ATB: Friday Night Lights With Jack Cooley, Harvard, and Plenty of Conference Tourney Action…Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2012
Tonight’s Lede. Friday night is usually reserved for the likes of the Ivy League and the MAAC, but that’s not the case during Championship Fortnight. With eight mid-major conference tournaments in action and 22 more teams eliminated from national title contention tonight, there were plenty of reasons to stay interested. Furthermore, we were treated with some compelling Ivy action as well as another look at one of the surprise teams of not only the Big East but also the entire country this year. Let’s jump into it…
Your Watercooler Moment. Cooley Than You.
Just four days after Jack Cooley’s worst game of the year — a two-point, zero-rebound outing at Georgetown — the junior center returned to the lineup with a vengeance tonight, going for a 27/17 masterpiece on 10-15 shooting from the field to lock his team into a double-bye at next week’s Big East Tournament. The fact that we just wrote the previous sentence — that Notre Dame finished in the top four of the Big East standings and received a double-bye — is nothing less than phenomenal and a testament to the vast improvement of Cooley and several of his teammates this season. After losing its top three players to graduation (Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott) and injury (Tim Abromaitis), nobody expected the youthful Irish to do much of anything this year. Instead, Mike Brey’s team is now locked into the #3 seed in next week’s conference tournament and owns the only victory of the season over the Syracuse juggernaut. We’re not completely sold on the Irish making a deep run into March Madness, but the fact of the matter is that Mike Brey is one of the most underrated coaches in the country given that he’s pushed his team to six straight 20-win seasons and will make the NCAAs for the fifth time in six seasons.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Harvard Keeps Hope Alive. It’s seemed a foregone conclusion for months that Harvard would win the Ivy League’s automatic bid this season and earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in over six decades. After last weekend’s home loss to Penn, however, the Crimson and Quakers were locked in a tie with two defeats each in the loss column. The Ivy doesn’t do artificial tiebreakers — like last year’s Harvard-Princeton classic, they decide their ties on the court. With alumnus Jeremy Lin watching from the stands in Morningside Heights tonight, Harvard barely survived Columbia in a nail-biting game that went to overtime. Penn kept the pace with an easier win over Brown, but HU will travel next to Cornell while the Quakers still have a home game against Yale before its rivalry game at Princeton on Tuesday. With one more win Saturday, the Crimson are at least guaranteed a berth in the Ivy playoff game again, but they probably do not want to tempt the basketball gods by losing that one.
- Murray State’s Destiny. With a convincing 20-point win over Tennessee Tech on Friday night, Murray State is one win away from a 30-win season, the OVC Tournament title, and (most likely) a #5 or #6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In a bit of karmic justice, the one team standing between the Racers and all of those accomplishments is Tennessee State, the only team to defeat Murray State this season. Murray State of course is one of three single-loss teams still playing this year. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if all three of Kentucky, Syracuse and Murray State entered the NCAAs with a combined record of 96-3 about two weeks from now?
- Mercer’s Home Court Advantage. What good is it to host your conference tournament on your own floor if you can’t even beat a school playing in its first-ever Division I postseason tournament of any kind? Mercer, the #2 seed in the Atlantic Sun Tournament, lost to #6 Florida Gulf Coast tonight, the third straight year that the tournament host (Mercer) has failed to win the A-Sun Tournament despite playing at home.
- Towson’s Season Mercifully Ends. With Towson’s seven-point loss to Delaware Friday night, the Tigers ended their season at 1-31 overall and 1-18 in CAA action. Pat Skerry’s team clearly had a nightmarish year, but there are reasons to believe things are improving. He should return his top four players next season, and after finally breaking through with a win against UNC-Wilmington on January 28, the team was competitive in five of its last nine games (losses by fewer than 10 points). Hey, it’s a start.
Survive & Advance. Twenty-two more teams were eliminated from eight conference tournaments tonight as we continue to whittle our way down from over 300 teams to currently 258 still vying for the national championship.
- Atlantic Sun. As mentioned above, the biggest upset of conference tournament season so far was #6 Florida Gulf Coast taking out #2 Mercer on its home floor tonight. FGCU will meet top-seed Belmont on Saturday — the Bruins defeated the Eagles by 42 (away) and 23 points (home) in their previous two meetings this year.
- CAA. The Colonial’s first round tipped off in Richmond with #5 Delaware, #6 Georgia State, #7 Northeastern, and #9 UNC-Wilmington all advancing to the quarterfinals on Saturday. Several teams in this league have designs on the NCAA Tournament so this is definitely one worth keeping an eye on over the weekend.
- Horizon League. Uh-oh. #5 Butler crushed #4 Milwaukee on Friday night, setting up a showdown with #1 Valparaiso on the Crusaders’ home floor Saturday, and making everyone wonder if Brad Stevens is working his magic again. On the other side of the bracket, #3 Detroit easily dispatched #6 Youngstown State to move into the semifinals as well.
- MAAC. All chalk in the MAAC tonight, as #7 Niagara knocked out #10 Canisius, and #8 Marist defeated #9 St. Peter’s. These teams advance to the quarterfinal round on Saturday.
- MVC. The quarterfinals in Arch Madness were all chalk too, as the top four seeds advanced to Saturday’s semifinals. #1 Wichita State, #2 Creighton, #3 Evansville, and #4 Illinois State all moved on with comfortable wins.
- OVC. As mentioned above, #1 Murray State advanced to one win from its 30-1 destiny, while #2 Tennessee State was able to hold off #3 Morehead State for the chance to play OVC (and national) spoiler again.
- SoCon. In the SoCon first round, Appalachian State, Western Carolina, Furman, and Georgia Southern advanced to the quarterfinal round. The biggest surprise was a 13-17 (7-11) App State team knocking out a significantly better College of Charleston team that was 19-12 (10-8) on the season.
- WCC. In the WCC third round, #5 San Francisco knocked off #4 Loyola Marymount to get to the semifinals for the second straight season, while #3 BYU used its first WCC Tournament game to sneak past #6 San Diego.
- Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (NPOY). Cooley put together the best statistical game of his career tonight, with a 27/17/3 blks bonanza to lead the Irish to a win over Providence and earn the #3 seed in next week’s Big East Tournament.
- Donte Poole, Murray State. Poole dominated Tennessee Tech with 25/7/4 assts in a convincing semifinal win for the Racers in the OVC Tournament tonight.
- Doug McDermott, Creighton. The Bluejay All-American ensured that Creighton would not drop a devastating MVC quarterfinal game to Drake today by going for 26/10 in an efficient effort.
- Khyle Marshall, Butler. The Bulldogs’ big man went for 17/10 on 8-13 FGs in a dominant Butler performance over Milwaukee that raised a few eyebrows around America tonight. He also had a huge posterizing dunk that made ESPN’s Sportscenter Top 10.
- Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State. Carmichael came up with a huge 16/15/5 blk game to lift ISU past Northern Iowa in an MVC quarterfinal game where points were at a premium (96 total points).
Tweet of the Night. This is likely to be the one and only time we choose a TOTN that involves Florida Gulf Coast, but here goes…