ATB: Wolters Is Going Dancing, Valpo Lives On and LIU-Brooklyn Earns Third Straight NCAA Bid…Posted by Chris Johnson on March 13th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. More Tourney Tickets. Bids are flying in from the most distant precincts of college hoops common fandom. The casual onlookers among us look at, say, South Dakota State or Valparaiso and breathe a collective sigh. They see an undeserving population of lower-class programs free riding off a welfare-like system of automatic bids that prizes a days-long single-elimination conference tournament over a season’s body of work. No one said the current small conference arrangement was the silver bullet for competitive entry; it’s just the complex and maddeningly frustrating world we live in. Look, these small league teams may not stand the same chance of making deep March runs as your average power conference denizen, but you know what? Who cares? Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want now, poke fun at the hyphenated university names and obscure locales, but the fact of the matter is these teams, like it or not, will be in the field come Selection Sunday, and they might just wind up giving your [insert BCS conference school here] a brutal time in the early rounds of the Tourney.
Your Watercooler Moment. Horizon and Summit League Hand Out Bids.
In case you missed out on Valparaiso’s stunning semifinal victory over Green Bay, and the utterly hilarious reaction it induced from head coach Bryce Drew, be aware that the Crusaders were one Ryan Broekhoff last-second heave away from never making the final in the first place. Alas, Valpo pulled through, fought off Wright State in the championship round and secured its first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2004. The near-death semifinal experience gives Valpo’s inclusion a charmed quality, if you can call it that, but the biggest story from Tuesday night’s games comes straight out of Sioux Falls, where – you wanted it, you got it – Nate Wolters led South Dakota State to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance by knocking off league rival North Dakota State. Wolters shined, to the surprise of almost no one, scoring 27 points and dishing out six assists and making every big play in winning time to ensure the Jackrabbits would reach the sport’s grandest national stage once again. This Wolters fellow is an interesting story. Some have broached comparisons to Jimmer Fredette, but that’s really not an accurate description of Wolters’ game. He is a backcourt creative engine, not an electrifying, rhythm-garnering, pure jump shooter. His style is deliberate and cunning, smooth yet off-kilter, harmonious yet lethal. If you missed tonight’s game, circle SDSU’s first-round Tourney match-up, whoever arises, because it’s the final chance to behold one the sport’s most mysteriously alluring backcourt star. You won’t want to miss out.
Tuesday Night’s Quick Hits…
- Blackbirds Make It Official. Would you be surprised to learn the nation’s leading assist man, Jason Brickman, hails from a three-time defending NEC conference regular season and tournament champion, that Julian Boyd, LIU-Brooklyn’s best player, has been out since December with a knee injury, that the Blackbirds are – not just historically, but this year specifically – actually good? That’s the unit the NEC churned up and spewed out for its automatic NCAA bid this season, and unlike the countless cases where a “hot team” wins a few games to spoil another team’s dominant regular season work, the Blackbirds, who beat Mount Saint Mary’s in the NEC Tournament final Tuesday night, are here on merit, make no mistake. Even without Boyd, LIU-Brooklyn is attuned to the intensity and competition level of tourney games. If nothing else, experience should make the Blackbirds a tricky team to deal with.
- Mountain West Tournament Begins. No league was more consistently entertaining from start to finish this season than the Mountain West, and the conference Tournament should bring even more wacky, unpredictable, eye-grabbing hoops. Wyoming and Nevada got things started Tuesday night in the 8/9 match-up, and the winner, Wyoming, earned the right to play league #1 seed and NCAA #2-seed-seeker New Mexico Wednesday night. Of the first round match-ups, Boise State and San Diego State is the most significant: If the Broncos manage a second straight win over SDSU, their resume will stand a notch above most of this season’s bubble-land folk. The rest of the field will be an extension of the competitively thrilling regular season, and in a single-elimination format, a fun but chaotic end to a hectic regular season is almost guaranteed.
- First Round Big East Minutiae. This Big East, the one that’s been reduced to a sample platter of Conference USA castoffs, UConn and Cincinnati, whose name will change next year to reflect a shift in culture, identity and historical hoops clout, is playing its final conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. The festivities began Tuesday night with Seton Hall and South Florida scoring a combined 84 points and the Pirates pulling out a four-point win in overtime. Yes, 84 points, in a game that went into overtime — true story. The second match-up of the night featured Rutgers and DePaul, and if for no other reason than to give the state of New Jersey a rare two-teams-in-one-night conference tourney double, Mike Rice’s team held on.
Dunkdafied. About a month ago, Nate Wolters exploded for 53 points against IPFW, the highest in Division I this season. In trying to make this ATB as Wolters-heavy as humanly possible, here’s a local news brief on Wolters’ record night.
- Nate Wolters, South Dakota State (NPOY) – A cool 27 points, six assists and six rebounds was all Wolters needed to push the Jackrabbits past NDSU in the Summit League final.
- Joel Wright, Texas State – Only one player across the country averages a higher usage rate than Wright, who commands a whopping 36.5 percent of available possessions. He dropped 26 points, grabbed nine rebounds and four swipes in Texas State’s first-round WAC Tournament win over Seattle.
- Wally Judge, Rutgers – Blowing past DePaul was easy work; on Wednesday, Judge (20 points, 10 rebounds) and the Scarlet Knights will take on Notre Dame.
- C.J. Garner, LIU Brooklyn – With an average of 2.21 years worth of experience, LIU is one of the top 40 oldest teams in the country. Garner, a senior, adds to that experience and contributed 31 points to help clobber Mount Saint Mary’s.
- Erik Buggs, Valparaiso – Speaking of experience, the Crusaders rank first in the country with an average of 2.72 years on the team. Another senior, Buggs, carried the Crusaders over Wright State with 22 points.
Tweet of the Night. Let it begin: the Wolters craze has already kicked into overdrive, and we’re not yet into the opening round of NCAA Tournament play. Whatever team draws SDSU in their first match-up will not only have a supremely gifted point guard to worry about, but also an entire Wolters cult/subculture rooting against it.