ATB: Bubble Miss For Boise, Chalky Big East Goodness, and Unfortunate Injuries in the MW…Posted by Chris Johnson on March 14th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Power League Conference Tourneys En Masse. Some of the Power Six leagues tipped off their conference tournaments Wednesday, and that only means one thing — teams have begun their final-ditch attempts at saving their bubble fortunes once and for all. The Big East already broke the ice; the Big 12, SEC, Pac-12 and Mountain West (the MW is a “power league” in every sense of the word) got off the ground Wednesday. Meaningful outcomes have already gone final, but the best is yet to come. The selection committee keeps a critical eye fixed on these league finales, from the mildly appetizing early rounds you saw Wednesday night right up to the weekend championship games. The final sprint to Selection Sunday is here, and the end of the tunnel – bracket release, office pools, Seth Greenberg wailing and gnashing his teeth on a post-selection show Sportscenter segment (probably) – can’t come fast enough.
Your Watercooler Moment. Boise Falls Short.
By far the greatest bubble intrigue of the night could be found at the Thomas & Mack Center for UNLV and San Diego State’s quarterfinal match-ups in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. The MW has been a crazy league all season — terribly difficult to predict at times, open to random interpretation, a nightly treat of hoops unpredictability and hotly-contested games. There was nothing different about Wednesday night’s showdown. Boise played SDSU tough for 40 minutes and nearly held on for the RPI top-50 win it needed to seal its place in the NCAA Tournament. A loss puts the Broncos in a dangerously tight spot heading into the weekend. As fellow bubble squads around the nation likewise vie for resume-padding wins, Boise could very well see its profile squeezed out of an ever-tightening at-large allotment. The Broncos have done nice work thus far this season, and that road win over Creighton holds more weight now than it did about a month ago, and maybe, maybe the selection committee will give Boise the benefit of the doubt for playing in the top-to-bottom meat grinder that is the MW — who knows. Until the bubble coagulates, evolves, and shakes off its outer-fringe detritus over the next few days, Boise’s fate subject to the committee’s obscure discretion.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- No C.J. McCollum, But Mike Muscala, Bucknell Not a Bad Consolation Prize. A devastating foot injury in an early January game at VCU effectively ended Lehigh star C.J. McCollum’s season, and almost certainly his college career. That robbed us another chance to see McCollum pull off another massive first-round upset, but in order to get back to the NCAA Tournament, McCollum would have needed to get by Bucknell in the Patriot Conference Tournament. Without him in the lineup, the Mountain Hawks didn’t even get a shot at the Bison, losing to Lafayette in the semifinals, but even so, I’m not so sure McCollum could have led his team past Mike Muscala and company. Bucknell is good – really good. They took Missouri to the wire in January, won at Purdue, throttled New Mexico State and handled La Salle comfortably. They finished 12-2 in Patriot League play and on Wednesday night, Bucknell qualified for the NCAA Tournament by beating Lafayette in the tournament final. Whatever #2 or #3 seed happens to draw the Bison will not be smiling at the prospect of a breezy opening-round match-up.
- Sorry, Providence. As the regular season comes to a close, and at-large considerations – whether for seeding or inclusion – are the underlying motif of any and all post-game analyses, it never hurts to pour over various leagues and pinpoint potential “bid thieves” – teams whose resumes fall short of the at-large standards of qualification, but are hot enough to rip through their league’s conference tournament and snare an automatic bid. One of those potential teams, crazy as it sounds, was Providence. They had all the makings of a bid thief: winners of seven of their last nine regular season games, their only losses coming at Syracuse and UConn (in OT). The Friars looked totally capable of pulling off a UConn 2010-esque run through the Big East field… until they met Cincinnati in Wednesday’s second round match-up, where the Bearcats held Providence to just 41 points, 28 percent shooting and 1-of-16 from three. The dream appears to be over.
- Pac-12 Bubble Bout. The bid warfare in Pac-12 country began in earnest Wednesday with two outer-fringe bubble teams, Arizona State and Stanford, putting their Tournament fates on the line in Las Vegas. Arizona State eventually pulled through in OT thanks to yet another Jahii Carson-authored masterpiece: 34 points on 14-of-22 shooting. Next the Sun Devils get a shot at UCLA; Herb Sendek’s team needs that one before it can even think about sniffing realistic at-large territory. The Bruins are the obvious favorite, and when engaged and self-contained, one of the most explosive offenses in the country. ASU has a big challenge on its hands, but not one it can’t handle. If Carson keeps this up, there’s no telling how far the Sun Devils can march in a daunting but manageable bracket.
- The Big East Quarters Are Stacked. Everyone loves the conference tourney upstart. You know, the season-long doormat who takes on newfound energy and confidence in a single-elimination format to spring a few upsets. Georgia in 2008, Colorado in 2012. That team. No such team exists in this year’s Big East Tournament. That much was confirmed by Wednesday’s plainly predictable second round. The upshot is the quarterfinal match-ups will feature the league’s eight best teams, full stop, and none of them – outside of Louisville and Villanova, maybe, if you want to make that argument – are easy to break down. Sure, sure: one-seeded Georgetown and nine-seeded Cincinnati may look like a mismatch, but would anyone be all that surprised if Mick Cronin’s team smothered Otto Porter and Markel Starks and ground out a low-scoring win? What about if Notre Dame got hot from distance and ran away from Marquette? In this round, you might as well discount seeding, because in a do-or-die format, I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of these games go either way.
- Injuries Strike Mountain West Competitors. Of the two key injuries that came to light Wednesday in the Mountain West Tournament, only one – Air Force guard Michael Lyons’ sprained knee – cost a team its NCAA Tournament livelihood. The Falcons were already a long shot to take down UNLV in the second round. Lyons’ injury only made Air Force’s battle (which it lost) an even steeper uphill climb. The other injury could have ramifications not only for the outcome of the MW Tournament, but also next week’s bracketing and seeding. Colorado State point guard Dorian Green missed Wednesday’s win over Fresno State and is expected to miss the Rams’ next game against the Rebels, which means backup Jon Octeus, who played all 40 minutes and scored nine points Wednesday, will likely get the call. For Colorado State’s sake, let’s hope Green’s injury doesn’t linger beyond the MW Tournament. Green is a critical part of they physical, grinding, efficient hoops Larry Eustachy’s team plays, and any missed time could lead to a disappointing opening-round exit.
Fast break of the night. This play is best summarized with the following description: fortuitous chaos.
Wednesday Night’s All-Americans.
- Jahii Carson, Arizona State (NPOY) – His national pub is well below what Carson deserves – seriously, watch this guy play. He lead the Sun Devils to OT salvation Wednesday with 34 points (more on that below).
- Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse – Don’t focus on the points. MCW only had two field goals, but his 14 assists more than made up for the shortage of individual point production.
- Mike Muscala, Bucknell – One of the nation’s most casually under-appreciated big men will showcase his talents in the NCAA Tournament after Wednesday night’s 20-point, 11-rebound effort vaulted Bucknell past Lafayette in the Patriot League final.
- Jarred DuBois, Utah – Don’t look now, but Utah has now won three straight, including games over Oregon and Wednesday night against USC. DuBois finished with 22 points.
- Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State — In one of the nation’s top two or three leagues in the country (Mountain West), Franklin is the epitome of elite individual talent.
Tweet of the Night. Rarely has one player uplifted a team’s performance like Carson, a redshirt freshman, has this season with Arizona State. Do you remember watching any ASU games last season? If your answer is no – and it almost surely is, outside of hardcore Pac-12 fans or ASU partisans – you can be forgiven. The Sun Devils were hard to watch in 2012. With Carson on board, they’re anything but; ASU is alive and well, almost entirely because of Carson, and their NCAA Tournament hopes rest on his shoulders in Thursday’s showdown with UCLA.