Monday, February 28, 2005

Top Games for the Week- February 28-March 6

Pitt at Boston College
Oklahoma at Texas

Wichita State at Northern Iowa

Indiana at Wisconsin
Mississippi State at Arkansas
St. Joseph's at George Washington

Georgia Tech at Wake Forest
Georgetown at Connecticut
Texas A&M at Oklahoma State
DePaul at UAB
Houston at Marquette
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Kent State at Miami (Ohio)
Bowling Green at Western Michigan

Miami (Fl.) at Duke
Charlotte at Louisville
Oregon State at UCLA

Maryland at Virginia Tech
Syracuse at Connecticut
Pitt at Notre Dame

Texas at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Louisville at DePaul
Cincinnati at Memphis
UAB at Houston
Washington at Stanford
Vanderbilt at LSU
Alabama at Mississippi State
Southern Conference Championship Game
Big South Conference Championship Game
Atlantic Sun Conference Championship Game
Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game
Akron at Buffalo
Southeastern Louisiana at Sam Houston State

Duke at North Carolina
Wake Forest at North Carolina State
Illinois at Ohio State
Kentucky at Florida

Bracket Breakdown


1 Illinois: Last chance to ruin undefeated regular season at Ohio State on Sunday.
16 Alabama A&M-Coppin State: Coppin State went 0-9 in non-conference play but play #2 SOS.

8 Mississippi State: Need to win one of their final two at Arkansas and vs. Alabama to feel safe.
9 Texas: Winning four of their last five puts Longhorns back in "lock" status.

5 Villanova: One of the hottest teams in the country has won five in a row and 10 of their last 12.
12 Vermont: Blew a chance at an at-large bid by losing three of their final six.

4 Gonzaga: Have won nine in a row, but not getting much talk as being a Final Four contender.
13 Old Dominion: Also lost an opportunity for an at-large bid by losing two of their final four.

6 Pacific: Riding nation's longest winning streak other than Illinois at 19 in a row.
11 Maryland: Needs to win at Virginia Tech to salvage a .500 ACC record and a Tournament bid.

3 Louisville: Won 13 of their past 14, but still look sluggish; Francisco Garcia needs to step up.
14 Denver: Took advantage of UL-Lafayette's back to back losses to grab top spot in Sun Belt.

7 Texas Tech: Third straight week in which they split; need to become more consistent.
10 Georgetown: Falling to the bubble after three straight losses; need to win at UConn to feel safe.

2 Washington: Gets last #2 seed after Oklahoma State went 0-2 and Huskies defeated Arizona.
15 Winthrop: Riding 15-game winning streak into Big South tournament.

1 Kentucky: Moves into a #1 seed after their road win at Alabama despite weak RPI and SOS.
16 Fairleigh Dickinson: Wins tiebreaker over Monmouth because of better RPI and overall record.

8 Nevada: Probably should be a seed or two higher; have won 18 of their past 20.
9 Stanford: Picked up a huge road win at Oregon after losing earlier in the week to Oregon St.

5 Utah: Loss to New Mexico worth a whole seed line; had won 18 in a row prior to the loss.
12 Iowa State: Gets last at-large spot after dropping two games this weak to inferior opponents.

4 Syracuse: Second place in the Big East will be on the line on Saturday at Connecticut.
13 Davidson: Capped an undefeated conference season; still has to win conference tourney.

6 Wisconsin: Impressive win at Ohio State nullifies weak showing at Michigan State.
11 West Virginia: Big East's eighth team have won 7 of their last 9 and four in a row.

3 Oklahoma State: 0-2 week ended with an odd final play at Kansas; need to be organized.
14 Oral Roberts: At the top of the standings despite two losses to second place UMKC.

7 DePaul: Can finish anywhere from third to seventh in conference depending on this week.
10 George Washington: Running thirty-five footer at buzzer by Carl Elliot put GW in good position.

2 Duke: Making a run towards a top seed if they win at UNC in the season finale Sunday.
15 Niagara: Lost season finale to Rider; ended up with share of regular season title.

1 North Carolina: How much longer can they continue to win without Rashad McCants?
16 Gardner-Webb: With loss to Central Florida on the final day, forced to share reg. season title.

8 Notre Dame: Loss to UCLA at home put Irish on the bubble because of weak RPI.
9 St. Mary's: Not getting much pub around the country; have won 18 of their final 21 games.

5 Oklahoma: Beating up on weak teams of Big 12 gives them chance to share conference title.
12 Buffalo: One of the last teams in, they are currently in a six-way tie for second in the MAC.

4 Charlotte: Conference title on the line Thursday at Louisville; won 18 of their last 20.
13 UW-Milwaukee: Winners of 15 of past 16, still need to win conference tourney to get in.

6 Southern Illinois: Looking more impressive with each win; possible Sweet 16 run in them.
11 UTEP: Moving into the Field after winning three games in a week.

3 Arizona: Missed chance at a number one seed by losing at Washington.
14 PENN: First team in the NCAA Tournament--I can not tell you how excited I am (seriously).

7 Florida: Made great comeback at South Carolina; up and down team finding consistency.
10 Minnesota: At 19 wins overall, and 9 in the Big Ten, Golden Gophers are close to a lock.

2 Boston College: Loss to Villanova cost them a one seed; need to win vs. Pitt, at Rutgers
15 SE Louisiana: Season finale at Sam Houston St. will crown Southland reg. season winner.

1 Wake Forest: Continues to be considered behind UNC and Illinois in race for national title.
16 Portland State: Only above .500 team in the Big Sky should win the conference tournament.

8 Pittsburgh: Falling towards the bubble like most of the Big East; needs to win one of final two.
9 UCLA: Win at Notre Dame locks up a bid if they can hold serve at home in final two games.

5 Alabama: Two losses in a week cost the Tide two seeding positions, chance at SEC title.
12 Miami (Ohio): Back to back losses may mean no at-large bid for MAC's leader.

4 Michigan State: Was very high on them until loss at Indiana in which they looked medicore.
13 Holy Cross: Have won last 13 conference games--only three by single digits.

6 Cincinnati: Similar to DePaul, can finish anywhere from third to sixth in Conference USA.
11 Wichita State: One of the last teams in, need to win at Northern Iowa to get at-large bid.

3 Connecticut: Hottest team in the Big East finally meshing at the right time; Final Four sleeper.
14 St. Joseph's: How did they lose at 4-win Rhode Island? So much for at-large consideration.

7 LSU: Climbing up the ladder quickly and have inside track to SEC West title.
10 Georgia Tech: Huge win at Miami (Fl.) puts them at .500 in ACC and closer to a bid.

2 Kansas: Bounced back from 3-game losing streak with huge win over Oklahoma State.
15 Tennessee Tech: Finished the season on a 4-game winning streak to win Ohio Valley title.

Last Four In: Iowa State, Wichita State, Buffalo, UTEP

Last Four Out: Houston, Miami (Fl.), Virginia Tech, North Carolina State

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Week in Review

One of the most important weeks of the season thus far saw bubble teams playing their way out of the NCAA Tournament and some clubs that seemed to be out of it working their way back into the picture. In addition, it saw five of the top 10 teams lose, making the race for the #1 seeds wide open. Let's recap:

Teams that helped their cases for an NCAA Tournament bid: Georgia Tech bounced back from a home loss against Duke with a win at fellow bubble team Miami (Fl.); North Carolina State may have worked their way into the bubble conversation with their victory on Saturday against Virginia Tech; George Washington nearly blew a bid with a blowout loss at Xavier, but finished the week with a HUGE win at Dayton on Carl Elliot's running thirty-five footer at the buzzer; West Virginia could be the eighth team out of the Big East after they completed a sweep of Pitt and beat Rutgers; Indiana got another two wins this week including a big win at home vs. Michigan State on Sunday; Minnesota continues to move towards 20 wins and 10 Big Ten wins after they got a come from behind win at Purdue on Saturday to complete a 2-0 week; Texas probably clinched a bid after their home win vs. Missouri to move to 8-6 in Big 12 play; Texas A&M may have played their way onto the back end of the bubble after a 2-0 week with home victories over Iowa State and Texas Tech; UCLA could have clinched a bid when they picked up a huge non-conference road win at Notre Dame on Sunday; Even though Stanford lost at Oregon State, they bounced back with a road win at Oregon to clinch at least 10 wins in conference play;Houston is making a great case to be one of the last teams in after another 2-0 week to move to 9-5 in C-USA play; UTEP won three games this week to bounce back from their loss to Pacific a week ago; St. Mary's may have moved into lock status after they won back to back road games to finish the season; Buffalo is looking more and more like the second team out of the MAC after they won their lone game of the week to continue a 5-game winning streak.

Teams that had their at-large profiles weakened: Vermont lost any chance at an at-large bid by splitting their third week in a row; Miami (Ohio) had a winless week to probably kill any at-large bid they may have received; Old Dominion lost at home to Hofstra, which was their nail in the coffin for an at-large bid; Miami (Fl.) lost a key bubble game to Georgia Tech on Saturday; Maryland went 0-2 last week, including a home loss to Clemson, leaving the Terps with plenty of work to do; Virginia Tech lost a chance to move closer to a bid by losing at bubble dweller NC State; Georgetown lost their third game in a row, at home to Villanova, moving the Hoyas to the bubble; Notre Dame got smoked on their homecourt by UCLA, reverting them to the bubble, as well; Pittsburgh is the third Big East team on this list as they went 0-2 to continue their three game losing skid; Wichita State needed to win at Southern Illinois to feel safe--they did not do that; Iowa State went from a lock to possibly out of the tournament after two losses to inferior teams, including a home loss to Nebraska.

Teams whose bubbles burst: Memphis needed to win at Charlotte or vs. Louisville and they didn't win either; UAB won both of their games but they still have no quality wins; TCU needed a marquee win but didn't get it home against Cincinnati; Marquette is done without Travis Diener and proved it with a 22 point loss to Cincinnati; Northern Iowa needed a win against Southern Illinois to get in the conversation, and that didn't happen; South Carolina blew a big lead at home vs. Florida and that could cost them a bid; Akron could not afford to lose to Kent State at this point in the season; Arizona State went 0-2 at Washington and Washington State; Vanderbilt lost to Florida and now needs to do a lot of work to get in the discussion.

Teams that are seeing their seed rise: Villanova is one of the hottest teams out there right now, coming off of wins over Boston College and Georgetown; Connecticut might be hotter than Villanova, winning seven Big East games in a row, last week beating Notre Dame and Pitt; LSU is the best team other than Kentucky in the SEC currently, after their buzzer beating win at home vs. Alabama; Mississippi State is now a lock after a much-needed two game winning streak; Florida beat two SEC bubble teams this week, including a come from behind win over South Carolina; Charlotte is the best team no one is talking about, winning 18 of their past 20; Oklahoma is in the midst of a 4-game winning streak, but picked up their biggest win of the year with their victory over Kansas; Cincinnati is destroying the bubble teams of Conference USA, winning their last three games by an average of ten points per game; Washington may have worked their way into a 2 seed after their sweep of the Arizona schools at home.

Teams that are seeing their seed fall: One can understand Oklahoma State's loss on the road to Kansas, but dropping one to Nebraska makes me question their worthiness as a Top 2 seed; A week after getting tabbed as a sleeper for the Final Four, Alabama loses a heartbreaker to LSU on the road, then blows a 14 point lead at home to Kentucky; Utah only lost one game, but it was a Mountain West team (New Mexico), and I can't say that any team in that conference is above average on paper; Boston College also only lost one game (Villanova), but it does not help the perception that the Eagles are not quick enough on the perimeter.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Sunday Preview

Michigan State at Indiana: The Hoosiers have made their way onto the bubble in the past few weeks, thanks to a 8-5 Big Ten record. A win here would put Indiana at the forefront of at-large conversations. Michigan State is quietly positioning themselves towards a 2 or 3 seed. Alan Anderson is one of the toughest match-ups in the country. Prediction: Michigan State by 15

North Carolina at Maryland: An ACC game that looked a lot better after Maryland swept Duke. Since then, the Terrapins lost at home to Clemson. The Tar Heels are streamrolling opponents, although Rashad McCants might be unavailable for this one. UNC could be ripe for an upset on the road against a team that needs a win. Prediction: North Carolina by 13

Villanova at Georgetown: A Big East battle between two teams going in opposite directions. Villanova is hot after beating Boston College and Pitt, while Georgetown needs a win after their loss at St. John's last weekend. The Hoyas' backcourt needs to step up after several games of little production if they want to try and pull the upset. Prediction: Villanova by 5

UCLA at Notre Dame: A non-conference battle that could have major NCAA Tournament implications. A road win by UCLA would probably give them a bid in the Tournament, while a win by Notre Dame would seal the deal, as well. Both teams are perimeter-oriented groups, with the Irish having better shooting and more experience. Prediction: Notre Dame by 9

Oklahoma State at Kansas: Probably the biggest game of the weekend, as the Big 12 Championship is on the line in Lawrence. Both teams are not playing their best ball, with Kansas losing three in a row and the Cowboys coming off of a loss at Nebraska. The inside-outside combos for both teams will be something to watch, with Oklahoma State's John Lucas and Joey Graham; and Kansas' Keith Langford and Wayne Simien. Prediction: Kansas by 2

Florida at South Carolina: This game looked a lot more appealing prior to the Gamecocks' loss at Tennessee on Wednesday. They need to win out to get in consideration for a bid to the Tournament. Florida is slowly sneaking their way back, and could be a sleeper in the Big Dance. Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh on the perimeter are going to be too much for South Carolina to handle. Prediction: Florida by 6

The Big East Will Get 8 Bids

Put an end to the ACC being a better conference than the Big East. It is simply not that intelligent. The ACC has three clear-cut locks for the NCAA Tournament with two or three probably going to get at-large bids. On the other hand, the Big East has seven locks, with one more team on the way to the Big Dance if they continue to win. Yes, you can read that again: the Big East has eight teams on its way to the Field of 65. In an unprecedented scene, a conference is going to represent over twelve percent of the Tournament.
Right off the bat, Boston College, Connecticut, Syracuse, and Villanova are definite locks, meaning that there is no way these teams will not make the NCAA Tournament. The next tier has Pitt, Notre Dame, and Georgetown, teams that are locks as of now but still could beef up their resume during the remainder of the season. After that, there is West Virginia, a team that is 8-7 in the third-best conference in the country (don't ask me how the Pac-10 is #2) and owns victories at LSU, at NC State, home vs. George Washington, as well as two wins over Pitt. They only have one bad loss-- Marshall-- and the Mountaineers currently have an RPI in the 40's with an SOS in the 70's. At this point, I don't see any way one can justify leaving West Virginia out. If they win at Seton Hall to close out the regular season, they will be 9-7 in the Big East and 19-8 overall. The Mountaineers will get a #7 seed in the Big East Tournament, and should they advance past their first round game, WVU will have 20 wins (10 in the Big East). You can not deny them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Looking at that, eight teams is not even a possibility, it's a probability, in my opinion. If Notre Dame and West Virginia hold serve, and Pitt and Georgetown grab a win in the Big East Tournament, eight bids from the Big East Conference is likely.

First Team in the Tournament: Penn

In all the talk about bubble teams and #1 seeds, most people forgot about the first team that made the 2005 NCAA Tournament: the Pennsylvania Quakers. After their 80-72 victory at Columbia, the Quakers clinched the Ivy League title, and the conference's automatic bid. The Ivy League is the only conference without a conference tournament to decide the league's representative to the NCAA Tournament. Penn improved to 17-8 overall and 10-1 within the Ivy. After they lost to second-place Yale two weeks ago, there was some question as to whether Penn could hold on to win the regular season title. However, with their win on Saturday coupled with other top teams losing, the Quakers are going to the Big Dance.

If things continue the way they are going, Penn will likely end up with a #14 seed playing a powerhouse from one of the major conferences. The road they took here was up and down during the non-conference portion of the year. After winning their opener vs. Quinnipiac, they lost at Providence and Wisconsin by thirty-plus points. The next three games were some of the biggest wins of the season for Penn: home contests against Drexel, Bucknell, and LaSalle, all in convincing fashion. Just when it seemed like they would go on a run, however, they lost five in a row to drop to 4-7. The Quakers bounced back with road victories at Siena and Lafayette, followed by their most impressive win thus far, home vs. St. Joseph's. They ended the non-league season 7-7 heading into Ivy League play. The momentum they finished non-conference play with must have carried over to the league because once they started conference games, they really hit their stride. Penn broke off eight straight wins, including an improbable overtime victory vs. Princeton, in which they came back from down 18 points with 7:35 left. Their streak hit 11 before they lost to Yale, but rebounded with road wins at Cornell and Columbia to clinch the championship.

Penn is not a very deep team, with only seven players averaging more than ten minutes per game. In addition, they only have one player that is in the top 5 in the main statistical categories in the Ivy League. However, they have some very talented guys that can cause problems for a higher seed. Tim Begley leads the way, averaging almost 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists from his guard position. He can get to the lane on almost any defender and create plays for his teammates. His backcourt partner, Ibrahim Jaaber, is a solid all-around player who is the only other Quaker to average double figures. He also leads the conference in steals at almost three per game. Eric Odmundson scored 20 at Temple earlier in the season and he is a consistent producer. David Whitehurst has played more minutes the past few games. Steve Danley is the main man on the inside, averaging almost ten points per game in the post. Mark Zoller gives them height on the wing and has been heating up lately, putting up over 15 points per game the past three games. Jan Fikiel and Ryan Pettinella give solid depth in the paint.

Overall, Penn is a decent mid-major team that is not overly talented at any position, but has nice inside-outside balance. They also have a go-to player in Begley that might be able to carry them in the Tournament. However, I just do not think that the Quakers have enough firepower to pull an upset in the first round.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Bubble Watch: Weekend Edition

At times, it seems that there aren't enough spots in the NCAA Tournament to fit every deserving team. However, this season is the other way around. Every time I look, I see bubble teams losing games they should win or getting blown out in statement-making games. Right now, there is simply not enough teams that belong in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, there is still plenty of basketball left to play for teams to move in or out of at-large contention. According to the numbers, they are 13 bids still up for grabs, with 19 teams seriously vying for them, as of now.

Here is the breakdown:

Locks from the power conferences (7): 28
Locks from the mid-major conferences (24): 24
52 Locks Overall

ACC: North Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke
Big East: Boston College, Connecticut, Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova, Notre Dame, Georgetown
Big Ten: Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin
Big 12: Oklahoma State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech
Conference USA: Louisville, Charlotte, Cincinnati, DePaul
Pac-10: Arizona, Washington
SEC: Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, Florida, Mississippi State

One-Bid Conferences: America East, Atlantic-10, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, Mid-Continent, Missouri Valley, MEAC, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt, West Coast, WAC

Here are the teams that still have a chance to get an at-large bid and what they can do this weekend to improve their status:

Maryland (RPI: 33; SOS: 11; vs. Top 50: 3-4; Last 10: 5-5): After being swept by Clemson, their sweep of Duke is essentially negated, which would have been helpful come selection time. Saturday at home against North Carolina would be their ticket to the Big Dance. If they win, they can rest easy as they are most likely going to the Tournament. If they lose, however, they are going to have win their season finale at Virginia Tech as well as win one or two games in the ACC Tournament.

Georgia Tech (RPI: 49; SOS: 29; vs. Top 50: 2-6; Last 10: 4-6): For the past few weeks, the Yellow Jackets have been a lock in nearly everyone's bracket. After they continue to lose, though, people began taking a closer look at their resume and the numbers. They began to realize that Georgia Tech is below .500 in the ACC and have an RPI hovering around 50. They have three regular season contests left, including Saturday at Miami (Fl.), another bubble hopeful. If Tech wins, they are back on the good side of the bubble, while if they lose, they can basically forget about making the NCAA Tournament, unless they make a huge run the rest of the season.

Virginia Tech (RPI: 111; SOS: 101; vs. Top 50: 4-5; Last 10: 6-4): One of the most interesting cases in the country, next to Memphis. They are coming off of two huge wins against Duke and Miami (Fl.) and have the best chance of any ACC bubble team to finish above .500 in league play. They head into NC State on Saturday in a must-win game for both teams. A win would boost their RPI and put them in great positon to grab an at-large bid. If they lose, they can still sweep their final two games, and win a game in the ACC Tournament and get in.

Miami (Fl.) (RPI: 47; SOS: 25; vs. Top 50: 2-5; Last 10: 4-6): Yet another ACC team that still has lots of work to do to get in the Tournament. It seems that if one of these clubs can finish .500 in ACC play, they are a lock to get in. The Hurricanes need one win, and face fellow bubble team Georgia Tech on Saturday with a bid at stake. A win would clinch a berth as of now. If they lose to the Yellow Jackets, they face a must-win on the road at Duke. No matter what, they could use a win in the ACC Tournament as well.

West Virginia (RPI: 45; SOS: 70; vs. Top 50: 1-6; Last 10: 6-4): Were not really a contender for an at-large bid until they won on the road at Pitt on Wednesday to finish off a sweep of the Panthers. Those two wins, coupled with victories at LSU and vs. George Washington, got the Mountaineers in the conversation. They finish off the season with two games that should be wins--vs. Rutgers and at Seton Hall. If they win those two, as they should, WVU would move to 9-7 in the Big East and 19-8 overall. That should be enough to get them in, and possibly give the Big East an unprecedented eight bids.

Minnesota (RPI: 48; SOS: 37; vs. Top 50: 2-5; Last 10: 5-5): Looking like a mortal lock after their win over Wisconsin three weeks ago, they lost three in a row to move back onto the bubble. The Golden Gophers have won two in a row at home to get back into decent shape. They have two road games to finish the season, both winnable games, however. At Purdue on Saturday should be a win, as should Wednesday's game at Penn State. If they win both, Minnesota would get to 20 wins, and 10-6 in the Big Ten. They would be in. However, if they lose one, they will still need some work in the Big Ten Tournament.

Texas (RPI: 36; SOS: 55; vs. Top 50: 2-4; Last 10: 5-5): Another very interesting case for the committee, although this one is as a result of injuries and suspensions. PJ Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge are both out for the year, due to various reasons, and the Longhorns have had trouble getting used to life without them. As of now, they are in, but they finish with a tough schedule. Winning at home against Missouri on Saturday would guarantee them a .500 finish in the Big 12, which might be enough to get them in, thanks to wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. If they lose that, they will have to win one of their final two: vs. Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State.

Iowa State (RPI: 60; SOS: 58; vs. Top 50: 4-3; Last 10: 7-3): After winning seven in a row, the Cyclones moved into the NCAA Tournament. They took a step back with a blowout loss to Texas A&M, but they are still very much in the discussion. I broke their resume down last week after a win over Kansas, and it is still basically the same. With wins over Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Kansas, Iowa State should just win the games they should the rest of the way, and they will be fine. Unfortunately for them, that means winning out. A home date vs. Nebraska on Sunday followed by games vs. Missouri and at Colorado would get them to 10 conference wins should they win out. They would probably end up with a 9 or 10 seed should that happen.

Memphis (RPI: 115; SOS: 110; vs. Top 50: 3-4; Last 10: 7-3): A case very similar to Virginia Tech. Because of their low RPI, they need to get a couple of statement wins, like the won they had at Louisville a few weeks ago. Their first chance, coincidentally, is Saturday night against Louisville. They missed an opportunity on Wednesday at Charlotte, but people will forget about that should they sweep the Cardinals. If they lose, the Tigers need to win at St. Louis and at home against Cincinnati, in addition to grabbing a couple of victories in the Conference USA Tournament. Luckily for Memphis, they host the conference tourney.

Houston (RPI: 65; SOS: 90; vs. Top 50: 2-4; Last 10: 6-4): Probably pushing it a little bit here, although I think if one puts Memphis on the bubble, Houston has to be included in the mix as well. They are 8-5 in Conference USA, one game back of Memphis, with a schedule down the stretch that is very friendly. On Saturday, they head to East Carolina in a game that should be an easy win. Next week, they have Travis Diener-less Marquette on the road, and a home date vs. UAB. If they run the table, they will be 11-5 in the conference, which would probably be good enough for third in the conference. Add a win or two in the conference tournament, and I do not see how you can leave Houston out.

UCLA (RPI: 40; SOS: 19; vs. Top 50: 1-7; Last 10: 5-5): Probably in the best shape of any team on this list, as a result of their RPI and SOS. Their record against the top 50 is terrible, but if they can handle their business the rest of the way, the Bruins will be in. The problem with UCLA this season in conference play is their inability to win consecutive games. If they can win one of two next week at home against Oregon State and Oregon, the Bruins will probably be safe if they can get a win in the Pac-10 Tournament. However, a non-conference game Sunday at Notre Dame would boost their resume tremendously and could get them over the hump and into the tourney.

Stanford (RPI: 44; SOS; 32; vs. Top 50: 3-4; Last 10: 7-3): A six-game winning streak in January got the Cardinal onto the bubble, and they have not left it since. A loss on the road to Oregon State on Thursday did not cost them a bid, but it definitely hurt their chances. However, with solid numbers and a sweep of UCLA, Stanford is still in good shape. A win at Oregon on Saturday would be huge, though. If they can win two of their final three at Oregon, and at home vs. Washington State and Washington, the Cardinal should be in, because of 11 conference wins. Of course, it wouldn't hurt to grab a win in the Pac-10 Tournament.

UTEP (RPI: 55; SOS: 145; vs. Top 50: 1-4; Last 10: 6-4): Their loss at Pacific last weekend probably cost them a bid, but they still have a few chances to get into the Tournament. They won on the road at Hawaii and home vs. Lousiana Tech this week already to get back into contention. On Sunday, they face SMU at home. If they win out, including Sunday's game and next Saturday vs. Boise State, the Miners will still most likely need to get to the WAC Tournament championship to have a good opportunity to get an at-large nod. They simply can't lose.

George Washington (RPI: 77; SOS; 190; vs. Top 50: 2-2; Last 10: 6-4): After winning five in a row and looking solid for an at-large bid, the Colonials got blown out of the gym at Xavier to move back down to bubble status. Their numbers are very weak for an at-large team, but wins over Maryland and Michigan State are still carrying them. The finish to the season is not a cakewalk for GW, either. At Dayton on Saturday is a huge game in terms of the Atlantic 10 standings, as the winner will most likely win the West Division. If they win that game, and Tuesday's game vs. A-10 leading St. Joseph's, the Colonials will look much better than they do today. At Rhode Island is an easy game to end the season going into the conference tournament. A championship berth in the A-10 tourney would lock up a bid. If they lose any of these games, they are going to have to make a huge run the rest of the season.

Buffalo (RPI: 42; SOS; 115; vs. Top 50: 1-3; Last 10: 8-2): With Kent State collapsing over the past few weeks, Buffalo and Akron have moved into contention for a second team from the MAC. At 10-6 in the conference, they definitely deserve a look. They only have one quality win--at home against Miami (Ohio)-- but no bad losses. They have off this weekend, but next week, Buffalo has games at Ohio, which is never an easy contest, and vs. Akron, in what could be an elimination game in terms of at-large hopes. They need to win out, and get to the conference championship game in order to get a bid. A loss anywhere would knock them out.

Akron (RPI: 37; SOS; 87; vs. Top 50: 2-1; Last 10: 8-2): Some may be surprised to see Akron on this list, but after winning 10 of 12, capped by a home victory over Miami (Ohio), they make a great case for an at-large bid. The second best record in the MAC, one game ahead of Buffalo and one back of Miami (Ohio), combined with their run recently, give the Zips consideration. Decent power numbers are only going to increase with a game at Kent State on Saturday, and at Buffalo next Saturday, sandwiching a home game vs. Marshall. Although not impossible, it is going to be very hard to go 3-0 the rest of the way. However, if they do, and pick up two or three wins in the conference tournament, don't be shocked if you see Akron come Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (RPI: 38; SOS: 125; vs. Top 50: 2-1; Last 10: 6-4): Three consecutive losses prior to a win vs. Southwest Missouri State, may have cost the Shockers a bid. Their final two games will make or break their season. On Saturday at conference leader Southern Illinois is huge. If they win, they will have completed the sweep of the Salukis, which could be enough to get them a bid. Monday vs. Northern Iowa is just as important, though. It is going to be an at-large elimination game if both teams can win on Saturday. More importantly, however, is that if Wichita State were to win these two games, they would win the conference championship. That could go a long way in the committee's eyes.

Northern Iowa (RPI: 43; SOS: 78; vs. Top 50: 1-3; Last 10: 6-4): Even after a loss on Wednesday at Southern Illinois, they are still in consideration for a bid out of the Missouri Valley Conference. With better overall numbers than Wichita State, they have to be in the discussion, especially if they were to win out. They face a must-win at home on Saturday vs. Bradley. If they lose, they can kiss an at-large bid goodbye. If they win, they face an elimination game at Wichita State on Tuesday. Win out, and get to the conference tournament finals would cement a bid.

St. Mary's (RPI: 32; SOS: 99; vs. Top 50: 1-2; Last 10: 8-2): After a potentially costly loss at Santa Clara last week, the Gaels have bounced back with three consecutive wins heading into their season finale on Saturday. Their last game will be at San Diego, definitely not a gimme. If they win that, they will finish 11-3 in conference play, second to Gonzaga, and 22-7 overall. That should be good enough for an NCAA Tournament berth, providing they don't get upset in the West Coast Conference tournament.

Teams looking to play their way onto the bubble: North Carolina State (a win over Virginia Tech would do the trick); Texas A&M (a win vs. Texas Tech would be huge); TCU (needs win vs. Cincinnati); UAB (winning out is all they can do); Arizona State (needs to win their final two games, and two games in the Pac-10 tournament); South Carolina (.500 record in SEC gets them consideration); Indiana (victories vs. Michigan State and Northwestern/Wisconsin would give them 10 wins in Big Ten play); Vanderbilt (Sweeping their final three games would put them in contention)

Teams that need to keep winning to avoid the bubble: Georgetown, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

Saturday Preview

Virginia Tech at North Carolina State: One of several bubble games today. Virginia Tech is looking more and more like an NCAA Tournament team as fringe teams continue to lose. NC State needs to win to stay in the conversation to get an at-large bid. If they lose, the Wolfpack are done. Prediction: North Carolina State by 7

Georgia Tech at Miami (Fl.): A classic late-February bubble game. The Yellow Jackets seemed to be a lock in everyone's bracket until people actually took a closer look at their resume. Miami needs a win at home to stay in next week's field of 65. They have the backcourt to match-up with Tech. Prediction: Miami (Fl.) by 3

Connecticut at Pittsburgh: The last meeting between these two was a great game that saw the Panthers come back from a 17-point deficit to win going away. UConn is one of the hottest teams in the country, while Pitt has cooled off since sweeping Syracuse. Marcus Williams has developed into the best point guard in the Big East. Prediction: Connecticut by 6

Louisville at Memphis: The last time these two played turned out the exact opposite most thought--and it was the turning point for the Tigers' season. Memphis blitzed Louisville from the start and won by 17. The Cardinals have struggled since then, and the Tigers are now on the bubble. A win here would put Memphis in the Big Dance for now, while Louisville would stay with Charlotte in the race for the conference title. Prediction: Louisville by 2

Cincinnati at TCU: What is this game doing here? Look at the standings, my friends. TCU is sitting at 7-6 with an opportunity to get an eighth win here. If they win, put them in the at-large conversation. Cincinnati has been destroying teams the past couple of weeks. They better be ready for a test here. TCU does not have the big men to stop Eric Hicks and Jason Maxiell. Prediction: Cincinnati by 4

Arizona at Washington: Should be the best game of the day. The Pac-10 title is up for grabs as the Huskies are only one game back in the loss column of the Widlcats. Arizona struggled on Thursday against Washington State, while Washington shot almost 70 percent from behind the arc against Arizona State. I can't see Salim Stoudamaire having another bad game. Prediction: Arizona by 1

Kentucky at Alabama: Battle between the East and West division leaders. I really am not overly impressed with the Wildcats, while the Crimson Tide seem to have all the weapons to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. With a win here, 'Bama would move to only one game back of Kentucky for the SEC regular season title. Freshman point guard match-up between Ronald Steele of 'Bama and Rajon Rando of UK will be something to watch. Prediction: Alabama by 3

Wichita State at Southern Illinois: After three straight losses, the Shockers moved onto the back part of the bubble, and can not really afford anymore losses. However, they are still only one game back in the Missouri Valley Conference. If they beat the Salukis for the second time this season, they will have the inside track towards the regular season championship. That should be enough to get them in the tournament. Prediction: Southern Illinois by 4

George Washington at Dayton: The West division title is up for grabs, especially after GW's loss at Xavier on Wednesday. The Colonials are on the bubble, and need to run the table and probably get to the conference tournament championship to get an at-large bid. The Flyers are quietly keeping pace with GW and have won 10 of their last 13. They have the balance and depth to hang with the Colonials, but GW is just too quick and athletic. Prediction: George Washington by 5

Niagara at Rider: Again, you are probably wondering why I am putting this game up as a top game. Well, with the regular season ending Saturday, Rider is one game back of Niagara. The winner of this game will win the regular season title. If Niagara wins, they get it outright; if Rider wins, they split it. Rider has lost 3 of 6, while the Purple Eagles have won 9 of 11. They also have one of the best mid-major players in Juan Mendez, who averages a double double (23 ppg, 10 rpg). Prediction: Niagara by 3

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Top Games for the Week- February 21-27

North Carolina at North Carolina State- Tuesday
North Carolina at Maryland- Sunday
Duke at Georgia Tech- Wednesday
Virginia Tech at North Carolina State- Saturday
Georgia Tech at Miami (Fl.)- Saturday

Big East
Boston College at Villanova- Wednesday
Notre Dame at Connecticut- Monday
Connecticut at Pittsburgh- Saturday
Villanova at Georgetown- Sunday
West Virginia at Pittsburgh- Wednesday
UCLA at Notre Dame- Sunday

Big Ten
Wisconsin at Michigan State- Thursday
Michigan State at Indiana- Saturday
Iowa at Minnesota- Wednesday

Big Twelve
Kansas at Oklahoma- Monday
Oklahoma State at Kansas- Sunday
Texas at Texas Tech- Tuesday

Conference USA
Memphis at Charlotte- Wednesday
Louisville at Memphis- Saturday
Marquette at Cincinnati- Thursday
Cincinnati at TCU- Saturday

Arizona at Washington- Saturday
Arizona State at Washington- Thursday
Stanford at Oregon State- Thursday

Kentucky at Alabama- Saturday
Vanderbilt at Florida- Wednesday
Florida at South Carolina- Sunday
Alabama at LSU- Tuesday

Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois- Wednesday
Wichita State at Southern Illinois- Saturday
Miami (Ohio) at Akron- Wednesday
Utah at New Mexico- Monday
St. Joseph's at Temple- Tuesday
George Washington at Dayton- Saturday
Niagara at Rider- Saturday
Central Florida at Gardner-Webb- Thursday
Oral Roberts at UMKC- Tuesday

Who's This Year's Carmelo Anthony?

Ever since Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a National Championship in 2003, every freshman that has played in the NCAA Tournament has looked to "Carmelo-ize" a team or program. This season's crop of newcomers does not have a clear-cut player that will carry his team in the Big Dance. There are several possibilities, though.

Marvin Williams, North Carolina: Best NBA prospect in the college game does not even start.
DeMarcus Nelson, Duke: Provides a little bit of everything coming off the bench.
Rudy Gay, Connecticut: Creates match-up problems with his height and shooting ability.
Jeff Green, Georgetown: Best freshman in Big East is tough to guard and very underrated.
Ronald Ramon, Pitt: Provides instant shooting and scoring when he comes in the game.
Drew Neitzel, Michigan State: Since inserted into the lineup, the Spartans have taken off.
JamesOn Curry, Oklahoma State: Super scorer has been catalyst for recent winning ways.
Daniel Gibson, Texas: Top freshman in the country has carried Longhorns at times.
Darius Washington, Memphis: If Tigers get in, most of the credit goes to Washington.
Jordan Farmar, UCLA: Do-it-all point guard for the Bruins is the best freshman in the West.
Rajon Rando, Kentucky: Terrific defender, and the offensive game is coming around lately.
Randolph Morris, Kentucky: Solid big man inside gives the Wildcats a post presence.
Ronald Steele, Alabama: Plays beyond his years; can score and pass with efficiency.
Glen Davis, LSU: Best freshman post player is a load to guard in the paint.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bracket Breakdown


1 Illinois: If they do not completely fall off and lose out, the Illini have locked up a #1 seed.
16 Alabama A&M-Monmouth: What a way to celebrate making the NCAA Tournament-- playing Illinois.

8 LSU: On the rise after beating Florida and Mississippi State. Still have a chance to win SEC West Division title.
9 Stanford: With win over UCLA, clearly the Pac-10’s third team in. Dan Grunfeld’s injury not affecting Cardinal yet.

5 Connecticut: Playing some of the best ball in country; Charlie Villanueva developing into go-to-guy.
12 Virginia Tech: If committee ignores RPI, the Hokies are in. Good idea to finish with winning record in the ACC.

4 Louisville: What’s up with the Cardinals? Struggling since the Memphis game; Charlotte on their heels in C-USA.
13 Holy Cross: Patriot League leaders on wrong end of at-large discussion if they lose in conference tournament.

6 Oklahoma: Bounced back after losing streak; Andrew Lavender’s full court lay-up best moment of Big 12 season.
11 Vermont: Loss to Nevada hurts at-large chances; need to win America East tournament to feel safe.

3 Duke:
Win vs. Wake cements their spot as a national title contender; JJ Redick making case for player of the year.

14 Oral Roberts: Mid-Continent leaders could be a sleeper candidate to pull off a first round upset.

7 Pacific:
Victory over UTEP locks up NCAA Tournament bid should they lose in the Big West tournament.
10 Memphis: One of the hottest teams in the country gets in if they finish third in the conference despite 100+ RPI.

2 Kentucky:
Destroyed Mississippi State after loss to South Carolina; need to win out to make case for a #1 seed.
15 Niagara: Juan Mendez one of the most overlooked great players in the nation. Chance to shine in the Tournament.

1 Oklahoma State:
Last #1 seed over Wake Forest and Arizona. #3 RPI and SOS gave them the nod.
16 Tennessee Tech: OVC leader will have trouble winning conference tourney with so much parity within the league.

8 DePaul:
Couldn’t clinch a bid after losses to Marquette and Charlotte, but still in very good shape.
9 Mississippi State: Need to start winning some games after loss to Kentucky. .500 record in SEC doesn’t cut it.

5 Syracuse:
On a bit of a losing skid after 0-2 week vs. Pitt and at BC. Fourth best profile in the Big East now.
12 Minnesota: As a result of awful Bubble teams, Golden Gophers in this week. Easy schedule down the stretch.

4 Washington:
Probably should be higher; still disappointed by Oregon State loss last Sunday.
13 Miami (Fl.): Last team in this week, lost big bubble game to Virginia Tech. Tough road to get in the Tournament.

6 Texas Tech: Win over Kansas looking a bit worse after the Jayhawks’ week. Still a solid NCAA Tournament lock.
11 Old Dominion: Decent at-large candidate should they not win the Colonial tournament. 25 wins if they win out.

3 Gonzaga:
No one talking about the Zags, but Adam Morrison and co. ready to make deep Tournament run.
14 Davidson: One of four unbeaten conference teams. Tough to beat because of their extremely balanced scoring.

7 Georgetown:
Terrible loss to St. John’s hurts their resume. Need to go 2-1 down the stretch to feel safe.
10 Miami (Ohio): Looked very good against Wichita St. Nice profile for at-large team if they don’t win MAC tourney.

2 Wake Forest:
Re-thinking my choice of them as a #2; profile reads a seed higher, but loss to Duke costs them.
15 SE Louisiana: Southland champs usually merit play-in status, but their RPI slots them a seed higher this year.

1 North Carolina: Profile is fairly weak, but on-court play and the fact that they are ACC leaders give them #1 seed.
16 Coppin State: I like their RPI, but their lack of a win outside of conference play keeps them facing top seed.

8 Southern Illinois:
Win at Kent State along with Wichita State’s losses makes Salukis obvious choice from MVC.
9 George Washington: Starting to win games again, while their RPI and SOS continue to decline.

5 Wisconsin: They really haven’t done anything noteworthy this season, but their profile is that of a top 5 seed.
12 Texas: Had them a seed or two higher, but due to bracket regulations, had to slide down a seed.

4 Pittsburgh: One of country’s hottest teams since loss to West Virginia. Sweep of Syracuse gives them #4 seed.
13 UL-Lafayette: Took control of Sun Belt despite two losses to Denver. One of the best mid-majors this season.

6 Cincinnati:
All defeats have been at the hands of Tournament teams. No one wants to face Bearcats in March.
11 UCLA: Being carried by their strong RPI, but continue to split each week. Big game at Notre Dame Sunday.

3 Alabama:
No one agrees with ‘Bama being this high, but I had them here last week, and they keep winning.

14 UW-Milwaukee: Weak at-large profile should they lose in Horizon tournament.

7 Maryland: Terps look terrible against unranked teams, while they look like a Sweet 16 contender against Duke.
10 Notre Dame: Had them as an 8 or 9, but bracket rules forced me to knock them down a few notches.

2 Kansas: If not for #1 RPI and SOS, Jayhawks would be in trouble of falling to a #3 seed.
15 Portland State: Big Sky leader has the profile of a #16 seed, but teams below them are even worse.

1 Boston College:
Finally getting some respect after win over Syracuse. Lock for a #1 seed if season ended today.
16 Gardner-Webb: Atlantic Sun leaders have led for over a month. But it won't matter unless they win tournament.

8 Nevada:
Win over Vermont and pending WAC title lock up bid. Playing for seeding the rest of the way.
9 Georgia Tech: Weaker profile than some may think. Last year’s runner-up may miss Tournament completely.

5 Charlotte:
Flying under the radar currently, but could be a tough out in the Tournament because of their frontcourt.
12 Wichita State: Went from a possible #6 seed to one of the last teams in. Need to win out to feel safe.

4 Utah: Snapped Air Force’s homecourt winning streak, but didn’t look terrific. One loss would drop them to #6 seed.

13 St. Joseph’s: A-10 leaders have to win conference tournament to get in even with a one-loss conference record.

6 Villanova:
Basically a lock after the win over Pitt when you combine it with their very strong RPI.
11 Iowa State: 7-game Big 12 winning streak merits movement from off the bubble to in the Tournament

3 Michigan State:
Getting no recognition with top teams in the country, but Spartans are playing great ball.
14 Penn: Ivy leaders finally lost a game, but still have solid cushion for the rest of the season.

7 Florida: Loss to LSU doesn’t hurt at all, and should clinch a bid with a few easy games coming up.
10 St. Mary’s: Seed hasn’t changed much in the past month and a half for the Gaels; still need to win out.

2 Arizona: Deserving look as a Final Four contender, as well as #1 seed possibility if top teams continue to lose.
15 Winthrop: One of the best Big South teams ever, but won’t have any chance to show that in the Tournament.

Last Teams In: Wichita State, Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Miami (Fl.)
Last Teams Out: Buffalo, UTEP, Northern Iowa, South Carolina

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Sunday Preview

DePaul at Marquette: DePaul looks like they are safely in the Tournament, but a win here would lock it up. Marquette needs a marquee win to stay in the conversation for at-large bids. The Golden Eagles' Travis Diener will match-up against his brother, Drake, in what should be a close game. Prediction: DePaul by 2

Pitt at Villanova: Another Big East match-up that will come down to the final minutes. Pitt has been on a roll lately, winning at Syracuse on Monday. Villanova, meanwhile, could use a win here to solidify their position in the NCAA Tournament and improve their seeding. Prediction: Villanova by 6

UCLA at Stanford: This is the epitome of a "bubble game." The loser will have to do a lot of work to make the Field of 65, especially if it's Stanford. They are going to be without leading scorer Dan Grunfeld for the rest of the season. If UCLA grabs a win here, they should be a lock in Monday's bracket. Prediction: UCLA by 4

Wake Forest at Duke: Best game of the weekend, by far. The last meeting abetween these two was a classic, with the Demon Deacons escaping by 4. If the Blue Devils want to reverse the outcome of that game, they will have to slow the game down, because they do not have the depth to run with Wake. Expect JJ Redick to put on another show. Prediction: Wake Forest by 1

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Look Out for Iowa State

At the beginning of this week, my bubble breakdown didn't include Iowa State. Their RPI was in the 70's, and they were still only 13-8 and .500 in the Big 12, with a road game at Kansas coming up on Saturday. They had, however, won five in a row in the conference after starting out 0-5. After this week, though, the Cyclones are IN the NCAA Tournament if it were chosen tomorrow night. They are not hovering on the bubble any longer. They skipped over that phase and are comfortably in the tourney. There is no way you can even consider not including a team that has won 7 in a row, is fifth in a solid Big 12 at 7-5, and owns road wins at Texas and Kansas, as well as home wins against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Yes, their RPI may be a little low for an at-large team, but that is bound to rise with the win in Lawrence Saturday afternoon. Moreover, they have a very favorable schedule down the stretch, with four games that they probably should win, given the way they are perfoming lately. At Texas A&M on Tuesday and at Colorado to finish the season could be difficult, but if they continue to play the way they are in the past 7 games, they can beat anyone. Home contests against Missouri and Nebraska should be fairly easy victories. If they win out, the Cyclones will stand at 11-5 in the Big 12, and winners of 11 in a row heading into the Big 12 Tournament. I can see them going as high as a Top 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In addition, my apologies go out to anyone that read my article on the 20 backcourts to watch. Like my bubble watch, it left out Iowa State. My reasoning for that is I did not think they would make the Big Dance. As I mentioned earlier, Iowa State is in, so now I look like I completely forgot one of the top backcourts in the country. Curtis Stinson can carry a team on his shoulders, and he showed that in the overtime today against the Jawhawks. The only knock on him is that he turns the ball over too much (3.4 per game). Stinson is the best rebounding guard in the Big 12, and also averages almost 5 assists per contest. Will Blalock is fourth in the league in assists, and is a great third option for the Cyclones. Tasheed Carr and Rashon Clark are two other guys that are very useful on the perimeter in what amounts to basically a four-guard attack for Iowa State. Inside, Jared Homan has developed into one of the best big men in the conference, although he is sometimes inconsistent. Take, for example, his last four games. At Nebraska, he had 2 points in 36 minutes, but came back against Texas Tech with 23 points. He followed that with another 2 point effort against Kansas State, but responded with a big-time 14 point, 11 rebound effort at Kansas. Damion Staple provides another big man off the bench. If Homan becomes more consistent on the interior, and the perimeter keeps up their hot play as they have of late, the Cyclones are going to be a team to be reckoned with come tourney time.

Saturday Preview

Syracuse at Boston College: A battle for first place in the Big East will showcase two of the best post players in the conference in Boston College's Craig Smith and Syracuse's Hakim Warrick. Jared Dudley could be the difference for the Eagles. Prediction: Boston College by 3

Illinois at Iowa: Illinois is heading towards a perfect regular season, while Iowa needs a win like this to keep their NCAA hopes afloat. The Illini might have too much talent on the perimeter for the Pierre Pierce-less Hawkeyes to handle. Prediction: Illinois by 11

Iowa State at Kansas: Iowa State has won six in a row after losing their first five Big 12 games. Kansas is coming off their first conference loss. Even though the Cyclones are the hotter team, I can't see them going into Lawrence and taking down the Jayhawks. Prediction: Kansas by 9

Texas Tech at Oklahoma State: Texas Tech pulled off their biggest win this year when they defeated Kansas on Monday, while Oklahoma State is starting to look like the team everyone thought they could be at the beginning of the season. Prediction: Oklahoma State by 6

UAB at Cincinnati: UAB is falling off the bubble quickly, while Cincinnati's seed is falling rapidly as well. UAB needs this game to continue to have hopes for a Tournament bid, but the Bearcats have too much inside with the likes of Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks. Prediction: Cincinnati by 12

Mississippi State at Kentucky: Kentucky is coming off their first SEC loss in over a year, and need to rebound if they want to contend for a #1 seed. Mississippi State needs to get back on the winning track after the return of Winsome Frazier. Prediction: Kentucky by 8

Florida at LSU: LSU picked up a huge road win at Mississippi State on Wednesday, to boost their NCAA hopes. Florida is now a lock in the Tournament, but a road win would do wonders for their seeding and their position in the SEC Tournament. Prediction: LSU by 5

South Carolina at Alabama: South Carolina pulled off one of the biggest wins of the season when they beat Kentucky on Tuesday, but they need to continue winning if they want an invitation to the Tournament. Alabama is contending for an SEC regular season championship. Prediction: Alabama by 9

Utah at Air Force: Air Force's 24-game home winning streak is on the line when they face off against Utah. The Utes are undefeated in conference play, but Air Force's Princeton-style offense can rattle most teams, especially on their home court. Prediction: Utah by 3

Vermont at Nevada: The Catamounts lost their first conference game last week, while Nevada basically clinched the WAC title with a win at UTEP. Both seem to be safely in the Tournament, but a win for either would essentially lock it up. Taylor Coppenrath vs. Nick Fazekas is a match-up to watch. Prediction: Nevada by 2

UTEP at Pacific: UTEP needs a win on the road to continue hoping for an at-large bid out of the WAC, while Pacific wants to continue their 18-game winning streak. A great West Coast match-up should fall in the Tigers favor as a result of the home court advantage and Guillerme Yango. Prediction: Pacific by 5

Wichita State at Miami (Ohio): Wichita State's at-large hopes went from a lock to the verge of falling to the bubble after losing back to back conference games. Miami (Ohio) is also fighting for an at-large bid if they don't win the conference tournament. The winner gets a bid. Prediction: Miami (Ohio) by 4

Southern Illinois at Kent State: Southern Illinois took control of the MVC thanks to Wichita State's losses and seem to be in the Tournament, regardless of what happens in the conference tournament. Kent State is probably off the bubble as a result of their recent losing skid. Prediction: Southern Illinois by 7

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Virginia Tech Going to the Tournament?

After the upset win over Duke, all the talk is about Virginia Tech being the surprise team in the ACC and getting a possible NCAA Tournament berth. Well, you can calm down with that talk for a few minutes. Going into the game, the Hokies had an RPI of 136 and a SOS of 128. You can make a case that the RPI is going to go up as a result of the win over the Blue Devils, but unless it skyrockets 80 spots, Virginia Tech would not be in if the committee chose the teams tomorrow morning. With non-conference losses to Virginia Military Institute (324 RPI) and St. John's (187), the Hokies don't really have any marquee non-league victories. Their best win came at home against Chatanooga. However, conference wins over Duke and NC State at home and Georgia Tech and Miami (Fl.) on the road, Virginia Tech still has a chance. Now tied for fourth in the ACC at 6-6 and 13-10 overall, the Hokies have four remaining games. Lucky for them, the schedule was very kind. Miami (Fl.) at home on Saturday is a great game for the Hokies. They have already won on the road against the Hurricanes, and this is a must-win game. After that, they have two road games at Clemson and at NC State (who, by the way, could be on the bubble in the coming days). Both of those games are also winnable. They defeated the Wolfpack and the Tigers at home by a combined three points. If they win all three of those games, they will stand at 16-10 overall, and 9-6 in the conference with one game left at home against Maryland. Again, Virginia Tech can win this game. If they win out the rest of the way, Virginia Tech will get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. But as of right now, I can't say that the Hokies would be in.

20 Backcourts that will make a Difference in March

Everyone knows that guards win games in the NCAA Tournament. A team can have the best forwards in the country, but if they don't have a perimeter that can knock down shots and handle the ball, they are ripe for an upset in the early rounds. Conversely, if a lower seed is stock full of talented guards, their chances to pull of an upset and make a run in March increase greatly. Who has the best perimeters in the country? Starters in italics

North Carolina (Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Melvin Scott, Quentin Thomas): The depth behind Felton may be a little weak, but you can not argue against a backcourt with two of the top players in the nation at their respective positions. Scott is a veteran former starter that can come in and stroke the three ball.

Duke (Daniel Ewing, JJ Redick, Sean Dockery, DeMarcus Nelson): The overachieving Blue Devils have perimeter talent to hang with anyone. Ewing and Redick are two of the best scoring guards in the country, as well as two of the best leaders. Dockery is a defensive pest, and Nelson has been a stellar freshman off the bench.

Wake Forest (Chris Paul, Justin Gray, Taron Downey): Besides getting blitzed by Illinois' backcourt, Wake's backcourt has outplayed everyone else. Paul is probably the best guard in the country, and a legit player of the year candidate. Gray is vastly underrated, and Downey would start on every other team in the country, except the Deacons.

Georgia Tech (Jarrett Jack, Will Bynum, BJ Elder, Isma'il Muhammed, Anthony Morrow, Mario West): Even though this is the deepest perimeter group in the country, the Jackets have underachieved this season. Jack is a top 10 point guard, Bynum and Elder are great scorers from the wing, and Muhammed can jump out of the gym.

Miami (Fl.) (Guillermo Diaz, Robert Hite, Anthony Harris): Probably the most underrated backcourt on this list, the Hurricanes have two of the top 4 scorers in the ACC (Diaz and Hite) and the 4th leading assist man in Harris. If these guys can combine for 55 points or better, Miami has a good shot at pulling an upset or two.

Connecticut (Marcus Williams, Denham Brown, Rashad Anderson, Antonio Kellog): If Anderson comes back healthy from the injury to his leg, the Huskies have one of the most talented teams in the country. Williams has developed into one of the top three passers in the nation, and Anderson and Brown are good scorers from the wings.

Notre Dame (Chris Thomas, Chris Quinn, Colin Falls): This group can shoot the lights out. When all three of them are hitting their shots, the Irish are nearly impossible to beat. Thomas has loads of experience, and Quinn has developed into a very good scorer. Falls is the best three point shooter in the Big East.

Villanova (Mike Nardi, Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry): The Wildcats live and die by their backcourt. Ray is similar to another player that balls in Philadelphia: Allen Iverson. He shoots from anywhere, and more often than not, hits from anywhere. Foye can get to the basket on anyone, and Nardi is a very good deep shooter.

Illinois: (Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head, Rich McBride): Unless your cable has been turned off or you have been living in dungeon somewhere, you obviously know that the Illini have the best backcourt in the country, bar none. All are conference player of the year candidates. Brown is one of the quickest players in the nation, Williams is the calming influence on the team, and Head is a slasher and shooter that can get points in a hurry.

Michigan State (Chris Hill, Drew Neitzel, Maurice Ager, Kelvin Torbert, Shannon Brown): Since half of the Spartan roster plays the wing, their perimeter is deep and rivals Georgia Tech in terms of overall talent. Hill and Ager can shoot the three with profiency. Brown and Torbert can also shoot but also get to the basket very well. Neitzel has moved into the starting lineup and performed well.

Kansas (Aaron Miles, Keith Langford, JR Giddens): The experienced Jayhawks are led by Wayne Simien inside, but the backcourt is who they rely on in the clutch. Miles and Langford have been there forever, and are playing better than ever this season. Giddens is inconsistent from behind the arc, but if he gets hot--watch out.

Texas Tech (Ronald Ross, Jarrius Jackson, Martin Zeno): I take back that comment about the Miami backcourt-- this perimeter is the most underrated in the country. They are three of the top 15 scorers in the Big 12, and can really get hot and carry the Red Raiders. Ross is one of the best scorers in the country, and Jackson and Zeno are under the radar players that can beat you if too much is concentrated on Ross.

Louisville (Taquan Dean, Larry O'Bannon, Francisco Garcia): If the Cardinals are to make a deep Tournament run, it will be as a result of these three guys. Dean is a great three point shooter, while O'Bannon has a very good mid-range game and can get to the basket well. However, Garcia is where this team lives and dies. He has struggled of late, but can turn it around, and be a Carmelo Anthony-type player for the Cardinals.

Arizona (Mustafa Shakur, Salim Stoudamaire, Chris Rodgers, Jawann McClellan): Usually overrated, this batch of Wildcats has been overlooked as one of the elite teams this season. Stoudamaire is, hands-down, the best three point shooter in the country. He is hitting a ridiculous 55 percent of his threes. Shakur has not lived up to his expectations, but still ranks 4th in the conference in assists.

Washington (Nate Robinson, Tre Simmons, Wil Conroy, Brandon Roy): If not for Illinois and Wake Forest, this would be the best perimeter in the nation. Robinson is a human highlight filmand Conroy is the best passer on the West Coast. Roy has returned from injury to become the go-to player he was last season. Simmons puts up over 16 points per game.

Florida (Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey): The Gators seemed to have shed their selfish label and are going to be a tough out in the tourney. Roberson has developed into a conference player of the year-type player, while Walsh still can score in bunches when he is determined. Brewer has been one of the top freshman in the SEC this season, and creates matchup problems with his size.

Alabama (Ronald Steele, Earnest Shelton): With a lack of quality depth behind these two, the Crimson Tide have relied on them heavily throughout the season. Steele has done a great job as a freshman point guard, and is third in the SEC in assists. Shelton combines with Kennedy Winston to form a great wing duo. He is the one player the Tide can not live without.

LSU (Tack Minor, Darrel Mitchell, Antonio Hudson): Even though the Tigers rely on their great post duo of Brandon Bass and Glen Davis, this trio is the key to the team. Minor has cut down on his shoot-first ways and now leads the conference in assits. Mitchell and Hudson are solid 13 point per game scorers from the wing. If they are productive, the Tigers can compete with anyone.

Southern Illinois (Darren Brooks, Jamaal Tatum, Stetson Hairston): The cream of the crop when it comes to mid-major backcourts, the Salukis proved last season they are a tough out in the Tournament. Brooks is improving on his conference player of the year campaign a season ago. Tatum is a very good second option on offense, and Hairston can do a little bit of everything.

UCLA (Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Dijon Thompson, Josh Shipp): None of the aforementioned players were on the Bruins a year ago. Afflalo, Farmar, and Shipp are freshman, and Thompson transferred in. Farmar has been the best freshman on the west coast, second on the team in scoring, and second in the league in assists. Thompson plays bigger than his size, averaging almost 19 points and 8 rebounds a game. Shipp and Afflalo provide solid scoring and rebounding.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Super Six Major Conference Sleepers

Sleepers come in all shapes and sizes. They can be broken down into several categories. There's the low-major teams, like Winthrop, Oral Roberts, etc. that can possibly pull off a first round upset in the NCAA Tournament. The mid-major sleepers, the Southern Illinois' and Pacific's of the world, are teams that will put a scare into any team seeded in their fourth of the bracket. These teams have the potential to make a Sweet 16 run. The third section of sleepers is the major conference sleeper. These teams, usually seeded 6-10, are teams that were inconsistent throughout the season, but can win a few games in the Tournament to salvage their year. This year's group could just as easily be mistaken for favorites to make the Sweet 16; that's how deep the field of 65 is this season.

Notre Dame: One of the most talented teams in the country, the Fighting Irish are a few bounces from being at the top of the Big East looking at a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, they are 2-4 in their last six games decided by five points or less. Chris Thomas is one of the most maligned point guards in the nation, yet he is second in the Big East in assists and does everything for the Irish. Colin Falls and Chris Quinn are wings that can shoot the three from anywhere on the court. If either one gets hot, Notre Dame is very tough to defend. Their post players were the source of the lack of consistency. Torin Francis had a three game stretch where he averaged over 17 points and 10 rebounds per game, but he sandwiched that run in between a 5-game stint where he scored a combined 24 points. Dennis Latimore and Jordan Cornette both have the talent to give them solid production in the paint, but do not come through that often. The Irish are not that very deep, but that is not their problem. If they can start finishing out their close games, the Irish are going to be a team that can be around for a couple of weekends come March.

Villanova: Another team from the Big East, the Wildcats are finally playing up to their potential under Jay Wright. After starting off the Big East season slowly, they ran off a solid few weeks that included a thrasing of then-undefeated Kansas at home. They have cooled off since then and stand at only 5-5 in the conference, but they have as much talent as anyone. 'Nova is headed by their three guard monster of Mike Nardi, Allan Ray, and Randy Foye. Ray is one of the best shooters in the conference, and Foye is strong enough to get to the rim on any defender. Inside, Curtis Sumpter is somewhat undersized at 6-7, but he easily holds his own against bigger forwards and outplays most of them. The Wildcats really hit their stride when Sumpter came back fully healthy from his injury mid-season. Jason Fraser is also now back from injury and is making a huge difference in the paint. He is one of the best defenders in the Big East, and provides a nice presence on the block. Kyle Lowry is a tough-minded guard that gives them another scorer off the bench. If the perimeter plays are hitting their shots and Sumpter and Fraser can stay healthy, Villanova are going to be a tough team to beat in a one game playoff.

Georgia Tech: If you had asked me back in November if Georgia Tech would be considered a sleeper team for the NCAA Tournament, I would have told you to go home. Returning almost everyone from the National Championship runner-up, the Yellow Jackets were supposed to be a Final Four contender. That changed after BJ Elder's injury in January to Kansas. In his absence, they went 4-5 and fell quickly in the ACC standings. Even with his return last week, their seems to be something missing from this team. However, if they find it, this team could make a return trip to the Final Four. Tech has one of the deepest and most explosive perimeters in the country. Jarrett Jack is one of the most clutch point guards in the nation, and can carry the Jackets if needed. Will Bynum is nearly unstoppable at times, and BJ Elder may be the best scorer on the team. Isma'il Muhammed is the most athletic player in the country, and Anthony Morrow and Mario West are solid role players off the bench. Luke Schenscher has not played as well as he did in the NCAA Tournament last season, but Anthony McHenry is one of the most versatile players in America. Ra'Sean Dickey is going to be a very good inside player for the Jackets. With the experience that Tech has, and the talent up and down the roster, I can't imagine them not making a run late in the season.

Florida: This is the one team that could easily be a top five seed by the end of the season, as they are beginning to play some of the best basketball the Gators have played in the last few years. After a somewhat disappointing non-conference season, in which Florida did not grab any significant wins, they have stepped it up in conference season, moving to second place in the East, two games back of Kentucky. People began to take notice after they defeated #14 Alabama by 31 at home in early February. The Gators still have the trio of scorers that seem like they have been around there forever. Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh, and David Lee lead the way for Florida, as they are the only double-figure scorers for them. Roberson has been a different player this season, less selfish and more about the team than himself. Walsh returned from an injury to provide a second option to Roberson. Lee still does not get the ball enough on the interior, but he provides solid scoring and rebounding in the paint. Corey Brewer and Al Horford have been a wonderful freshman forward combination up front. As usual, the Gators have waves of players off the bench that they can utilize. They don't pressure the ball as much as they have in the past, but maybe that is a good thing. Even though they have essentially the same players, the Gators are a completely different team from last season, which could pay off with a deep run in the Tournament.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have fallen a little bit in the past few weeks, hence the reason they have a chance to be a potential sleeper in the Tournament. After starting 11-1, with the lone loss to Illinois, Cincinnati is 5-5 in their last ten games, although all of those losses have been to NCAA Tournament teams. Not as intense as the past Bob Huggins-coached teams, this edition is full of long, athletic players. However, as with the usual Cincinnati squads, the strength is in the paint, where Eric Hicks and Jason Maxiell control the area. They combine for about 29 points and 17 rebounds per contest. On the wings, the Bearcats are stacked with guys that can play. James White and Armein Kirkland can both jump out of the gym and stroke the jumper (both shoot 40 percent from beyond the arc). Nick Williams can get hot in a hurry from three-point land, and if he does, the opponent is in for a long day. The point guard play has been inconsistent, mainly from Jihad Muhammed. His assist to turnover ratio is only 1.3/1 and he actually lost his starting job in the past week. If they can get better and more consistent perimeter play, the Bearcats have the post combo to challenge for a Sweet 16 berth and possibly even further if the shooting improves.

DePaul: One of the most surprising teams in Conference USA this season, the Blue Demons started out with a not so impressive 8-3 non conference record, with losses to Northern Illinois, Northwestern, and Bradley. Since then, however, they have played well enough to stand tied for second in the conference, behind Louisville. They have won four in a row, capped by a 19 point victory over Cincinnati. They are led by conference player of the year candidate Quemont Greer, one of the most improved players in the nation this season. He averages 20 points and 8 rebounds per game, and has scored in double figures in every game except the first one. In the backcourt, Drake Diener is one of the best shooters in the country, hitting over 43 percent of this three point attempts. Sammy Mejia is a solid third scorer and a great rebounder for a guard. Aside from those three, however, theres not much else. The Blue Demons are not a deep team, but with those three leading the way, and some role player production from veteran starters like LeVar Seals and Marlon Brumfeld, they can surprise some people in the NCAA Tournament and make a run to the Sweet 16.