ATB: Montana Climbs the Mountain Behind AJ’s Perseverance

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010

Two More Cards Punched.  More great theater tonight, as we now have fourteen auto-bids handed out, nearly half the total allotment.

  • Big SkyMontana 66, Weber State 65.  It was pure Hollywood, a rags-to-riches type of story that when you see it in the theater just know has been embellished because it’s too good to be true.  Otherwise, how else to explain the phenomenal story that is Montana’s Anthony Johnson?  From the hard-knock life growing up, to the junior college tryout that his then-girlfriend/now-wife negotiated for him, to the unexpected national championship in Yakima, to the repayment of the favor  for his wife when tables turned and he was the big shot recruited to Montana, to the cool and steady rise during his two-year career in Missoula, to the snub in this year’s conference POY race, to the 42-point explosion to bring his team back from twenty down at the half when it mattered most.  Tonight Anthony Johnson just became the new favorite player of every kid in America and his Grizzlies became the top upset special in next week’s brackets.  If we were twelve again, the U of M sweatshirt would already be ordered, and the lunchroom quarrels about who ‘claimed him’ first would already be planned.  That’s what happens when you illustrate why March is a form of certifiable insanity, the kind that makes you giddy with amazement with each passing shot.  Jumpers, floaters, runners, foul shots and bombs — Johnson showed through a 13-22 FGs (14-14 FTs) shooting exhibition, including the final 21 points of the game for his team, what is possible if you keep your head up, work hard to improve yourself, and believe in your abilities.  Montana is now moving on to the NCAA Tournament because the player they call AJ walked down that road, saw what he liked, and decided to keep moving forward.

Everyone's New Favorite Player (Deservingly) (D. Pizac)

  • NECRobert Morris 52, Quinnipiac 50.  The best two teams in the NEC faced off in Connecticut tonight on QU’s home court, yet it was the Colonials of Robert Morris who walked away with the trophy and the golden ticket to the NCAAs for the second consecutive season.  RMU head coach Mike Rice preached after the game that the only way to win one-bid leagues such as the NEC is through hard-nosed team defense like he learned as an assistant at Pittsburgh across town, and in another low-scoring affair tonight it was senior forward Dallas Green who manifested that ethos by deflecting a potential game-winning shot by Quinnipiac and then hitting two FTs to seal the game.  Last year Bob Morris received a #15 seed and played eventual national runner-up Michigan State tough for a half.  That was a poor matchup for the Colonials, but if they could get a more finesse-oriented team this year in the first round, they’d have a better shot at springing a gigantic upset.

What About Bob? (AP/T. Cain)

Conference Tourneys.  For additional information on the Big East Tournament and Big 12 Tournament from our correspondents at the scene, check out their daily diaries.

  • Big East. What little hope South Florida and Seton Hall had to get to the positive side of the NCAA bubble ended today as they both lost to superior teams in Georgetown and Notre Dame, respectively.  The Hoyas were finally able to get control of USF’s Dominique Jones, who had torched them for 29/8 on 8-17 shooting in January’s meeting.  Today he had 21/5, but he had to work for it, shooting a much worse 6-18 and committing five turnovers.  Meanwhile, Notre Dame got a highly efficient game from new sixth man Luke Harangody off the bench — 20/10 on 9-15 FGs — as the Irish slowed the pace and kept Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope under control.  The best game of the day may have been Cincinnati’s upset victory over Louisville, as the Cards got annihilated on the boards (-17) and continue to confound everyone with their up, down and sideways play.  In the other game, Marquette won yet another close game, beating St. John’s by two despite a heavily partisan NYC crowd pulling for the Johnnies.  Tomorrow’s battles between Syracuse-Georgetown and Villanova-Marquette should be excellent.
  • Big 12. The big story from Kansas City today was #5 Missouri getting run by a team in #12 Nebraska that they had handled quite easily in two previous games this season.  It’s obvious that the loss of forward Justin Safford to injury may have hurt this team more than his numbers (8/4) might indicate, with Mizzou dropping three of four and the one win was in overtime versus Iowa State.  The Tiger offense has logged four of its worst games in offensive efficiency since his loss.  Mizzou looks like a tremendous NCAA first round upset victim right now.  No real surprises in the other three first round games, with Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech all moving on.  Damion James in particular played like a beast against ISU with 28/14 in an effort that screamed senior year.  Tomorrow’s Oklahoma State-Kansas State and Texas-Baylor games have the potential to be great ones.
  • Pac-10. Only one game tonight in the Pac-10, and it was a good one as Ernie Kent kept his Oregon career alive for at least one more day with a two-point win over Wazzu in the 8/9 game.  EJ Singler’s tip-in with two seconds remaining in regulation kept the Ducks’ quacking about a miraculous run through the tournament.  Tajuan Porter had 32, and he’ll need another strong game tomorrow to get past #1 seed Cal, who beat the Ducks twice this season.
  • Mountain West. In the MWC Tourney 8/9 game one-win Air Force defeated three-win Wyoming for the right to face top seed New Mexico on Thursday.  The Falcons actually hung with the Lobos in their last game in Las Cruces — will they have a shot tomorrow?
  • Conference USA. The only surprise out of Tulsa tonight was very mild, as Central Florida upset SMU in the 8/9 game of the first round.  Matt Doherty continues to underwhelm.  Tulsa, Houston and Southern Mississippi all moved on to the quarterfinals on Thursday.  The most interesting game of the quarters might be Tulsa and Jerome Jordan taking on Marshall and Hassan Whiteside in a battle of ‘aircraft carriers’ inside.
  • Big West.  In the BW first round, #5 seed Cal State Fullerton and #6 seed Cal Poly both advanced to the next round to face the #4 and #3 seeds, UC Davis and Long Beach State, respectively.  Long Beach split the season series with Poly, while Fullerton dropped both of its games this year with Davis.  Top seeds Pacific and UCSB are already slotted into the semifinal round on Friday.
  • Southland. In the Southland quarters today, all four of the top seeds advanced although SE Louisiana needed a free throw with 2.3 seconds remaining from Patrick Sullivan to secure its spot in the semifinals.  SHSU defeated SE Louisiana in their only meeting this year by five, while TAMU-CC lost its only contest badly against Stephen F. Austin.
  • MEAC. Top two seeds Morgan State and Delaware State advanced to the MEAC semis on Friday night with wins.  They’ll await the second half of tomorrow’s quarters to see who their opponents are.
  • SWAC. Ginormous upset in the SWAC quarters as the worst team in the league, Grambling State (4-14) knocked out top seed Jackson State (17-1), 65-57.  It was the first time that a #8 had knocked off a #1 seed since 2004 in the conference.  #2 seed Arkansas-Pine Bluff advanced into a suddenly open bracket.

On Tap Tomorrow.  Ridiculous amount of games tomorrow, with a varying degree of intrigue.  No real question that the Big East and Big 12 quarters are the most compelling, but CUSA and the Mountain West has a couple of nice matchups as well.

  • Big East quarters.  #1 Syracuse vs. #8 Georgetown; #2 Pittsburgh vs. #7 Notre Dame; #3 West Virginia vs. #11 Cincinnati; #4 Villanova vs. #5 Marquette.
  • Big 12 quarters.  #1 Kansas vs. #9 Texas Tech; #4 Texas A&M vs. #12 Nebraska; #2 Kansas State vs. #7 Oklahoma State; #3 Baylor vs. #6 Texas.
  • Pac-10 quarters.  #4 Arizona vs. #5 UCLA; #2 Arizona State vs. #7 Stanford; #3 Washington vs. #6 Oregon State; #1 California vs. #8 Oregon.
  • SEC first round.  #W4 Alabama vs. #E5 South Carolina; #E3 Tennessee vs. #W6 LSU; #E4 Florida vs. #W5 Auburn; #W3 Arkansas vs. #E6 Georgia.
  • ACC first round.  #8 BC vs. #9 Virginia; #5 Wake Forest vs. #12 Miami (FL); #7 Georgia Tech vs. #10 UNC; #6 Clemson vs. #11 NC State.
  • Big Ten first round.  #8 Michigan vs. #9 Iowa; #7 Northwestern vs. #10 Indiana; #6 Minnesota vs. #11 Penn State.
  • Conference USA quarters.  #2 Memphis vs. #7 Houston; #3 UAB vs. #6 Southern Mississippi; #4 Marshall vs. #5 Tulsa; #1 UTEP vs. #9 Central Florida.
  • Mountain West quarters.  #4 San Diego State vs. #5 Colorado State; #2 BYU vs. #7 TCU; #3 UNLV vs. #6 Utah; #1 New Mexico vs. #9 Air Force.
  • Southland semis.  #2 Stephen F. Austin vs. #3 TAMU-Corpus Christi; #1 Sam Houston State vs. #4 SE Louisiana.
  • MAC quarters.  #2 Central Michigan vs. #7 Western Michigan; #3 Akron vs. #6 Eastern Michigan; #1 Kent State vs. #9 Ohio; #4 Miami (OH) vs. #5 Buffalo.
  • WAC quarters.  #1 Utah State vs. #8 Boise State; #4 Louisiana Tech vs. #5 Fresno State; #2 Nevada vs. #7 Idaho; #3 New Mexico State vs. #6 San Jose State.
  • SWAC quarters.  #3 Alabama State vs. #6 Alabama A&M; #4 Prairie View A&M vs. #5 Texas Southern.
  • MEAC quarters. #3 South Carolina State vs. #6 Maryland-Eastern Shore; #4 Norfolk State vs. #5 Hampton.
  • Big West second round.  #4 UC Davis vs. #5 Cal State Fullerton; #3 Long Beach State vs. #6 Cal Poly.
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