Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bracket Buster Preview Part III - The Final Preview..Well Almost

I seemingly do this every Bracketbuster season. Four straight years I have done Bracketbuster previews and four straight years it is the night before the first two games and I still have a ton of previews left. I figured last night I would get home after the Madison/Hofstra game, get in two or three more game previews, then finish tonight.

Then the Madison/Hofstra game got delayed by a shot clock problem. Then the second half was delayed again as they tried to fix it before the start of the half. Then the game went into one overtime. Then two. Three and a half hours later, 90 minutes more than I thought, I was finally home. Beat. Then I had to review last night's wacky games in the CAA this morning.

So here I am, eight games left to do. Ok, the previews are going to be much shorter. But I have to finish tonight..or ok, at least get close. Here we go.

Buffalo (17-7, 9-3 MAC) vs. Vermont(21-7, 13-4 America East) The surprise of the MAC faces the preseason favorite of the America East. Bulls vs. Catamounts. Perhaps the most underrated game of the Bracketbuster series featuring two teams at the top of their respective conference standings.

The Bills still have the best record in the MAC at 9-3 in conference unfortunately having lost two straight, the most recent a 59-48 loss at home to Bowling Green. The Bills, RPI of 97 and non conf SOS of 163, are led by guard Rodney Pierce's 14 ppg game. Buffalo leads the MAC in FG percentage and rebounding margin. They are generally in the top four in most MAC categories. The Bills somewhat struggle on the road with their record at 6-4 on the season. Buffalo has a signature home win over Temple, plus a tough four point home loss to #1 UConn.

The Catamounts, who have a RPI of 105 and non-conference SOS of 317, have won 11 of their last 12, with their only loss during that time a heartbreaking loss to Binghamton where the Catamounts were up 23 at the half. Vermont is led by the triumverate of Mike Trimboli, Marcus Blakely and Colin McIntosh who combine for 44 points and 18 rebounds a game. The Catamounts lead the America East in scoring at 77 points per game, first in FG percentage at 48.4 percent, and are first in FG percentage defense at 41 percent. Vermont is first in blocked shots and assists, second in steals, assist to turnover ratio and turnover margin. The Catamounts have no signature wins and a 12-3 home record.

Prediction - The Catamounts will be too powerful for the Bills to stop. The fact that Buffalo struggles on the road doesn't help matters any. Vermont wins 78-66.

Northern Iowa (17-9, 12-4 MVC) vs. Siena (21-6, 15-1 MAAC). Talk about a contrast in styles. The methodical Panthers, the seemingly real life Hoosiers of Hickory, take on the uptempo, high scoring Saints.

The Panthers have hit a proverbial wall, losing three of their last four and dropped into a first place tie with Creighton. The loss at home to Drake, a team that this past Sunday lost at home by 25 points to Illinois State, was particularly painful, since they still have a road game vs. third place Illinois State coming up (the Redbirds may have the ultimate say in the MVC standings since they finish up at Creighton to end the MVC regular season). The Panthers have five players who average between 9 and 11.7 points per game, led by forward Adam Koch.

The Panthers have a RPI of 87 and a non-conference SOS of 179. Northern Iowa is first in the MVC in field goal percentage at 46%. They are third in scoring offense, first in assist to turnover ratio and third in FG percentage defense. However they have no non-conference signature win to speak of and have struggled out of conference with a 6-5 record against mediocre competition (best team by far was Marquette and the Panthers lost to them by 30).

The Saints have won 11 of their last 12, the only loss a conference road loss at Rider by two. The Saints are led by an incredibly balanced trifecta of Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin, who combine for 43 points and 16 rebounds a game. In fact of the eight players who average 10 minutes or more a game for the Saints, only Hasbrouck is a senior. Siena is first in the MAAC in scoring, first in FG percentage at 47 percent, first in assists, second in steals, second in turnover margin and assist to turnover ratio.

The Saints have a very solid RPI of 28, with an even better SOS of 4. Their signature non conference wins are over Buffalo and St Joseph's, with respectable losses to Pitt, Kansas and Tennessee. This is also the same team that waxed Vandy in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season.

Prediction - If the season ended today and Siena somehow lost in the MAAC finals to say Niagara (certainly possible), there is a very good case for the Saints to make it as an at large. RPI and non-conference SOS are incredibly strong, plus some good non conference wins. Think Davidson from last season. The Saints will strengthen that case by dominating Northern Iowa 77-62.

Miami Ohio (15-9, 8-4 MAC) vs. Evansville (15-11, 7 -9 MVC). The Redhawks, in second place in the MAC take on the Aces, one of the better mid major stories after a 9-20 mark last season.

The Redhawks are the typical MAC team. Physical, methodical and play lots of low scoring contests. Miami has a 77 RPI and a very solid non conference SOS of 14. They have struggled on the road with a 7-7 record. The Redhawks always play a tough non-conference schedule and this season was no different with losses to UCLA, Pitt, Xavier, West Virginia and Dayton and with wins over Big Sky leading Weber State, Temple and Wright State. Miami is led by Michael Bramos with 17 points per game and Kenny Hayes 13.9 points per game. The Redhawks lead the MAC in scoring defense at 56.9 points per game., second in three point FG percentage defense at 30.1 percent and second in free throw shooting.

The Aces, 96 RPI and an impressive non conference SOS of 8, started off the season 9-2 with wins over Buffalo and Western Kentucky. Unfortunately, the Aces ran into the gauntlet that is typical of the Valley and have been 6-9 since, including three straight losses to put their conference mark under .500. The Aces are led by one of the great names in college basketball, Shy Ely, who averages 18 points per game. Shy is anything but, as he has 356 FG attempts in 26 games, 96 more than second leading scorer Jason Holsinger. The Aces lead the Valley in assists, second in assist to turnover margin and third in turnover/assist ratio.

Prediction - The Aces are at home where they are 13-3 on the season. With Miami's struggles on the road plus a record of 1-4 in games decided by five points or less, the Aces will win a close game here 60-56.

#17 Utah State (25-2, 12-1 WAC) vs. St Mary's (20-5, 7-4 WCC). This is the second best Bracketbuster matchup featuring two of the best teams on the West Coast. The Aggies look to solidify its at large bid hopes while the Gaels desperately need a win vs. an elite team to strengthen their slim hopes for an at large.

The Aggies, one of the best shooting teams in the country at 49.8 percent per game, also happen to lead the WAC in scoring defense at 59.7 points per game. Utah State also leads the WAC in free throw percentage at 73.5 percent, first in FG percentage defense at 40.9 percent, second in three point FG percentage, first in rebounding margin and first in assists to turnover ratio.

The Aggies are led by a terrific trio of players in Gary Wilkinson, Jared Quayle and Tai Wesley. Combined they average 41 points and 19 rebounds a game. Wilkinson shoots an impressive 59.3 percent from the field, including 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. Wesley shoots even better at 62 percent from the field. The Aggies have a RPI of 34 but a very weak non conference SOS of 259. Utah State's best non conference win is a two point home win over Utah, the leader of the Mountain West currently.

The Gaels would be a Top 20 team right now if star guard Patty Mills did not break his hand late in the first half against Gonzaga. After being ahead just about the entire first half, the Gaels would see Gonzaga come back and win that game. That would be the first loss in a stretch of four out of five games that were losses for the Gaels as they tried to adjust to life without Mills. St Mary's also has a terrific frontcourt tandem in Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. Simpson averages a double with 13.5 points and 10.6 rebounds while Samhan is not far off with 13.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

The Gaels RPI is 62, not quite what you want in an at large hopeful. Their non conference SOS is better than Utah State's at 162. They have two signature non-conference wins; a neutral site win over Providence in the 76 Classic and a three point win over San Diego State in the Wooden Classic. However the losses to Portland and Santa Clara hurt the Gaels at large chances.

Prediction - If Mills was healthy, St Mary's would have a definite edge. Without him, it will be a struggle for the Gaels to win. However, they have a home crowd and hopefully will be coming off a tuneup win vs. San Diego. It will be a terrific battle of frontcourt tandems as Wilkinson and Wesley take on Simpson and Samhan. The difference will be if Carlin Hughes, Mickey McConnell and Wayne Hunter can give enough of an outside threat to keep the double teams off Simpson and Samhan. I think Simpson and Samhan are the best tandem of forwards that Wilkinson and Wesley see all year and that will be enough to propel the Gaels to a close victory 74-70.

Wisconsin Green Bay (20-8, 12-4 Horizon) vs. Long Beach State (13-11, 8-4 Big West) - The Phoenix, one of the best stories in mid major basketball this season takes on the run and gun 49ers in what promises to be a very high scoring affair.

The Phoenix, RPI 79 and non conference SOS of 296, resurrected themselves by being an up tempo scoring machine. They lead the Horizon in scoring averaging 72.6 points per game. They are first in the Horizon in my favorite category, free throw shooting at 78.7 percent. Green Bay is first in FG percentage at 44.2 percent and are first in three point FG percentage at an even 40 percent. Finally they are second in assists and second in assists to turnover ratio, very key stat categories in my book.

The Phoenix are led by a very balanced attack as all five starters average in double figures led by senior guard Ryan Tilemma at 16 points per game. The Phoenix are a veteran team with two other senior starters besides Tilemma in Mike Schachtner and Terry Evans. The Phoenix don't have a signature non conference win with losses vs. Utah and Wisconsin.

Long Beach State is a terrific story in itself. Last season, the 49ers suffered an ugly 6-25 season, one season after they made the NCAA tournament (and were beaten down by Tennessee 121-86). Enter former Gonzaga and former Minnesota coach Dan Monson. Monson coached Gonzaga to an elite eight appearance in the 98-99 season before taking the Minnesota job. He led the Gophers to one NCAA tournament appearance and four NIT appearances before quitting seven games into the 2006-07 season. He then became the coach of Long Beach State last season and suffered through a long year.

But given Monson's track record, it's not surprising that the 49ers are back to their winning ways. Senior leading scorer Donovan Morris (15 ppg) leads a team that features three freshman starters that average nearly 72 points per game. The entire starting lineup has four double digit scorers and nearly has a fifth. The 49ers played both Wisconsin and BYU tough before losing and have wins over Temple and Weber State (also got blown out by Syracuse).

Prediction - Though Long Beach State certainly has played comparable competition to Green Bay, the similarity in styles leads one to take the more talented, consistent Phoenix over the younger inconsistent 49ers. This game will certainly be the antithesis of Miami-Evansville as Green Bay will win 84-78.

Hofstra (18-9, 10-6 CAA) vs. Fairfield (15-12, 8-8 MAAC). A tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Pride have won four in a row and eight of their last ten while the Stags have lost three in a row and six of their last nine. The Pride are tied for fourth in the CAA while Fairfield sits alone in fifth in the MAAC.

The Pride have been one of the top defensive teams in the CAA this season. They are first in FG percentage defense at 39.2 percent, second in rebounding margin and first in blocks. They feature the second leading scorer in the CAA in sophomore guard Charles Jenkins at 18.8 points per game. They have received a lot of help lately from fellow sophomore guard Nathaniel Lester who has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, including a 22 point 11 rebound game vs. James Madison. It was his second double double in his last three games (and he missed a double double in that third game by one rebound)

The Stags, who started off the season 8-3, are led by Greg Nero who averages 12.9 points per game. However, Nero has been suffering from back spasms and missed the last game vs. Niagara. Second leading scorer Jonathan Han has been on indefinite suspension for the last six games. Third leading scorer Anthony Johnson is out for the season due to illness and fourth leading scorer Warren Edney is out due to an ankle injury. You get the picture. This is a team that right now is being held together by rope and duct tape. Herbie Allen though has picked up the slack with two twenty plus point games. Problem, they still lost them.

Prediction - It's asking a lot for Fairfield to win this game with the injuries they had, especially against a very tough defensive Hofstra team that brings a lot of size and depth as well. The Pride, especially a hot Charles Jenkins, will be too much for the Stags as Hofstra wins 67-57.

Well, its 11:00 pm as I sit in my kitchen. I got six of the eight games done. But I am beat, so I guess I will finish my predictions early tomorrow morning. For now, it's St Mary'/San Diego on ESPNU. Good night.

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