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Big Ten Wrap & Tourney Preview

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten. With action set to tip from Indianapolis on Thursday, get set for the postseason with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

The Big Ten Tournament should prove to be quite the entertaining tournament. With so many teams on the bubble, every game is going to have a do-or-die atmosphere to it. Three of the four quarterfinal games, excluding the one in which Ohio State is playing, could propel teams to NCAA Tournament at-large bids. Another important matchup to watch is Northwestern vs. Minnesota in Round 1 – where they’ll probably be playing for an NIT berth.

  • Cold Teams: Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana
  • Is Battle Ready For last Stand?: The Nittany Lions’ Talor Battle will try to finally make the NCAA Tournament. Can he shoot Penn State off the bubble and into the field?
  • Is Nolen Healthy?: Al Nolen hasn’t played January 22 against Michigan, but he could return this week. Would it be enough to get the Gophers rolling?
  • Can Anyone Stop Ohio State?: The Buckeyes look like a juggernaut, and this isn’t the time to be putting big decisions in the hands of the selection committee. In order to feel comfortable about its #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, OSU probably needs to win the Big Ten’s first. Northwestern played them close at Welsh-Ryan Arena – is a big upset in the making?
  • Will Izzo’s Tournament Touch Get Going?: Of the teams playing in the first round, Michigan State seems like the most likely candidate to reach the tournament finals. It seems like Tom Izzo just has a knack for this kind of thing by now.
  • Is The Next Generation Ready?: There are nine seniors on the three All-Big Ten teams selected by the coaches, and just one freshman. Are players like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, Northwestern’s JerShon Cobb and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. ready to play significant crunch time roles? Or will they wilt under the bright lights in Indianapolis?

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ACC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC. With conference tournament action set to tip from Greensboro on Thursday, get set for March Madness with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

North Carolina is hot.  It took almost all of the regular season, but the Tar Heels are finally living up to preseason hype.  UNC  should definitely be favored to win the ACC Tournament, but I wouldn’t bet on them.  I think the Heels are due for one more hiccup before the Big Dance.  They’ve flirted with disaster a couple of times and are coming off a huge win against Duke.  It’s tough to keep a young team focused, and this team starts two freshmen and two sophomores.  I also expect Duke to be playing with real purpose after the beatdown in Chapel Hill as it fights for a top seed.

As far as the bubble is concerned, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Boston College all need wins.  I don’t think any of them are safe at this point (which is the unfortunate part of Clemson clinching the bye).  Unfortunately, Clemson and Boston College will probably meet in the second round in a de facto “win and in” game.

Besides interesting bubble match-ups, look out for Duke and Maryland in the second round.  Maryland has been down this year, but the Terps never back down from a fight (especially one with Duke).  Also keep an eye on the semifinals when Boston College or Clemson will probably meet North Carolina.  The Tigers and Eagles both played North Carolina incredibly close in Chapel Hill, and both would really benefit from the resume boost.

The most exciting conference tourney prospect is a rubber match between Duke and North Carolina in the tournament finals.  These two teams are far and away the best teams in the conference, and both are in the conversation for a number one seed.  Oh yeah, and who wouldn’t want a third game of one of the best rivalries in sports.

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SEC Wrap & Tourney Preview

 

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC. With tournament action set to tip from Atlanta on Thursday, get set with RTC’s regular season recap and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

Hottest Teams Going Into The Postseason:

  • FloridaPasting Alabama to close out the season is a really good sign.
  • KentuckyLooking good on a lot of people’s brackets after winning two tough ones and they’ve been top 10 at KenPom.com all season.

Tournament Sleeper: Mississippi State – Too much talent here to not be dangerous when push comes to shove.  The question is, will they play the way they’re capable or the way when they’ve fumbled?

Best First Round Matchup: Tennessee vs. Arkansas, Thursday - The South Carolina/Ole Miss game doesn’t carry much weight, and I don’t see Georgia having too much trouble with Auburn, nor Vanderbilt with LSUArkansas is the higher seeded team here due to the wackiness of the Southeastern Conference Tournament seeding (more on that later).  Arkansas won the previous meeting 68-65 in Fayetteville.

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O26 Primers: Conference USA, Mountain West, Southland, SWAC and WAC Tourneys

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

With three conference tournaments concluding last night, it is only appropriate that five more get underway today. Conference USA and the Southland Conference are two of the most balanced leagues in the nation, while the WAC and Mountain West were just the opposite as they were dominated at the top. The SWAC is always a bit of a mystery come Championship Week and tournament time, but Texas Southern is the class of the league this year and will no doubt do their best to bring respect to the league if they are fortunate enough to advance to the Dance.

Conference USA

The Favorite: UAB won the regular season title with a 12-4 record, but that means very little in the ultra competitive CUSA this season as five teams are just behind the Blazers. There is something to be said though about UAB’s strong play down the stretch and the steady play of Jamarr Sanders and Cameron Moore. These reasons alone amidst several injuries that Mike Davis‘ club has overcome makes UAB the slight favorite over the rest of the bunch.

Dark Horse: Southern Mississippi is one the teams that are nipping at UAB’s heels. Although they fell in their last three games of the regular season, Larry Eustachy’s squad proved throughout the year they can beat anyone in the conference. Having Gary Flowers roam around the pain never hurts either.

Who’s Hot: UAB has won their last four games and seven of eight heading into the tournament. As well as UAB is playing, it would be very easy for that to stop on a dime. Throughout each week during the conference schedule, it appeared that one team in CUSA was emerging as the top dog, but they would quickly fade. Can UAB keep their streak going all the way into the NCAA Tournament?

Player to Watch: Papa Dia, Southern Methodist’s senior forward all the way from Senegal, is enjoying the best season of his career as he is averaging 18.5 points and 9 rebounds a game. In each of the previous three seasons, SMU has been below .500; Dia and his teammates clearly have something to prove in this tournament.

First-Round UpsetCentral Florida over East Carolina. UCF was the nation’s favorite story in the early going as they jumped out to a 14-0 record with wins over Florida, Miami (FL), and Princeton. The Knights then went onto lose eight straight games, thus proving that their early success was a fluke. Now, UCF has won five of seven games and if they can regain that success they had in those 14 games, a victory over East Carolina is absolutely within reach.

How’d They Fare? After going 7-9 in the conference, Houston caught fire in the tournament to surprise everyone by winning the title. In doing so, the Cougars stole a bid from a team on the bubble and earned a #13 seed in the Tournament where they lost to Maryland 89-77. UTEP—the team Houston beat to advance onward—was trounced by Butler as a #12 seed.

Interesting Fact: The last team to win an NCAA Tournament game hailing from Conference USA not named Memphis was Louisville in the 2005 Tournament. The ‘Ville advanced all the way to the Final Four that year where they lost to Illinois 57-52 in the semifinals. Both UAB and Cincinnati also won Tournament games that year.

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Pac-10 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference. Get set for this weekend’s conference tournament with RTC’s season recap and postseason preview.

Tournament Preview

This tournament is as wide open as a Pac-10 tournament has ever been. One of Arizona, UCLA or Washington is the favorite (in some order or another) and the three teams likely to be invited to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome of the Pac-10 Tourney. However, Cal, USC and Washington State are three teams who will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives (none of the three are likely to be in the final field of 68 without a Pac-10 championship this weekend) and each is more than capable of stringing together three straight wins and earning the conference’s automatic bid. Of course, each of those teams has shown that they are more than capable of bowing out in the first round on the wrong end of a blowout. What will actually go down in Los Angeles this weekend is anybody’s guess, but what it lacks in predictability, it could make up for in excitement.

Final Standings:

  1. Arizona                                  25-6        14-4
  2. UCLA                                      22-9        13-5
  3. Washington                           20-10     11-7
  4. USC                                         18-13     10-8
  5. Cal                                           17-13     10-8
  6. Washington State              19-11     9-9
  7. Oregon                                  14-16     7-11
  8. Stanford                                 15-15     7-11
  9. Oregon State                        10-19     5-13
  10. Arizona State                        12-18     4-14

Superlatives:

  • Player of the Year - Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona. On the best team in the conference, Williams was far and away the best player. A shoo-in for the All-America first team, Williams is among the top ten players in the nation in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes and the rate at which he gets to the foul line. Oh, and the guy is shooting over 62% from behind the three-point line, a number that is truly astounding, even considering his mere 45 attempts, and especially considering that the three wasn’t even part of his game in his first year in Tucson. While Williams was one of the best players in the Pac-10 as a freshman, no one could have predicted the extent of his improvement as a sophomore. His free throw percentage is up eight points, his effective field goal percentage has skyrocketed from simply very good to excellent, his rebounding has jumped, and this season he was the second most efficient high-use offensive player in the nation, behind Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins. In short, while guys like Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas have had strong seasons for their respective teams, those two guys were a not even on the radar for this award; this year was all Derrick Williams.
  • Coach of the Year - Mike Montgomery, California. This was a year in the Pac-10 when there was no shortage of strong candidates for this honor. Dana Altman, Sean Miller and Ben Howland all did strong jobs with their respective teams (in fact, even two weeks ago I figured Altman was the no-brainer for this recognition), but the nod goes to Montgomery for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his amazing player development. All over his roster, Montgomery has gotten contributions from players above and beyond what was expected of them. Below, you’ll see Jorge Gutierrez as my pick for the conference’s Most Improved Player, but Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison exhibited an effectiveness down low that nobody outside of the biggest Cal homers had any reason to expect. Allen Crabbe turned a mediocre non-conference performance into a great first run through the Pac-10 schedule. And Brandon Smith, a guy who committed to Cal as a walk-on two years back and registered an offensive efficiency rating below 70 last season, stepped in as the starting point guard after freshman Gary Franklin abruptly announced his decision to transfer out of the program in the middle of the season, and delivered an extremely solid performance for the Bears down the stretch. For a program that lost its top four scorers from last season (and eight of their top ten scorers from last year – just 14% of their scoring from last season returned), what Montgomery did this season in Berkeley was nothing short of spectacular.
  • Freshman of the Year - Allen Crabbe, California. Crabbe’s season can really be divided into two categories: with Gary Franklin and without Gary Franklin. With Franklin, Crabbe averaged less than 8.5 points per game and shot just 33.3% from three; after he transferred out, Crabbe scored 16.5 points per game and hit 46.4% from deep. If you eliminate the game in which Crabbe suffered a concussion against Washington and his first game back against UCLA, where he was obviously not quite right yet, Crabbe averaged 18.4 PPG after Franklin. Throw in the fact that, at 6’4 and with long arms, Crabbe was an effective perimeter defender, capable of matching up defensively with opposing small forwards and even helping out his big guys on the glass (5.4 RPG), Crabbe has been an efficient and versatile offensive threat for the surging Bears.
  • Defensive Player of the YearMalcolm Lee, Junior, UCLA. On the most efficient defensive team in the conference, Lee epitomizes everything that went right for Ben Howland and the Bruins this season. Last season the Bruins were 138th in the nation defensively; this year they have vaulted back to 29th, certainly not back to the level of the elite Bruin teams from 2006-2008, but a drastic improvement. And Lee was a big part of that, making a habit of shutting down opposing guards like Isaiah Thomas, Allen Crabbe, Jeremy Greens and even Jimmer Fredette, helping his interior defenders by using his long frame to discourage post feeds and just generally harassing the opposition. While his effort doesn’t show up a whole lot in the stat sheet in terms of steals and blocked shots, without a doubt the Bruin defense is significantly less efficient when Lee is not at full strength.
  • Most Improved Player: Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California. There’s no argument that last year Gutierrez was a good, solid role player on a senior-laden Golden Bear roster. He played about 20 minutes a game, provided irksome and aggressive defense, never failed to hustle after a loose ball and every once in a while knocked down a shot along the way for 5.5 points per game. But with Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and others plying their trade elsewhere this season, Gutierrez was called upon for far more than just hustle. At times he has been the team’s de facto point guard, other times he has been their go-to scorer, but along the way he has kept his energetic way. This season he leads the Bears in scoring (14.8 PPG), assists (4.5 APG), steals (1.6 SPG), and certainly in clutch plays. While it stood to reason that Gutierrez’ role would increase this season, the extent to which he has taken on new responsibilities has been impressive.

All Pac-10 First Team:

  • G Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington (16.6 PPG, 5.7 APG)
  • G Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State (22.4 PPG, 4.0 APG)
  • G Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California (14.8 PPG, 4.5 APG)
  • F Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona (19.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG)
  • F Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC (17.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG)

All Pac-10 Second Team:

  • G Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California (12.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
  • G Jeremy Green, Junior, Stanford (16.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
  • F Reeves Nelson, Sophomore, UCLA (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG)
  • F Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Senior, Washington (16.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG)
  • F Joevan Catron, Senior, Oregon (14.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG)

Power Rankings

  1. Arizona (25-6, 14-4) Projected NCAA Seed #6: For all the Pac-10 teams expecting to be invited to the NCAA Tournament (and that includes Arizona, UCLA and Washington), the current seeding expectations are somewhat fluid. If Zona, for instance, were to run through the Pac-10 tourney and some other things ahead of them break their way, it is not out of the question that they wind up with a four seed (although really, a #5 is a more realistic high). Likewise, if they bomb out in the opening round against Stanford, maybe they drop all the way to an eight (and again, a #7 is probably the more realistic low). The big question, however, is how far they can go once they get to the Tournament. While Williams is an elite enough player to carry a team a long ways, the question mark remains about the Wildcats’ complementary parts. The Oregon schools showed last week that if you just limit Williams, there’s a good chance the rest of the Arizona team may not be good enough to put their team over the top, and I think that possibility will increase as they run into better and better competition. Throw in the fact that as a forward, Williams is in need of other players to get him the ball where he can impact the game and the ‘Cats could be ripe for an early round exit.
  2. UCLA (22-9, 13-5) Projected NCAA Seed #7: While the Bruins outperformed expectations this season and showed vast improvement from last year’s team, the fact remains that this is the third straight year in Westwood without a Pac-10 title. And there is some frustration arising around the UCLA basketball program as a result. Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers has repeatedly bashed Ben Howland and his coaching style, Bill Plaschke has likewise questioned Howland’s coaching and recently the Bruins Nation blog dedicated a post to asking whether Howland’s offense has taken the Bruins as far as they can go. Now Simers has the reasoning ability of a plough-horse and Plaschke’s column came before the Bruins improved in the last couple months of the season, but the fact remains that there is a significant portion of the UCLA fanbase that is unhappy with the results under Howland. Three straight Final Fours were awful nice, but there was always an undercurrent of dismay around the program that the Bruins didn’t finish the job on any of those occasions. As good of a job as Howland has done with the team to this point, UCLA fans have some very high expectations, and a second-place finish, no matter what degree of improvement occurred along the way, is not really regarded as an accomplishment. While the Bruins are capable of winning the Pac-10 Tourney this week, and even pulling an upset and getting to the Sweet Sixteen or a bit further (another accomplishment that won’t earn Howland many plaudits among boosters), it is exceedingly unlikely that this UCLA squad is capable of putting together the type of run that will make all of these questions go away.
  3. Washington (20-10, 11-7) Projected NCAA Seed #11: The Huskies are probably safe for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but as of right now Lorenzo Romar has got to have a little gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach. Washington’s resume is paper thin. There are no quality wins outside of their conference, and they went 4-6 down the stretch in conference play, despite having a pretty favorable schedule. And yet, this team is talented enough that it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them as the sole Pac-10 Sweet 16 team, much like last year when they finished third in the conference and got a favorable draw to run to the second weekend on the Tournament. For that to happen, Isaiah Thomas will need to get his swagger back. After playing the best basketball of his career through much of late January and all of February, in his two games in March he has averaged 12.5 points on 32% shooting, is 0/6 from deep and has just one more assist (six) than turnover (five). As Thomas goes, so go the Huskies, so he’ll need to turn it back up, and fast.
  4. California (17-13, 10-8) NIT: The Bears are streaky, and currently they’re streaking good. They’ve won four straight games, after having previously lost four straight, and even that streak came at the end of an entirely different four-game win streak. The four-game losing streak in the middle can be explained away partly because Crabbe played just ten total minutes in the final three games of that slide after sustaining an injury against Washington, and the first of those four losses was an epic three-overtime loss to conference champion Arizona. In other words, when this team has been whole, their only loss since late January was a two-point loss in triple overtime. Of the teams not currently expected to earn NCAA Tournament invites on Sunday, I’d take Berkeley as the most likely team to win the automatic bid.
  5. USC (18-13, 10-8) NIT: While I’d take Cal as the upset pick for the Pac-10 title, the Trojans aren’t far back. USC has won five of its last six and Vucevic is absolutely on fire of late, having racked up double-doubles in his last eight games, while shooting 55% from the field and adding a previously unknown three-point shot to his game. While the fact that the Trojans get most of their minutes from just a six-player rotation may wear them down in a three-game tournament, this squad will not go quietly.
  6. Washington State (19-11, 9-9): The Cougars are the last of the teams currently on the outside of the bubble that stands a reasonable shot at winning this tournament, now that it is clear that Klay Thompson will be available for the Pac-10 tournament. Thompson was arrested for possession of marijuana following Thursday night’s win over USC and Ken Bone’s hand was forced to suspend him for the final game of the season, a close loss to UCLA. Bone, however, announced on Monday that his suspension was ended and that he would be available for the Pac-10 tourney. Of additional concern is the health of point guard Reggie Moore, who also missed the UCLA game due to an injured foot and whose status is still uncertain.
  7. Oregon (14-16, 7-11): The Ducks faded down the stretch, losing their last four games, but the fact is that a 7-11 conference mark is a pretty good outcome given how big of a hit the program took in the offseason. And with reinforcements arriving next year, there is little doubt that Altman has this program headed in the right direction. The Ducks have shown the ability to sneak up and surprise teams in the upper division of the conference (they’ve beaten Washington, Washington State and USC twice), but the odds of them stringing together the four wins necessary to win the conference tournament are quite large.
  8. Stanford (15-15, 7-11): Much like the Ducks, the Cardinal have a good future ahead of them despite all the lumps they took in conference this year. With no graduating seniors, five freshmen who got significant time and all-conference player Jeremy Green returning for his senior season, this Cardinal team could be trouble next year. And, really, if Green catches fire in the conference tournament and freshman Dwight Powell turns in one of his all-too-rare good performances, this Cardinal team could spring an upset. Patching together several upsets seems unlikely.
  9. Oregon State (10-19, 5-13): This Beaver team is one of the more frustrating teams I’ve ever come across. Under no circumstances is this the ninth most talented team in the conference. There is certainly a higher level of talent here than on Stanford or Oregon, and you could make the argument that this team has more horses than WSU or USC. They put up wins over Washington, Arizona and USC, yet got swept by Oregon and were one of the worst teams in the nation in three-point shooting, defending the three (and really, defending any shot), and turning the ball over. They return a lot of exciting talent next season, but this team is in need of a complete attitude makeover.
  10. Arizona State (12-18, 4-14): Break up the Devils. After a nightmare season, they enter the Pac-10 Tournament on a two-game winning streak, having swept the Oregon schools in Tempe by an average of 17 points. Their three seniors, Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan, combined for a total of 105 points in the final two games, more than 20 points higher than their average for the rest of the season. If those three can continue the fiery end to the careers, it is not out of the question that they could end the Pac-10 tourney for a higher seed or two.

WAC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

Postseason Preview

It’s Utah State and everyone else.  At least that’s what it looks like on the outside looking in.  However, this could be one of the most wide open tournaments in years.  Anyone can beat anyone.  Heading into the final week of play, there was a scenario in which five teams could have finished 9-7 and tied for second.  While it didn’t turn out that way, the teams are still tightly bunched and it should lend itself to a few upsets.

The hottest team coming into the tournament is Boise State, having won seven in a row.  Right behind them is Utah State with five in a row.  Idaho earned the 4-seed and is the only team to have handed Utah State a loss.  Hawai’i could be the darkhorse in this tournament as the 5-seed.  If they make it past Adrian Oliver and San Jose State, they certainly will have revenge on their minds against Idaho, who swept the season series.  The Warriors are the only team to push Utah State in both regular season meetings and have what it takes on a neutral court to upset the regular season champs.

On the other side of the bracket, an exciting showdown between New Mexico State and Boise State looms in the semifinals.  That is, if the Aggies can get past their quarterfinal game.  They face the winner of the Nevada/Fresno State game and both of those teams beat the Aggies this year.  Should fans be lucky enough to see a Boise State/New Mexico State game, it could be the game of the tournament in terms of excitement.  These two teams played an epic triple-overtime championship game in the 2008 tournament, with Boise State coming out on top.  The Broncos and Aggies split the season series and the average final score of the past nine games is 92-85.

New Mexico State is the defending tournament chance and could make a run to its second straight title and third in five years IF they play with a higher level of energy.  Head coach Marvin Menzies is 10-3 in his tournament career and knows how to get his players up for tournament games.  The Aggies have made it to at least the semifinal game each year they’ve been in the WAC.

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Mountain West Wrap & Tourney Preview

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West conference. With the MWC tourney tipping off Wednesday, get set with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and tournament preview.

MWC Wrap-Up

For the top four seeds, the MWC Tournament is of great importance, with Colorado State the team with the most on the line. The Rams sit firmly on the bubble for an NCAA at-large invitation, and while winning the whole thing and the automatic bid that goes along with it would be their best bet, prevailing wisdom indicates that if they can take care of New Mexico in the quarterfinals and then upset BYU in the semifinals, Tim Miles’ club will have gone a long way towards punching its ticket. Meanwhile, for the top-seeded Cougars, they’ve still got some things to prove. In the wake of last week’s dismissal of its best interior player, Brandon Davies, for a BYU honor code violation, the Cougars hopes of possibly earning a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament have disappeared. However, where they will wind up seeded remains a real question – a good showing in the MWC Tournament and a run to the championship could still earn them a #2 seed, while an early exit could confirm the doubts of the NCAA Selection Committee and relegate them to a #3 or even a #4 seed. For San Diego State, they’ve still got plenty to prove as well. Their best wins on the season are over Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and a season-sweep of UNLV – good wins, but certainly not great. However, if SDSU can add another win over UNLV and get the BYU monkey off of its back, it could prove its credentials as a possible #2 seed. And then there’s UNLV, a team that has had a roller coaster ride of an offseason. If they can defend their homecourt in the conference tournament and come away with an MWC title, they could wind up as high as a #6 seed (assuming they knock off SDSU and BYU along the way), while an earlier exit could relegate them to a #9 or so. For seeds five through nine in the MWC Tournament, the stakes are clear: win the title or consider your options for the “other” postseason tournaments. New Mexico has a good shot at an NIT bid, should they fail to win three games in Las Vegas, while the rest of the bottom five seeds will determine whether to call it quits or consider possible invitations from the CBI or CIT.

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Conference USA Wrap & Tourney Preview

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. With the C-USA tournament set to tip on Wednesday, RTC has you covered on the regular season wrapup and postseason preview.

Postseason Preview


  • Who’s Hot: UAB - The Blazers are red hot heading into the postseason and they match up favorably against all the teams in their part of the bracket. If they play Memphis in the semi-finals, which they may not considering Southern Miss is the No. 5, UAB has an advantage in the backcourt with Aaron Johnson. The point guard has proven to be the top passer in the conference, and that has to make any team comfortable heading into the postseason.
  • Memphis Skids Into No. 4 Seed – The Tigers can’t be a team anyone wants to play due to their previous success and overall young talent, however the team enters the postseason as one of the colder teams and despite a first-round bye will be challenged in every contest.
  • Tulsa Nabs No. 2 Seed. Tulsa doesn’t have big bodies, which could prove to be a problem when they host either SMU or Rice at 8 p.m. on Thursday night. The Golden Hurricane is playing its best basketball of the season, but that could abruptly end.

Predictions:

First Round:

  • UCF 82, ECU 72
  • Southern Miss. 73, Tulane 51
  • Marshall 88, Houston 69
  • Rice 77, SMU 73 (OT)

Second Round:

  • UAB 83, UCF 77
  • Memphis 75, Southern Miss. 71
  • UTEP 90, Marshall 81
  • Tulsa 73, Rice 62

Semifinals:

  • UAB 76, Memphis 71
  • UTEP 73, Tulsa 62

Final:

  • UTEP 75, UAB 69

NCAA Tournament Outlook:

Although many have UTEP out of the Dance right now, a C-USA championship game run would give them 25 wins, including victories over Michigan and Memphis. Their losses hurt, but they should be credited for playing BYU, even if not well. They lost in triple OT to conference-winner UAB and came within one at Tulsa, the No. 2 team in conference (1-1 on the season).

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Atlantic 10 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Joe Dzuback of Villanova By The Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. With the A-10 Championship tipping off Tuesday, get up to speed with RTC’s preview and regular season wrap-up.

Postseason Preview

Among the first round games, all played at the campus of the higher seed, the strongest upset candidate is the #8/#9 (of course!) game between #8 host Massachusetts and #9 Dayton. The Flyers have not traveled well this season, accumulating a -0.049 net efficiency in games not played at the UD Arena, but a log5 calculation projects a Dayton win (67%-32% probability). Using overall (unadjusted) offensive and defensive efficiencies, this looks like a close game, +/- 3 points in favor of Dayton. For the other three first round games, the order of probability of an upset is:

  • #6 Rhode Island/#11 St. Louis (50.2-49.7)
  • #7 St. Bonaventure/#10 La Salle (58-42)
  • #5 George Washington/#12 Saint Joseph’s (66-33)

The Xavier/Duquesne side of the bracket looks vulnerable to either a Dayton run or a Duquesne run, though the Dukes, new to the dynamics of a bye seed, may fumble their quarter-final game against (most likely) George Washington. Dayton, a squad that plays inconsistently away from the UD Arena, has nevertheless lost twice to rival Xavier, by margins of five and four points. It is very difficult to beat a closely played rival a third time in the same season. Lacking length in the front court has proven to be a problem lately for the Dukes, but over a short duration tournament like the A-10, it is possible that a series of opponents will become caught up in a pace set by the Dukes and fail to properly exploit Duquesne’s vulnerability. I do not, however, see that as a problem for Xavier, an extremely well managed and prepared team and program.

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Big East Wrap & Tourney Preview

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. With action at Madison Square Garden set to tip Tuesday, get up to speed with RTC’s regular season recap and postseason preview.

Postseason Preview


Tourney Favorite: Notre Dame: The Irish have been rolling through conference play, winning 11 of their last 12 games. Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis are playing as well as they have all season long. The Irish are the second best team in the conference, and they have owned the best team (Pitt) the past two seasons.

And If They Lose?: Pitt Panthers: The Panthers’ biggest strength — their offensive rebounding ability — has taken a hit with Talib Zanna going to the bench with a broken thumb. But they still have Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor, and experienced leaders in their backcourt (Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, Travon Woodall).

Sleeper: West Virginia Mountaineers: Is this team really a sleeper? They are ranked in the top 25, they won this tournament last season, and they made the Final Four. That said, the ‘Eers seem to finally be hitting their stride, as Kevin Jones and Joe Mazzulla are playing their best ball of the season.

Don’t Bet Against: St. John‘s Red Storm: The Johnnies have been great at home this season. Guess where the Big East Tournament is being held?

You Should Bet Against: The UConn/Georgetown Winner: The Hoyas are still playing without Chris Wright. Since he went out, the Hoyas scored four field goals in the second half in a loss to Cincinnati, scored 51 points in a loss to Syracuse, and scored just 47 points in another loss to the Bearcats. UConn has struggled down the stretch as teams have begun to figure out how to stop Kemba. When they run into capable defensive teams (i.e. Pitt), they struggle.

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Sun Belt Wrap & Tourney Preview

Daniel Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference. With SBC tournament action set to tip on Saturday, get up to speed with RTC’s preview and regular season wrap-up.

Tournament Preview

The Favorite: The Sun Belt Conference tournament is what ESPN’s Championship Week is all about. There is no talk of “bubble” in the Sun Belt. The only team in the league with a chance at avoiding a 16-seed is Florida Atlantic, a team with a strong overall record and several quality wins. And even that’s a long shot. The Owls are the easy favorite to cut down the nets next Tuesday, but they’re not invincible. Just two weeks ago, they scored 42 points in a loss at Denver and fell at home to Louisiana-Lafayette.

On Fire: The last time Louisiana-Lafayette lost, Egypt was still an authoritarian country, the NFL was still playing and Michigan State was actuall yranked! The Rajun’ Cajuns don’t at all resemble the team that started 3-14, which is why the 11-game winning streak isn’t necessarily a fluke. They’re only one of two teams to win at FAU in league play this year, and a rematch may await next week.

The Sleeper: Sure, there’s an argument to be made that North Texas and Western Kentucky are strong “sleeper” picks, because underachievers often feel like they have new life once the conference tournament starts. We’re going to stray away from those teams, though, and pick Denver as the SBC sleeper. Of course, DU’s been an underachiever since that undefeated start in league play, but the Pioneers are in a different situation. After losing star Nate Rohnert, Joe Scott’s team wasn’t expected to compete in the West this year. Denver has exceeded expectations, in spite of the poor finish, and it has the pieces to win four games in a row. As we said earlier, Denver plays one of the nation’s slowest tempos and thrives when its methodical, Princeton offense can create open threes and layups. As long as the shots are falling and DU’s offense is executing, this team has a shot to pull a shocker.

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Summit League Wrap & Tourney Preview

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League. Tournament action tips Saturday in Sioux Falls, so get up to speed on all things Summit League and get a leg up on your Big Dance upset research.

Summit League Tournament Predictions

Saturday, March 5:

  • Oakland 91, Southern Utah 72Keith Benson and company will make a statement in the opening game, leaving no doubt who the top dog in the conference is.
  • Oral Roberts 77, North Dakota State 70—Michael Tveidt, in his swan song, will do his best to help his Bison rise up one last time. In the end, ORU is just too deep and too much to handle.

Sunday, March 6:

  • South Dakota State 82, IPFW 75—the first upset of the conference tournament. Home cooking and a “why not us?” mentality carries South Dakota State to victory.
  • IUPUI 80, UMKC 75— Alex Young goes off, IPFW can’t find an answer.

Monday, March 7:

  • Oakland 88, South Dakota State 85—What a great matchup this would be… Oakland has too much firepower, and outpaces The Jackrabbits in a nail-biter.
  • Oral Roberts 81, IUPUI 71—Oral Roberts is playing like a team that wants it just as bad as anyone else. They will get revenge on last year’s elimination by the Jags.

Tuesday, March 8:

  • Oakland 80, Oral Roberts 79—It will come down to who has the deeper bench, the smarter players, and the more reliable players in crunch time. Oral Roberts has one or two guys like that. Oakland has four or five. The experience will be the difference. We knew it would come down to these two since day one. I think we are in for a classic battle. Winner goes dancing, loser goes home. See you at the Summit.

Power Rankings and Postseason Preview

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