CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK NOTEBOOK
197 Teams remain….I think. That includes BYU, Gonzaga, Oral Roberts, Wichita State, Iona, Dexel, and George Mason who all lost in their conference tournaments, but remain on the board. It also includes Penn, who can tie Harvard for first place in the Ivy League tonight.
-For those of you who missed the action last night, I’ve got two words for you. I’m sorry.
I’ll start with this….
-Everyone loves a good upset. To me, though, a good upset is when a good team that isn’t getting much credit because of conference affiliation, or lack of history, or whatever, gets a chance to prove themselves, and does it. The kind of upsets I don’t necessarily like are what we’ve seen in some of these conference tournaments. Good teams like Oral Roberts, Iona, Middle Tennessee, and now Denver have a bad game, and/or run into a lesser deserving team that has a good game, and suddenly that wipes out the entire season. This makes for less deserving teams in the NCAA Tournament, and consequently less intriguing match-ups.
-Oral Roberts remains under consideration, but one has to think they are a long shot after their semifinal loss to Western Illinois in the Summit Tournament. ORU did not play with energy out of the gate, but appeared to have the game in control in the second half when they turned a six point deficit into a nine point lead. However, in the final four minutes of play, ORU had one bad possession after another, and didn’t take a single good shot. All they had to do was convert one. This enabled Western Illinois to get the lead, and even when ORU had a chance to win at the end, they still failed to get off a good shot. Western Illinois advances to the championship game to face South Dakota State, who won their semifinal game easily. South Dakota State may not be as dangerous as Oral Roberts, but they are still capable of making someone sweat in the round of 64.
-The Sun Belt was also exciting. Western Kentucky has risen from the dead and had themselves quite a week. They ended the regular season with a win over rival Middle Tennessee, and have since knocked off Florida International, UALR and now Denver to reach the conference championship game. It’s their fifth straight win, and a classic case of a team having a bad year, but getting red hot down the stretch. They will face North Texas tonight, who also failed to finish the regular season with a div1 winning record, but has strung together back-to-back close wins in the conference tournament. The winner will be on their way to Dayton, and as much as I hate the opening round, it seems appropriate for the winner of this game.
-Davidson is by far the most deserving and most dangerous team out of the SoCon. They wrapped up the automatic bid, but it wasn’t easy. Western Carolina had a blah season, but looked like worldbeaters in this game against Davidson. Every time you thought they were dead, they would get up off the mat, hit a big shot, and be back in the game. It went into double overtime, and Western Carolina had chances to pull off the upset. As much as you hate to see a valiant effort go unrewarded, you do like to see a team like Davidson rewarded for playing well all season long. This is a team that already has a win against Kansas, and will not be an easy match-up in the round of 64.
-While that was going on, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga were also playing in a thriller. Both teams appeared to be safely in the field, so the game had more to do with the rivalry and with the conference championship than anything else. SMC appeared to have the game wrapped up in regulation, but Gonzaga came back to force overtime. In the end, SMC prevailed, and for the first time finished in first place and won the conference tournament. One has to think they’ll be ahead of Gonzaga on the S curve.
-Earlier in the evening, VCU had an unbelievable first half, and Drexel countered with an unbelievable second half, but just couldn’t get over the hump. VCU wrapped up the Colonial Championship and is going back to the NCAA Tournament. Unlike last year, they will not have to play in the opening round. Drexel is a good team, and I think they belong in, but the real committee doesn’t care what I think. I’m lucky if our mock committee cares what I think. They’re squarely on the bubble and at the mercy of the committee. A lack of quality wins will work against them.
-Loyola MD is dancing for the first time since 1994 with their win over Fairfield in the MAAC Championship. Iona is still on the bubble, but one has to think their chances are far from good.
-Valparaiso is all sold out for the Horizon League Championship tonight. It would be their first conference championship, and first trip back to the dance since joining the league. They beat Butler handily over the weekend, and one would think they would be favored to beat Detroit tonight.
-The Big Sky semis are also tonight, and the stage is set for the top two seeds, Weber State and Montana to meet for the championship if both can win tonight. Montana is hosting, and they have just two home losses all year ,neither of which were conference games. That includes a rather decisive win over Weber State to end the regular season.
-Big finish to the Ivy Leage as Penn faces Princeton. If Penn wins, they’ll face Harvard on Saturday in a one game, winner take all playoff. A Penn loss will give Harvard the automatic bid due to an outright first place finish.
-The Big East Opening round gets underway today, and it involves Seton Hall and UConn, who are under consideration. They will be considered more favorably if they avoid a loss today.
-The Atlantic Ten opening round tips off at campus sites tonight. Dayton is hosting George Washington, and Saint Joseph’s is hosting Charlotte. Both are under consideration, and Saint Joe’s is actually my pick to win the tournament, but both will likely be out of the field if they can’t manage wins tonight.
-The Road to Dayton that is the MEAC Tournament also tips off today as their opening round gets underway.
Enjoy the games!!!