ATB: Bids Earned From Montana to Brooklyn While Power Conferences Do Battle…

Posted by EJacoby on March 8th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. The Big East Tournament continued in the early afternoon, but nothing crazy has happened in New York City, yet, with all favorites moving on to Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Big 12 and Pac-12 tournaments also got underway on Wednesday, but all of the top seeds had byes until later rounds. The most exciting action once again took place in the smaller conference tourneys, providing more do-or-die action with Big Dance tickets on the line. We start with the best game of the night, which took place in the Patriot League:

Your Watercooler Moment. C.J. McCollum Outduels Mike Muscala for Lehigh Victory

C.J. McCollum Put the Team on his Back to Send Lehigh Dancing (Getty Images/R. Martinez)

The Patriot League final took place on #1 seed Bucknell’s court, and the home team’s star player went off for 30 points and 14 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough, as the conference’s leading scorer made a few more plays for the road team. C.J. McCollum, the league Player of the Year who put up ridiculous numbers this season, again ran wild for the Mountain Hawks on Wednesday night. The junior guard scored 29 points with five assists, three rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, doing it all for Lehigh including hitting 10-13 free throws with several of them in the final four minutes. Mike Muscala had a monster double-double for Bucknell, but he could not convert on the team’s final couple of possessions and didn’t get enough help from his teammates. Lehigh held on to win, 82-77, and is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Brooklyn Represents the Northeast Conference Once Again. LIU-Brooklyn is one of the highest scoring teams in Division I, and not even the NEC’s best defensive team could slow down the Blackbirds on Wednesday night. LIU defeated Robert Morris, 90-73, on Wednesday night to capture its second consecutive NEC title. The Blackbirds head back to the NCAA Tournament where they last were disposed of by North Carolina in a high-scoring round one game. Expect much of the same for an LIU team that has high-flying forwards (Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere each average about 17 points per game), but doesn’t play a whole lot of defense. The attacking style worked in the NEC, but could it work as a #15 seed in the NCAAs? Regardless, Brooklyn will be in the house for the Big Dance.
  • Montana’s Team Effort Tops Damian Lillard, Weber State. One of the very best players in the country was in action on Wednesday, playing point guard for Weber State. The nation’s leading scorer had a monster game for his team, but the Wildcats were outclassed by a more cohesive team effort from Montana. The Grizzlies had beaten Weber State just one week ago, and they kept the same formula to produce an 85-66 victory in the Big Sky finals. Montana has a fine guard of its own, and Will Cherry provided 13 points, four rebounds, six assists, and three steals for his team in the winning effort. He was joined by four other teammates in double figures, including two with 23 points. Lillard led his team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals but did not get enough help from teammates. The Grizzlies with a solid RPI of #75 are going dancing.
  • Connecticut Loves the Garden. 

UConn Keeps Their Run Alive in the Big East Tournament (AP Photo)

  • Shabazz Napier is trying to be the 2012 Kemba Walker, and while the two are completely different players, this year’s point guard is off to a good start. Napier filled the stat sheet unlike any other on Wednesday — he had 26 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals, three blocks, five turnovers, and four fouls. He hit 4-10 three-pointers and 8-9 free throws. Napier was everywhere and willed his Huskies to a key victory over West Virginia in overtime in the noon game of Big East Tourney play. UConn has now won seven straight Big East Tournament games dating back to last season, and the Huskies look to be in good shape for a Big Dance ticket. The team is focused on Syracuse, though, at noon on Thursday in hopes of keeping this wild ride in Madison Square Garden alive.

… and Misses.

  • Seton Hall and West Virginia Blow Opportunities (Again). How many times can you fail to capitalize on a great opportunity, and still get invited to the Big Dance? The Pirates and Mountaineers, both under .500 in conference, will soon find out their answer, as WVU dropped to UConn in overtime and SHU lost a close one to Louisville on Wednesday in the Big East Tournament. Bob Huggins and Kevin Willard will argue that their teams played incredibly demanding schedules and won enough games against top competition to warrant postseason selection, and they could be right. But West Virginia, which led late against UConn and lost in overtime, has nothing to show from a close game that this team could and should have won. And Seton Hall has some strong wins in its nine conference victories, but it also dropped back-to-back games to end its regular season against Rutgers and DePaul. These two teams have played with fire throughout the season and could easily get burned come Selection Sunday.
  • MEAC’s Top Seed Gets Bounced. Last night we talked about the lack of strong teams in the MEAC, but we’d get to at least see Savannah State and Norfolk State later in the tournament. Well, it doesn’t look like anyone is going to see Savannah State. The Tigers lost to #8-seed Hampton in their first-round game of the MEAC Tournament on Wednesday, leaving the door open for any number of teams in this conference. Norfolk State remains a strong team, but some of the other schools have more hope of achieving that dream of an NCAA Tournament berth. Disappointing result from Savannah State, which had won 13 straight games before the tournament.
  • Arizona Loses Key Player for Postseason Push. Talented guard Josiah Turner has been an enigma for Arizona this year, and the freshman is now completely unreliable going forward. That’s because Turner has been suspended indefinitely by coach Sean Miller, who notes that Turner violated team rules and would not be allowed to play just because it’s such an important time for his team. And it is, as the Wildcats remain a weak bubble team that needs at least a couple of wins in the Pac-12 Tournament if they want to play in the NCAA Tournament. U of A will be without the services of Turner, who averages just 6.8 points per game but is an athletic point that contributes in several areas. It’s the third time this year he’s been suspended for a game.

Survive and Advance. We covered the Patriot League, NEC, and Big Sky above. We mentioned action in other leagues, but here’s a rundown of what exactly happened in each conference tournament on Wednesday:

  • Big 12 – This power conference is stacked up top as we all know, but Wednesday showcased the bottom of the league, which is not much to see. Oklahoma State disposed of Texas Tech while Texas A&M outlasted Oklahoma, and those two winners move on to play top seeds tomorrow.
  • Big East – UConn beat West Virginia and advances to play Syracuse, as mentioned. Seton Hall lost to Louisville, as noted, and the Cardinals will move on to play Marquette tomorrow. Elsewhere, Georgetown put an end to Pittsburgh’s season and will keep Jamie Dixon’s team out of the NCAA’s for the first time in eight years. The same goes for Villanova and Jay Wright, whose team lost to South Florida in an ugly slugfest, 56-47. USF will Notre Dame tomorrow and Georgetown gets Cincinnati.
  • Conference USA – East Carolina beat Rice, UAB took care of Tulane, and UTEP outlasted Houston in overtime. There’s not much to get excited for with those teams this season, but Marshall also played on Wednesday and beat SMU – the Thundering Herd is a talented team that could make some noise tomorrow in round two.
  • MAC – Toledo and Western Michigan advanced in the MAC second round and those two teams get to match up with quality opponents tomorrow in pursuit of a tournament upset.
  • MEAC – As mentioned, top-seeded Savannah State took a tumble to #8 seed Hampton on Wednesday, leaving the door open for several other teams in this conference. Norfolk State versus Howard was the only other game on last night’s slate, and the #2 seed Norfolk hung on for the victory. That team is the favorite going forward.
  • Pac-12 – It was an ugly year in the Pac-12 this season, and Wednesday’s first round action amongst the league’s bottom teams produced expectedly awful results. UCLA and USC combined for 95 total points in their game in the afternoon. Utah and Colorado one-upped (downed?) them by scoring 94 points in the nightcap. UCLA, Colorado, Stanford, and Oregon State were winners on this day and move on to play tomorrow.
  • Southland – Texas-Arlington doubled up Nicholls State, 96-48 in its first round win while Stephen F. Austin, Lamar, and McNeese State were also victorious. UTA is the favorite here.
  • SWAC – Texas Southern beat Alabama A&M and top-seed Mississippi Valley State outlasted Jackson State in the SWAC Tournament. MVSU was 17-1 in conference and is the tourney favorite.

Wednesday’s All-Americans.

  • Shabazz Napier, Connecticut (NPOY) – In his best Kemba Walker impression, Napier filled the stat sheet with 26 points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals, and three blocks in Wednesday’s overtime win over West Virginia. He has become UConn’s leader in the midst of a season full of adversity.
  • Damian Lillard, Weber State – His team lost in the Big Sky finals but much props go to Lillard, one of the nation’s greatest players this season, who poured in 29 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists in his final game of the year. The redshirt junior is likely headed for the NBA as one of the top point guards available.
  • C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – The aforementioned McCollum has been a star all year and shined brightest in the Patriot League championship with 29 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks in Lehigh’s victory over Bucknell.
  • Mike Muscala, Bucknell – On the opposing team in that Patriot League final was Muscala, who did his best to lead the Bison to an NCAA bid. The big man went for 30 points and 14 rebounds in a monster effort that came up just short.
  • Henry Sims, Georgetown – The Hoyas’ versatile big man did it all on Wednesday, even more than he normally does, with 20 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists in a flawless offensive performance that sent his team to the next round to play Cincinnati.

Tweet of the Night. Dana O’Neil (@dgoneil1) summed up exactly what all fans were thinking while they were watching Villanova extend the snooze-fest game between the Wildcats and South Florida in the Big East Tournament’s nightcap game:

EJacoby (198 Posts)

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