Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NCAA Basketball: Thanksgiving Tournament Wrap

A hell of a lot of good basketball just wrapped up with the pre-Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving tournaments the last two weeks, so much so that it would be easy to miss some of the important stuff, especially with all the drinking and eating and football watching and generally being a complete moron doing really stupid stuff going on.  So I'm here to help.  Tournament by tournament, here's what you need to know:

Championship:  Minnesota Gophers over West Virginia Mountaineers
Biggest positive:  Minnesota.  I wasn't really sure where they'd fall in the Big Ten pecking order.  Somewhere in the middle, likely, but towards the top of that middle or towards the bottom?  Well, wins over three potential tournament teams help answer that and push the Gophers towards the top of the conference.
Biggest negative:  North Carolina Tar Heels.  A year after the worst season for UNC in recent memory, the Tar Heels started this year with a lot of positivity and a lofty #8 ranking the country, but losses to both Minnesota and Vanderbilt show that this team isn't quite there yet.  A loss to one or the other could be shrugged off, since both are possible NCAA Tournament teams, but losses to both sends up a bit of a red flag.
Also of note:  Davidson 64, Western Kentucky 51.  This game, as well as WKU's narrow 2-point win over Hofstra, say that the Hilltoppers aren't going to be making the NCAA Tournament as at at-large.

Championship:  Tennessee Volunteers over Villanova Wildcats
Biggest positive:  Tennessee.  All their losses from last season had me convinced they were badly overrated and would be in the NIT at best this year, and then all the Bruce Pearl nonsense solidified that thought for me.  Turns out their better than I gave them credit for, and the combination of super freshman Tobias Harris on the inside and dynamic scorers Cameron Tatum and Scotty Hopson on the wings is looking like enough to drive the Vols to success.
Biggest negative:  Wake Forest Demon Deacons.  "Wait, I didn't see them in New York" is what you might be saying, and you're right, but that's because they got bounced out of the qualifying round - the "gimme" round held on their home floor.  Of course they also drew Virginia Commonwealth who was probably the favorite to come out of that region, but it just confirms that this is going to be a dark, dark year in Winston-Salem.  If this loss to VCU (by 21, if I didn't mention it) doesn't cement it, the earlier loss to Stetson and subsequent loss to Winthrop (both also at home) are pretty big clues.  But the biggest clue?  Iowa was favored over them in their ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup tonight, and the game was at Wake.
Also of note:  VCU 89, UCLA 85.  Not content with just getting to New York, VCU then went ahead and beat UCLA to nab a third-place finish.  That's going to go a long way in getting the Colonial multiple bids this year.

Championship:  Pitt Panthers over Texas Longhorns
Biggest positive:  Texas.  Last year the Longhorns had all the talent in the world, were ranked #1 at one point, and then death spiraled down and didn't even receive an NCAA bid.  This year saw a lot of turnover, and I'm not sure anybody really knew what to expect, as usual with a Rick Barnes team.  Beating Illinois and then hanging right with Pitt before losing by two shows they have some talent, it's just a matter of if they put it all together.  
Biggest negative:  Cory Joseph.  In the two games in New York, Joseph shot just 3-13, including 0-4 from three, with 5 assists and 3 turnovers, and threw up a ridiculous shot at the end of the final with the Longhorns down two when he thought he had been fouled in an attempt to get to free throw line.  The ref disagreed, and he threw away Texas's chance to win. 
Also of note:  Maryland Terrapins.  They went 0-2 in New York, but they weren't expected to win either game.  Losing to Pitt by nine and to Illinois by four bodes well for the Terps' chances in ACC play.

Championship:  Connecticut Huskies over Kentucky Wildcats
Biggest positive:  Kemba Walker.  Coming into this tournament nobody was really sure what to make of UCONN.  Sure, they'd be a middle of the road Big East team most likely, but where would that really put them in the overall pecking order?  Well, Walker carried them on his back to the title here with games of 31, 30, and 29 points, and made sure everybody knew that he was good enough, and had enough talent around him, to make the Huskies a threat.
Biggest negative:  Oklahoma Sooners.  Eesh.  The Sooners looked decent in their opener, hanging with Kentucky, but completely fell apart from there.  First, they lost by 18 to a terrible Virginia squad who just go rolled by Washington by 40+, then they lost to Chaminade, the little host school who had won just five times in the 26 years prior of the tournament's existence.  Not only did they go down, but they went down bickering amongst themselves.  This is going to be a long year in Norman. 
Also of note: Wichita State goes 2-1, but leaves disappointed after blowing their opening round game against UCONN, a game they led by four with just four minutes to go.  It would end up being the only resume-building opportunity the Shockers would get, matching up against Virginia and Chaminade in their final two.  That could hurt come Selection Sunday.

Championship:  Duke Blue Devils over Kansas State Wildcats
Biggest positive:  Duke.  I have no idea how anybody is going to beat this team.  Marquette tried to go small to match Duke's quickness and whichever Plumlee it was destroyed them inside, then K-State tried to run with them and Duke ran 'em out of the gym.  They are good inside (Plumlees), have great guards (Nolan Smith, the unguardable Kyrie Irving), and have dead-eye shooters who you can't leave to go help (Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry).  And that's all without bothering to mention the ACC pre-season player of the year in Kyle Singler.  Look out, because they have a chance to go undefeated.  No, I'm not crazy. 
Biggest negative:  Duke.  The exact paragraph I just wrote is actually more of a negative because I, and everybody with a soul, hates Duke.
Also of note:  Gonzaga 66, Marquette 63.  Marquette lost both games in Kansas City, first to Duke by five and then this one to the Zags by 3.  Though those are both big missed opportunities, they also signal that for the second straight year a down year in Marquette might not be as down as we think.

Championship:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish over Wisconsin Badgers
Biggest positive:  Notre Dame.  The Irish picked up two wins over NCAA caliber teams, beating both the Badgers for the title and Georgia in the opening round.  It's very likely Temple and Texas A&M were the only other teams to even pick up one in Orlando.
Biggest negative:  Temple.  As noted, the Owls did pick up a win over Georgia that looks good, but losses to both Cal and Texas A&M are huge negatives.  A&M might be a bubble team, so that one will hurt, and Cal is likely to be a bottom of the barrel Pac-10 team while the Pac-10 is likely to be a bottom of the barrel conference.  The Owls were supposed to be the class of the A-10, but they sure didn't play like it.
Also of note: Notre Dame 58, Wisconsin 51.  The Badgers came into Orlando with a chance to pick up some nice victories, but Boston College's win over Texas A&M took that game off the board, and Wisconsin blew their chance against the Irish.  They come without a high profile win to show-off in March.

Championship:  Georgetown Hoyas over North Carolina State Wolfpack
Biggest positive:  Georgetown.  This wasn't exactly a murderer's row of teams, but beating Big South favorite Coastal Carolina by 19, SoCon favorite Wofford by 15, and a very good NC State team by 15 is a pretty nice weekend.  The Hoyas will be good, and in an odd-twist, guard dominated - their three top scorers are all guards.   
Biggest negative:  George Mason Patriots.  There's been a lot of early season success out of the Colonial Conference so far this year (VCU, Old Dominion), but George Mason whiffed on their chance to join in by losing to Wofford in the third-place game.  It's not an awful loss, but when you're a mid-major you need to win every one of these types of games to have a shot at a bid.
Also of note:  Wofford 82, George Mason 79.  I already mentioned this above as a negative for GMU, but it's a definite positive for the Terriers.  They have a brutal early schedule, but unfortunately missed out on a chance for an even bigger win by losing to Xavier in triple-overtime last week.  The 2-5 record also includes a loss to lowly Air Force, so an ambitious schedule goes for naught and Wofford will need to win their way in if they want to play in the NCAAs.

Championship:  Old Dominion Monarchs over Xavier Musketeers
Biggest positive:  ODU.  This is what you need to do if you're a mid-major hoping to be in at-large consideration come March.  The Monarchs won the Paradise Jam Championship, beating St. Peter's (doesn't matter), Clemson (possible tournament team), and Xavier (very likely tournament team).  That is two huge wins, and assuming they don't falter in a strong Colonial ODU is in great shape.  
Biggest negative:  Alabama Crimson Tide.  From NCAA possibilities to the bottom of the league, the Tide embarrassed themselves, losing to Seton Hall (acceptable), Iowa (not acceptable), and St. Peter's (abominable).  Remember in Monson's last year or almost last year when the Gophers went to the Old Spice Classic and went 0-3, including a loss to Montana?  This is like that.
Also of note:  Clemson 64, Seton Hall 58.  Two teams that will likely find themselves in similar spots come year's end, this third place game could mean the difference between NCAA and NIT. 

Championship:  BYU Cougars over St. Mary's Gaels
Biggest positive:  BYU.  It's questionable how much the two wins BYU picked up will really help them because I'm not sure South Florida or St. Mary's are tournament teams, but the way in which the Cougars won could be valuable in March.  The win over South Florida went to double OT before BYU hit a game-winner, and then the win over the Gaels was a one point victory on a 3-pointer by the Jimmer with 10 seconds left.  That kind of late game experience could pay-off big.  
Biggest negative:  Texas Tech.  The obvious choice as a downer since they were the team that went 0-2, it's sad for Tech because they have an experienced team with postseason aspirations, but getting blown out by St. Mary's and then blowing the lead against USF late says they suck.
Also of note:  Liberty 67, Chicago State 65.  This tournament has two brackets, a good one and a crappy one, and Liberty won the crappy one.  I can't think of a single reason why that's remotely noteworthy.

Championship:  UNLV Runnin' Rebels over Virginia Tech Hokies
Biggest positive: UNLV.  Wins over both Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State give the Rebels two quality victories.  Since the Mountain West is likely to be very solid again with four very good teams, even if they beat up on each other the Rebels are in good position to nab an NCAA bid once again.
Biggest negative:  Murray State Racers.  Murray State has been tabbed as this year's Butler - not a bad call considering there stellar play in March last year and that they have essentially that whole team back - but they missed out on a big opportunity here.  After beating Stanford in round 1 they lost to both UNLV and Oklahoma State in the next two rounds, and neither game was close.  With their earlier loss to Ole Miss and nothing really left on the schedule outside of the Ohio Valley conference games their hopes at an at-large disappeared this weekend.
Also of note: Virginia Tech 56, Oklahoma State 51.  The Hokies have missed the tournament the past two years due to weak non-conference scheduling and a lack of quality out-of-conference wins.  This at least gives them one good victory - more than they had either of the last two years.

Championship:  Richmond Spiders over Purdue Boilermakers
Biggest positive:  Richmond.  The Spiders were supposed to be at the top of the Atlantic-10 this year and were considered a very likely NCAA Tournament team.  An early loss to Iona, however, had experts like me questioning if this was just another in a long line of A-10 "sleepers" who were actually not very good.  This win over Purdue helps put some of that unease to rest.  
Biggest negative:  Purdue.  No surprise here, this was set-up as basically a coronation for Purdue, but Richmond spoiled that, and that's not good for the Boilers.
Also of note:  Wright State 82, Oakland 79.  Oakland (which is in Michigan) is supposed to be a mid-major sleeper due to the presence of seven-footer Keith Benson, but if you can't even beat Wright State...I mean, come on.

Championship:  Syracuse Orange over Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Biggest positive:  Georgia Tech.  They aren't going to make the NCAA tournament or anything, but the Yellow Jackets needed some positives after losing to lowly Kennesaw State early this year and looking like they might be nothing more than a big joke this season.  Blowing out Albany and Niagara in the early rounds, beating UTEP in the semis, and then losing to the Cuse by just four in the final is a step in the right direction.
Biggest negative:  Michigan Wolverines.  Michigan started the year playing well, beating up on the cupcakes and then even hung tough with Syracuse in the semis, leading for most of the game before losing by just four.  Unfortunately, instead of still salvaging something they ended up losing to UTEP in the third place game instead.
Also of note:  Detroit Titans.  There was a second, consolation regional held in Michigan, and Detroit won it by beating Albany, Bowling Green, and Niagara in consecutive days.  Even if it's not exactly a murderer's row of opponents it's still a nice little run and was highlighted by former Indiana Hoosier Eli Holman who put up a double-double in each game.  Detroit is a nice little sleeper in the Horizon.

Championship:  Kansas Jayhawks over Arizona Wildcats
Biggest positive:  Kansas.  The Jayhawks stomped MAC favorite Ohio, easily handled a very good Arizona team, now rank sixth in the polls and first according to Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free stats (www.kenpom.com).  And they've done all this without the services of their top recruit Josh Selby.  When he finally starts playing this team is an instant title contender.  Of course, some times a high profile freshman disrupts chemistry to a point where the team gets worse, so let's hope for a little Kris Humphries/Stephon Marbury from Selby.
Biggest negative:  Nobody, really.  Everybody finished where they should, the good teams stomped the bad, and nobody's play stood out as exceptionally poor.  If you had to pick one negative, go with Ohio.  Last year's upset winner over Georgetown in the first round of the tournament was picked to win their conference again, and losing by 57 to Kansas is certainly not what they had in mind. 
Also of note:  Solomon Hill.  Arizona has one of the best player's in the country in Derrick Williams, but he can't do it himself.  If Hill can play like he did against Santa Clara (20 pts) rather than how he did against Kansas (9 pts) more often, Arizona will have a much better chance of getting back to the NCAA Tournament.

Championship:  St. Johns Red Storm over Arizona State Sun Devils
Biggest positive:  St. Johns, my Big East sleeper pick, started the season questionably enough, losing to St. Mary's, but handled themselves nicely in Alaska by going 3-0.  With no other possible NCAA Tournament teams in this field, the Red Storm basically had to win this tournament.  And they did. 
Biggest negative:  Ball State.  Not that Ball State is supposed to be anything (it's been a long time since Theron Smith), but it's never good to lose to non-Division I squad, and the Cardinals were dropped by the host Alaska-Anchorage, and in embarrassing fashion, 62-44.
Also of note:  Weber State 82, Drake 81.  Weber State won't be an at-large NCAA team, but they are considered the favorites to come out of the Big Sky, and taking third place in Alaska is a solid outing for this team.  Plus Mrs. W went to Weber State for a year and I visit Ogden almost yearly, so it's always nice to give them a little pub.

And that should pretty well cover it.  There were a few others, but really nobody cares who wins the Cancun Challenge or the Philly Hoop Group Classic because the teams involved are irrelevant, and I think I've typed just about enough for one evening.  There are a bunch more of these tournaments coming up around Christmas-time, including a couple involving Big Ten representation (Northwestern in the MSG Holiday Festival and Indiana in the Las Vegas Classic) so I might recap them after the holidays.  By then I'm pretty sure there will be nothing left to care about as far as the Gophers are concerned.  That team is absolute garbage.

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