Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Welcome to March

Well the Gophers might be dead, but that doesn't mean we don't still have a fun March ahead of us - although slightly less fun, I'll admit.  The smaller conferences get their tournaments up and running starting today, and as in year's past I feel compelled to write a preview of each and every one of them as they get going.  Does anybody read these?  Doubtful, at best, yet I feel I must.  It's some kind of powerful drug, I guess.

These tournaments kick-off today:

BIG SOUTH:  This is an interesting conference, because they have one juggernaut in Coastal Carolina, and then a bunch of meh.  The Chanticleers (seriously) are 26-4 and 16-2 in the conference.  They won't get an at-large since they haven't played anybody, but if they manage to win this thing they'll be a 13 or 14 and have a shot at an upset.  If they lose, whoever goes in is going to have a good shot at playing on Tuesday and, if they win, getting destroyed in round 1.
FAVORITE: Coastal Carolina. 
SLEEPER:  VMI.  Usually these guys are kind of a novelty because they play either the #1 or #2 fastest tempo every year, but play recklessly and inefficiently and don't play any defense, finishing around the bottom half of the Big South each year.  This year, however, they're more efficient (70th in the country) and finished fourth at 10-8, although they still don't play any defense. 
W's PICK:  Coastal Carolina.  Even though they've lost 2 of their last 4 after winning their first 12 conference games they're still just so much better than every other Big South team.  It's not going to just be a bummer if they lose, it's going to be a shame.

HORIZON:  A bit of a change in the Horizon this year, because, for the first time in a long time, Butler probably has to win this thing to get a bid, or at the very least make it to the final.  In the four years since they've become what they became they've only won the Horizon Tournament twice but it didn't really matter.  Now it matters.
FAVORITE:  Milwaukee.  There was a three-way tie for first between Milwaukee, Butler, and Cleveland State, and although the other two teams are sexier, Milwaukee was actually 3-1 against the others in head-to-head and I'll assume will have the #1 seed.
SLEEPER:   Detroit.  It's tough to see anybody but one of the three top teams coming out of here, but if anybody can do it based on talent it's the Titans.  Freshman guard Ray McCallum was a highly sought recruit who stayed home to play for dad, and post man Eli Holman is an Indiana transfer - they're two of the most talented players in the league, and could lead this team on a run.
W's PICK: Butler.  Maybe I'm just a sheep but the idea of a tournament without Butler seems criminal.  There's nothing better than watching Matt Howard get into foul trouble every time he goes up against an athletic post player.


Yes, I realize quite well that doing a Bubble Watch loses a little bit of panache by the Gophers being absent, but I still want to do it.  I could also cover an NIT bubble watch, but when the Gophers fall off of that I'd be forced to kill myself or you.  I wonder what watching the Gophers in a CBI game will be like.  Just kidding.  I wouldn't watch.

Last night there was only one bubble relevant game, but it was a doozy as K-State went into Austin and beat the Longhorns, basically completing their redemption arc going from biggest disappointment of the year to NCAA lock.  Well maybe not lock, but damn close to it.  Huge win.  Nice to see a team rise up once in a while.  No idea what that's like, personally.

Tonight's Bubble Games:

Ohio State @ Penn State - Maybe the biggest game of Talor Battle's career, and his last chance to salvage an NCAA berth out of an amazing career.  The Nittany Lions aren't even on the bubble right now, but a win over the Buckeyes would put them back in the conversation.

Illinois @ Purdue - The Illini have been a pretty big train wreck lately, but have a chance here for a huge win to boost their chances on selection sunday.

Alabama @ Florida - The Tide are 11-3 in conference play which would normally be enough to feel comfy at this point in the year, but a weak SEC combined with some terrible non-conference losses (Iowa, St. Peter's, Providence) and only one real good win (Kentucky) have them on shaky ground.  If they can split their last two (Georgia at home on Saturday) I think it would be hard to keep them out at 12-4 in the SEC.

Baylor @ Oklahoma State  - The Bears have zero room to lose to non-elite teams, so no matter how hard it is to beat a decent team in Stillwater this one is a must have.

Boston College @ Virginia Tech - The Hokies put themselves in good shape by beating Duke over the weekend, but still can't afford to lose home games to teams they should be able to handle.  BC on the other hand is basically fighting for survival here.

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