Your friends at MTAC are back healthy and ready to give you full access into the best month of of our year. It’s Championship Week, which to us, is as underrated as a week in sports as there is. Monday and Tuesday you have leagues the Horizon, Summitt, and Sun Belt punching their tickets to the big dance. Wednesday you have the Big East Tournament starting at Madison Square Garden with four games. Thursday the rest of the Big conferences join in the fray. No year in recent memory have there been more high seeds up for grab with so much uncertainty. So many questions are still un-answered.
Will North Carolina or Duke be able to grab the covered Raleigh/Charlotte road to San Antonio? Last year it certainly helped UCLA get to the Final Four as they never had to leave the state of California and essentially played four home games. Will Texas or Kansas be able to jump up and grab a #1 seed if they win the Big 12 Tournament? How will the horrific officiating in LA affect Stanford’s seeding? Is Georgetown a #2 or a #3? What will the committee make of the Big 10 powers Wisconsin, Purdue, and Indiana? How high of a seed does Butler get?
The Conference Tournaments will hopefully help answer a lot of those questions. We waited until the regular season ended to give you our weekly overview. Later this week you will see previews of the Big conference tournaments and what we are watching for. Instead of our usual schedule for the week, we gave you where we think the Power 16 teams will be seeded, a long with a glimpse at some of the bubble teams and the reasons they are in or out.
Get ready folks, it’s our favorite time of the year. March Madness has arrived.
#1 North Carolina (29-2) – The Heels went into Cameron Indoor Stadium with the ACC title on the line and controlled the game from start to finish. Whole Duke made a run to take a lead with less than six minutes to go, UNC hunkered down and held the Devils scoreless for the last five and a half minutes and avenged the earlier season loss. The Tar Heels bugaboo is supposedly their D, but if they defend the way they did late in the game Saturday night, you’d have to say they are favorites to win it all as of today. But that is always subject to change. Projected Seed: #1
#2 Tennessee (28-3, #2) – Barring a strange first loss in the SEC Tournament, we think with the wins last week over Kentucky and at Florida, the Vols have locked up a #1 seed and are the SEC Champs. The Florida win was especially impressive as the Gators came out smokin’ hot, nailing their first nine shots and led most of the way. In the end, Tennessee’s veteran savvy and the board work of Tyler Smith saved them. We are this close to voting Bruce Pearl as our coach of the year. Projected Seed: #1
#3 Kansas (27-3, #6) – Now this was the KU team we love to see. Three games; three big time performances. First they avenged their loss to Kansas State, completely shutting down everyone in a Black uniform that wasn’t named Michael Beasley. Two days later came the annihilation of Texas Tech by 58; the same Tech team who beat Texas two days earlier. Bill Self’s bunch seemed to have begun to play its best ball at the right time. There is only one key to discuss: The return of Sherron Collins to 100% health. There is no more important role player to any team in the country than the lightning-quick point man. If they win the Big 12 Tournament and beat Texas in the final, can they grab a #1 seed? Projected Seed: #2
#4 UCLA (28-3, #1) – Our #1 team 10 days ago drops to #4? Shows you how fickle this whole thing can be and how two average performances can affect you from week to week. The bottom line is that thanks to two horribly officiating finishes against Stanford (the Lawrence Hill block on Darren Collison which was cleaner than the board of health) and Cal (Ryan Anderson was mugged for a no call before Josh Shipp’s illegal over the backboard shot was allowed) have clinched the Pac-10 and a #1 seed for the Bruins who look very beatable all of a sudden. Projected Seed: #1
#5 Memphis (30-1, #3) – Back to the normal week of boring, blowout, Conference USA basketball games. The Tigers could have slept through games at Southern Miss and at home with SMU and still won. The home thrashing of bubble team UAB deserves respect. They are a lock #1 seed in the South, and will go into the tournament at 33-1, yet we just don’t give them a shot to win it all. Sorry Coach Cal, those are the facts. Whoever their #2 seed is will feel good with their chances of getting to the Final Four. Projected Seed: #1
#6 Texas (25-5, #5) – Why did we drop them below KU when the Horns beat them straight up? Well, they lost to Texas Tech who then got pounded by KU by 58. The truth is that these two teams are on a collision course for their third straight Big 12 Tournament title game. The last two were in Dallas, both won by KU. This year, the scene will turn to Kansas City, with a possible #1 seed on the line. Projected Seed #2
#7 Duke (26-4, #7) – ESPN’s Jay Bilas made the assumption that if Duke and North Carolina meet again in the ACC Finals that it will be for a #1 seed. Come on dude. Duke’s signature win over UNC was when they were playing their first game without Ty Lawson. When Lawson did play, the Heels took down the Devils on their home floor. Their other signature win was over Wisconsin in early December when the Badgers were nothing. Don’t forget to add in the fact that the ACC is the weakest it has been in 10 years by a long shot. That said, an ACC Finals appearance locks them into a #2 seed. Projected Seed: #2
#8 Xavier (26-5, #9) – Sean Miller’s club was streaking to the finish line before getting tripped up at St. Joe’s Thursday night. Not a bad loss though; Phil Martelli’s bunch is fighting for an NCAA bid, it was Senior Night at Hawk Hill, they were honoring former coach Dr. Jack Ramsey and the legends of St. Joe’s hoops were all in attendance. What is a concern is the ankle injury to PG Drew Lavender. He clearly was not himself in the loss and the coaching staff chose to sit him in the regular season finale win over Richmond. The A-10 tournament will be a great test for the Musketeers and prepare them for the big dance. Win that and you get a #2 seed. Projected Seed: #2/3
#9 Stanford (24-6, #8) – Maybe to you, they should drop lower than one spot after losing both games in LA, but not us. Realistically they were robbed by the officials at UCLA and seemed shell shocked by the USC changing defenses two days later. In our heads, they get the W against UCLA. The key for the Cardinal in going deep in the NCAA is going to be their guard play. Can Anthony Goods play like a star? Projected Seed: #3
#10 Georgetown (25-4, #13) – Have you ever seen a team come up big at the end of close games thanks to big shots and timely whistles for an entire season the way the Hoyas have in 07-08? When it came down to the showdown for it all in the Big East, Roy Hibbert failed to show, but DaJuan Summers three with 16 seconds left beat Louisville and bailed the Hoyas out. It was an out and out slug-fest, defensive struggle that was the type of game Georgetown will have to win with in the Tournament. Let’s see how they do in New York this week. Projected Seed: #2/3
#11 Louisville (24-7, #12) – Tough loss for the Cardinals who had Georgetown on the ropes but couldn’t finish. A couple of things we learned about them during said game; They run the perfect system to beat a zone, especially with David Padgett moving the ball so well in the middle, but unless Jerry Smith, Edgar Sosa, and Terrance Williams hit shots, they can be beaten. They don’t have that zone buster the way they have had in the past with a guy like Francisco Garcia. Also, Williams is a superior talent who can play for us anytime. Winning the Big East Tournament could vault them to a possible two seed if things shake out their way. Projected Seed: #3
#12 Connecticut (24-7, #10) – Come on Huskies, you don’t want to start regressing at this time of year. Had the Tournament started three weeks ago, they’d be everyone’s sheik pick to get to the Final Four. But the last three/four games they haven’t shown their best, including being manhandled by Providence for the second time this year. Maybe Jim Calhoun shouldn’t have brought back Jerome Dyson after all. Oh, but then Sunday happened and everything we said below could have been erased. They absolutely destroyed Cincinnati. We still love their frontcourt and want to see the Huskies meet Georgetown in New York this weekend. Projected Seed: #3/4
#13 Wisconsin (26-4, #15) – Can’t fault the Badgers for their schedule. They played everyone in front of them and won 26 regular season games including just two losses in the Big Ten. Pretty impressive since nobody had them higher than third in the preseason. We still don’t but them for some reason. The last two years they flamed early in the NCAA’s with more talent than they have now. More good fortune: They won’t have to see both Purdue and Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament. Projected Seed: #3/4
#14 Indiana (26-5, #11) – Have to say that we are very disappointed in the way the team has played since Dan Dakich has taken over. The loss at Penn State shouldn’t have happened. But we get this underlying feeling that the Hoosier players are still sulking over the loss of their coach. Jamarcus Ellis was left behind on the trip to Happy Valley for a violation of team rules. Will they turn back into the team we saw in the last three weeks of the Sampson era? We cannot wait for the rematch with Purdue in the Big Ten Semi’s Saturday. Projected Seed: #4/5
#15 Butler (28-3, NR) – Nobody nationally is talking about Butler/Cleveland State III, but we will. The two are both playing for huge stakes. The Bulldogs are vying for a high seed in the NCAA’s and the Vikings are looking to get back into the Tournament for the first time since 1986. The two teams split this season, each winning on its home floor, but the Vikings hung with Butler in Hinkle for 38 minutes. Win or lose, Butler will be a team that high-major programs want no part of in March. Horizon League Player of the Year Mike Green is playing out of his mind right now. Projected Seed: #5
#16 Notre Dame (24-6, NR) – You know we love Bruce Pearl, but maybe the most underrated coaching job of the year was done by Mike Brey. Raise your hand if you had Notre Dame 24-6 with a bye in the Big East Tournament? They lost starting SG and leading scorer Russell Carter and got better? Luke Harangody will be Big East Player of the Year and the smart Irish club will be a tough out in March. This is another Big East team we will be curious to watch in New York this week. Projected Seed: #4/5
On The Cusp of a Top Four Seed:
Drake – The Bulldogs literally bulldozed their way the Missouri Valley regular season, and then won the conference tournament smoking Illinois State by 30 in the final.
Vanderbilt – Shan Foster locked in SEC Player of the year when he dropped 42 on. Losing in OT on the road to Mississippi State won’t hurt them. Neither will a top 10 RPI number.
Mississippi State – Nobody talks about the Bulldogs, but this is their best team since their 1996 Final Four team with Erick Dampier and Donta Jones. We love the frontcourt duo of Jarvis Varnado and Charles Rhodes. If they win the SEC Tournament and beat Tennessee, shouldn’t they be considered for a top four seed?
Marquette – Not that this will happen, but get to the title game of the Big East Tournament, and a Top four seed isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Looking For Their Dancing Shoes:
Syracuse (19-12, 9-9 in conference) – Best Wins: Georgetown, Marquette. Key Losses: Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Rhode Island. The classic part about the Cuse is that youth/stupidity combined with below average coaching from Jim Boeheim is what is keeping them on the bubble. The Pittsburgh loss where they led by double digits with three and a half minutes left at home could be the killer. They also lack a decent road win and are 5-5 in their last 10. The Big East Tournament first round game against Villanova should be viewed as an elimination game for both teams.
Villanova (19-11, 9-9) – Best Wins: Connecticut, Pittsburgh. Key Losses: Five Game losing streak in January. The Wildcats have been much better of late and because of two bad calls, they are 19-11 instead of 21-9. The screw-job at Georgetown has cost them a key resume building win and an over .500 record in the Big East, which would have put them in. Spilt with Syracuse, both teams winning on the road. Have to beat Syracuse Wednesday or they have no shot.
Arizona (18-13, 8-10) – Best Wins: at USC, at Houston. Key Losses: Swept by Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon, and UCLA. Normally you would look at a team at 8-10 in conference and with 13 losses and say they are out right away. The Cats however are #1 in strength of schedule and were 14-5 with both Nic Wise and Jerryd Bayless in the lineup together. Without them: 4-8. They have the talent to beat anyone, yet can also be one and done. It wouldn’t be advisable to lose their first game in the Pac-10 tournament.
Oregon (18-12, 9-9) – Best Wins: Stanford, Arizona (twice). Key Losses: at Nebraska, Oakland. With their late season win over Arizona, they fought back to .500 in the best conference in basketball. Still have some work to do, but two wins in the Pac-10 tournament would give them 20 wins, you cannot deny them a bid at that point. The one that will keep them out was the loss to Oakland in Detroit. Look up bad loss in the dictionary and that box score is the definition.
Florida (21-10, 8-8) – Best Wins: Vanderbilt, Kentucky. Key Losses: at Ohio State, at Arkansas, LSU. The young Gators bubble may have burst Sunday with their loss at Kentucky, playing without their best player, Patrick Patterson. Nobody expected them to even be this close after losing their entire rotaion. A strong run in the SEC Tournament could save them.
Arkansas (20-10, 9-7) – Best Wins: Vanderbilt, Mississippi State. Key Losses: Appalachian State, lost five of six on road. Like Michigan State, this is a completely different team away from home. Wins over Vandy and Mississippi State show they can hang with the big boys, but they are so schitzo sometimes. Remember, they lost to Appalachian State and not only do they lose on the road, they get blown out.
Virginia Tech (18-12, 9-7) - Best Wins: Maryland (twice). Key Losses: at Penn State, at Richmond. The #4 seed in the ACC Tournament may needs two wins to get in after their tough loss at Clemson Sunday. The Hokie resume lacks sizzle, but they finished winning four of five.
Maryland (18-13, 8-8) – Best Wins: at North Carolina. Key Losses: Va Tech (twice), Ohio, American. More proof how weak the ACC is, but because of the name, teams are on the bubble. Maryland, to us, is out. Take the UNC win away and their resume is empty. Last night’s loss to last place Virginia is not going to help them one bit.
St. Joseph’s (18-11, 9-7) – Best Wins: Xavier, UMass (twice). Key Losses: at Syracuse, at Dayton. How many teams should the A-10 get? Four? Well, the Hawks finished in the meaty middle at 9-7 where Eight teams reside between 7-9 and 9-7. The sweep of UMass is something the committee cannot ignore, but losses to fellow bubble teams Syracuse and Dayton hurt; especially the loss to the Flyers just two days after beating Xavier. Make a Semi’s run in the A-10 Tournament and we think you’ll be fine.
Ohio State (19-12, 10-8) – Best Wins: Syracuse, Purdue, Michigan State. Key Losses: at Michigan, Texas A&M lost four straight before beating Penn State in OT. No signature wins on the road, inconsistent play all season, and faltering at the end of the season won’t help them. Yes, they beat Syracuse, but that was in mid-November. If both OSU and Florida fail to make the NCAA Tournament, this will be the first time since the field expanded in 1985 that neither finalist from the previous year made it the big dance.