These tournaments kick-off the action, beginning on Tuesday:
[ED. NOTE: I stepped all over TRE's Gopher hockey post, so make sure to check it out.]
Wow. What a way to kick things off. The Big South has traditionally been pretty bad, but usually one of the teams is at least a threat. In recent years Winthrop, UNC-Asheville, and Gardner Webb have at least been a threat to win a first round game (with Winthrop pretty much being a mid-major darling) but those days are gone. This is a bad conference (ranks #29 out of #31 NCAA eligible conferences.
FAVORITE: Charleston Southern. Both the Buccaneers and High Point finished the conference schedule at 12-4, but the Bucs get the #1 seed thanks to beating the Panthers in their only meeting this season. Although these two teams are the best of the Big South by a wide margin they still aren't very good, combining to beat just three teams ranked better than #200 in kenpom's ratings (and none better than #189) and they have a combined five wins over non D-I teams between them.
SLEEPER: Virginia Military Academy. I believe in all the years I've been doing this I've picked VMI as the sleeper in the Big South regardless of their record (8-8 this year) because they play such an interesting style - run, run, run, score, no defense. It hasn't really worked this year, outside of a 4-0 start to conference play, but despite that pace the Keydets rarely turn the ball over so they get off tons of shots. They just need to get hot and they can make a run, although that hasn't happened much this season.
W's PICK: High Point. This is rough. Every one of these teams has some pretty glaring flaws, even compared to their peers. I'll go with the Panthers who have the league's #1 most efficient offense top defensive squad vs. three-pointers, but really anybody could come out of here to get crushed later.
It's a definite change to not just write Butler in here, but these are the winds of change and so go the days of our lives or something. And now Butler might be joining that new basketball only conference with the Catholic 7 from the Big East? Or formerly Big East or new Big East? I can't keep up. I enjoyed the first few rounds of conference realignment as much as the next guy, but seriously can we take our foot of the gas so I can figure out who goes where for a year or two?
FAVORITE: Valparaiso. Despite the loss of the star power of Butler, there are still a couple of stacked teams in the Horizon in Valpo and Detroit, who both made my preseason list of Top 68 teams (at #36 and #46, respectively). Although neither is in the at-large conversation anymore, both have enough ability to pull off a first round upset in the NCAA Tournament.
SLEEPER: UW-Green Bay. The Phoenix (lol) have non-conference wins over NDSU and Marquette, two of just four wins this conference managed against Kenpom Top 100 teams this year (none of which came from Valpo or Detroit, it's worth noting). They probably aren't a major threat this year but UWGB is a really young team with only one senior, so expect the Phoenix to rise to the top of the standings in the next year or two. You like that? Expect the Phoenix to rise? God I'm Rick Reilly.
W's PICK: Valparaiso. It actually pains me a little to pick against Detroit and Ray McCallum who will be in the NBA someday and is super awesome, but Valpo is stacked. Their trio of Bobby Capobianco (formerly of Indiana), Ryan Broekhoff, and Kevin van Wijk give them a combination of size, ability, and experience that few mid-majors can match. Assuming they can get somebody - anybody - to give them capable guard play and this is a dangerous March team.
Last night in college basketball nothing really interesting happened. Louisville crushed Cincinnati, which was supposed to happen, and Kansas super-crushed Texas Tech, which was definitely supposed to happen. This helps Kansas creep closer to a one seed as well as putting more pressure on Cincy who was looking like a definite NCAA team earlier this year but has sputtered lately. As long as they don't blow their last game against South Florida they should still be ok, but they've lost four of their last five and six of their last eight, so there's definitely some pressure involved in that last game.
The biggest bubble news of the night was Baylor's loss at Texas, which pretty much ends the Bears hope for an at-large. Has anybody ever done less with more than Scott Drew? Well I guess that's a little rough considering he has two Elite Eights since 2010, but those teams seemed to succeed in spite of Drew, not because of him. Right?
As far as bubble action tonight Arkansas is probably in the biggest must win situation here (@ Missouri) with a too high RPI and this being a big chance to get a signature win to help bring that down, although Boise State could really, really use a win at UNLV. Notre Dame is probably already in but it would behoove them to not lose at home to St. John's. Illinois probably puts themselves solidly in if they win at Iowa, while a loss isn't a killer, while Memphis faces a similar game at UTEP but a loss would hurt the Tigers quite a bit more. Lastly, we have a true elimination game with Alabama @ Ole Miss. It's very possible neither team gets in, but the winner definitely won't (barring an SEC Tournament title). Fun time of year, especially when I'm not worried about the Gophers every single day. Neat.