: Charleston. The Cougars finished three games behind Davidson in conference play, but come into the tournament on a five game win streak. They also beat Davidson (with a healthy Curry) and lost by just four in their other matchup. Not only did Curry shoot just 18-48 in the two games, but Charleston also ranks higher in offensive efficiency than Davidson (#79 to #104). They are absolutely a threat.
W's PICK: Davidson. Even though I think Charleston can do it, it's much more likely Davidson gets through and gets a 12 or 13 seed, millions of people pick them in at least one upset, and then they get trounced in the first round when Curry shoots 5-45.

METRO ATLANTIC: The real MAAC might have had an at-large contender as well in last year's NCAA second round team Siena, especially after the Saints beat Northern Iowa in their bracket buster matchup. Alas, the Saints couldn't handle the pressure and lost a second conference game to Niagara. For a team with a good strength of schedule, but no good wins, that was a killer.
FAVORITE: Siena. Even though they lost that killer to Niagara, they still won the conference by two games, and their high-powered offense can hit from outside (Hansbrouck), inside (Franklin), or both (Ubiles).
SLEEPER: Niagara. Not sure how much of a sleeper they are with a second place finish and a win over Siena under their belt already, but based on Siena's preseason hopes this would be a pretty good upset. According to Ken Pomeroy's ratings, Niagara is actually the better team - and they beat Illinois State in their bracket buster game.
W's PICK: Niagara. Call it a hunch, but it feels to me like Siena's is playing with their hands around their throats right now. If they manage to get to the final, it'll just get worse - I hope Siena pulls it off though, they could do some damage in the NCAAs if they make it.

AMERICA EAST: The lamest conference tipping off today is the America East, who almost had their shot at glory in 2006 when Albany took #1 seed UCONN right down to the wire as a sixteen.
FAVORITE: Vermont. Binghampton grabbed the #1 seed due to the tie-breaker, their sweep of Vermont head-to-head, but the Catamounts are the better team. They rank 81st in the country on Ken Pom's site, while nobody else breaks the top 150 from the AEC.
SLEEPER: Albany. Not because they're all that great, with just a 6-10 record in the conference, but they do hold a win over both Vermont and Binghampton this year.
W's PICK: Vermont. It's hard to beat a team three times, or so they say. Plus Vermont has probably the conference's best player in Marqus Blakely.

Uh, none, actually. Notre Dame plays St Johns, but the Irish bounced themselves out of the tournament with their loss vs. Villanova on Monday.

TOMORROW: The Big Sky and the Summit get their tournaments started, the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley, and Big South championships, Missouri Valley and Horizon semis, plus a freakin' ton of bubble games including the mighty Gophers taking on Michigan