ATB: Madness Ensues During Four Classic Conference Tournament Finishes Monday NightPosted by EJacoby on March 6th, 2012
Last Night’s Lede – Not a single power conference team played on Monday night and there were only 12 total games played, yet it ended up being one of the best nights of the entire season. Why’s that? Because it was the first full night of Championship Week, in which all games taking place from here on out will come during postseason tournaments. Monday saw four conference tournament finals take place – two at 7:00 PM ET, two at 9:00 PM ET – on ESPN or ESPN2, and each game came down to the final possession. The four championships were decided by 13 total points and included three overtime sessions. There was also important action taking place in other mid-major tournaments, so let’s jump right into it…
Your Watercooler Moment – VCU Returns to the Tournament
Last year’s unbelievable Cinderella story has guaranteed itself a place in the Big Dance once again this year. Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams were squarely on the bubble heading into Monday night’s CAA Tournament final, as was their opponent, Drexel. A hard-fought game in which VCU led by double-digits for much of the game wound up being close at the end and came down to the final possession when Drexel guard Frantz Massenat’s three for the tie hit the back iron. VCU earned itself an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and there’s not a single team in the bracket that wants to face Shaka Smart’s team in the first game next week. The Rams got 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, and five steals from Darius Theus while their star Brad Burgess had just six points. Drexel, which had just eight assists compared to 18 turnovers, now must sweat it out on Selection Sunday with a very strong conference showing but some weak overall profile numbers such as the #226 strength of schedule that won’t be pleasing to the NCAA Tourney committee. Don’t be shocked, though, if Drexel ends up making it so that you’ll see both of these teams playing again next week.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Loyola (MD) Going Dancing for First Time in 18 Years. This was a picture-in-picture kind of night in college basketball, as the finish to the Loyola-Fairfield game for the MAAC title finished nearly simultaneously with the aforementioned VCU-Drexel game. After taking down tournament favorite Iona Sunday, the Fairfield Stags were favorites to complete the task and win the title last night, but Jimmy Patsos’ team had other ideas. Loyola used its disciplined defensive game plan to hold Fairfield to 28.8% shooting from the field. The Greyhounds’ leading scorer (Erik Etherly) had just 10 points, and he was their only player in double figures (!), but it was enough because of how strong they played on the defensive end. The 48-44 score was hardly an instant classic of efficient basketball, but it was another game that came down to the wire on a final possession three-point miss by Fairfield.
- St. Mary’s Outlasts Zags in WCC Classic. No two teams in college basketball have faced off as many times as Gonzaga and St. Mary’s in the past four years. That’s because these two West Coast Conference powerhouses met in the finals of the league tournament for the fourth consecutive season on Monday night, and this one was the tightest matchup of them all. The ‘Zags got a late three-pointer by Elias Harris to tie the game in regulation but the Gaels went on to win in overtime, 78-74. WCC Player of the Year Matthew Dellavedova played great as usual, posting a team-high 22 points and four assists. Both of these teams will be playing in the NCAA Tournament, but seed position and bragging rights were on the line as St. Mary’s is now the outright holder of the WCC regular-season and conference tournament championships for the first time in program history.
- Davidson Survives Scare from Western Carolina. The Madness didn’t stop with a St. Mary’s victory, either. While that game was taking place, the finals of the Southern Conference was perhaps the most entertaining game of the entire night. Davidson was a 13-point favorite and had a double-digit lead with under five minutes to play, but the pesky West Carolina Catamounts clawed back to make it a one possession game in the final minute. They wound up tying the game in regulation with three free throws, and the two teams could not settle things with a single overtime. The Catamounts got another game-tying three in overtime to send this one to a second extra session, where Davidson pulled away for good after a Clint Mann dunk. It wasn’t easy, but Bob McKillop’s team is headed back to the Big Dance. Last time the Wildcats were in? They happened to make the Elite Eight riding the hot hand of a guard named Stephen Curry.
… and Misses
- Oral Roberts Upset. They went 17-1 in the Summit League, but the ORU Golden Eagles won’t be representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament after falling by one in Monday’s semifinal game against Western Illinois. Oral Roberts failed to score in the final four minutes and completely blew its chance at a finals matchup with South Dakota State. It’s too bad that we won’t get a chance to watch mid-major star Dominique Morrison play in the NCAAs this year, but give credit to WIU for making plays down the stretch and giving itself a chance to dance tonight.
- The Sun Belt’s ‘Elite’. The words ‘elite’ and Sun Belt aren’t usually thrown in the same sentence, but this year’s conference had a couple of strong teams that would have made for interesting NCAA Tournament first-game matchups. Middle Tennessee State and Denver are both top-100 RPI teams that have beaten some strong opponents this season. But MTSU dropped Sunday night, and last night it was Denver that fell Monday in the tournament semis. The Sun Belt finals will consist of the #5 seed versus the #7 seed, which will make for a greatly interesting matchup though not the high quality one that we expected heading into the tournament. But that’s why they play the games!
Survive and Advance – We’ve covered the winners of the SoCon, MAAC, WCC, and CAA. We also just told you about the Sun Belt situation. Here’s a look at the other two conference tournaments that had action on Monday:
- MAC – The Mid-American Conference has four quality teams, all of which had first-round byes and did not have to play on Monday. The survivors of the bottom eight of the conference were Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Western Michigan with victories on Monday night. Look out for some upsets in this tournament tomorrow.
- Summit League – We described the disappointing Oral Roberts loss above, but we can’t forget to mention South Dakota State’s blowout victory over Southern Utah on Monday night. The solid Jackrabbits and their RPI of #55 will meet Western Illinois with a bid on the line tomorrow night.
Monday’s All-Americans –
- Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s (NPOY) – As mentioned above, the WCC Player of the Year had a great game in his final West Coast Conference matchup this season. 22 points and four assists was just enough to propel his Gaels past Gonzaga on Monday night.
- Nate Wolters, South Dakota State – Those Jackrabbits have a mid-major star of their own in Wolters, who averages 21.5 points per game and went for 31 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in the Summit League semis.
- Darius Theus, VCU – The aforementioned strong game by Theus was huge in propelling Shaka Smart’s club to the Big Dance again. 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, and five steals was the line for the junior point guard.
- Elias Harris, Gonzaga – He hit the deep three to tie the game against St. Mary’s and send it into overtime, and Harris also finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds in the losing effort of the WCC finals. Strong game for Harris, who’s been up and down this year, heading into the NCAA Tournament.
- Jake Cohen, Davidson – Before fouling out in the double-overtime thriller, the Wildcats junior had 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and seven blocks for Davidson. He missed two shots all game.
Tweet of the Night – What’s next for Drexel as it awaits Selection Sunday squarely on the bubble? The always reliable Andy Glockner (@andyglockner) puts the team’s situation in perspective: