The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament gave us a lot of surprises, but will the Final Four teams be a surprise? We will find out by Sunday, but first let me preview the four match-ups I’m most excited for.
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 3 Marquette: These two teams are probably the best two teams nobody has been talking about during the tournament. I didn’t have either of these squads getting this far, but they have really impressed thus far. Jae Crowder put up 25 points and 16 rebounds one game and 17 points and 13 rebounds the next for Marquette — he has officially reached beast mode status. Florida hasn’t played the same type of competition as Marquette has, as they have blown out Virginia and Norfolk State, but in the NCAA Tournament you have to respect any blowout win. I think Crowder will be too much for the Gators though, and the Golden Eagles make the Elite Eight.
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 1 Michigan State: This is perhaps the best coaching battle of the round, as we have Rick Pitno and Tom Izzo going up against each other. The two have combined for 11 Final Four appearances, and I think the winner of this game will be able to beat the Florida-Marquette winner. Both teams have peaked at the right time, but I think the Cardinals still have too many question marks. If Gorgui Dieng gets into foul trouble again or if Peyton Siva is inconsistent with his shot again, then the Spartans should win this one easily.
No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 1 Kentucky: The rematch everyone has been waiting for will be here Friday night. Kentucky has cruised through their first two rounds, backed off of strong performances from Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague. Last time the Hoosiers were able to beat the Wildcats, they were able to get Anthony Davis in quick foul trouble, and Jones was basically nonexistent. Don’t expect that to happen again. Jones and Teague will be the wild-cards for UK — if they are playing to their full potential I’m not sure if anyone in the country can beat them.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Syracuse: This is the one I’m most excited for. I love match-ups with teams of contrasting styles, and that’s exactly what this is. The Orangemen are as fun and exciting as a team as there is to watch in college basketball, and the Badgers simply aren’t, but their defense can stifle opponents. I agree with my counterpart, David Harten, in thinking that the Wisconsin style of play will throw Syracuse off too much, giving them the upset.
The bubble teams can rejoice. Creighton and Murray State were both able to win the conference tournaments, albeit in close fashion, thus giving them automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.
The best part about that for the bubble teams is that those two squads were going to be locks anyway. If Illinois State were to win the Missouri Valley or Tennessee State win the Ohio Valley, it would have taken a bid away from a team like Miami or Texas.
Illinois State and Tennessee State sure made the bubble teams worry though. After upsetting No. 14 Wichita State the previous day, the Redbirds were in good position to knock off Creighton in the MVC championship. Nic Moore drove coast-to-coast for a layup with 6.5 seconds left to force overtime with the Bluejays. Creighton’s Antoine Young took over in the extra period, however, scoring eight of his 14 points in overtime to preserve the victory for the favorite.
As for Tennessee State, they had already defeated Murray once this year — the only loss of the year for the Racers. They almost did it again, up seven points with just over five minutes left. Murray was somehow able to come back and get the automatic bid. Jewaun Long drove the baseline to scored the winning layup with 4.4 seconds left to win it for Murray.
So what does this mean for the rest of the country? The MVC was going to get two bids regardless of the conference tournament, Wichita and Creighton. Likewise for the OVC, where Murray is a lock. This gives the bubble teams a much better chance at making the Big Dance.
Both Creighton and Murray State are threats to make a run in the tournament and possibly pull off an upset. They both feature stars (Isaiah Canaan for Murray and Doug McDermott for Creighton), they are both deadly from deep and they both rebound well — all of which are key in making a March run.
North Carolina-Ashville and Belmont were the top other squads that punched in their automatic bids over the weekend. Ashville will likely be a 15/16 seed, possibly playing one of the first round games. Belmont could possibly be a sleeper to make a run, having not lost since Jan. 21. In their season-opener they lost to Duke by just one point, 77-76. Depending on who they play, their opposition should be on alert next week.
On that note — next week — that feels good to say. This is going to be a fun week for all of us in Championship Week, but the real fun begins next week.
Since last week it is safe to say that Kansas State, Purdue, Iowa State and Mississippi State are virtual locks to make it into the NCAA Tournament. With just one regular-season game left for most of the power conference teams, who is close to making themselves a lock for the tournament?
Northwestern: They missed their chance, two of them in fact. In the past eight days the Wildcats have dropped two gut-wrenching games to some top Big Ten competition. First came a 67-55 overtime loss to Michigan State last Tuesday, and then tonight they lost a 75-73 heartbreaker to Ohio State. Just one of those losses may have been Northwestern over the top. To make it even worse, both of those games were at home, and the committee won’t give them many excuses for those games. There is still some hope left, however. Their regular-season finale is at Iowa, and that is obviously a must-win. Then they need to win a couple games in the Big Ten tournament, with hopefully one of them being against one of the five ranked Big Ten teams. This is a team everyone wants in the tournament, but at just 7-10 in conference right now, they are about out of chances. Feb. 29 status: Out
Miami: The Hurricanes got lucky. Their starting center Reggie Johnson only had to miss one game after NCAA violations. This puts Miami in a good position. They beat Florida State on Sunday, but a loss to NC State did them no favors. Miami now needs to beat Boston College this weekend, and then not get upset in the ACC Tournament. One upset and they are out. That’s how much Miami is on the bubble right now. Feb. 29 status: In
Connecticut: I definitely can’t figure out the Huskies. At this point I would say their resume doesn’t warrant an at-large bid. After that buzzer-beater win at Villanova, I thought the Huskies had a shot at turning things around. They lost a close one against Syracuse, and came back from that with a loss at Providence. No really, Providence. They have now lost nine out of 12 games, and the committee certainly won’t like that. They play a Pitt team this weekend that is playing better ball than them at the moment. A couple wins in the Big East tournament will be a must, but they don’t have a Kemba Walker to save them this year. Feb. 29 status: Out
Texas: Simply put, the Longhorns are hanging on by a thread. They continue to beat the teams they should beat (Texas Tech and Oklahoma most recently). A win at Kansas this weekend will make them a lock, but that will be a tough one. Assuming they lose that one, they will be 19-9 with a similar situation as Miami — right on the edge. There will be no room for error in the Big 12 tournament. A loss early on and there bubble will be burst. Feb. 29 status: In
South Florida: Their win over Louisville tonight may have put them over the top. Now they need to just not lose early on in the Big East tournament. But even with a first or second round loss, it will be hard for the committee to not give the fifth place team in the Big East an at-large bid. They have played arguably the easiest schedule in conference, but with wins over tourney teams Cinci and Louisville within the past three days, they seem to be in good shape. Feb. 29 Status: In
Colorado and Oregon: These two teams play each other tomorrow in what may be the biggest Pac-12 game of the year. Both teams look to be out at the moment, so whichever team loses will likely not have a shot at the NCAA’s. The winner may just be able to position itself as one of the last teams in to make it. The Pac-12 should get four times in the tournament — California, Arizona and Washington all seem like good bets to make it. No chance this conference gets five teams in, so that’s why the Colorado-Oregon game tomorrow is a must-win on both sides.
Xavier: The Musketeers have not played up to potential all year, going just 9-6 in the Atlantic-10. Non-conference wins against Vanderbilt, Purdue and Cincinatti are all solid, but they are 0-3 against the top two teams in the conference (Temple and Saint Louis). They have swapped between wins and losses there last 8 games, but those non-conference wins still hold. As long as they don’t lose early in the conference tournament they should be in a position to grab one of the last at-larges. Feb. 29 Status: In
St Joseph’s: I’m not sure if both the Hawks and Musketeers can both make it in. St. Joes had a big win vs. Temple over the weekend, but still will need a little help to get in. Their biggest non-conference win of the year game against Creighton. They lost their only game of the year to Xavier, and a 9-7 conference record won’t go well with the committee. If they run into Xavier in the A-10 tournament, that could be a win-and-you’re-in game. Feb. 29 Status: Out
We are in the Final Countdown of the regular season, so that means the final what to watch for because if you don’t know what you’re watching next week, well you need to turn in your fan card.
Monday: Notre Dame @ Georgetown (7pm ESPN) – The last Big Monday game of the season, always hate to see this happen since they have one of the best announcing crews. Back to the game the 3rd place Irish and 4th place Hoyas have the coveted double-bye, for now, at Madison Square Garden but can still drop to a single-bye so expect this to be a great game. If you wanted to the Daytona 500 may be on (I really need to invent a tarp for NASCAR) to flip to during the media timeouts.
Tuesday: Michigan St at Indiana (7pm ESPN) – Sparty comes to Bloomington where the Hoosiers have had some success (cue the Kentucky video) against ranked opponents.
Wednesday:The first conference tournament starts with the Atlantic Sun on ESPN3. Marquette visits Cincinnati (7pm ESPN), the Bearcats have played well ever since the fight vs Xavier earlier this season including wins over Louisville, Connecticut, Pitt and Georgetown. USF will be looking for a resume building win as they visit the KFC Yum! Center (can’t forget the !) to take on Louisville (7pm Big East Network). 8pm Iowa State travels to Missouri (Big 12 Network).
Thursday: Michigan takes on Illinois (7pm ESPN), in what could be Bruce Weber’s last game as head coach of the Fighting Illini. The Missouri Valley and the West Coast Conference tournaments appear on the screen.
Friday: Murray State is playing in the Semifinals of the OVC Tournament (7pm ESPNU). If you want to find me I’ll be watching a great college baseball series of Pepperdine vs Louisville (two weeks in a row with a baseball plug, sue me).
Saturday: The first tickets are punched as the Big South, OVC and Atlantic Sun all determine a champion. Memphis @ Tulsa (Noon CBS) in a C-USA match-up of the top teams in the league, Louisville travels to Syracuse (4pm CBS), who knows what Louisville team will show up.
Sunday: The last day of games for the regular season and Kentucky travels to Florida (Noon CBS) and in state rivals Purdue @ Indiana (6pm Big Ten Net). A champion will be crowned for the MVC (2pm CBS).
Getting the March Madness itch? Selected members of the media gathered in Indianapolis Friday to get a feel for what it is like as a member of the selection committee. Let’s take a quick look at the simulated bracket that they released today.
The first round, which most know as the first four in Dayton include Alabama/Illinois and Seton Hall/Arizona as well as UTSA/Southeast Missouri State and Mississippi Valley/Stony Brook. The first two match-ups are the only two that seem like they would be good games.
Your number one seeds: Kentucky, Ohio State, Missouri, Syracuse.
In the South Region Kentucky is on the top line. This is the region that would be one to watch if this was the actual bracket. Other teams in the region include Louisville, North Carolina, Baylor and Wisconsin. A Louisville/Davidson match-up makes for a fun start to this region.
Syracuse claims the one seed in the East Region. This region has some match-ups that could be some of the best in the entire tournament. 8 Memphis/9 Purdue, 6 Vanderbilt/11 Texas, 7 Murray State/10 Connecticut. Other teams in this region include Duke and Indiana.
Ohio State is the leader in the West Region. Some of the teams that would try to advance to New Orleans include West Virginia, Iowa State, Florida, UNLV, Georgetown and Kansas. The first match-up in this region would be a classic 8/9 seed battle between West Virginia and Iowa State.
Finally in the Midwest Region Missouri is on the top line. Some of the other teams in this region include St. Mary’s, Florida State, Michigan, Xavier, Marquette and Michigan State.
Yet again the Big East led all of the Conferences with 8 bids. The Big Ten had 7 teams and Big 12 had 6 in the dance.
Now we just have to wait for the real bracket to be revealed. 2012 Media Mock Bracket