Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Baker's Dozen, The Wannabe Ten and Mid Major Tournament Notes

I heard Mike Greenberg from Mike and Mike say this morning that March Madness is two weeks away.  Bull.  March Madness starts today with conference tournaments as the Horizon and Big South get underway.  Later in the week, the Southern, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, West Coast and most importantly here, the CAA tournaments all get started.  So a little business needs to be taken care of before we can discuss some of the tournaments.

It's been a while since the last tasty countdown, but here are the thirteen tastiest mid major teams in the country as of February 28.  And remember, no A-10 or Conference USA fillers here at the College Hardwood.  They, along with the Mountain West, otherwise known as the WAC Pillagers Conference, are part of the Wannabes.  They get their own countdown later on in this article.

Mid Majors Baker's Dozen

1) George Mason
2) Old Dominion
3) Utah State
4) Belmont
5) Butler
6) St Mary's
7) Gonzaga
8) Harvard
9) Missouri State
10) Oakland
11) Princeton
12) Charleston
13) Tie Cleveland State and Wichita State

Mason has been the most dominant mid major team the past month having won fifteen in a row and are now ranked in the Top 25.  However their best non conference wins are over Harvard at home and at Northern Iowa.  The Patriots need to get to at least the CAA semifinals (which they should, as they face the winner of the #8-#9 game in the CAA quarterfinals) to further lock down an at large bid.

ODU, though second in the CAA, has a better case for an at large bid than Mason.  The Monarchs have neutral site wins over Xavier (a lock for NCAA), Clemson (a bubble team) and home wins over Richmond (most sites have as in the tournament) and Cleveland State (good RPI).  But ODU needs to make sure to make at least the CAA semis as well.

Utah State looks to be a solid pick for an at large after impressively beating St Mary's at Moraga.  However, the Aggies have two road games at New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech before the WAC Tournament starts next week.  Utah State can't afford any upsets before the tournament and definitely needs to make the tournament final to seriously garner at large support.

After the top three teams in the countdown, things get dicey for at large bids.  Though Belmont has been terrific in the Atlantic Sun, they don't have a signature non conference win despite playing Vanderbilt and Tennessee (twice) very tough.  The Bruins need to win the A-Sun to get in the dance.

Butler won the Diamond Head Classic tournament and beat Florida State (lock as of now) as well as Washington State (now off the bubble and out of NCAA contention).   However a bad loss to Youngstown State and five losses in the Horizon have the Bulldogs squarely on the bubble.  Butler definitely has to make the Horizon final and perhaps need to win the championship as well.

Two West Coast Conference teams, Gonzaga and St Mary's, are in the same boat.  One of those teams should win the WCC tournament but the other will be squarely on the bubble.  The Zags have a neutral site wins over Marquette (currently in), Baylor (bubble) and a home win over Xavier (lock).  Meanwhile, the Gaels only have a win over St John's (lock) on their non conference resume.  The two teams split their regular season series, each winning on the road.  Both will receive consideration for an at large if they make the WCC final.  The Gaels need to win the tournament, because I don't think they will get in as an at large. I think the Zags could if they lose the WCC final.  Anything less for both and they are both out.

Harvard and Princeton will face each other March 5th.  Due to the loss to Yale, Harvard must now defeat Princeton to force a one game playoff for the Ivy Title.  If the Tigers win at home over the Crimson, then Princeton wins the Ivy outright.  I have ranked Harvard higher than Princeton in my countdown due to the wins over Colorado and Boston College.

As for the rest of the teams in the countdown, they all have to win their conference tournaments to make the NCAA Tournament.  Each of them however has a good chance to win a first round NCAA Tournament game because I don't think any of them would be lower than a 13 seed.  Of all the teams, I like Oakland the best to pull off an upset due to that killer non conference schedule they played the beginning of the season.  Cleveland State with Norris Cole could be a tough out if they win the Horizon.  But I think Butler beats them for a third time in the Horizon semis.

Wannabe Ten

1) BYU
2) San Diego State
3) Xavier
4) Temple
6) Richmond
7) UAB
8) Memphis
9) Colorado State
10) UTEP

Of the ten teams, the first five are locks.  BYU leads the MWC, swept San Diego State, beat St Mary's neutral site and crushed Arizona at a neutral site.  Jimmer and company are in.  Likewise, so are the Aztecs.  Kawhi Leonard and company have beaten Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and twice beat UNLV.

Xavier is definitely in with a 13-1 A-10 record with wins over Butler, at Georgia, Temple and at Richmond.  Temple is in as well with wins over Georgetown, Georgia (neutral site) and Richmond.  The Owls should finish the A-10 with only two losses, which should certainly give them a decent seed come NCAA Tourney time.

Then there is the tale of two Mountain West teams.  BYU and San Diego State get all the attention, but UNLV deserves a spot in the dance as well.  Home win over Wisconsin, a neutral site win over Virginia Tech and a road win over Kansas State play well with the NCAA selection committee. As long as they get to the MWC semifinals, the Runnin Rebels should be just fine.  Colorado State on the other hand is on the outside looking in.  First, they are a game behind UNLV, fourth in the MWC.  Second, they have no signature non conference wins (unlike UNLV).  Best non-conference win is over Southern Miss.  Not going to get it done.  A road win over San Diego State would help their cause.

Richmond appears to be on the right side of the bubble right now.  The neutral site win over Purdue (a lock) is huge right now.  A win over VCU certainly helps.  However, they can''t afford any more losses.  An appearance in the A-10 semifinals appears to be a must too and a win over Temple in the A-10 semis (if both get that far) would cinch things. 

Three Conference USA teams fill three out of the last four spots.  Pretty sure only one of them is going to the dance.  UAB is in first in C-USA, but there are two other teams that are vying for contention, Memphis and UTEP.  Of the three, Memphis probably has the best at large resume with the win over Gonzaga on a neutral court site though UTEP's win over Michigan isn't far behind (UAB only has a home win over VCU).  Other than that, not much else.

Mid Major Tournament Notes - The Horizon League Tournament starts tomorrow night with first round matches at higher seed sites.  The best first round matchup pits #6 Wright State vs. #7 Green Bay.  Then it's on to the U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee as Wisconsin Milwaukee, the #1 seed is the host for the next two rounds. Then the championship is at the highest remaining seed's home court.  As for a prediction,  I think Valpo stuns Wisconsin-Milwaukee while Butler pulls the trifecta on Cleveland State.  And once again, Butler wins the Horizon at Hinkle beating Homer Drew and the Crusaders.

The Big South Tournament starts tomorrow as well with the first round starting on the higher seeds' home sites.  Then the quarterfinals and semifinals will be held on Coastal Carolina's home court.  The finals will be held at the highest remaining seeds' site.

The Chanticleers are under investigation by the NCAA for recruiting violations.  Their best player, Desmond Holloway has been suspended while he is being investigated for receiving improper benefits.  This is basically Binghamton, part deux.   In fact, the same writer that broke the story for the Binghamton article, New York Times writer Pete Thamel, wrote the article about Coastal Carolina.  The stories are eerily similar.  Taking second chances on players with questionable backgrounds and seemingly a win at all costs philosophy at a small mid major school.  It didn't end happily at Binghamton, and it won't end happily here.

As for the Big South Tournament, the Chanticleers are down to seven players and have lost three games in a row.  Without their best player, Coastal Carolina won't get past the semifinals.  I like UNC Asheville to knock off Liberty and win the tournament.

My next post will be my CAA Tournament preview.

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