Man what an awesome weekend of basketball. Not the Gopher game of course, which sucked as usual, but the rest of the nation (and the Fargo Moorhead Acro Team nailed it, as usual). Four bids were won - North Florida (called it!), Belmont, Coastal Carolina (called it!), and Northern Iowa - and the league that is usually the first to know who they're sending to the Dance, the Ivy, won't know until Saturday this year. That's because Yale, who just had to win against lowly Dartmouth to lock up the regular season title and NCAA bid, lost on a buzzer beater creating a tie with Yale. Seriously, it's Harvard and Yale in a one game playoff for an NCAA bid. How awesome is that?
The bad news of course is that Murray State lost on a semi-miraculous shot in the OVC Final against Belmont, and despite an undefeated conference season and a gaudy record they pretty much have no shot at getting in since they played absolutely nobody and have zero good wins they can point at. It sucks but that's the risk you take with that kind of schedule.
Two tournaments kick off today, with a ton more getting going on Wednesday. It's the most wonderful time of the year.
I know a few teams in the MAC had some pretty big aspirations this season, including being in the at large hunt - Toledo, Akron, and Kent State. Unfortunately, that didn't really work out for anybody. Kent State did finish in a tie at the top of the east with Buffalo at 12-6, but Akron was 3 games back and Toledo finished a game behind Central Michigan in the West. Those kind of records in a down year for the MAC (other than Eastern Michigan's win over Michigan the conferences only notable wins were over big conference bottom feeders USC, Northwestern, and DePaul) aren't getting anyone an at-large bid.
FAVORITE: Central Michigan. The Chippewa snagged the one seed, and swept Toledo and Buffalo along the way (0-2 vs. Kent State and Bowling Green though) which gives them one of the invaluable byes directly into the semi-finals. They're also almost completely reliant on the 3-pointer, with 41% of their points this year coming from behind the line (4th highest in the country) so they're pretty ripe for an upset like in their season closing loss to Western Michigan when they shot 4-21. Of course, this also means if they do make the tournament they could upset somebody as well.
SLEEPER: Toledo. Big aspirations this year were reflected in a non-conference schedule that included games against VCU (lost by 9), Oregon (lost by 10), and Duke (lost by 17). Not only were the Rockets unable to get one of those big wins, but the conference season kind of got away from them as well, finishing just 11-7 and closing with two losses to Central and Eastern Michigan. They've still got plenty of talent, especially on offense where they ranked #2 in the MAC and have four double digit scorers led by Julius Brown (16p and 4a per game). In a conference that's mostly a crapshoot, a lot of offense is a good start.
THE PICK: Buffalo. I just mentioned how the conference is a crapshoot, and it is, and in this kind of situation it doesn't make sense to pick a team without one of the byes to the semis since there's no standout upset pick. I'm going with the Bulls. Most teams in the MAC are standouts on one side of the ball and are weak on the other. Buffalo ranks as the #3 offense and #4 defense, the only MAC team in the top 4 in both. They also closed the season on a 6 game winning streak which included wins over Akron, at Kent State, and a sweep of Bowling Green and they have maybe the conference's best player in Justin Moss.
The MEAC, as in most years, is simply terrible. Their representative almost always ends up playing in the play-in round - I was going to look it up but screw it, just trust me. Not last year, however, and maybe not this year if the favorite can continue to run the table.
FAVORITE: North Carolina Central. Last season the Eagles went 25-5 in the regular season with a 15-1 MEAC record and stomped through the conference tournament on their way to a #14 seed and a date with Iowa State. The managed to hang with the Cyclones for the first half before the wheels kind of came off, but it was a pretty good showing for a MEAC team (and on the heels of another, Norfolk State, knocking off Duke the year before had the conference looking good). This year the Eagles are again on a terror, having gone 24-6 with a 16-0 conference season.
SLEEPER: Maryland Eastern Shore. This geographically specific college was one of the few teams to put up a fight against UNCC, losing by just five in their only meeting against the Eagles, and they crushed second place Norfolk State by 18 on their way to an 11-5 third place finish. They hit a pretty astonishing 42% from 3 in conference play with three guys who hit 57 or more on the season, all of whom were at 40% or better. That's a lot of weapons, and if some combination get hot they could run the table here.
THE PICK: North Carolina Central. I can't come up with a single reason to not pick these guys. In MEAC played they scored a conference best 1.13 points per possession while allowing just 0.87 points per possession, also a conference best. The best way to beat a team this dominant (in conference) is to hit a bunch of threes, but UNCC is really good at defending them. They only have two guys back from last year's team, but this might be a better version of last year's team.