I was going to write a bit more about the Gophers' loss and preview this weekend's game against Purdue, but I just can't. It's just too much. I bought in again after the Indiana and Penn State games, and was all set to officially pronounce them a lock for the NCAA Tournament after what I figured would be a fairly easy win against Nebraska and they go out and screw me over. Bad lineup, bad substitution patterns, bad shooting, bad defense, bad everything. I just don't know what to say any more. They need one more win, somewhere, before I'll feel safe, and I'll feel safer if that win is at Purdue on Saturday. Can they go 8-10 in conference play and get in without another quality win (which would mean two Big Ten Tournament wins)? I just don't know.
At this point losing both of the next two wouldn't surprise me, and then not hearing their name called Selection Sunday wouldn't shock me either. Forget how many good wins they have and their RPI and SOS - look at the road record and how they're finishing up. It's too much for me to take. Let's just concentrate on all the awesomeness that is March and forget all about Tubby Smith until Monday. I'm going to make an effort to not watch the game, but I'm sure I will find myself doing it anyway. I must really hate myself.
Not all that long ago the Colonial was the best mid-major in all the land, what with it's VCUs and George Masons making the Final Four and ranking as either the 12 or 13th best conference every year from 2010-2012. This year VCU is gone to the A-10, GMU is super mediocre, Old Dominion never got off the ground, and other traditional conference powers like Drexel and Hofstra have been pretty bad. Crappy teams like Northeastern and Towson have risen to the top, and the conference overall has floundered falling to 20th. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
FAVORITE: Northeastern. They have the #1 seed thanks to their 14-4 record, but rank just #172 according to kenpom. I guess that's what you can expect when everybody in a conference is terrible. Yuck, what happened here? Plus the team that would have had the #2 seed, Towson, is ineligible for postseason play because not enough kids graduated or something. I guess the best thing that could happen is for George Mason to win the tournament and then a bunch of people take them to win their first round game which will definitely not happen. Point for me.
SLEEPER: George Mason. Hey look, it's George Mason! They actually fit the sleeper mold pretty well seeing as their the #4 seed but are the highest ranked team according to kenpom. That doesn't make them any good mind you, but this year you don't really have to be good to get out of the CAA.
W's PICK: Delaware. The Blue Hens have the league's leading scorer, a guy who led the league in rebounds and blocks while shooting 54% from the floor, and have gone 10-2 in their last twelve. Good enough for me.
It's a familiar story here where Davidson is head and shoulders above the rest of the league. They struggled a bit post-Curry, missing the NCAA Tournament from 2009-2011, but made it back last year and should find themselves back once again, although they're going to have to do it the hard way and win the SoCon Tournament - this is a one bid league this year, Davidson or other.
FAVORITE: Davidson. Although this version of Davidson isn't on the level of the Stephen Curry teams, it's probably Bob McKillop's best squad since those days. They're not in the at large discussion due to way too many bad losses this year, but they seem to have righted the ship going 17-1 in SoCon play. They're a good, solid, if a little boring mid-major team and there isn't much else in the conference to even challenge them. They'll be interesting if they make it to the NCAAs because they lead the nation with a team 81% free throw percentage and they get to the line a lot. Against the wrong, hacky team that would give them a huge advantage. Kansas State is a very possible, and very favorable, match-up for Davidson. Plus my 2 year old could outcoach Bruce Weber.
SLEEPER: College of Charleston. Even when they aren't a very good team (22-9 isn't terrible or anything, but it's come against a pretty sorry schedule) Charleston always seems to be in the mix somehow. I'd feel better if Bobby Cremins was still there, but of all Davidson's home conference foes only Charleston was able to keep the final margin within double digits. Good enough for me.
W's PICK: Davidson. They're just so much better than everybody else in this conference. It would be a pretty major upset if the Wildcats don't make the NCAA Tournament.
SUN BELT CONFERENCE
This is one I'll be watching closely, because there's a team here (Middle Tennessee - yes, the team the Gophers beat in the NIT quarters last year) who has taken care of business all year, but simply has had a horrific schedule - partly terrible conference and partly poor OOC scheduling - and so there resume doesn't really stack up with most other bubble teams, but I hope they can win out in the Sun Belt tourney and go to the dance. For once, this hope is simply because I think they should be rewarded and not because I don't want to worry about another bubble team stealing a bid when they could help everyone relax and get an automatic. Feels good.
FAVORITE: Middle Tennessee. That 27-4 overall record and 19-1 in conference play is impressive, even if the Sun Belt is down a bit this year. It's even more impressive when you consider the Blue Raiders closed out with 16 straight wins and their lone conference loss came on the road and in overtime. Although the non-conference schedule lacks any kind of big signature win, they did beat Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Central Florida this year so they have at least knocked off some names if nothing. Funny, that overtime loss at Akron early in the year might be the difference between an at-large berth and heading back to the NIT.
SLEEPER: Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns aren't a very good team by any stretch of the imagination, but they dominate the Sun Belt statistical leaders list with two guys in the top five in scoring along with the #2 rebounder and the top assist man, top steals guy, and a top fiver in blocked shots. Sure, all these spots on the leaderboard are really just two guys and they benefit from a team that plays at one of the fastest paces in the country, but hey........Cajuns!
W's PICK: Troy. They're terrible, but because I really want Middle Tennessee to win this tournament and make it that practically guarantees they lose, and fully expect their spot to be taken by not only a terrible team, but a terrible team who plays at one of the slowest paces in the country. Like a more boring Wisconsin. Yes, that's a real thing.
MID-ATLANTIC ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
There was a time, when we were truly degenerate gamblers, when Bogart and I could have told you anything you wanted to know about the MAAC (or the Ivy) since those were the only two conferences that played on Friday nights and we bet nearly every one of their games. Manhattan was a juggernaut behind Luis Flores. Niagara, Siena, and Fairfield were solid teams. Loyola-MD and Canisius were terrible, and St. Peter's was always a wild card because they were pretty bad but had Keydren Clark so you never knew what they were gonna do. Although we've lost touch with our beloved MAAC (we are still degenerate gamblers, don't worry) it's grown up without us because the overall league is much better than it used it be. It's also much more boring because there isn't a dominant team this year.
FAVORITE: Niagara. The Purple Eagles not only have a sweet name that sounds like it was thought up by a four year old, they're also one of the best in the country at not turning the ball over (20th in the country). That's important because when you can't shoot, and Niagara can't, it's important to maximize your possessions. A point in Niagara's favor, however, is that they balance out their poor shooting by playing horrendous defense.
SLEEPER: Rider. Niagara won the league, but were swept by the Broncs (no, not Broncos - just Broncs). They also have a pretty good player in Jonathon Thompson, who I assume is related to Jason Thompson who I am guessing is the only NBAer from Rider and was pretty much unstoppable on March Madness for playstation2 back in the day. Yes, I played a franchise as Rider. I told you I was obsessed with the MAAC.
W's PICK: Iona. Another league where there's a whole handful of teams who could legitimately win this thing. I'm going with the Gaels because they have the best offense in the league and sport the league's best player (or at least best scorer) in Lamont Jones, formerly of Arizona. I can see a New York senior (from Harlem) putting the gas down and bringing his New York school to the NCAA Tournament as his last hurrah. Kind of like Trey Ziegler staying home to play for Dad at Central Michigan and then that team sucking so badly for two years his dad got fired, only the opposite.
This league was supposed to be a battle of North and South Dakota State, just like when they fought in the Civil War, and although it certainly was, Western Illinois jumped up, using an 8-1 conference start en route to a 13-3 conference record, including a sweep over NDSU, and the #2 seed.
FAVORITE: South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits got the #1 seed, are the league's #1 rated offense, swept Western Illinois, and have the league's best player in Nate Wolters who might be the easiest pick for conference player of the year than any other player in any other conference. They're pretty horrendous defensively but have made up for it by making a ton of three-pointers - two things that just scream "this team is ripe for an upset in March".
SLEEPER: Oakland. The Golden Grizzlies are the only team in the Summit to have taken a bite (lol) out of all three top seeds, splitting with each team. They're a horrendous defensive team, but the offense obviously can be good enough to pick them up and upset anybody in the league on any given night. Can they do this for three games? No.
W's PICK: North Dakota State. The Bison have been without leading scorer Taylor Braun since mid-January due to injury, but he's back now and it doesn't look like he's missed a beat (22 pts last game). When NDSU had Braun they started 6-0 in conference including a win over SDSU, but went just 5-4 when he was out and even without him for that stretch kenpom's still rates NDSU as the best team in the Summit by a wide margin.
In last night's bubble-related news, Virginia and Kentucky both lost road games to bad teams which will slide them under the Gophers, almost no matter what. At this point even if the Gophers lose the next two and UVA and Kentucky don't go on a big conference tournament run they won't catch the Gophers. Sad that we need to actually care about that kind of thing again this year, but here we are.
Best news of the night (for a College BB fan)? Colorado crushed Oregon to ensure they're in (Oregon is probably in too). I like this Buffaloes team and they got screwed out of a win at Arizona earlier so I'm happy to see them in. Worst news? Louisiana Tech got crushed by New Mexico State for their first WAC loss, which drops them to 26-4 and 16-1 and sadly based on everything else that's probably enough to kill their at-large hopes. That's why you have to play, you know, somebody at some point.
So that'll do it folks. Have a good weekend and I hope all your dream come true. Somebody text me after the Gopher game and let me know what happens because I'm sure as shit not going to watch it.*
* = of course I am.