Friday, March 4, 2011

Big Weekend Coming

Big wins last night for both Arizona (over UCLA) and Tennessee (over South Carolina), moving both into basically lock status.  I wouldn't quite lock in either yet, because if they lose their regular season finales and then lose in the first round of their conference tournament they're pretty shaky, but things look good for both squads.  Washington State also picked up a good win over USC.  The Cougars haven't done enough to get in yet, but if they win their final game against UCLA, picking up a quality win in the process, they're suddenly right in the thick of things.

Nothing too interesting happening in the conference tournaments yet, with the chalk holding pretty strong.  The biggest note is Coastal Carolina won their Big South semifinal, setting up a championship matchup against UNC-Asheville on Saturday.  The Chanticleers dominated regular season play, rolling undefeated through conference play before a season ending injury to their starting point guard and an indefinite suspension of their leading scorer left them undermanned and limping to a 2-4 finish, including a loss to Asheville.  If they can get past the Bulldogs and into the NCAA Tournament - and get their top player back from that suspension - they could cause a headache for somebody in the first round.  It might be a tall order to look for an upset without their point guard, but it should be interesting nonetheless. 

This is how they lost to Asheville, by the way:

On to today's action, and I do mean day action:

COLONIAL:  This is probably the best of your mid-majors this year, and, thanks to a generally weak group of teams coming from the power conferences, is basically guaranteed two bids (George Mason and Old Dominion) and might end up with a third if a different team ends up winning this tournament  
FAVORITE:  George Mason.  The Patriots don't have a marquee non-conference win they can point to (unlike Old Dominion who has wins over Clemson, Richmond, Dayton, and Xavier), but a 15-game win streak through a pretty good conference, a win over Northern Iowa, and a 17-point win over ODU make them the prohibitive favorite.
SLEEPER:  Hofstra. Even though VCU is probably the third best team in the CAA, the conference's top player is Charles Jenkins and he plays for the Hofstra Pride.  He's an efficient (53% FG, 41% threes), high-volume (23.2 per game) scorer in his senior year, and he could carry the Pride on a nice run - like he did in an earlier 87-74 win over George Mason when he scored 32 and dished 8 assists.
W's PICK:  George Mason.  In the last month I watched them destroy a good VCU team and then win a tough one at Northern Iowa.  This isn't just a good mid-major team, they're a flat out good team, and a Sweet 16 appearance wouldn't be a surprise.

MID-ATLANTIC:  You know what's great about the MAAC?  They are one of only two conferences Vegas made lines for that plays regularly on Friday nights, so if I want some Friday night action it's either the MAAC or the Ivy (or both).  As such, I'm quite the MAAC historian.  From Luis Flores to Keydren Clark to Charron Fisher, I've paid attention to them all.  So I'm a genius here.
FAVORITE:  Fairfield.  Any of Farfield, Rider, or Iona could win this since they are all pretty solid teams.  They all split with each other, but Fairfield only lost one other game, winning the conference by two.  Rider has the best win of the three, a win over USC in early season play.
SLEEPER:  Siena.  If people paid attention to the MAAC the way they do the power conferences, this team would be the most disappointing team in the country.  They lost three starters from last year's powerhouse, but they still had a ton of talent back.  They are definitely better than their 8-10 record, as their win over Iona shows.
W's PICK:  Iona.  Michael Glover and Scott Machado are a nearly unstoppable inside/outside duo, and of the top teams in the MAAC this is the one that is best constructed to make a tournament run - whether it's this one or the big one coming up in two weeks.  TWO WEEKS!!

WEST COAST CONFERENCE:  This is the first year in a long, long time Gonzaga will be competing for a bid, not having that piece of business wrapped up by this point for the first time in forever.  They might have to get to the conference final, if not win the whole thing.  Funny thing is, St. Mary's is in that same boat as well.  Weird thing about St. Mary's is they just added a March 11th game against Weber State, with both teams citing the long layoff between the conference tournament and the post season tournament as the reason.  Funny thing, the game won't do anything resume wise for Weber since they're either in or out based on the Big Sky tourney results, but if St. Mary's gets to and loses in the WCC Final and then loses to Weber it might be enough to knock them out, while a win does nothing.  Weird decision.
FAVORITE: Gonzaga.  Both the Bulldogs and Gaels have the same conference record and split their head-to-head series, but I'll give the Zags the edge here since they are trending up while St. Mary's is sort of free-falling.
SLEEPER:  San Francisco.  The Dons haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 1998 (and before than was 1982), but in a down year for the WCC they might have a chance to sneak through.  They beat Colorado earlier this year, beat Gonzaga in January, and swept both Santa Clara and Portland - two other good WCC teams.  They've got a shot.
W's PICK:  San Francisco.  Gonzaga is way down, St. Mary's is a mess, and it's time for a new champion to step forward.  Why not Bill Russell U?

SUN BELT:  Remember when this conference was one of the best mid-majors in the country?  But now Western Kentucky couldn't even beat the Gophers.  So sad.  I really miss Taco Hawk.
FAVORITE:   Florida Atlantic.  But get this straight, this isn't the type of favorite who can really make any kind of remotely significant run.  According to, they rank as the 177th best team in the country, which means they're somewhere between NDSU and St. Joe's, and way way worse than Iowa.  Ouch.
SLEEPER:  Troy.  In a conference with no real standout team and a big lack of talent, the Trojans stand out because they play at a very fast pace (22nd in the nation) and are the only team with a player in the top five in scoring, rebounding, and assists in the conference - and it's three different players.  The 8-20 record is pretty ugly, but at least six of those wins came in Sun Belt play.
W's PICK:   Louisiana-Lafayette.  Almost anybody could win this thing since it's so completely wide open, but I'll take these guys because 1.  They've won 11 straight and 2. Ragin' Cajuns is still the best nickname in college ball.

SUMMIT LEAGUE: And underrated little conference, the Summit actually boasts four teams that rank in the top 100 in efficiency rating at and boasts wins over Tennessee, Ohio, San Francisco, Utah, Pacific, Iowa, Nevada, and UCSB.  Might not sound like much, but for a newish conference like the Summit this has been a good year.
FAVORITE: Oakland.  They've been building for this since stud center Keith Benson (17.7 pts, 10.7 rebs per game) announced he was coming back after their first round loss to Pitt in last year's NCAA Tournament, scheduling like a champ (West Virginia, Illinois, Purdue, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan, and Ohio State - 3rd toughest non-conf schedule in the country) and then took care of business in conference play by going 17-1.  Feels like a team of destiny type thing going on here - I wouldn't want to play them in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
SLEEPER: Oral Roberts.  They're the second place team at 13-5, have won their last 8, and hung tough with Oakland both times they played them, losing by a combined 11 points in the two contests.
W's PICK: Oakland.  Like I said, team of destiny.

SOUTHERN:  Even though the standings make it look like there's a jumble of teams at the top, the reality is this is basically a two team battle between Wofford and Charleston.  Both teams finished at 14-4, both have a nice win (Charleston over Tennessee, Wofford over George Mason), both have near misses (Charleston lost to Maryland by 1, UNC by 5, Clemson by 7, while Wofford lost to Xavier in triple OT, Clemson by 8), and both have a very strong non-conference strength of schedule (Charleston #47, Wofford #36).
FAVORITE:  Charleston.  The Cougars get the edge because they swept Wofford in the regular season, and with apologies to Minnesota's own Noah Dahlman, the league's best player in Andrew Goudelock.
SLEEPER:  Applachian State.  The Mountaineers come in hot having won seven of their last 8, a streak that includes a 15-point win over Charleston.  They have a couple dynamic scorers in Omar Carter and Donald Sims, both of whom were top five in the league.  Those guys get hot and who knows?
W's PICK:  Charleston.  Goudelock is kind of player who can carry a team, and I'd love to see him get a shot at someone like UCONN in the NCAAs.

BIG SKY:  I've always been a fan of the Big Sky, mainly because most of Mama W's family went to that school (as did she for a semester) and because I've been to a game at their arena.  I also like this group because of Northern Colorado, because it's fun to say NoCo and also because one time in Chicago me, Bogart, Snake, and Dawger met some guy who played safety for them and he told us about how Colt Brennan shredded them for like 600 yards.  Cool story, brah.  I also I copied and pasted this intro from last year.
FAVORITE:   Northern Colorado.  Yes, our little NoCo is all growns up.  They've gone from a D-II school, to a team that didn't win double-digit games until their fourth year in D-I (2008), to a team that wasn't good but covered the spread a surprising number of times, to the Big Sky favorite.  I'm so proud I could fart.
SLEEPER:  Weber State.  They're usually the favorite, but finished two games back of NoCo due to a slow start.  What that means, however, is that they come in hot having won eight of their final ten, including a win over Northern Colorado.
W's PICK:  Northern Arizona.  A fourth place, led by seniors (start 3 seniors), with many scoring options (four guys score 9.7 ppg or more), a go-to player (Cameron Jones at 19.8 per game), and a pure point guard with a sweet name setting them all up (Stallon Saldivar - 5.7 assists, 3.9 points per game)?  And they're the second best defensive team in the conference according to Kenpom.  Sounds like a winner.


Texas @ Baylor - The Bears are basically dead, but I suppose if they can knock off Texas they could become interesting again.

Utah State @ Louisiana Tech - As always, Utah State can't afford a loss.  If they do, the only way they're getting in is to win the WAC tournament.

Virginia Tech @ Clemson - Not quite an elimination game, although it likely is for Clemson, but if Va Tech loses it puts them into a position of needing to make a run in the ACC Tournament, and all the good points they've banked after beating Duke will have been bled out.  That's a pretty retarded mixed metaphor right there.

Duquesne @ Richmond - Even if the Spiders lose this - and they could - they're in pretty good shape heading into the A-10 tournament.

Indiana @ Illinois - The Illini are also in pretty solid shape, no matter how shaky they've actually been, but a loss here would be pretty damaging.

Georgia @ Alabama - Georgia is almost certainly in, but Alabama could use a win over an NCAA team.

Michigan State @ Michigan - Elimination game for Michigan, and pretty close to one for the Spartans.  Maybe the biggest game of the weekend, bubble wise.

East Carolina @ UAB - If the Blazers lose they're done.

UCLA @ Washington State - The Bruins are already in, but the Cougars are somehow still clinging to life, a win here would be a huge resume boost.

Nebraska @ Colorado - Huskers are done, but Colorado is still clinging to hope.  A win here and a mini-run in the Big 12 tournament would do it.

USC @ Washington - The Huskies are probably safe after their win last night, but they should get this one to make sure.

Kentucky @ Tennessee - A win here for Tennessee locks them in.

Wake Forest @ Boston College - The Eagles are still alive, but if they find a way to drop a home game to the worst ACC team in history it's going to knock them right out.

Florida State @ NC State - The Seminoles just need one more win to lock in, if they can't get it here the pressure is on for the ACC Tournament.

No comments: