The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 5, 2008

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–2nd update

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments

March 4, 2008, 2nd Update

It’s the beginning of the NCAA Conference Tournament season, a near fortnight of action leading up to Selection Sunday on March 16th.

The first conference tournament games began last night (Tuesday, March 4th).  Here are the results from those games:

Big South

#2 Winthrop 76  #7 Radford 45

#3 High Point 59  #6 Coastal Carolina 56

#1 UNC-Asheville 87  #8 Charleston Southern 63

#4 Liberty 103  #5 VMI 88

Semifinals

Winthrop 20-11 vs. High Point 17-13

UNC-Asheville 22-8 vs. Liberty 16-15

The two top seeds looked like NCAA Tournament teams last night.  Winthrop looks to be the best team right now, but I still favor UNCA because of their great depth.  Depth takes on added importance in conference tournaments.

Horizon League

#3 Wright State 60  #10 Detroit 37

#6 Valparaiso 75  #7 UW-Green Bay 67

#4 Illinois-Chicago 70  #9 Youngstown State 59

#8 Loyola (Chi.) 57  #5 UW-Milwaukee 51

Quarterfinals

Wright State 21-9 vs. Valparaiso 20-12  (winner faces Cleveland State)

Illinois-Chicago 17-14 vs. Loyola (Chi.) 12-18 (winner faces Butler)

#1 Butler (16-2/27-3) and #2 Cleveland State (12-6/20-11) have byes until the semifinal round.

There are still four teams left in this tournament that are capable of upsetting Butler.  Illinois-Chicago might be a tough opponent for 20 minutes, but the Flames cannot win at Butler.  They should dismiss Loyola rather easily.

The other side of the bracket couldn’t be any more exciting.  Cleveland State gets a huge advantage with two byes, while their opponent will have played two games to reach the semis.

Ohio Valley

#1 Austin Peay 76  #8 Eastern Kentucky 51

#4 UT-Martin 101  #5 Samford 94 3ot

#2 Murray State 77  #7 Tennessee Tech 74

#6 Tennessee State 68  #3 Morehead State 61

Semifinals

Austin Peay 22-10 vs. UT-Martin 17-15

Murray State 18-12 vs. Tennessee State 14-16

This is one final four where the top seed has about a 28% chance of winning and the other three teams have 24% chances of winning.  If you live down South in the Nashville area and you love basketball, you should get out to the OVC Tournament Friday Night for two great games.

A few more conferences begin tonight.  I have already previewed them in the prior story, but here they are again, so you don’t have to go back to the prior one.  Check back tomorrow for another update including previews of tournaments beginning Friday and Saturday, as well as reports of the other conferences still playing in the regular season.

Tournaments Beginning Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Atlantic Sun

This is the second tournament being played in Nashville this week.  Lipscomb will be hosting the A-Sun at Allen Arena.  The Bisons came on strong as the season concluded, and they are tough on their home floor.  Top-seed Belmont has to make all of a three-mile jaunt down Belmont Boulevard to play in this tournament, so the Bruins are still the heavy favorite to three-peat and face another Final Four contender in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

The A-Sun awards its top two seeds by giving them a day’s rest between the quarterfinal and semifinal round; of course, this assumes that they survive the first round.  The two weakest seeds also get a chance to rest if they can pull off a first round upset. 

Wednesday, March 5

#2 Jacksonville (12-4/16-12) vs. #7 Mercer (6-10/11-18)

Jacksonville narrowly edged the Bears both times they played this year.  The Dolphins blew a 17-point lead and had to hit a shot at the buzzer to win at Mercer, and then they blew a 13-point lead against Mercer in Jacksonville before getting hot and winning in overtime.  If the Dolphins get well ahead of Mercer, both teams will be thinking about the other two times.  My guess here is that Jacksonville will not get that big lead this time, and if Mercer makes a run, the Dolphins could be heading back to Florida early.  Give Mercer at least a 40-45% chance of winning this game.  The winner then gets a day off before facing the winner of the Stetson-Gardner-Webb game.

#1 Belmont (14-2/22-8) vs. #8 Campbell (5-11/10-19)

The eighth-seeded Fighting Camels were one of two teams to peg a loss on Belmont in the A-Sun.  Belmont exacted their revenge by slaughtering Campbell to clinch the regular season championship.  The Bruins enter the tournament riding a 10-game winning streak, and Coach Rick Byrd won’t allow his troops to overlook Campbell.  Look for a big Bruin win, by at least a dozen points.  Then, with a day off, they will have the upper hand in the semifinal game, even if the opponent is Lipscomb.  This Belmont team won at Cincinnati and at Alabama earlier this season, so they won’t be in awe of their first round opponent in the Big Dance if they win their third A-Sun title in a row.  This team has the capability of becoming the next Winthrop or Davidson.

Thursday, March 6

#3 Stetson (11-5/16-15) vs. #6 Gardner-Webb (9-7/15-15)

The number six seed in the Atlantic Sun Tournament won by 16 points at the probable number three seed in the Southeastern Conference.  Yes, Gardner-Webb destroyed Kentucky at Rupp Arena back in November.  The season went south from there, as the Bulldogs finished in the middle of the pack in the league.  Stetson lost at GW in their only meeting this season.  Stetson couldn’t throw it in the ocean in that game, and I don’t expect the Hatters to hit 34.5% of their shots this time around.  Look for a hard-fought close game that could come down to the last possession.  I expect the margin of victory to be less than five points.  Unfortunately for the winner, they will have to turn around and play the following day against a rested Jacksonville or Mercer. 

#4 East Tennessee (11-5/18-12) at #5 Lipscomb (9-7/15-15)

The host Bisons were 2-5 in the league and 8-13 overall in late January, but then they turned things around with a 7-2 finish down the stretch.  One of the two losses came at the hands of East Tennessee in Johnson City by three points.  The Buccaneers also won at Lipscomb in another close game, and they are now faced with the task of beating a hot team three times in one season and twice on their home floor.  ETSU Coach Murray Bartow has a tough assignment, and if he get his charges to pull off the hat trick, their reward will be facing a rested Belmont on short notice.  I doubt ETSU can get to the finals, but Lipscomb is capable of beating ETSU and Belmont back-to-back.  I think the Bisons will prevail, setting up a third “Battle of the Boulevard” Friday night.

Patriot League

The Patriot League Tournament is nothing more than playoffs, inasmuch as every game is played on the home floor of the higher seed rather than in one location.  In what was one of the better conference races, American emerged as the top seed.  This year, there is so much parity in this conference that the number eight seed Holy Cross Crusaders could easily win the tournament, even though they would have to win three games on the road.

#8 Holy Cross (5-9/15-13) at #1 American (10-4/18-11)

Last place HCU actually won at American earlier this season.  American will definitely not overlook the Crusaders.  HCU will try to shorten the game and have a minimum number of possessions, hoping that center Tim Clifford can use his inside prowess and pull off a repeat performance that led the Crusaders to the win over American.  In that game, Clifford connected on nine of 11 shots and finished with 24 points.  It may take an effort similar to that game, but it isn’t impossible.  Still, you have to favor the Eagles to win with a probability of 80-85%.

#5 Army (6-8/13-15) at #4 Lehigh (7-7/14-14)

This will be a game in the 50’s or low 60’s, and it should go down to the wire.  Lehigh won both regular season games by five points.  They blew a 16-point lead at home and saw Army cut 13 points off that lead in a matter of minutes.  At Army, the Cadets blew a 15-point lead.  I think Lehigh will win again, and it could easily be by five points yet again.

#7 Bucknell (6-8/11-18) at #2 Navy (9-5/16-13)

Navy had a chance to win the regular season title and couldn’t win at Colgate.  Now, the Midshipmen face a school they have had a tough time defeating in recent years.  When they edged Bucknell in Annapolis three weeks ago, it marked their only win over the Bison in four years.  This game will be close the entire way, and it will take a big effort by Navy’s big three of Greg Spink, Chris Harris, and Kaleo Kina.  The trio combined for 68 points in the win at Alumni Hall.

#6 Lafayette (6-8/15-14) at #3 Colgate (7-7/16-13)

Colgate finished the season as the Patriot League’s hottest team, and I believe the Raiders are the true team to beat in the conference tournament.  Lafayette was the coldest team down the stretch.  After starting Patriot League play 4-0, the Leopards lost eight of 10.  I can see no reason why these trends will change over the course of a couple days.  Look for Colgate to win by five to 10 points.

Sunbelt

This is a league where two teams could obtain NCAA bids, especially if someone can topple top-seed and host team South Alabama.  Western Kentucky is the one team that can do it, and USA beat them both times they played this year.  It will be hard to beat the Hilltoppers three times in a row, even in Mobile.  Western’s RPI is in the high 40’s, so it isn’t totally impossible for WKU to get an at-large bid.

The top three teams get first round byes, while teams 4-13 play on the campus of the better seed.  While WKU had the second best record, the West Division champion Arkansas-Little Rock gets the number two seed, while the Hilltoppers drop to number three.

#13 UL-Monroe (4-14/10-20) at #4 Middle Tennessee (11-7/14-14)

Middle Tennessee closed the season winning seven of their last 10 games including knocking off regular season champion South Alabama.  The Blue Raiders should advance to the quarterfinals with a win over ULM, but it won’t be easy.  The Warhawks thumped MTSU in Monroe, leading by double digits most of the game.  ULM lost their final four regular season games by an average margin of 14.5 points.  Look for the Blue Raiders to get revenge and advance to the quarterfinals where they will meet winner of Troy and UL-Lafayette.

#12 Troy (4-14/11-18) at #5 UL-Lafayette (11-7/15-14)

ULL finished the season as hot as anybody in the league.  The Ragin’ Cagins won five of their final six and played great defense, yielding just 60.7 points per game in that stretch.  Additionally, ULL possessed an excellent inside game while they were moving up in the standings.  You have to consider them a dark horse candidate for winning the tournament.  Troy hasn’t much of a chance in this game.  They don’t match up well against ULL and will be dominated inside the paint.  A ULL-MTSU quarterfinal match would be a great battle.

#11 Arkansas State (5-13/10-19) at #6 North Texas (10-8/19-10)

Arkansas State will bow out quickly in this game.  The Indians are already looking ahead to the future and the possibility that Nolan Richardson could become their next coach.  Meanwhile, North Texas won five of six to close the season on a run.  The Mean Green pegged a loss on South Alabama, and out of conference, UNT defeated Oklahoma State and New Mexico State.  This team can not only win the conference tournament, they can win in the Big Dance.  Look for a big North Texas win and a date against Western Kentucky in the next round.

#10 Florida Int’l (6-12/9-19) at #7 Florida Atlantic (8-10/14-17)

FAU was 1-7 in Sunbelt play before finishing 7-3 in the final five weeks, averaging 82.5 points per game.  Two of those three losses came to the big two, WKU and USA.  The other loss, though, came at the hands of their arch-rival and opening round opponent, FIU.  In fact, the Golden Panthers defeated the Owls both times this year.  Look for FAU to get some revenge and win the one that really counts.  The winner of this game will play Arkansas-Little Rock in the next round.  FAU has the talent to win that game and advance to the semifinals, but they have to get past their nemesis first.

#9 Denver (7-11/11-18) at #8 New Orleans (8-10/18-12)

UNO was 14-5 at one point this year with wins over North Carolina State, Tulane, and Lamar.  Then, they swooned.  The Privateers lost seven of their last 11 games.  One of those wins was a six-point defeat of Denver in Denver.  The Pioneers lost their final six games after being in contention in the West Division halfway through the conference schedule.  In a battle of teams headed nowhere, look for UNO to win unimpressively and then flop in their next game against top seed South Alabama.

Tournaments Beginning Thursday, March 6, 2008

Missouri Valley

The Valley had the eighth best RPI among the conferences this year, so you have to figure that more than one member will find a spot in the Field of 65.  Drake is a lock, while Illinois State is squarely on the bubble.   Southern Illinois and Creighton are long shots for at-large consideration, but they are talented enough to win this year’s Arch Madness.

# 8 Indiana St. (8-10/14-15)  vs. # 9 Wichita St. (4-14/11-19) 

These are two teams headed in the same direction, but unfortunately, its’ the wrong direction.  Neither team looked impressive down the stretch.  They hooked up in Terre Haute two weeks ago, and Wichita State led by 20 with less than 15 minutes to play.  ISU went on a 23-3 run in the next six minutes to tie the game and went on to win by 10 in overtime.  Look for Wichita State to keep this game close all the way and have a chance to get a bit of revenge with an upset over the Sycamores.  The winner gets top-seed Drake, a team that has not been playing their best ball at the end of the season.

# 7 Missouri State (8-10/16-15)  vs. # 10 Evansville (3-15/9-20)

Can a team that not only was blown out by another team, they had the score doubled against them, turn around and beat that same team 19 days later?  Missouri State beat Evansville 76-38 on February 19, and the Bears beat the Purple Aces by 19 earlier in the season.  Sure, it can be hard to beat a team three times in a row, but then again North Carolina could play New Jersey Institute of Technology 30 times a year and win all 30.  Look for the Bears to win by double digits for the third time and advance to face Illinois State in the next round, where they will be sent packing.

# 4 Creighton (10-8/20-9) vs. # 5 Bradley (9-9/17-14) will play Friday in the second round with the winner facing the winner of Drake and either Indiana State or Wichita State.

# 3 Southern Illinois (11-7/17-13) vs. # 6 UNI (9-9/17-13) will play Friday in the second round with the winner facing the winner of the Illinois State and either Missouri State or Evansville.

I look for the champion of this conference to come from the #2-3-7-10 bracket.  I expect Illinois State and Southern Illinois to face off in the semifinals with the winner cutting down the nets the following night.

Northeast Conference

This conference had an exciting regular season with multiple teams looking like they were top dog at some point in the season.  Robert Morris stayed hotter longer, so they earned the top seed.  Even with the higher-seeded team hosting every game, you can virtually place the top six teams’ names in a hat and draw to pick the winner.  If I had to choose one team, I wouldn’t choose.

#8 Monmouth (4-14/7-23) at #1 Robert Morris (16-2/25-6)

Can a team with 23 losses have the respect of a team with a 25-6 record in a game played on the home floor of the 25-win team?  You bet they can.  Monmouth almost beat Robert Morris January 31st, losing 61-60.  RMU will not be looking ahead, and the Colonials will be ready to play.  RMU will advance with a 15-point win.

#5 Quinnipiac (11-7/15-14) at #4 Mount St. Mary’s (11-7/15-14)

A quick glance at their records prove this game should be close.  Mt. St. Mary’s has no more than one point home court advantage if any, but the two teams did win the home and home on their home floors.  Quinnipiac forward DeMario Anderson leads the Bobcats in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals, and he owns a 50-foot buzzer beater this year.  That’s the type of player who can carry a team on his back for a couple of days and get his team into the finals. 

Mt. St. Mary’s is one of the current hot teams in the NEC, having won five of six to close the season.  If they can neutralize or lessen the dominance of the Bobcats’ inside game, the Mountaineers should keep this game close and have a chance to win at the end.

#7 Long Island (7-11/15-14) at #2 Wagner (15-3/22-7)

LIU finished the season 5-4 after going 2-7 in the first half of the conference schedule.  Wagner was even hotter down the stretch, finishing 7-1.  The Seahawks had a rather tough time with The Blackbirds this season.  Wagner only beat LIU by three at home and lost by 20 at LIU.  Expect this game to be hard-fought and see multiple lead changes.  In the end, the Wagner bench will outperform the LIU bench and help the Seahawks advance.

#6 Central Connecticut State (10-8/14-15) at #3 Sacred Heart (13-5/16-13)

Sacred Heart has a huge advantage here in this game.  CCSU won at Sacred Heart 100-87 just three days ago, and now the Blue Devils have to win at the William Pitt Center for the second time in four days.  CCSU will not hit 66.7% of their shots this time, and I believe the Pioneers will get their revenge.  A second round match with Wagner would be a can’t miss game.

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