O26 Storylines: BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Louis…Posted by Adam Stillman on February 21st, 2014
There’s a lot going on in the O26 conferences right now. Green Bay just became the first team to clinch a regular-season title after defeating Valparaiso on Thursday night. The league races in the Big Sky, Big South, Conference USA and several other conferences became more interesting. The battle on the bubble continues to heat up. Let’s take a look at this week’s O26 storylines.
What does BYU’s win against Gonzaga mean?
I believe BYU’s 73-65 victory Thursday night against Gonzaga has a two-pronged effect. First, the Cougar’s win puts them back on the right side of the bubble. Sure, the 19-10 overall record and 11-5 mark in WCC play doesn’t look that great. But BYU boasts the 43rd-best schedule in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. BYU now has wins at Stanford, against Texas, vs. Saint Mary’s (twice) and against Gonzaga. That’s not too shabby. And yes, there are some really bad losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific. But with the weak state of the bubble, BYU’s resume currently projects as tournament-worthy. Should the Cougars be able to avoid a loss to either Portland or San Diego in the final two games of the regular season, as well as make a run to at least the WCC Tournament semifinals, BYU should be headed to the NCAA Tournament. The effect part of Thursday’s result deals with Gonzaga. Is its NCAA Tournament bid safe? I don’t think so. It’s hard to believe that a Gonzaga team with a 23-5 record isn’t a lock for the Big Dance. But if you take a closer look at the Bulldog’s resume, it’s easy to become skeptical. Their best win? West Virginia? BYU? Then add in a bad loss at Portland. That’s not exactly a stone-cold lock. Gonzaga finishes with three road games — San Diego, Pacific, Saint Mary’s. If the Zags lose on of those three and fail to win the WCC’s automatic bid, I’m not so sure Gonzaga is a tournament team. KenPom projects Gonzaga to win its last three regular-season contests. That should be enough. But Gonzaga is far from a lock at this point.
Should we be skeptical of SLU in the NCAA Tournament?
There’s one reason I pose this question. There’s just been so many close calls for Saint Louis this season. The Billikens have won six games by four or fewer points this season, including the last three games against George Mason in overtime, VCU and La Salle. SLU has been able to pull out these games seemingly all season long, except for a couple against Wichita State and Wisconsin. There’s something to be said about starting five seniors who keep calm and find a way to win no matter what. SLU’s defense is great, rated second in the country according to Ken Pomeroy by allowing 88.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s stout. But the offense is just 144th with 106.1 points per 100 possessions. Last year we saw SLU, as a #4 seed, fall in the second round to #12 seed Oregon. I worry we could see the same scenario play out this season: The Billikens get matched up with an uber-athletic team in the second round, have trouble scoring and can’t hold the team in the 50s. SLU is just such a puzzle to me. I could see them in the FInal Four, but I could also see them out in the second round.
How disappointing is the Mountain West this season?
The MWC had a banner season a year ago, earning five bids to the NCAA Tournament. Sure, the postseason results are another story, but the regular season was something to remember. A rising league, stuck in between a mid-major and high-major label, couldn’t build off that success. The MWC will be a two-bid league this season barring a so-called bid thief stealing the automatic bid in the MWC Tournament. San Diego State and New Mexico are having terrific seasons, especially the Aztecs, who have a realistic shot at a #2 seed. New Mexico appears to be in that #7-10 seed range. But that’s it. Boise State, which returned just about everybody from last season’s First Four team, have underachieved. The Broncos are in a battle with UNLV for the most disappointing team in the league. The Runnin’ Rebels are blessed with all kinds of talent but haven’t been able to translate to on-court success. The MWC could be the nation’s most disappointing league this season.
Who is going to win the Atlantic Sun?
Will it be the defending regular-season champs? Or the darlings of the 2013 NCAA Tournament? Remember that Mercer won the A-Sun title last season before Florida Gulf Coast upset Mercer on the Bears’ homecourt in the tournament championship. The rest of Dunk City’s story is the stuff of fairy tales. We could be in for a similar situation this year. Mercer currently leads the league with a 12-2 record, while FGCU is a game back at 11-3. But Mercer travels tonight to Fort Meyers, Fla., for what could be the league’s game of the season. Mercer won the first meeting at home 68-55. Can FGCU return the favor? A Dunk City win would make things very interesting down the stretch. There’d be three games remaining for both teams with a variety of tiebreaker situations still in play. KenPom gives Mercer a 60 percent chance of winning tonight’s game, and those odds are 89 percent or higher the rest of the way. So Mercer is the favorite. Maybe I’m just living in the past, but who wouldn’t want to see Dunk City back in the NCAA Tournament?
Can Boston University double dip?
No, George Costanza isn’t involved. I’m talking about Boston University winning the Patriot League regular-season and tournament titles. After beating American 71-62 on Wednesday night, the Terriers own a two-game lead in the standings with three games to play. BU (13-2) does play teams sitting third through fifth in the Patriot standings down the stretch — Holy Cross, Army and Bucknell — while American (11-4) gets Army, Bucknell and ninth-place Navy. Ken Pom projects Boston University to top Bucknell and Army, thus securing the league title. That would lock up the all-important homecourt advantage throughout the Patriot League Tournament that’s played from March 3-12. Then the chance for the double dip looks auspicious.