Whew. Were you like me and had your heart drop when Florida popped up on the screen? Terrifying, but ultimately the committee made the right choices and the Gophers were rewarded for an incredible last week of ball. I like the matchup quite a bit, too. Not necessarily because I think the Gophers will have an easy time with Xavier or anything, but mainly because I think that region is pretty weak. If they can get by the Musketeers, they get the weakest three seed in the second round. They also caught a pretty big break by playing in Milwaukee, where they should have a sizable advantage in fans.
One thing is for sure, it's exciting, and the season no longer goes down as a failure. I'll be back with a true preview before I head out to Chicago with Snacks and Snake, but for now I'm predicting a Gopher win.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Colt Iverson. How did this happen? And I'm not even talking numbers, although basically scoring double his season average in every game is impressive, but his game was completely unrecognizable and I mean that in a good way. His moves were suddenly polished, and he had a lot of them. He now suddenly has a drop step. He's using shot fakes beautifully and looks like Kevin McHale down there. He can score with either hand. I have no idea what is going on here. I thought his upside was going to be like a Greg Ostertag rebounder/enforcer type who is most valuable for setting picks and his five fouls per game, but suddenly things have gotten really interesting. If this is for real, the Gophers are suddenly a dangerous team. Please let this be for real - like the Loch Ness Monster - and not some kind of false production - like the Moon Landing.
2. San Diego State. If you're on the bubble going into your conference tournament there is one surefire way to make sure you get a bid - win the whole thing, and that's what the Aztecs did, winning the MWC tournament, including wins over UNLV and New Mexico. SDSU is a dangerous team, and they went 2-1 against New Mexico this year with the loss being by just two points. Drawing Tennessee is always a mystery since they are the kind of team who could either flame out early or go on a deep run, but I'm calling an Aztec upset in the first round.
3. Duke. It's always tough to praise Duke, but they did what a lot of other regular season conference champions couldn't manage and they went out and won their conference tournament. They got lucky a bit in that Maryland got knocked out early by Georgia Tech, but winning the ACC is still winning the ACC. As a bonus, they picked up the fourth #1 seed and were somehow placed in the easiest region in the history of college basketball. But, since they're Duke, I'm sure they'll still screw it up somehow.
4. Ohio. Every year some middling team from a smaller conference gets hot and makes a run, winning their conference tournament and setting themselves up to get their doors blown off in the first round. This year, that honor goes to the Ohio Bobcats for winning the MAC, with Georgetown being the doors-blow-offer. Kent State or Akron would have been a dangerous foe, but they couldn't get it done so now we're saddled with the crappy Bobcats. And how tough is that region? The top five seeds are all legit Final Four contenders, including probably the best #1 and best #2. It should end up playing pretty close to form as I only see one real first round upset possibility, but whoever ends up coming out of there is really going to have to earn it.
5. Second-Tier basketball tournaments. I know nobody really gives a crap about the NIT, CBI, or CIT because the only thing that matters is the NCAA Tournament, and I agree with a lot of that, but I also really like the second-tier tournaments. There's some intrigue with these. Illinois and Dayton ended up in the same bracket, and that would be a pretty good matchup. Will either UCONN or North Carolina put their talent together finally and play well, or have they completely given up for the year? And if nothing else, be thankful they exist so there's some college ball to watch/wager on all week long.
1. Conference USA. It looked like this might be a break-through year for C-USA with a legitimate chance of them getting four teams in the dance depending on how the conference tourney shook out. It shook alright, with Memphis and UAB both getting dumped by crappy teams in the quarters, ending both team's NCAA dreams and assuring that outside of UTEP, nobody would be getting an at-large bid from the conference. They did manage to get two team's in thanks to Houston's championship win, but the Cougars are crappy and UTEP got a shitty seed, so there's a good chance C-USA goes 0 for the tournament this year.
2. Virginia Tech. This is the team that most people seem to have a problem with being excluded from the tournament, but the Hokies aren't even close to deserving a bid. That 23-8 mark looks nice, but their non-conference Strength of Schedule ranked a ridiculous 344th in the country. Their only non-conference wins over teams that are even remotely not god awful were over Penn State and Georgia, pretty much the defining line before you get to god awful. And as good as a 10-6 conference mark looks, they didn't beat either Duke or Maryland. Combine all that with a first round loss to Miami in the ACC tournament, and there is no way the Hokies deserved a bid. Sorry VT, maybe try to schedule some real teams in the future.
3. Dayton. Well it is now official - this year's trip to Chicago will be a bit hollow, since when we go to the Dayton bar there won't be any Dayton fans there, unless I guess maybe there's an NIT game or something. Considering they were supposed to be at the top of the A-10 and be a sweet-16 type team, this year can't be considered anything other than a disaster. Other than one win over Xavier and an early non-conference victory over Georgia Tech, they couldn't beat anybody, whiffing on games against Villanova, Kansas State, and New Mexico, and they lost plenty of games they couldn't afford to lose. Coming down the stretch they lost games to St. Louis, Richmond, and Duquesne. Losing to Richmond and St. Louis might have been manageable, but the loss to Duquesne was a crusher.
4. Mississippi State. Jarvis Varnado deserves better than the NIT, but for the second straight year MSU didn't do enough to get into the tournament and had to try to win SEC tournament to get in. Last year it worked, this year it came just short. The Bulldogs were damn close though, leading Kentucky by three with 4.9 seconds to go in the game. The Wildcats, however, pulled off the rare intentionally miss a free throw, get the rebound and score to tie the game move and sent it into overtime where they ended up winning and sent MSU to the NIT. Hopefully they can play well and at least make it to Madison Square Garden and send Varnado out in style, a player like that deserves it. I'm really going to miss him.
5. Northwestern. Ouch. From 10-1 media sleeper sensation to earn their first ever NCAA bid all the way to a 7 seed in the NIT (and will play vs. Rhode Island in round 1). I'm not too worried about them though, they'll almost certainly get a bid next year. With Shurna and Thompson both back, Coble returning from injury, and Drew Crawford getting better they have a real chance at an upper-division finish in the conference next year. That sounds weird.
THE GOPHERS MADE THE TOURNAMENT!!!!!