Well, I gotta give credit where credit is due: there is very little to complain about in regards to the Gopher hoopsters this week. A big win over the completely hated dickholes from Wisconsin followed by an absolute destruction of the horribly horrid Hoosiers. And they've looked great too. The offense is finally flowing well, and even Westbrook has reigned himself in and begun playing within the flow. The two best games this team has played all year were the two they played this week. If they're going to hit a stride now is the time to do it. Big time games coming up at home against Purdue and then on the road at Illinois this week, and they absolutely have to win at least one and probably both to have a shot at a bid. Of course, if they had played this way they wouldn't have lost to Indiana, Northwestern, or Michigan and would likely have won at least one of the Michigan State games and we wouldn't have to worry about it.
This is such a depressing year. Let's just move on.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Maryland. At this point in the season you're rarely going to see a team with three games in a week, but due to a postponement after the great blizzard of "aught-ten" that's what the Terps had this week and they managed a very nice 3-0. First they beat a tougher-than-expected Virginia squad, then traveled down to NC State and beat the Wolfpack (the same team who beat Wake by 20 this weekend), and then rapped up the week with a buzzer beating home win over Georgia Tech. The Terps are flying under the radar a bit due to a slow start, but since Professor Dirty Beard, Grievis Vasquez, has shaken off an early shooting slump they are one of the better teams in the country. Vasquez and Eric Hayes give them a very good, very experienced backcourt, and you know what they say about good guards in March. The front court might be a little weak, but freshman Jordan Williams is starting to figure it out and has picked up double-digits rebounds in his last three. Very dangerous team. I'd hate for the Gophers to have to face them in the second round.
2. Northern Iowa. The Panthers are definitely the team that helped themselves the most over Bracket Buster weekend, going from "probably getting an at-large bid" to "definitely getting an at-large bid" with their win over Old Dominion. UNI is now 24-3, but didn't have much in the marquee win category. The beat Siena earlier in the year, but that had been their only win over an RPI top 50 team. Mediocre wins abounded: Iowa, Boston College, Iowa State, Creighton, and Wichita State all fell to the Panthers, but the Siena win was the only big victory, and with two losses to sub-100 RPI teams (Bradley, DePaul) they couldn't really feel safe. Beating ODU now gives them that second big win, and increases their RPI rating to #17, and barring a complete collapse in the final regular season week they should be just fine, regardless of the outcome of the MVC tournament.
3. UTEP. If you're a dork like me and were really curious to see how Conference USA would shake out with Calipari jumping ship, you have your answer: UTEP is the tops. Coming into the season there were a bunch of contenders with Tulsa and Memphis the favorites, UAB and UTEP right behind them, and Marshall and Houston the dark horses. Well, the Miners have staked their claim to #1 after beating Tulsa in Tulsa this weekend, giving them a sweep of the Golden Hurricane. With Houston sucking and Marshall being meh it's been a four team race, and UTEP has staked their claim to the top by going 4-0 against the other contenders, and even more impressively three of those wins have been on the road. The Miners still have games left against UAB and Marshall, and have plenty of work to do thanks to a mostly empty non-conference resume, but if they make the tournament they could be a tough out. They are really balanced and can hurt you both inside and out, and will make somebody work very hard to advance.
4. Cornell. When Andy Bernard U lost to Penn two weeks ago it basically killed their at-large chances which would suck because this team can absolutely knock somebody off. The loss to Penn and their #307 RPI is Cornell's only conference loss, but with a dangerous team like Harvard in the conference, and the Ivy giving their auto-bid to the regular season champion, things can get dicey. Luckily for everyone who likes basketball, Cornell took care of business this week, winning at Harvard 79-70 (and then following that up by beating Dartmouth). The loss is the third of the season for Harvard, and with Cornell having swept the Crimson it effectively eliminates them from the race. Cornell's remaining games are home against Penn (4-5) and Princeton (7-2) and then away against Brown (4-6) and Yale (4-6). The only dangerous game is against Princeton who is just 1.5 games behind the Big Red, and lost to them by just three last time they met. Hopefully Cornell can take care of business, because I can't wait to watch them knock off Wisconsin in round 1.
5. Ian Poulter. There is enough going on in college hoops right now where we could fill twice as many places with teams that had good weeks, but I can't just ignore the winner of the Accenture Match Play Challenge - which is Poulter this year. Ian has always had the confidence to be a great player (I believe his quote was something like "There's me and Tiger, and then there's everyone else"), but his game hasn't quite kept up and he's been stuck at that Tier II level. He's had plenty of success in Europe, with eight wins on the European Tour, but has yet to pick up his first PGA Victory, and he's played well in majors, including a runner-up finish at the British in 2008, but hasn't quite broken through. Perhaps this win in the Accenture will get him there, as he beat a nice group of players - Justin Leonard, Adam Scott, Jeev Milka Singh, Thongchai Jaidee (who?), Sergio Garcia, and Paul Casey - and the last two wins over Garcia and Casey weren't close. Guy is a hell of a golfer, hell of a talker, and hell of a dresser (on Sunday he looked like a walking Breast Cancer reminder in a full-pink outfit). Could it be, dare I say it, the Year of the Poulter?
1. South Florida. For all the talk of bracket-busting this weekend, the biggest burst might have been the bubble of the Bulls (how's that for alliteration?). They weren't anywhere near in just yet, and were probably on the wrong side of the bubble, but would have every chance to play themselves into a bid with games left against Villanova and UCONN. Winning either of those, while taking care of business against St. Johns, Providence, and DePaul, would leave USF at 10-8 in Big East play and in pretty decent shape. But, as Gopher fans have seen time and time again, these types of teams are prone to disappointing their fans and the Bulls are no exception, losing at home to St. Johns 74-58 on Saturday and probably killing any at-large dreams. USF allowed St. Johns to shoot 59% from the floor and were out 30-22. Add in Dominique Jones shooting 6-18 and their twin towers Augustus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous combined to shoot 2-10 and you aren't going to win that game very often. The chances of South Florida coming to the Barn for a first round NIT match up are rising. Get excited, Gopher fans.
2. The Colonial Athletic Association. Going into Bracket Busters weekend, the CAA had three teams fighting for at-large consideration: Old Dominion, William & Mary, and Northeastern. ODU would be taking on the top team in the Missouri Valley in Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, W&M would travel to New York to take on Iona, #2 in the MAAC, and Northeastern would welcome Lousiana Tech, the WAC's number three team, to their place. Overall record: 0-3. Ouch. ODU should be ok thanks to their wins over Georgetown and Charlotte and 13-3 conference record, but W&M and Northeastern are in trouble. The Tribe is in better shape thanks to non-conference wins over Maryland, Richmond, and Wake Forest, but a couple of really bad losses also dot their record (Wilmington, James Madison) and it will be interesting to see how the committee treats them. Northeastern is in the worst shape despite being tied for first in the conference standings thanks to five losses to RPI sub-100 teams, which is hard to overlook. Personally, I think both ODU and W&M should get in, but all three teams had a nice opportunity to boost their profile, and all three whiffed.
3. Siena. It's kind of tough to tell a team that it sucks after they lose on the road to the 13th ranked team in the country, but the Saints needed to beat Butler if they were going to get an at-large bid and didn't despite having the Bulldogs on the ropes early in the second half. The Saints had played Butler to a tie at the 16-minutes mark of the second, but Butler went on 16-5 run and never looked back, closing Siena out by the final score of 70-53 and effectively eliminated any chance of an at-large bid for the Saints. Unfortunately, three major offensive cogs (Ronald Moore, Edwin Ubiles, and Alex Franklin) didn't bother showing up on Saturday, combining to shoot 4-27 (not a misprint) and a 7-7 turnover-assist mark. Maybe the ten AM start was a bit too early for them on a Saturday. Siena is still the class of the MAAC and should be able to win the conference tournament and grab a bid that way, but I'm sure it would have been nice for them to not have to. Way to go, slackasses.
4. Ole Miss. This week was basically a clinic in how not to make the NCAA Tournament by the Rebels. With home games against Florida and Vanderbilt they not only had a good chance to get to third place in the SEC, but they could have done it and grabbed a couple of marquee wins in the process - something their profile is sorely lacking right now. Of course, they are in the "SUCK" portion of this post, so you can probably guess that they lost both games instead and petty much eliminated themselves from at-large consideration. This is really too bad, because as much as I complain about the Dayton fans at that Dayton bar in Chicago their is really nothing better than being in a bar dedicated to a team and watching that team get bounced out of the tournament. Since Dayton is looking less and less likely like a tournament team, we might have to look for someone else, and that bar in Chicago is also an Ole Miss bar (as well as Boston College and Notre Dame). They might not have a single one of their "teams" make the dance, and then we won't have any fans to laugh at. Except Iowa fans. We can laugh at them no matter what.
5. Cincinnati. It's time to give up the dream of me cashing on that 200-1 bet, because the Bearcats aren't even going to make the NCAA Tournament, forget about winning it. After a 0-2 week, they are now 6-8 in the Big East and 15-11 overall and are going to have to go on a huge run to close out the season if they want a chance to reach the big dance. Two very disappointing losses this week against rival bubble teams (at South Florida and vs. Marquette) are going to make it tough, but Cincy still has every chance to make the tournament. Their four final games include chances against #3 Villanova, #10 Georgetown, and #8 West Virginia, and I'd bet winning two of those (and their gimme against DePaul) would set Cincy up in pretty good shape for a bid. Of course, two of those three games are on the road and Cincinnati sucks, so it's more likely they'll close out the year 1-3 and then dip out quickly in the Big East Tournament. The good news is that they would probably be one of the favorites to win the NIT, so they got that going for them. Also Lance Stephenson would be an idiot to go pro after this year, which basically guarantees that he will.
I'd like to mention one other thing that was awesome, and recommend the book Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend by James Hirsch. Let me tell you something, if there is anything you want to know about Mays, this book has it in its 600 pages. It is very focused, and very detailed, and other than a tendency to drift into mini-essays on the racial issues of the 50s and 60s stays focused on the story of Mays. I actually wouldn't have minded a little bit more on guys like Marichal and McCovey, but if you are looking for the story of Willie Mays I wouldn't go anywhere else. Seriously, my appreciation of the guy has gone way up. Despite all his numbers which I've seen again and again, I never realized how great this guy was. Hirsch makes it clear that the players, fans, coaches, and media of the day all considered Willie the best player in the world - except of course for the bigots.
Very cool book. Highly recommended.
Finally, I'm going to debut my own sort of bubble watch thing. It's not fancy, but neither is your mom:
BUBBLE GAMES OF NOTE:
West Virginia @ UCONN -The Huskies looked like they were cruising towards a bid after beating Texas, but hit some road bumps and found themselves on the wrong side of the bubble. After a successful 2-0 week, including a win over Villanova, they are back in the conversation, and a home win over WVU would go a long way.
And that's it. So that was pretty anticlimactic. Ah well, I'm planning on doing a little something like that every day until selection sunday. But I'm also pretty lazy, so we'll just have to see.