Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mid Major March Madness Starts Tonight

Well I started trying to do this from my IPod touch. Unfortunately it had issues with the text field, so I got as far as the title. I have to do this quick because I have to get back to the hospital.

The big news for all mid major fans is that Patty Mills, star guard for St Mary's has been cleared to play in the West Coast Conference Tournament. To say that is huge, is an understatement. If the Gaels play to form, Mills will get two games to get acclimated before the likely final game vs. Gonzaga (the semifinal though most likely against Portland though will not be easy).

There are three conference tournaments starting tonight - Big South, Ohio Valley and Horizon. The Big South games are as follows High Point #8 vs Radford, the #1 seed, #5 Winthrop vs #4 UNC Asheville. In the other bracket is #6 Gardner Webb vs. #3 Liberty and #7 Coastal Carolina vs. #2 VMI.

Now the breakdown is this for the Big South. Radford's only three losses came to Gardner Webb, Liberty and VMI, all in the other bracket, so they should not have a problem till the final. If there is going to be an upset tonight, it may likely be in that bottom half of the bracket. In the three-six matchup, Gardner Webb and Liberty have split their games. And likewise, VMI and Coastal Carolina have split their games, both high scoring and very close.

Who do I like in the Big South. Well, I think VMI's Denver Nuggets style of play is not conducive to winning consistently. I know they have played better this season, but still there are still too many 111-103, 100-97, 114-105 and 110-96 games for my taste. I look for them to get knocked off by Coastal tonight and I think Liberty will advance from that half of the bracket. But overall, I like Radford to win the whole thing. They have only three losses for a reason, first in FG percentage in the Big South at 46 percent and first in FG percentage defense at 39 percent. The only concern I have is assist to turnover ratio and turnover margin. While VMI is first in both categories, Radford is surprisingly next to last in turnover margin and eighth in assist to turnover ratio. But like I said, I think the Keydets fall prey to one of the teams they have already lost to in their bracket. I like the Highlanders to beat the Flames in the final.

In the Ohio Valley, its the usual suspects, Murray State and Austin Peay and a newcomer Tennessee-Martin, that are at the top of the standings. The seedings are as follows, #8 Tennessee Tech vs #1 Tennessee-Martin, #5 Eastern Kentucky vs. #4 Morehead State. In the other bracket it's #6 Tennessee State vs #3 Murray State and #7 Eastern Illinois vs. #2 Austin Peay.

It always seems to come down to the Racers and the Governors for some reason (or it just seems this way). So its unusual to see them potentially playing each other in the semis. That's because the Skyhawks behind Lester Martin, nicknamed "Done Ruthless" by the fans of Mid-Majority.com, has dominated this season with 26.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. The walking stat machine has led his team as the highest scoring team in the OVC at 79 points per game. The Skyhawks are also first in free throw percentage (always an important stat for this blog), first in assists to turnover ratio and turnover margin. They are also not bad on scoring defense, fourth in the conference and their margin of victory is 9.5 points per game.

So, who do I like? You have to like the Skyhawks. They can score, they take care of the ball and they hit their free throws. Look for Tennessee-Martin to defeat Murray State in the final. Murray State will beat Austin Peay in the semis, cause the Racers have the better defense.

Horizon League - I love this conference. Do you know why? Like the America East, the Horizon is one of the few conferences that has a conference tournament, but the finals are held in the highest remaining seed's home court. This way the regular season is rewarded in some fashion.

That to me is the biggest problem with March Madness for mid major teams. Teams that play well all year and finish first in their conference have one bad game, often in the final on a neutral court and there is no hope for an at large. I know I am in the minority, but the Horizon and America East get it right. Make the regular season meaningful. I think the CAA is one that might benefit from a similar setup in that if you get a non VCU final, the cavernous, seemingly always cold Richmond Coliseum is half full. Imagine the final was at Mason or at ODU (uh oh, I think I gave away a preview of the CAA final). That would be a lot more fun to see on TV.

So in the Horizon, they add a few wrinkles, which really rewards the regular season standings. The first round games are played on the higher seed's home court. The top two teams get two byes, thus Butler and Wisconsin Green Bay don't play until the semifinals. The quarterfinal and semi final rounds are usually held at a neutral site (Dayton last year). However, the second round and semi final round games this season are being held at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse, which is obviously an advantage for the Bulldogs. The final is at the highest remaining seed's home court next Tuesday.

Tonight, here are the pairings. #9 Valparaiso vs #4 Wright State and #8 Loyola vs. #5 UW Milwaukee. In the other bracket, its #3 Cleveland State vs. #10 Detroit and #6 Youngstown State vs. #7 Illinois Chicago.

So, who do I like. This tournament is usually good for an upset. Specifically because it allows a first round team winner, say Cleveland State, to get a win in, then two days off, then play their quarterfinal game on normal rest. Thus, when they play the semifinal game against Wisconsin Green Bay, they have only played one game prior, instead of two games in a row prior. Thus there is no fatigue factor.

Well, I just gave away my scenario. As much as I LOVE Wisconsin Green Bay, they have lost a game to Cleveland State this season (the teams split the season series). The Phoenix will have not played basically in a week, while the Vikings have played two games on normal schedule. Cleveland's lock down defensive style works perfectly here. Advantage Vikings, Winner Vikings.

In the other bracket, I like Butler to defeat a good but offensively challenged Wright State. That puts the final as Cleveland State vs. Butler. Butler has beaten Cleveland State twice this year. Even though the game is at Butler, I like Cleveland State to win. Butler has beaten Cleveland State twice by very close margins, 1 point and 2 points, with the 1 point win coming on a three pointer at the buzzer. I think its asking a lot for Butler to win three games like that. Cleveland State makes the Horizon a two bid league in the NCAA Tournament.

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