Monday, March 11, 2013

Tournament Season now Hits the Big Guys

Ok I missed the Monday tournaments.  That's okay though, because I'm going to cover them today along with Tuesday's kick-offs which is when some of the big dogs come out to play.  I know many of you were lost on Monday night, wondering about the MAC and the MEAC and for that I apologize, but like a beacon in the dark I am here to walk you through.

Lots of stuff happened this weekend, including Kentucky, Baylor, and Boise got the big wins they needed while Iowa State, Ole Miss, and Cincy avoided what would have been crushing losses.  Belmont made there be one less bubble team by winning the autobid in the OVC (Davidson won the SoCon's autobid last night but they probably weren't getting an at-large in any case), and Oklahoma (probably still in), Colorado (probably still in), and Louisiana Tech (needs autobid now) picked up ugly losses along with the Gophers.

What does this all mean?  Well, along with the pairings coming out and showing the Gophers taking on Illinois in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament it means the Gophers are in no matter what.  Illinois's RPI is 42, which means a loss is just fine and a win would be a very good win.  With most projectionists putting the Gophers in the 8-10 range there's no way a good loss knocks them out.  So congratulations?

Ideally the Gophers would beat Illinois and Indiana and jump up to a six seed to avoid facing a 1 or 2 in a quasi-home game situation, but to be honest I'm just hoping they don't embarrass themselves again.  It's good to have goals.  On to the tournaments!

For most of the season Akron was a fringe-y bubble team.  They had dominated the MAC, going 13-0 with just four out-of-conference losses (3 in overtime) marring an otherwise perfect record - losses to Oklahoma State, Detroit, and Creighton are acceptable, losing to Coastal Carolina is not.  Unfortunately a non-conference slate then with only a win over Middle Tennessee and a whole slew of cupcakes kept them from serious at-large consideration, and a loss to Buffalo last Saturday (RPI #226), the suspension of starting point guard and leading assist man Alex Abreu for possession of five pounds of pot, and a follow up loss to Kent State (RPI #146) have the Zips not only on the outside looking in of an at-large bid, but no longer the favorite in this tournament.  
FAVORITE:  Ohio.  With Akron's issues with Smokey the Bobcats, who despite finishing out MAC play at 14-2 would have to describe this season as disappointing.  This is an exciting team with a kick-ass point guard in D.J. Cooper (and the money he took) who will look for answers but that ain't fun so he'll get in the pit and try to love someone.  Seriously though this is basically the same team who beat Georgetown in the tournament two years ago and made the Sweet 16 last season, they just whiffed on every opportunity to get a good win and had a super shitty schedule, thus win or in.  Dangerous team.  I hope they win.   
SLEEPER:  Eastern Michigan.  Kent State probably has a better chance of winning but I wouldn't really consider them a sleeper the way EMU is.  They 7 seed, the Eagles interest me because they are the top MAC team in 3-point defense, shot blocking, and stealing the ball.  They're a pretty dynamic defensive team so you never know.  They're also horrific offensively so you kind of do.
W's PICK:  Ohio.  Bawitdaba da bang a dang diggy diggy diggy said the boogy said up jump the boogy.

Let's just get this out of the way:  the MEAC is terrible, and they're terrible every year.  Outside of the SWAC there's no other conference more guaranteed to end up in the play-in game.  On one of the old college basketball games on playstation I used to have you had an option to to start from a bottom of the barrel program and try to work your way up by winning enough games - of the 10 options at least five of them were MEAC schools and it might have been more.  That being said, of the six #15 seeds to knock off a #2 in round 1 two of them (Coppin State and Norfolk State) were MEAC schools. So I guess that's something.
FAVORITE: Norfolk State.  Despite losing their top two scorers from last year's Missouri beating squad, the Spartans crushed the MEAC going 16-0.  For some reason I now have a very uneasy feeling that if Tubby is let go by the Gophers Norfolk's State guy is going to come up far too often for my tastes.
SLEEPER:  North Carolina Central.  Interesting that Norfolk went 16-0, UNCC went 15-1, and they never played each other.  They also don't have a single win between the two that remotely resembles a quality victory, but that's far less surprising.  UNCC could be tricky because they are the top ranked defense in the conference in almost every single advanced metric.  Of the eight main ones the Eagles (what's with all the Eagles, man?) rank 1st in six of them.  Seems relevant.  
W's PICK:  Norfolk State.  I've spent too much time on this conference as is, so I'll just take the team that's been there before and has the #1 seed.  Why complicate things?

If you remember when I wrote about the Sun Belt (this would make you kind of a weirdo) I said I was rooting so hard for Middle Tennessee because I wasn't sure they'd get an at-large if they lost and I really wanted to see them in the tournament (they lost in the semis and it's looking dicey).   This is relevant because before last week Louisiana Tech looked a lot like Middle Tennessee but less fancy.  They were 16-0 in the conference and 26-3 overall, and even if the computer numbers weren't in their favor they were going to be tough to ignore if they ran the table and then fell in the WAC Tournament Final.  Luckily for the seeding committee they decided to go in the tank and got crushed by both New Mexico State (by 18) and Denver (by 24) and that is that.
FAVORITE:  Denver.  Although La Tech retained the #1 seed despite that late swoon, Vegas recognizes them for the pretender they were and installed Denver as the favorite.  With good reason, considering the Pioneers rank tops in the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency.  It could all be fraudulent since Denver is another team that fits the Wisconsin/Virginia mold, but they're an interesting team who would absolutely have a chance to bore a team into a loss if they make the NCAAs.
SLEEPER: Utah State.  I'm a huge fan of the Aggies, as you would know if you paid more attention to me you asshole, and this is a bit of an off year for them since they usually dominate these WAC dorks. You can't really count out a Stew Morrill led USU team, can you?  Other than this year, I mean.
W's PICK:  Louisiana Tech.  Yes, the Bulldogs only played one non-shitty team in non-conference and lost to Texas A&M by 12.  Yes, they somehow lost to McNeese State and Northwestern State.  Yes, when they had a bye mid-week late in the season they scheduled Central Baptist College and won by 70 rather than having a decent team on the docket.  Maybe, I'm starting to rethink this pick but it's too late to go back now.

And here we go.  Big time conferences get rolling starting with the old Big East in it's last hurrah.  Plenty still to play for, as Georgetown has as shot at a #1 while Louisville could possibly get it as well depending on what happens around the country.  Syracuse is looking to find whatever it seems to have lost and Marquette wants to show it's more than just a home court bully, while both Villanova and Cincinnati are looking to shore up their at-large bids.
FAVORITE:  Georgetown.  The Hoyas, Louisville, and Marquette tied a top the conference at 14-4 with G-Town getting the favorable draw thanks to tie-breakers.  They should also be considered the favorite because they are also coming in hot.  The Hoya defense is coming on strong (the last team to score 70+ in non-overtime against the Hoyas was Pitt on January 8th)  and Otto Porter is starting to give off a big John Wallace type vibe where I can see him putting the team's offense on his back and the Hoyas riding the defense deep into the tourney.  I'm having a hell of a time trying to convince myself not to put them in the Final Four.
SLEEPER:  Providence.  They're a bit of a deep sleeper what with the 9 seed and all, but with so many good teams to find a true sleeper can be a little bit tougher in a conference like this.  The Friars boast the league's leading scorer in Bryce Cotton and after a rough start to the season that included losses to Penn State, Brown, and DePaul they've started to really come together.  Providence has won seven of its last nine with the only losses to Syracuse and UCONN on the road.  Winning four games is probably a bit much but, you know, it's happened before.    
W's PICK:  Louisville.  The number one defensive team in the country who both causes a ton of turnovers and holds opponents to terrible shooting percentages.  Their record this year is 26-5, and the five losses are to potential number 1 seed Duke by 5 (neutral site), by 2 to Syracuse when they were still good, by 9 at Villanova when the Wildcats were on that tear where they also beat Cuse, at potential #1 seed Georgetown by 2, and at Notre Dame in five Overtimes.  There may be more exciting teams and more upside-y teams, but the absolute safest bet, regardless of 1 or 2 seed, to get to the Final Four this year is the Cardinals.

The conference that has risen the most in national rankings over the last few years, the MWC actually ranks third at kenpom behind the Big Ten and Big East.  As good as it is, however, there's not really much to play for here.  New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado State, and San Diego State are already locked in, and Boise State, by way of wins over SDSU and CSU in the last week and a half is probably in as well, and with an opening round match-up against the Aztecs again they can't hurt themselves.
FAVORITE:  New Mexico.  Believe it or not this a damn good league, and the Lobos going 13-3 in league play is damn impressive.  There are nine teams in this league and five of them rank in the top 50 (kenpom) with two more in the top 100.  The Lobos not only rolled the league, but also picked up wins over Davidson, UCONN, Valpo, and Cincy this year.  You're going to be tempted to underrate New Mexico when you fill out your bracket, but I'd disrecommend that.  
SLEEPER: Air Force.  It's tough to find a sleeper in a league where the top 5 teams are awesome and the bottom two suck (well, Wyoming has sucked after a great start after kicking leading scorer Luke Martinez off the team for something as innocent as getting a 15-yard running start before kicking an unconscious person in the head in a bar fight), but Air Force fits the bill well enough.  They play in the Wisconsin/Virginia style of slow but efficient play and that can always fuck people up and they've beaten four out of the five top teams in the MWC this year.  They've also been terrible outside Colorado Springs, and the tournament is not in Colorado Springs, so they're probably hosed.  
W's PICK:  UNLV.  The tournament is not in Colorado Springs but it is in Las Vegas, and more specifically at the Thomas & Mack Center which just so happens to be the Runnin' Rebels' home gym.  In a league that tightly packed at the top home court could make all the difference.  Plus I had this picture.

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