Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sun Belt Conference Tournament Preview

Click here for a complete index of all the conference tournament previews.

The Sun Belt Conference didn’t have a great conference race for the top spot, but seeds two through six in the conference tournament were separated by only two games. South Alabama clinched the title a few weeks ago with their 13-2 start, but the Jaguars dropped their final three games heading into the conference tournament. That means one could expect an exciting conference tournament.

Favorites: South Alabama got off to a hot start in conference play, and carried that to a league title. However, as mentioned above, USA didn’t finish well, losing their final three games to end the season. The Jaguars don’t have much momentum heading into the conference tournament, although their focus will be back. The backcourt of Demetric Bennett and Daon Merritt is one of the best in the league, with Bennett the do-it-all player and Merritt the distributor. Up front, Ernest Little is one of the best big men in the league, putting up almost 13 and 9 per game. Western Kentucky was the preseason favorite, and they might be hitting their stride. They have lost their five league games by a combined 16 points, and have won three in a row. Courtney Lee is the best player in the conference, and Tyrone Brazelton is a very good point guard. Orlando Mendez-Valdez and Ty Rogers provide even more perimeter production. The Hilltoppers do lack a consistent post presence, though.

Contenders: Florida Atlantic finished third in the East division, but they knocked off Western Kentucky and South Alabama in their final four games. DeAndre Rice and Carlos Monroe form the best inside-outside combination in the combination, with Rice lighting it up from the perimeter and Monroe dominating down low. Arkansas State won their final four games of the season to get a share of the West division title. Adrian Banks is one of the best scorers in the conference, putting up over 21 per game. Isaac Wells anchors the interior, averaging over 15 points and 8 rebounds a contest. Louisiana-Monroe lost three of their final four, but still won a share of the West title. They have four guys averaging in double-figures, led by guards Tony Hooper and Jonas Brown.

Sleeper: The Troy Trojans only finished 8-10 in the conference, but they won four of their last six games, including a win at South Alabama and a one-point loss to Western Kentucky. They have five players averaging in double-figures, giving them one of the most balanced lineups in the league. O’Darien Bassett leads the way from the perimeter, while Richard Chaney and Sammy Sharp form arguably the best frontcourt duo in the league.

Prediction: The conference tournament should be wide-open, with six teams finishing above .500, but all within three games of each other. South Alabama won the regular-season title, but Western Kentucky will get the automatic bid. They have a terrific perimeter group and the best player in the conference in Courtney Lee. He can carry the Hilltoppers to the NCAA Tournament. This is going to be one of the most exciting tournaments around.

Patriot League Tournament Preview

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The Patriot League went pretty much as predicted. Holy Cross and Bucknell came into the season as the favorites and they didn’t disappoint. Both teams finished 13-1 in league play, with the lone loss for each team coming at the hands of the other. No other team came anywhere near the Crusaders or the Bison, as the next-best squad was only 7-7. The conference tournament should see these two play their rubber match.

Favorites: As mentioned before, Holy Cross and Bucknell are the clear-cut best teams in the conference. Holy Cross has won 15 of their last 17, with the two losses by a combined four points—at Bucknell and at Hofstra. The Crusaders are led by the best player in the conference, Keith Simmons. He is a prolific scorer and a very good rebounder for a guard. His backcourt partner, Torey Thomas, is one of the more underrated players on the mid-major level. He is a terrific defender and distributor who is also a very good three-point shooter. Tim Clifford provides balance up front. Bucknell didn’t start the season well, going 0-4 to kick off the campaign. However, they have won twelve in a row and are on a roll. They will be without leading scorer Donald Brown, who has been out the entire month. Center Chris McNaughton will have to pick up the slack. He is capable, averaging over 15 points and 8 rebounds in Brown’s absence. John Griffin is a solid guard, while Abe Badmus is one of the best point guards in the Patriot.

Contender: American could be the team to break through the Holy Cross-Bucknell contingent for the automatic bid. The Eagles have won four in a row since going through an awful stretch where they lost 11 of 15. AU took Holy Cross to overtime, and lost to Bucknell by a combined nine points. Their perimeter trio could be enough to get them on a run. Andre Ingram is one of the better guards in the conference, while Derrick Mercer is a very good distributor. Arvydas Eitutavicius is another double-figure scorer.

Sleeper: In all reality, there’s not another team that is playing well enough to win the conference tournament, but Lehigh has the nucleus to pull off an upset. They finished 7-7 in the league, but lost their last three and six of their final nine. Jose Olivero and Marquis Hall form a very good backcourt, while Kyle Neptune can shoot the three. 6-10 Jason Mgebroff missed 13 games but is back on the inside.

Prediction: This will be a two-team battle for the championship. Bucknell and Holy Cross split their regular-season match-ups, with both teams winning on their home court. The edge goes to the Crusaders, though, because the title game will be held on HC’s home court. The Crusaders won the tie breaker with Bucknell as a result of having a higher RPI. Their backcourt of Toey Thomas and Keith Simmons will be too much for the Bison, as Tim Clifford should be able to control Chris McNaughton down low.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Preview

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The Ohio Valley didn’t turn out as expected. Preseason favorite Samford finished fifth; league champion Austin Peay was projected to finish seventh in the preseason poll. Even Tennessee State, picked to finish second, ended in seventh-place. The title race lacked excitement. Austin Peay got off to a 15-2 start to conference play, and locked up the regular-season championship with several games left. Despite that, expect a wide-open conference race.

Favorite: Austin Peay won the league by three games—and lost two of their final three. In other words, the Governors ran away with the conference championship. They are led by their forward duo of Drake Reed and Fernandez Lockett. Diminutive point guard Derek Wright runs the show, and wings Landon Shipley and Todd Babington are solid. Austin Peay is efficient at both ends of the floor, and is the best shooting team in the country. Their late struggles mean they lack momentum heading into the conference tournament, though.

Contenders: Tennessee Tech could be a real threat to Austin Peay. They knocked off the Governors a week ago, and have the best backcourt and trio in the conference. Belton Rivers and Anthony Fisher are explosive in the backcourt. They are two of the top scorers in the conference, and are capable of carrying the Golden Eagles to an automatic bid. Inside, Amadi McKenzie is one of the premier post players in the conference. Another team with a chance to make a run is Murray State. The perennial power has won three in a row and eight of their last ten. Bruce Carter and Tyler Holloway form a very good guard duo, while Shawn Witherspoon is tough but undersized down low.

Sleeper: Samford came into the year as the preseason favorite, but they went 3-7 down the stretch to drop out of contention. However, only two of those losses were by double-figures, and the Bulldogs still have talent. Randall Gulina is a big-time scorer at the guard position, and Jerry Smith does a little bit of everything next to him in the backcourt. Travis Peterson is one of the best big men in the conference.

Prediction: Even though Austin Peay dominated the league for the most part, the Governors come into the conference tournament losing three of their last four games. They still have the ability to win it all, but I’m going with Tennessee Tech to get the automatic bid. The Golden Eagles have terrific guards in Anthony Fisher and Belton Rivers, as well as an inside presence with Amadi McKenzie. They have won 12 of 15, and are the only team in the league to beat every OVC squad.

Horizon League Tournament Preview

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The Horizon League had one of the more underrated conference races in the country. Everyone knew about Butler, who started off hot and put themselves for an at-large bid early. However, the Bulldogs won’t be the #1 seed in the conference tournament. That goes to Wright State, who had won nine in a row before falling in their season finale. The loss ended up meaning nothing, though, as Butler also lost that night—at home to Loyola (Chicago). Only one other team finished .500 or above.

Favorites: Obviously, the two teams that tied for first come into the tournament as favorites. Butler knocked off Notre Dame, Indiana, Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Purdue in non-league play, but lost three conference games, and also fell in three of their last six overall contests. A.J. Graves is one of the best guards in the country, and is capable of carrying the Bulldogs. His backcourt partner, Mike Green, does it all. He can score, rebound, pass, and play defense. Brandon Crone and Pete Campbell are solid performers up front. Campbell can shoot the lights-out. Wright State, on the other hand, has flown under the radar. They have one of the most underrated guards in the country in Horizon Player of the Year Dashaun Wood. He is a terrific scorer that can also distribute the ball and rebound very well for his size. Vaughn Duggins teams with him in the backcourt, while Drew Burleson is the main option up front. With the title game on Wright State’s home floor, the Raiders will be tough.

Contender: The only other team to finish above .500 in league play was Loyola (Chicago), who came into the season as the favorite. They won seven of their last eight games, including a road win at Butler. Blake Schilb is one of the best all-around players in college basketball, capable of doing a variety of things. Majak Kou and J.R. Blount round out arguably the best perimeter group in the conference. Leon Young is solid up front.

Sleeper: Illinois-Chicago might be hitting their stride. They have won three in a row, including a road victory over Loyola-Chicago to end the season. The Flames also knocked off Butler, and took Wright State to overtime. Othyus Jeffers is very difficult to stop up front, and is the best rebounder in the league. Josh Mayo and T.J. Gray form a good backcourt, and Jovan Stefanov is solid in the frontcourt.

Prediction: Despite Butler’s overall resume, I’m going with Wright State to win it all. The title game, should WSU get there, will be on the Raiders’ home floor, where they are 12-1 this season. Butler is struggling lately and I don’t see them beating WSU on the road. Moreover, the Bulldogs better watch out for Loyola in the semi-finals, so they don’t avoid a repeat of last week. The Horizon looks like a two-bid league this year, since Butler has locked up an at-large invite.

Big South Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big South Conference race was never really in doubt, although it technically came down to the final week. Preseason favorite Winthrop went 14-0, but they were only up two games on High Point with two games left. However, the Eagles overcame a halftime deficit to knock off the Panthers. High Point finished 11-3, but no other team finished more than one game over .500.

Favorite: Who else would it be? Winthrop led the conference from start to finish, and even knocked off Missouri State in the Bracket Buster in mid-February. They should win the conference tournament, as well. Torrell Martin and Mike Jenkins form a terrific wing combination, while Craig Bradshaw provides balance on the interior. Chris Gaynor is an experienced point guard. The Eagles are third in the conference in scoring offense, but have one of the stingiest defenses in the country.

Contender: The only team that was within striking distance of Winthrop in the standings was High Point. The Panthers only lost by one at home, and were up at halftime in Rock Hill. Arizona Reid is one of the best players in the conference, and dominates the paint. They also have a solid perimeter group, led by point guard Mike Jefferson and wing Landon Quick.

Sleepers: Coastal Carolina finished only 7-7 in the conference and lost seven of their last eleven, but the Chanticleers lost only one conference game by double-figures. Jack Leasure and Joshua Mack form a very good backcourt, while Moses Sonko is tough inside, despite being undersized at 6-5. Liberty is another team that could make a run in the Tournament. The Flames finished above .500 in league play, and have the best shooting team in the Big South. Larry Blair is a big-time scorer in the backcourt, and Dwight Brewington has provided another dimension since becoming eligible. Inside, Alex McLean is a good scorer and one of the best rebounds in the league.

Prediction: This is one of the easiest conference tournaments to pick. Winthrop is clearly the best team in the Big South. They have an outstanding defense, and an offense that can beat any team in the country if they hit their outside shots. Remember, this is a team that nearly knocked off North Carolina and Wisconsin. The only question is if Winthrop gets an at-large bid should they get upset in the tournament. My answer? It won’t matter—the Eagles will roll to the automatic bid.

Championship Week

Championship Week starts today. It's that time of year, when teams from the lower and middle conferences begin their Cinderella run through their conference tournaments. Sub -.500 teams upset the top seeds on their way to an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament, while the regular-season champs try to pull of the championship sweep. In my opinion, March Madness has officially begun.

In the coming nine days, March Madness All Season will preview every conference tournament. Listed below are all thirty-one conferences and the date their conference will be previewed (also the same day that the tournament stars).

America East: Albany
ACC: North Carolina
Atlantic Sun: Belmont
Atlantic-10: George Washington
Big East: Georgetown
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Winthrop
Big Ten: Ohio State
Big 12: Kansas
Big West: Long Beach State
Colonial: VCU
Conference-USA: Memphis
Horizon: Wright State
Ivy: Pennsylvania
MAC: Miami (Ohio)
MAAC: Niagara
MEAC: Florida A&M
Mid-Continent: Oral Roberts
Missouri Valley: Creighton
Mountain West: UNLV
Northeast: Central Connecticut State

Ohio Valley: Eastern Kentucky
Pac-10: Oregon
Patriot: Holy Cross
SEC: Florida
Southern: Davidson
Southland: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
SWAC: Jackson State
Sun Belt: North Texas
WAC: New Mexico State
West Coast: Gonzaga

Monday, February 26, 2007

Bracket Breakdown


This Week's Bracket

Breakdown by Conference

ACC (7): North Carolina, Duke, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Virginia, Boston College, Georgia Tech
Big East (8): Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Notre Dame, Louisville, Villanova, Syracuse, West Virginia
Big Ten (5): Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois
Big Twelve (4): Kansas, Texas A&M, Texas, Texas Tech
Pac-10 (6): UCLA, Washington State, USC, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford
SEC (4): Florida, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky
Missouri Valley (3): Southern Illinois, Creighton, Missouri State
Mountain West (3): UNLV, Air Force, BYU
Colonial (2): VCU, Old Dominion
Horizon (2): Butler, Wright State

One-Bid Conferences (21): America East (Vermont); Atlantic Sun (East Tennessee State); Atlantic-10 (Xavier); Big Sky (Weber State); Big South (Winthrop); Big West (Long Beach State); Conference USA (Memphis); Ivy (Penn); MAC (Toledo); MAAC (Marist); MEAC (Delaware State); Mid-Continent (Oral Roberts); Northeast (Central Connecticut State); Ohio Valley (Austin Peay); Patriot (Holy Cross); Southern (Davidson); Southland (Sam Houston State; Sun Belt (South Alabama); SWAC (Jackson State); WAC (Nevada); WCC (Santa Clara)

Last Four In: Georgia Tech, Illinois, Syracuse, West Virginia
Last Four Out: Drexel, Kansas State, Purdue, Georgia
Next Four Out: Appalachian State, San Diego State, Oklahoma State, Alabama

Key Games this Week

Georgetown at Syracuse (Monday): Two of the hotter teams in the Big East. Georgetown is making a push for a #2 seed, while Syracuse is just fighting for a bid to the Dance.
Michigan State at Michigan (Tuesday): Michigan State might have wrapped up a bid with their wins this past week, but Michigan is still making a run at an at-large bid.
West Virginia at Pittsburgh (Tuesday): West Virginia needs another marquee win for their resume, while Pittsburgh is struggling lately, and their seed is falling quickly.
BYU at Air Force (Tuesday): Both teams fell on Saturday, but BYU still leads the Mountain West. Air Force has dropped two in a row, and their seed is dropping.
Florida at Tennessee (Tuesday): Florida has lost two of three, and their grip on a top seed is slipping. Tennessee has great power numbers, but a win here would clinch their bid.
Kansas State at Oklahoma State (Tuesday): Two Big 12 bubble teams go head-to-head. Kansas State could use a win here, while OSU has lost four in a row in conference.
Mississippi at Alabama (Wednesday): Two SEC West teams, both in need of a win. Ole Miss could really use a road victory, while ‘Bama simply can’t drop this one at home.
Georgia at Kentucky (Wednesday): Two 8-6 SEC East teams. Georgia is still in the mix for an at-large bid, while Kentucky has lost four of five and their seed is falling fast.
Texas A&M at Texas (Wednesday): Two of the top three in the Big 12 go at it. A&M is tied for first in the conference, while the Longhorns are moving up in terms of seeding.
Maryland at Duke (Wednesday): Maryland is one of the hotter teams in the conference, while Duke has won four in a row to get back into the mix for a protected seed.
Virginia Tech at Virginia (Thursday): Two surprising ACC title contenders. Tech could use a big road win to boost their seeding, while UVA has won ten of twelve.
North Carolina at Georgia Tech (Thursday): The Tar Heels are fighting to stay on the top seed line, while Georgia Tech could really help their at-large case with a win here.
Nevada at Utah State (Thursday): Nevada is fighting for a protected seed, but Utah State is undefeated at home this year, and is looking to build momentum for the WAC tourney.
UCLA at Washington State (Thursday): The best game of the week. UCLA is two games up on WSU with two games left, but the Bruins have two road contests left.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Road to Selection Sunday

Welcome back to the "Road to Selection Sunday". As stated last week, it is basically a recap of the past couple of days in college basketball, usually the weekend that was just completed. It will go over the teams on the bubble that helped or hurt themselves, teams in the NCAA Tournament whose seed is rising and falling, and much more.

What a wild weekend in college basketball. Three of the four projected one seeds from last weekend lost, and several upsets occurred to shake up the NCAA Tournament landscape. In terms of bubble teams, many squads didn’t take advantage of opportunities to boost their resume, while others picked up big wins to help out their profiles for the Big Dance. With only fourteen days left until Selection Sunday, let's take a look at all the teams that were affected by this weekend's results.

Teams close to locking up bids to the NCAA Tournament:
Notre Dame:
Irish are now in fourth place in the Big East. Getting their season finale to get to 11 league wins would clinch a bid.
Michigan State: Back-to-back wins over Wisconsin and Indiana put Spartans in for now. Terrific RPI gives MSU some leeway.
Tennessee: Vols picked up big road win at Arkansas. #11 RPI in the country finally backed up by 8-6 SEC record.

Teams on the bubble that helped themselves:
Florida State: Seminoles blew out North Carolina State to snap five-game losing streak. They will need to finish 7-9 to have a chance.
Villanova: Wildcats have inflated RPI of 19, and got to .500 in the Big East with home win over Rutgers. Need to finish at least 8-8.
Syracuse: Orange improved to 9-5 in Big East with road win over Providence. It was Syracuse’s fourth straight win.
DePaul: The Blue Demons are making a late push at a bid. They have won four of their last five, and should win their finale.
Illinois: Fighting Illini moved into third place in the Big Ten with their sixth win in seven games. 9-6 conference record is huge.
Purdue: They stayed alive with road win over Northwestern to get back to .500 in the Big Ten. Final two games are absolute must-wins.
Michigan: Wolverines beat Minnesota on the road to improve to 7-7 in the Big Ten. Last two games are at home to end the year.
Kansas State: Wildcats picked up a must-win with their victory at Colorado. Getting their last two games would put them at 11-5.
Texas Tech: Big win in the final seconds over Oklahoma State was their third in four games. Red Raiders are 7-7 in the Big 12.
Georgia: Bulldogs seem to be the only SEC bubble team helping themselves, with their win over Mississippi State. 8-6 in SEC.
San Diego State: The Aztecs are making a late push towards an at-large bid. Have won 7 of 8, but it might be too little, too late.
Xavier: Musketeers have won six in a row, and are making a great case for a bid. Should win their final two for the league title.
Old Dominion: ODU finishes regular season on 11-game winning streak, giving them the #2 seed in the tournament. Still work to be done.
VCU: Rams won the CAA regular-season title, which should count come Selection Sunday. Overall resume is lacking, though.
Drexel: Finished only fourth-place in the CAA, but 13-4 road record and solid non-conference showing is impressive.
Gonzaga: Bulldogs got a must-win in their overtime victory at San Francisco. One more win gets them a split of the title.

Teams on the bubble that hurt themselves:
The Tigers are falling further and further from a bid. They have now lost four in a row and nine of eleven. 5-9 in ACC.
Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets blew a late lead at Virginia, which would have been huge for their hopes. Two home games to finish.
Providence: Friars are pretty much done after their home loss to Syracuse. 7-7 in the Big East, with two road games to finish.
Oklahoma State: Cowboys look similar to Clemson right now, after losing to Texas Tech late. Four straight losses for OSU.
Alabama: Crimson Tide sure didn’t look a Tournament team in their home loss to Auburn. Have lost four of five.
Mississippi: Rebels missed a chance to pad their win total with their loss at South Carolina. Overall resume is not good.
Mississippi State: Bulldogs are making a late run, but their loss at Georgia might have been something of an elimination game.

Teams trying to work themselves into the at-large conversation:
It might be too little, too late—especially after their loss at Nebraska. Have won three of their last four.
Massachusetts: UMass has a chance to get a split of the A-10 title in their final two games. Might need to get to tourney final.
Hofstra: The Pride won their final three games to finish third in the CAA at 14-4. Non-conference resume is unimpressive.

Teams that are falling from the at-large conversation:
Sooners missed a huge chance to pick up a marquee win with their loss to Texas at home. Need to beat Kansas on Monday.
Washington: Huskies were in the mix after last weekend, but back-to-back losses to Oregon State and Oregon end that.
Arkansas: What happened to the Razorbacks? They started 12-3, but now are only 5-9 in the SEC after home loss to Tennessee.
New Mexico State: So much for a two-bid WAC. The only way NMSU gets in is if they win the WAC tourney—played on their home floor.

Teams whose seed is rising:
The Terrapins are one of the hottest teams around, especially after their win over North Carolina.
Duke: The Blue Devils won their fourth straight on Sunday, over St. John’s. It was also their third straight road victory.
Georgetown: Hoyas are really making a push at a two seed. Knocked off Pittsburgh on Saturday to take Big East lead.
Louisville: The Cardinals just keep rolling. Won their fifth straight, at Connecticut, to move to 11-4 in the Big East.
Texas: Longhorns locked up a bid with their fifth straight win, at Oklahoma. Only one game out of the Big 12 lead.
USC: The Trojans likely solidified a bid with back-to-back home wins over Stanford and California. 11-5 in the Pac-10.
Oregon: The Ducks erased all the bubble talk surrounding them with wins over Washington State and Washington.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores still have the #2 profile in the SEC, after their comeback win over Kentucky on Sunday.
UNLV: The Rebels are only one game out of the Mountain West lead, after knocking off Air Force on Tuesday. #12 RPI.

Teams whose seed is falling:
The loss to Georgetown isn’t a bad defeat, but the Panthers aren’t playing well lately, and are falling in the standings.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles dropped to sixth in the Big East with their fourth loss in five games. Home game vs. Pitt coming up.
Kentucky: Their Top 10 RPI is the only saving them right now. Loss at Vanderbilt drops them to 8-6 in the SEC.
Air Force: Their loss at TCU this weekend was their second in a row, and kills any shot they had at a protected seed.
Butler: The Bulldogs won this weekend, but fell at home to Loyola (Chicago) on Thursday. Three sub-100 losses.

Number one seeds as of this week:
1. UCLA:
With the other three #1 seeds from last week falling, the Bruins are getting a little separation for the overall top seed.
2. Ohio State: Finally, a new #1 seed. Buckeyes, after their win over Wisconsin, make the jump. 14-1 in the Big Ten.
3. North Carolina: Despite their road loss to Maryland (4th in ACC play), Tar Heels still have an impressive overall resume.
4. Florida: They get the edge over Wisconsin for the final #1 seed. Their two losses in the last three games don’t bode well, though.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Weekend Preview

Bubble battles. Key conference tilts. A non-conference game involving Duke on the road. Oh, and #1 vs. #2 contest. This weekend has it all. Several conference tournaments begin in the coming week, meaning that the postseason is nearly upon us. With only sixteen days remaining until Selection Sunday, every game counts.

Siena at Marist (Saturday, 11:00 AM, ESPN2): MAAC title on the line in this one. Both teams are undefeated in February, with Marist winning seven in a row to get to 13-4 in the MAAC. Siena has also won seven in a row, and sits at 12-5. The conference tournament should be outstanding either way. Prediction: Marist 74, Siena 68

Oklahoma State at Texas Tech (Saturday, 12:00 PM, CBS): Big-time Big 12 bubble game. Oklahoma State has struggled mightily lately, losing five of six to drop to 5-7 in the conference. Texas Tech has lost six of their last eight and is only 6-7 in Big 12 play. Neither team can afford a loss.
Prediction: Texas Tech 69, Oklahoma State 63

Syracuse at Providence (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Another bubble game, this time in the Big East. Syracuse has played well as of late, winning three in a row to jump to 8-5 in the conference, but a road win would be huge. Providence is lurking as a potential at-large team, sitting at 7-5 in the Big East after back-to-back wins.
Prediction: Providence 73, Syracuse 70

Mississippi State at Georgia (Saturday, 1:00 PM, Regional TV): Yet another bubble battle between two SEC teams in need of a win. Mississippi State has jumped into the picture, winning four in a row to move into a tie for first place in the West. Georgia has won three of four, but they are only fourth in the East. Prediction: Georgia 71, Mississippi State 64

Clemson at Boston College (Saturday, 1:00 PM, Regional TV): ACC contest between two teams that are heading in the wrong direction. Clemson was 17-0 to start the year, but have lost eight of ten to drop to 5-7 in the ACC. Boston College has lost three in a row since starting 9-2 in the ACC. Prediction: Boston College 74, Clemson 66

Tennessee at Arkansas (Saturday, 1:05 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Two more SEC teams on the bubble looking for a win. Tennessee has terrific power numbers, but they are only 7-6 in the SEC East and face a tough final stretch. Arkansas is 5-7 in the West, and has lost three of four. Prediction: Arkansas 77, Tennessee 72

Pittsburgh at Georgetown (Saturday, 2:00 PM, CBS):
One of the best games of the season. Unfortunately, Pitt’s star center, Aaron Gray, likely will sit out due to injury. The Panthers still have plenty of options, but they might not have the size to match-up with Georgetown’s outstanding frontcourt duo of Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green. The winner has the inside track towards the Big East Championship.
Prediction: Georgetown 70, Pittsburgh 65

Georgia Tech at Virginia (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): ACC contest between a couple of teams looking for a win. Georgia Tech is squarely on the bubble, but has won five of six to get to 6-7 in the conference. A road win here would be huge for their at-large hopes. Virginia is coming off of a bad loss to Miami (Fl.), but they are still only one game back at 9-4 in the ACC. Prediction: Virginia 76, Georgia Tech 69

Marquette at Notre Dame (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): Interesting match-up in the Big East in a game that will be key for seeding in the conference tournament. Both teams are tied for fourth place in the league at 9-5. Marquette had lost three in a row prior to their win over Villanova this week, while Notre Dame has won their last three games to get closer to an at-large lock. Prediction: Notre Dame 79, Marquette 75

Texas at Oklahoma (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Big 12 game between two teams heading in opposite directions. Texas has been one of the best teams in the conference all year, and is sitting in third at 10-3. Oklahoma has lost three in a row after a 6-4 conference start that had bubble heads talking.
Prediction: Texas 73, Oklahoma 71

Florida A&M at Delaware State (Saturday, 4:00 PM): Big game in the MEAC with conference championship implications. Florida A&M is second in the league at 10-5, while Delaware State is in first at 13-2. There’s only three games left in the conference season, so it’s a must-win for A&M. Prediction: Delaware 62, Florida A&M 53

BYU at San Diego State (Saturday, 5:00 PM, CSTV): Big-time game in the Mountain West. BYU has won eight in a row and sit in first place in the conference at 11-2. They are playing some of the best basketball in the country, led by Keena Young. San Diego State is making a late run in conference play, winning five of their last six. They are a team to be reckoned with in the conference tournament. Prediction: San Diego State 68, BYU 59

Wichita State at Creighton (Saturday, 5:05 PM, ESPN2): The two top teams in the preseason in the MVC go head-to-head. Wichita State has fallen flat since their hot start, and has lost three in a row to drop to 8-9. Creighton has lost two in a row, but a win here would lock up second place in the conference.
Prediction: Creighton 67, Wichita State 60

Stanford at UCLA (Saturday, 6:00 PM, FSN): Rematch of Stanford’s upset win over the Bruins a month ago. Stanford could really use a win here to wrap up an NCAA bid, as a loss here would be the Cardinal’s sixth in nine games. Despite that, they still sit at 9-6 in the conference. UCLA would be on the verge of a Pac-10 title and the overall #1 seed with a victory here. The Bruins have won three in a row and have only three losses all year. Prediction: UCLA 70, Stanford 63

Jackson State at Mississippi Valley State (Saturday, 8:30 PM):
Crucial game in the SWAC title race. Jackson State, led by big-time scorer Trey Johnson, is sitting in first place with a 10-4 record, while MVSU has lost two of three to drop to 10-5 and second place. Prediction: Mississippi Valley State 66, Jackson State 61

Indiana at Michigan State (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): Big Ten battle between two teams looking for a victory. Indiana is sitting in third in the conference at 8-5, although they have lost two of three and are only 4-4 in their last eight games. A win here would be huge for their seeding. Michigan State picked up an outstanding win over Wisconsin earlier in the week, and a victory here could wrap up their at-large bid. They have won three in a row. Prediction: Michigan State 65, Indiana 59

Washington at Oregon (Saturday, 10:30 PM, FSN): Pac-10 battle between two teams looking for a win. Washington's at-large hopes are finished after their loss Thursday to Oregon State, but they could use a victory to get momentum heading into the conference tournament. Oregon picked up a huge win over Washington State Thursday night. They had lost six of eight prior to the win. Prediction: Oregon 75, Washington 64

Louisville at Connecticut (Sunday, 12:00 PM, CBS): This game looked a lot different heading into the conference season. Louisville was struggling mightily at that point, but has since turned it around to move into third place in the Big East. They knocked off Pitt and Marquette on the road last week. Connecticut has done just the opposite, fighting to even make the Big East Tournament. They have won four of six, but are still only 6-7 in the conference. Prediction: Louisville 71, Connecticut 67

Kentucky at Vanderbilt (Sunday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Key game in the SEC with both SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament implications. Kentucky has a lofty RPI, but has lost three of four and is 8-5 in the SEC. They face a tough final stretch, so a road win here could be huge for their seeding. Vanderbilt came back from their big win over Florida with a blowout loss at Mississippi State. However, Derrick Byars and Shan Foster are outstanding wings, and could be too much for UK. Prediction: Vanderbilt 72, Kentucky 66

Duke at St. John’s (Sunday, 2:00 PM, CBS):
Intriguing non-conference game in a weekend full of big-time conference tilts. Duke has really bounced back from their mid-ACC swoon, winning three in a row to get back to 8-6 in the conference. Their RPI is back in good shape, and no one is talking about the Devils missing the Big Dance. St. John’s has been inconsistent this season, but they have wins over Syracuse and Notre Dame at home, so this won’t be an easy win for Coach K and co.
Prediction: Duke 63, St. John’s 60

Wisconsin at Ohio State (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS): One of the biggest games this year. It is a match-up of #1 vs. #2, with both teams still in the running for a Big Ten Championship, and possibly more important (in some people’s eyes), a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Some of the luster was taken off the game with Wisconsin’s loss to Michigan State, but this game will still be outstanding. The first meeting between the two resulting in a three-point for the Badgers in Madison. Prediction: Ohio State 69, Wisconsin 66 CLICK

North Carolina at Maryland (Sunday, 5:30 PM, FSN):
An excellent ACC match-up that will have implications in the ACC standings and in the Big Dance. North Carolina is in the running for a top seed, and a road win here would keep that goal alive. The Tar Heels are also only one game up in the ACC, ahead of second-place Virginia and Virginia Tech. Maryland has essentially locked up an NCAA bid with their recent four-game winning streak that included two road games. A victory over UNC would give the Terps even more momentum heading into March. Prediction: Maryland 80, North Carolina 78

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Projected Final Standings

With the NCAA Tournament looming just around the corner, the bubble is the main topic on everyone's minds. People are coming up with scenarios for various teams on the fence to see if they would make the Tournament with a certain finish. For instance, several experts say things like "Well, if so and so finishes 2-1 down the stretch and wins a game in their conference tournament, they should be in." I began thinking about that, and decided to project the final records of every major conference team and every team with a shot at the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, including tie-breakers for seedings in the conference tournaments. The records also include how I think they will do in their respective conference tournaments. Without further ado, here is how I think every team will finish the season heading into the Selection Show on March 11th:

Projections made after games played on Wednesday, February 21st.

Italics identify projected conference tournament winner

1. North Carolina: 29-5 (12-4)
2. Virginia: 21-9 (12-4)
3. Virginia Tech: 22-10 (11-5)
4. Boston College: 19-12 (10-6)
5. Maryland: 25-9 (9-7)
6. Duke: 23-10 (8-8)
7. Georgia Tech: 20-12 (7-9)
8. Clemson: 21-10 (7-9)
9. Florida State: 20-12 (7-9)
10. North Carolina State: 15-15 (5-11)
11. Wake Forest: 13-17 (4-12)
12. Miami: 11-20 (4-12)

Big East
1. Georgetown: 26-6 (14-2)
2. Louisville: 22-9 (12-4)
3. Pittsburgh: 28-6 (12-4)
4. Notre Dame: 23-7 (11-5)
5. Marquette: 24-9 (10-6)
6. Providence: 19-11 (9-7)
7. West Virginia: 20-9 (9-7)
8. DePaul: 17-13 (9-7)
9. Villanova: 21-10 (9-7)
10. Syracuse: 20-12 (8-8)
11. St. John's: 17-15 (7-9)
12. Connecticut: 17-14 (6-10)
13. Seton Hall: 12-16 (4-12)
14. South Florida 12-18: (3-13)
15. Rutgers: 9-19 (3-13)
16. Cincinnati: 11-19 (2-14)

Big Ten
1. Ohio State: 29-4 (15-1)
2. Wisconsin: 30-4 (13-3)
3. Indiana: 21-10 (10-6)
4. Iowa: 18-13 (10-6)
5. Purdue: 21-11 (9-7)
6. Illinois: 23-11 (9-7)
7. Michigan State: 22-11 (8-8)
8. Michigan: 20-10 (7-9)
9. Minnesota: 10-21 (4-12)
10. Northwestern: 11-18 (2-14)
11. Penn State: 10-20 (1-15)

Big 12
1. Kansas: 29-5 (14-2)
2. Texas A&M: 28-5 (13-3)
3. Texas: 23-9 (12-4)
4. Kansas State: 21-11 (10-6)
5. Texas Tech: 21-12 (9-7)
6. Nebraska: 18-12 (8-8)
7. Missouri: 19-12 (7-9)
8. Oklahoma State: 21-11 (7-9)
9. Oklahoma: 14-15 (6-10)
10. Iowa State: 13-17 (5-11)
11. Baylor: 12-17 (3-13)
12. Colorado: 6-21 (2-14)

1. Washington State: 28-5 (15-3)
2. UCLA: 28-4 (15-3)
3. Stanford: 19-11 (11-7)
4. USC: 22-11 (11-7)
5. Oregon: 22-9 (10-8)
6. Arizona: 20-11 (10-8)
7. Washington: 19-13 (8-10)
8. California: 16-16 (7-11)
9. Oregon State: 9-22 (2-16)
10. Arizona State: 6-23 (1-17)

1. Florida: 31-3 (15-1)
2. Vanderbilt: 22-10 (11-5)
3. Georgia: 18-12 (9-7)
4. Kentucky: 22-11 (9-7)
5. Tennessee: 20-13 (7-9)
6. South Carolina: 14-16 (4-12)

1. Mississippi State: 17-13 (8-8)
2. Alabama: 22-10 (8-8)
3. Mississippi: 20-12 (8-8)
4. Arkansas: 18-13 (7-9)
5. Auburn: 15-16 (6-10)
6. LSU: 15-16 (4-12)

Missouri Valley
1. Southern Illinois: 27-5 (15-3)
2. Creighton: 21-11 (13-5)
3. Missouri State: 21-10 (12-6)
4. Bradley: 20-12 (10-8)
5. Northern Iowa: 17-13 (9-9)
6. Wichita State: 16-14 (8-10)

1. VCU: 27-6 (16-2)
2. Old Dominion: 25-8 (15-3)
3. Hofstra: 22-9 (14-4)
4. Drexel: 22-8 (13-5)

Mountain West
1. Air Force: 26-6 (12-4)
2. BYU: 22-9 (12-4)
3. UNLV: 27-6 (12-4)
4. San Diego State: 21-9 (11-5)

1. Nevada: 28-3 (15-1)
2. New Mexico State: 25-7 (12-4)
3. Utah State: 22-10 (11-5)

1. Xavier: 26-7 (13-3)
2. Massachusetts: 25-8 (13-3)

1. Wright State: 24-8 (14-2)
2. Butler: 26-5 (14-2)

West Coast

1. Santa Clara: 23-7 (12-2)
2. Gonzaga: 22-11 (11-3)

1. Davidson: 27-4 (17-1)
2. Appalachian State: 23-7 (15-3)

Note: Winthrop (Big South) and Memphis (Conference-USA) will go undefeated the rest of the way in the regular season, and will also win their respective conference tournaments

Thursday, February 22nd Predictions

Prediction Record: 420-198

Duke at Clemson- Prediction: Clemson 71, Duke 67
Washington State at Oregon- Prediction: Washington State 66, Oregon 61
Utah State at New Mexico State- Prediction: New Mexico State 74, Utah State 68
Stanford at USC- Prediction: USC 68, Stanford 60

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wednesday, February 21st Predictions

Prediction Record: 411-198

Boston College at Virginia Tech- Prediction: Virginia Tech 73, Boston College 68
Rhode Island at Xavier- Prediction: Xavier 75, Rhode Island 65
Georgia at Mississippi- Prediction: Mississippi 70, Georgia 64
Alabama at Tennessee- Prediction: Tennessee 73, Alabama 67
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State- Prediction: Mississippi State 77, Vanderbilt 74
Texas A&M at Oklahoma State- Prediction: Texas A&M 62, Oklahoma State 57
Florida State at Maryland- Prediction: Maryland 81, Florida State 73
Michigan at Illinois- Predicton: Illinois 64, Michigan 54
Purdue at Iowa- Prediction: Iowa 68, Purdue 63

A Bubble Team's Worst Nightmare

Written on Monday, February 19th

It happens every year. A major conference team comes out of nowhere in their conference tournament to make it to the championship and, in some cases, win the title. It also happens in some mid-major conferences that were expected to get one bid but then send two dancing because of upsets in the league tournaments.

The aforementioned situation is a nightmare for bubble teams hoping to get bids to the NCAA Tournament. When teams that are locks for the NCAA Tournament lose in their respective conference tournament and a mediocre team that gets hot at the right team either makes the championship or wins the automatic bid, teams on the fence become some of the most nervous people in the world. You hear the announcers every March:

"Well, [fill in bubble team of choice] has to root for [fill in league favorite] if they want a bid to the NCAA Tournament. If [fill in upstart team] pulls off yet another upset, it means that there is one less at-large bid for the bubble teams."

This year is not going to be any different. With all the parity in college basketball this season, there are several teams that could make Cinderella runs in their respective conference tournaments. In some leagues, these teams are in the lower half of the league and win an early game before getting on a run, and all of a sudden they look like the second coming of the UNLV teams from the early '90s. In other conferences, these Cinderella teams are just ones that have a decent chance to upset the heavy favorite and steal the automatic bid.

Who are the main candidates to make this kind of run in Championship Week 2007? Let's take a look at the major conferences, as well as the Missouri Valley, CAA and Mountain West, and find teams that have the ability to win a few games in early March.

ACC: Florida State—Sure, the Seminoles are on the bubble right now. However, with two of their final three on the road, FSU likely won’t finish any better than 7-9 in the conference. In other words, this team’s March hopes could be shot before the ACC Tournament. That makes Florida State dangerous. Starting point guard Toney Douglas should be back by then, meaning that the Seminoles will have the team that beat Florida, Duke, Maryland, and Virginia Tech back on the floor. Al Thornton is one of the top players in the conference, and is near-unstoppable on the offensive end. FSU has athletes galore on the wings, with Isaiah Swann and Jason Rich. FSU is obviously a team that can beat anyone on a given night. Throw in the fact that the ‘Noles are going to be a desperate group heading into the Tournament, and this is a team that could burst some bubbles come March.

Big East: DePaul—The Blue Demons were expected to make a lot of noise in the Big East heading into the season, but that hasn’t come to fruition just yet. However, it’s not too late. They have won three in a row, and four of their last five, meaning they could make a late push at an at-large bid as well. DePaul has one of the best inside-outside combos in the country, with guard Sammy Mejia and forward Wilson Chandler. Mejia can do-it-all at both ends of the floor, while Chandler creates a lot of match-up problems with his inside-outside ability. Draelon Burns is a big-time scorer on the wing. The Blue Demons have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the country all season long—they knocked off Kansas, Villanova, Marquette, and Notre Dame, but have lost to Northwestern, UAB, and St. John’s. If they have some momentum heading into the Big East Tournament, look out for the Blue Demons in New York. Another team to remember in the Big East Tournament is St. John's. They have some nice wins this year, and the tourney is played right in their backyard at Madison Square Garden.

Big Ten: Iowa—The Hawkeyes are currently tied for fourth place in the Big Ten standings, but make no mistake; this team has no shot at receiving an at-large bid to the Big Dance. With that said, this team could get the league’s automatic bid in Chicago. Iowa has won four of their last six in conference play, including wins at Michigan and over Indiana. Adam Haluska is one of the league’s best scorers, and forward Tyler Smith can do a variety of things at the forward spot as a freshman. Outside of those two, the offensive options are limited, but Tony Freeman is quick at the point, and the Hawkeyes have a slew of big bodies down low. With the huge group of bubble teams in the Big Ten likely playing tight and worrying about their at-large status, Iowa is a team that could slip in there and win a couple of games in the conference tournament. That Haluska-Smith combo can carry them.

Big Twelve: Missouri—Heading into conference play, the Tigers were expected to make a push for an NCAA Tournament bid. They were 11-2 at the time, with wins over Arkansas, Davidson, and Mississippi State. However, Mizzou started Big 12 play with four consecutive losses, essentially ending their at-large hopes. Lately, though, the Tigers have been righting the ship. They have won three of four, including Saturday’s win at Oklahoma State. Mike Anderson has instilled a “40 Minutes of Hell” system at Missouri, preaching a pressure defense and up-tempo offense. Stefhon Hannah can do a variety of things at the point guard spot, and his backcourt partner, Keon Lawrence, can score. Forwards Marshall Brown and Matt Lawrence are versatile scoring options in the frontcourt. The deep and versatile Tigers are not a fun team to play due to their style, and they could pull a couple of upsets in the Big 12 Tournament and make a run.

Pac-10: Washington - This is another team that has disappointed since getting into conference play, but is playing better lately, and might be able to make a run at a conference tournament title. The Huskies were playing very well early in the season, and had one of the best offensive performances I’ve seen in awhile against LSU. However, they started Pac-10 play at 1-6, and dug themselves into a hole they likely won’t be able to get out of. With that said, UW is clearly playing better lately. They knocked off Oregon and Stanford a couple of weeks ago, and nearly beat Washington State and Pittsburgh last week. Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman are a dominant interior duo down low, and Quincy Pondexter is an athletic wing. Justin Dentmon is a solid point guard. The Huskies are very young and could be rounding into form. I’m not on the “Washington will get an at-large” bandwagon (see: Steve Lavin), but I think that UW has the talent to make a run in the conference tournament.

SEC: Mississippi State - Don’t be fooled by the fact that the Bulldogs are tied for first in the SEC West—this team is not going to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Their resume simply has too many holes. However, this Bulldogs team is a quality group that has the pieces to knock off a few teams come tournament time. Moreover, with the SEC full of bubble teams, Mississippi State will have the opportunity to ruin at-large dreams for several teams. The Bulldogs might only be 6-6 in the SEC, but they have been killed in close games, as they are only 11 points from being 10-2 and an NCAA lock. Jamont Gordon is one of the top all-around players in the country, with the ability to get points, rebound, and assists with the best of them. Freshman Barry Stewart is a good scorer, while Dietric Slater and Reginald Delk are also part of a deep wing group. Charles Rhodes has the potential to be one of the best big men in the SEC. Look out for this team in the conference tournament.

Missouri Valley: Wichita State—The Shockers have been one of the biggest stories in college basketball season. They started as one of the top teams in the country, with road wins at Syracuse, George Mason, LSU, and Wyoming in consecutive weeks. Then, all of a sudden, the bottom fell out. WSU is 8-11 since their 8-0 start, but have only lost one game by double-figures, and have been competitive in their losses. Moreover, they have the personnel to make a run. Kyle Wilson is an inside-outside scorer that creates match-up problems; P.J. Couisnard is a versatile wing; and Ryan Martin does a variety of things to help the Shockers. In the backcourt, Sean Ogirri is a prolific long-range shooter that can get hot from deep. Mark Turgeon will have his team ready—remember, this is a team that returned four starters from a Sweet Sixteen run a year ago. Beware of them making a run in the MVC Tournament, aka "Arch Madness." If they play up to their potential, the Braves might be in the other "Madness" come Selection Sunday.

Mountain West: San Diego State- The Aztecs received a lot of hype this past week, after winning five in a row to put themselves in position to potentially receive an at-large bid to the Big Dance. However, after their loss at Wyoming, that talk has subsided for now. SDSU is only 7-5 in the Mountain West standings, but the preseason favorite heading into the year has all the pieces needed to make a run in March. The Aztecs have arguably the best player in the league in wing Brandon Heath, who can do nearly everything on the court. Mohamed Abukar creates a lot of mismatches in frontcourt, while Jerome Habel is starting to assert himself down low. Former Louisville transfer Lorrenzo Wade is another athletic player for SDSU that can make a big impact in the conference tournament. SDSU blew out Air Force and UNLV in the span of a week by a combined 36 points. Any team that can do that is a real sleeper threat in my book.

CAA: Hofstra- The CAA is shaping up to be one of the best conference tournaments in the country. There are four teams with at least 11 wins in conference play, and three of them have a legit shot at a potential at-large bid. The one that doesn’t have at-large hopes? The only team to beat each of the other three contenders in the conference—Hofstra. The Pride were one of the last teams left out of the 2006 NCAA Tournament, although they beat eventual Final Four team George Mason twice. They were expected to be one of the top mid-major teams in the country this season, but a 0-3 non-league start hurt their prospects. However, they are 12-4 in conference play, and have the ability to beat anyone—and lose to anyone (as demonstrated by losses to Delaware and Northeastern). The three-guard backcourt of Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio, and Carlos Rivera is one of the best in the country, and gives the Pride a perimeter that is unmatched by most teams. Hofstra doesn’t have much in the frontcourt, but if their guards get hot, it won’t matter. I wouldn't be surprised to see this team in the CAA championship, but it is also not out of the question for the Pride to be done in the early rounds. I’m betting on the former.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tuesday, February 20th Predictions

Prediction Record: 405-196

Wisconsin at Michigan State- Prediction: Wisconsin 60, Michigan State 56
DePaul at Notre Dame- Prediction: Notre Dame 73, DePaul 67
High Point at Winthrop- Prediction: Winthrop 70, High Point 59
West Virginia at Providence- Prediction: Providence 76, West Virginia 71
Northern Iowa at Bradley- Prediction: Bradley 66, Northern Iowa 53
Texas Tech at Texas- Prediction: Texas 75, Texas Tech 69
Missouri State at Wichita State- Prediction: Missouri State 71, Wichita State 68
Air Force at UNLV- Prediction: UNLV 67, Air Force 62

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bracket Breakdown


This Week's Bracket

Breakdown by Conference

ACC (7): North Carolina, Virginia, Duke, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Maryland, Georgia Tech
Big East (7): Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, Villanova, West Virginia, Notre Dame
Big Ten (4): Wisconsin, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue
Big Twelve (5): Texas A&M, Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State
Pac-10 (6): UCLA, Washington State, Stanford, USC, Arizona, Oregon
SEC (5): Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Alabama
Missouri Valley (3): Southern Illinois, Creighton, Missouri State
Mountain West (3): Air Force, UNLV, BYU
Colonial (2): VCU, Old Dominion
Horizon (2): Butler, Wright State

One-Bid Conferences (21): America East (Vermont); Atlantic Sun (East Tennessee State); Atlantic-10 (Xavier); Big Sky (Weber State); Big South (Winthrop); Big West (Long Beach State); Conference USA (Memphis); Ivy (Penn); MAC (Toledo); MAAC (Marist); MEAC (Delaware State); Mid-Continent (Oral Roberts); Northeast (Central Connecticut State); Ohio Valley (Austin Peay); Patriot (Holy Cross); Southern (Davidson); Southland (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi); Sun Belt (South Alabama); SWAC (Jackson State); WAC (Nevada); WCC (Santa Clara)

Last Four In: Missouri State, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Old Dominion
Last Four Out: Clemson, Illinois, Kansas State, Michigan State
Next Four Out: Bradley, Drexel, Georgia, Syracuse

Key Games This Week

Villanova at Marquette (Monday): Two teams looking for a win. ‘Nova needs to boost their Tournament resume, while Marquette has lost three in a row.
Kansas at Kansas State (Monday): Intrastate rivalry game. Kansas is in the mix for a top-two seed, and Kansas State needs a marquee win to pad their profile.
Wisconsin at Michigan State (Tuesday): Classic trap game. Badgers could be looking ahead to Ohio State showdown. MSU needs a big win for their at-large hopes.
DePaul at Notre Dame (Tuesday): Two bubble teams in the Big East. DePaul is making a late run towards a bid, while Notre Dame needs to keep winning.
High Point at Winthrop (Tuesday): Showdown in the Big South. High Point is 10-2 in the conference, while Winthrop is 12-0 with two games left in the season.
West Virginia at Providence (Tuesday): Two more bubble teams in the Big East. West Virginia needs a road win for their resume, while Providence can’t lost at home.
Northern Iowa at Bradley (Tuesday): Two teams going in opposite directions. UNI has lost eight of nine, while Bradley has won four of five, including one at VCU.
Texas Tech at Texas (Tuesday): Interesting Big 12 battle. Texas Tech has won two in a row after losing five straight, while Texas is 9-3 in the conference.
Missouri State at Wichita State (Tuesday): Two MVC teams that didn’t help their chances with home Bracket Buster losses. MSU is in good shape, WSU is not.
Air Force at UNLV (Tuesday): Big game in the Mountain West. Air Force is 10-3 in the conference and looking for a four seed. UNLV is 9-4 and wants a bid.
Boston College at Virginia Tech (Wednesday): Two ACC teams coming off tough weekend losses. BC is one game out of first, VT needs to bounce back.
Rhode Island at Xavier (Wednesday): Battle for first in the Atlantic-10. Rhode Island is 10-3 in the league, while Xavier is 9-3 and in the mix for an at-large bid.
Georgia at Mississippi (Wednesday): A must-win for both teams. Georgia is 7-5 in the SEC, while Ole Miss dropped into a three-way tie in the West at 6-6.
Alabama at Tennessee (Wednesday): Two 6-6 teams in the SEC. Alabama picked up a big win over Kentucky Saturday, while UT was blown out at South Carolina.
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State (Wednesday): After their huge win over Florida, Vandy heads on the road. MSU is tied for first in the SEC West at 6-6.
Texas A&M at Oklahoma State (Wednesday): Oklahoma State really needs to bounce back after losing four of five. A&M is in the mix for a 2 seed in March.
Florida State at Maryland (Wednesday): Two bubble teams in the ACC. Florida State needs a win after dropping four in a row; Maryland has won 3 in a row.
Michigan at Illinois (Wednesday): Another battle of bubble teams. Michigan picked up a much-needed win over Indiana, while Ilinois can’t drop this one at home.
Purdue at Iowa (Wednesday): Another Big Ten battle between NCAA hopefuls. Purdue would love a road win, while Iowa is in fourth place in the conference.
Duke at Clemson (Thursday): Rematch of the controversial Duke win a month ago. Duke is back on track with two wins, while Clemson is falling fast and needs a win.
Washington State at Oregon (Thursday): Two Pac-10 teams going in opposite directions. WSU has won five in a row, while Oregon has lost five of six.
Utah State at New Mexico State (Thursday): Two WAC teams hoping to make a late run. USU has won 10 of 12, while NMSU picked up two big wins this week.
Stanford at USC (Thursday): Battle for seeding in the Pac-10. Stanford swept the Oregon teams this past week, while USC is coming off a loss to previously winless ASU.
Loyola (Md.) at Niagara (Friday): Two MAAC teams fighting for the top spot. Both teams are 11-5 in the league, one game behind Marist in the standings.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Road to Selection Sunday

Welcome back to the "Road to Selection Sunday". As stated last week, it is basically a recap of the past couple of days in college basketball, usually the weekend that was just completed. It will go over the teams on the bubble that helped or hurt themselves, teams in the NCAA Tournament whose seed is rising and falling, and much more.

This weekend, a couple of highly-ranked teams were upset by teams in need of a win. In other cases, some teams on the right side of the bubble lost games they should have won and are no longer as comfortably in the Big Dance as before. In addition, Bracket Busters weekend brought into question several team’s at-large candidacy, and also pushed others into the limelight. Let's take a look at all the teams that were affected by this weekend's results.

Teams close to locking up bids to the NCAA Tournament:
Cavaliers atop the ACC with a 9-3 record; easy schedule the rest of the way could give them regular-season title.
BYU: Home win over New Mexico was their seventh in a row. They lead the MWC with a 10-3 record—RPI is slowly rising as well.
Texas: Despite a fairly mediocre non-conference resume, the Longhorns are 9-3 in the Big 12. However, they face a tough final stretch.
UNLV: Picked up an important road split this week to move to 9-4 in the conference. RPI is still in the Top 12.
Louisville: Back-to-back road wins over Pittsburgh and Marquette, combined with a 9-4 Big East record, put the Cardinals in for now.
Vanderbilt: Huge win at over Florida on Saturday gives the Commodores another marquee win for their resume. Second-best in the SEC.
Stanford: Very impressive performance over Oregon, combined with overall profile, leaves the Cardinal in good shape. Need to split final four.

Teams on the bubble that helped themselves:
Maryland: Three straight wins, including road victory over Clemson, put Terrapins in good shape. Three of last four are at home.
Notre Dame: Fighting Irish move to 8-5 in the Big East after road win at Cincinnati. RPI in the 50s still keeps them from “lock” status.
Syracuse: Win over Connecticut was the Orange’s third straight, putting them at 8-5 in the Big East. Tough remaining stretch to finish.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers, despite a weak overall profile, are in good position with 8-5 Big East record. Need two more wins.
DePaul: Blue Demons enter the discussion with three straight wins to move to 7-6 in the Big East. Two of last three are at home.
Michigan: Wolverines picked up a huge win at home over Indiana on Saturday to stay in the hunt. Need to pick up another big win.
Michigan State: The Spartans have an extremely tough final four games, so blowout win over Iowa was imperative. 6-6 in Big Ten.
Kansas State: Wildcats’ easy win over Iowa State takes some of the sting out of disappointing loss at Nebraska. 8-4 in Big 12.
Bradley: Win at VCU puts the Braves in solid position heading down the stretch. Final two are at home and RPI is rising.
Alabama: Crimson Tide picked up a big win over Kentucky on Saturday puts them at 6-6 in the SEC with an RPI in the 20s.
Georgia: Despite the loss of Mike Mercer, the Bulldogs are still okay. They have won three straight, but have tough final stretch.
Arkansas: Razorbacks dominated Ole Miss in the second half to get to 5-7 in the SEC. Need to get to .500 in conference to have a chance.
Appalachian State: Road win at Wichita State gives them a shot. Need to win out and get to Southern final to have a legit shot.
Drexel: Big road win at Creighton puts the Dragons back in the mix. Need to win out and get a couple wins in the CAA Tournament.
Old Dominion: Monarchs keep rising towards an at-large bid with their road win at Toledo. Have won nine in a row heading into final two.

Teams on the bubble that hurt themselves:
Disappointing home loss to Maryland drops them to 5-7 in the ACC. Have lost seven of their last nine and are falling fast.
Florida State: Seminoles have nearly played themselves out of contention after loss at Virginia. Four defeats in a row leave them at 5-8.
Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets didn’t hurt themselves too much with loss at Duke, but they need another road win to boost their resume.
Villanova: Wildcats’ have outstanding power numbers, but their record is lacking. Late loss to Georgetown at home puts them at 6-6.
Missouri State: The Bears looked solid for a bid heading into the weekend, but home loss to Winthrop drops them a few notches.
Creighton: Like the Bears, Creighton looked good heading into the week. That was before a home loss to Drexel left them at 6-5 in non-league.
Tennessee: Like Villanova, the Volunteers have excellent power numbers, but their blowout road loss to South Carolina leaves them at 6-6.
Mississippi: Rebels were SEC West leaders heading into the weekend, but awful second half at Arkansas drops them into a three-way tie.
San Diego State: Aztecs were one of the hottest teams in the country—but road loss at Wyoming leaves them at only 7-5 in the MWC.
Gonzaga: Bulldogs really hurt their at-large shot with OT loss to Memphis. RPI in the 70s and 10-7 non-league record don’t help their resume.

Teams trying to work themselves into the at-large conversation:
Mississippi State: Bulldogs don’t have much of an overall profile, but their win at LSU puts them in a three-way tie for first in the SEC West.
Washington: Huskies missed a chance to pick up a big road win at Pittsburgh, but they get USC and UCLA at home to finish up.

Teams that are falling from the at-large conversation:
Wichita State: Shockers are pretty much done after their home loss to Appalachian State. RPI in the 80s is not impressive.
Iowa: Hawkeyes still are in fourth in the Big Ten, but their blowout loss at Michigan State shows they aren’t an NCAA team.
Northern Iowa: Wow, how UNI has fallen. Loss at Nevada on Saturday was their eighth in their last nine games; no shot at a bid.
Oklahoma: The Sooners had a big chance to help their homes with Texas A&M on Saturday. Loss to the Aggies probably kills their hopes.

Teams whose seed is rising:
So much for the Blue Devils being on the bubble. Win over Georgia Tech gets them back over .500 in the ACC with a Top 10 RPI.
Georgetown: Hoyas are on one of the hottest teams around. Road win at Villanova puts them in position for a Top-3 seed in March.
Washington State: Could the Cougars get a 2 seed? Three Pac-10 losses are by a combined nine points—and two were in OT.
Southern Illinois: Salukis solidified a Top-3 seed with road win at Butler. #5 RPI and 12-4 Top 100 record really help their case.

Teams whose seed is falling:
Oklahoma State:
Cowboys need to right their ship fast, or they will find themselves on the bubble. Struggles aren’t only on the road anymore.
Oregon: Loss at Stanford was their sixth in eight games. RPI is falling fast and the Ducks are now only 8-7 in the Pac-10 standings.
Indiana: The Hoosiers are falling dangerously close to the bubble. Loss at Michigan drops them to 7-5 in the Big Ten.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles fell from a potential 2 seed to a 5 or 6 seed with loss to Louisville. Tied for fourth in the Big East at 8-5.
Butler: The Bulldogs are still going to get a Top-5 seed, but they missed a chance to get a potential 3 with home loss to Southern Illinois.
Arizona: If the Wildcats don’t split their final four, they will be in a precarious position for the Dance. 3 of 4 on the road to finish.

Boston College: Back-to-back home losses to Duke and North Carolina, combined with tough finishing stretch, could make BC 5th in ACC pecking order.

Number one seeds as of this week:
1. UCLA: The Bruins clearly have the best profile in the country. They have 15 Top 100 wins, and one of their losses was without Darren Collison.
2. Wisconsin: The Badgers move to the second spot by default after losses by UNC and Florida. Showdown at Ohio State could decide top seed.
3. Florida: The Gators still might be the best team in the country, despite loss at Vanderbilt. They don’t have to worry about a #1 seed.
4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels followed up a disappointing home loss to Virginia Tech with big road win at Boston College. #2 in the RPI.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Weekend Preview

With conference tournaments and Selection Sunday right around the corner, teams are entering their final five games of the season. That means that bubble teams face must-wins across the board, while several other teams are fighting for seeds--both in conference tourneys and in the NCAA Tournament. In addition, this weekend is home to Bracket Buster Saturday. This set of games could mean the difference between the NCAA or the NIT to many teams should they not win their conference tournament. No matter what games you are interested in, there are plenty of options to choose from this weekend.

Top Games

Georgetown at Villanova (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Interesting game in the Big East. Georgetown is one of the hottest teams in the country, having won eight in a row and 15 of their last 17. Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert form one of the best frontcourt duos in America, and freshman DaJuan Summers has played well up front. Jonathan Wallace runs the point. Villanova is also playing well lately, with a four-game winning streak heading into the game. Curtis Sumpter is a terrific scorer up front, and Scottie Reynolds and Mike Nardi form a solid backcourt. Shane Clark and Dante Cunnigham have stepped up this year. Prediction: Villanova 71, Georgetown 67

UCLA at Arizona (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): Huge game in the Pac-10. UCLA has struggled somewhat lately, including a loss at West Virginia. However, they are still one of the best teams in the country. Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo form one of the better backcourts in college basketball, while Josh Shipp also provides scoring from the perimeter. Arizona needs a win to cement their at-large status, especially after their loss at home to USC Thursday. Marcus Williams and Chase Budinger are prolific scorers on the wings, while Mustafa Shakur is a very good distributor. Ivan Radenovic creates mismatches up front. Prediction: UCLA 73, Arizona 70

Florida at Vanderbilt (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): Potential upset in the making? Florida is looking more and more like the favorite to repeat their title in April. However, they have played down to their competition lately, leaving them vulnerable. Al Horford and Joakim Noah are dominant down low, while Corey Brewer is versatile on the wing. Tauren Green is an underrated point guard. Vanderbilt has won 11 in a row at home, and is playing well lately. Shan Foster and Derrick Byars form one of the best wing combinations in the country, while Dan Cage is another good perimeter player. Ross Neltner anchors the post. Prediction: Florida 77, Vanderbilt 72

Kentucky at Alabama (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Another big game in the SEC for a bubble team at home. Kentucky looks like a solid bet for the NCAA Tournament, but they have lost two in a row and four of seven. Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley form a quality, high-scoring backcourt for the Wildcats. Randolph Morris is very good down low. Alabama desperately needs to get a win to boost their resume. Their below .500 SEC record isn’t helping things. Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix form one of the best post duos in the country, and Ronald Steele is a very good point guard. Alonzo Gee is solid. Prediction: Alabama 67, Kentucky 63

Memphis at Gonzaga (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN): An interesting non-conference game that would normally be between two teams that haven’t played a tough contest in month. However, this season, Gonzaga is not even winning the WCC right now. The Bulldogs are struggling without the suspended Josh Heytvelt, but are still tough at home. Derek Raivio and Jeremy Pargo need to step up in the backcourt. Memphis is dominating Conference-USA, and could be as good as a year ago. Chris Douglas-Roberts and Jeremy Hunt are top-notch wing scorers, while Robert Dozier is a versatile forward. Joey Dorsey anchors the interior. Prediction: Memphis 82, Gonzaga 76

Oregon at Stanford (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Intriguing contest in the Pac-10. Oregon was looking like a potential Pac-10 champion only a few weeks ago. However, they have lost five of seven to drop to 8-6 in conference. Aaron Brooks and Malik Hairston lead a terrific perimeter group for the Ducks, while Maarty Leunen is solid inside. Stanford has lost three of five to drop to 8-5 in the Pac-10. Robin and Brook Lopez lead the way inside for the Cardinal, while Lawrence Hill is a very good inside-outside forward. They will be without Anthony Goods, their second-leading scorer, who is out with an injury. Prediction: Stanford 68, Oregon 61

North Carolina at Boston College (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): Battle for first in the ACC. Both teams are coming off of a disappointing home loss, UNC to Virginia Tech, and BC to Duke. The Tar Heels are in the mix for a #1 seed, and are a threat to win it all. Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright are dominant in the paint, while Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington from a very good backcourt. Boston College is 9-3 in the ACC, and is led by my pick for ACC Player of the Year, Jared Dudley. He does it all for the Eagles. Guards Tyrese Rice and Sean Marshall combine with Dudley to form one of the best trios in the country. Prediction: Boston College 74, North Carolina 73

Louisville at Marquette (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPNU): All of a sudden, this game is for third place in the Big East. Louisville pulled off one of the biggest wins of the season, when they went into Pitt and knocked off the Panthers. They have won six of their last eight. Terrence Williams and Juan Palacios are tough to match-up with, and David Padgett can dominate the paint at times. Marquette has lost back-to-back games, and needs to get back on track. Dominic James has struggled mightily lately, but he and Jerel McNeal form a terrific backcourt. Wesley Matthews is another good perimeter player for the Golden Eagles. Prediction: Marquette 70, Louisville 65

Georgia Tech at Duke (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): An ACC battle between two teams looking for a win. Georgia Tech has won four in a row to get to 5-6 in the ACC, and possibly a bid to the Big Dance. Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young form one of the best freshman combos in the country, while Anthony Morrow is a very good perimeter shooter. Duke had lost four in a row prior to their road win at Boston College, and is 6-6 in the ACC. Josh McRoberts is a do-it-all player for the Blue Devils, and Jon Scheyer and DeMarcus Nelson are decent wing scorers. Greg Paulus has played better lately at the point for Duke. Prediction: Duke 66, Georgia Tech 57

Maryland at Clemson (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Big-time bubble game in the ACC. Maryland has made a run towards the Field of 65 in the past week or so, with back-to-back wins to move to 5-6 in the conference. D.J. Strawberry can do a lot on the perimeter, while Greivis Vasquez is a developing freshman guard. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are active, athletic big men. Clemson has really faltered since their 17-0 start, losing six of eight. James Mays is athletic on the inside, and Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds are quick in the backcourt. K.C. Rivers is one of the best sixth men in the country. Prediction: Clemson 79, Maryland 75

Other Games to Watch with NCAA Tournament Implications

Florida State at Virginia (Saturday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Very quality ACC battle. Florida State absolutely needs a win after their recent three-game losing streak and subsequent 5-7 ACC record. Virginia has a chance to win the ACC given their somewhat easy schedule down the stretch. They are getting closer to locking up a bid. Prediction: Virginia 72, Florida State 64

Washington at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): Similar to last weekend’s UCLA-West Virginia game, this one is a cross-country non-conference contest. Washington is only 6-8 in the Pac-10, and needs a win here if they have at-large hopes. Pitt is coming off of a home loss to Louisville, not a good time for UW to come to town. Prediction: Pittsburgh 71, Washington 56

Iowa at Michigan State (Saturday, 2:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Two teams going in the wrong direction in the Big Ten. Iowa has made a run as of late, winning four of their last five to get to 7-5 in the conference. Michigan State had lost four in a row before their home victory over Michigan this week. They are only 5-6 in the Big Ten. Prediction: Michigan State 60, Iowa 55

Texas A&M at Oklahoma (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC):
Does Oklahoma have any shot at an at-large bid? Their loss at Iowa State severely crippled their hopes, but a win here gets them back on track. Texas A&M is one of the most complete teams in the country, but they are coming off of a heartbreaking home loss to Texas Tech. Prediction: Texas A&M 67, Oklahoma 63

Connecticut at Syracuse (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): Usually a big-time rivalry game, it has lost some of its luster this year. Connecticut has won three of four to get 5-6 in the Big East, but they are still not a good team. Syracuse is right on the bubble at 7-5 in the conference. They have to hold serve at home for the rest of the season. Prediction: Syracuse 68, Connecticut 55

Indiana at Michigan (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN): A rematch of a comfortable Indiana win three weeks ago. The Hoosiers are close to locking up a bid to the Dance, despite losing two of their past three games. Michigan was no different this year than last year—and they are likely to miss the NCAA Tournament at only 5-6 in the Big Ten. Prediction: Michigan 70, Indiana 66

Mississippi at Arkansas (Saturday, 5:05 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Crucial SEC West battle. Mississippi has come out of nowhere to take the lead in the division at 6-5, winning four in a row. Arkansas has struggled mightily lately, losing seven of their last ten. At only 4-7 in the conference, the Razorbacks absolutely need a win here. Prediction: Arkansas 75, Mississippi 69

Bracket Busters

Note: Click here for my complete preview of the Bracket Buster games, and here for my Southern Illinois-Butler preview.

Winthrop at Missouri State (Friday, 7:00 PM, ESPN2)- A battle between two teams that will make noise in the NCAA Tournament should they get there. Winthrop is undefeated in the Big South, and played North Carolina and Wisconsin very tightly in the non-conference season. Mike Jenkins and Torrell Martin are a very good scoring duo on the wing. Both can really shoot the lights out. Craig Bradshaw is a potential go-to-player in the paint, while Chris Gaynor is an underrated performer at the point guard spot. Missouri State started off the season very strong, knocking off Wisconsin at a neutral site. They struggled to open MVC play, but have won five in a row heading into the week. Blake Ahearn is one of the best shooters in the country, while wing Tyler Chaney and Spencer Laurie flank him in a very good perimeter group. Deven Mitchell is one of the best sixth men around. Prediction: Missouri State 69, Winthrop 62

Albany at Boise State (Friday, 9:00 PM, ESPNU)- One of the two worst games of the televised Bracket Busters games. However, both teams are solid "mid-majors" who can be tough on any given night. Albany reached the NCAA Tournament last season, and nearly knocked off Connecticut in the first round. They had won eight in a row prior to their home loss to Vermont this week. Jamar Wilson is a tremendous point guard. He can do-it-all for the Great Danes. Jason Siggers is a good wing, and Brent Wilson is solid up front. Boise State has been solid in the WAC all season long, sitting at 7-5 in the conference and 13-10 overall. Coby Karl is one of the more underrated wings in the West. Matt Nelson and Reggie Larry are a dominant rebounding duo down low. Prediction: Boise State 71, Albany 64

Appalachian State at Wichita State (Saturday, 1:00 PM, ESPNU)-
Two teams that are at-large contenders, but are on the outside looking in right now. Appalachian State had an outstanding non-conference campaign, knocking off Vanderbilt and Virginia in Puerto Rico, then going to VCU and defeating the Rams. However, they have some bad losses in Southern Conference play, which have put them on the wrong side of the bubble. D.J. Thompson is an underrated guard who can do a little of everything, while Nathan Cranford and Demetrius Scott are also solid perimeter players. Jeremy Clayton and Donte Minter are good up front. Wichita State, like Appalachian State, started hot, with victories over LSU and Syracuse, but the Shockers have struggled in MVC play, sitting at 8-8. Kyle Wilson is a very good inside-outside scorer, while P.J. Couisnard is a versatile wing. Sean Ogirri can shoot. Prediction: Wichita State 63, Appalachian State 59

Holy Cross at Hofstra (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPNU)-
Last week, this would have been a battle between an undefeated Patriot team and a CAA team primed to jump into first-place. However, Holy Cross lost at Bucknell and Hofstra loss at home to Drexel last week. The Crusaders are still tied for first place in the Patriot at 10-1. Prior to the loss, they had won 12 in a row. Keith Simmons is the best player in the conference, while point guard Torey Thomas is a very good distributor and defender. Tim Clifford anchors the interior. Hofstra is one-game back of VCU in the CAA standings, but that home loss will likely cost them a share of the conference title. The Pride have one of the best backcourts in the country in wings Loren Stokes, the CAA Player of the Year favorite; Antoine Agudio, an unbelievable shooter; and Carlos Rivera, a solid point guard. Prediction: Hofstra 74, Holy Cross 64

Southern Illinois at Butler (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN2)-
Easily the best game of the weekend. Both teams are in the running for a Top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and could be the two best “mid-majors” in college basketball this season. Southern Illinois is the hotter team of the two, having won seven in a row. The Salukies lead the MVC at 13-3 in the conference. Ranked #9 in the RPI, SIU has solid non-conference wins over Virginia Tech, Saint Louis, and at Western Kentucky. They are led up front by the forward duo of Randal Falker, one of the favorites for Missouri Valley Player of the Year, and Matt Shaw, a very good inside-outside scorer. The guard tandem of Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young is excellent defensively, and also very solid on the other end. The Salukis are one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they are clutch offensively. Butler is one of the biggest surprise teams this season. Prior to their loss at Wright State this past weekend, the Bulldogs had won nine in a row. They are 22-3 overall, 11-2 in the Horizon. Ranked #31 in the RPI, Butler has wins over Tennessee, Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Indiana, and Purdue. A.J. Graves is one of the best guards in the country, and he combines with Mike Green to form an outstanding backcourt. Brandon Crone is a good all-around player up front, providing balance. Expect a low-scoring, defensive-minded battle in this one. Prediction: Southern Illinois 56, Butler 53

Kent State at George Mason (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPNU)-
An interesting game between two of the history-making mid-major programs in the country. Kent State made a run to the Elite Eight a few years ago, while George Mason, as we all know, reached the Final Four last season. This year, neither team is primed to reach the NCAA Tournament, but this will be a good game nonetheless. Kent State is second in their division of the MAC at 9-3, and the Golden Flashes have won seven of their last eight. Omni Smith is a good scorer in the backcourt, while Armon Gates and Mike Scott are also solid. George Mason is only 8-8 in the CAA, and have lost five of their last eight games. However, two returning starters from last year, Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas, form one of the best inside-outside duos in the CAA. Prediction: George Mason 67, Kent State 61

Austin Peay at Akron (Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPNU)-
Two of the hotter teams in the mid-major world go head-to-head. Austin Peay has won 15 of their last 16, and is the surprise leader of the Ohio Valley at 15-2 in league play. The Governors have a very good forward tandem in Drake Reed and Fernandez Lockett, who both can score and rebound well. Landon Shipley, Todd Babington, and 5-9 point guard Derek Wright form a solid perimeter group. Akron, prior to their loss over the weekend at Toledo, had won nine in a row. They are 9-2 in the MAC, tied with Toledo for the overall conference lead. Romeo Travis is a dominant big man at times, and can carry the Zips. 6-0 guards Cedrick Middleton and Dru Joyce are small but talented in the backcourt. Nick Dials can really shoot the ball. Prediction: Akron 72, Austin Peay 67

Northern Iowa at Nevada (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN2)-
A couple of weeks ago, this would be one of the best games of the weekend. At that time, Northern Iowa was 6-2 in conference play and 14-4 overall. Since then, though, they have lost 6 of 7, and are fading fast. The Panthers are led by their big man duo of Eric Coleman and Grant Stout. Both are excellent rebounders, and have the ability to take over a game with their offense. Brooks McKowen is one of the best distributors in the country. Nevada is a legit Top 20 team, and has one of the best players in the country in big man Nick Fazekas. The Wolf Pack are a lock to go dancing in March. In addition to Fazekas, Nevada has a much underrated guard duo in point guard Ramon Sessions and wing Marcelus Kemp. Sessions is playing like he did as a freshman (that’s a good thing), while Kemp can fill it up. Prediction: Nevada 70, Northern Iowa 58

Old Dominion at Toledo (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN360)-
A very interesting game between the CAA and the MAC. Old Dominion has won seven in a row in the Colonial to move within one game of league-leader VCU and right into the at-large discussion. Valdas Vasylius and Arnaud Dahi form one of the better forward duos in the conference, while Drew Williamson can score and distribute well at the point guard spot. Brandon Johnson can do a little of everything. Toledo has won eight of their last ten, including a victory over Akron this past weekend. The Rockets are tied for first in the MAC at 9-2. They own one of the best mid-major backcourts in the country in Keonta Howell and Justin Ingram. Both can score very well, and are also decent rebounders. Florentino Valencia is somewhat undersized at 6-5, but he gets points and rebounds on the interior. Prediction: Old Dominion 71, Toledo 62

Utah State at Oral Roberts (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPNU)-
Two teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last season go at it. Utah State was expected to be down somewhat this year, but the Aggies are in third-place in the WAC, and have won eight of their last eleven. Jaycee Carroll is one of the best guards you’ve never heard of—he can really shoot the ball. Chaz Spicer and Stephen DuCharme form a solid frontcourt duo. Oral Roberts is a deep sleeper in March, as shown by their road win at Kansas this season. The Mid-Continent leaders are led by Caleb Green, one of the best big men in the country. Ken Tutt provides balance on the perimeter with his scoring, and Marchello Vealy is a versatile wing. Prediction: Oral Roberts 73, Utah State 66

Cal State Fullerton at Wright State (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN360)-
Don’t sleep on this game. Cal State Fullerton is second in the Big West with an 8-4 record, and an 16-6 mark overall. The Titans have one of the best players in the country in point guard Bobby Brown. He is a legit NBA prospect. Balancing him out on the interior is forward Scott Cutley, who is a threat to go for 17 and 10 every night out. CS Fullerton has five guys averaging double figures. Wright State is coming off of a win over Butler, their seventh in a row. Matching up with Brown will be another outstanding guard in Dashaun Wood. He can do-it-all on the court, and is an excellent scorer. Vaughn Diggins and Todd Brown flank him on the perimeter. Drew Burleson is tough down low. Prediction: Wright State 78, Cal State Fullerton 70

Bradley at VCU (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN2)-
Another Colonial vs. Missouri Valley battle. Bradley is sitting on the bubble currently, although their grip on it is slipping. The Braves have wins over DePaul and Southern Illinois, but they are only 9-7 in the conference and are not consistent enough. Bradley has one of the best perimeter trios in the MVC, with Daniel Ruffin, a terrific passer; Jeremy Crouch, a very good scorer; and Will Franklin, who can do a little of everything. VCU is a real sleeper for March. The Rams are sitting atop the CAA at 14-2, but likely won’t get an at-large bid. However, they are tough. They play pressure defense, and have an outstanding guard group in B.A. Walker, Jesse Pellot-Rosa, and Eric Maynor. Wil Fameni is a solid big man with a nice touch. Prediction: VCU 75, Bradley 65

Drexel at Creighton (Saturday, 10:00 PM, ESPN2)-
Both teams are in the mix for an at-large bid, and will be a tough out if they can get to the Big Dance. Drexel had a hot start to the season, knocking off Syracuse, Villanova, and St. Joseph’s—all on the road. They didn’t play well in the middle part of CAA play, but have bounced back. The Dragons have a very good perimeter group, led by guards Dominick Mejia and Bashir Mason. Frank Elegar is one of the best post players in the conference, and Chaz Crawford is an excellent defender, both with blocking shots and rebounding. Creighton went only 6-4 in non-conference play after being a preseason favorite to win the MVC. However, they have played well lately, and are in second place in the conference, at 12-4. Nate Funk and Anthony Tolliver form an excellent inside-outside combo. Dane Watts is a very good option offensive, who can also rebound. Nick Porter is a talented guard. Prediction: Creighton 68, Drexel 59

Ohio at New Mexico State (Saturday, Midnight, ESPN2)-
Two teams coming off of disappointing weeks. Ohio had one of the more surprising losses of the season, at home to Northern Illinois, a team who had 4 wins prior to that. The Bobcats, 7-4 in the MAC, have five guys averaging in double-figures, led by the post duo of Leon Williams and Jerome Tillman. They combine for over 30 points and 18 rebounds per game. Bubba Walther and Sonny Troutman are the main perimeter threats. New Mexico State was in the mix for an at-large bid heading into last week, but they went 0-2 on the road, and are falling. Justin Hawkins can do-it-all for the Aggies, while Tyrone Nelson is a dominating big man, at times. Fred Peete can shoot the ball well, while center Hatila Passos is solid down low. Prediction: New Mexico State 73, Ohio 65