ATB: Conference ChalkinessPosted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010
Three More Dance Cards Drawn Tonight. With tonight’s three conference titles from Butler, Oakland and North Texas, we’re noticing a trend this year that definitely makes all the bubble teams happy. Even in the one-bid leagues where it doesn’t impact the bubble picture as to who wins the conference championship, it’s predominantly the best teams that are winning titles. Out of the eleven auto-bids earned thus far, eight of them were the top seed or co-champion in the regular season. The only true Cinderella we’ve had so far this conference tournament season came from the Atlantic Sun where ETSU as a #5 seed won the bid; even in the Big South and WCC, the teams who won, while not co-champions, were still pretty good teams (Winthrop and St. Mary’s). With the Big East starting today and the Big 12 and Pac-10 starting tomorrow, will we see all chalk in those tournaments as well this week? Only time will tell.
Horizon League Championship. #12 Butler 70, Wright State 45. Butler finished off its dream season in the Horizon League by winning its twentieth conference game in a prolonged coronation that erased many of the bad memories from last year’s home loss to Cleveland State at the same point. The Bulldogs hit 52% from the field and got strong offensive contributions from Matt Howard (14/9) and Shelvin Mack (14/2) to completely outclass Wright State tonight. With the 18 regular season wins and the two HL Tourney wins, Butler became the sole conference team to go unbeaten all the way through conference play this year. This will be Butler’s fourth consecutive trip to the NCAAs, but how good is this team? With an RPI of #17, and the fourth toughest nonconference schedule this year, we’d expect to see the Bulldogs on the #4/#5 line next week. This would give them a reasonably easy first round game followed by a second rounder against someone like a Temple, Vanderbilt, Baylor or Maryland. Butler lost two tough neutral games to Clemson and Georgetown earlier this year, but they also beat Ohio State and Xavier, so we know they can beat teams of that caliber. The question we have is whether the defense will hold when Matt Howard inevitably gets into foul trouble against a big front line — the Bulldog center was better about this down the stretch of the season, but in games against six BCS teams plus Xavier and UAB, he committed 36 fouls, for an average of 4.5 per game. Butler will need Howard’s offense and rebounding to stay on the floor if they expect to make another run at the Sweet Sixteen.
Summit League Championship. Oakland 76, IUPUI 64. Oakland head coach Greg Kampe didn’t hold back on confidence when he stated after his team’s championship tonight that he believes Oakland is the best team in the history of the Summit League and that they plan on pushing on through to the Sweet Sixteen in next week’s NCAA Tournament. It helps when you have someone like Derick Nelson on your side — broken nose and all — when he shoots 15-23 from the field for 36/9 in a career-best performance. Whatever Nelson wasn’t doing, center Keith Benson was, as he ripped down 17 rebounds and blocked six shots to ensure the school’s second NCAA berth in its history (OU also went in 2005). The Golden Grizzlies are now riding an 11-game winning streak and have won 20 of 21 since a pasting at the hands of Syracuse just before Christmas. With a trio of excellent players at the point (Johnathan Jones), wing (Nelson) and post (Benson), Oakland is certainly an interesting team to consider as a first round cinderella next week.
Sun Belt Championship. North Texas 66, Troy 63. The Mean Green of North Texas earned its second-ever NCAA bid in the last four years by hanging on down the stretch against Troy and getting a key bucket from mighty mite Josh White with 22 seconds remaining to break a tie and send his team on its way. North Texas switched to a zone in the second half and dominated the boards (+10) which led to numerous second chances that they were able to convert tonight. UNT is on a bit of a tear now, having won eleven games in a row and setting a new school record for wins in a season with 24. In 2007, #15 seed North Texas gave #2 Memphis a solid game en route to a fifteen-point loss. Coach Johnnie Jones is hoping for another similar performance this time around.
No, UConn’t. St. John’s 73, Connecticut 51. The big story out of MSG today was the complete annihilation of #12 UConn by #13 St. John’s. Forget the bubble talk, which is now south of the dirt — but what has happened to this team? As our correspondent put it in his live-blog of today’s game, the UConn players seemed to have quit on Jim Calhoun this year, which is simply astonishing for a coach and program of that stature. At one point this season we thought the backcourt of Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson could have been the best in the country; instead they were busy shooting blanks this afternoon to the tune of 6-23 from the field. The overhyped Ater Majok: 0-2 FGs with a single rebound. Only Sticks Robinson seemed to have come to play today, putting together a nice 10/8 afternoon. The Huskies finished up the season losing twelve of nineteen Big East games this year, and the ballyhooed return of Jim Calhoun from illness was only marginally effective in terms of getting his team back on track. It appears that UConn may be NIT-bound this year, but with a sixth-straight opening game loss in the Big East Tourney and whispers as to Calhoun’s possible retirement, it may be a while before Connecticut gets back to the consistent excellence they once enjoyed in Storrs. St. John’s should be commended for its effort today as well — Norm Roberts has his team focused and playing very hard. They could give Marquette all kinds of problems in their second round game Wednesday afternoon.
Other Tourneys. For additional thoughts from our correspondent Rob Dauster at the Big East Tournament in his Daily Diary, click here.
- Big East First Round. Aside from the UConn debacle, bubble team hopefuls #9 South Florida and #10 Seton Hall kept their dreams alive today with first round wins over DePaul and Providence, respectively, and the SH-PC game was a phenomenal 109-106 shootout that saw the Friars come back from 29 points down in the last thirteen minutes of the game to have a shot to tie at the end. Jamine Peterson went for 38/16/4 assts while his counterpart Herb Pope dropped 27/11/5 assts himself. Providence ended its season with eleven straight Ls, while Seton Hall will move on to play Notre Dame tomorrow in a possible bubble play-in game. South Florida will play Georgetown, a team that the Bulls beat in DC a mere month ago, to try to improve their standing with the Selection Committee. In the other game, Cincinnati outlasted Rutgers by a single point behind Big East FrOY Lance Stephenson’s 13/9/5 assts and his game-winning drive and free throw with 1.8 seconds remaining. The Bearcats will play old nemesis Louisville in tomorrow’s second round. There will be several good games tomorrow in this tournament.
- Atlantic 10 First Round. The big story out of the Atlantic 10 tonight was once-NCAA hopeful and #6 Charlotte getting upset by #11 seed Massachusetts in the Queen City tonight. At one point the 49ers were 8-1 in league play, but they finished the season 1-7 down the stretch and will hope for a call from the NIT on Sunday night. UMass got its first A10 Tourney win in eight years, and they will move on to face #3 Richmond on Friday in Atlantic City. In terms of bubble teams Rhode Island and Dayton, both teams helped themselves this evening. Lunardi still has URI on his last four out line, and Dayton on the next four out line, but there’s still hope. Both teams will play on Friday in AC, with #5 Rhode Island battling #4 St. Louis and #7 Dayton playing old nemesis #2 Xavier. There are opportunities here for these teams to play their way into the NCAAs. #8 St. Bonaventure also defeated #9 Duquesne to move into the quarterfinal round.
- Big Sky Semifinals. In the Big Sky semis tonight, it was the #4 Montana Grizzlies who sprung the upset over the second-seeded Northern Colorado Bears by scoring the last six points of the game to win by five. Anthony Johnson had 19/3/3 assts in the win. The Grizzlies will face host Weber State on Wednesday night in the title game. Weber’s Damian Lilliard went off for 23/5/4 assts, but the two teams split the season series with each team winning at home.
- MEAC First Round. In tonight’s MEAC first round, #7 Bethune-Cookman defeated #10 FAMU 64-53, thereby securing its second winning season in only two years of D1 play. In the #8/#9 game, it was Aggie pride as NC A&T knocked Howard out of the tournament. There will be two more first round games on Wednesday night.
On Tap Tomorrow. Just one championship game on Wednesday night, with the upstart Grizzlies taking on Weber State in the Big Sky. But plenty of good action throughout the national landscape. We’re particularly interested in the bubble game of ND-Seton Hall, whether Texas will bother to show up in KC, and how Oregon will respond to the news that Ernie Kent is coaching his last few games.
- Big Sky finals. #4 Montana @ #1 Weber State.
- Big East second round. #8 Georgetown vs. #9 South Florida; #5 Marquette vs. #13 St. John’s; #7 Notre Dame vs. #10 Seton Hall; #6 Louisville vs. #11 Cincinnati.
- Big 12 first round. #8 Colorado vs. #9 Texas Tech; #5 Missouri vs. #12 Colorado; #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Oklahoma; #6 Texas vs. #11 Iowa State.
- CUSA first round. #7 Houston vs. #10 East Carolina; #6 Southern Miss vs. #11 Tulane; #5 Tulsa vs. #12 Rice; #8 SMU vs. #9 Central Florida.
- Mountain West first round. #8 Wyoming vs. #9 Air Force.
- Pac-10 first round. #8 Oregon vs. #9 Washington State.
- Big West first round. #5 Cal State Fullerton vs. #8 Cal State Northridge; #6 Cal Poly vs. #7 UC Irvine.
- Southland quarters. #2 Stephen F. Austin vs. #7 UT-Arlington; #3 TAMU-Corpus Christi vs. #6 UT-San Antonio; #1 Sam Houston State vs. #8 Nicholls State; #4 SE Louisiana vs. #5 Texas State.
- SWAC quarters. #2 Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. #7 Mississippi Valley State; #1 Jackson State vs. #8 Grambling State.
- MEAC first round. #6 Maryland-Eastern Shore vs. #11 Coppin State; #4 Norfolk State. vs #9 North Carolina A&T.