CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK NOTEBOOK
-297 TEAMS REMAIN!!!
-In the earlier stages of Championship Week, you come across opening round games from smaller conferences that involve teams that aren’t likely to get anywhere close to the NCAA Tournament. They’re just playing for the right to play one more game the next day. That’s the prize. Still, that in and of itself can mean a lot to those involved, and as long as they keep winning, their season will not end. This might be a long entry for what many perceive as a bunch of also-rans, but I want to give everyone their due. No one is actually done until they lose.
-In the Big South Winthrop vs Radford was the first official knockout game of 2013 and it went to overtime. Hopefully that’s an omen of what March Madness will offer this year. Winthrop will face Charleston Southern tomorrow. Last year, this game would have been played at Charleston Southern since they are the better seed, but they’ve changed the format and are now playing it at a neutral predetermined site. I don’t like that as much, especially in a league like this. Teams that have good regular seasons and finish first should get more of a reward than simply being able to where white on a neutral floor.
There were a couple of other exciting Big South games as well. Presbyterian had an exciting circus-like comeback to force overtime, and actually had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but Campbell held on to win on overtime. They’ll face Gardner Webb, who didn’t finish in first place, but still looks to be as good as anyone in the league. Longwood played in and won their first ever conference tournament game and will face VMI, and Liberty will face High Point after knocking off the host team that never should have been the host team, Coastal Carolina.
-In the Horizon League, Youngstown State beat Loyola, IL in the final seconds of the game for the third time this season. You could see it coming from a mile away. It’s as if they let Loyola back into the game just so they could beat them at the buzzer again. Youngstown fill face Wright State in the quarters, whom they split the season series with.
Green Bay had no trouble with Milwaukee and UIC had even less trouble with Cleveland State. The quarters and semis will take place at Valparaiso, who was the first place finisher, and the finals will take place at the highest remaining seed.
-The first half of the Atlantic Sun quarterfinals are today. Again, this is a tournament that should protect the regular season champion, but doesn’t. The conference tournament is at a predetermined site. Fortunately, though, that site is Mercer, who won the regular season. Mercer, along with Florida Gulf Coast are the two favorites, and both will play today. I guess the idea is to give the better seeded teams an extra day’s rest prior to the semis. Mercer is a longshot to pull an upset in the NCAA Tournament, but they do have a few notable scalps with wins over Alabama and Florida State. UFGC, of course, beat Miami, FL to open the year.
-The Northeast Quarterfinals are tonight at campus sites. Robert Morris finally broke away at the end of the season and has home court advantage throughout, but could face a Bryant team that beat them at home in the semis. The second through fifth place teams are separated by just one game, so it should be an exciting tournament. This was an exciting league to watch, especially when you know that home court advantage throughout the conference tourney is at stake.
The story of the league, regardless of what happens in the tournament, is Bryant. They were one of the worst teams in div1 a year ago and recently completed the transitional phase of moving up from div2. This year, they were in the race for first place all the way until the very end. They’ve come very far very fast. All the luck in the world to them in the conference tournament.
-The Ohio Valley opening round is tonight. They have changed the structure of that tournament. We’ll have two opening round games, two quarterfinal games, and then we’ll be down to the regular four team semifinal. I could easily see Murray State, Belmont or Eastern Kentucky (who did stumble some down the stretch, but still had a good year) winning this tournament. Murray was abysmal down the stretch, but they still have a high ceiling of potential. I think once they realized they were in an all or nothing situation with the conference tournament, they kind of quit on the remaining regular season. None of those teams play today,though. Morehead will face Tennessee Martin, who barely qualified, and SEMO will square off against Eastern Illinois.
-The Patriot League quarters get kicked off at Campus sites. Bucknell and Lehigh actually appear to be the two best teams, and for much of the season looked like they may get at-larges, but both are out of that picture and will need the automatic bid. Lehigh’s season took a major spill when NBA prospect CJ McCollum broke his foot in a game against VCU. He missed the entire conference season and they were hoping to have him back for the conference tourney, but right now the outlook is not good. Still, they did manage to win at Bucknell without him, so it isn’t completely out of the question that they could win the tourney and get back to the NCAAs. You may recall that they upset Duke a year ago.
-The WCC opening round game is tonight between LMU and Portland. The winner gets San Francisco in the second round. This league invites all the teams, but does no favors for those at the bottom of the league. It’s a nine team conference and the last place team needs to win two games just to get to the quarterfinals.
-One more note of obvious significance last night, and that’s Ohio State’s win at Indiana. Prior to that, Ohio State’s best win away from home was Washington on a neutral floor. Their season opener against Marquette was cancelled because the boat got wet, and although they had close losses at places like Duke, Michigan and Michigan state they hadn’t actually beaten anyone good away from home all year. that has changed now. I think that win easily moves them up a seed line, and maybe two. It’s arguably as good of a road win that any team in the country has this year.
TONIGHT’S OTHER ACTION
-DEPAUL AT SYRACUSE (Big East). Syracuse’s stock has taken a hit, but they’re still very safely in and will be toward the top of the seed list.
-NORTH CAROLINA AT MARYLAND (ACC). North Carolina has been playing much better lately, but they still haven’t looked the best away from home. Maryland is right on the bubble and could use a couple of really big wins.
-OKLAHOMA STATE AT IOWA STATE (Big Twelve). Okie State is safely in and can play their way into a protected seed with a really strong finish. Iowa State is on the bubble and could use some more big wins.
-TEMPLE AT FORDHAM (Atlantic Ten). Temple is as schizophrenic as any team in the country this year. Their wins are terrific. Their losses are awful. It’s hard to say what the committee will do with them. It is safe to say that losing tonight would not serve them well.
-GEORGETOWN AT VILLANOVA (Big East). Villanova has some very big wins, but has been inconsistent overall. Still, the big wins they have will serve them well when compared to the other bubble teams. They’ve lost their last two and really need this one tonight to take the anxiety off. Georgetown could still end up on the #1 line. They’re getting it done both at home and on the road.
-MICHIGAN AT PURDUE (Big Ten). Michigan has Indiana this weekend and doesn’t want to get caught looking ahead.
-VANDERBILT AT FLORIDA (SEC). Florida’s lack of big road wins could hurt their seed. Beating Vandy at home certainly won’t help their seed.
-RICHMOND AT VCU (Atlantic Ten). Richmond pulled the upset in the first meeting between these two rivals. VCU has looked amazing in their last few games, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them run away with this. Once again, VCU is red hot late in the year.
-MINNESOTA AT NEBRASKA (Big Ten). Minney’s profile is good, but they have just three true road wins. Losing to Nebraska would not help them make a case to the committee that they’re good away from home.
-WEST VIRGINIA AT OKLAHOMA (Big Twelve). Oklahoma appears to be solid and should be okay so long as they hold serve against non-tournament caliber teams, especially at home.
-SAINT LOUIS AT XAVIER (Atlantic Ten). SLU is playing like the best team in the conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if they won out all the way through the conference tournament and ended up with a very good seed. Xavier is nowhere near the bubble, but they have been tough to beat at home this year, so SLU will get some credit for winning this if they can pull it off.
-WAKE FOREST AT NC STATE (ACC). NC State has been very tough on their home court and will be safely in with a solid seed so long as they hold serve against non-tournament teams.
-UCLA AT WASHINGTON STATE (Pac Twelve). UCLA has been a huge disappointment this season, at least to those who actually thought they’d be good. Having said that, I think they’ve looked very good down the stretch and think they can make quite a bit of noise in the Pac Twelve, and possibly NCAA Tournaments.
-COLORADO STATE AT WYOMONG (Mountain West, Front Range). Colorado State is safely in the field, but they’re not sitting atop the league and looking at a protected seed like I thougth they might have been. They can, however, finish 6-1 in the mythical Front Range conference, which I think would give them the title. The selection committee won’t care about that, but it is some nice bragging rights for the players and fans.
-NEW MEXICO AT NEVADA (Mountain West). New Mexico has really separated themselves from the rest of the pack and is looking at a very good seed in the NCAA Tournament. Nevada hasn’t had a good year, but they have been pesky at home, so the Lobos can’t expect to just walk all over them.
-STANFORD AT CALIFORNIA (Pac Twelve). Cal is another team that has come on strong lately. Many have them on the bubble. I have them relatively safely inside the field, and they continue to trend up. Don’t expect them to show their crosstown rival any mercy tonight.
-AIR FORCE AT SAN DIEGO STATE (Mountain West). SDSU looked great out of conference, but has struggled in conference. That could be a testament to how strong the league is, though. If they close out the season strong they will be solidly in the field. Even if they fall flat on their face they’re still likely to make it.