Gotta love conference tournament season. Figured we'd get the band back together for some conference tournament picks. Our picks to win each of the major conference tournaments this week.
Big East Tournament (March 10-14) - Madison Square Garden, New York City (ESPN)
The Cardinals have been the best team in the Big East all year in my opinion. Other than a clunker against Notre Dame (when we came out blazing) and a blow-out loss against UConn when the Huskies were playing their best, Louisville didn’t lose a game and won most of their games comfortably.
I’m cheating here, as the afternoon games on the first day have already been completed. However, I was not going out on a limb with either UC or Georgetown, so I feel comfortable still making a pick. I was really torn between UConn and Pitt. If it came to it, I don’t know if Pitt could beat UConn three times in one season. But on the other hand, Pitt ALWAYS seems to bring it in New York, while it seems like other teams are often just there to stay healthy and win some games. I think veterans like Calhoun and Pitino aren’t thrilled with these conference tournaments, and their teams play with just a little bit less intensity than the regular season.
Two other things: I’m ok with two guys winning Big East POY. DeJuan Blair. Terrence Williams. That’s it. There should be no other player under consideration as far as I’m concerned. Luke Harangody isn’t even in the mix (NOTE: I just saw that Blair and Thabeet are co- POY’s. I think I can talk myself into Thabeet. I know he doesn’t score, but he totally changes games at the defensive end unlike anyone else in the country). And as far as Notre Dame in the tournament, I think the game with Rutgers is a toss up and a game against West Virginia is a sure loss. I’ve watched this team all year. I see ZERO evidence that they are capable of going on any sort of run.
Before we get into the picks, allow me to wax bittersweet about the magic of conference tournaments. For as long as I can remember, conference tournament season (defined herein as the two weeks during which the various conferences host their tournaments and described herein without the contrived ESPN/ABC/Disney “Championship Week” moniker) has been my most favorite time of the year in sports.
While the NCAA tournament, particularly the first round, is great in its own right, conference tournament week is unparalleled for devotees of college basketball. For the hopeless dreamer, conference tournaments are a time where every team can hold on tight to that final dream of greatness, however ephemeral. For the true college basketball fan, conference tournaments are a time where the natural beauty of the game can be enjoyed without ignorant poseurs feigning expertise and speaking incessantly about their brackets. For the gambling enthusiast, conference tournaments are a time where games are played, and action is laid, in all corners of this fine country at all hours of the day. Simply put, conference tournaments, for those who cherish this fine sport, are a .
In light of the foregoing, it is with great sorrow that I will not be in Las Vegas to view these tournaments. Sadly, for the first time since 2002, there will be no poring over the opening lines at 7:00 a.m. PT over an egg sandwich and an Irish Coffee. No sitting behind the fans of a particular team at the sportsbook and loudly cheering against them. No lauding the boundless energy and spirit of Renaldo Balkman. No attempting to charm the cashiers into handing out extra complementary drink tickets. No asking departing fans, against whose favorite team I loudly cheered, for their drink tickets. No imploring Mike Krzyzewski to take out his starters and think of the gamblers. No chasing back my losses for the day with one final bet on Utah State or Pacific. No regaling fellow patrons at the blackjack or craps with our late night comedy stylings. Sad, sad, sad.
On to the predictions: Despite Pittsburgh’s well documented victory in Storrs last month, Connecticut has the most balanced team in the Big East. As such, I am quite comfortable casting my lot with the Huskies, particularly insofar as Jim Calhoun, unlike other coaches, has always placed a high emphasis on the importance of the Big East tournament.
I am FIRED up for the Big East Tournament!! As far as I'm concerned, the Big East tournament is the best one of them all. The games are at the Garden, the crowds are usually great, and there's something about seeing games on the big NYC stage that makes it special. Plus, I love the Friday night Semifinal and Saturday Night Final. It's a perfect vehicle to promote the league.
As for conference tournaments in general, I'm a fan. It's the perfect appetizer for the NCAAs, and you have games and final scores coming in from every direction. It's the only time of the year when you can turn on just about every channel and there is a great college basketball game on.
Might as well take a flier here right out of the chute and take Nova. I love their draw. They'll beat Marquette, and I think they can get by Louisville to get to the Final. Nova obviously has flaws, but I like how they play and love those guards.
My head says to take Pitt because I think they are the best team in the league, but I'd like to see a little magic at Madison Square Garden. Honestly, if I was Jamie Dixon, I think I'd lay off the gas on this team a little bit and maybe even let them bow out early. Pitt has traditionally owned the Big East Tournament, but I think it costs them when they get to the NCAAs. Maybe an early exit would give them some rest and let them work on some things to gear up for the different style of play that you see in the Big Dance. Playing rugby in the Big East Tournament isn't going to really prep them at all for NCAA Tournament play, and it'll probably wear them out.
I'm writing this pick as I watch Cincinnati fold up like a tent and lose to DePaul. What a turrrrrrrrrible loss. They couldn't have looked less interested out there today. Can't happen. UC lost to USF, Seton Hall, and DePaul to finish the season, and now probably won't even make the NIT. Not a good finish for Mick Cronin. I've already gotten a couple "Mick has to go" text messages from law school peeps, and I have to say that I'm getting close to that point. That's two consecutive years where UC has collapsed down the stretch. I like the talent on this team with Vaughn and Gates and some other promising players, but at what point are they going to put it together and play with some heart?? I think Mick has put himself into a position where he has to go to the NCAAs next year or he's in real trouble. There are all kinds of good young coaches around the Midwest, so he can easily be replaced if he doesn't take a major step forward next year.
Bad news for Providence that DePaul won though. I think they are going to have to knock off Louisville to get the statement win they need to push them into the dance. Providence as they stand today doesn't belong if you ask me. Of their 10 wins in conference, 8 of their wins were against St. Johns, DePaul, Cincinnati (twice), Seton Hall, South Florida, and Rutgers (twice). In other words, 80% of their league wins were against the 6 worst teams in the league!! And people are saying they should be in the NCAAs because they beat up on the bottom of the league?? Give me a break. The Big East is a great league, but there are also a lot of bottom feeders in the Big East. It has an unusually weak bottom, so there's opportunity there for teams to feast on the bottom and put up a good record.
Providence's OOC record doesn't help things either. They lost to Northeastern, Baylor, and St. Marys and didn't beat anyone. I don't think they belong at this point. If they want to prove otherwise, go beat Louisville and prove me wrong.
As for the Irish, I don't particularly like this draw, but it is the kind of draw that we could use to play our way into the NCAA Tournament. As crazy as it sounds, I actually think ND has an outside shot if we make a run (and that's obviously debateable as to whether we do that). Rutgers, West Virginia, Pitt. That would be an impressive run. We're 8-10 now, and 3 wins would put us at 11-10.
Would that be enough?? Why not?? The bubble is so incredibly weak this year that I think there could be room for us to make a big move. If we beat all those teams and Providence loses to Louisville, why wouldn't we deserve to go ahead of them?? I think we would. Our computer numbers are still better than theirs, and we destroyed them on their floor.
Now will we beat WVU and Pitt on back to back nights?? I don't see it, but at least they are the types of games that could get the attention of the committee. Playing DePaul and Cincy or something like that isn't going to give us any attention, so I'd rather go out and try to beat two really good teams.
Anyway, I could see about 20 different scenarios for how this plays out. I could see someone like WVU making a run with Huggs, I could see Pitt, I could see UConn, and I could see Louisville winning this thing of course. I didn't even realize Louisville was in position to win the league. I'm not in love with them, but how can I turn my nose at a team that just went 16-2 in the Big East??
Sleeper: Syracuse - Not gonna lie that I wanted to pick them to win it, but their draw is really tough. They'd have to go through UConn and Pitt just to get to the Final. I am still intrigued by this Syracuse team, but would be shocked to see that happen.
Big 12 - (March 11-14) - Ford Center - Oklahoma City - (ESPN and Big 12 Network)
Even though Kansas won the regular conference season title, Oklahoma was pretty unbeatable without Blake Griffin. Now that he has had a couple games back to re-adjust, they roll to an easy tourney victory.
My non Big East / ACC hoops viewing this season has been limited, so I’m afraid I don’t have any great insights into the Big 12. Seek out Ron Franklin and Fran Fraschilla for any expert opinion. I have caught Kansas a couple of times, and I just didn’t come away that impressed. I don’t know what has been the problem with Texas all season – I came away really impressed with them after Maui. As for the other contenders, I don’t think Mike Anderson’s style of play holds up in a conference tournament format, and I think Oklahoma might be caught lacking the motivation to make a big run. Like I talked about above, not every team can get properly motivated to go after the conference tournament championship. Oklahoma has proven they are really good and Blake Griffin has had that concussion issue.
Although Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma have separated themselves from the rest of the league, this year’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament could be a wide open affair. I am tempted to pick Travis Ford, who may eventually assume the helm for Kentucky if Billy Clyde Gillespie cannot straighten things out in a hurry, to lead his rapidly improving Oklahoma State Cowboys out of the pack in a relatively wide open Big 12 race. On further reflection, however, Oklahoma seems like the more logical pick, as an inspired Blake Griffin will be duly inspired to bring home a conference championship before selling his soul to join the joyless Bataan Death March also known as the NBA.
Rock Chalk! I know nothing about the Big 12. Give me the Jayhawks.
Big 10 - (March 12-15) - Conseco Fieldhouse - Indianapolis - (Big Ten Network/ESPN2/ESPN/CBS)
Dan: Michigan State
Want to watch miserable basketball? Be sure to tune in to the big 10 tourney. The #1 seed has one 3 of the last 4 years, and the other year it was the #2 seed. In fact, since inception in 1998, a team other than #1 or #2 has only won twice (1998 and 2001), so don’t look for upsets here.
Matt: Michigan State
Ugh. If a whole conference plays mediocre basketball, should that whole conference be rewarded come Selection Sunday? After Michigan State, there were 7 teams from 11-7 to 9-9 in conference play. They all beat up on each other – and with the exception of Michigan – most of their “quality” wins come from beating each other. Penn State’s best win is against the last place team in the ACC by two points. They lost to two bubble teams from the Atlantic 10 in Rhode Island and Temple. That is the resume of a tournament team? Wisconsin’s best win is at Virginia Tech. Needless to say, I’m not a big believer in the Big 10 teams this year, and I will be betting and picking against them accordingly next week.
As usual under Tom Izzo, Michigan State has risen to the top of the Big Ten standings this year, thereby notching the #1 seed in Indianapolis. Notwithstanding my immense respect for Izzo and my belief in the benefits of having a battle tested coach in the postseason, I am aware that conference tournaments often produce wacky outcomes. Consequently, I will take a flyer on another fine leader, Bo Ryan, whose Badgers seem to have found their bearings after an unusally rough midseason patch. Look for Ryan and company to eliminate the Spartans from the Big 10 Tournament for the third consecutive year, thus eliminating any bubble worries in Madison.
Michigan State is the best team in the league, but I have a feeling that Izzo is going to pull the plug early on the Big Ten tourney and gear his team up for the NCAAs. The Big Ten tourney is usually a slug fest, and I'd be willing to bet that Izzo doesn't want to wear his team out. Just a feeling there. He's already got the #2 seed locked up with almost no chance to move up to a #1 seed, so there's really nothing to play for by winning this thing. I seem to recall a couple of his teams bowing out in the first round of the BTT and then making a deep run in the NCAAs the next week.
I like MSU a lot this year though. It's your classic Tom Izzo MSU team. Tough on defense and the boards, lots of veteran guys that play smart and tough, and Tom Izzo pulling the strings on that sideline. Izzo knows how to coach in the tournament. He knows what type of defense you need to play without drawing a lot of fouls, and there is no one mentally tougher than MSU. They value every possession, and that's what you need to do in the NCAAs. Teams that are careless with the ball and dig themselves in holes by getting sloppy are the kinds of teams that get themselves into big holes in the tournament.
A lot of people have been knocking the Big Ten as unworthy of 6-7 teams, but I think every bubble team in the league has a viable claim for an at-large bid when you consider how weak the bubble is this year. If you look at them individually, I don't have a problem with a lot of them.
MSU, Illinois, and Purdue are locks
Wisconsin - Wisconsin doesn't have a lot of quality wins out of league, but their RPI is strong and they've been red hot lately. They are only at 10-8, but I think they were unusually unlucky this year They lost to Minny in OT, lost to Iowa in OT, lost to Purdue by 1, and lost to Northwestern by 3. If they had won a couple of those games, they'd probably be at around 13-5 right now. I think Wisky is going to make a run in the Big Ten tourney and leave no doubt.
Michigan - Man, I thought Michigan was done when they lost to Iowa, and yet they have battled back to get to .500 in the league. Hoenstly, I think Michigan belongs. They had the guts to schedule Duke, UCLA, and UConn in OOC play, and they beat two of those teams. If you have proven that you can beat UCLA and Duke, I think there has to be a place for you in the dance.
Michigan is a great example of a team that hasn't learned the RPI game. If you look at the tough games they've played and the wins that they have, Michigan should have an RPI in the low 30s. Instead, they are in the 50s. They played five 300+ RPI teams in OOC play, and that has killed their RPI. If Michigan beats Iowa, I think they will get in.
Penn State - I think Penn State has the weakest case, but it's not like they are some garbage team. They went 10-8, won at Michigan State, beat Purdue, and beat Illinois twice. They have some things going for them, and I think they are in if they beat Indiana and Illinois.
Minnesota - They are pretty borderline, but they beat Louisville on a neutral floor!! And as silly as it sounds, that win over Cornell isn't all that bad after they won the Ivy League. Minny doesn't really have any bad losses, and their RPI is decent. They gotta win that Northwestern game to have a shot.
Ohio State - I think the Buckeyes could be sweating if they lose to Wisconsin on Friday, but I still think they are in pretty good shape no matter what. They beat Butler, won at Miami(FL), beat ND on a neutral floor, and they really don't have any bad losses. 10-8 with a good RPI should be enough.
Their resume is good enough, but I will say that the committee would probably not put them in the field if they actually watched them play. They have talent, but it is painful to watch. They've turned into the Evan Turner "one on five" show. It's ugly basketball, and it makes me wonder where Thad is planning to take this program. I think they are losing to Wisky and losing in the first round of the NCAAs. Should be interesting to see who is leaving and who is back. I expect Mullens to leave (especially after reading that incredibly sad story in the Columbus Dispatch about his life growing up), and I think Turner will test the waters even though he insists he is coming back.
So how many teams does that lead to for at-large bids?? I'd say at least 6 with a possibility for 7. I do not see the Big 10 getting 8 teams in. There will be enough upsets this weekend to knock one of those Big 10 teams off the bubble.
ACC - (March 12-15) Georgia Dome - Atlanta (Raycom/ESPN)
Dan: North Carolina
I hate to keep picking the favorites, but I thought they were the best team in the country in November and they are the best team in the country in March. As long as Ty Lawson looks to distribute first and score second (he’ll still get his points), they should not have any problems.
Matt: Wake Forest
I’m already salivating over the 2010 ACC Tournament 20 minutes down the road in Greensboro. To me, the ACC and the Big East are the premier conference tournaments in terms of pomp and circumstance and fan passion. There have been some classic games in both of these leagues – the Randolph Childress tournament being the pinnacle – over the years. Wake has already proven that they can beat anyone in the league. And by getting the two seed, they avoid Carolina until a potential matchup in the final. I’m not a huge fan of Wake’s style of play, with them going through lulls of no defense and simply outpressing and outrunning the competition. But I think they have the depth and the hunger to make a run. Motivation is often a key factor in success during these tournaments. Look for James Johnson to have a huge week and walk away with MVP honors.
Mike: North Carolina
North Carolina, although not infallible as some pundits surmised in December, appears to be back in championship form as the postseason commences. Meanwhile, the other contenders in the ACC have each shown plenty of flaws in conference play. With a deep, veteran team and Ole’ Roy calmly drinking his Co-Cola on the sidelines with the money that he pilfered from his momma, the Heels should cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome on Sunday (or perhaps Monday, depending on the tornado forecast in Atlanta).
Doug: North Carolina
Unless Carolina just doesn't show up for this thing (which could happen), I'd be crazy not to take the Tar Heels here. There's too much talent on that roster, and they have the type of group that will probably want to go out by winning the ACC tournament title. Can't you picture Hansborough going all out to win this thing one last time while Dickie V waxes poetically about how "special" he is and how great it was that he played at UNC for four years?? Me too.
As for Duke, I'm not sure what they'll do in the NCAA Tournament, but I think Duke is more intriguing this year than they've been in the past couple years. It's sort of a strange approach to have no true point guard on the floor, but I think it may turn out to be a good move. At least they might have some matchups that they can exploit with all those quality wings on the floor. I don't think they are a Final Four team by any stretch, but moving Williams in and moving Paulus out makes them more athletic and more dangerous. It's probably going to depend on the matchups when they get into the tourney. If they play a really athletic team with a good big man early on, they're in trouble.
I'd love to see that Duke-Wake matchup in the semis, but I have a feeling we are headed for a boatload of upsets in this tournament.
Sleeper pick: I'm going to go with BC for this one. I could see them making a run.
SEC - March 12-15 - St. Pete Times Forum - Tampa - (Raycom/CBS)
I really want to pick a team other than the #1 seed (and OU doesn’t count), but I just can’t do it here. The majority of the SEC blows. I am thinking the two straight losses to Vandy and Auburn will be enough to wake them up in time for the conference tourney. Not to mention Marcus Thornton can play the game of the basketball. Play it well, in fact.
Why not? As Georgia proved last year, anything is possible. Auburn is the hottest team in the country and doesn’t have to go through any powerhouses to get it done. My second pick would be Tennessee, but something has been a little off with them all year. It will be interesting to see how Kentucky does this week. The natives at Catspause aren’t too happy right now – I can’t imagine Billy G will be sleeping well if UK goes one and done.
Mike: South Carolina
Trent Johnson appears to be the runaway favorite for SEC Coach of the Year honors for his fine turnaround job with LSU, but Darrin Horn’s fine work in Columbia should not be overlooked. South Carolina boasts the strongest backcourt in the SEC (Devan Downey and Zam Frederick) and the Gamecocks trot out an imposing frontline of athletes who can defend and block shots. As a bonus sleeper pick, keep an eye out for the Auburn Tigers, who are finally healthy and proving that they can compete with anyone in the league.
Doug: South Carolina
South Carolina has been my sleeper team for the last couple months, so I might as well take a shot on them here. If anyone is looking for a sleeper team in the NCAAs, I'd toss out the Gamecocks as a possibility. I love Devan Downey and would kill to have him still on the Bearcats. He's the kind of guy who could carry them a round or two on his back. They are streaky, but they are pretty good when they're hot.
I'm not really married to any of these SEC teams, so I think we're going to get an upset winner who comes out of nowhere. I'd love to see Auburn win this thing. I had no idea they went 10-6 in the SEC this year. If they beat Florida in the quarters, I think they should get in.
One team that is not getting into the NCAAs is Kentucky. Stick a fork in the Wildcats and Billy Gillespie for that matter. I'm not sure he's going to survive the year, and there are rumblings that he might be gone. His team basically quit on him. What other great coach has a team that quits on him at the end of the year, especially when the coach is only in his second year with the program?? I thought it was going to be a great fit with his record down at UTEP and Texas A&M, but it's not working out at this point. When you have guys like Meeks and Patterson and a bunch of other talented players, there's no reason you can't even make the NCAA Tournament in a terrible SEC.
I think Kentucky should just pull the plug after this year and go get Travis Ford. Look at what Travis Ford is doing out at Oklahoma State. He's got them back in the NCAAs in his first year. He won at Eastern Kentucky, he won at UMass, he's a Pitino disciple, he grew up in Kentucky and bleeds blue, and he loves the up tempo style. If you are a fan of a big time basketball program, deep down you want to have a coach who prefers an up tempo game that attracts recruits. I'm sure there would be some growing pains for Ford, but I think he'd be a great long term fit. Everything about his pedigree makes sense at Kentucky, and he's the kind of upbeat guy that kids will want to play for. I know he doesn't have a lot of experience, but haven't we seen enough examples of young head coaches doing great in football and basketball to know that experience is not the only criteria?? I'd rather hire a stud up and comer over some more experienced guy who has a high floor and a low ceiling.
And for all those "they never should have fired Tubby" clowns out there, just stop before you look silly. Tubby was not the answer at Kentucky. He took over a program at the pinnacle of college basketball and turned them into a 7-8 seed type program. If he had stayed another year or two, he would have done even more damage. Tubby is a good coach, but he wore out his welcome at Kentucky and put them in a huge recruiting hole for no reason. It's silly to argue that Tubby shouldn't have been fired just because Gillespie hasn't worked out. That's like the hacks who have been saying that ND shouldn't have fired Willingham just because Weis hasn't delivered at this point. These are not related issues. There are great coaches out there who could revive Kentucky basketball, but they haven't found that guy yet. Tubby is doing fine up at Minnesota, but it's not like he won the Big Ten this year. He has produced slightly above-average teams at Minnesota. That's not good enough at Kentucky.
One other note while I'm here. Lane Kiffin, are you kidding me?? He was telling recruits that they'd be pumping gas for life if they go to South Carolina?? Really?? Even though South Carolina has a better graduation rate than UT and is probably a better all-around school?? My god, not only do I think Kiffin is going to get exposed as a fraud, I am actively rooting against this guy at this point. He comes off like a complete jerk. I wonder how those southern gents down in Tennessee are dealing with a pompous clown like Kiffin spouting off every chance he gets.
Pac 10 - (March 11-14) - Staples Center - Los Angeles - (FSN/ESPN)
While Isaiah Thomas and the Hoosiers, err Huskies, may have taken town the PAC 10 title in the regular season, Howland and the Bruins know how to play tournament style basketball. They’ve won 2 of the past 3, and are quite comfortable in Staples, right in their backyard.
Another conference that I’m just not up to speed on this year. I haven’t seen the regular season champs Washington in action this year. I just think that UCLA has the veterans in Shipp and Collison to get the job done, not to mention the best coach in the country in Ben Howland. Yes, I am proclaiming Howland the best coach in the country.
More than any other tournament, the Pac 10 tournament is truly anyone’s game. In fact, it would not surprise me to see a team like Washington State or Southern California capture the postseason crown in Anaheim Despite this great balance, I like the #1 seed, Washington, to culminate its impressive comeback from the depths of the league with a conference tournament championship to complement its regular season title.
I admittedly don't watch a lot of Pac 10 basketball, so I'm going with the baby blue Bruins of Westwood. They haven't been great this year, but I still think there's too much talent on that roster to take them lightly. Between Collison, Shipp, and Aboya, you still have 3 veteran guys to go with Holliday. Ben Howland knows how to prepare his teams defensively to win in the Tournament. If UCLA is a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, I would be terrified of them if I was one of the 1 seeds.
Possible sleeper - Washington State. Seems like they have been a giant slayer of late. Could be a team to keep an eye on.
Speaking of West Coast basketball, I'm curious to see where Gonzaga ends up. They've gone from Cinderella to goat over the years, but I think they might finally have a team this year that can make a run. I watched some of their game against St. Mary's the other night. They were impressive. They have so many skilled wings, and their big man is pretty good too. I got burnt out by the Gonzaga hype, but I like them a little bit this year.
Atlantic 10 - (March 11-14) - Boardwalk Hall - Atlantic City - (CSTV/ESPN)
Alright, let’s bring in the upset here. Temple is a team that knows how to win in the conference tourney (they won last year), they have good guard play, and nothing to lose. Xavier is in the tournament, regardless of whether or not they win the conference tourney. Sounds like a recipe for a potential upset.
Maybe the most wide open tournament in the country will be held on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Seriously, would you even bat an eye if Xavier, Dayton, Rhode Island, St Joes or Temple won this thing? I think the Atlantic 10 is one of the more underrated leagues year after year. Any of those teams listed above could easily win a game or two in the NCAA’s, but if Xavier wins the conference tournament, there will probably only be two teams in.
I think the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of the mid to low majors, to the point where people are making up excuses to get multiple Valley teams in and debating the at large candidacy of teams like Utah State and San Diego State and Siena, when there are some really good teams that are being dismissed. Temple played Clemson, at Penn State, at Kansas, at Villanova, Tennessee and Kent State. That is an incredible nonconference schedule! I’m embarrassed to be a Notre Dame fan with our creampuff schedules. They probably didn’t win enough games to make it in as an at large, but I think that they sneak in the backdoor by winning this tournament.
Mike: Rhode Island
As a child of the Northeast and a supporter of Catholic higher education, it should come as no surprise that I am a longtime fan of A10 hoops. Accordingly, I am characteristically excited about the 2009 A10 tournament. Even though Xavier has been the torchbearer for the conference this year, there is no shortage of teams that could strike it rich in Atlantic City this year. To wit: Temple has been strong all year, Dayton has already defeated the Musketeers, and the Saints (Louis and Joseph) are solid contenders led by proven winners in Rick Majerus and Phil Martelli. My prediction, however, is that the surging Rhode Island Rams will ride their recent wave of momentum to a conference title, thereby making the A10 a possible three-bid league, depending on Dayton’s fate.
Doug: Rhode Island
All I know about this tournament is that Xavier and Dayton will not win this thing. I think the A-10 has an unofficial rule that you aren't allowed to win the conference tournament if you already have an at-large bid locked up. I can't remember the last time Xavier or one of the big names in this league actually won the conference tournament.
They are going to do everything possible to get 3 teams in the NCAAs. Honestly, I don't blame them. There is nothing to gain for the league from Xavier winning the tournament.
Xavier seems bored to me. I think they'll slip another seed or two and then be an EXTREMELY frisky 6 seed or something like that.
Great location for this one by the way. Atlantic City. That's outstanding.
MAC - (March 10, 12-14) - Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland - (Fox Sports Ohio/ESPN2)
Umm… they play basketball in the MAC? The winner of the MAC West was 7-9 in conference. The last place team in MAC East was 7-9 in conference. I found that interesting. Other than that, who cares?
Matt: Kent State
First, let me say that I love MAC Madness at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. They always attract good crowds there, probably since just about every school is within about a couple hour drive of Cleveland. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a conference as lopsided as the MAC. The MAC East has all of the good teams, with every single team in the MAC West under .500 both in conference and overall. Kent State always seems to make a run in March, so I’ll go with the Golden Flashes.
Homer alert! Since I have not seen any MAC games this year, it would be dishonest for me to assert that I will be making this prediction based on any firsthand knowledge. As a tiebreaker, therefore, I will allow my Western New York bias to serve as the basis for this pick.
I probably would have picked Miami even if they were sitting at 5-11 in the MAC, so I feel good about this pick when you consider that Miami is a pretty good team this year. Miami has traditionally been strong in the MAC Tournament, so I'll give the nod to Charlie Coles and the Redhawks. They have a bunch of seniors on this team, so hopefully they step up in Cleveland.
How about the resurgence of Buffalo athletics? They won the MAC in football and now have won the MAC regular season title in basketball. I would be willing to bet that they have never won either one before. What's going on up there?? More specifically, who is their athletic director?? He must have a pretty good eye for coaching talent. Might be someone to keep an eye on.
Demographics have hurt all the Midwestern leagues, but I think it has particularly hurt the MAC. The schools in the MAC used to have really strong programs that were only a slight notch below some of the middle of the road Big 10 programs. It seemed like there was always a MAC team making noise in the 90s. Unfortunately, the MAC is pretty much running on fumes these days. When was the last time a MAC team was really a factor in the NCAA Tournament?? Kent State in 2002?? It's been awhile. The schools in that league don't seem to be able to hold up in the NCAAs or bowl games anymore. I think population losses have really hurt the MAC. The best schools like Ohio State and Michigan State are always going to find talent by getting the best kids in the Midwest, but the talent pool isn't as deep. Schools like Miami used to be able to fill their rosters with talented kids that were overlooked by Big Ten schools, but it's getting harder and harder to find these players. And with all these programs emerging in the south (Troy, Florida Atlantic, etc) and more schools coming in a couple years (University of Texas-San Antonio and Georgia State), it's practically impossible for MAC schools to go down south to look for talent.
WAC - (March 10-14) - Lawlor Events Center - Reno - (ESPNU/ESPN2)
The Wolf Pack begin their rise to sport fame, which culminates in a victory of Notre Dame next fall, with a conference tourney. Led by Nick Fazekas… Oh, wait. He’s not there anymore? Hrm… screw it, I’ll stick with them.
Matt: Utah State
It seems like Utah State has choked in these situations in recent years, but I’ll go with them to win it this year in an underwhelming WAC. I haven’t seen Utah State play this year (has anyone?), and they may very well be a fine team. But their best win is against Utah. Their second best win is…um….Wyoming? I’m sorry, but that is not the profile of an NCAA at large team.
While I’m discussing mid major profiles, I wanted to discuss Jay Bilas’ recent rantings about the selection process of the tournament. He has been preaching that the automatic bids for conference winners should be eliminated and the committee selects the best 64 teams. I have to say…that is the worst idea I have heard in a long time, and I say that as someone who usually agrees with Bilas. I disagree with it on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin. First, the conference tournaments are great for the low majors. I thoroughly enjoyed that Morehead State – Austin Peay double OT showdown the other night. Imagine if games like that weren’t to get into the tournament. Second, some of the classic games in NCAA tournament history were with these low majors getting a crack at the big guys. That Hampton coach going nuts after they beat Iowa State remains one of the memorable images in NCAA lore. Finally, I don’t need to see the Notre Dame’s and Maryland’s and USC’s of the basketball world in the NCAA. These teams have had PLENTY of chances to prove they are worthy – and the truth is they aren’t. I would much rather see a small conference winner get a shot than see a 17-13 Notre Dame team in as a 11 seed.
Bolstered by a schedule that would make Syracuse’s usual December slate look like a gauntlet, Utah State has run roughshod through the downtrodden WAC this year. Still, in their first tournament without the immortal Jaycee Carroll in what seems like 10 years, I cannot pick Stew Morrell’s Aggies to survive in Reno this year. As such, it will be a tense Selection Sunday in Logan, Utah, and not just for the employees of the nearby IRS center who are surely feeling overwhelmed by tax returns as April 15th approaches.
The WAC Tournament is interesting this year just for the reason that Utah State is going to be one of the more controversial bubble teams out there. I picked Nevada to win this tournament because the tournament is in Reno and they have been playing their best ball down the stretch. If Nevada wins this tournament, that would leave Utah State in the hands of the NCAA committee for an at-large spot.
Should Utah State get a bid if they don't win the conference tournament?? Lunardi has them in right now as a #11 seed. Their computer numbers are good. Their RPI is great at 27, and their Pomeroy is at 56. They did beat Utah at home in an OOC game, and 27-4 is pretty darn good no matter what league you play in.
But if you look at the rest of their schedule, there just isn't a whole lot of quality there. The only other top 50ish teams on their schedule were St. Marys and BYU, and they lost to both those teams. The WAC is not a very good league this year. Nevada is decent, but everyone else in the league is a sub-100 RPI team.
In theory a 27-4 team from the WAC should be in the NCAA Tournament, but Utah State really hasn't beaten a whole lot of quality teams. Beating Hawaii and San Jose State and Idaho is fine, but all those teams stink. Would a middle of the pack team from the Big East do the same against that competition??
I was once a mid-major basher to some degree in terms of at-large bids, but I have softened my stance in recent years. I wouldn't have a problem with Utah State getting in. 27-4 in the WAC is respectable, and I think it's good for college basketball when different leagues are represented. They were far and away the best team in the WAC all year, and that has to count for something. It seems like there would have to be a place in the tournament for Utah State. Needless to say, every other bubble team out there is hoping that Utah State will win their conference tournament.
Mountain West - (March 11-14) - Thomas & Mack Center - Las Vegas - (Versus)
Dan: Brigham Young
I do love me some Mormons. More mid-major basketball that only Ravi Soni can love.
Pretty nice turnaround for a team that lost their first game of the season to Southwest Houston Baptist. I know nothing about anybody in the Mountain West, so let’s just move on here.
Mike: New Mexico
Another fun aspect about being in Vegas for the conference tournaments is that the Mountain West Tournament takes place at UNLV each year, which would always prompt me to propose that we attend the tournament in person. Invariably, I would be brusquely reminded that such a plan would: (1) cost money, (2) reduce precious drinking time and (3) restrict our ability to watch more meaningful tournaments. Hence, in picking Steve Alford’s Lobos, I cannot genuinely claim that I have any insight regarding the historical track records of Mountain West teams in conference tournament play.
Doug: Brigham Young
The Mountain West Conference live in Vegas!! You know that Thomas & Mack Center is going to be rocking with Mormons! The apple juices and Yoohoos are going to be flowing like wine all weekend in Vegas.
As for the merits of the Mountain West teams, I don't have a problem with Utah or BYU being in the dance, but a closer look reveals that their profiles are pretty weak. Utah lost to Southwest Baptist (a I-AA team!) and Idaho State in OOC play. Really?? If a Big East team had lost to freaking Southwest Baptist, they'd have no shot at the NCAA Tournament. BYU doesn't have any of those eyesore losses, but they don't really have any big wins either. I think the MWC took a page out of the Missouri Valley playbook or something because a lot of teams in the league have unusually good computer rankings. New Mexico is sitting at 21-10 with losses to the likes of Drake, Central Florida, Texas Tech, and UTEP, and yet they have a Pomeroy ranking of 32 and are currently listed by Lunardi as one of the last four teams in the dance.
I don't have a problem with a couple MWC teams getting in. I'm a proponent of that league in general for football, and I think there needs to be representation from a growing region like the Utah/Colorado/Idaho area. But I'm always leery of these RPI manipulation games that mid-major conferences try to pull. It's a smart thing to do, but it doesn't mean I can't see right through it. I would not have New Mexico in the tournament unless they win the conference tourney.
BYU owns Vegas, so I'll go ahead and take them to win the tournament and get the automatic bid.
Conference USA - (March 11-14) - FedEx Forum - Memphis - (CSTV/CBS)
Once the darling of the mid-majors, CUSA has been diminished to a one pony show.
You would have to have a lot of guts to pick someone other than Memphis, considering they have won 56 straight conference games or something like that. Not to mention they are playing it on their home floor. I understand that C-USA wants the biggest crowds, but they are really not giving anybody else a chance by hosting the tournament in Memphis. I think UAB might give Memphis their best game, but nobody will come within 10 points of the Tigers.
Words cannot express how much I despite Memphis. Unfortunately, there is no bona fide reason to believe that any team in this pathetic conference can best the Tigers, especially given that this tournament is being held in Memphis.
As much as I would love to take a flier on somebody like UAB, who am I kidding?? You might as well call it the Memphis Invitational. I wouldn't be surprised if Memphis jumps up to a #1 seed, which still bothers me. When you lose to Xavier, Georgetown, and Syracuse and don't really have many quality wins, you shouldn't be a #1 seed. All Memphis has established is that they are susceptible to losing to middle of the pack Big East teams. How is that good enough for a #1 seed? I don't care how badly you beat Tulsa. Go take your #2 or #3 seed and try to advance the old-fashioned way. If Memphis is really that good, then they'll beat teams and go to the Sweet 16 on their own merits. But I don't think you can hand them a #1 seed because they rolled through the C-USA.