ATB: Mid-Major Tourney SundayPosted by rtmsf on March 8th, 2010
Conference Tourneys. Given the propensity of conference tournaments this weekend, we’ve divided up the ATB this weekend so that this post will cover only the eleven mid-major tourneys that were in action today, while our other ATB post will discuss the end of the regular season for the major conferences.
Missouri Valley Championship – Northern Iowa 67, Wichita State 52. When Northern Iowa held Drake without a field goal for 28 minutes during their quarterfinal matchup on Friday, many people on press row who were unfamiliar with their stingy defense dismissed it as a statistical anomaly made possible by an inferior opponent. After holding #2 seed and NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch team Wichita State scoreless for 12 minutes during a 23-3 second half run today, those same people became believers. The Panthers had the second best defense in the country this year, and over three days in St. Louis, they showcased that defense in winning their second consecutive Arch Madness title. In a 67-52 victory over the Shockers, UNI got big contributions from their bench: 25 points and a contagious energy level that gave their starters a chance to breathe easier in their third game in as many days. “Our bench stepped up huge for us tonight just like they did the night before,” commented Ali Farokhmenesh. “I think our bench was the biggest difference in that (23-3 run) and then probably in the entire game overall. They made huge plays for us and they wore down the starters for Wichita.” Jack Koch was the chief contributor off the UNI bench, hitting three clutch treys and finishing with 13 points. Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led the way with 24 points, which included 12-14 from the free throw line. He also hit two big three-pointers for the Panthers, whose other starters struggled for most of the day. “I have an easy job,” Ahelegbe told reporters after the game. “When you can get to the basket and nobody’s there because you have two great shooters, it’s easy, easy money.” Along with Ahelegbe, teammate Jordan Eglseder was also named to the All-Tournament team. Eglseder had remarkably consistent lines all weekend, scoring 10 points in each game, and grabbing 4, 5 and 5 rebounds in the three games while blocking five shots in the final. Northern Iowa earns the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they haven’t won a game since a 1989 upset of Missouri in an era before they joined the MVC. They’ll almost certainly be favored to win their game this year, however, as the 28-4 Panthers should be a “protected” seed when the brackets come out. Can the Panthers stay motivated over the 12-day layoff between now and their first round game, though? “The players get to decide as a team what their goals are, and there are a couple still on there that we have not gotten,” noted coach Ben Jacobson after the win. “So there is a lot of motivation still. I really like how we played here. I knew today was going to be a close game, so that momentum helps as we go into practices getting ready for this. That’s an important part and we’ve got momentum and confidence.” As for Wichita State, they’re a bubble team that likely finds itself on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. Coach Gregg Marshall tried to make a case for them after the game to reporters. “We’ve got 25 wins, a couple of top 25 victories, we were undefeated at home. We’re a very talented team…we’ve got size, we’ve got 7-footers, we’ve got long, rangy athletes. We’re going to defend.” He then defended the league itself. “This is a pretty good basketball league. We had to play a team with 20 wins in the quarterfinals that was getting top 25 votes for December as a 2 seed. So that goes to show you the depth of the conference.” In the end, what Northern Iowa showed against a good Wichita State team is that their defense is for real, and that they’re one of the better teams in the country. As Marshall noted afterwards, “Northern Iowa’s a great team. They’re well coached, they’re seasoned and they’re experienced. They’ll win games in the NCAA Tournament. Period.”
Colonial. The CAA semis resulted in two excellent games, and RTC Live was there for both this afternoon in Richmond. Top seed Old Dominion survived a tough-minded attack by VCU, whose campus is merely a few blocks down the road from the Richmond Arena. Gerald Lee was awesome, scoring 26 points on 10-13 FGs, but it was his teammated Ben Feeney (11/6) who saved the day down the stretch as the Monarchs came from behind in regulation to tie VCU and send the game to overtime. In the other semifinal, #3 William & Mary held on to outlast #2 Northeastern in a game that also came down to the last shot of regulation. The Tribe’s David Schneider hit a three with 35 seconds remaining in the game — his only field goal — giving W&M the lead on a clutch shot for the second consecutive night. Northeastern had seven chances on the final possession to tie or win, but none of them dropped for the Huskies. ODU and W&M played twice previously this season, with the Monarchs winning both, and as you probably have heard, the Tribe will play for their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid tomorrow night.
WCC. In the WCC semifinals tonight, it was two old rivals advancing to Monday’s finals for the second straight season, as #1 Gonzaga and #2 St. Mary’s took care of business in downing #5 LMU and #3 Portland, respectively. The Zags got 18/6/7 assts from Steven Gray, who also had a nasty fall where he flipped onto his elbow to with such force that the GU coaches thought he’d broken it. Gonzaga moved to 22-2 in the Mark Few era in the WCC Tournament, and will face SMC with a shot at their tenth tournament title in the last twelve seasons. St. Mary’s got triple-sixteens from Omar Samhan (16/13), Mickey McConnell (16/4 assts) and Matthew Dellavedova (16/3 assts) in their game, as the Gaels moved into yet another opportunity to knock off their bitter rival Gonzaga. St. Mary’s has even more to play for Monday night because with a loss, they’re no lock for the NCAA Tournament, coming in at #45 in the RPI and pretty much on everyone’s last four in/last four out list. Gonzaga won both previous meetings between the two teams this year.
Patriot. Old, bitter rivals Lafayette and Lehigh both advanced in the semifinals of the Patriot League tonight, and they will face each other next Friday in the PL championship game at top seed Lehigh. The two teams split the season series, with the home team winning handily on both occasions. Lehigh has only been to the NCAAs three times, with the most recent occurrence in 2004, while Lafayette has also managed three appearances although it’s been a ten-year drought for the Leopards.
NEC. In the NEC semis tonight, the top two seeds Quinnipiac and Robert Morris advanced to Wednesday night’s championship game with wins over #3 Mt. St. Mary’s and #4 LIU. As the top seed, Quinnipiac will host RMU, a team whom they defeated by eight in their only meeting earlier this season. The Colonials are the defending NEC Tournament champion, so they’re seeking their second straight NCAA bid while Quinnipiac attempts to go dancing for the first time in its short D1 history.
America East. Top seed Stony Brook was upset tonight by #4 Boston U. in a game that featured Corey Lowe’s 24/6/5 stls off the bench. BU moves on to face #2 seed Vermont next Saturday in Burlington in a battle between old rivals with nine NCAA appearances between them. UVM defeated Boston by twenty points at home and a mere one point on the road in their two meetings this season.
MAAC. The top two seeds — #1 Siena and #2 Fairfield — moved on in the MAAC semifinals tonight, setting up the Monday championship showdown that most envisioned when these brackets came out last week. For the second straight night, Siena needed a game-changing second half run (16-0) to take command of the game, while Fairfield outlasted Niagara based on Anthony Johnson’s 21/8/3 blks. The Saints won both games against Fairfield this year, but both were close affairs. Siena, of course, will need to win the auto-bid to ensure its third straight NCAA appearance.
SoCon. North Division champion Appalachian State and South Division champion Wofford will meet in Monday’s SoCon championship game after easily disposing of Charleston and Western Carolina in the semis tonight. It goes to show that the teams with the marquee out-of-conference wins (Charleston over UNC and WCU over Louisville) aren’t always the ones who win their conference. Appalachian State and Wofford played a one-point thriller back in December, so this sets up to be a great one for the NCAA automatic bid.
Summit. In the second night of the Summit League quarterfinals, IUPU-Fort Wayne pulled the mild upset over South Dakota State while #3 seed Oral Roberts survived its game by one point over North Dakota State. The two teams will meet the top two seeds Oakland and IUPUI in the semis on Monday night. The IUPUI-ORU game figures to be a great one, as IUPUI won by three in OT at home, and lost by one at ORU earlier this season. Oakland was 2-0 against IUPU-Fort Wayne this year, but neither game was a walk in the park.
Sun Belt. The top two seeds Troy and South Alabama advanced to the semifinals, but #3 seed Middle Tennessee got rocked by #6 Denver by fifteen points tonight. #4 Western Kentucky survived an upset bid by #5 Arkansas State led by AJ Slaughter, who contributed 28/4 assts in the win. WKU will face #1 Troy, whom the Toppers split two games with this year, including an 18-point beatdown in Bowling Green. In the other semifinal matchup, North Texas beat Denver by five in their only matchup this year.
MAC. In the MAC first round, higher seeds #5 Buffalo, #6 Eastern Michigan and #7 Western Michigan all advanced to the semis, while #9 Ohio “upset” #8 Ball State in overtime. These teams will all reconvene in Cleveland on Thursday for the quarterfinal round.
On Tap Tomorrow. Monday night will be fantastic, with dueling championship games on ESPN/ESPN2 from four of the mid-majors prior to the big boys starting up on Tuesday and Wednesday.
- Colonial finals. #1 Old Dominion vs. #3 William & Mary.
- WCC finals. #1 Gonzaga vs. #2 St. Mary’s
- MAAC finals. #1 Siena vs. #2 Fairfield.
- SoCon finals. #S1 Wofford vs. #N1 Appalachian State.
- Summit semifinals. #1 Oakland vs. #5 IUPU-Fort Wayne; #2 IUPUI vs. #3 Oral Roberts.
- Sun Belt semifinals. #1 Troy vs. #4 Western Kentucky; #2 North Texas vs. #6 Denver.