Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tournament Field Projections, 3/13/08

Two automatic qualifiers made the NCAA Tournament Wednesday night. Mount St. Mary's won the Northeast Conference tournament, and Portland State won the Big Sky tournament. Outside of that, there was a whole lot of action Wednesday that did not determine a whole lot. Thursday will give us more of the same. Wednesday's and Thursday's first round of conference tournaments will end the seasons of a lot of bad to mediocre teams.

Post-season tournaments serve as a money-making machine for conferences and give every team one more chance to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. In power conferences such as the Big East, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, ACC, and Pac 10, a so-so team has to beat four quality teams in four days in order to earn a bid. A bubble team gets another chance to get one or two quality wins at the end of the season to impress the selection committee. These tournaments can often be dull, but can also be interesting if a team makes an unexpected run to extend their season.

Who's in and who's out from the respective conferences:

In: North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech
UNC is ranked #1 in the country and won the regular season in the ACC. What counts on Tobacco Road, however, is the ACC Tournament, the nation’s oldest post-season tournament. UNC, Duke, and Clemson are lead-pipe locks. Miami should make it, but they need a win in the ACC tournament to make it official. Virginia Tech is in for now, but needs a win or two this week to cinch it up.

America East
In: Winner of conference championship game
Either Maryland-Baltimore County or Hartford will qualify for their first NCAA tournament with a win. UMBC won the regular season and will thus host the championship game against Hartford.

Atlantic Sun
In: Belmont
The Bruins won their third A-Sun tournament in a row to qualify for the Big Dance.

Atlantic 10
In: Xavier, UMass
On the bubble: St. Joseph’s, Temple, Dayton
Xavier is not on the Atlantic coast, and the conference has more than 10 teams, but the X-men are a sure thing for the NCAA tournament. UMass has finished strong, and has a strong non-conference schedule, helping them to make the field. The Minutemen need a strong showing in the conference tournament to stay in the field of 65. St. Joseph’s, Temple, and Dayton are barely on the outside looking in, for now. I’d be shocked if Xavier won this post-season tournament, so the A-10 will possibly get three bids.

Big 12
In: Texas, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas A&M
The Big 12 is strong this year. UT and KU still have a slight chance for #1 seeds. OU and K-State are safely in the tournament. Baylor and A&M are in the tournament, as well, barring 1st round tournament losses to Colorado and Iowa State.

Big East
In: Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette, Connecticut, West Virginia, Pittsburgh
On the bubble: Villanova, Syracuse
16 teams are just way too many for one conference. This group of schools would probably squeeze out a couple more bids if they weren’t in the same conference. Villanova stayed alive for a bid, and knocked Syracuse out of the running with a big win Wednesday at the Garden. Nova now gets a date with Georgetown in the quarterfinals.

Big Sky
In: Portland State
Portland State completed the Big Sky double, winning both the regular season and the post-season tournament. The Vikings could be staring at a UCLA or a Stanford in the first round of the Big Dance.

Big South
In: Winthrop
The Eagles won their eighth Big South tournament title and the accompanying trip to the Tournament.

Big West
In: Post-season tournament champion
UC-Santa Barbara, Cal State-Northridge, and Cal State-Fullerton tied for the regular season title. The tournament will be played at the neutral site of the Anaheim Convention Center, across the street from Disneyland. The winner will be a #15 or #16 seed in the Big Dance.

In: George Mason
On the Bubble: Virginia Commonwealth
Favored George Mason got the auto-bid from the Colonial with a win over William & Mary. VCU is now squarely on the bubble.

Conference USA
In: Memphis
On the Bubble: UAB, Houston
Memphis owns this conference, lock, stock, and barrel. They could do their conference a favor by purposely losing in this tournament (on their home court) and allowing another team to earn the automatic bid. That will be this conference’s best chance to get two teams in the NCAA tournament. UAB is the best of the rest, but the Blazers were drilled at Memphis in their last game.

Horizon League
In: Butler
The Butler did it, defending their top 10 ranking with a thumping of Cleveland State in the finals of the Horizon tournament. Butler now sets their sights on making noise in the NCAA tournament.

In: Cornell
There is no post-season tournament in this league, and the Big Red have run away with the regular season title.

Metro Atlantic
In: Siena
Siena took advantage of the home court and won the MAAC tourney over Rider.

In: Kent State
This is always a wide-open, entertaining tournament. Kent State should be in the Big Dance as long as they don’t implode in the post-season tournament. The MAC could get a second bid if Kent State gets to the finals and loses.

In: Post-season tournament champion
Morgan State is the regular season champion. Anyone could win this thing. The conference looks strong enough to keep its champion out of the opening-round game, but the winner of this tournament will probably be a #16 seed.

Missouri Valley
In: Drake, Illinois State
Drake is in its first NCAA tournament in 37 years, and rolled through the regular season and post-season tournament. Illinois State was pounded by Drake in the tournament final, and will be sweating on Selection Sunday.

Mountain West
On the bubble: New Mexico
BYU won the regular season, and is a lock for the field of 65. UNLV is in my projected field at this time, but needs at least one win on their home court this week in the MWC tournament. New Mexico is squarely on the bubble, and needs a strong run this week in Las Vegas, along with help in other places.

In: Mt. St. Mary’s
Mount St. Mary's, fourth-place finishers in the regular season, finished their improbable run through the NEC tournament with a win at Sacred Heart. The Mount has a really good chance to be on its way to Dayton, Ohio for Tuesday night's opening round game.

Ohio Valley
In: Austin Peay
The Governors appear in the Big Dance once again after winning the OVC regular season and tournament. Get ready for the cheer, coming to an arena somewhere in this tournament: “Let’s Go Peay!”

In: UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, USC, Arizona State, Oregon
On the Bubble: Arizona
UCLA won the regular season, and is a favorite to win the national championship. This has been a strong year in the Pac 10, and Stanford, Wazzu, and USC have nothing to worry about next Sunday. Arizona State, Oregon, and Arizona need good performances this week at the Staples Center in L.A. At this point, I have Arizona State and Oregon in the tournament over Arizona based on head-to-head performance and conference record. The Wildcats can save their season this week in Los Angeles.

In: Colgate or American
Let’s see: Toothpaste, or our country? American has knocked on the door in this league for several years, but hasn’t quite made the NCAA tournament. This is their year, with the championship game on their home court.

In: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Florida
On the Bubble: Ole Miss
The Vols are looking at a #1 seed if they don’t mess things up this week at the SEC tournament. Vandy is pretty stout, Kentucky has made a strong comeback, while MSU and Arky are tournament teams in the West. The Florida Gators are in deep doo-doo. I have them barely in the field, but that could change depending on events this week. Ole Miss was awesome and undefeated in non-conference play, went into the tank for most of conference play, but has made a comeback in recent weeks. The Rebels could play their way into the field this week.

In: Davidson
Davidson got through the SoCon tournament, and I didn’t have to stand on my head. Monday night’s win made them 23-0 against SoCon competition. Now, Davidson returns to competition against the big boys in the Big Dance.

In: Post-season tournament champion
This will be a fun tournament at the Merrell Center in Katy (By the way, the Houston area has several high school arenas that a lot of colleges would kill for). Lamar and Stephen F. Austin won the two divisions, while Sam Houston will be a force to be reckoned with, as well. The winner of this tournament would be a good choice for a first-round NCAA upset, following Northwestern State’s win in 2006 and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s near-miss last year.

Summit League
In: Oral Roberts
The Golden Eagles (I still want to call them Titans-I guess I’m old school) win their third Summit League (formerly Mid-Continent) tournament in a row with a win over IUPUI. Did you know that IUPUI is spelled the same backwards as it is forwards? The court at ORU still says “Expect a Miracle”, and the Golden Eagles will need a miracle for a first-round upset in the Big Dance. However, stranger things have happened.

Sun Belt
In: Western Kentucky, South Alabama
Western Kentucky returns to the Big Dance with a championship in the Sun Belt tournament. The Hilltoppers’ win also preserves the chances of the South Alabama Jaguars, upset losers in the semifinals. The Sun Belt looks to squeeze two teams into this year’s Field of 65.

In: Post-season tournament champion
This conference of HBCUs spends December getting hammered for paychecks by bigger-name schools. Alabama State has rebounded to run away with the league and to sport a winning record, if not a high power rating. The winner here stands a good chance of getting an all-expenses paid trip to Dayton, Ohio for the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

In: Post-season tournament champion
This is a down year for the WAC, and the conference will probably only get one bid to this year’s tournament. WAC teams such as Nevada, Utah State, and New Mexico State have made noise in the Big Dance in recent years. Boise State is the regular season champion. The tournament is being played on New Mexico State’s home court in Las Cruces.

West Coast
In: Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, San Diego
Not surprisingly, a decent San Diego club took advantage of its home court and beat Gonzaga Monday night to win the WCC tournament. Now, the WCC looks to have three teams in the NCAA tournament.

Last four teams in (rooting hard for teams like Xavier and any other favorite in the remaining conference tournaments): Arizona State, South Alabama, Illinois State, Florida
Last four teams out (need to have a good week on the court): Ole Miss, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona

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