Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tournament Field Projections, 3/15/08

As usually happens on Friday of conference tournament week, a lot of things happened to shake up at-large bids and seeding in the NCAA tournament. There are teams showing life after mediocre regular seasons, and there are teams melting down. All of this sets up a crazy weekend. There are teams that want to make this tournament after all.

Teams with automatic bids to date:
Atlantic Sun: Belmont
Big Sky: Portland State
Big South: Winthrop
Colonial: George Mason
Horizon: Butler
Ivy: Cornell
Metro Atlantic: Siena
Missouri Valley: Drake (Illinois State should get an at-large bid)
Northeast: Mt. St. Mary’s
Ohio Valley: Austin Peay
Southern: Davidson
Summit: Oral Roberts
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky (South Alabama should get an at-large bid)
West Coast: San Diego (Gonzaga and St. Mary’s should get at-large bids)

Reviews and comments on conferences still duking it out:

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. North Carolina and Duke took care of business today. So did Virginia Tech, firming up their imminent NCAA bid with a big win over Miami. For the second year in a row, the Hokies are in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. There have to be a lot of old school ACC people (hello, UVA, NC State, and Wake Forest) just sick about the success of the nouveau member Hokies in the ACC. It is a little strange to see Va Tech and Miami playing each other in this tournament. At the end of the day, though, it’s North Carolina’s tournament to lose.

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

Atlantic 10
In: Xavier, either St. Joseph’s or Temple
On the bubble: UMass, St. Joseph’s-Temple loser
As I predicted and expected, Xavier was defeated in this tournament. St. Joseph’s did the deed, and is close to an at-large bid if they don’t earn the automatic bid on Saturday. Their opponent: their Philly buddies from Temple. The Big Five rivals will meet for the auto-bid Saturday evening in Atlantic City. Didn’t Miss America used to be crowned on Saturday night in Atlantic City?

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. UT, KU, and OU won today to move into the semifinals. Texas A&M got a win over Kansas State on Friday to solidify, at last, their at-large bid. Baylor is still barely in the tournament despite an embarrassing double-overtime loss to Colorado.

Big East
In: Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette, Connecticut, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Villanova
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. Georgetown is proving itself to be the Beast of the East, having pummeled West Virginia on Friday. They will play Pittsburgh, who is making yet another run to the Saturday night stage at Madison Square Garden.

Big Ten
In: Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State
Some strange things are happening here. On the top half of the bracket, Wisconsin and Michigan State advanced, as expected. Fireworks are flying on the lower half, though. 10th-seeded Illinois defeated Purdue in overtime, 74-67. Minnesota used a buzzer-beater to upset Indiana. There are a lot of teams out there hoping that Wisconsin or Michigan State take care of business. Meanwhile, Minnesota could be playing itself into an at-large possibility.

Big West
In: Post-season tournament champion
There were tri-champions in this league, and one of them is already gone in an upset, as UC Santa Barbara was taken out by UC Irvine in the battle of the UC’s. The Anteaters play Cal State-Fullerton, winner of the Cal State slugfest over Cal State-Northridge. When are the Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz going to join this league? Meanwhile, either Irvine or Fullerton gets bragging rights to the O.C. and a berth in the Big Dance.

Conference USA
In: Memphis
Memphis owns this conference, lock, stock, and barrel. The Tigers walked through a scrimmage with Southern Miss in Friday’s semifinal. The designated victim in Saturday’s championship game is the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. TU has won three in a row this week, two in overtime, including Friday’s win over UTEP.

In: Kent State
This conference belongs to Summit County, Ohio. Akron returns to the final with a win over Western Michigan. The Zips lost last year’s championship on a three-point prayer by Miami (Ohio), and were subsequently snubbed by both the NCAA and NIT. They take on nearby rival and regular season champ Kent State, winners of 27 games this season. Expect the unexpected at the Q in Cleveland Saturday night.

In: Post-season tournament champion
Baltimore is well-represented here, as Coppin State and Morgan State are playing each other for a trip to the Big Dance. Morgan State is the regular season champ. And, no, the school was not named after me.

Mountain West
BYU is in the tournament regardless of what happens. UNLV apparently secured an at-large bid with a win over Utah in the other semifinal.

In: UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, USC, Arizona State
On the Bubble: Oregon, Arizona
The suspense is over on the court in this conference. All the remaining teams are playing for seeding in the NCAA tournament. The real suspense is in the inner sanctum of the programs at Arizona State, Oregon, and Arizona. The conventional wisdom says that Arizona will make the tournament due to their top-ranked strength of schedule. I disagree. You have to beat at least one good team, and you have to beat the teams with which you are competing for that spot. Arizona State and Oregon took care of Arizona on the court. UCLA and Stanford held their seeds and will play Saturday for the championship.

In: American
The American Eagles (not Outfitters) are in the NCAA tournament for the first time after several near-misses. How fitting is it that a team called American wins the Patriot League?

In: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Arkansas
Thursday was the night a couple of bubble teams went bye-bye. Friday was the night the lights went out in Georgia. Actually, the lights didn’t go out, but a couple of walls did. But, the teams played on. Arkansas strengthened its position and gets a shot at top seed Tennessee on Saturday. The tournament has been moved to the campus of Georgia Tech, where only friends, family, cheerleaders, and bands will be allowed entry. Kentucky and Georgia will play at noon local time, with the winner playing Mississippi State Saturday night. It will look like they’re playing in front of a TV studio audience.

In: Post-season tournament champion
Break up the Mavericks! Not the Dallas Mavericks, but the UT-Arlington Mavericks. UTA advanced to the championship game with their second consecutive upset of this tournament, defeating Sam Houston State. The Movin’ Mavs get to play Northwestern State, upset winners over regular season co-champ Stephen F. Austin. It was a bad day for Texas patriots, with both Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin losing. On the other hand, can lightning strike three times for UTA?

In: Post-season tournament champion
Dayton, Ohio awaits the winner of this conference. Mississippi Valley (16-15) takes on state rival Jackson State (14-19) for the SWAC tournament title. Both teams’ RPI ratings are in the 200’s. That’s a guaranteed ticket to the opening round game. But, the record book will always say that one of these teams played in the NCAA Tournament.

In: Post-season tournament champion
This conference is having a steel cage match in Las Cruces with the quad-champions facing each other in the semifinals. Yes, quad-champions. Four teams tied for the regular season title at 12-4. Boise State earned a trip to the finals with a win over Utah State. New Mexico State is glad they won the bid to host this year’s tournament, as they took advantage of the home court to send Nevada home.

Last four teams in (rooting hard for teams like Kent State): Villanova, Arizona State, South Alabama, Illinois State
Last four teams out (need some love from the committee): UMass, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona

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