Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Championship Week, part II

Sometimes I love the first part of Championship Week(s) the most, when the smaller conferences are battling for their tournament lives, do or die, with smaller schools and lesser known players that only hardcore nerds like me know anything about.  Other times I prefer Week II, this week, with the higher profile, higher skilled teams - and lots and lots of day action to wager on.  In any case, I love all of it.  These tournaments get rolling today:

ATLANTIC 10:  Thought at the beginning of the year to be one of the "high mid-major" conferences to really breakthrough this year, that never quite happened.  Still, they're likely to be sending at least three teams to the NCAAs, and all three look legit enough that they could make a Sweet 16 run.
FAVORITE:  Xavier.  The Musketeers won the regular season title once again, despite once again looking like they lost too much fire power from last year's team.  They've made three straight sweet 16s, and it doesn't seem to matter who the coach is they are just tough when it comes to tournament play.  Tu Holloway is the kind of dude who can just carry a team.
SLEEPER:   George Washington.  The top three (Xavier, Temple, Richmond) have a pretty good stranglehold on this league and Duquesne has completely fallen off the map, so the nominal role of sleeper goes to the Colonials.  Although they went 0-4 against the top teams, they did manage to go 10-2 against everybody else.  So that's something.
W's PICK:  Xavier.  You'd be a fool to pick against Xavier in any kind of tournament setting.  And I'm not no fool.
WHO'S DANCING:  Xavier, Richmond, Temple

BIG EAST:  Remember all that "how many bids can the Big East get" talk?   And remember at one point the media starting mentioning things like "Can the Big East get 11 bids" and it all sounding so ridiculous?  Well they've got 10 definite locks and assuming Marquette doesn't somehow lose to Providence in the opening round they'll have 11.  Really though, there isn't much at stake here other than seeding since most teams have their bids wrapped up already.  Both Pitt and Notre Dame are playing for a one seed.  Villanova sucks.
FAVORITE:  Pitt.  I wrote about how I think Notre Dame is upset proof, but Pitt is the Big East team I think is the best and the most likely to win the national title.  Offense, defense, inside, outside - very solid all-around team.
SLEEPER:   Seton Hall.  I'll avoid picking any of the NCAA teams as a potential sleeper and go with the Hall.  They're a very good defensive team (14th best in the country according to kenpom) that has struggled offensively, leading to a disappointing season.  They do, however, have Jeremy Hazell, the kind of player who can get hot and carry a team on a run.  They won't be able to run the table in this tough of a league, but it wouldn't shock me if they knocked off a team or two.
W's PICK:  St. Johns.  With pretty much every team already having a bid locked up it's all about who has the fire to win a somewhat meaningless gauntlet of games - who has the fire and will to show up each day and bring their best in a game that barely matters against a quality opponent, knowing it's going to be a physical battle?  I like the Red Storm here because they're a senior laden squad getting their first tastes of meaningful play and they love the Garden.  
WHO'S DANCING:  Syracuse, UCONN, St. John's, Pitt, Notre Dame, Marquette, Cincinnati, Georgetown, West Virginia, Louisville, Villanova.

MID-AMERICAN:  Shouldn't the MAC be better?  I feel like it really should be, but they haven't sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament since 1999.  That isn't going to change this year and there aren't exactly signs that it will be changing any time soon.  Unfortunately this conference has fallen into the bottom half of the NCAA at this point.  Aren't you just pumped for this tournament now?
FAVORITE:  Kent State.  They won the league with a 12-4 record, and two of their losses were in overtime so it's safe to say they did a pretty solid job of dominating this year. 
SLEEPER:   Central Michigan.  The Chippewas were a bit of a disappointment this year, finishing just 7-9 in MAC play, but there is enough talent here to make a run.  Freshman Trey Ziegler might be the most talented player in the league and is the best on this team (top-2 in pts, rebs, and assists) and if he and Jalin Thomas get hot at the same time they could definitely do some damage.
W's PICK:  Ohio.  Kent State has the best record, CMU has the best player, but Ohio has the best stats - as in they rank the highest at kenpom.com at #97, and it's not even close (Kent is #163).  There are enough guys back from last year's team that improbably won the MAC Tournament and then knocked off Georgetown that they could go on another run.  Plus there best player is named D.J. Cooper, which is just close enough to D.B. Cooper to be cool.  And he averages 7.4 assists per game to go with his 16 points per.  You gotta like that.

MID-EASTERN ATLANTIC:   The winner of this conference usually makes an appearance in the play-in game.  Since there will be two play-in games for the worst four qualifiers and the MEAC ranks as the second worst conference that gets a bid this year, I feel safe saying that whoever wins should make plans to be in Dayton on Tuesday.
FAVORITE:  Bethune-Cookman.  BCU has always been one of my favorite schools, mainly because way back in the day when the Gophers played them I couldn't stop laughing at the name because it just seemed so ridiculous, so it makes me happy to see them at the top of the conference.  The only other thing I can tell you about this school is that it's traditionally so bad that when you did a career mode on NCAA Hoops 2k8, which means they had you start as a coach at one of the worst schools in the country, Bethune-Cookman was one of your ten choices to begin your coaching career.  They're bad.  This would be a big deal if they seal the deal.
SLEEPER:   Hampton.  Really these teams are so bad that all it would take is one team getting hot and they could take the whole thing down.  I'll go with Hampton as a sleeper because they are actually a pretty decent defensive team - something unique to them amongst these teams.
W's PICK:  Bethune-Cookman.  It's gotta be.  It would be huge for them.  Their wikipedia page only talks about baseball, golf, and football - doesn't even mention the basketball squad.  No respect.

MOUNTAIN WEST: One of the biggest questions facing bracket-filler-outers this year is how good is the Mountain West?  BYU and SDSU are going to end up with top 3 seeds most likely, so do you believe it, or not?  Personally I do, at least in the case of SDSU.  I would probably feel the same about BYU, but I'm not really what to make of them sans Brandon Davies and his terrible horrible crime.
FAVORITE:  BYU.  Still gotta go with the Cougars here even without Davies since they swept San Diego State, but without him I just don't know if they can hang.  He's basically their entire inside presence, and I fear that they've gone from a Final Four contender to a team with an upside of the Sweet 16.  Too bad.  As a wise man once said, you gotta stay away from women, boys.  All they want is your man juice.
SLEEPER:  New Mexico.  They were an NCAA first-round winner last year, and although they lost a ton off that team they've still been solid this year behind former Cyclone Dairese Gary and former Bruin Drew Gordon.  Although they were a disappointing 8-8 in conference play they did well against the big boys, sweeping BYU (their only two conference losses) and, although they were swept by UNLV the two losses were by 1 and by 3 in overtime.  This was a talented, yet underachieving team.  Those are always dangerous in March.
W's PICK:  San Diego State.  They are just so much more talented than every other team in this conference.  BYU was on the same level, but without Davies I just don't see how they can contain the inside play of SDSU.  I also feel like the Aztecs are being overlooked just a bit.  Don't do that.  They are a legit Sweet 16 or better squad.

Congrats to Gonzaga, Old Dominion, St. Peter's, and Wofford for cashing in last night and winning their conference tournaments.  All of them, with the exception of St. Pete's, are threats to win a first round matchup next week, with the Zags and Monarchs legit Sweet 16 type teams.  As far as the losers go, both St. Mary's and VCU have a chance at receiving an at-large bid and I think both should.  For St. Mary's, however, the weird game they schedule for this Friday against Weber State looms large.  Lose that and they're probably out.  Truly a no-win/big lose situation for them.  Weird choice.

As far as tonight goes, there are three games you want to keep your eye on:  Marquette vs. Providence, Oakland vs. Oral Roberts, and Butler vs. Milwaukee.  Marquette is probably in regardless, but a win over Providence would seal it, while a loss would make for a nervous selection Sunday for the Eagles.  Butler might be in might not, but Milwaukee definitely isn't so they need to win the Horizon title, and Oakland is in the same boat.  The Golden Grizzlies are definitely a threat in March and this entire season has felt like a mission specifically designed to get in, and get wins in, the NCAA Tournament.  They have to get passed ORU, however, in order to do it.  Also, I guess Princeton @ Penn.  If Princeton wins they tie Harvard atop the Ivy standings and there will be a one-game playoff.  If they lose, Harvard is in.  Fun night of games. 


Loretta8 said...

i think st. mary's scheduled that extra game because it will allow someone on their team who got hurt to get a medical shirt, due to some obscure rule.

at least i remember reading that somewhere, i'm too lazy to research it.

Google-Fu Yu. said...

Took 10 seconds of Google-Fu:


WWWWWW said...

So it makes a ton of sense for Weber State, but is really, really stupid for St. Mary's.