Ok, this should be it. Two games left to preview. I'm up at 6 am because like clockwork, Jonathan was up and was hungry. Thankfully St Mary's beat San Diego behind Omar "Enter the Sandman" Samhan who had 20 points and 10 rebounds, so I don't have to write about how the Gaels are now on life support as far as an at large bid. A win vs. Utah State tomorrow and they are very much alive thank you.
George Mason (18-8, 11-5 CAA) vs. Creighton (21-6, 12-4 MVC). Since I will be at Fairfield tomorrow night, I will be sure to record this one. Two teams rich in mid major NCAA tournament tradition battling it out. This is certainly not the first time these two teams have played each other. During the magical season of 2005-06, the Final Four bound Patriots hosted the Bluejays. In one of the few games they lost that season, George Mason was pummeled by eventually NIT bound Creighton, at home no less, 72-52. in 2006-07, a NCAA tournament bound Creighton snuck by George Mason 58-56.
Mason will try to finally return the favor featuring a veteran starting lineup with three seniors; Jon Vaughan, Dre Smith, and Darryl Monroe. Vaughan leads the Patriots at 11.8 points per game while Monroe at 10.9 points per game leads the CAA in FG percentage at 59.7 percent. The Patriots, RPI 54 non-conference SOS 52, had lost five of their last seven before coming back to edge Drexel to keep their undefeated record at home this season intact.
The Patriots have struggled though on the road as all eight of their losses are outside of home (5-8 record on the road). Though they have three seniors in the starting lineup, the Patriots still have a lot of young talent. Second leading scorer Cam Long is a sophomore and the wonderful trio of freshman, Andre Cornelius, Michael Morrison, and my favorite, Ryan Pearson provide a lot of spark off the bench. The Patriots are their typical defensive selves, leading the CAA in scoring defense at 60.1 points per game and second to Hofstra in FG percentage defense at an even 40 percent. But they are also proficient on the offensive end, as they are second in the CAA in FG percentage at 46 percent.
Creighton was one of my preseason top mid major teams. A young but tested squad that made the NIT last season was my favorite to win the Missouri Valley. The Bluejays struggled early losing at UALR (not a bad loss considering the Trojans are first in the Sun Belt with a 12-2 conference record) and at Nebraska (considering an over .500 record in the Big 12, not a bad loss either). The Bluejays would rebound winning their next nine games including a signature non-conference 17 point win over Dayton. The Bluejays then struggled in conference only going 5-4 in their first nine games. Since then, Creighton has won seven in a row in conference to gain a share of first place in the Bizarro Valley (thanks in some part to the implosion of Northern Iowa who has lost three of their last four including one at home to Creighton).
The Bluejays, RPI 51 non-conference 168, are led by one of the best names in mid major basketball, Booker Woodfox. The guard leads Creighton in scoring at 15.9 points per game. He is joined in double figures by sophomore guard P'Allen Stinnett at 12.7 points per game. The Bluejays are first in scoring offense in the Valley at 74.6 points per game, first in free throw percentage at 76 percent, and second in FG percentage at 45 percent. The Bluejays are not all about defense as they are first in the Valley in blocked shots, steals and turnover margin.
Prediction - These are two teams that have different styles. Creighton loves to shoot the three, second in the Valley in three point field goals made. Meanwhile, George Mason loves to work it inside to Monroe and then work the ball back out for threes when Monroe is double teamed. When it comes down to two very solid teams in what should be a close game, often the factor will be free throw shooting. This is where there is a significant difference between these teams. As noted, the Bluejays are first in the Valley in free throw shooting while Mason has struggled, tenth in the CAA at 65 percent. The Bluejays at home will knock off the Patriots 68-63.
Boise State (17-8, 7-5 WAC) vs Portland State (18-9, 9-5 Big Sky) - This is a battle of two NCAA tournament teams from last season. Defending WAC champ Boise State has had another solid season as they are currently fourth in the conference. The Broncos do have a recent win over nationally ranked Utah State. Meanwhile, the defending Big Sky champ Vikings are third in their conference and have a signature non-conference road win over nationally ranked Gonzaga.
The Broncos got off to a 12-3 start including three straight conference wins. Boise State has struggled since then splitting their last ten games. The Broncos have five players who average nine points or better per game including leading scorer Mark Sanchez who averages 13 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field. Boise State as a whole shoots 47 percent, second best in the WAC. Boise is also first in the WAC in assists and second in assists to turnover ratio. The Broncos have not been anyone of significance non-conference, have a RPI of 88 and a non-conference SOS of 290 (ugh). The Broncos have also struggled on the road going 5-6.
The Vikings, RPI 152 non-conference SOS of 223, got off to a 10-3 start. Included in those games were a one point loss at nationally ranked Washington, a seven point win over then #7 Gonzaga at Stockton and a thirteen point loss. Led by sophomore guard, Jeremiah Dominguez, the leading scorer for the Vikings at 12 points per game, the Vikings got off to a 6-1 start in the Big Sky before losing four of their next seven games in conference. Portland State leads the Big Sky in scoring offense, averaging 74 points per game. The Vikings are also second in assists, first in steals, first in turnover margin and first in assist to turnover ratio, all important categories (as Whelliston would note - ball control). They are also first in the Big Sky in three point field goals made at 9.59 per game.
Prediction - Considering the Broncos struggle on the road and that both teams like a high scoring offensive game and both control the ball well, I will take the home team Vikings in a shootout 77-72.
So that's it. Thirteen games in two days starting tonight with Illinois State and Niagara. Should be entertaining. Grab your favorite snack and favorite beverage, sit down and enjoy the festivities on the ESPN family of networks. If you're not near a TV but have a computer, make ESPN360 your friend. Better yet, if there is a Bracketbuster game near you, go see it live. I'll be at Fairfield tomorrow night. Enjoy!